It is a pleasant summer evening, and I lean over the rail on the deck, looking out at the backyard. The air is full of the buzz of crickets and cicadas, and a thin frosting of pink clouds covers the sky. Fireflies rise over the grass. The high branches of the maples and pines stir in a slight breeze.
The coming school year looms large in my thoughts. I have spent the day scouring curriculum sites, reading reviews, visiting web pages, and picking the virtual brains of homeschool moms. I wonder if my fourth-grader should learn to type this year, or if we should try Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr. course. I know my kids are behind in spelling and grammar. I thought they’d pick up more of the basics from their reading, but they haven’t. And what about languages, handicrafts, and creative writing? The unit-based curriculum I’ve pieced together over the last several years has proven too labor-intensive. I need something a little more open-and-go, something that borders on pre-packaged. Not too pre-packaged, of course. I have authority issues, and I don’t like anyone telling me how to teach my kids. Mainly, though, I circle back to one impossible question: What do my children need to know? Ask a thousand mothers and you’ll get a thousand unique answers.
Meanwhile, the deck is messy. In the center, cluttering up the walkway, are a knife, a hatchet, some sandpaper, a pile of wood shavings, and two sturdy cedar branches. (My husband and son are drying the branches and slowly trimming them down to make walking sticks.) There’s a half-empty bag of mulch waiting and ready for the next cleanout of the turtle cage. There’s an abandoned Eastern bluebird house, and the nest we found inside. There are two metal pie pans designated for panning gold in the creek. (My kids are convinced we’ll make a fortune.) There are herbs and ferns, small pots and pans with grass and flower clippings. (These make excellent stews and salads for the stuffed animals.) There’s a pointy stick lashed to a longer stick with iridescent string (my daughter’s spear), some sidewalk chalk and scattered chalk handprints, and the remains of a poster board-and-aluminum foil solar oven.
Out of nowhere, Einstein springs to mind. “Imagination,” he said, “is more important than knowledge.” The pursuit of knowledge tends to focus on what has already been done and on what, according to the rules, cannot be done. Imagination, on the other hand, opens infinite doors of possibility.
I have not made a single decision about what or how I will teach my children this year. But I take a last look around the deck and head inside with a smile.