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from Natural Life magazine, March/April, 1996
Living In Nature's School Room

Call it home schooling, conscious guidance or
adventure-filled learning ... it works for this family.

International traveling experiences altered Werner and Brigitte Gysi's acceptance of their comfortable middle class modern values. They are determined to offer their children the alternatives of realistic, Earth-friendly skills and wholesome values in an organic farm setting.

Self-reliance is at the heart of learning and working at Gooly Mooly Art Farm near Enderby, British Columbia, Canada. Although traditional British Columbia school curriculum is taught, the emphasis for Thomas 18, Fabian 17, Marcel 12, Anisha 11, Carina, eight and Pascal who is close to three, is on learning writing and reading in English and Swiss. Lots of attention is given to mathematics and how imaginatively these skills can be used.

Most importantly, lessons are not abstract theory. Using their accumulated knowledge, this family meets its basic needs of shelter, vegetables, meat, milk, honey, music, art and play on a 10-acre hillside farm.

“When a member of our family is particularly interested in something, we don't try to stifle or redirect the interest,” Werner explains. So, if a child would rather contemplate sailing across the Atlantic than do math, that's okay. Time for discussions, projects and trips to libraries is set aside to learn about sailing and geography. The math will get done probably by incorporation into a seafaring problem that needs solving.

“A year ago, our son Marcel wasn't very interested in reading, when a friend gave us a series of short story books. When I got up at five this morning, Marcel was already sitting up reading,” Werner says. Suddenly the boy who didn't want to read was sacrificing sleep time because books were nourishing his imagination. For Werner and Brigitte, this is how it should be and they saw no reason to push Marcel before he was ready.

Fabian thinks flexible home schooling hours are great. “I can work part-time at the resort close by during the week,” he says. He thinks the personal choice of how to best use his time is important. “I don't have to do a certain subject at a certain time. I can chose when and how I get my school work done.”

Together the parents work at modeling a lifestyle they are confident will allow their children to live in love, balance and with reverence for Nature. “The connectedness of all living things has been extracted from public education. We consciously choose to acknowledge the mutually interactive web-work that is life on Earth,” Werner says.

The Gysis believe human communities must live in harmony with nature's ecosystems. They co-operate with the earth through crop rotation, companion planting and compatible animal husbandry. They live directly with the earth's capacity, for survival, not profit. Constant use of compostable materials as well as tolerance and respect for insects, birds and bees allows Nature to do her work.

Through the hosting of workshops during the year, Werner has been able to compile that material into a book, called Harmonic Farming: a love style. It covers the practical ways of Permaculture and the experience that these folks gained over the past 14 years.

For the current school year (from fall until spring, after which they go off for a book tour across Canada) the younger children are going to public school. All have integrated well intellectually. “Our children watch little television and they don't wear brand name clothes,” Werner says. “One day Carina asked daddy: why do I have to go to this school where I learn all these swear words and how to tease the teacher? So, they are set aside from the beginning, because they cannot be part of these social aspects.”

According to Brigitte, the public school places little importance on respectful behavior. “We try to behave respectfully toward one another, other people and the Earth. We believe that you are responsible for your behavior. Our children are overpowered for their non-conformity. Respect is completely missing,” she says.

“Teachers do give their best to improve the situation and with this it becomes manageable, it is however not part of the curriculum and values such as respect, responsibility and reverence for nature seems not to be valued as part of a child's education,” Werner adds.

Although the Gysis live modestly, they do not live in retreat. The entire family hosts an annual Renaissance Fair on their property, and during the summer season the art walk through the property is enjoyed by visitors from all corners of the world. Japanese students share their home every year and many travelers visit the Gooly Mooly Art Farm as part of the WWOOF program (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). Every member of the family plays a different musical instrument and they all sing. The family participates in regional summer music events when the harvesting schedule permits.

In 1994, Thomas left the nest for a precision mechanic apprenticeship in Switzerland. He is enjoying a new culture and is now in his second year out of four. Even though his German is not perfect, he achieves high marks otherwise. Two aspects make such a training pleasing. Thomas is able to earn his living expenses while doing so and he can commute from/ to the training while living with a friend's family, just like home.

How can they fail? These children have been taught self awareness and hard work. They know how to raise their own food and they have been encouraged to find their life's work in a trade or career they can take anywhere. Above all else, they have been taught to cherish every moment and to look for lessons everywhere.

 

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