Knowing the learner (a story from the strawberry field)

The kids and I went strawberry picking this week. It was our first u-pick farm (ferme cueillette) experience since moving here. This is the only strawberry farm in my area that I know of.

They are a big operation, growing strawberries for the Gaspe region and also producing strawberry products including wine, pies, and sauces. They are especially known for their wine, which I've really enjoyed. Hic.

Daisies in strawberry field

Their u-pick operation is obviously not their main income source. Based on my experience there, it appears the farm relegates some old, weedy fields (whose strawberry plants have seen better days) to be made available to tourists and the area's senior citizens. A demographic content with a leisurely hunt and find type strawberry picking experience.

These particular berries weren't even all that sweet. Yet, I know this farm produces sweet berries, I've bought them in the grocery store.

Strawberry field

The picking experience was somewhat disappointing but who can complain with a summer's day view like this.

And I'm not stocking up the freezer for winter. We were out there mostly for fun.

berry field

The picking was completely disorganized. I'm used to following a strawberry picking order: start here, pick through thoroughly, and place the flag where you stop. This u-pick operated a little different - harvest from wherever you can find the berries and move around as much as you like.

Personally, I like following a more linear pattern of working.

While I was out there bent over and scrambling around for the best berries, I thought to myself how this was probably my least favorite strawberry field experience. Except I was still having a fabulous time because I have a strong affinity for berry picking, the day and view was absolutely gorgeous, the next stop was the beach, and farm baked pie was our reward. I wasn't complaining.

farm pie on the beach

When I met up with Laurent, this is what he told me of the afternoon, "this is my favorite strawberry picking ever!" And he's done a lot of picking in his young life.

I laughed and told him my frustrations, to which he rejoined, "but I love that you can go anywhere you want. You don't have to stay in one line."

boy in berry field

And if that isn't Laurent! Laurent is my non-linear thinker and learner. After years of guiding his learning I know this about my son. And understanding this became especially important in unlocking his reading struggles.

Non-linear thinking is what makes Laurent an amazing artist. There is no box for this boy to try to think "outside" of.

I loved this real life illustration of the way my son loves to operate and learn. He doesn't particularly like a disorganized mess and he asks for my help in providing structure where he struggles.

He also likes us, when he's motivated to accomplish something, to help keep him on task. He outsources his management and I'm fabulous at that. We work well together (smile). And of course we use these opportunities to incrementally teach Laurent how to self-manage, because Mom won't always be there to do the job! But perhaps he'll hire me when he's grown up.

Recognizing strengths, helping each other in our weaknesses - this is foundational to our homeschool.

Plage Henderson

I love that I understand my son. Through years of raising him and his sisters, years of studying them, I "get" who they are and have a pretty good idea (for the most part) of how to meet their educational needs. This kind of knowing doesn't happen overnight, I've invested years in this work.

When some people find out we homeschool they react with a comment along these lines, "how can you know enough to homeschool your kids?"

Maybe they mean academics. How can I know all those subjects in depth enough? Or maybe they mean how can I know enough about child development and psychology?

The wonderful, freeing answer is I don't know everything in these domains. Nor do I need to.

kids jumping water

The only thing I really need to know is my kids.

I don't have to study a complete body of knowledge, or know all subjects inside and out. I have to know my kids enough to see what excites them and then we go from there.

I don't have to know all there is about learning styles, and understand every personality and intelligence type, and how to teach to all those differences. The only methods I need to learn are those that help our family and my children reach their goals.

It is so overwhelming sometimes when we think we have to know everything to homeschool our kids.

Plage Henderson

The only thing you really need to study and tune into is your kids.

Your kids (and mine) are totally wired to learn and when they encounter struggles, or you hit road bumps on the journey, you can absolutely look around for answers and resources and bring in any manner of assistance to help you or your children.

Online resources, books, outside-the-home classes and training - you can access all of these for either you or your kids. But you don't have to know all the options ahead of time or be an expert in all those things from the get go.

If I could choose to be an expert in just one thing during this stage of our homeschool journey, I'd chose to be an expert in knowing my kids and building a better relationship with them. Because knowing someone and having relationship with them is an excellent foundation for learning.

Plage Henderson

As it is, I'm not so much of an expert, I'm still a learner. But I know that if I keep tuning into my kid's hearts - their hopes, their dreams, and their struggles - and if I study how they are wired and what they love to do and learn, I will be able to provide for their needs and support their education.

I don't have to know it all and I don't even have to try.

Plage Henderson

Now. Isn't that a relief?

