By Lara Boleslawsky
The start of the school year brings with it the thought of new beginnings. A fresh, crisp fall breeze blows with it the prospects of a new year, and new teachings. But what if, beyond the classroom, beyond the four corners of the textbook, there lies another space for learning? In fact, what if in this space, there were ideas, lessons, and knowledge that complemented the information taught in history books and science labs? The reality is, often this space goes unnoticed. And that needs to be changed.
“It really makes our family close.” This is the start of CZarina’s story. The first thing that comes to mind when I asked her about her decision to homeschool her three boys.
CZarina’s story is remarkable. Her insights into the significance of tapping into our roots are profound. It offers another way to view education: as a way of nurturing our whole being.
Often, at VACS’ Sustainable Weaving Sessions, CZarina and I would chat, idly, musing about the wonders of the current day. During these chats, CZarina would show me the amazing things hand-crafted by her kids: thin ropes woven out of nettle and cedar, tools carved from wood found on a nature hike. It was always my favourite part of the session. Her kids are bundles of energy, always breathing a youthful spirit into the room.
CZarina was originally born in India. “I moved and I travelled. That’s how I met my husband. Then we moved to Australia.” CZarina and her family moved from The Netherlands to Canada and have loved the change. “They love the snow. My kids love the snow. My husband loves the snow. It’s [Canada] is such a lovely country. We’re very fortunate.” The change in landscape, however, did not alter the family’s love for crafts and handiwork. CZarina told me of frequent instances when, during a family walk in the forest, her boys would pick up twigs, branches and pebbles that they could later use to build tools.
But their interest is not limited to organic, nature-based projects. “They have a small car parts and computer parts that they like to take apart,” CZarina says.
An important decision for CZarina’s family was to homeschool her children. “They’re learning ‘primitive skills,’” CZarina tells me. These skills are skills that are not often taught in classroom, and are often forgone in the school curriculum. It’s not often that children are so attuned and attentive to the natural environment, but CZarina’s kids are always finding wonder in everyday things.
“My son Aydin, was the reason we started homeschooling. It wasn’t anything to do with school. I love school. But the kids here didn’t get to go outdoors so often, like they did in Australia. And that was what I wanted. For them to be outdoors,” CZarina tells me, adding, “I always wanted nature to be a part of our bigger learning.”
Looking at my own brother, who’s interests don’t necessarily align with the current curriculum, I am always astounded by the attempts made by administrators to ‘assimilate’ him. Different minds require different outlets, and learning more about CZarina’s outlet for her children gave way to a new set of questions. “So we started networking with other parents, and the more we got started the more I liked it,” CZarina recalls.
“I didn’t see any nature schools, back then. Now its different.” CZarina discusses with me. A newfound increase in homeschooling has given way to more facilities. “Now we also go to Soaring Eagle Nature School. They’re amazing and they do a lot of primitive skills and survival. Now my kids know the name of every tree. They can pretty much live in the forest.”
CZarina describes her motivation not as “survival” based. “I don’t do it to teach them survival skills. I wanted them to learn outdoors, and spend most of the day outside,” at the end CZarina jokes, “I want them to learn and be able to live in the wilderness.”
The effect was contagious: “So once we started going there, at Soaring Eagle, we found our whole family liked it. The whole family loves the harvesting in the forest, making their own spoons, their own bowls.” The remarkable fact is that it seems so natural to want to explore the world I which we live. An understanding of where we come from as human beings starts with exploring the natural world around us.
One of the most touching parts of CZarina’s story is the willingness of the community to support their youth. In her homeschooling network, CZarina describes instances of parents and professionals coming in to teach the kids and provide support. One example CZarina tells me is of “One friend, who will take the kids out to the forest, teach them about mushrooms, and they’ll spend the whole day out there. Another time, one parent, a neuroscientist, provided us with a bunch of microscopes so the kids could learn about biology.” In this thriving community-mentorship model, a child can feel valued and provides a safe space for the encouragement of diverse perspectives.
“This is real life stuff, useful in life. And that’s what I like about homeschooling,” CZarina shares.
But, there is often a stigma associated with homeschooling. “The first question everybody asks is: ‘Are they social? Are your kids social?’ But most of the time the homeschooling families are made of grandparents and kids from a bunch of age groups. There are newborn babies, and kids up to 15 or 16 years of age. I mean, how much more mixed interaction can they get?”
CZarina continues, “Sometimes it happens that they’re not caught up with all the slang. Then they get put in a group in summer camp and they don’t necessarily know all the trends and fads, but I always say, ‘That’s ok, you can catch up. I’m sure you’ll find one kid who can show you.’”
It is this spirit of skill sharing that fosters a sense of belonging. Diverse approaches to education do not hinder, but rather help in providing new branches of thought.
The start of the school year brings with it the beginning of the fall. Piles of leaves are all raked up and properly kept, but look closely and you will see multiples sizes, shapes, and colours. Perhaps it is time to jump into the pile and watch the many-coloured pieces whirl and twist and land on the ground in many different ways.
CZarina’s family has a fascinating story to tell and their insight into learning and nature provides a new perspective and an example of a community to be inspired by.