For those who receive my blog updates by email, I thought I should explain that I’ve been missing in action for awhile, due to Molly having broken her leg not long after relocating our family interstate, and it’s been a bit crazy around here! I haven’t been blogging much, but I have been doing some maintenance on the site, updating dead links, etc. I’m also about to transfer over some old posts from another blog that I’m closing down. I’m hoping that they appear in correct chronological order, but even if they do, I think you’ll still get email updates, and you’ll probably be thinking, “Wow, that’s from awhile ago, what’s going on?” Hence the explanation. 🙂
I’m going to transfer the posts, and then I have some new ones coming soon!
I was recently helping my daughter purchase some Lego on Ebay. At the conclusion of the sale, she commented, “I love it when they show suggestions at the bottom of the page of other things you might like. I often find lots of cool stuff!” She didn’t feel any pressure to investigate the suggested options, but she appreciated knowing about them.
It occurred to me that things like “Suggested Groups” on Facebook, or “See what other people are watching” on Ebay, or “Customers who bought this item also bought…..” on Amazon, are similar to the Unschooling concept of strewing. It is presenting ideas of other things we might like, based on our interests. Sometimes, with strewing, we introduce things to our children that are similar to a current interest, expanding upon something they already love. Other times, we introduce something completely new.
I often hear unschooling parents say they don’t like strewing, because it is manipulative. Yes, it can be done that way! Picture this, for instance: a parent sneakily places items (“educational” ones, if you please!) around the house in strategic places, and then sits back passively as though with a spy camera, waiting expectantly for their child to stumble upon it, notice it, pick it up and learn something. The parent then pounces upon the child, seizing the moment to teach them something they think their child should know. Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea!
Strewing becomes manipulative when it has strings attached, when it is done for the purpose of teaching rather than delighted discovery, when we don’t let go of our expectation that our child will pick up the item, read the book, look at the web link, listen to the song or say yes to the activity. I know how badly it can be done, because I have done it that way! Having shared previously about my own early attempts at strewing, I thought I’d share today about some principles of strewing that ensure it is not done in a manipulative, sneaky way, but rather in a way that enhances and expands the environment in which our children are living.
Strewing is the other third of the unschooling triangle, the parent-initiated part of the Unschooling Dance. A triangle is considered one of the strongest shapes, and the same is true with unschooling. All three elements are necessary for unschooling to thrive:
Child-initiated learning, where the child freely explores their own interests, with our attentive support and interest
Incidental, accidental learning that is stumbled upon inadvertently from unexpected sources
Strewing, where we introduce ideas, resources and possibilities that the child is free to pursue – or not
Without that third element, unschooling is not as successful and children are at times left to flounder in a vacuum of just “doing their own thing”.
Strewing is the act of scattering morsels of mental yumminess across the paths of our children for them to discover, use and enjoy – or not. It has no strings attached. It is simply a scattering of possibilities. Unlike planting the seed of a tree, or rows of equally spaced vegetables, which implies expectation of a particular, measurable outcome, the idea of scattering seeds is more open ended.
I saw a packet of seeds once that included the seeds of a variety of annual flowers, all different shapes, sizes and colours in one packet. The instructions were so simple: to simply scatter the seeds over a prepared bed, scatter some seed raising mix on top, and then apply water. Those that land in an environment conducive to that flower, and receive the appropriate growing conditions of sunlight and water, will tend to thrive. Others won’t, but that’s okay because there isn’t an expectation that every seed will produce a flower and those that do grow will be surprising and varied. The gardener doesn’t have a lot of control over the specific outcomes. Some seeds may lie dormant for an extended period, only to burst forth with life at a later date when the conditions are favourable. Some seeds will blow away with the wind, and pop up in surprising places, much like the parachute seeds of a dandelion plant. When strewing is done with an open hand and a positive, relaxed mindset, it is a natural and important part of successful unschooling.
