What I learned about education from Grandma
As I write this, it is raining a heavy but gentle summer rain. This is the kind of day I loved to spend at my grandma’s house. She had a big back porch with comfy chairs, and we would sit outside and watch the rain. The smell of the air after the rain stops still reminds me of sitting on that porch. When it wasn’t raining, we would watch the hummingbirds and butterflies that visited her rock garden, one of the many spaces that displayed her love of nature.
I remember taking walks where Grandma would hand me things like “helicopter” maple seeds, buckeyes, and pussy willow branches. She lived in a small town with sidewalks and a main street “downtown” where people knew each other well, and so we would stop and talk to others who were sitting on their front porches. She would tell me stories about the neighborhood as she pointed out certain flowers and trees and told me a little about each of them.
Grandma loved to read and learn about new things. She had big books on topics like birds and trees and medical information and even a big book about how to cut hair into different styles (which she used to cut our hair). She always had stacks of magazines and newspapers in her living room, sitting on the coffee table, the end table, and in the magazine rack. She would talk about things she was reading, and as I got older she would hand me the articles. Grandma would much rather be reading than cleaning, and she wasn’t afraid to tell you that.
Her house was never messy, but it also wasn’t immaculate. It was comfortable and inviting. It was simple and full at the same time. A grandchild could be free to play and explore without the worry of messing things up (and free to take an occasional treat from her special snack cake cupboard). I remember a conversation where she told me about friends who had an organized cleaning schedule for their homes, and how horribly boring that sounded to her.
But Grandma did have me wash dishes and taught me how to make simple things in the kitchen. She taught me how to make homemade mashed potatoes and gravy for Thanksgiving dinner. She taught me to slow down when eating to “stop and think about my food and how it tastes” (I still don’t obey that very well).
Charlotte Mason said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” As I sit and remember my grandmother, fresh from the news of her recent passing, I realize that she provided those things exactly. I’m not an expert on Charlotte Mason methods - my approach is very eclectic - but I know that she would certainly approve of the abundance of books and the long nature walks.
When I announced I was going to homeschool, my grandma did not bat an eye; she nodded her head and smiled. A few years later, I was present while she bragged about me teaching my own kids. Grandma grew up in a time before the whole world was programmed to believe that twelve years of institutional learning was the only way to educate a child. She was, herself, well-educated though she never spent one minute in a college class.
I know now that Grandma was one of the key influences in my own education. We actually did not share the same opinion about a lot of topics. But I know that she has a lot to do with the fact that I am more concerned about the books on my shelves than the dust that shares that space.
I now have my own little granddaughters who love to get into my “special cupboard” - this one holds goldfish snacks and applesauce instead of cakes. Each time I watch this happen, I am reminded of Grandma’s legacy, and hope to pass the best of it onto my little blessings.