“Children do not need to be made to learn about the world or shown how. They want to, and they know how.” – John Holt
When children are acquiring knowledge through their everyday life experiences they are engaging in natural learning. This is often what takes place in a child-led education or unschooling. We have been flirting with becoming an unschooling family lately. I’m still in the process of reading, talking, and thinking about it and will post more about unschooling once I have fully developed my feelings about it all. When we experience moments of natural learning, it leads me to see the power of a child-led education. The drive & motivation is strong. He is extremely curious and wants to know about every single thing we encounter in our day. He forces me to have an exact understanding of everything going on around us at all times. I am answering about fifty questions an hour. If I don’t know the answer, which happens, then we make a note to research it later. The boy keeps me on my toes, for sure.
This past week we visited one of the oldest parks in Alabama, established around a natural spring. This spring has seen everything from Civil War soldiers watering their horses to children exploring its banks. The 35 acre park includes many attractions from duck ponds to an outdoor amphitheater. It was beautiful and charming. Big Brother’s curiosity transformed it into an afternoon that provided a wealth of natural learning moments.
Heading into the park, Big Brother immediately took off running, as he often does when we get to the park at home. Given we were in an unfamiliar place, I felt the need to reel him back in briefly to have a quick stranger safety chat. We had a quick rundown of what to do if he encountered a stranger, I quizzed him on mine and Dada’s “other” names as well as where we live. It made me think back to the days when I was teaching in a 2nd grade classroom and the guidance counselor would come into the classroom to review safety awareness with my students. I was always surprised that at 6 & 7 years old, there were always a few kids who didn’t know the basic info needed in an unsafe situation. I try to repeat this conversation and share this information with him on a regular basis until it really sinks in. Saying it one time is not enough. We also recently picked up the book, I Can Play it Safe from the library that helps to reinforce checking in with a caregiver as well as safe vs harmful secrets and touches.
Once we were in the park, Big Brother was quick to point out the distinctive red dirt found everywhere in the south which seems so natural to me having grown up there, but sometimes I forget that it’s very different from what my boys see in New England.
When we reached the duck pond, the inquisitive questions began. We discussed what ducks eat, how they dive for food, and how to identify the male and female duck. We had a few connections to some of our favorite books as we discussed the unpredictable disposition of a goose and how Henry encountered this in Henry and Mudge and the Wild Goose Chase. Big Brother was also curious about the island we saw in the middle of the pond and he asked me how the island got there. I didn’t know the answer, but we talked about how and island was built in the middle of a duck pond in Curious George and the Dump Truck. I love when we are able to make these text to real world connections because it helps make our reading come alive. This is often a strong strategy for children when learning to read, as well.
While playing on the playground, Big Brother had to take a bathroom break. When he approached the bathroom entrance with Dada, they found themselves in a stand off with a bee. Since our spring is not yet underway back home, Big Brother has not had the opportunity to see many bees this season and he has become convinced that bees live only in the south. It’s clear he has a fear of bees and this prevented him from moving past this bee guarding the bathroom door. Even after walking around and exploring other ways to enter the bathroom building, the bee stood its ground. Eventually, with his head buried in Dada’s shoulder, they pushed on through into the bathroom. This encounter made a huge impact on him and has since been obsessed with the ins and outs of bees. Despite his fear, he enjoys pretending to be a bee, he’s asked a lot of questions about what bees do and he’s told me that even though he’s not a fan of the stinger, he thinks bees are his favorite insect because he loves yellow. We have since talked about the importance of bees in our life and what important work they do for our spring flowers.
We wandered our way over to the outdoor amphitheater and the boys immediately turned it into their personal gymnasium; climbing, balancing, running.
Now that his interest has been sparked, we will follow up by getting books from the library on these topics, visiting a bee hive at our local science museum, watching videos about bees and ducks and expanding on these ideas by talking about safe ways to feed ducks (NOT bread and crackers!), pollination, and spring time changes. By following Big Brother’s lead, his education will be shaped by what motivates him and real learning will happen. Naturally.