As the kids and I navigate through 2e learning and unschooling, one thing has become clear to me…it’s all about the big picture. It’s not good enough to learn something because it’ll be on a test, or because I say so, or because the state standards say so. To my kids, the why’s of learning are as important as the who, what, when, and where’s. In fact, probably more important. Because without a framework, without some kind of connection or value for the information, then learning doesn’t happen.
While in California on our vacation (ahem…educational experience) we spent the day at the Griffith Observatory. In the building there was scores of placards, signs, and detailed information about how the universe works and what you find in it. We could have spent the whole day painstakingly reading each one, with me quizing them about what they’d learned at the end of it. (And, there was a time that’s what I would have done!) Instead, I channeled my inner Walt Whitman, who wrote one of my most favorite poems ever:
When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass-180
“WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”
That is Big Picture thinking. Whitman might have been taught all the who, what, when, and where’s of astronomy, but it was only when experiencing a connection to the universe by wandering around at night, did he really learn anything at all. I love that so much.
So, we used the “Big Picture” way of gathering information. This way is less linear and way less ‘testable’, but that’s not the point anyway. The point is to find a connection to the material in order to foster a desire to know more about it. So, we flitted from one cool picture to another–sometimes reading about it, sometimes not. I napped on the lawn while the kids wrestled. We saw two amazing movies in the planetarium and really felt our tiny place in the universe. We made s’mores in the car and ate a Milky Way bar at a ‘Cafe at the End of the Universe’. I let the kids take the lead and stop at the things they found interesting, and pass by the things they didn’t.
The bottom line, whether or not they could pass a test on astronomy, is that in a Big Picture way they connected to it. They tuned in to it. They spent a day feeling happy about it, so the next time astronomy is brought up they’ll want to know more. It was a great day full of the experiences that I love them to have…little silken threads that make up a web of knowlege.
Big Picture thinking isn’t about reaching a learning ‘goal’ or passing off lessons from a curriculum. It’s more like allowing yourself to be carried along in a current of interest and see where you end up. Obviously, this doesn’t really fly in school, but it can in everyday life, and it does in our unschooling. 2e kids thrive on this. It’s been a fun process for me to watch them undertake.
Here, Naturalist forgoes the telescope to look at things in her own way. So very Whitman of her.
And we all did, literally, lay down under the stars and feel the night air. A lovely finish to a great day.
(2 pictures taken by Mike Hedge)
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