Saturday, April 14, 2007

Learn (Many) Something(s) New Every Day

Every now and then I jot down all the things that the kids and I have talked about and learned about in that one particular day, just for fun. I always come away from the experience amazed and awed at the things we talk and think about, the learning that happens without us even noticing it. On any given day, if I thought about it briefly, it would seem like we "didn't do much". The kids and I like to hang out together, or they're at their friends, we might read a book or go for a walk, we might have an activity (of course, activities like a violin lesson look a lot more like the "learning" that people are used to - formalized, taught, timed, structured), or we might bounce on the trampoline or play Yahtzee.

Unschooled learning doesn't look like a parent sitting down and teaching their kids, or the kids working their way through some set of materials aimed at learning some certain thing. It's a lot more fragmented than that, a lot more integrated into daily life, and a lot more interactive on the part of the parent. I have to stay on my toes, as I never know when I'll be called on to pull an answer to some esoteric question out of my hat. "Mom, what's the crush depth of the average submarine?" Hmmmmmm, I'll have to think about that one for a minute.... The other thing that amazes me is how good kids are at putting together the puzzle pieces of learning in their head. They make connections between disparate pieces of information, or things we have talked or read about days, months, or years apart. This is as true of numerical facts and figures as it is of history or literature, or scientific ideas. You don't need "Well Trained Mind" timelines glued to your walls or fancy curriculae for the kids to get how it all hangs together.

So all of this was illustrated in the day's little snapshot of unschooled, interactive learning, which looked like this:

The kids made Eggmen with leftover Easter eggs, glue, tape, boxes, crepe paper, twistie ties, crayons, and anything else they could find in the craft drawer. This is Commander Eggman next to his spaceship. They came up with some funny, punny names too: a baseball-playing "Eggo Martinez", the ever-artistic "Egginardo DaVinci" and the thespian "Eggo Mortensen".

Diva Girl and I practiced violins. She's playing in a recital next Saturday, so she was polishing up a Bach Minuet. I was trying to explain how to get more out of her dynamics when I decided just to stop in the middle and pull out some CDs. We listened to Mozart's Requiem (Confutatis Maledictis), Dire Straits' Telegraph Road, and Andrea Bocceli's Con Te Partiro. The latter piece sparked a discussion about the Italian Language. We've been watching Rick Steve's guide to Italy's Countryside on DVD lately and are hoping someday to take a bicycling trip there. We discussed how I could read some of the Italian lyrics in Bocceli's songs and understand some (because I can read French and some Spanish) and how the Romance Languages are tied together at a common root (and since the kids both studied Latin for some time, they could also find the roots to some of the words.)

Returning to dynamics, we listened to the music and the ways that dynamics influence the presentation of many different styles of music. I later did a little bit more research on dynamics and found out some interesting facts to share with the kids that I didn't know previously (like the fact that some composers have used more than three fff's or ppp's: Tchaikovsky marked a bassoon solo pppppp in his Pathétique symphony and ffff in passages of his 1812 Overture, for instance!) When Diva returned to her violin piece over an hour later (a bit of a long diversion), the difference in dynamics and presentation were really incredible. It wasn't any planned "lesson" but a divergence from what we were doing that interested all of us.

We took a walk to the store, talked about what to have for dinner. Since Italy was on the brain (and since Rick Steves shows off a lot of wonderful Italian cooking in his series), we decided on pasta and picked out fresh ingredients at our corner market. On the way home, we talked about how going to market and cooking were similar and different between our lives and the small Italian towns we'd been watching on the video (in the segment on the Cinque Terra, they talk about how a traveling marketplace comes to each of the small hill towns on the coast once a week.)

On the way home, we saw a smashed soda can. That's what got us talking about the crush depth of a submarine. That conversation led to discussing where the deepest spot in the ocean was (I said I was pretty sure it was in the Mariana Trench, but looked it up when we got home just to be sure - there's always finding new places or new measurements.) Along the way to finding that fact online, we found some other cool ocean facts, like where the tallest underwater waterfall is (who knew there was such a thing!) or the 50+ foot differential in the tides at the Bay of Fundy.

A wonderful family pasta dinner later and we were watching another Rick Steve's Italy episode, and then a Nova special on cuttlefish (truly amazing creatures). In between all of that we did plenty of different things. The kids played, we went outdoors, we took care of all of our animals, I gardened, they trampolined, M. told me all about his newest adventures in the DS game RocketSlime, Divagirl picked out some tunes on the piano and sang to the chickens (to help settle them into their new enclosure.) We talked with shopkeepers and friends in the neighborhood, rescued worms stranded by the rains, discussed worms, went home and looked up info about whether or not the giant earthworms still live in Oregon (did you know that some giant earthworms here grow up to three feet in length, but that they may have gone extinct in the last decade or so?), discovered that Charles Darwin played the piano for earthworms to confirm that they were deaf, and that there are over a hundred species in our region alone, and many many other things.

Those are just a few things I jotted down. None of them seemed outstanding or spectacular in their moment, just a few threads here and there. It's only when you step back and look at the whole rich tapestry by writing it out like this that you can see how beautiful it is to live and learn as an unschooler.


Mama Chaos said...

I loved reading this and seeing how much learning comes from just a normal day living. That you for showing what unschooling looks like in your house.

Lill said...

The thing that I took away from your post is how important it is that parents are unschoolers if they want their kids to be unschoolers too. Maybe that's why I like unschooling so much. I gotta know, as my kids are always saying. Great post.