“Come here Slug Weasel,” my daughter commands. Obediently her youngest brother does as she bids, helping her carry 50 pound bags of chicken feed to the barn on our little farm. They chat pleasantly on the way.
By pleasantly I mean he doesn’t just point out that her flip-flop clad feet are dirty. He says that they are festering toxic bacteria unknown to science and should be classified as biological weapons.
She doesn’t just notice he’s squinting, she pretends to worry about his sudden exposure to sunlight and insists that swiveling in a computer chair probably doesn’t afford him the musculature to carry more than the weight of his own hair. They laugh and talk all the way to the barn. I smile in adoration.
I was raised to be quiet and deferential to others. (Fist-shake at outdated values.) Perhaps as a direct result, I wanted to insure that my own children felt free to be themselves. Homeschooling has given us that freedom. Natural learning and all sorts of friends serves as an antidote to cultural factors relentlessly trying to pressure young people into sameness.
There’s not much sameness going on here. My four offspring can fix old tractors, diagnose a chicken in respiratory distress, compose a bagpipe tune, design custom air cooling systems for computers, discuss the chytrid fungus currently decimating amphibian populations, randomly quote from old Futurama episodes, weld sculptures, and roast fantastically spicy potatoes. They get science on everything. They don’t, however, pay attention to fashion trends or celebrity gossip.
We’re all still in headlong pursuit of our interests. But now that everyone is older I’m left with wonderful memories of early learning, the kind that shifted easily between relaxation and adventure. We read for hours together sprawled on couches, managing to get out of pajamas and into clothes before lunch if we had places to go. My kids launched into ambitious projects, from building a trebuchet that propelled pumpkins across the pond to entering a national science contest that landed them prizes including a visit with an astronaut. Other equally ambitious ideas, like making a hovercraft, were more notable for their humorous failures. We gave homemade gifts that stemmed from woodworking, sewing and soldering projects. Other gifts, like a handmade theremin, were not as well received. We called exploding experiments “science,” invited everyone we knew for large-scale projects, threw strangely amusing parties, jaunted all over for concerts and plays, maxed out our library cards each week, hosted an international guest for six summers, and whenever possible learned directly from people who thrived on work they loved.
It’s not all in the realm of memory. My grown and nearly grown kids seek each other out for hours long discussions as well as weeks long backpacking trips. Conversation around the dinner table is a gallery of fervent opinions, esoteric interests, and very dry wit. I’m still smiling in adoration. Well, I’m also smiling because someone else carries all that chicken feed.
This post originally appeared on Radio Free School