Strewing requires that we let go of assumptions, expectations, judgments and attachment to particular outcomes. Once we have shared an idea, opportunity, link or product with our kids, we let it go. Imagine someone sprinkling icing sugar over a cake and trying to hold on to the powdered sugar, or pick it back up. What a mess! Once you’ve strewn an item that you think might be interesting to your kids, don’t try to “make it happen”, don’t attach an agenda or expected outcome to it. Simply let it go. Trust that your child will pick it up, try it, read it or do it if they are interested, and if they are not, they will feel completely free to ignore it, put it down or simply say, “No thanks”. If you sense that they sense that they should…… it’s time to analyse your true motives for strewing.
Strewing works best when we know our children well, what they like, what they are interested in, what they haven’t yet been exposed to, what might enrich their life. It requires that we have a heart of kindness with a desire to share good things with our children that we think they might happily benefit from.
Strewing is natural. It is as natural and normal as a wife mentioning to her husband that there is a cool band playing at the local pub this weekend, or someone grabbing something at a shop that they think their friend might like or be interested in, or a someone sharing an interesting post on their friend’s Facebook wall, or a husband calling out to his wife, “Hey, check out this new show, honey! I think you’d love it!”
Strewing is kind. It is not manipulative, but kind, for an unschooling parent to share interesting things with their kids, or leave them lying about on the off chance that it piques their child’s interest. If you see something you think your child might be interested in, but withhold it because you think it is too directive or controlling to share it with them, you are keeping something from your child that they might really enjoy. Strewing something you think they may like is, well, thoughtful! And kind.
Strewing doesn’t need to be silent or subtle. It is about intentionally introducing things, ideas, opportunities and experiences into their world that they might not otherwise have stumbled upon by themselves. It sometimes sounds like, “Hey, check out what I found! How cool is this!” or “I found out about a play that’s on. Are you interested in going?”
Strewing can be experiential. It doesn’t have to be tangible items strewn about the house. It can be presenting our children with the opportunity to go somewhere, do something, try a new hobby or activity, and so on, but again, it needs to be an opportunity that is presented with an open hand, not an expectation that the child will say yes.
Strewing can be electronic. It can simply be emailing cool links to them, or setting up a Pinterest board for them, where we post links to cool things they might like, or sharing links with them on Facebook, and so on.
The strewing, sprinkling, scattering and sharing of ideas, things and opportunities enrich our child’s life and learning, and might include any of the following, and more:
Playing a new genre of music on the stereo
Celebrating International “Days of the Year” – today is apparently Belly Laugh Day, which sounds fun. But there is also Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, Backward Day, Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day and so on!
Adding DVDs to a Netflix/Quickflix queue
Adding new apps to a device for them to discover
Buying a foreign, unusual food to try
Bringing home a new craft item, cool gadget or game
Leaving a new recipe book open on the kitchen bench
Cooking international food for people to try
Leaving a half-completed jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table
Starting an “art squiggle” and leaving it for someone to finish
Pulling out something that hasn’t been seen or used in awhile
Buying a magazine about their hobby or something random
Driving a different route to a regular place
Driving to a new place to explore
Brochures from travel agents
Setting up a board game on the table
Bringing home unusual artefacts from a second hand store
Taking the kids exploring at a second hand or antique store
Visiting restaurants from other cultures
Inviting interesting people to your home
Starting a new hobby yourself (it can be contagious and lead to all sorts of conversations, too!)
Here is a small sampling of some fun strewing from our life, recently:
What about you? Do you think strewing is manipulative? Have you found ways to do it that are relaxed, natural and non-coercive? I’d love to hear your stories and examples!
Here in Australia, we are in the middle of summer holidays and people are slowly starting to think about the new school year beginning again.
Some of us don’t live in that paradigm anymore. We are school free. We live as though school doesn’t exist.
Except, of course, that it does. School is part of the fabric of our society and it can take quite a long time to extricate its tentacles from our thinking (a process known as deschooling).
Schools have gradually become less relevant and less “necessary” as society has become more technologically advanced and accessibility to information has increased. If you think about the history of compulsory schooling and about how society has changed, it is hard to believe that the majority of people still seem to believe that government mandated schooling and curriculum are relevant, helpful or perhaps even essential.
