Welcome to my life. It's a whirlwind of kids, chaos, pets, people, family, art, and being home (most of the time; I like to get out here and there). We unschool, so the unexpected is, well, expected...

Monday, February 05, 2007


I just have to say to all that Margaux learned how to swing. It actually didn't happen overnight or anything, she's been trying to figure it out for a while. She could even go through the motions with her legs moving in the "right" way, even though it didn't make her go any higher. She now has it down though, the whole thing, using the momentum of legs going each direction that you want your swing to go. She was even using her whole body to get herself higher. It was the first time ever that she didn't request that I push her continuously.

So many things are like that. I am rereading "How Children Fail" by John Holt. I read it for the first time when I was just beginning to home school. I learned a lot from that book. It just makes sense in so many ways. I thought I should revisit it now that I've been doing this home schooling for a while, to see how much more I can glean from his words with a somewhat different perspective. He talks a lot about how schools force kids to learn things without the kids ever really learning them, the regurgitation of facts without ever understanding why.

It's like learning how to swing. When Margaux was smaller and just able to sit on a big kid swing, I would stand in front of her and have her try to kick my hands. If her legs and feet went forward, she would be doing the movement of swinging. However, she didn't use her legs and feet moving forward to create momentum, it was simply moving her feet to kick my hands (or face, it was a fun game!). There was a desire to learn how to swing, but there was no amount of desire on my part or hers that was going to somehow magically make her learn it faster.

She had to discover on her own that swinging is about momentum and that by throwing your legs forward and back and using your body as well, it would allow that momentum to keep her swinging and in fact make her go higher.

Imagine what would happen if schools decided that swinging was a required curriculum and that it must be taught by a certain age. The teacher might demonstrate swinging and give a quick lecture on moving one's legs forward and back. The kids who really "got" it, probably before the teacher said or did anything, would all get A's and the ones that just didn't get it at all, would fail. They would then have to practice moving their legs until they finally "got" it and the schools would call themselves successful for having taught all these kids how to swing. In so doing those that knew how to swing to begin with would probably be bored with swinging, wondering what the big deal was all about, and wanting to do cherry drops on the monkey bars. The ones that failed would probably hate swinging because they failed so often and only succeeded to have all the glory taken by the school.

Kids learn how to swing, just like they learn how to ride a bike. Given that they have swings and bikes, they see a need, or have a desire, and figure it out when they are ready to do it. No amount of "teaching" or external motivation is going to make it happen faster or better.

Holt doesn't use learning how to swing as an example in his book. He does use reading and math and reasoning as examples. One of my favorite examples is when he is teaching division and asks a class to divide a large bag of marbles between 4 people. Most of the kids figured that by handing out marbles one by one, it would do the job, but a couple of other kids had the idea to measure and cut up the bag. He then talks to each of those kids and demonstrates what might happen to all the marbles if he were to take scissors to it and cut it up into 4 parts. That was when the kids realized that their answer didn't make any sense.

He went on to say this: "But of course if those children had had in real life the problem of dividing up a bag of marbles among four people, they never would have been so stupid as to try to cut the bag in four parts. Only in school did they think like that."

Learning needs to be real, connected, and most of all IMPORTANT to the person doing the learning. Just like Margaux learned to swing, just like Chamille learned to read, because they had a reason to, that was real and important to them. Given the opportunity, they both came up with a way to do what they wanted to do.

I am grateful all the time that my kids can learn what they want and need, on their own terms, in ways that are truly meaningful to them!

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