It’s late. I look at the clock and it’s a few minutes after 9:00 pm. I can still hear Owen rustling around in his bedroom. I know this means I will need to bring out the trumpets in the morning to wake him up for school. The lights are off in his room but I can see the small beams of his flashlight flicking around the room from his bed on the top bunk.

I settle into bed in my room with my journal on my lap. As I walked upstairs a few minutes prior, I resisted the pull of the couch and TV and it’s promise to pull me away from the day’s events. I know my book upstairs promises the same thing but often delivers much different results- calm, intrigue, quiet.

Yes, quiet. This is what I always need after a day surrounded by children, by busyness and noise.

Journaling promises the same quiet reflective time, though right now it feels a bit like taking my vitamins- I know it’s good for me but I’d rather be doing something else- namely, reading or watching T.V. But again, I resist the urge to reach for my book and now, deep in thought, I am thankful I have.

As a write, I hear the creak of the bed from other room, followed by footsteps and I know Owen is headed my way. The bedroom door opens, and my six-year-old stands, with his small black journal in hand and an eager look on his face. He has recently re-discovered this journal, located in an abandoned backpack in the garage. We bought it last spring with our sights on summer after Owen expressed an interest in having a “nature journal”.  I’d like to say it was my idea but it’s more likely it’s something he saw on WildKratts. After one or two leaf drawings, the journal was thrown into the abyss of forgotten things. He spent most of the summer climbing trees rather than drawing them. Of course, this was fine with me.

Now, as he stands in the doorway, his mind registers what he sees. “You are writing in your journal too!!??” He is awestruck at the coincidence. I smile as he walks toward me. He shows me what he has been doing. He has been observing, “like a scientist” he says, and in his journal he has written about the moon, the stars, his dark bedroom, and the crickets he hears through the half-open window. It reads like a poem to me but I don’t say this. Instead, I smile and recognize his heartfelt desire to be “like a scientist” and I think about something he said earlier in the week.

“Mom, the reason why my school doesn’t give homework is because the things we do in school are so interesting that we want to do those things on our own at home.”

What glorious words. Within this rather simple statement are layers of meaning, the most important being my child’s perspective of school. To him, school is a place where they do interesting, engaging things. School is a place where he spends time acting as a practitioner of the subject of study- most recently, as a scientist. School is a place where he can get ideas to further his own learning at home, should he so choose- but not because it’s required of him, because he WANTS to. He has figured out the secret- learning is fun, particularly when you are the one driving it.

His school does require two things to be done outside of school hours- reading and playing. But this is part of a “Home-Learning” contract between the parent, child and school and is based on a system of trust. There is no reading log to complete, no “work” to be done.  There is a clear message: Reading and writing should not be “work” but something fun and enjoyable. Or even better, perhaps the underlying message is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

As Owen shows me his writing, and I show him mine, I am struck by the magic of this moment. The magic of choosing to do something for no other reason other than you want to. The magic of doing this and sharing your “work” with another. This is a place without a script- a risky place. The alternative is much easier and far less interesting. It’s easy to do something someone tells you to do. The stakes are low, the script is securely in place. But to create something, make something out of your own intrinsic desire, this is a tender place where the stakes are high- but the rewards, are oh so great. This is where real learning takes place.