My Snake Lesson

I was prompted to recall today some of the lessons I learned from my firstborn son the first year we began to homeschool. Don’t we all have these? My most important lesson I learned was the snake lesson.

I had tried to do school at home . . . hey, in a FUN way . . . with my son for two weeks in August. I chose to do it then because I was eight months pregnant with child number four and wanted to “get a jump start” and have a rhythm going before I gave birth. Well, what ended up happening was I realized it wasn’t working and had to come up with Plan B. I always say having a newborn saved my son’s education! I just didn’t have time to hover and micromanage with a newborn, a one year old, a three year old and a five year old . . . LOL!

So, we slowly tested out some unit study books from time to time over most of the school year. Eric let me know what he was interested in, I would find a unit study book on it, and we would play around with the ideas in it together. Well, around April, he wanted to do a study on snakes. Well, I couldn’t find a unit study on snakes, but since we had done a couple of them, I felt I was up to the task of putting one together myself. Although the newborn was now about seven months old, with four young ones, it still took effort to carve out the time to put something like that together.

So, we started off by going to the library and finding a bunch of books about snakes that I could use as fodder. I also gathered whatever we had at home. By this time, we had quite the stack. Well, it took me two weeks before I was able to find a weekend to put it altogether. In the meantime, Eric had been going through that stack of books. He was a non-reader, but he would ask me a lot of questions about what he was seeing, or ask me to read certain blurbs.

Well, the weekend came and boy did I put one great unit study together. It would last five days and Eric was so excited he could barely contain himself Sunday night. Monday morning came and he was there with bells on, eager to jump right in. How wonderful to have such an enthusiastic “student”, ready to be fed. So, I began with my first lesson. Immediately, Eric’s face fell.

“What’s wrong?” I quieried.

“I already know that!” he lamented.

“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously.

“I already know it, I mean,” he insisted.

“No problem, we’ll just skip to the next part,” I concluded.

“I already know that, too!” he cried at this point.

So, I decided to share with him all that I was going to teach him, and he realized that he knew everything already from his going through the resources before I was able to get to them. He was interested in doing a couple of the craft projects, but so ended my fabulous unit study.

Ah, but wait, I noticed that he knew everything you never wanted to know about cobras and pythons and constrictors, but nothing about rattlesnakes and vipers!

“How about I teach you about those?” I questioned.

“No, thanks. I’m not interested in rattlesnakes or vipers,” he calmly pointed out.

“Yeah, but you didn’t tell me that, and I prepared it, and you don’t know it, so how about I teach it,” I insisted.

“No, thanks.”

Well, I was about to go into a tirade about all the time and energy I put into it, and by golly, he was going to learn about rattlesnakes and vipers, but then, a sudden idea entered my mind and turned the learning experience from him to me. Something urged me to go ahead and teach him one concept about what he didn’t want to learn about. Just one. So, I decided to teach him why a pit viper is called a pit viper. He listened, and we went on our merry ways through the day.

Before going to bed, I asked him why a pit viper is called a pit viper. He couldn’t remember. I rehearsed to him again the reason. We then had a long discussion about all the things I never wanted to know about cobras, pythons and constrictors for a good 30 minutes. The next day, I asked Eric why a pit viper is called a pit viper. Couldn’t remember. Repeat, try again. Repeat, try again. All to no avail. And yet, a month later, a year later, that boy could tell you all the types of cobras, what country they lived in, if they were venomous, how they gave birth to their young, etc. as well as about constrictors and pythons.

Lesson for Mom: I can put lots and lots of energy and time into preparing “the perfect lesson”, and if he’s not interested in learning it, it is all for nothing. Being a person who had chosen to raise a large family close in age, time was valuable. Why would I waste my precious time, let alone weaken my relationship with my child as we battled over his willingness to listen to my lessons?

It was right after this point that unschooling completely took over how Eric pursued his learning world.


Eric at 5

7 responses to “My Snake Lesson

  1. Wonderful post! It’s a good reminder to me… sometimes I get so caught up in “teaching” that I forget to get out of the way and just let them “LEARN”. :o)

  2. This is so true, and such a great (and hilarious) reminder. I’m sure it wasn’t hilarious at the time, but it sounds like you handled it really well! I have heard homeschool moms have fits over all the time they put into stuff and that’s natural I suppose, but c’mon… wasn’t the whole point of all that time the kid and their learning?

  3. Yes, it was a great ah-ha moment, and really quite amusing when you can see the scenario as it really was . . . as you said, the point being about the child learning, not lauding kudos to my unit study greatness . . . LOL! And I caught that very quickly, in that moment, because of the lesson I had already taken away from our two week, FUN, school at home approach: If I thought they were so fun and interesting, then why don’t I just do them šŸ˜‰ Because, again, it’s about his learning, not my wonderful ideas . . . LOL! Big lessons in a short time.

    The reason I recognized the “lessons” so early is because all the while, I had been reading Growing Without Schooling, John Holt and Home Education Magazine, wanting to get to child-led learning, but obviously needing to go through my actual learning experiences anyway . . . thick skulled, I am šŸ™‚ But an eager experiential learner!

  4. I just wanted to say thanks for the prayers this past week. Knowing my cyberfriends were keeping me in their prayers meant a lot to me. :o) Whew! I’m so glad this week is over!!!!


  5. I LOVE this post. This is me all the way … I love those best laid plans. Then – occasionally – I have those wonderful moments where the autodidact trumps the “teacher.” šŸ˜€ Kudos to you for having the courage to follow your childrens’ needs – and your heart – and follow these moments into the life of natural learning that works best for your family! By the way, why do they call them pit vipers? I don’t know.

  6. Are you kidding me? Do you think I would remember? LOL! I looked it up in google:

    “In addition, the pit vipers have developed special organs of heat reception that help them to sense warm-blooded animals, an ability that is especially useful at night, when many of them hunt. These organs consist of pits, for which the group is named, located just behind the nostrils and covered with a temperature-sensitive membrane. Some pit vipers may also use these organs to find cool refuges from inhospitable daytime temperatures.”

    And to show that my son’s ability to gather information continues to exceed mine, I asked him about the pit viper today and he knew why they are called pit vipers, and then he goes on to say, “I think pit viper is a classification, Mom.” Huh? Sure enough, in that same spot on google I found the definition, it says rattlesnakes(!), the fer-de-lance, water moccasins, bushmasters, and copperheads are all pit vipers! So, I guess his learning continued about snakes after that initial “failed lesson” way back when . . . LOL! . . . and boy, does he remember it well and accurately.

    So, the student of himself remembers . . . and the teacher doesn’t . . . gotta love it!

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