by Meghan Fitzgerald
If we can give our children any gift, we can give them a lifelong sense of wonder and a sense of themselves as compassionate, capable, creative actors in their world. How best to do that? Our hunch is to give them lots of opportunities to learn from adults who embody those values—who never stop learning and love to share that with parents and children in their world. That special quality is what our diverse set of Tinkergarten Leaders share in common, from tech gurus like Sara To in Palo Alto, CA to former teachers like Kristina Quigley in Mountianside, NJ.
Today, we’re thrilled to shine a spotlight on another one of our great leaders: Sarah Sheneman, who is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Sarah is a trained artist and she has dedicated her life to education since her children have been small. She is also an all-around inspiring person. But don’t take our word for it, meet Sarah and see for yourself!
Creativity is obviously very important to us at Tinkergarten — it’s why we’ve previously focused on it in our classes. How does creativity play into your life?
I have always been surrounded by artists. My grandmother crocheted. My mother quilts and sews. And it was my aunt who introduced me to hand work at a very young age and gave me my first loom. I was always creating things and -- no surprise -- found a special love for fibers. I went to college and got a bachelors of fine arts with a concentration in fibers.
Art school was awesome and it taught me so much. I learned how to appreciate the process behind art, how to take constructive criticism, how to brainstorm, and how to be okay with projects that fail. All of these things have been instrumental in how I live, how I raise my children, and even how I lead Tinkergarten classes.
What is something unique about yourself that people may not know?
I daydream daily of playing and winning Survivor. I have applied several times, but have not been cast… yet!
Another difference I have is that I am Dyslexic, which also means that I am a slow reader; it might take me a year to finish a book. My current favorite book is actually a kids book, Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis. I have read it cover to cover and highly recommend it!
The last thing some people might consider unique about me is that I live on a homestead and homeschool my three sons.
What is life on your homestead like?
I would call my Pondfarm a major work in progress. We live in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. We have five acres that border our community pond. My goal is to grow and raise our own food. So far we have a garden for produce, fish from the pond, and we raise ducks for meat and eggs. Next, I want to add a milk goat, then maybe some chickens, a pig, and hopefully one day realize the big dream of raising sheep. But, one step at a time!
What is it like being a homeschooler?
My three sons are ages 13,10 and 3. I have been homeschooling the older boys for five years now. I use a Waldorf-based curriculum from Oak Meadow. We focus on the whole child. We are a low-tech family living without WiFi. My 7th grader just started using the iPad to type school work and to use for research. Up until now, it’s been just the library, books, paper, and pencils. My philosophy is that life is learning -- and I hope to raise happy, creative, free thinkers.
What piece of advice were you given in your life that has proven most helpful to your work or to your parenting?
I swam competitively in high school. My coach, John de Barbadillo, was 88 years old. He frequently lectured me that, “patience is a virtue,” and he was so right. I am always trying to practice patience with my family at home, and with the families I work with at Tinkergarten.
How has being a Tinkergarten Leader impacted you and your life?
Becoming a leader has allowed me to continue homeschooling my kids. It’s perfect for me. My kids can come with me to class and benefit from the curriculum and materials. And it’s flexible enough so that I can still put my family first. Being able to schedule my own classes, and to reschedule them if my family needs me, is huge. It means I can be a full-time mom and also have a fulfilling job!
What have you learned about yourself since leading Tinkergarten?
I have to say I have learned so much.
First, I have realized that I can make an impact in my local community.
Second, I have learned to have confidence in myself as a teacher. Not only do I receive so many positive comments from my guides, but I also see the explorers learning and growing because of my work. It’s pretty amazing stuff!
Third, I have learned that I can have a positive impact on my peers. I see this with the influence I have had on my community of Tinkergarten Leaders. They repeat many of my creative ideas and support me through social networks. I have never in my life been this social or popular!
Fourth, I have learned that I have a great interest in curriculums for early childhood, particularly when it comes to play. There is an overwhelming deterioration of play in our culture right now -- it seems like people have forgotten how to play -- and I have learned that I can help.
Lastly, I have learned to express gratitude. I could not have brought Tinkergarten to Clarke County, VA without the support of my family, my friends, my community, my parks (Blandy Farm, Chet Hobert Park, and Rose Hill Park), and the Tinkergarten community. I give a shout out from the Blue Ridge: “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
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