If you're homeschooling, you probably like to do things yourself, even if you can buy just about anything -- food, shelter, clothing, and "consumer services" that promise to replace even love (including, of course, something they call "education").
But despite all the advertising, even the most addicted shopper knows the difference between something hand made, with love, and something factory-produced (or even "hand-crafted") for sale.
Julie asked me to write about some books I publish about how to make useful, beautiful things out of stuff that's at hand or underfoot (wood-fired ovens made of mud, or earthen garden walls and benches, murals, and bird houses; or all kinds of other things you can easily make at home for almost nothing, like stilts, whistles, games, clothing, etc.)
As "activities," all these things are pretty easy, and there's all sorts of information out there, on the web or on paper, that can help you get started. Our little contribution to that flood is on the web at HandPrintPress.com and DigYourHandsInTheDirt.net, but I believe that stories are more important than information, so I wrote up a little story about what I do and why:
At 34, I quit my day job to make sculpture -- something I had started at the age of about 9 or so. Jobless and looking to put my life together outside the bland convenience of office, job, and paycheck, I took a one week introduction to earthen or "cob" construction, so I could build myself a house for $500. Without a place to build, however, I started building wood-fired mud ovens. They were sculpture that made the best bread and pizza, not to mention making various family members very happy.
I started getting invitations to build them for other folks, and covered my expenses by organizing the oven projects as workshops. I wrote up some notes for people who took the workshops, and pretty soon it became a pamphlet, and then, after borrowing $5k from my brother, I had it printed up as a real book and became a publisher.
As I learned about working with earth, new ideas and projects took root in the mud, most of them educational and community-oriented, because I didn't really like working all by myself (also, my "professional career" had been spent doing educational work with various communities and groups of people). So I published two more little books: Dig Your Hands in the Dirt, and Make a Simple Sundial.
All of this mud and art and making is founded on an idea I learned from my mother, who traced it back to Aristotle. He had said "what we learn to do, we learn by doing."
My mother is an artist whose own mother sent her to a school where learning by doing was the core curriculum -- and where her teacher was called "Miss Doing" (really!) A self-employed artists, she has published 13 books, one of which was a "Handbook of Creative Discovery" called Making Things, published by Little, Brown. But after 30 years, the publisher, now owned by Time-Warner, thought it needed to be "improved" for a "new market," so they replaced my mother's hand-drawn cover with something more modern and "market oriented." People quit buying it, so the publisher let it go out of print. By then, I had kids of my own and had made a very interesting (and tax-free) living by following my mother's good example of how to live well below the official "poverty line."
So I re-published Making Things for my own kids, and came to realize that my mother's early mission to promote "learning by doing" was even more important and timely than it had been 30 years prior. Only real knowledge can create beauty and harmony. The rest is advertising.
Education is advertised as being better and more reliable than your own knowledge, but real knowledge consists of much more than information, or thinking, or belief, and it can't be accredited or conferred by degree.
Knowledge comes of integrating information with experience. It comes when we commit body, spirit, intellect, and heart; when we accept risk, and consequences. It makes us who we are, and defines our place in the world.
It is also too often dismissed by "official educators" as less important than the day's fashionable fact or byte of "infotainment." So we forget, hide, ignore, or deny what we know best -- which is our own self, and our own experience of the world.
Such experience is the source of love; it is what ties us to parents, place, and children -- and it is how we create culture.
A book or other information, digital or analog, is a half-way measure that can't replace the kind of learning that happens when a grandparent or neighbor takes your child by the hand and helps them build an oven, or bake a loaf of bread, or make a willow whistle, or catch a fish, or sew a shirt.
But books can help. So we offer a few titles through Hand Print Press, and hope we can help strengthen the web of people who are taking responsibility for their own experience and their own places on the planet. In addition to books, my wife Hannah and I watch children and garden grow, bake bread, make and build things, teach, and trade with friends and neighbors. We are officially poor, but rich in time, friends, and freedom.
We live and trade within a global economy, but our hopes are directed towards living within the limits of our own region, without need of global finance, or global war.
Oh my goodness! I am a home schooling mum of 4 and I have NEVER found a better site! Thank you so much.
Blessings, Jenny (New Zealand)
I wanted to say THANK YOU for your fabulous website. I found your website, and finally I have the confidence to take the plunge and take my daughter out of school and educate her at home, thank you, thank you. Marina (UK)
I cannot get over how much great information and super ideas you have here. Fantastic! Ruralmama (USA)
This is simply fabulous!! I just now found this site and I'm so excited!! The opportunities and suggestions as well as the need to inspire are exactly what I have been searching to fulfill!! I'm so thrilled to get started and even more excited to continue to explore all of the fabulous suggestions and creative ideas you have offered here!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Jennifer (USA)