Or perhaps they have simply never paused to question our reliance on the school system for the instruction of society’s masses of children.
I am here with good news. 🙂
Schools are not essential for learning, for getting into university or for being “successful” in life! Schools are no longer the custodian and disseminator of all knowledge.
Knowledge, learning and all sorts of opportunities are widely and freely available in our modern society. It is not just a privilege for the rich, and apart from certain careers, formal instruction is not usually required at all. If someone chooses to undertake formal lessons or classes, however, these are usually available without ever setting foot inside a school building. Times are changing! Gone are the days when academic knowledge was a privilege for the rich, where knowledge was sequestered in dusty old text books in school classrooms.
Autodidactism is defined as “learning on your own or by yourself, and an autodidact is a self-teacher.” It is not an adequate term to explain the fullness of the parent-child dance that is unschooling but it is a helpful starting place for people stuck in the mindset that a human requires a teacher to enable them to learn.
Learning from Resources Readily Available in the Community
In our contemporary societies, we have a wealth of resources to inspire and equip us in our learning journey.
Supermarkets & other shops
Banks (pocket money, budgeting, investing)
Grandparents & other older people
People from other cultures
Plays, shows, concerts
Parks and playgrounds
Museums, galleries, zoos
The public transport system
Churches and synagogues
Restaurants from other cultures
Travelling to other towns, cities or countries
Pretending to be a tourist in your own town!
Learning from Resources in the Home
Basically the entire home is filled with potential for learning. Sandra Dodd suggests making the most of that by seeing our homes as something akin to a museum, filled with treasures waiting to be discovered, or brought out at an appropriate time. Just for starters, how about things like:
The entire kitchen!
Old family photographs
Scales of all kinds
Maps and atlases
Music (so many genres, cultures and artists to explore!)
Books and audio books
A sewing machine
Board games (old, new, other cultures)
Clocks (analogue and digital)
The backyard ecological system
Rulers and geometry supplies
A chemistry set
Bats, balls, trampoline, basketball hoop
Resources for Higher Level Learning
Most people assume that the older a child gets, the more they need school, college or university. Whilst some older teens and young adults will choose to engage in formal classes, or choose a career that requires a degree, there are many, many young people who thrive abundantly without formalised lessons of any kind. Blake Boles, in his brilliant books, College Without High School and Better Than College, does a pretty good job of showing how autodidactism can be an awesome choice for older teens and young adults. Entrepreneurship, travel and learning for interest rather than a piece of paper are supported by amazing resources such as:
That being said, schools seem to work well for some people and some families benefit from using the service provided by schools, and that is totally fine, of course. I am not here to judge, but to show another possible path.
I think making schools optional would be the fastest route possible to true school reform! If schools had to entice children to attend, and convince parents that it is a good choice for their family, they would have to create places children really want to go to, and parents see the relevance and value of!
In the meantime, those of us who choose to live school free can simply get on with the fun of living a learning lifestyle, trusting in our ability to learn what, when and how we want! 🙂
I’d love to hear your stories showing some examples of learning without school, especially when the learning has happened in surprising ways.
Note: The above graphic is obviously tongue in cheek. Anyone can obviously go to school if they really want to.
I just watched this interesting video, which got me to thinking…….
Does unschooling portray women as
“The weaker sex”?
“Less than” men somehow?
I mean, the majority of unschooling families follow the “old-fashioned model” where the woman gives up her career, “doesn’t work” and is “just a housewife”, don’t they? Is unschooling anti-feminist because the model most prominently displayed is one where the wife stays home with the children while her husband goes out to work? Are we setting our kids up to believe that is the only way to live? The ideal model? Are we sending a message that women have a less important role if they choose to stay home instead of going out to work? Are we sending a message to our children that the man brings home the bacon and the woman does the dishes?
I beg to differ. Not just because my husband often does the dishes.
