Real-life topics of interest are motivators for meaningful learning. I don’t know who coined this phrase but it fits . . . A child learns what he digs for himself.

A glossy photo book from Aunt Jean, The Practical Entomologist3, arrived in the mail unexpectedly, which further excited curiosity. The antics of backyard insects kept the boys occupied as they held captives in a makeshift aquarium/terrarium. How many ants will an ant lion trap? How many rolly pollies can a big frog zap? Gideon and 5-year-old Benjamin dictated their bug and nature findings to me and copied the dictations for themselves. There were written submissions, including some composed for our self-published Homeschool Gazette newsletter, and pen pal requests were answered, filled with tales of explorations and adventures. I was thrilled!

Want rocks? Arkansas has them—diamonds too! So, naturally, rock collecting (requiring lots of digging) became a hobby. Dad and Grandpa also took the boys shopping for rocks and accumulated new roadside stand additions to their growing collections. They eventually got good at recognizing which purchases were honest rock specimens and not the colored glass imitations. We “ooohed” and “aahed” during our visit to Hurricane River Cave4, which motivated mastery of a whole newvocabulary and excitement for exploring the dazzling underworld wonders of the Arkansas Ozarks! Growing our own stalactites and stalagmites solidified our understanding, and bat guano held a certain interest too.

In early summer, we got to know our neighborhood, walking almost every day, hand in hand. What were those new trees and blossoms? Wildflowers graced our humble abode, we learned some identifying names, and we made nature note cards from our dried flowers and leaves. Another library display showcased wild Arkansas flowers painted by a local artist. Out came the watercolors. There was just so much to learn!

While axing our way through the woods, an excited outburst directed us to the gnawed-upon skeleton of a large animal. We pretended it was dinosaur bones. Knocking out a large tooth from the menacing jaw with a stick, we noted the protruding roots of the tooth. We examined the exquisite structure, identifying what parts we knew, aided by my memory of college anatomy and physiology. What a discovery!

Each Day Can Motivate Excitement for Learning

Our oldest and youngest sons participated too. Josiah, a budding computer whiz, was involved in self-study, but he was in tune to all the fun and adventure going on. He was the one who lit the fires, whittled the marshmallow sticks, carried necessary tools in a pouch on his belt, and kindled much interest to light up our discussions. Little Jeremiah participated as well, wide-eyed, following close in the footsteps of his mentor brothers.

Inherently, we compared ideas on everything. We held Bible study, prayed, and sang praises to God. His story of creation formed the framework for our scientific discussions. Our Creator’s fingerprints and beauty were evident as we examined clean and unclean animals, food chains, taxonomy classifications, animal reproduction, and other topics. Our hearts and minds connected.

Realizing all that had taken place that summer with almost no planning from me, I wasn’t amazed. God designed each of us with a hungry curiosity that hadn’t inadvertently been quashed. I was reminded of the Bible verse and motto of our homeschool: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3)

Although I had a tendency to push my agenda, I desired to listen and let God lead us. He was capable of nurturing His saplings and causing them to thrive—and He had included me in the process!