Learning Outside the Garden Walls

By Kristi Kronz

Gardening can be a solitary venture. Some of my most difficult life circumstances have been prayed through while alone on my hands and knees in my walled, kitchen garden, fingernails filled with soil and the fragrance of sweet peas and cilantro mingling with the taste of tears. Most families have only a small plot from which to garden, and the reality is that often only one person at a time can be effectively digging and planting without needing also to avoid stepping on the other while squeezing through narrow pathways of corn rows and Swiss chard. Often I crave the solitude I find in my gardens. Alone with my thoughts, life, with its seemingly urgent circumstances, suddenly seems quieted. My thoughts turn from making wise choices within the realm of parenting to whether or not to split and transplant the overgrown hosta looming in the corner. The ease and fruitfulness of these decisions are a welcome reprieve from the difficult choices that often come my way as a home schooling mother. In my garden, with birds and insects as my companions, it is possible for me to abide with God in utter abandon.

While appealing sometimes to the point of seclusion, this solitude has its drawbacks. I’m often left learning by doing it wrong the first time (I, by the way, am very good at this part). Rather than taking the time to read, study, and find outside resources to help me with my seasonal choices and problems, I’m sometimes a lone ranger when it comes to knowing what to plant and when. Questions are constantly looming in my head. Will adding straw improve the soil? Will that same straw break down eventually, or will I be staring at yellow particles for years to come? Would heirloom seeds be the best choice for my pumpkin patch, or would hybrids fare better in our climate of extremes? Which seed catalogue has the highest quality with the lowest price? … and what about seed potatoes being over-wintered? How can I best preserve my massive harvest of winter squash? And why in the world do I never have good-tasting cantaloupes?

In the end I am so much better off when I surround myself with fellow gardeners on a regular basis. We share our learning experiences, share cuttings, lament late frosts, and never, ever notice the dirty fingernails. We offer advice to each other on natural methods of pest control while simultaneously weeding alongside each other. I actively seek out learning opportunities to improve my gardening skills. I haven’t had enough free time in the last fifteen years, but I hope to eventually take a master gardener’s class. I thrive on the latest gardening magazine–and seek out both new and respected books on companion gardening, my backyard orchard, growing and using herbs, decorating the garden room, and any other manner of “subduing the earth.” This fellowship with other gardeners, both beginners and experienced, face-to-face or through printed sources, brings companionship and support–in both the summers and the winters of my life.

Home schooling is like tending a garden. Within this realm, we nurture the soil of our children’s hearts and wholeheartedly seek out daily fruit in their lives. The amazing thing is that we are changed in the process and unwittingly bear fruit of our own. I’ve often shared with people, particularly those curious about home schooling and yet not choosing this option themselves, that God has shaped my life just as much through this choice as He has the lives and hearts of my children. While God allows for the growth in my heart by keeping me on my knees and trusting in His guidance, I am confident that He did not intend for me to walk this path alone. He provides fellowship with others as a source of both joy and learning. I have lived out and learned that our entire family suffers when we fall into the trap of isolationism. Although tempting at times, seclusion rarely reaps the rewards that we had hoped.

Without the fellowship of others, whether in church, in a class, in a co-op, with extended family, or just in our own neighborhood backyards, we lack vital support to continue in a way which fosters a healthy outlook on the life God has called us to as a fellowship of believers. Just like I do in my daily gardening, I benefit tremendously when I foster companionship along the way. Like gardening, home schooling can be a lonely calling. Yes, we are gifted with the presence and companionship of our precious children throughout the day, but often we lack the nurturing and support we need from godly examples to continue steadfastly upon our journey. Although this solitude serves a valuable purpose in helping us to more fully rely on God and lean into Him when we struggle with loneliness, I believe He grants fellowship for a purpose and allows us to grow in unique ways when we take opportunities to walk alongside and learn from each other.

I strongly believe that as home schooling moms in constant need of focus and refocus, we must remain informed. Just as I invest my time and energy to keep learning in regard to my agrarian lifestyle, I also avidly seek out opportunities to learn and glean about home education. Professionals in the work place are required to participate in continuing education classes. My husband cannot keep his credentials without attending meetings, reading books, and interacting in situations, both formal and informal, where others within his profession can learn from each other and the experts in their field. In the same way, as home schoolers we are strengthened and undergirded when we actively seek to grow in knowledge from others who have gone before us.

I have found that in learning from others’ experiences, I am better able to choose wisely for myself and my children. I have found a wealth of information and great hands-on help from the home schoolers who have walked this path years longer than I have. Most are eager to share their wisdom and experience. I have personally found that there is a huge fellowship of experienced home schoolers out there. Watching and gleaning from their experience is priceless.

If you aren’t already feeding yourself regularly with information surrounding the topic of home schooling, I encourage you to begin today. If you have a computer with Internet access, do a topic search on “home schooling.” You can then narrow your search by looking under specific titles, such as “Home Schooling Science,” “Home Schooling through High School,” or “Avoiding Home School Burnout.” The computer, when used wisely, can be an invaluable tool. Visit your library, and head to the education section. There you will likely find some “oldies but goodies,” as well as some refreshing new titles on the subject of home schooling. Even though you may have read many of these books years ago, you may find that rereading them now renews a sense of purpose as you continue. Be purposeful to sit under the wisdom and tutelage of those “older and wisers” with whom God has gifted you, and don’t hesitate to offer wisdom and share your experiences with those whom God brings into your life to befriend and potentially minister to. Make plans to attend your state home school conference. Don’t avoid such opportunities simply because you might not agree with the mindset of every speaker. There is always something more to be learned.

Utilize daily, weekly, and yearly opportunities for growth. Nurture yourself in order to better nurture those you love and serve daily. Like the daily feeding of our souls with the Word of God, so also do we benefit from regular fellowship with others whose lives and paths parallel our own. The joy it brings to our lives refreshes our spirits and affords us opportunities to refocus as we continue in confidence with the task God has set before us.