Living Science

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Living Science

Diane Haynes

We are about to start our seventh year of home education. It was certainly never something we planned when we first had kids but, as we progressed through kinder, the discussion of where to go to school became important. We had been exposed to quite a few home education families, but it was still something I didn’t feel capable of. At one point a friend asked how I knew I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t tried; and so began our home education journey. We are about to head into some equivalent form of grade 6 and grade 4. 

I like to have structure and our first year was very structured! We still have a structured day and I still have aims and targets I set for each year. Each year I check our different resources and write up a loose plan of how the year might look. What I am learning is to embrace the opportunities that come our way. Our structure and my mindset are both becoming a lot more flexible when an opportunity arises. I am still trying to find a structured science resource that works well for our family. What has become very apparent this past year is how much my children are learning from the everyday science to which they are exposed. They learn even more when I get on board and reduce my desire to be task driven. Here are some examples from the past 18 months of opportunities that have ‘presented’ themselves. 

We were in conversation with a friend about his very large and ailing veggie patch. He had been busy and simply didn’t have time to maintain it. He randomly asked if we wanted to take it over ourselves. It was quite a daunting proposition, but we decided to give it a go. It has been hard work. Some of my most precious memories are observing the kids simply enjoying watching. They have watched seeds and seedlings grow (or die). There’s been hide and seek amongst a healthy corn crop. There’s been disappointment in the discovery of animal tracks and missing plants as evidence of a creative animal who got through or over the fence. We’ve had slaters, crickets, evidence of mice, moths and bugs to just watch, breathe and observe. My son came up to me last week with glee and excitement on his face as he showed me his finger. Curious, I tried to work out what he was so excited about. I discovered a very yellow finger. After spending a number of mornings watching the bees he had decided to have a go at pollinating the pumpkins himself! 

Another friend had some garden excavation work done and tongue in cheek asked my son if he would like to be paid to separate the rocks from the dirt. This was a massive pile but Mason liked the challenge and my daughter liked the idea of getting paid. The dirt pile took over our lives for a few weeks! In the midst of moving dirt and rocks there were a number of pauses to check out the biggest worm or another slater. There was a lot of excitement when we found some frogs. One frog came home for a few nights for a visit. He sat in his container on the kitchen table. There’s a wonderful calm associated with just watching a creature. The rock pile also generated many conversations about balance, weight and force. There was a real strategy involved in safely moving the rocks and avoiding double handling. There was huge relief and a sense of achievement once the last rock was separated and we had a very big rock pile and a very big dirt pile. 

Another opportunity has involved learning a new skill of butchering. I know this isn’t an activity for everyone, but for us it has been a wonderful blessing. My husband enjoys hunting and has been able to harvest a deer. We have also had friends bless us with a gift of a deer; for us this was an exciting present! Often I am more excited about this than the kids, but it has been a learning opportunity for all of us. I was surprised how much we have learnt about how the animal has been created and how every part of the body supports each other. There have been conversations over the way the bones are held together, the structure of muscles and blood flow. There is the continuing discussion about the best way to use the venison resource. 

We sometimes come home and look up information to clarify something we’ve observed. We may find a book on a certain topic to answer a question I don’t know. Often we simply discuss what we are watching. The kids observe, they make mental notes, they compare. They bring up their observations days and weeks later to again discuss and digest. Both my children love to observe and process the information in their own time. There is no book that can provide the experience of seeing science naturally and being part of the the experience. 

In general life we often walk or ride to places. There is a great deal of observation and discussion around the ducks in the pond, the colours of the birds, the different way a tree is growing, the timing of the flowers, the movement of wind on the bike, the time to get from one town to another via different transport. All these are simply the living science around our normal lives. 

Some of our recent experiences have been fairly large commitments and tasks. They aren’t quite an everyday occurrence, but they have caused ‘light bulb’ thoughts on home education. I have embraced the opportunities that came our way. I could have avoided them as they have been hard work and time consuming. They have taken us away from more structured activities that I also believe to be important. But the kids’ observations are going to help make sense of wordy text in a book. Their genuine interest will help to fill in gaps in understanding the amazing and complex world we live in. These challenges are also what they are going to remember when they are older. They are family experiences that have been spontaneous and embraced. I have been reminded of simply living science. 

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