Yesterday, Sam and I went on a field trip to the nursery and the cemetery.
She’s been begging me to plant a sunflower in our front yard. She has the spot all picked out, and she really wants to plant a seed and see it grow from nothing. When I try to tell her that a sunflower won’t grow in our shady front yard or that we can’t plant it at this time of year, she simply doesn’t believe me. So I figured I’d let an expert give her the bad news, and maybe she’d pick some other kind of plant to grow. It didn’t work out very well. She wasn’t convinced to try any other kind of plant, and then the bugs swarmed us and she simply could not stand it and went back to the car. (It really was unbearable.) I bought a tomato plant and I’ll try to grow it myself and see if she becomes interested.
Sam has also been begging me to stop at this local graveyard for months. I think it all started with the Thriller video and her dad’s endless talk about zombies, but she is curious about The Dead. She’s curious about death, too, but mostly about The Dead. So we went there and she got bored in less than five minutes. The bugs were a problem there, too, but I think she was disappointed that no dead bodies dug their way out of the ground.
Life and death. She’s interested in these things right now. If I believed in child-led learning I’d use these things as units and try to teach her some math or history revolving around them. But I don’t.
And going on this field trip during school hours was a mistake. It wasn’t just the bugs, either. It was just a distraction. School wasn’t going well and I thought it would be good to get outside and I rationalized, “Oh – these things are educational.” Well, even if she had learned something, it would not have been educational. It would have been knowledge picked up in the course of life, which we all do all the time, but which is not what school is about for us. Call it a failed experiment, but I should have known better.
Between the holiday last week and the “field trips” and a lack of sleep due to baby illness in the house, school has become disorganized. God, I can see how easy it would be to just let the whole structure go. It’s really hard to come sit in this room for three hours a day, no matter how much fun we usually have doing it.
And another thing I’m learning is that Sam sometimes enjoys her work more, and does a better job, when I give her more structure. She has not been choosing her work this week. She will flop on the couch and talk to herself for a half hour while I work at my desk and watch her out of the corner of my eye, hoping that she will finally take the initiative. But she gets excited if I say, “We haven’t tried spelling yet. Let’s try spelling!” Or, “You don’t seem to be able to choose a piece of work so I will choose for you. Let’s get the animal encyclopedia.” Once I do that, she becomes engaged. And on the other hand, I left her alone to work on a difficult math exercise today, instead of sitting next to her as I did last week. She stepped up to the plate and did a great job – much better than she did last week.
So, I guess I’m learning that it is really, really hard to know how much structure and guidance Sam needs. I’m trying to keep an open mind and keep observing.