Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Curiosity Required

Asa just bought a stone at the market the other day with these words inscribed on it:

The life you live is the lesson you teach.

She picked that one out after looking through a whole basket of stones with new-agey inspirational sayings. It strikes me as an interesting choice for a nine-year-old, since kids this age are usually looking more inward than outward. But it also strikes me as an excellent phrase to take to heart as an unschooling parent. In fact, it could be the credo of the unschooling parent.

I was out on a run the other day when I passed a mother and two kids. They were by the side of the canal looking at a nutria (a large rodent that looks like a cross between a beaver and a rat, an introduced and invasive species I might add). The kids were asking the mom what kind of animal it was, and she replied that she didn't know. "But that's what you said last time!" one of the kids wailed. "Why don't you know now?" It's an excellent question, and one that cuts right to the heart of the biggest requirement for an unschooling parent: curiousity.

The life you live is the lesson you teach. If you are not living a life of intellectual curiosity, it may be hard for your kids to find the impetus to be interested in more than just their own small little universe - whatever that might be. Or worse, by not being open and actively engaged with their own curiosity, you may inadvertantly shut it down. I imagine the young kids of the mother by the canal may eventually stop asking such pesky questions.

In school, many of us remember that asking too many questions was penalized, either by exasparated teachers or more typically by the other students. A kid with their hand perpetually up is, more or less, frowned upon or outright reviled. You pick up unsavory knicknames if you don't learn to stifle that curiosity, and most kids learn to do just that. By 5th grade or so, they're way too "cool" to care.

In many ways, unschooling is easier than the sit-at-the-kitchen-table variety of homeschooling. Heaven knows, I know I'm not personally cut out to be the parent who enforces 10 pages in the workbook each day. But in many ways, it is tougher. Without a curriculum to follow and standards to be checked against, the unschooling parent can find themselves feeling like they are just drifting along and that their kids aren't "interested in anything". But if we take the time to engage in whatever our kids are doing, we discover that their interests can take us all kinds of places. My son's now four-year love of hippopotami came from a video game he used to like to play called "Impossible Creatures". We've since watched hippo specials on the Discovery channel, read hippo books, adopted hippos through the Nature Conservancy, he has a hippo shrine in his room, and a career as a wildlife biologist protecting hippos and their habitat is on his list of life's possible paths.

By having our own interests, our kids are often drawn into worlds that they might not venture into otherwise. I check out books and videos from the library that answer my own curiousity. Recently for me, that's been world religions and religious art, which meant National Geographic videos Inside Mecca and Inside the Vatican, books about Caravaggio, the Catholic Saints, Giotto, etc. Sometimes the kids ask what I'm reading and I summarize or read them excerpts. Sometimes over breakfast I read them a poem or show them a painting from whichever book I have at my place at the table. They almost always watch whatever video I'm watching. We discuss, we think about how what we've seen or read fits with our own experiences, and often these discussions bring us to more questions that we want answered.

For any one thing that kids or parents are engaged in, a thousand possible things spiral off. Every question that asked is an open door to walk through into unknown worlds. The internet and the library are our best friends in making sure that we follow up on things that they want to know about, and that their curiosity and interest are rewarded with finding answers and more information. Often, the answers lead to even more questions and we're off on another path of learning.


Jody said...

True! Or the mom could be like me, who looks it up...and then promptly forgets!

Robin said...

That's possible. I forget a lot too, that's for sure! Sometimes I use a little notebook. We used to always carry two with us, one we called "Silly Things We've Seen" and one that was "Questions to be Answered". That way when we get home, I don't forget to follow up on something they've asked.