Homeschooling on the farm
Too good to be true
At the best of times, it can be a challenge for children and parents alike when it comes to balancing school routines, learning, health and fun. Lockdown, with its attenuating added pressures, has meant that schools here (Purwasari Village West Java) have been closed since March. It would not be a stretch to say that James, Grade 2 and 8-years old (heading towards grade 3 and 9-years old) has learned more at home than if he were at school during this period. This has a lot to do with the context, being on the farm and being in a natural learning environment.
To be fair, his school in the village is not so challenging. Typically a school day lasts 2-3 hour in the morning, and there is a little bit of homework. However, they still follow a primary curriculum, and there are activities and social encounter, which is essential.
During the past months of lockdown, the school has attempted to send some homework on-line. The government has also dedicated a TV station to the education of young people. We don’t have a TV, but he can access some of that content via the internet. Regardless, James flies through it in minutes, and it is all done.
Green-Ed – something we are giving a try
From March to July during James’ grade 2 shut down, we have tried a different learning schedule that we are developing with him, and it goes a bit like this:
Each day (Mon-Fri) 3-4 hours of book work – maths, English, writing, comprehension, geography, history and blended learning. We sit with him at times, and he does a lot of it independently. We work with him through more challenging sections (he has taken on grade 5 Maths) and we help him with new content and new learning. He is honing skills – handwriting, colouring, comprehension. He is learning more than he does at school.
Time spent reading, often in the evenings but also before breakfast, sometimes in the day between other more energetic enterprises is a favourite pass time for James.
Two years ago, James struggled to read very much at all. The other day he read an entire novel on his own in a day (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis). And his cultural background means he has four languages and is well on his way of learning English too.
But most importantly, his education is not only bookwork but learning on the farm, making things, fixing things, experimenting. He loves helping to feed the animals, helping to run the aquaponics, prepare food for the animals, or helping with the new recycled irrigation we are putting in. There are always projects going on here. All this is learning in nature and a natural context.
We call it hands, head, heart learning. It is a kind of material intelligence – learning to know with our hands – as well as researching theories, backgrounds and how-to information. Hands and head learning leads to heart learning – a passionate desire to understand how things operate and how nature in all her complexity works—a passion for exploring and a sense of wonder. It is integrated learning where imagination and creativity meet science and practical skills.
It’s Sunday. “What are you doing today, James?” I ask. He explains how he is looking for birds nests so he can work out how to make birdhouses. He has two pigeons who fly free during the day, but he wants to improve their home. And he has binoculars, so it is an adventure for him to go exploring. “What kind of birds are you looking for?” I ask. He searches for the words in English and then shows me that they are on the ground. “Quail?” I assume. “Yes. That’s it – wild quail”. He gives me the Bahasa Indonesian “burung puyuh liar”. James learns a lot on the farm both from self-learning and what we get him to do.
Sure, James has this learning opportunity when he attends school in the village too. After all, he lives at the farm, and here, there is always something for him to be doing when he arrives back home after a mere 2.5 hours. He concocts things like jars and bottles with ferments and different seedling experiments. He makes soil from compost and a mix of clay, sand, ash and biochar. He learns to grow and harvest and cook food, make juices and healthy cakes.
He knows about recycling and remaking and reusing. He watches the adults. He emulates what he sees and tries it for himself. He is curious.
Something about homeschooling and combining the book learning with natural learning makes him grow like a mushroom and makes us want to keep him here and not send him back to school. It seems better for him.
He shot up a tree-like an arrow recently to retrieve some fruit. He dives in and swims the aquaponics to cool off, carries firewood and makes his own candles out of discarded candle stumps near the fire while everyone is talking and having tea. Then he goes off to clean the big windows in the kitchen. He is a little big guy around here.
He also has a personal challenge to cycle the village in under 13 minutes round trip and to keep up his push-up and sit-up schedule every day. James earns points for books by helping out, and each day is delegated a certain amount of points through negotiation. This way, he is earning his books and learning to work and be responsible too.
It helps not having a TV. He uses the internet to study, and we watch selected movies together. He doesn’t play video games much, and if friends drop by, he gets bored with them if they are sitting around twiddling their thumbs on a screen. He wants to run with the dog on the farm and do things, make it all happen.
Richard Louv writes important books around learning in nature – for children and adults – and exposure to the natural environment. He teaches the basics and the importance of learning in nature. We would love to be developing our vision to put some of Louv’s ideas into practice. We were beginning to do this with schools and groups before the virus caused everything to shut down.
Now we are not sure what the future holds. We are still hopeful that we can provide a meaningful experience of learning in nature here for others, too, in this diverse place and unusual context. Before lockdown, the kids from the village would come up to the farm for free learning sessions – usually a group of girls one time, and a group of boys another time. We have planned to develop free learning for the village children. Additionally, our vision remains for empowering city schools to “reach beyond the four walls” to generations who don’t get to experience nature much. We hope to get back to offering our special school field trips, family tours and specialist workshops.
No experience is quite like learning in nature. To plant seeds and generate wonder and excitement for the natural world, learn something about great-tasting organic food and have some adventures around bugs and animals and life on the farm is just the beginning. A learning journey or a specialist workshop can help with creative problem solving, designing projects, staging challenges or the like, especially for older students.
Not all our visitors will experience the farm like James does. But every visitor who comes here will learn something if they are open and the kids are the most delighted. Those who stay with us for a time will experience more still both in the farm and lifestyle in context here.
We look forward to the restrictions being over and the threat passing. We are grateful to have had the time to improve things at the farm in the meantime and look forward to next year when we can start building things back up again here.
James is starting grade 3 and is riding his bike to the teachers house each day to have national curriculum work he is doing graded and returned with more assignments. We will see how things go into the future but for now he has plenty on.
Please see 5eyesfarm.com for more. We warmly invite you to make contact, come and visit (when things are safer) and until then stay safe and dream of learning in nature between the trees.
Danti and Jonathan – Late July 2020.