I have felt empowered by taking on the primary unschooling role. Prior to unschooling, I rarely went on wild adventures with the kids unless my husband was along for the ride, usually in the driver’s seat (so to speak). I mean, I took the kids to Playgroup with other mums, and things like that, but we didn’t step too far outside the realms of ” normal” unless we were all together as a family.
When we brought the children home from school, I quickly discovered that recreating school at home was too small, too limiting and, well, too boring! The world was out there waiting to be discovered, and my husband was at work. It was time for me to get into the driver’s seat!
So I found my strength,
my adventurous side.
I learned to navigate the streets of Sydney! Even in peak hour. And I haven’t looked back.
Just because my husband has a Master’s Degree in the filing cabinet, wages in the bank and recognition for his paid work, it doesn’t mean our kids see him as superior.
Just because I am the one who usually takes them places and walks beside them as they discover this big wide world, it doesn’t mean our kids see me as superior.
In our family, freedom of choice is prized more highly than complying with cultural norms. I didn’t choose to stay home with the kids because I am the woman, but because it was what we both wanted. Over the past twenty years, my husband’s career has progressed and I am still “Just a Mum”. Our choice to take on these roles has nothing to do with societal expectations or traditions, and it has no impact at all on who has the most value, who is the strongest, who is the most important, or who is the most capable and worthy of respect.
In staying home with my children or accompanying them on our adventures as the case may be, my children have not seen someone who is weak, or second rate. They have observed me living a full and interesting life, facing challenges and obstacles, and learning immensely in the process.
I am not an enigma, who rushes out the door along with the kids in the morning (kids to school, mum to work), and then rushes around when we all get home, trying to get through all the required homework and school prep tasks. I am present, available and known, 24/7, warts and all.
I hope that in giving them the opportunity to observe my humanity up close and personal, they have benefited from my transparency, as they have seen both struggle and strength, mistakes and growth.
So no, I do not believe that unschooling shows the woman as weaker or less than her working partner. I think it gives our children the opportunity to see strength in action. And struggles too, at times. Transparency and reality. Equality.
The other side of the coin
As the at-home-out-and-about parent, I think it is also important
– to “live out loud” our respect for our partner, just as we respect ourselves and our children.
– to verbalize our appreciation for their monetary provision, so we can live this wonderful unschooling adventure!
How the other half live
Whilst our family has chosen quite traditional roles, we do not live in isolation. In our out-and-about life, we mix with a variety of different families, including gay parents, single parents, nuclear families, grandparents as carers, and so on. Sometimes the woman is the primary-caregiver. Sometimes the man is. And again, our kids get to see that they all have equal value.
The take away message
It is not about which parent is the best, the strongest, or the most favoured. It is not about one parent using the other one for a leg up, standing on them to make ourselves look taller. It is about being confident of our own value, and appreciative of theirs.
As we live out equality within our home, our unschooled children will absorb a lesson that cannot be taught in a text book. They will have a birds’ eye view, a window into the world of their “stay at home parent”, not just during their toddler and preschool years, but during their entire childhood, including adolescence. They will experience directly that she is more than “Just Mum”, more than just the one who does the dishes and sweeps the floor (on a good day!). They will see her learning, growing, tackling projects and hard things, exploring her own interests, supporting them in theirs. During this shared learning journey, they will engage together in fascinating, incredible and deep conversations about all manner of things and they will know that their mother is definitely much more than a barefoot pregnant lady in the kitchen with rollers in her hair!
Unschooled kids have an incredible opportunity to share daily life with the stay-at-home parent, watching them sometimes fall but always rise up to meet the many challenges along the way, growing stronger and learning all the time, just as they do. When they observe the working parent treat the at-home parent with value and respect, not just as a “housewife” but as a capable, strong, intuitive and mindful parent, when they observe the at-home parent treat the working parent with the same respect and appreciation, when they witness both parents treating each other with mutual respect and placing equal value on their different roles, they will have a frame of reference with which to see others.
