They say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
Then there’s me. I kind of can, so I kind of do… and I can kind of teach. So, the next logical step for me would be to mold the minds of tomorrow by home- schooling my 7-year-old daughter for an entire school year.
Crazy? Yes. But crazy times call for crazy measures.
Let me give a little backstory here.
It was the beginning of the C-word (COVID-19). Schools had closed. We were looking for a definitive answer as to whether our child would be returning to school, doing online learning, or homeschool for the upcoming year.
Returning to school in person meant that the odds of her being sent home again when they closed school down were high and fairly unpredictable. Online learning meant she would still take part in class, but from home via online streaming. (Since she once fell asleep during an online class she was doing to finish Grade 1, we knew this was not the right fit for her.) Homeschooling meant we were fully in charge of the curriculum and left to work independently, aside from checking in with a proctor quarterly to make sure we were on track to meet stan- dard Alberta curriculum requirements.
Between having a restaurant being hammered by the pandemic and the uncertainty of the upcoming school y ear, my wife and I felt we needed at least one constant in our lives. We wanted one thing that we would be able to control in this very uncontrollable world. This made the wild decision to homeschool our 7-year-old daughter a surprisingly easy one.
That’s how “Roots Class” was born.
The panic and self-doubt faded around keeping her home. That was slowly replaced with nervous anticipa- tion and excitement. My wife and I had some reserva- tions at first. I mean, a whole school year with us being responsible for her education? What if I wasn’t smart enough for that? What if she hates me after spending that much time together? What if I screw her up? There are new math methods? I barely understood the first math methods!
I decided that if I was going to be tasked with giving our daughter a Grade 2 education, I was going to use it as an opportunity to connect our daughter to our food systems. That’s an opportunity fewer and fewer kids are able to get these days. Youth are becoming more and more disconnected from their food to the point that I’ve had parents ask me not to explain where bacon comes from because “they haven’t had that conversation yet.” I’d bet they also haven’t had the conversation about refined sugars and how processed foods are kept on shelves.
So, I confess, this isn’t some high-and-mighty, hip- py-dippy article on the benefits of homeschooling your kids. I’m not here to bring down the conventional school system. I am here to tell you that getting my daughter, Rowan, outside for a year was the best decision I have ever made. The skills she learned and the core values we have created will last a lifetime.
So, off we went on a journey together to try to get a Grade 2 education while spending as many days togeth- er in the field as we could.
GREAT START OUTDOORS
After loads of research, careful planning, and numer- ous pep talks from my loving wife, we started school Sept. 1…in the coulees of Alberta…in a ‘67 Travelaire camper…chasing mule deer and digging into French Immersion class.
Oh, did I not mention I was also teaching the entire curriculum in a language I didn’t speak? Laissez les bons temps roulér!
Deer is pronounced “cerf” in French (don’t act like you weren’t wondering). And seal? Seal is “phoque” …which is pronounced exactly like the “F” word we are all so familiar with. (That was a fun day in class!)
It turns out that the research I did prior to the school year’s start yielded some interesting data that really changed my perspective. One discovery was that formal education has barely been around for 100 years. This whole school thing is an experiment, really. Humans existed for so much longer without a formal curriculum. Learning how to survive and learning the skills associat- ed with that was all that we previously needed to keep our minds busy and growing.
So, who says a classroom setting is the best way to learn? In a classroom setting, approximately two hours of learning is done per school day. Between the shuf- fling between classes and getting jackets on and off, the poor teachers are basically herding cats all day. So, with homeschooling, if we did a minimum of two hours of focused work per day, we had 22 hours to do way cooler things—like hunt!
I designed my hunting schedule to include my young daughter in every possible outing. Double ladder stands, ground blinds and too many hours to count were spent in nature. They yielded us some pretty amazing experienc- es and memories. She helped me with all the season’s preparations, even splitting and piling wood for fires we would have that season. During her first sit in Septem- ber, we had a cow moose and twin calves come to the base of our stand and lick the ladder. They ate canola and milled about for about 20 minutes until moving on. I will never forget the look on her face. It was like looking into a mirror on my first hunt. She was hooked.
It was at that moment I knew we had made the right decision.
Now, I know that you’re thinking, “Sure, Darren, this is all part of some master plan, so you get to go hunting all fall.” You, my friend, would be correct. And with my daughter to boot!
