Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Guest Post Laura Grace Weldon: Free Range Learning

Laura Grace Weldon lives on Bit of Earth Farm with her family. She’s the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. Find out more at
Sarcasm & Self-Sufficiency on the Farm
“Come here Slug Weasel,” she commands. Obediently her younger brother does as she bids, helping her carry 50 pound bags of chicken feed to the barn. 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 (Fist shake at outdated values.)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 gave us that freedom. Natural learning is an antidote to cultural factors relentlessly trying to pressure us 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, roast fantastically spicy potatoes. They don’t, however, pay much attention to what they wear.
We’re not done with the headlong pursuit of our interests although we’re nearly done with the rigmarole of submitting materials each spring and fall to the state now that the youngest is 17. But we’re left with wonderful memories of early learning, the kind that carried its own momentum---shifting easily between relaxation and adventure.
We read for hours together sprawled on couches, managing to get out of pajamas and into clothes by noon if we had places to go. We launched ambitious ideas like building a trebuchet to propel pumpkins across the pond and entering a national science contest that landed us a visit with an astronaut.
Other equally ambitious ideas, like making a hovercraft, were more notable for their humorous failures. We gave homemade gifts from woodworking, sewing and pottery 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 like batiking, jaunted all over for concerts and plays, 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. We’re still here on our small family farm together. My grown and nearly grown kids seek each other out for hour long discussions as well as month 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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a close happy family but aren't you rather isolated from other people? You seem to be self sufficient onto yourselves-what about socializing with other people in the community? Do you have much contact?

Anonymous said...

Why do you think that they are not socializing with other people just because they are a close family?
Getting along with your family the way these people do is a gift.

Laura Grace said...

Hello to both Anonymous posters,

I do go on about cherishing my family's closeness in this post, so I understand what you mean when you say it seems we're self-sufficient onto ourselves.

But actually, one of the most wonderful aspects of homeschooling is freedom to get involved in the wider world. Homeschooled kids aren't segregated in classrooms away from the life of the community and the interesting things going on with people of all ages.

I think I mentioned that we invited people over for large-scale projects, traveled all over for cultural events and hosted an international guest for six summers. We also learned directly from people who loved to share their passionate interests---artists, doctors, musicians, scientists, carpenters, you name it. And we got involved in real work that built real skills, like Habitat for Humanity. The friends we've made, both homeschoolers and people of all ages, are the most priceless legacy of free range learning.

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