Homeschooling & Education for Sustainability: A Perfect Match

by Valerie Wood-Lewis

Usually I feel like a deer caught in the headlights when people ask why I homeschool my children.  I want to hook them from my first word but not proselytize; wax poetic about the benefits to learning, but not talk until eyes glaze over.  When I recently learned about the model of educating for sustainability, I found a new way to respond to these inquiries: the Education for Sustainability (EFS) framework mapped perfectly onto the reasons I haven't enrolled my kids in school and we "learn all the time" together.

For my children, learning is guided by time outside, real world connections, and driven by interests.  It is hands-on, project-based, and weaves in systems thinking and the Big Ideas of Sustainability.  The curriculum is organically integrated, place-based, and full of service learning opportunities.  A bird sighting might lead to a library search, which could spur an art project, and ends in a lemonade stand to benefit a wildlife rehab program.  It has been easy to repackage our family's passion for sustainability into Education for Sustainability on a daily basis!

As a teacher working on relicensure, I was lucky enough to join 25 other gifted educators for the EFS  Institute at Shelburne Farms this summer.  Educators I respect had told me that it was a wonderful professional development activity, and indeed, we all left with sharper skills, renewed commitment, and lots of new resources and connections.   The setting and mission of Shelburne Farms was inspirational, the activities focused and valuable, and our time together very productive.

While the other professionals planned units and discussed changes they'd like to make at their schools, I used my reflection and work time to brainstorm projects and field trips that I can lead with other homeschoolers in the area; and to think about ways to be more explicit in my language and in the framing of essential questions in the work my children and I are already engaged in .  One thing I love about homeschooling is how organic you can be – we don't need to distinguish between, advocate for, or justify to anyone our service learning, our out-of-the building time, or the effect on test scores that our learning will have.

At the same time, as a former- and possibly future- public school teacher, I am grateful for the work of talented and passionate educators coming together in community to try to bring the wisdom of Education for Sustainability back to more and more students.

 Valerie Wood-Lewis attended Shelburne Farms’ Education for Sustainability Institute in July 2011. 

This article appeared in the SSP's Spring 2011 Newsletter.

Download a PDF of the article here.

Download the Fall 2011 entire newsletter here.




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