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  • Susan

    Susan on July 24, 2013, 2:55 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    I just wanted to second your post on homeschooling.  I also homeschool.  3 of my 7 kids are now in university. The other 4 are still homeschooling.  I am formally educated but I don't think that is a requirement in any way to be a successful homeschool family.  I am always amazed when people ask "do you know enough" because I always think "didn't you graduate from high school?  Surely you can either know or learn enough or find a mentor to teach your children things you learnt when you were a child!"

    Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't know everything but I am amazed how my children can learn in spite of me:)  Of the 3 oldest, one is pursuing psychology, one is doing a music degree in violin and one is pursuing film directing.  I have very minimal  to zero knowledge in those areas and yet my children seemed to teach themselves or find mentors who could teach them.  Like you said, we focused on being an expert in knowing them and building relationships with them so they could gain the confidence they needed to embrace life and a love for learning.  I continually see this in the homeschool community as parents support and encourage their children to pursue their passions and use their gifts.

    Just my thoughts:)




  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on July 24, 2013, 4:12 p.m.

    I love this reminder, Renee. One of the reasons I think I should homeschool is because I know my kids better than anyone else...or at least I hope I do. My oldest and I struggled for a couple years - butt heads a lot - but it's gotten a lot better and I owe most of that to the fact that I know her better. I was determined to figure out who she was and how we could build a good relationship. With that determination and a lot of prayer, we have a pretty good relationship.


  • Sarah m

    Sarah m on July 24, 2013, 10:43 p.m.

    I'm still in this figuring out each kid stage, and some days I feel like I'm still getting to know their personalities and preferences. This post gives me hope that it just takes time to develop that trusted relationship, and time is definitely what I've got! :)  Every day I try to be intentional, allowing them lots of freedoms but a nice weekly structure, and I just have to trust in the fact that it will be enough. I can't do more than "I've done my best for today". 

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on July 24, 2013, 10:51 p.m.

      Sarah, your kids are still so young and it takes time to figure out our kids. After about age 8 or so I had a much clearer idea how each of my kids was wired and how to consider their education through that lens. And every day we're all just doing our best and it's absolutely good enough!


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on July 25, 2013, 1:19 a.m.

    What a wonderful post! I love the strawberry field story (by the way, our organic u-pick farm is exactly the same and I hate it too!). What you say is so very important and needs to be said over and over again, especially to newer homeschoolers. So many parents focus on the curriculums instead of on their children and the results are almost always the same: not much joy and a family that ends up thinking homeschooling is not for them.


  • Johanna Hanson

    Johanna Hanson on July 25, 2013, 2:30 a.m.

    Oh, thank you for this reminder! I sometimes worry that I've put homeschool research on the back burner these days. But right now i'm learning my kids and that's more important. I'm just beginning to "get" my oldest, and we've only just begun. I know there are years of learning ahead for me.


  • Alaina

    Alaina on July 25, 2013, 3:22 p.m.

    I love this post.  The content and the photos (I wish that I could go swim there!  WOW!) 

    I love that I know my kids so well from homeschooling- and we are only in the early years.  So far I have one that is very much like me- she loves order and loves to pick strawberries in a line with a flag...and then I have another child who has a very intense personality, and who also would enjoy freestyle strawberry picking!  I find it interesting how they are all different.  Not sure on the other one (too little).  We'll see if things change over the years with the others.  So far it seems to be ingrained.

    I was talking to my mom the other day and she mentioned how I know my children so well.  She said that she wished she had gotten to know her children well when they were little.  She regrets that.  I think that for me, it sort of happened by default partly- because they are always around me.  But it also takes effort and investment too.  


    • renee

      renee on July 25, 2013, 4:32 p.m.

      Alaina, I think it's both. We learn to really know our kids because we are with them so much (like ALL the time!) But we also invest. And I think the people that invest in knowing and understanding their kids vs. applying some other measure/standards/expectations to their children (in the homeschool arena especially) have a more enjoyable homeschool and family life experience.

      I always felt it was in my best interest, in terms overall peace in our home environment and "job" enjoyment, to really know my kids and work with that. Because then we have fun and freedom in our days vs. angst and worry. 

      It's interesting how my intense personality child is the more "by the rows" thinker and my laid back personality child is the non-linear one.


  • Jenn

    Jenn on July 26, 2013, 8:58 p.m.

    I love the article and agree 100%. But the pictures.....I was soooo drawn by them. I love the peaceful images....the water....the sky...ahhhhhh....wish I could've been there!


    • renee

      renee on July 26, 2013, 10:28 p.m.

      It is very beautiful where I live. No traffic, no crowds. Of course, in exchange we get a long winter (smile).


  • Sara @ GaijinMom

    Sara @ GaijinMom on July 28, 2013, 10:39 p.m.

    I love this.  My youngest is so different from the other three of us in the family, and my excitement in learning her and helping to develop her is so much greater than the wariness of our differences that I thought I should be feeling.  Thank you for encouraging this!


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