Handed My Own Life

I have a book on my bookshelf, The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing. It has traveled with me, from Missouri to California in 1994 and returned again in 1997. I rarely open it – it is the memory that it evokes, in one simple sentence, that has compelled me to keep it for nearly twenty years.

A relic from an English 101 class, there is an excerpt, titled “Handed My Own Life” by Annie Dillard. It tells the tale of youth, and Annie’s obsession with a microscope and the elusive amoeba. After owning the microscope for over six months, she finally hits pay dirt and rushes upstairs to call to her parents to hurry and come see this amazing creature she has been seeking for so long. They decline and she writes,

“She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.”

There is such a deep beauty in those words, you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself that even to this day it brings tears to my eyes. Reading those words…changed my life. Perhaps, in a sense, they gave me permission. I was so wrapped up in doing ‘what was right’ or ‘what was expected’ or trying to please others that it took a while for the words to sink in and fully take hold.

You do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.

And I cannot help but think that this is key in what must come next.

Growing up, my daughter Danielle showed an interest in drawing. I was secretly delighted. I had shown a talent for it when I was very young, but never pursued it. I joke now that drawing stick people is difficult for me, but there was a time when I could sketch a reasonably life-like flower…I just…didn’t keep at it.

I bought Danielle reams of sketch paper, watercolor paper, colored pencils, all sorts of paints, and anything I could think of. I liked watching her sketch, or having her bring me her most recent creation, and she seemed so happy doing it. And she has truly improved over the years, enough so that I was proud to display her artwork on my first fiction book, War’s End.

The art work she provided for War’s End is a close second to my ultimate favorite, the Tree Lady, which she sent to me a year or so ago…

Danielle is also a writer and I look forward to someday seeing her name in print. A voracious reader, writer, and artist, she follows her passions as much as possible while she juggles a relationship, full-time college classes, and an online book-selling business of her own.

Which brings me back to Emily. I return again to Ken Robinson’s speech,

“It is about passion. Often people are good at things they don’t really care for. It’s about passion and what excites our spirit and energy and if you’re doing the thing you love to do and that you are good at, time takes a different course entirely…human flourishing is not a mechanical process but an organic process.”

How do I feed/ignite a passion within her? How do I tap into her interests and promote learning through those interests, tailoring Emily’s learning so that she enjoys the process, asks to learn more, and finds the experience rewarding?

What excites and motivates Emily? And how can I use that excitement and motivation to promote learning and growth?

When I thought about it, the first answer was…people. Emily loves interacting with others. Us…Neighbors (all ages)…Even strangers. To say that my child is gregarious always feels like a massive understatement. She has this knack for charming kids and adults – it’s rather surreal.

I need to continue to foster this passion – not only in providing her social opportunities (local events, classes, and play dates) but also by including her in more of my classes. Or as a reader suggested the other day, crafting a couple of classes that Emily could eventually teach herself. How fun would that be for her?

The other day at a Grow Herbs, Give Gifts class the librarian was asking me what days of the week I preferred to teach classes. I told her that any day was fine – I had originally limited the days to Tuesdays and Thursdays since those were the days that Dave was not in class and could watch Emily instead of me bringing her to a class. However, several schedule conflicts led to me having to bring her anyway, which led to me realizing that she could and would behave herself quite well during an event.

So, here are a few steps that I see as essential in our new homeschool approach for our little family…

Step #1 – Continue to provide a wide range of social and educational experiences. Foster relationships with other parents and expose Emily to a large network of other playmates.

Step #2 – Examine ways in which I can foster her self-esteem by including her in my current class offerings and perhaps tailor future class offerings to include her knowledge base (yes, she’s five, but she does know a lot about gardening, chickens and bees) and eventually transition to encouraging her to teach her own classes at some point in the future if she continues to show interest.

Step #3 – Increase the creative arts projects and experiences. Dance and sing more, paint and shape, play with clay, sketch, make kids crafts. Do Yoga Kids: For Ages 3-6 in the mornings we aren’t running off to events. Garden and dig in the dirt more. Play with Legos and jigsaw puzzles. Read more books. Cuddle more. Cook more in the kitchen together. Make that fairy house I’ve been talking about. Take walks at least twice per week.

I think that, like I did with Danielle, I need to watch Emily, and respond to her interests and passions by giving her more and more opportunities to engage in what she loves best. I think too that, the reading and the math and all of that rote knowledge will follow. I can accomplish many of these goals by reading the Hello Math Reader series, encouraging her to learn more of the Dolch sight words, and filling out the knowledge of our nation and world history and culture in a variety of books from the library. Just as I’ve been doing all along.

 I’m also going to get some reading done. I’ve got Sir Ken Robinson’s two books –


And the book on the Finnish model of education is also on its way…

So in short, I’m going into the end of our first year of homeschool with the plan above, while still hanging on tightly to the goals for learning as defined in Rebecca Rupp’s Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School. I’m not going to pull my hair out over the lists of learning goals, but I will still be paying attention to them. As for that goal of actual literacy and interest in reading? Well, I’m going to model some good behavior and re-incorporate regular reading into my daily routine! Perhaps we will include ‘reading time’ into our days where we each have a book to read, and Emily can choose to page through it and guess at what is being said, or puzzle it out with help from me. We’ll see how that all irons out.

In the end, I hope that I can do for Emily what Annie Dillard’s parents were able to do for her – foster the passion and encourage her to be motivated to reach for her dreams, learn where her true talents lie, and take hold of her future with both hands. I want her to find that perfect union that Sir Ken Robinson describes “where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.”

He goes on to say,

“We need to evolve a new appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent along with an understanding of how talent expresses itself differently in every individual…We need to make sure that all people have the chance to do what they should be doing, to discover the Element in themselves and in their own way.”

As a mother, and a teacher, all I can think of is, “How can I do my part to make sure this happens?”

I think I’ve definitely just stepped over that little black line between schooling and unschooling. Hang in there, it is sure to be an interesting ride!

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One Response to Handed My Own Life

  1. Tom says:

    Great read!