Doodle-a-Day:2-18-08 plus some thoughts on unschooling

When I was a kid I was fascinated with the outdoors. I would spend all summer outside,carrying a backpack full of essentials including my favorite doll, a Tupperware cup full of homemade lemonade, colored pencils, book, and notebook. I am sure I had a first aide kit of sorts in there as well as some natural books and other things that seemed necessary to being out in the woods.

I had 13 acres of land at my disposal including two ponds and very few neighbors.

I had the freedom to explore, to run, to climb and if I was outside and out of earshot the freedom to not work all day. (My mother believed that if I was outside then I was not making a mess but if I was inside I must be bored and should be helping her with her work.) I had plenty of chores, like doing the dishes after each meal (my parents got a dishwasher when I went off to college) and being on hand to help with whatever project my dad was working on (and my dad ALWAYS has a project but those only occurred when he was home and he worked a lot.) But those things only applied if I was around so more often than not in the summer I would slip off to try to get lost in our woods, to imagine fairies in the moss, to look for fish and tadpoles in the pond, or climb a tree and read. Outside was one of the few places where I was free and where my choice of entertainment wasn’t being questioned.

It was outside in the summer that I discovered that wild flowers are not weeds and where I learned that research can be fun. I would carry a wild flower identification book with me and would find the names of common weeds—and learned that when you know its name it becomes a friend and no longer a weed.

It was outside in the summer that I stepped in the pond in jelly shoes and discovered that it is an excellent way to catch fish eggs. It is also how I learned that I am death to all things wet and slimy. We had a small fish tank that I was allowed to put my catches in and slowly kill them off–unintentionally. However I did learn the lifecycle of a frog that way (though our tadpoles never made it so far.)

It was also outside in summer that I learned to be quiet and be alone. I longed for companionship, for like-minded friends, or kindred spirits as Anne Shirley put it. Instead I found butterflies and deer, chipmunks and squirrels, trees and flowers.

Until my brother was born and grown enough to be fun my only playmate was my cousin who lived across the ponds (we shared my grandparents’ property–thirteen acres of trees and ponds, of open field and moss.) We were not kindred spirits and she and her best friend would often do mean, older kid things to me, enough so that I only longed for her company when her best friend–who lived a walking distance away, was not around. And even then I quickly remembered why I preferred being alone. Books are good friends who don’t play nasty tricks on you.

And it was outside in summer where I learned to enjoy learning. I hated school. I wanted to love it because I loved learning but my teachers couldn’t keep up with my constant questions nor my round about way of explaining things and always gave me more written work than I could manage to finish.

We had tv (though no cable until we were older–which was really our family’s downfall but that is another story completely) and we had game systems and we were one of the first families we knew to have a computer, in fact several computers, but my brother (when he was older) and I spent most of our time outside because we were free to do so.

I want my kids to experience that same joy and they do. Sure they have two computers (one online, one not) a dvd player and Gamecube. They have cd players and mp3 players and an lcd tv (but no cable and no antennae). They also have plenty of building toys, magnetic toys, dolls, doll houses, art materials and lots and lots of books. They have bikes and a tire swing, a play shelter, and plenty of play clothes. When they start getting rowdy you will still hear “Go outside and play,” regardless of the weather or time of day. And after an hour or so of movies or Gamecube they do get rowdy and off they go, to explore and run, to socialize (they have made great friends of our elderly neighbors) or to be alone, to think and to learn.

They have a freedom that many kids these days don’t seem to have. They have the freedom to be kids, to find what they think is interesting, to ask questions, and to find answers. They have the freedom to be themselves and to find themselves in a world that would fit them into a mold. And that is what I want for them