As I have moved further and further away from school in mind, we have moved further and further into our passions and interests with abandon. Good abandon, the kind that brings pleasure in life and the living of it. I should clarify before I move further into this writing excursion. I should tell you that my children have only known life without school, and I have been the one in need of leaving school behind in mind, in spirit even, one could say. I have been the one in need of learning to let go of “expert” endorsed and created shoulds, time tables, rules of learning, and of the waiting to be directed and approved in order to move forward with life and experience the natural organic flow of interests more fully.
Looking back, I can see the paths that have been carved by my children and their wondrous abandon. I can see what has transpired, and the work that they have been accomplishing. They have been living "unit studies." Their life work of curiosity, wonder, the need to know and be known in the world around them has produced. The product is still living and breathing and growing and producing. It is living inside them, and it is a part of who they are.
I first experienced a living, breathing “unit study” when my 4/5 year old (now 9) became interested, fascinated, consumed with dinosaurs. She lived and breathed dinosaurs. She was a dinosaur. We read books about dinosaurs and played dinosaurs. She learned facts about them because dinosaurs were her world, and she wanted to know her world. We watched movies about dinosaurs, mostly “The Land Before Time.” She drew dinosaurs, first as beautifully curving and interacting lines and wrote stories to accompany them. She dictated them to me, and I remember oft times writing down all of her words as fast as I could while nursing her little brother. She would sit for hours with construction paper, tape and a pair of scissors and create dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes, some as large as she, some in 3-D.
In the midst of this, when she reached the “age of accountability” at age 5, I bought a curriculum and workbooks. I was prepared to instruct and direct her learning, as societal norms said I should at that point. “Problem” was, she knew something I did not. She had grown into her way of experiencing life and learning, and it fit who she is as an individual and how she learns. She had learned early on that standards and norms and lock step rules of experiencing the world and learning did not apply to her. She didn’t eat solid food until she was two. She walked and talked when she was ready. She did not potty train; she went effortlessly at a "late" age when she was ready. She didn’t have to think about; she knew how to experience life as much on her terms as possible and that that is not only OK, it is good for her soul. She lived her life that way from birth, and she knew this like a flower knows when and how to bloom.
Age 5, and here I come along interrupting her life with a plan for her life and she refused to accept it. She refused to experience her life and her learning on my terms, on the terms of the experts that most of us allow into our personal lives. She refused. Just as she refused the baby foods that I repeatedly offered her from age 4 months to 9 months intermittently (as I was told to re-introduce), until an LLL acquaintance gave me permission to let go and let her be.
So, once again, I moved out of her way. I allowed her to live her life as much on her terms as possible. I learned to help her without taking over and directing her life. Directing her seemed like stealing her passion and purpose, making her life mine by enforcement. There would be no other way. So, I let go and she and the dinosaurs walked together, talked together, got to know each other. She loved her life and herself in it.
This passion subsided in time, as insects took its place front page, center stage around age 6/7. I remember this began when our house became invaded with ants. We read books about ants and other insects. She observed insects in their natural habitat for hours. She collected insects to the point that our house was truly invaded by all kinds of creeping critters. I must admit that this was a bit hard for me, but I knew she was living with the critters. They were her world. She talked to insects and held them, even bees. We watched documentaries about insects. She drew insects and their habitats in the most intricate detail. She wrote stories about them. She made insects from her own initiative and of her own design out of pom poms, yarn and pipe cleaners. This child lived and breathed insects. She was an insect. Truly. We created insect attire out of leotards, tights (worn on legs, stuffed with tissue paper and tied around waist for extra legs), pipe cleaner (antennae) and every now and then a large basket-woven Easter egg attached to the lower back (as an egg sac or swollen abdomen of a queen ant).
Over time, insects begat lifecycles; lifecycles begat cycles of nature in general, and a budding appreciation for plants and wildlife. We began reading Native American myths and legends, observing the wheel of the year and creating seasonal celebrations. We delved into the ethereal world of Waldorf-inspired literature, where a drop of water has life personified like the tree people and cloud people of Native American perspective. We were intuned to life and each other. Meanwhile, the fascination with dinosaurs morphed into a deep interest in evolution, early humans and early mammals. Documentaries and movies about such became the rage.
Then, in walked Kaya, the Native American American Girl, and the American Girl Books. How specifically this passion began, I do not remember. It just began around age 7/8 following in the wake of Nature and Native American life. What an introduction to intrigue. Every night we plunged into American Girl books. We continued reading Native American myths and legends with Kaya and began a habit of reading myths, legends, stories from each American Girl culture and time that we read about. We went to Williamsburg and visited museums here and there and Native American Pow Wows. Total fascination. Total enmeshment. Totally into those American Girl catalogs….which led to money, the need for money, the need to count money and save money to buy an American Girl doll and accessories.
Today, my daughter, now 9, is passionate about different cultures and their foods, music, stories; she is passionate about all living creatures “great and small”, including animals, now, from domesticated to wild, from backyard to jungle. She is in charge of her own money! She is coming into consumer awareness and is on to those commercials. She knows our habitat and enjoys knowing it, walking it, experiencing it. She loves her art, her yoga, her storytelling, her cats, insect friends and new horse companion, her friends, our adventures in history and wildlife. Her stories reflect her exploration with voice and persona, a natural extension of identifying with one’s “subject” and of the ability to play with perspective. She can have a handful of oral stories in her head at anyone time to continue telling on request. She is developing depth and complexity and the ability to handle life knowing she has a right to herself and her terms within the world. After voting with mom and meeting a few politicians at a rally, including our State’s governor, she has become curious about politics and activism. She enjoys history and will still dress for the occasion if the mood hits her. She believes in evolution and is enthralled with the idea of exploring topics, going to places that tell the history, from caves to fossil sites to museums. She loves her life and herself living her life.
This blooming, this unraveling, this pathing, this colorful mapped explosion of interests, this personal learning design, this becoming, this life did not happen so linearly and methodically in isolation from the rest of our lives. My daughter did not only learn the things I have managed to recount here. Life is bigger than all that, and the learning “never ends.” The big picture shows that it seems to loop continual, more like a spirograph than a straight line walk to one pre-destined destination after another. The every day experience can wax and wane in a natural way. Learning does not have to be a full force event. It can be a journey that holds all the nuances of being human.
No crumbs were laid. No predestined path was routed for her. The living of interests fueled by passion, led by wonder and need to know, and allowed by abandon created “unit studies,” living “unit studies” with a life of their own that still live and breathe and produce to this day. Life requires it, and when one feels empowered in themselves, however they need to experience that, they feel empowered to search out life and live it.
This is the story of one child's individual, unique journey to today.
Robin lives and learns with her two children and husband in Salamander Creek Habitat. She considers herself a naturalist and spiritual eclectic who enjoys celebrating the wheel of the year with her own unique blend of earth-centered world traditions.