CONNECTING TO ROOTS
But jokes aside, the goal wasn’t just to get out hunt- ing. It was about connecting her to her roots. Connect- ing her with nature in ways we hadn’t done before and having the time to mentor her in the outdoors. One of the biggest challenges new hunters face is finding someone with the time to give, and I was so lucky to be able to share that time with her.
To be clear, this wasn’t just about hunting. We studied the history of archery. She learned about what a strong female history there is in the sport and how influential women were to archery. Archery has long been celebrat- ed for gender equality in competition. Particularly in the modern era, women have taken an equal role in compe- tition and increasingly in governance as well. The sport was among the first to include a women’s event at the Olympics (in 1904). And the World Archery Federation was the first international federation to have a female president!
FEEL FOR FOOD
We visited local farms that our restaurant works with, helping out whenever possible and getting a feel for the day-to-day operations on the field. Helping out with things like calving and fencing really allowed Rowan to understand the life cycle from the beginning, taking it all the way to the end (on her plate).
We helped create a bird box program covering hun- dreds of acres to help naturally control the bug popu- lation. We fixed fences. We grew our own vegetables. We preserved foods. We took part in anything and everything that could reconnect us with the land and our ancestors.
Unfortunately, I took my buck on a solo mission one early morning on the weekend. It was an experience I was hoping we could share together. The big lesson, you know? Life begets death, begets life kind of stuff. I was quick to head home and have Rowan be a part of the process though. Tracking, cuttings, skinning and 28 days later after hanging, she even butchered with me. I didn’t force her to participate. I didn’t make her touch things she didn’t want to touch. We learned about respect in the field and honoring the life of the animal by respecting and taking care of the process to come.
Luckily, I started hunting early enough in my daugh- ter’s life that she already had a healthy appetite for wild game, so getting her to help prepare it was easy. I think this is where her real passion for eating wild game was born. You could see the pride and excitement she had when we placed a roast on the table. She was under- standing the connection. She was connecting the dots and she was proud of what she was accomplishing.
From the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year, I could see her confidence rise. With each successful outing, she started to realize the op- portunity being created for her and she was determined to make the most of it. Her confidence skyrocketed and she went back to school the following year. She went in that first day in a camo shirt and backpack, which I’m sure was done to initiate curiosity amongst her peers and hopefully bring on a barrage of questions so she could relay her experiences and adventures. There is not a huge hunting community in our city, and it could have made her an outcast and “different” from her peers. Thankfully, she loves the opportunity to bathe in unique- ness, so any identification of being different was wel- comed with open arms!
Now, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. There were many roadblocks, challenges and frustrations. Lots of tears were shed. Loads of doubt was present (mostly on my end). I’m not a schoolteacher, I’m a restaurant guy. The usual gritty leadership needed in the kitch- en wasn’t going to fly here. I had to learn a softer approach.
Learning to teach probably taught me more than I taught my daughter, as corny as that sounds. Let’s face it, taking a 7-year-old hunting with you is hard. Especially when you have ridiculous expectations each season like I do. Everything takes twice as long. It’s twice as loud. Twice as smelly. We made a lot of mistakes but making a mistake with your kid watching is different. How you react to disappoint- ment and hardship is a roadmap for how they will, too. Talk about a “who’s teaching whom” moment!
After seeing the work and effort put in, my daughter is proud to say she is a hunter and an ar- cher. Rowan is empowered and truly seems to have a sense of whom she is becoming.
THE GREATEST THING
This is my greatest achievement to date. All the accolades our restaurant has received, my sobriety of five years, convincing my wife to marry me—I find that these accomplishments pale in comparison, not because of the challenge, but because of the result. Watching Rowan’s confidence shine and seeing her brimming with pride because of the skills she has learned will always motivate me to be a better edu- cator and mentor—not just to her, but to other young hunters as well.
As a parent, all we want for our children is the best. We want them to be happy, healthy and strong with even stronger values and convictions. Hunting and the outdoors is an amazing opportunity to teach all these values and more.
I had a moment of validation for our homeschool- ing choice the other day. I was asked to be on a hunting podcast to discuss a wide variety of topics. Of course, as a humble human, I was feeling inse- cure about participating. Why would they ask me to be on their show, I thought, I’m an adult-onset hunter who is pretty new to the game. Why would they want me on the show?
Rowan answered my questions with one solid response: “Just talk about how you provide for your family, Dad, and why wild game is so healthy and why you love nature!”
Yeah, I did all right.