Recently, we visited the home of Gene Stratton Porter, the famous Indiana author who penned such well known titles as “Freckles”, “The Girl of the Limberlost” and “Laddie”. As we listened to the guide describe her childhood he mentioned she was the youngest of 12 children. Her mother became very ill when she was little and Gene was left to wander outside in the forest by herself much of the time.
Obviously, the exposure she had to the outdoors and the nearly unlimited hours she had to explore did her no harm! When you visit her home it is apparent she was a brilliant person. Little formal schooling was not an obstacle, nor did it seem to have any ill effect that she was unable to attend school for a good portion of her childhood.
As a homeschooling mom who often allows her children to take advantage of beautiful spring and fall days and go exploring as soon as Math and Grammar are finished, (and often before) I was affirmed in my belief that letting kids wander in the outdoors, building forts, catching bugs, and absorbing nature is the right choice. Gene Stratton Porter was certainly served by having the time to be a part of the outdoors and her eduction was enhanced by it.
In those days many children were educated classically, which may also have played a part in her brilliance–although this was not mentioned. Classical education calls for short periods of repetition of basic facts throughout childhood. Children absorb the information and memorize it with little problem because of the repetition. This memorization of basic facts makes learning more abstract concepts easier in young adulthood. This is partially how the literacy rate remained so high throughout our pioneer days, when children often only attended formal schooling for 3-5 months out of the year.
Nevertheless, Gene was outdoors much during her childhood and was allowed to ask and answer many questions about nature and the world.
There is something about nature–the soft kiss of a spring breeze, the bite of a fall day, the freedom to build forts, care for animals, and imagine you are some other person in history–that inspires children to become who they were meant to be. It inspires the exploration of the soul, unfettered creativity, and the kindling of brilliance.
In that old home where Gene raised her daughter the artistic and whimsical nature of this famous author was quite apparent. I was floored by her attention to detail in the home her and her husband had built over 100 years ago. All this and she had very little formal schooling. Perhaps that was the secret ingredient that lead to greatness.