At the 2007 ChildLightUSA Charlotte Mason Educational Conference, on Thursday morning Amber Benton led a discussion called “A Sense of Place.” She talked about how we should know the place where we are, the place that God has called us to. She talked about the history of creeks and streams in her own area and how that has been changing over time.
During her talk, I reflected on what I had learned so far about my own place, Kenosha County in Wisconsin. Like the rest of Wisconsin, most of Kenosha County used to be prairie. The ecological cycle supported a diverse range of grasses and flowers, and related animals. With the arrival of the Europeans, major changes began to take place. Now, most of the original prairie in Wisconsin is gone, and has been replaced by forests, farms, and cities.
About 30 years ago, a man discovered a remnant of pure prairie in Kenosha. Unfortunately, it was in prime development area, just next to Lake Michigan. He began a project of acquiring the land for preservation. Many others joined him in this effort, and the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation work began. In addition to buying land, the group also does hands-on work to assist the growth and development of the prairie, since the ecological cycle is no longer automatic.
After Amber’s talk, I went over and told her about Chiwaukee Prairie, and I said that she had challenged me to consider volunteering to help with the preservation work. Amber said that would be a good idea, and that it would surely result in new relationships for me that would open new doors for me. I have been pondering this in the weeks after the conference, and finally two weeks ago I was able to join the preservation crew for the first time. (They conduct a work day one Saturday each month.)
All my life, I hated gardening, weeding, and the like. I thought the work would be a great challenge for me, so I thought it best for me to get used to it by myself, and not take along my 8-year-old son. But my son heard about my plans and insisted on joining me. So, the fateful day, we biked to Chiwaukee Prairie and began the work together. Now my son is not known for his diligence in chores. But to my amazement (and delight), he dutifully took his shears and began attacking the invasive buckthorn and grapevine with zeal.
Rain began later in the day, so we only worked for about 90 minutes. But it was enough for me to meet a few people, and to realize that I almost certainly would be back again the next month. I would make new relationships, as Amber said. And my son would learn about working with his hands, and being part of the preservation and reclamation of the flowers he had been learning about in nature study.
I am still in wonder at the chain of events that led me to this place. First, Charlotte Mason taught me about what education really is and really can be. She opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of nature. Then, Amber challenged me to take a further step, and fully engage in the place that God has called me to. And my son is developing relationships with people and things that will sustain him through a lifetime of learning. Education is indeed the science of relations.