Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Learning as a Result of Strewing and Rabbit Trails


One of the definitions of Unschooling is child-led learning. I think a lot of people who don't "get" Unschooling think that means if a child doesn't specifically ASK to learn about something then they won't learn about that thing. I don't like that definition very much because that is completely opposite of how the Unschooly side of things works around here most of the time.

Yeah, Padawan does take interest in things that he researches and learns about, but he also learns many things that he would not specifically ask to learn as a by product of just living or as the result of something that I have strewn. It may be even something totally different than what I thought would come from it, and I usually end up learning just as much as he does!

Other times a rabbit trail gets started as a result of something that he's overheard in a conversation, or his "need" to figure out a math problem from a game he's been playing.

Here's a look at a chain of learning that occurred partly because of a TV series that I strew and partly because the weather has been agreeable to us finally being able enjoy being outside.


I left out the learning from the schooly part of things, because we all know how that works. Our version of  doing school is that each day that we deem as a school day, I ask him to let me know what time we are doing school, then he picks one or two subjects and we take it from there. I also left out the things he's been learning from gaming. I'll probably write specifically about math and gaming at another time because it is really surprising how much math (and general knowledge) he encounters just from playing games- even some of the higher math that everyone seems to worry about. This post was already long enough, I didn't want to stray too far from the topics I was writing about to add in all the math we have encountered over this same period of time. 

Recently someone in one of the groups I belong to on Facebook posted about the Little Men TV series inspired by one of Louisa May Alcott's books being available on Netflix. It sounded like something we may enjoy, so I strewed the first episode while Padawan was playing one of his computer games. By the second or third episode he was hooked. We spent the next week or so watching all 26 episodes either in the living room during the middle of the night or on the screened in porch via the Roku that I moved out there when the weather cooled down.

The series was actually very educational, especially since I keep my laptop external brain nearby so I can find the answers to the endless stream of questions the boy has every time we watch anything together.  It sparked a lot of discussions about the differences in life during the Civil War era between the North and the South, slavery, emancipated slaves versus runaway slaves, Women's Suffrage  how grape juice was made to keep it from fermenting, medical practices in the late 1800's, and a ton of other things depending on the theme of the particular episode we were watching. We even ended up doing a few impromptu math problems out of curiosity. One of them was figuring out how long it would have taken to travel from Concord, Mass. to Boston by way of horse and buggy. We looked up the distance on Google maps, then we searched to find out the average speed a horse and buggy traveled. The answer we found was around 4 mph.

It even sent me on a rabbit trail of researching women's fashion in the mid-1800's to the early 1900's. I didn't share any of this with the boy though.

Padawan also had questions about whether the story was based on the author's life or if it was just made up. So, we read a blurb on the internet about the life of the author Louisa May Alcott and her inspiration for the book.

After the series was over, I was a little sad that there weren't any more to watch so I went in search of the next thing I could strew. The mini-series Roots came to mind. I was fairly young when it originally aired on TV, so I wanted to watch it again as an adult. I found it on YouTube! I found Roots the Next Generations and the Little Women movie from 1978 which I planned to watch after I finished Roots. They were all broken up into in several parts but they were free to watch so what did I care.

Padawan didn't really care for Roots or the Next Generations,  but I didn't expect him to. It was something that I wanted to watch. He did pay attention to parts of it here and there as he came out on the porch to swing or to shoot his air-soft rifle.  He asked a ton of questions about the parts he did watch, and I shared my thoughts and feelings about some of the things I had seen in the movie.

Yeah, I AM aware that if you have a target practice area set up that is accessible from your front porch- you MIGHT be a redneck. 

We had a lot of discussions about discrimination, racism, the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow Laws, antisemitism, the beginnings of the KKK and various other things relating to the time period as the movie progressed. I was disheartened as these things reminded me about how much this country has had hate running through it from the time the settlers started taking over the land from the Native Americans. This led to a discussion about compassion, how NOT to treat people, how God wants us to treat people, and how all of this behavior by people who said they were Christians is not how God intended for his people to spread the Gospel.

Once the time period of the movie got up into the 1900's I would point out that was when my grandparents were born and later on in the 40's I pointed out the time period that Padawan's grandparents were born. It was interesting to imagine how things were like for them as they were growing up.

I walked in the house one afternoon while I was still in the middle of the Next Generations movie to catch a documentary about the KKK that had just started playing. I recorded it to watch later. Padawan was interested in that and he watched the entire thing with me as I answered questions with the help of my external brain of course.

After I finished all of the Roots movies, that sparked a renewed interest in me to research more about my ancestors that I found when I did our family tree last summer. Instead of just knowing who they were, I wanted to find out more about how they lived- especially my ancestors who came over from Scotland. I couldn't find out much about my actual ancestors, but there were several articles about someone I am sure was a distant cousin. I was saddened to find out that this person and his son were one of the biggest plantation and slave owners in NC prior to the Civil War. It prompted me to pray for the descendants of these families, and for God to break any generational curses because of this. This is the stuff you don't encounter learning about our history from a textbook.

Through this journey, I've come to realize that it is no wonder the African American people are ticked off as a race in this country. The hate, the hurt, and the transgressions have all been passed on through pretty much every generation as recent as my parent's generation  It doesn't matter if we as individuals are not racist, there have been enough people that have acted out of hate and fear make it still a very real thing today- even if it is unspoken for the most part.  I'm not sure how we can change that.

By this time, I was bringing my self down a little dwelling on a past that I could not change, so I decided to research Scotland in the 1700's to see what the land was like when my ancestors first started coming over. I ended up finding a picture of a castle that belongs to the Scottish clan that my family is a part of.  We both thought that was pretty cool! I even have it as my new desktop background. I also found out that the different types of Tartan patterns that the Scots wore were registered to different clans. I pointed that out to the boy and he said, "Duh". Where he learns this stuff, I'll never know. I guess I am behind because I hated history in school. :)

We took a little break from watching TV. The next few afternoons we spend time together on the porch as I answered questions prompted by his interest in learning about different types of camo and how they made the designs. In one afternoon we looked up and talked about everything from camo, to deer stands, to tracking deer, looking for deer and turkey signs, hollers (hollows), bottom land, pastures, and other various types of land forms  how squirrels build their houses and raise their young, the difference between deciduous trees and evergreens, various types of forests, how worms reproduce, and many other things that I can no longer remember.

When we were ready for some more TV on the porch I started the Little Women movie. Padawan liked it instantly and asked me not to watch it without him. He did suggest that the title should have been "Almost Little Women" because the girls were not so little. We watched and I answered questions as usual and we finished that movie (in 20 ten-minute segments) over the course of the next few days.

After that I strewed the Little Men movie that is available on Netflix one night as he was playing games. He liked that just as much, and we had fun comparing how the TV series and the movie differed. That also led to a discussion about artistic license.

At some point during our fascination with the movies based on the writings of Louisa May Alcott, I had downloaded some her books to my Kindle - since I noticed that he seemed to like her stories. Yesterday, he had one of those rare bugs where he actually let me read to him while he was waiting for a very large file to download to his computer! I read The Candy Country to him. It was a cute little short story. We both like it. There was also another story in the ebook about two boys that ran away to become hunters. He liked that one too.

But according to him this isn't school.  It's just learning stuff!  And that's what's so great about it! If this WAS school, he would be resisting every minute. :)

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