In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s caterpillar season. The leaves are bursting forth from the trees, grasses are growing taller, birds are building nests, bats are waking up and they’re looking for food for their young. My youngest child’s insect project is ramping up and we are spending more time with our hands in hedges than sitting down and holding a pencil.
When we first started home educating, I kept a mental checklist for most tasks we’d do. Running around in the park? That counts as PE or recess. Baking a cake? I’m sure that counts as math. Making bracelets? Definitely good for fine motor skills. Looking for caterpillars in hedgerows? That must be science. It felt good to think that every aspect of our lives could “count as school.”
If my five-year-old son was in school, his teachers would be helping him work on his pencil grip, form letters and understand phonics and the basics of mathematics. At home, my son only holds a pencil or pen for about 15 minutes every day. Maybe I should worry. Maybe he will never learn to write his name!
But I don’t worry. I don’t worry at all about his writing. The reason is not that I’m ultra-confident. I’ve got all sorts of worries about my children. But when I watch my son gently lift a caterpillar from a leaf and hold it with precisely the correct amount of pressure and grip to keep that caterpillar safe from harm in his hand, I know my son has all the fine motor skills he needs to write his name. When he pulls out one of his nature books, turns to the index and asks me to look up that caterpillar’s food plant or when he opens the tablet and pulls up a document about caterpillars, I can see that he understands about letters and language and what they are intended for. He knows where to go to find out what he wants to learn. In short, he knows what he needs to do to find out. That skill—the ability to find out is the key, for me, to being a successful learner. The thing is, he knows what he wants to learn and he knows how to find out. Gradually he will arm himself with the skills to find out, perhaps by asking me for help or by figuring it out himself.
He will eventually learn to write, because he wants to find out.
He will learn to read, because he wants to find out.
He will become numerate, because he wants to find out.
I am here to mentor him, to help him learn the skills he needs, to encourage and support him when it’s hard. I want to nourish his curiosity and support him while newer and more exciting doors open to him.
I used to box-tick and think about whether what we were doing “counted as school.” Now I hardly think about school. I simply wonder what he’ll be finding out next.