They will know from experience that just as their Dad is valuable, strong and important, so too is their Mum. And so too are they!
When our unschooled children are parented gently, they will directly experience a reality where neither mother, nor father, nor child, is better or worse than the other. All are different, and all have equal value. They will feel empowered and equipped for life, by seeing life lived out before them. They will experience the opportunity to partner with their parents, just as their parents partner with them. Listening ears, compassionate hearts and kind words go both ways! When they are treated with kindness, and their needs and feelings are respected, they will know that they have value, and they will be much more likely to treat others in the same way.
From that platform of witnessing and experiencing mutual respect, kindness and equality of value, they will hopefully see all people everywhere in the same light. They will not feel the need to use anyone else for the purpose of making themselves look better, or more powerful. They will know, through their direct experience, that all people everywhere have equal value, whether mother or father, male or female, black or white, homosexual or heterosexual, “special needs” or “normal”, old or young, rich or poor, leader or follower, academic or trades person, a woman who gets paid to work outside the home or a woman who chooses to stay home with her children.
And the world will, gradually, become a better, more equal, place.
Today whilst driving in the car, my 13 year old son started to chat about how irrelevant he believes high school to be. He said something like, “Well, once you’ve learned the basics in primary school, why do you need to be in high school to learn all the other stuff? Why not learn what, how and when you want to learn? You don’t need to go to high school to learn stuff!” We talked about some of the possible reasons why governments and educators want teenagers to go to school and stay at school for as long as possible. We thought it was probably because they don’t trust that people actually want to learn, and that they thought it might keep them out of trouble, rather than “just wandering the streets”?
He thought perhaps primary school was more relevant than high school, because he can see the benefit of knowing the basics such as reading and mathematics, and wondered if primary school would be a quick way to learn those things.
I delighted, then, in telling him and his sister (who was also in the car) the story of the children who learned the entire primary school maths curriculum in 20 contact hours and we talked about how quickly you can learn something if you really want to learn it. 😉 He thought about it and agreed that primary school is as unnecessary as high school for learning things you want or feel the need to learn. (I’m not saying that unschooling is going to be the best choice for all families, but rather that school isn’t essential for learning.)
We went on to discuss the difference between learning something because you want to, versus trying to learn something because you “have to”, because you are being taught and tested on it, and we came up with a caricature in our minds to show the difference, as we see it, between schooling (either at school or at home, where the emphasis is on teaching rather than learning) and unschooling (where the emphasis is on learning rather than teaching). The picture was in two parts. Firstly, a school child with the top of his head sliced open (hence why it’s a caricature and not real life!), a teacher spooning in the information, and then the information coming out through the pen during testing time, possibly to be mostly forgotten forever after. The second half of the picture was of an unschooled child eating yummy “food” that is assimilated into his body and becomes part of him, which demonstrates a child happily exploring and investigating whatever he is interested in.
Tonight my daughter decided to draw a picture to represent her thoughts about what we’d been talking about. I figured it was pretty cute, so decided to share it. 🙂
“Teaching is putting information in; learning is drawing information in.”
Instead of teaching and testing, look for the learning! You will find it has been there all along! Instead of force feeding and over-stuffing, possibly ending up with a child who is simply no longer hungry, make delicious “food” and enjoy it together (or alone) and watch their eyes light up with delight as they savour the flavours of foods they have chosen.
A child who is force fed with knowledge she either doesn’t want, doesn’t see the need for, or doesn’t desire at that time, is a child who can sometimes decide that learning is “boring”, hard or irrelevant.
A child who is granted the freedom to follow his interests, learn what he wants to learn as he goes about his life, and spend an abundance of time with a parent who has eyes wide open to the abundance of learning that is happening, is a child who is likely to see learning and living as one entwined entity that is interesting, appealing and as natural as breathing.
You know that meme that was going around challenging people to place all phones, iPods etc on the table when eating out at a restaurant, and the first one to pick up the phone had to pay the bill? Well, we roll differently in our family! If someone is texting a friend, it is because they have something to say! Sure, we may have a bit of a joke about it, and humorously suggest that they talk to us instead, but for the most part we don’t see phones or other devices as the enemy.
