Celebrating Organic Learning

I’m not sure if organic is the best term.  Natural, child-led, spontaneous, something like that.  Whatever it’s called, I’m loving it.  Part of the joy of teaching (for me, at least) is watching the lightbulb moments with your kid.  You know what I mean: the moment that something clicks, and you can see the wheels turning in their head and the steam coming out of their ears because they’re thinking so hard.  It’s amazing.

That happened yesterday.  I was lucky enough to catch the whole thing from “ah ha! moment” to the product: a Duplo pyramid.

We recently acquired a subscription to Brainpop as part of a homeschool buy-in.  Our sub includes a teacher’s account, Brainpop Jr. and Brainpop, plus the French/Spanish versions in case I want to start them on a foreign language.  The Princess loves Brainpop Jr. and the Engineer is trying to memorize the entire Brainpop Engineering section.

Yesterday he branched off from the oh-so fascinating “Simple Machines” section to the “Building Basics” section.  Architect 101 with a touch of history thrown in.  He learned about post-and-lintel building, then they moved to pyramids.  As soon as the short movie finished, he was off, running into the play area with clear, focused intent.  He picked his building material (Duplos) and stood there for a moment, indecisive.  I helped him pick out a good base and then he started building.

When he was done, he had a neat little 4-sided step pyramid.  We talked about how the pyramids in Egypt had rooms inside for the kings and their stuff, and then we carved the central chamber out of the solid Duplos.  He loved it!  His sister was his helper, finding him the right sized blocks and following his directions on placement.  They worked as a team, a rare, enjoyable happening.

Then the pyramid grew a tall tower with a fire-watching post on the top, so I guess we were finished with the learning bits.  Concept mastered for the day!

That, in my opinion, is how learning should be.  Learning that grows out of things they’re interested in.  Learning that flows from one concept to another.  Learning that isn’t separated into neat little category boxes and partitioned off from each other.  I love taking one subject and following the rabbit trails all over the place and picking up little bits of information that tend to stick.

One of my stalled projects is a continent project.  I have sets of photographs (waiting for their information sheets) of animals from each continent.  I’m planning to use those to learn geography (where do they live) ecology (what habitat do they live in) biology (what they eat, look like, reproduce, etc) and social studies (the people they live around.)  It’s a massive project, which is why it stalled a bit because it requires a lot of work from me.  Who wants to learn about dry names of continents when you could learn about the things in them instead?

Names and dates will come naturally.  Places, people, and animals will flow, enmeshed in a complex understanding of how things work together.  That’s how it should be.  Life is too complex to isolate one event from its causes.  When we finally do “teach” history, I’m fully planning on combining economics, geography, and cultural studies to help him understand not just that it happened, but why, and how.  THAT is what makes an impact, that helps us to not repeat history’s mistakes again.

I guess that’s a vote for homeschooling in every way, because I see no way for public schools to easily incorporate that technique into their curriculum.  Schools need those neat little boxes checked off to justify what they teach and gain those all-important federal dollars.

Reason #561 to homeschool (right there besides #560: gang-related shooting at a local school today.)



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