Growing Curiosity

Homeschooling is a lot like gardening -- you plant a lot of seeds and practice patience while you wait for them to bloom. Love this!

“How you do one thing is how you do everything,” I read on the back of a shirt. The quote has been running through my mind all summer as I’ve been inventorying my life thus far, a process inspired by turning forty and having a child graduate from high school. Milestones have a way of tripping me up and making me look backwards to see what I tripped over.

The quote rings most true when I sit on my back porch and contemplate my garden. How I garden is how I do everything. I plant seeds, add water, and hope for the best. Last May we relocated our garden to a different part of our yard, built a fence around it to keep the dog out, and constructed several low and long garden boxes. My husband installed an automatic sprinkler system, and I planted a variety of seeds and seedlings.

For the first few weeks of summer, I’d go out every morning and check how many seeds had sprouted and how much taller the tomatoes had grown inside their cages. Then I started to notice seeds I hadn’t planted sprouting in between the garden boxes. Some I recognized as edible - purslane, tomatillos, borage, squash - so I left them to grow rather than weeding my rows.

By mid summer, my garden was a jungle. The raised beds were no longer visible. The tomatillos grew taller than me and competed with the cucumbers for vertical growing space on the trellis. The purslane made it impossible to walk between garden boxes, and the borage grew so bushy that I had to hang on to the fence to edge around it, careful not to disturb the dozens of bees buzzing among the purple blossoms. The single zucchini seedling I planted crowded out the bush beans, which in turn grew at an angle, seeking sunlight, and crowded out the beets. The beets didn’t stand a chance when the lettuce in front of them bolted during a particularly hot week in July.

All of this is to say the way I garden is the way I homeschooled. I planted seeds, added plenty of supplies, space and time, and hoped for the best. Some of the curriculum I carefully selected was crowded out by interests discovered by my children, such as the state by state unit study I purchased online which they rejected in favor of collecting commemorative state quarters to fill up a coin collector’s map of the United States.

Some topics popped up out of nowhere and grew with us for years, like the Percy Jackson book we listened to on a road trip which inspired a deeper study of Greek mythology, culture and language. Our interest in geology began similarly, with a single unusual rock found on a walk along the railroad tracks, a discovery which prompted us to collect and study a stack of books about rocks and minerals, go on field trips to mines and rock shops, and spend countless hours rock hunting to amass a large collection of unusual rocks.  

My daughter texted me while on break during her first college math class to say, “I finally understand scientific notation!” A seed planted years ago had finally sprouted.

Other topics grew steadily, occupying exactly the space we had allotted, never overshadowing other topics, but occasionally surprising us with growth spurts, like the math curriculum we tended to every day, which grew into a solid foundation for my children to advance their math skills when they transitioned into traditional school. My daughter texted me while on break during her first college math class to say, “I finally understand scientific notation!” A seed planted years ago had finally sprouted.

It’s now late summer. As I survey my garden I see ten foot tall sunflowers so heavy with seeds that they’re bent over, their tired blossoms touching the ground. The yellowing cucumber vines have conceded to the tomatillos, which are bursting from their chartreuse green, paper like wrappers. The tomatoes are so overgrown I can no longer see the metal cages which once dwarfed them. It’s time to harvest the fruit, save a few seeds for next summer, and start planning and planting our winter garden.

It’s also time to sort through the cabinet full of homeschool curriculum my children have outgrown; recycle the math notebooks, keep a few samples of writing for posterity, and pass along the state by state curriculum, never used, to another homeschooling family. Perhaps I’ll pop the coins out of our state quarter map and pass the map on as well, see which one sprouts interest in their children. It will be like sharing seeds with fellow gardeners, who, like me, grow curiosity.