In fact, we like to have a bit of fun with them! Instead of these devices being a source of tension, judgment or division, they are more likely to be a source of fun, laughter and connection. The image above is from a recent family meal at a restaurant. My oldest son in the furthest part of the image is looking for a funny video he wanted to share with us. My husband and one of my other sons are sharing a laugh about something on my iPad. My other two children and I were eagerly waiting to have a look as well.
The phones and iPad became tools of connection, not disconnection.
I love some of the insights into my childrens’ minds, that are brought on by casual conversation! My thirteen year old son, who has never been to school, is the one most often surprising me at the moment, with his comments, questions, observations and insights. Here is a current example:
Last night, on his way to bed, he came out with something like this: “I think that in a few years we will probably have exhausted the capacity of the planet to house our population growth. It’s too soon to send people off to another planet to live, so we’ll have to come up with some other ideas.”
Because he doesn’t go to school, there was no pressure to hurry him along to bed so that he could get up on time to catch the bus or whatever, so we were able to pause and chat for a bit about some ways of dealing with the problem.
His initial thought was that perhaps every country should adopt a one or two-child policy, like China. We chatted about some of the possible negative ramifications of that, and I was surprised to discover that he was quite aware of some things that people have done to enable them to comply with the law but still have the sex of baby they want, etc. Thank you Google/social media for expanding my child’s mind!
His next idea was that perhaps all people should live in cities, with REALLY tall high rise units, rather than spread out in separate houses with “wasted land” between the dwellings. He said that if the apartment buildings were really really tall, they could fit lots of people in it, and the saved land could be used for farming. He also thought that roof top gardens and vertical gardens up the wall would make a lot of sense!
Then he came up with some interesting ideas about how to make the farmland more productive, to be able to grow more food for more people. He had an idea of stacked garden beds, with each layer divided into cubed sections, each alternate cube planted out and the next one open to allow sunlight to get to the garden bed below. Then he decided it would be great to have angled walls of mirrors around the gardens to deflect sunlight into the beds from the sides, to help things grow better.
Now I do realise that there are some holes in his ideas (not just in his garden bed design), but for a kid who says he “doesn’t like gardening” and who spends a major part of his daylight hours sitting at a gaming computer (NOT mindlessly, in case you haven’t noticed), I was quite impressed with the way he was thinking this type of situation through.
I don’t fear the future and I choose not to meditate on onerous tales of the doom that apparently awaits us all; I prefer to focus my energies on living as well as I can, learning what I can, and helping to create positive choice. My hope swells when I hear “young people” (yes, I realise that makes me sound like an old fogey) thinking laterally and coming up with creative solutions to current or projected problems. And I especially love it when those ideas aren’t given in response to a teacher-assigned school project, but are rather the workings of an imaginative, interested teenager, thinking things through just because it’s interesting, not because it’s on the test, or in the curriculum.
Whether our children and teens are at school, or homeschooled, or unschooled, our planet is in good hands while ever they are thinking like this. Sometimes it is the seemingly wackiest ideas (like stacked vegetable beds with holes in them and mirrors around the edge) that just might save the planet.
I love that unschooled kids aren’t afraid to push the envelope, to think outside the square, to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of being teased or ridiculed, because instead of having to put their hand up in the classroom, or submit an assignment that might not be what the teacher is looking for, they are free to be themselves, to explore crazy ideas, and entertain possibilities that the establishment might scoff at.
What surprising conversations have you had with your kids, that give an insight into the bigness of their thinking?
Radical unschooling isn’t a set of rules to follow. It’s what happens when you rethink rules and start living by principles, when you stop forcing arbitrary restrictions and limits on kids and start living with mindfulness and consideration, when you stop being coercive and controlling and start being kind and thoughtful, when you stop thinking it’s all about the parents winning or the kids winning and start working together in partnership where everyone’s needs and feelings are of equal value.