At about this time every year, I dream about living on a farm. Don't you? Summer lures us to the soil, compels us to connect more deeply with food and farm and all the goodness coming from the earth on these bright, warm days. Maybe it's the contrast of city and country that makes the farm all the more intoxicating at this time every year: the lushness and sweetness and wide-openness of the farm contrasted against the city's concrete. Whenever we can, wherever we are, I try to make time to visit local, sustainable farms. Especially in summer. This week, while visiting family near Cape Cod, we spent some time at Bay End Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Buzzards Bay -- with CSA delivery to Cambridge! Just being at the farm--walking along the trails, marveling at the bounty rising from the land--brings a certain peacefulness, a certain connectedness, a certain clarity of our place in nature's chain. In nature's chain. That line from David Mallett's "Garden Song" always stands out to me: Grain for grain, sun and rain, I'll find my way in nature's chain, I tune my body and my brain, To the music of the land. This is that very special season when we find our way in nature's chain -- and vow to keep the music humming all through the year. What about you? Do you feel the draw to the farm in summer? Or maybe you already live on a farm and feel its special power at this time of year.
At this time of year, we take to the woods. A lot. There is something so calming and refreshing about time on the trails, surrounded by the beauty of the natural world. It helps all of us, children and grown-ups, to relax and refocus.
A few years ago, I started making my own natural bugspray. Its mixture of witch hazel and essential oils is safe and effective, and the kids love to help create it. It also makes a wonderful homemade and useful gift!
Here's my natural bugspray recipe, but feel free to experiment with various combinations and potencies of essential oils to find a concoction that works best for your family--and your bugs! You can generally find the ingredients at any natural food store or Whole Foods market.
Homemade Natural Bugspray
6 oz witch hazel (alcohol-free)
15 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
15 drops of peppermint essential oil
15 drops of lemongrass essential oil
15 drops of citrus essential oil
Mix together in a spray bottle.
Shake well before each use and reapply as often as needed.
I've had a bit of a shift in my thinking. It used to be that when the kids showed an interest in something, I would quickly research and identify a local class geared toward that interest. In the city, there is almost always a class for any interest. But as our homeschooling has evolved and the kids' interests have become more sophisticated, I have realized that for most interests it can be much more meaningful (and more cost-effective) to identify a mentor instead. Finding someone who is an expert, skilled in his or her craft or subject, isn't always as straightforward as registering for a class but, I have found, it can be much higher-quality, lead to much more in-depth exploration of a particular interest, and be far more rewarding than a class. Also, while paying someone an hourly rate to share his or her knowledge can at first glance seem more expensive than paying for a class, the more intimate setting can lead to faster and deeper learning in fewer sessions and avoid the problem of needing to continue with a class that may not be a good fit for the child, or dropping out of the class after paying for it. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my six-year-old was very interested in whittling and we wanted something more than a YouTube video to help him learn. I asked a friend and local homeschooling dad who is an expert in wilderness education and primitive skills if he would spend a few hours with my son at our home to show him more about whittling. We invited a couple of my son's friends to join, which can also lower the cost of private lessons. My son had a blast and has not stopped whittling all weekend! In addition to the specifics of whittling, this gifted mentor also shared his knowledge of knife safety, different notching techniques, identifying the best type of whittling wood by observing the types of trees in our neighborhood, and so much more. While I'm sure we will still rely on classes from time-to-time, like our beloved homeschool math class and the MIT homeschool science workshops that are being planned for fall, I will likely try to use mentors more frequently. In my opinion, nothing beats learning from experts who are passionate about their subject and eager to share their wisdom with others.
Our home is sandwiched between Harvard and MIT. It's a special spot. We enjoy many of the programs that these universities offer the community, like free arts festivals and science weeks. And of course their affiliated museums just steps away from us are true gems for our homeschooling lifestyle. Most of our interactions with these universities to date have been informal and publicly accessible, but recently I was contacted by a Chemistry professor at MIT who was homeschooled himself and who wanted to reach out specifically to the local homeschooling community to offer various presentations, workshops, and internship opportunities for homeschoolers. Yesterday, a group of 100 homeschoolers gathered at MIT for a welcoming reception and a presentation of chemistry magic. It was a whole-family affair, with parents and younger siblings joining in the fun. With plans by the professor to grant-fund many of these upcoming homeschooling programs, it should be an exciting year of science ahead! These MIT programs are meaningful in two ways. Not only do they offer local homeschoolers hands-on, high-quality science exposure and the experience of being on MIT's campus interacting with professors and graduate students who are passionate about science, but they also show what can happen when homeschoolers grow up and give back. It's a great time to be a homeschooler.
Kerry McDonald, M.Ed., lives in Cambridge with her husband and four, never-been-schooled children. She is passionate about child-led unschooling, Attachment Parenting, homebirthing, holistic health, and urban homesteading. Kerry has a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College and a Master's degree in Education Policy from Harvard University. Click the photo above to contact Kerry.