Learning Outside The Box

Yesterday evening found me in the chicken coop trying to install latches on several windows. I was annoyed. I needed to be in the house getting dinner started, but I had gone out early to close the chickens in due to yet another day of snow and wind and winter, and while in the coop I felt a breeze coming in over my head. The temporary storm windows had all fallen off, the wind had changed direction, and suddenly the coop was cold.

So there I was, lugging a ladder outside and fumbling around in the garage trying to find latches and tools. I couldn’t figure out the drill; clearly I am hopeless with tools. I found myself thinking, “Why didn’t I learn anything useful or practical in school?” I had taken a shop class in which I’d made a decorative wooden shelf and a piggy cutting board; basically I had spent a semester hand sanding. My home economics class was equally useless; we baked muffins, a pie, and cookies but did not learn how to actually prepare a meal or make anything even marginally nutritious. I came out of school with A’s in algebra and trigonometry but unable to care for myself or my home. (Although my life is continuously affected by other people who use math all the time, I’ve never used my high school math as an adult, even when earning a Master of Science degree – too bad there was no class on statistics, now THERE’s something universally useful). I stood in the garage, muttering about “all those wasted years”.

I suppose mostly I couldn’t think straight because I was mad. And cold. My mood was going downhill and dinner was not getting made. But the beauty of the situation was this: my 11-year-old daughter voluntarily came outside, calmed me down, and coached me through it. She helped me find things and reviewed with me how to use the cordless drill. She stood at the foot of the ladder and handed me things and held things for me. When the screws I was using kept falling out, she said, “You need a smaller drill bit, Mom!” and ran to the garage to get one (while accidentally and temporarily locking me in the coop). I have no doubt that I could have turned the job over to her and she would have done just fine.

This isn’t a particularly profound post; we didn’t accomplish anything great or amazing, although the windows are snug now. I’m embarrassed to reveal to people how lousy I am with tools (I’m a really good cook, though!). But the situation reminded me of something: when most people think of homeschooling, they think of time at the kitchen table or at a desk, working through a curriculum. Yet homeschooling to me has little to do with methods or worksheets. It may at times include those things, but it isn’t about them. More important, by being present for all that life has to offer, my kids are picking up skills – often times skills that I don’t even know about – and they don’t need prepackaged lessons to learn them. My kids have been present for everything from restoring our 115-year-old farmhouse to building pens for chicks and raised beds for gardens; they’ve hung around watching or helping friends or carpenters with a bazillion little projects. They’ve been present in the day-to-day happenings in our home and community that most kids miss because they are in The School Building all day. My kids even went with me to vote yesterday and none of the ladies working the polls asked them, “Why aren’t you in school?!” Instead they commented positively on how important it was that kids be exposed to and start thinking about being involved in the election process.

During the window repair, I went from feeling annoyed to being appreciative, and I was given the opportunity to not only enjoy my daughter’s company but to reflect on our learning. I love how the pieces of our lives fit together, if we just let them. (Perhaps this post is a little bit profound, after all.) And somehow, I eventually got dinner on the table.

6 thoughts on “Learning Outside The Box

  1. I think that in addition to any particular skills your children may be learning by being present (like how to use tools) they are also learning that they have the ability to tackle problems as they arise, they are doers who can figure stuff out. Formal schooling tends to implant the attitude that unless one has taken and performed well in a class on a particular subject or skill (like “Power Tools 101”) one has no business attempting to solve problems in that area.

    • Yes, I think formal schooling, while purporting to build self-esteem, instead actually erodes confidence. Thank you for your comment!
      Kim

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