nature nurtures

unschooling: lesson plans are not needed. what is needed is flexibility, the ability to think on the fly, the ability to add just enough dry kindling to fuel but not smother, blow just the right amount of air towards the tiny sparks that with just a little coaxing will turn into sturdy cooking flames of passionate learning… regardless of whether i strew creative ideas in quinn’s path, nature seems to do plenty of her own strewing. sunday was one of those types of days.

as mentioned, our kitty displayed her carnivorous tendencies (the bell attached to her collar prevents her from mass genocide on our local bird populations, but darn if she doesn’t sneak up on a few in spite of being jingly) and left this trophy on our steps. normally, my cat actually consumes what she hunts- a feature that i appreciate in a predator. this time, however, the specimen was scooped up by my four year old, as he clutched the stray feathers in his other hand and contemplated life’s deeper questions.

seizing the moment, mama rushed inside and grabbed the sketchbook and markers- it’s what anyone would do, right? we haven’t yet become particularly organized about nature journaling, but i know an opportunity when i see one. after we talked about the species identification of the bird, which we had tackled just days before (quinn knew by the “yellow strike on its head” that this was a yellow crowned sparrow), he settled in to draw himself a sketch of the bird. (categorize under science lesson? or art lesson?)

oh wait, maybe it was a lesson in writing…. quinn had a vision in mind of creating a bird id book entry, with a box around the picture and the bird’s name. he wrote the letters as i dictated them, and drew his outline around each word and the drawing. the color choices and drawing were all his, and the only letter he asked for help with was s.

throughout the observational drawing process, quinn processed the idea of being “dead”. he wondered aloud whether he should bring the bird to the feeder and offer it some food, and if it would help it get better. he told me his plan was to keep the dead bird, and i was reminded of earlier times when he has mulled over these big topics. i mentioned that it would become compost and start to smell after a short while, because the bird’s body will go back to the earth now that its spirit has gone. he was disappointed about not keeping it, as it was very soft and he liked the feel of it. he decided that after he was done checking it out, that composting it was ok, but he wanted it in his own compost, near his own garden. i then realized that he could, if he wanted to, let the bird’s compostable parts rot away, and come back later to check out the bird’s skeleton. he thought that was an excellent plan, so we arranged a spot where it could decompose separate from the rest of our compost, and under a brick so that no raccoons will snatch it. when your dad has a full-blown skull collection that a natural history museum would be jealous of, this sort of thing is par for the course.

sure enough, the nature journal concept made an impression, because a few hours later when a ladybug landed on a nearby calendula plant, quinn declared that he would draw a picture and then take a photograph of the ladybug. his photo is above, and his drawing is below. he chose orange and gray (rather than red and black like i might draw a ladybug cartoon) which tells me he really is drawing from observation.

somehow the most important lessons in all of this, it seems to me, are not the reading, writing, and scientific method. it’s the ones about connection, love and impermanence, and just…. life that seem to pack the most nutritional punch, in a learning sense. these coincidentally are the ones that can’t be extracted from the daily life spent in our natural surroundings and dealt with in a classroom setting. grappling with “will i die someday, mama?” came later in the evening, and the following night “i won’t like it when i die” and the holding and hugging and working through the big meaty stuff of real life (and death) seems so much more real to me, than what most people will swear are the things he’ll need to make it in the “real world”.

i love being the one to be there for him while he is making sense of this stuff. and he’s picking up the 3 r’s by hook or by crook, in spite of me.

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