Non Linear, Integrated Learning is Easy As Pie!
Today is a sunny day and we are going to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium to study the amazing Jelly Fish. We have watched National Geographic Videos; examined in minutiae our ZooBooks, our three oldest students took turns reading to us from more books in the library, we made a big wall map of the world and mapped their territories and NOW, finally, we heard that there is a big exhibit on Jelly Fish happening at the aquarium and we are going to go see real live Jelly Fish. We pack our art pads and pastels, charcoals, and other dry and portable mediums and park ourselves on the floor in front of one of the smaller glass enclosed cases featuring a colorful variety of jellyfish; a tiny thing that makes its own light. It has a natural florescent of sorts.
There are dozens of varieties of Jelly Fish. We sit for a while and draw pictures of our favorites, which will later be displayed on the cork board in the hall of our home. We examine them from every angle, how they move…explain their propulsion system, why they glow…how they eat. We count them, point out their unique details, we see if we can tell them apart.
After a while we peruse the rest of the aquarium (especially the sharks, and decide that next month we will study them!) and eventually maneuver outside for lunch on the grass where we share our favorite moment, what else we want to see, and what we are so excited about. Small children are always seem excited when learning.
This is a Home School and Life is Our Classroom
This small band of students is a home school consisting of a 2 year old, a 5 year old, a 7 year old, and an 8 year old. Three of the students can read, they can all count, and they are cooperative, supportive, and tender with each other.
We begin our adventure each month sitting across the kitchen table with books and pictures from the different subjects that we might study. We studied forts, their construction and design (we even built a couple). We used cooking to practice math (fabulous for counting and fractions), as well as safety lesson, tending to food, the cycle of life, teamwork and chemistry lessons. We learned to knit, sew, weave, and tie-dye. We plan, plant, and harvest a large organic garden and we learned to put up food. We buy used small appliances at garage sales to be taken apart and put back together. We have posters of the human body and start studying nutrition and how the body works at the earliest ages. We do puzzles for concentration practice plus learning to observe detail and spatial composition. We play games for strategic thinking and fun. We ski in the winter and swim in the summer. We have been to the theatre, aikido lessons, learn languages, and piano. They learn to play chess when they are 5 years old. Art, writing, music, and history are components of almost every lesson. Reading and writing come naturally as we research whatever subject we are learning.
Resources Are Abundant and Many Free!
Resources are abundant with memberships to the Seattle Science Center, the Woodland Park Zoo, the Tacoma Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, and Seattle Art Museum (SAM) which all offer events and announcements about special events. Each month we get a newsletter from most of these places and we look for what we want to see and many times build our lessons around these events. We go to the Science Center and a Museum once a month and we usually visit a new place, like a local historic site or the Conservatory in Volunteer Park.
The Beauty Occurs When the Kids Decide What They Will Be Learning
The monthly planning meeting is as much a learning experience as any other lesson. We have to listen to each other, look at the congruence of our choices, plan a schedule and what resources we have for these lessons. We sometimes have to vote or make hard choices, but usually everyone gets to have their first choice and only has to wait on their second or third choice.
The Magic is Alive Everyday
And the magic, well the magic is alive everyday. I find them always eager to learn the next hardest thing; excited to find out about the world and explore the very edges of their environment, how it works, when it doesn’t. Many times I have found that I have to give up my own conservative point of view about something and learn to trust them. For instance, I remember teaching my 6 year old to break eggs on the edge of the hot frying pan. She was standing on a chair in front of the stove and she was going to make the breakfast eggs. She was so excited and I was right there with her. She hit the first one too hard and it went everywhere, some in the pan and some on the stove, even some on her. She lightly touched the edge of the pan with her finger and it was hot. My first reaction was to be afraid for her, that she might get hurt. The touch so slight it did not even faze her, but for me…I was nervous and tempted to end the lesson. But, I evaluated the moment and knew she could do this. She had baked with me many times and knew how to break eggs very well. She was careful around the stove and very respectful of our safety rules. I could see that for her to have this accomplishment I was going to have to be courageous and let her try again. And after several broken yolks, she triumphantly made breakfast for six people.
Learning to Let Them Stretch and Learn
The very nature of a student is to always be at the edge of their abilities and always stretching to the next level. Loving to learn and striving for excellence is something I would want for them for the rest of their lives. How then could I let my fear stop them from attempting what I would be afraid to attempt myself?
One of the major joys and challenges has been to allow my children to excel way beyond my own abilities and brilliance. Their ingenuity dazzles me daily, their delight in learning never ceases to amaze me, while their courage has left me humbled and inspired innumerable times. I am so grateful for the opportunity to show them the world and have them hand it right back to me, enlivened and enhanced tenfold.
Tawn Holstra Auston is an author, speaker, and an educational consultant specializing in curriculum design. She is a parent, a former preschool teacher, and was a segment host for Intuitive Parent on Conscious Talk Radio 1150am at 7am the third Wednesday of each month. Please send questions and comments to Tawn