The Morro Bay Shell Shop is the subject of many fond memories going back to my childhood. On one of my excursions there as an adult, a particular shell caught my eye: An ordinary mollusk shell…with shells from other creatures glued to the top. Why had someone gone to the trouble of doing that, and why was such an outlandish craft piece being sold in this shell shop? The clerk was kind enough to educate me: the artist had been the animal itself, moving around the seabed, collecting other shells and fragments of debris and cementing them to itself. I was intrigued. I had to learn more.
This animal is a mollusk from the class gastropoda, which in Greek means “stomach-foot.” Gastropods include snails and slugs found on both land and sea; limpets, conches, sea slugs, and abalones fall into this class. The carrier snail makes its shell as many other gastropods do; it grows and radiates in a spiral shape from the center of the shell. This particular animal includes one unique feature. As it moves along on the ocean floor it finds other rocks and shells lying around; now and then with its foot, it lifts one up and holds it against its exterior, secreting a calcium carbonate glue to cement it in place. Moreover, ocean organisms can fall on the animal; even sponges three times as big as the shell can be found added in this way. This gastropod ends up having a shell that is eclectic, strange, and beautiful.
Growing up, while attending public school, I was fortunate to have a mom who went to great lengths to immerse my sister and me in a rich variety of experiences. Camping…hiking…helping at homeless shelters…sailing on whale watching trips: these experiences were committed to our beings as emotional memories, not just detached facts in our brains. Like shell fragments added to the carrier snail, we allowed these memories to stick and become a part of who we are.
Whether in conventional school or homeschool, I realize the great opportunity that families and teachers have to help their students in creating their own beautiful carrier shells. With thoughtful choices about study topics and timing, parents and educators can help their students organically formulate a frame that reflects the values and the landscape of that child’s family traditions. When the student participates in choosing which shells to add, his or her shell will be recognizable as a shell crafted from that family, including pieces special to the student. Parents and teachers know the individuality of their students. Through our unique approach to learning, this curriculum will assist in the addition of educational gems to add to a young child’s education. Like shell building, it will be organic, self-determined, and unique.