Building a reflective homeschool, Tools not Toys
Last fall, we attended a wonderful program at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center where the children got to spend a day on the prairie with entymologists, herpetologists, and a woman from Raptor Recovery. By the end of the day, the children were enchanted, I was exhausted and I knew what I wanted to purchase for the spring: butterfly nets, aquatic nets and a few field guides.

Children are born with an innate desire to explore the world around them, to know what everything is and to figure out how it works. I see it in my five month old as her tentative hand reaches for my face while I hold her; I see it in my two year old as she unrolls a roll of toilet paper; I see it in my four year old as he watches his roly polies; and I see it in my eight year old as she draws in her journal. I want to give them the tools to explore their world, on their own and unhindered. I imagined my children exploring the field behind our house and assisting them in identifying the many insects they collected. I looked forward to sweeping the aquatic net through the water in the pond to collect tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs and whatever else we could dredge up.

But nice nets are expensive. I was glad to have a few months before making the purchase. Still, the price tag kept drawing me to other, more affordable nets. Nets made for children. Like those "cute" butterfly nets above. At $4.95 a piece, I could get one for each of the children and not worry too much if one got damaged. Never mind the fact that most things made for kids are not actually constructed to withstand the kind of abuse children put things through, the nets just looked like toys. I imagined university professors taking their students out in the field with a batch of these nets and wondered what kind of work would get done. Was that what I wanted to inspire in my children?

So I opted for the professional nets with the telescoping handles. One for insects, one for aquatic invertebrates and one for aquatic vertebrates. When they arrived, we established rules for use and practiced. We found a special storage place for them. And when the children use them, there is a seriousness and purposefulness about their explorations of the backyard that really was never there before. They collect, identify and add notes to their journals. Even the two year old does her best to emulate her older siblings even though she is not quite strong enough to sweep the net. They look like scientists collecting specimens rather than children pretending.

At one time, children were raised to become adults. They had very little in the way of toys, but instead were introduced to the work of the home and farm as soon as they were capable. Not everything about that life was good, and I have no desire to go back to such a time. But sometimes I notice how much my children want to be like their parents. They do not want toy dishes to play with, they want to bake things in my kitchen. They do not want cartoon underwear, they want "real" underwear like their parents wear. Am I holding them back when I get them toys to play pretend rather than tools to do real work?

Other posts in this series:

Horizontal learning vs. vertical learning
The treasure of experience
Sharing the wonder
Unanswered questions
The grace of a hippo