26 April 2010

unschool monday :: thinking space

I'll confess that I probably only spend about 1-2hrs each day actively doing "educational" stuff with big owlet. We read books. First she reads to me, then I read to her. We do a craft or science activity. Much of the other time is spent answering questions or talking, overseeing writing... and with the other 10hrs that I spend with her we talk some more, potter around the garden, play a game or do our own things. This is the time that I think is most important to her. With her time she likes to play with her sister, jump on the trampoline, dance, read, watch a DVD, play on the computer, draw, paint, think... Its downtime and she moves freely around her environment, asking for help along the way. Some days she'll choose to focus on one particular thing. As a visual child, DVDs are one of her favourite things and it can be quite challenging for me to feel comfortable with leaving her to watch for long periods of time. But, she does that sometimes. She'll want to come home from an outing and watch 3 DVDs back to back. I asked her one day what she is learning while she watches so many movies. "I'm learning how to make movies when I'm a grown up". She was right. She has expressed an interest in movie making and even has a movie planned... the working title is "Tree Girl" and for what I can gather its along the lines of Tarzan, but cooler... What she's also getting is space to think, or not think... space to process the information she's gained at other times during the day.

The next day she will often choose to do something completely different. Like birdwatching, or an all day craft bender, or a maths workbook. She'll work on it intensively for 2 days and then leave it for another month before showing interest again. She needs the time to process and absorb the information and put it to use. I remember that feeling. Its part of being a child, having space to grow and learn.

Sadly, at school we often didn't get it. Time to just think. I remember a maths teacher telling me I was "vague and dreamy" once, for stopping to think and take my time with things. A daydreamer who could do so much better if I applied myself... So I went to Uni and got a job that required daydreaming expertise, creativity and time to sit back and think about things. I remember the eye rolling the QA girls at work would carry on with while I stood back and looked at my designs, thought about them, researched for them by looking through books or magazines. It felt naughty to take the time to think and imagine and get it right. But it was necessary. Brilliant ranges don't happen if you sit with your face glued to your work all day. You need to experience the world around you, think about what you've learned so far, seek inspiration, before returning to the business of designing. In fact, most of the work is already done in that time spent thinking. The actual execution of the design is easy if you already have it in your head.

I believe its the same for children and their learning process. The bulk of the work is done while they appear to be daydreaming. Much the same as when big owlet was a baby. She'd have an enormous nap during the day - the kind where you go and check a few times to see that she's still breathing. Hours later she'd wake up and have a few new words in her vocabulary. So I've learned to sit back and watch, to bide my time, do other things and wait for the time when she actually needs me to help her learn about something. It is her journey after all...


If you feel like more of a read, these articles may interest you...

Is "I Love Lucy" Educational? by Jan Hunt
School is not for Learning by Grace Lewellyn
Nurturing Children's Natural Love of Learning by Jan Hunt
The Right to Control One's Learning by John Holt


  1. Sounds perfectly wonderful Lauren... for you and your girl.

    I love reading your posts each Monday. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  2. This is how our school holidays roll, my guys don't like to stop learning. They resume school tomorrow & are bursting. It's amazing what you teach them by just involving them in your life each day. Love Posie

  3. Thank god you wrote all this today. I needed to hear about the long naps and the new words. The visual learning and DVD's. And the importance to go at ones own sometimes dreamy pace. Yeah for you for sharing your thoughts and opinions. What a relief.

  4. As per usual, I'm sitting yelling Hear! Hear! at the computer. Throughout my career, the most stressful scenarios have often involved freelance work. You get the brief and then everyone watches the clock because they are paying by the hour. It's not like you can sit there flicking through a magazine looking for inspiration with any degree of comfort - let alone come up with a brilliant idea!

    I'm thankful the school my kids go to values 'vague and dreamy'...


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