The following is a guest post written by Annie Reneau of Motherhood and More.
“We can think of ourselves not as teachers but as gardeners. A gardener does not ‘grow’ flowers; he tries to give them what he thinks they need and they grow by themselves.”
– John Holt
One day, I was chatting with a fellow homeschooling mom about this analogy of teachers as gardeners.
As she dug into her botany background and began passionately explaining the diverse needs of seeds, I was struck by the depth of this metaphor — not just for us “gardeners,” but for the “seeds” and “saplings” in our care as well.
All seeds have a basic need for sun, water and a place to anchor — much like a child’s basic needs for food, love and shelter.
But beyond that, seeds sprout and flourish under widely diverse conditions.
Some seeds only germinate within a certain temperature range or under specific moisture levels. Some sprout within days, while others have to incubate for several seasons. Some seeds have to go through fire — or even the digestive tract of an animal — in order to sprout.
As seedlings, some thrive in full sun while others need plenty of shade. Some require hot days and cold nights in order to flourish. Some delicate saplings need to be sheltered until they’re strong enough to withstand the elements. Others grow stronger when they have an obstacle to push against.
Treating all seeds as if they have the same needs would result in some plants thriving, some doing okay, some failing to reach their full potential, and some not sprouting at all.
Expecting all children to grow well under the same conditions is as fruitless as expecting seeds to do the same.
Some children thrive on stimulation and challenge, while others crumble easily with too much pressure.
Some need extra doses of gentleness and sensitivity, while others need a firmer approach.
Some do better sitting at a desk doing silent bookwork, while others learn more naturally with lots of movement and creativity.
None of these differences are right or wrong, better or worse — they just are.
An example from our own garden: One of my children genuinely enjoys timed quizzes. She thrives under the pressure of the clock. Her sister hates — HATES — being timed, even in a fun game. She completely panics as soon as a timer enters the picture.
I could flatly require our second child to take timed tests, since she’d probably have to in school, but for what purpose? Knowing how much it goes against her nature, I’d rather gently expose her over time, and allow her to build confidence in that skill gradually.
A wise gardener knows you can’t coerce, bribe, or demand a seed to grow differently than it’s designed to.
A wise gardener doesn’t expect all plants to grow at the same rate, or put big, bright labels on ones who grow differently than the others.
A wise gardener doesn’t decide on a set of criteria that all plants must meet at set times, and then judge the beauty of each plant by whether or not they meet that criteria.
As educational gardeners, we plant our “seeds” in environments we believe to be best suited to their needs, and then observe carefully to make sure they’re thriving.
We continually remove weeds, rocks, and other obstacles to growth and learning. We trim and prune bad habits or unnecessary expectations. We give them room to spread, adjust the conditions if they seem to be withering, and provide supports when needed.
If saplings are weak, we shelter them, gradually expose them to the elements a bit at a time, and give them time to build strength and endurance.
One of the greatest gifts of homeschooling is being able to observe how each child responds to his or her learning environment — and the freedom to adjust the conditions accordingly.
Just as gardeners don’t treat orchids with the same care as oak trees, wise and loving parents honor the individual needs of their children and guide their growth according to their unique nature.
Teaching, like gardening, isn’t as easy as it looks. It can be hard, back-breaking work, and letting go of control can be challenging.
But if we honor the beauty and potential the Ultimate Gardener has embedded in each of our seedlings, we can sow rich and rewarding educational experiences for each of our children.
And as a reward for our labors, we can enjoy the diverse fruits and flowers of our families’ gardens as they burst into bloom.
Do you have a metaphor that guides your homeschool days?