Monthly Archives: December 2013

Inquiry-Based Learning and Following the Rabbit Hole

Our Sun, courtesy of NASA.

“When did humans first learn that stars are suns?”

This is a question my 9 year old son asked earlier this week.  My response?

“That’s a good question! Let’s look it up!”

We like using DuckDuckGo and it brought us here:

The very first result is a webpage sponsored by Stanford’s SOLAR Center:

It was interesting to read about how many people and years it took to form this answer.

This search inevitably brought on even more questions.  Questions I made time for and we researched.  At one point my son got a disgusted look on his face.  It really was a face of disbelief and then he asked, “How can someone be killed for a thought?”

We had just read that Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for his thoughts on the universe, but not before being imprisoned for 6 years by the Roman Inquisition for heresy. Later, Galileo Galilei was also imprisoned until he died for heresy.

What is heresy?

This led to a conversation on personal conviction.  More importantly, we discussed being free to think and believe what we choose.  We talked about power, who has it, what it means to have it, and how it is used.  I left many things open for pondering and discussion.

Some questions can only be answered with more questions.  Some questions can only be answered by personal life experience.  Many answers I do not get to choose for my children but I can guide them and lead them until they are ready to take the helm on their journey to answers.

If they choose, it is a journey to Know Thyself.  As an adult and parent I have learned this journey is never-ending.

Knowing why we believe what we do is very important in living a whole and ethical life.  

What do we base our beliefs on and does it matter?  The answer is a resounding YES!  It does matter.  We need to know why we think the way we do.  Ultimately, there are very few things in life with definitive answers and even less absolute truths. There is still so much about this world and life we do not know.  In our home, the scientific method is important. Research-based evidence gets us closer to answers but keeping an open mind in light of insufficient evidence is an even better default position.

As parents we can create a space for our children to learn with guidance and freedom.

How do you approach learning in your life?


Nurturing Learning

A few of the books we use.Just a few of the secular books we use.

We are a secular family who has chosen a different learning path from the mainstream. We are not unique in our choices. An NCES statistic put the number of homeschoolers in the U.S. at about 1.5 million for the year 2007.  That number has been growing exponentially.

The reasons for our choices are manifold. Most importantly, we consider freedom of educational choice to be a civil right. One day I will post all of our reasons, but not today.

Many would call us eclectic homeschoolers. I prefer no label, but if I had to choose one right now, it would be ‘secular eclectic learners’.  We do not approach learning as being separate from living.


We do not subscribe to one philosophy of learning, but instead, draw from interest-led Project-Based Learning, the classical approaches of The Well-Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason, just to name a few. Piaget, Vgotsky, Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio inform and strongly influence my child-centered approach in structuring and nurturing our children’s lives.

Does this mean I have everything down pat and perfect? NOPE. I don’t purport to have it all figured out. It is all a work in progress. Children are not static just as life is not static.  As they grow and learn, I grow and learn, their needs change and then I need to change my approach. I am able to tailor their learning resources and environment based on what they need at any given stage.

Yet, there are aspects to our approach that remain constant.

How I nurture a learning environment:

I do my best to start each day with a smile and hugs. It really does make a big difference.

We provide healthy meals full of relaxed conversation.  

I approach our lessons with enthusiasm and encourage curiosity about the why of what we are doing. As in, “Why do you think it is a good idea to learn to write in cursive?  Why should we have nice handwriting?  Why are complete sentences important? Why learn about our bodies? Why is kindness important? Why memorize the multiplication table?” We actually discuss these things and then go search out answers on the internet to flesh out perspectives.

We do not do “school” at home.  When you endeavor to seek education outside of an institution you have the opportunity to support a culture of learning that is not bound by walls or text books.  We are not limited by politics, pedagogy or dogma.  

I strive to nurture a daily rhythm that encourages a combination of structured learning and self-directed activities. We do not follow the school year calendar, but instead, make learning a year-round endeavor.

We nurture free-time and exploration through books, games, activities and people.

We include our children in as many daily activities as possible. When we are out and about I encourage my children to be mindful in how they interact with fellow human beings, animals and insects. It is important to practice kindness in everything we do.

I make myself available for the inevitable questions that arise when a child learns something new.  Children need to be given the opportunity to lead in their learning and discuss what they are learning!  They need freedom to follow all the “rabbit holes” they discover.

I love that I get to spend so much time with my kiddos but sometimes it is too much “togetherness” and I need a break. I make sure I get “me” time.  It is important for the kids to see me nurturing myself by taking time for myself and my interests.

I don’t need to have all the answers. I most definitely do not have it all figured out. 

We are learning this life together.  We have never come this way before, nor will we walk this path again; at any point in time it is a singular experience.

For now, I am a leader and I am a guide but I do not get to choose their destination.

We get to influence (not dictate) their world view and expose them to all the wonderful possibilities.

How do you nurture a learning environment in your home and life?

On Children from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.” And he said:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Our Lively Yellow House

Our Lively Yellow House, Winter 2013.

Our Lively Yellow House, Winter 2013. Almost Done!

Finally, an update!

It has been busy around here! On the days that were nice enough to work on the exterior paint my husband was up on a ladder finishing areas of the chimney and eaves. The pitch of the roof made it really difficult to reach all the areas of the chimney without him standing in precarious positions.

From his description, I am really glad I did not go out to see how things were going! There are still areas around the dormers and trim to finish painting the last coat but compared to where we began it should be short work on warm days.

All that is left to finish painting the trim and replacing gutters.

We will finish painting the trim and replacing gutters early spring or whenever the weather allows.

All the storm windows have been installed and we will finish all the trim paint as soon as we get a mild day.  Now that we are officially in winter we may have to wait until spring. However, with the mild temperatures we had this past week we may get lucky and finish well ahead of March.

For now, we will focus on the inside of the house on various projects we need to finish for the upstairs bath, kitchen, and craft/office closet.  I hope to get another post out after we enjoy our Christmas!

Merry Christmas!