The dreadlocks were glorious. Brown, with streaks of gold, they flowed down the young man’s back ending at his waist. I wondered how he had gotten them so long, and so uniform. I wondered how heavy they were. I wondered how he washed them. Does one wash dreadlocks? Now understand that I am not a lover of this particular hairstyle. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I generally appreciate a head of flowing, fluffy, just-washed looking hair. I tried the hippie thing years ago and it just wasn’t a good fit for me. If I never smell patchouli again, I shall die a happy woman.
On this occasion, however, I was willing to make an exception. The young glass blowing artisan truly had an awe-inspiring mop. With his scruffy beard, cargo shorts, and work boots, he looked rather formidable. Yet his eyes were kind as he showed my son where to choose his work gloves and safety glasses.
We were taking a short vacation on the Oregon coast. On this day, we had booked appointments at a local glass blowing shop for the kids. Under the tutelage of these artists, my kids would be able to create their own unique masterpiece from molten glass.
Once garbed in the appropriate safety gear, the kids held their creations-in-the-making to the fire. They spun the liquified glass on long, heavy poles. They cut and twisted, molded and shaped, and created things of beauty.
Standing before a 2400º furnace, they felt volcanic waves of heat. (It was actually hotter than a volcano!) When the cooling glass resisted their efforts, back to the oven it would go. The kids were focused, entranced, and fully engaged. It was beautiful.
This was the pinnacle of our trip. We did some other ‘educational’ activities, but it was here, in that warehouse art studio that their imaginations were ignited. As we headed home, I listened to their chatter in the backseat. They admired each others’ handiwork and recounted their experiences. I was a bit startled to realize just how much they’d learned.
Yep. They learned. And I hadn’t had them do any research prior to the event. I had not asked them to give a report or write a poem about the experience. I had not tried to sneak in glass blowing terminology or history prior to hitting the road. In the course of an innocent outing, my children had gained new knowledge, almost by accident. Hmmm.
Sometimes we get so caught up in squeezing every drop of ‘education’ from an activity, we forget to simply experience it. Learning can, and should be, artistic and joyous and full of wonder. Misguided attempts to force an educational point often end up diluting that joy.
How often do we stick our kids at their desks, hunched over workbooks rather than taking the time to bake, hike, or play? I’m not saying that the traditional method of schooling is bad, but how would my homeschool look if I more often asked myself: is there a better way to learn this? Books are good but, alone, they lack the vitality of life’s experiences.
Our time with the dreadlocked artist has given me much to ponder. I decided to get deliberate about creating opportunities for my kids to do some activities this summer, without making them all school-like.
We borrowed an idea from a friend and have created a summer bucket list. I gave the kids the idea and let them run with it. (Within reason, of course. I had to nix the desired trip to Idaho. One of my daughters simply wants to know what’s there.) Our list includes a trip to an animal park, creating a video, a backyard camp out and a photography walk. Once the ideas began to flow, they filled a white board. I had to cut their brainstorming off, lest we get discouraged for lack of time. We’ll get to as many as we can, and I won’t require a single report. I think we’ll all learn a lot!
Now I know that many of you are continuing to school through the summer. Some of you feel behind, and some of you are unhappy with your children’s test scores. I know. I’ve been there. But what if you were to instead, take the next couple of months to rest? (I’ve stated my case for this before here.) What if you were to just enjoy being mommy for a time, rather than teacher? What if you purposed to have fun with your kids this summer?
Remember, learning is about living. As homeschoolers, we have the unique position of being able to incorporate real life learning into every single day. Baking cookies, taking walks, photographing bugs and birds and rocks, changing diapers and caring for younger siblings, gardening, weather watching, dancing, singing, acting, playing, it ALL counts. It is all learning. And the best part? None of these activities require a lesson plan for them to learn. It just happens.
“Play is the highest form of research.” –Albert Einstein
Do you have any fun ‘unschooling’ activities? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!