“My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shall learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! …
thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds…”
– “Frost at Midnight” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Explorer: one who searches or travels for the purpose of discovery, to acquire knowledge.
To a child, the world is undiscovered. Childhood is an adventure. We are raising explorers.
Like Mr Coleridge, I have been abstrusely musing lately. Whilst not in a cottage layered with midnight frost – sunny Sydney still has her fingers firmly gripped in summer’s sweaty palm – I have, nevertheless, been contemplating my children’s future, and the education we want for them. I have thought about blogging before, but never really had a focus. I could do an educational blog, like lots of teachers, or a mummy-wifey blog, like lots of mummy-wives, or a scathing satire of society and politics, like everyone else. But I’ve found it difficult to compartmentalise myself. I’m not just an English teacher, or just a mum or wife, or just a great big left-wing greenie. I’m all of those things. Raising Explorers, inspired by my kids, is also all of those things. So what does a twin-mum, English-teaching environmentalist have to say? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out… or just head back over to Facebook now…
* * *
My excitement increases every day as our kids approach four, and we’re able to expose them to so much more of what the world has to offer. I am so deeply enthused about the experiences we can have together: the questions we can ask (always the questions, and I revel in them), the new things we can see, the people we can meet, the places where we can get lost, the words we can learn, and, most importantly, the ways we can appreciate just how beautiful our world is and how lucky we are to live in it.
When I mentioned “education” before, I didn’t mean school. School is a part of an individual’s education, certainly. An important part. But still only a part. As a teacher, it is irrevocably clear that the way that students approach learning at school is very closely connected to their life outside of school. The student that I see in the classroom is very much a product of the “education” that happens in the 18 hours of the day when that student is not at school. Much of what my high school students bring to the classroom – attitudes towards learning, perspectives about different cultural groups, moral and ethical values, understanding of inequalities (or lack of), ability to empathise, I could go on – comes from the home, and has an impact on how successful they are at school.
All of this has me thinking about the people who I would like my children to be, and the qualities I’d like them to have. I have a long list in my head, but there are a few characteristics that stick out, and poke me between the shoulder blades like an oversized lunchbox in a poorly-packed backpack (something I have experienced on a recent trip to the Easter Show):
Curiosity: I want my kids to be interested in what’s going on around them. I want them to be engaged, and thinking, about what they see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and feel. I want them to want to know how things work, or why things don’t work. I want them to take risks and step outside their comfort zones. I want them to try new things, to visit new places, even if sometimes that may be scary. I want them to ask questions, endlessly, into old age, because when kids are curious, they are involved, and absorbed and connected to their world, and most importantly they’re learning.
Critical thinking: I want my kids to think. I want to be able to guide them to think for themselves. I want them to question knowledge. I want them to be able to solve problems, to work through solutions if things don’t work the first time. I want them to be able to make judgements, to evaluate the options, and make decisions. I want them to have opinions, and discuss them, and develop them, and change them, and grow as a result. I want them to have their own interests, and for them to direct their own learning, building on what they know and what interests them.
Compassion: I want my kids to care for others. I want them to empathise with the emotions of others, to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I want my kids to know how lucky they are to have the things they have, to appreciate what they have, knowing that there are lots of kids out there who are barely surviving. I want my kids to want to help others. I want them to be the ones to stand up and tell a bully to back off, to speak out against injustice. I want them to be accepting of others who might be different to them, knowing that every human being on this planet is equal, and treating them thus. I want my kids to view the earth compassionately, to realise that if we don’t look after our environment, it won’t be able to look after us. It’s all about respect. Respect for people, respect for place, and self-respect.
So, things have been coming together for me lately. You could say I’m feeling slightly epiphanic (that’s not a word – it should be) in a non-religious kind of way. Mostly, I want my kids to know that there is a big world out there, and I want them to want to go out and explore it, and even change it if they can.
Raising Explorers is all about these things. It’s going to be a record of our adventures, as our adventurers grow. It’s for them, it’s for me, it’s for my husband Stephen, and it’s for anyone else interested. Whether a visit to the museum or gallery, a walk through the city, a trek in the bush, a new book, or a snake in the backyard, Raising Explorers is about how we can turn everyday things into learning experiences, and build on each experience with the next. It might also just be sitting around at home, doing the grocery shopping, or the vacuuming, or discussing the Easter Bunny… whatever takes my fancy.
Let me return, finally, to the work of Coleridge, because those words at the top of this page speak so much of who I am, and the parent I want to be. Being an English teacher, language and literature have a big impact on me. I am often inspired by words. Words move me. There are words that that build on, or echo, my own thinking, my own values and ideas. More importantly, there are those words that open my eyes to new perspectives and viewpoints. Sometimes those words are frightening. Sometimes they tell me things about the world that are shocking, saddening, and infuriating. Often those words, however, speak to me of the beauty of humanity or nature, the simplest actions, of optimism and kindness, of love and selflessness. Words make me laugh and cry. Coleridge’s words move me with joy.
I am the father in “Frost at Midnight”, the speaker, gazing at his sleeping baby in the silence of the night, speculating on the future that he will provide for his child, his education so connected to the natural world. As a parent, my children’s teacher, I want my children to experience that awe of nature, to be enthralled by a volcanic stone and want to know why it is shiny; to wonder at a giant redwood and question how it grew so wide, so tall; to marvel at the aquamarine of a lake, and ask what makes it that colour.
I want them to love language; to use words with purpose, and with beauty, like Coleridge; to use their imaginations to create, knowing that the pen is mightier than the sword, and that with words they can become anything they want to be.
Stephen and I are going to take them on adventures of discovery. We’re going to watch. We’re going to help.
We’re raising explorers, and I’m excited!
- Frost at Midnight (writewelldaily.wordpress.com)