The unschooling diaries: week fourteen
It may be taking up rather a lot of time and headspace, but one major benefit of the #THISislearning campaign for me has been the renewed focus I have found on the way Arthur learns, and how I can best facilitate it. I’ve been reading lots of articles about what does – and doesn’t – inspire effective learning and I in turn am feeling very much inspired.
One of the key concerns parents and teachers have about the SATs is the space they take up – both in terms of time and the room they occupy in peoples’ heads – meaning that other learning, proper learning, is squeezed out as a result. With Arthur learning at home (and out and about) with me, I don’t need to worry about his learning time (and quality) being reduced by assessment or administration. I do, however, want to make sure that his learning does not get lost in the focus on the everyday.
This is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to unschooling. After all, everyday life IS learning – everything we do, enhanced by talk and questions, is teaching Arthur about a different aspect of the way the world works. But all of that is fairly ordinary, and I want to make sure he is inspired by the extraordinary too – that he has the chance to explore familiar (and less familiar) objects and materials in his own way, and in doing so learn things that might challenge his perceptions and everyday experiences.
Part of that means making sure he has the time in the day to play, and to immerse himself in that extra-ordinary learning. And part of it means dedicating physical space for him to do it – space that inspires curiosity and exploration, space that is his.
He actually has various little places around the house for this – his room, obviously, and a corner of my study. The area we’ve been working on this week, though, is in the kitchen. It started off just over a year ago as Arthur’s art corner, but as the months have passed it has evolved: he has acquired an increasing amount of resources for building and creating and experimenting, and the more things we’ve had to try to cram in to his corner the harder it’s been to actually access them.
I dream of Montessori-style open shelves, with carefully curated learning materials rotated on a regular basis. But then I have to get realistic, and remember just how quickly the space around me can descend into chaos if I’m not careful. So we’ve gone for clear drawers instead – I trawled the internet to find ones which would fit on our Ikea unit and finally found the perfect ones. I’m still waiting for another column of shelving to arrive which should (hopefully) fit perfectly into the corner by the window, and then there will be space for books and boxes of miscellaneous bits and pieces.
The idea with the drawers is that each of them has one type of resource. The way I’ve grouped them has varied, but there is a logic to it all. I’m hoping each one contains something that will inspire Arthur towards creative play: very few of the resources have a ‘right’ application, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he interprets their potential.
My favourite at the moment is definitely the seaside drawer, with shells and stones and sand collected from local beaches and our travels all over the world. I have so many ideas of what we might be able to do with them, but I’m trying to hold back at the moment to see what Arthur comes up with first.
As for Arthur, he seems especially intrigued by the ‘small worlds’ drawer, and I can’t blame him. We have yet to collect all of the weird and wonderful creatures he has secreted around the house and introduce them to their new home, but the ones that are there are already inspiring some interesting play – I particularly liked this morning’s conversation between the bear and the octopus.
On the subject of creatures, this learning space is also home to Arthur’s first pets – four tadpoles collected from the pond at my parents’ place. We are both fascinated by their habits and their creeping metamorphosis – in the last forty eight hours they have just begun to grow legs. They have inspired so many fascinating conversations already – I can’t wait to see Arthur’s wonder when their transformation is complete!
There is generally something incredibly powerful about focusing Arthur’s creative and conceptual energies around this space. He tends to oscillate round it as we go through our day, picking up new things to explore or pausing to investigate something further. It has certainly become the place he gravitates towards first thing in the morning. With things being accessible and clearly laid out he has proved more likely to just leap straight in – like yesterday, when I came downstairs to find him drawing on his easel (welly boots on of course ready to escape into the garden the second I opened the door).
The more I learn about learning the more I realise I have yet to learn – which is exactly as it should be. I am just very grateful to be spending my days with such a good little teacher, and will continue to do all I can to make the adventures we have together as inspiring and enlightening as possible.