I have a tree in my backyard. It is my favorite tree. Happily, it can be seen through the french door windows as I sit in my reading chair in my room. It is quite tall, probably 30-40 feet high, with a moderately sized, 8-9 inch, light brown/gray trunk. It’s beautiful three-pointed leaves have a two-toned green color in the summer that become almost fluorescent after an afternoon summer shower. And right on the tip of certain branches are handfuls of leaves that are orange and red. I am filled with wonder at these little accents dotted around the tree, which give it such interest and beauty. As lovely as these leaves are in their luscious green dress, the beginning of winter is when this tree really shines. The leaves turn from green to a bright orange and red that glows as though it is on fire. It only lasts a week or two (sometimes longer if I’m lucky), but it is one of the most majestic, beautiful sights I have ever seen. Its color turns later in the season than one would expect, usually some time in December, likely because the weather isn’t cold enough here in Florida until then.
Through the years I have seen this tree provide refuge to many wild life in our neighborhood. I love watching the cardinals and wrens and chickadees alight in the tree, flitting from branch to branch in search of seeds. Mrs. Cardinal never far behind Mr. Cardinal as he leads her here and there among the branches. I have watched with amusement as squirrels have used the trunk of this tree as a stage for their drama of theft and retribution. And then there’s the laid-back lizards, who you can always find on the trunk or a branch, blending in as its color almost matches perfectly with the tree, with just its orange dewlap pulsing in and out to remind you that it is actually there. I have been under the boughs of this tree in the spring as green caterpillars and furry caterpillars have seemingly exploded from its leaves and dropped all over my table and chairs. And ladybug pupas crawling in and around, waiting for their time to come when they will enter their deep sleep and awake to find the world changed, bigger and wider and more glorious than they could have ever imagined, as they discover wings with which to see it all with.
This tree has been a silent companion to our family as we have sat on our log chairs around our fire pit, trading stories while roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. It has listened as we sat beneath its boughs teaching math, reading stories, painting flowers, crying over learning to read, and mom yelling at the kids to pick up their toys for the hundredth time. It has stood strong as my children have climbed it’s branches and seen the world from a different perspective, giving them a view that is beyond their usual scope, inspiring them and filling them with joy and comfort and hope.
It has affectionately become known as “Mom’s favorite tree.” This is because I love it. But also because we don’t actually know what kind of tree it is. Oh, I have been told half a dozen times or more, by clever people who remember facts about trees, what kind of tree it is. There have even been times when I have known its name, and many more times when I have promptly forgotten it. I would very much like to keep it in my memory permanently, and after I write this post I intend to look it up and write it down in an effort to commit it to memory. But not knowing right now what it is called does not preclude me from knowing the tree. I am more intimately acquainted with this tree than any of the other flowers or plants that are in my garden. Because the classification of this tree, while important for identification and clarification, is not the tree. The tree is what it is, whether I know what it is called or not. I have a relationship with this tree. I know this tree. I care about this tree. And therein lies the vision for the education I seek for my children: an education that is not about the memorization of facts for facts sake, but the nurturing of knowledge—through relationships, through the ordering of their affections. And ultimately pointing them to the knowledge Giver and Creator of all.
“The question is not,— how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason, School Education
As we homeschoolers plan for the year to come, let us cultivate an environment that guides our children to build relationships with the knowledge that is set before them. Where facts are not presented as rote memorization in order to pass a test, only to be promptly forgotten when no longer required, but where our children come to a true understanding through relationship with the ideas that the facts are connected to.
“To know by rote, is no knowledge, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has entrusted to your memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book. A mere bookish learning is a poor paltry learning, it may serve for ornament, but there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it.” – Montainge quoted by Karen Glass, Consider This.
What have I gained by knowing the species classification of my tree if I do not care about it?
I plan to study and blog through Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles in a couple of weeks and I’d love for you to join me. If you would like to join me, let me know in the comments. Be sure to grab Brandy Vencel’s study guide, get your copy of For The Children’s Sake, and get reading!