A child learns about water not by learning that it’s made of a couple hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule — even if that lesson comes with gumdrops and toothpicks. They learn by pouring and filling cups in a tub; by throwing sticks and acorns in the river; by crushing leftover ice into a slushy puddle.
They just do. No one tells my toddler to jump in a puddle.
I could read stories to them about water. I could make an “experiment,” and ask them to dissolve sugar in water, or talk about density and buoyancy. I could ask them to put pennies in a jar and talk about displacement … And all that’s well-meaning enough.
But … I just know there’s more. We went to a homeschool science class that began, in a class for young kids, with the molecule scenario. All the displacement, buoyancy experiments were carefully laid out, and … it’s just not for us.
And, you know, how like a walk in faith, again: we can be stumbling blocks for faith, and we can be stumbling blocks for science and math and language and music, too, when we cheapen them or reduce them to formulas.
As I approach the beginning of the final term of our kindergarten year, my experience has evolved from philosophy to practice, and in doing so, I’ve relaxed my expectations. I started the year “doing school,” very formally, for 45 to 60 minutes. Now, we “do school” over breakfast, before bedtime, while we play, and we don’t call it “school.” It’s an education that breathes and encompasses our whole lives, mine included.
Calling this approach unschooling is ignorant of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy — starting school before age 6 short-changes them of free play and exploration. Molecules’ll come later. Puddles are now.
We, as humans, can spend too much time outside of puddles. They’re messy. We’d rather read a story about water somewhere far away; we’d rather stir sugar in water than make mud soup, mud pies. I’m a mom too. I know: the mess.
Yeah, laundry’s a dream-crusher for me, too, but I’m learning slowly, very slowly, that there are rewards for being in the real stuff. I’d like us to be pro-puddles.
Last night, I got in a puddle; I volunteered at a shelter that made me grow?, maybe?, or just come to know, in ways that reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography only hinted at. Sadly, light beams did not shoot out of my finger tips and I have no new supernatural powers. It’s basic: greeting guests, setting a table, watching TV shows I despise, eating chili and folding laundry — it felt like hanging out at an extended family member’s house.
If homeschooling and volunteering seem unrelated, it’s only my limits in expression.
Because we’re looking for that life that fills us up, right? All day, in singing our hymn for the month, in painting a primrose we bought at the grocery store, in playing in puddles and building Lego towers — even in our bickering and time-outs — and even in spending an evening with eight or nine strangers, we’re grasping something bigger.
It’s one thing to know water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, but you have to get wet to know water. It’s one thing to know systemic problems exist that create homelessness problems for a lot of people; it’s another to greet a guest you’ve met before at a shelter. We’re grasping something bigger here.