How Little Wormies Reminded Me to Let the Child Lead the Learning

The muggy summer left us crisp mornings and pleasant dappled afternoons. The leaves are gently filling our yard, and I am inspired to do apple-fall-pumpkin-Halloween art with tempera, watercolors, glue, scissors, felt and a myriad of collected nature items!

The children are not. What are they doing? "Looking for wormies."

Sometimes I forget that their natural discoveries are the curriculum at this age. 

The day begins. Everyone is breakfasted and well tickled, and the back door opens. Little mostly naked bodies fly out there before I can catch them. One by one I drag them in, pop on clothes appropriate for the weather, and they're off making a big mess in their sandbox and digging in the dirt nearby.

The World's Greatest Science Kit

Their natural exploration is remarkably similar to the FOSS kit (a common school hands-on science curriculum) on worms that I used when teaching Kindergarten. In the kit, the children are all distributed a worm during science time. Observations are written. Parts are identified. Experiments performed over several days, possibly a couple of weeks. The homeschooling difference is that the worm study was their complete choice and design. A study starts whenever inspiration hits and ends whenever interest dies.

There are darker lessons to be learned that would not be taught in a controlled classroom environment. Worms can drown in too much water. If left on concrete, they become a stiff, distorted piece of gray elastic.

Nature's Truth

The moment when my son sought approval with the words, "Mommy? I did an experiment. I broke the worm into two pieces. They will grow back and the worm will still live. Right? That's right, isn't it, Mommy?" Goodness, how to answer? With both compassion and information is the Montessori way, and yet it is hard to look in my son's dark brown eyes full of hope and tell him that he probably killed it, at the very least caused it pain.

It's just an earthworm - no great loss for the world, but a great loss in his heart. Life's greatest lessons are always learned through experience.