The Art of Learning.

It feels like the only things I’ve been writing about lately have been packing, organizing, selling, moving, and living in an RV. Oh wait, that IS the only things I’ve blogged about!

I’m boring myself.


I guess I did spice things up with my trip to Vegas! But now I’m back, and as I sat down to blog I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about any of those things again.

It’s been soooo long since I’ve written anything unschooly, even though we’re living it every day. People have been very concerned about the kids and our ‘schooling’. “Are you keeping them up to speed while you’re travelling?” “Are you able to keep them on track in the RV?” “Do they still do their workbooks while on the road?” You know, those kinds of questions. And people are especially focused on Sassy, now that she’s kindergarten age.

Have you ever noticed how ramped up everyone gets when kids enter kindergarten? It’s like everything before then was a cake walk…their kid was just slacking off until one day BAM, they’re 5 and it’s time to get serious about learning. Letters! Numbers! Reading! Writing! Stress enters the picture and hysteria ensues. I wish I were exaggerating.

Jean Piaget famously referred to “the American question,” which arose when he lectured in this country: how, his audiences wanted to know, could a child’s development be sped up? The better question may be: Why are we so hellbent on doing so?

According to Crisis in the Kindergarten:

A survey of 254 teachers in New York and Los Angeles the group commissioned found that kindergartners spent two to three hours a day being instructed and tested in reading and math. They spent less than 30 minutes playing.


Considering this blog is Child’s PLAY, you all should know how completely appalling I find this. The article goes on to highlight:

“Play at age 5 is of great importance not just to intellectual but emotional, psychological social and spiritual development,” says Edward Miller, the report’s co-author. Play — especially the let’s-pretend, dramatic sort — is how kids develop higher-level thinking, hone their language and social skills, cultivate empathy. It also reduces stress, and that’s a word that should not have to be used in the same sentence as “kindergartner” in the first place.”

But my favorite part?

Thinkers like Daniel Pink have proposed that this country’s continued viability hinges on what is known as the “imagination economy”: qualities like versatility, creativity, vision — and playfulness — that cannot be outsourced.

And people, I got this. I got it! No, I’m not keeping up with any worksheets in the RV. We are not slaves to a curriculum. To the outside world, we are ‘slacking off’. But to me, we’re full on learning.

Let me explain. Today for ‘school’ we went to the pool and swam all day.


No one memorized state capitals, no one did long division, no one took a spelling test, science wasn’t discussed. So how is that learning?!

One of my favorite books is by Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. If anyone has ever seen my favorite movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer then you’re familiar with Josh and his story of being a chess prodigy. If you haven’t seen it, take some time to find and watch it. Sooo goooood.

Anyway, in his book, Josh describes the learning process not as the end result of a memorized set of facts, but as a process where the actual learning process is the end result. Learning how to learn…how to love to learn, and how to use that in all aspects of your life.

Today, my kids wanted to learn specific things:

how to dive,

how to swim to the bottom of the pool,
how to do an underwater summersault.
(apparently, I forgot to get a shot of that! But she did swim like a fish for a lot longer than she has before!)

Not scholarly, no, but it’s the process that’s the key. And it’s a fact that most kids, regardless of when they learned to read, write, etc. etc., will all reach a similar level from 4-7th grade. It’s why Finland (who kicks our National butt on every educational test at every grade) postpones teaching reading until kids are older than 7. John Holt is brilliant at explaining how we need to trust that our kids will learn the facts they need.

Schools put the cart before the horse–instead of learning the art of learning (a personal journey that is different for everyone) in the younger grades so they then can take that love and passion and direct it to learning important facts…schools drill facts and minutiae into young kids so by the time they get old enough to care they really don’t anymore. And worse than that, they don’t have their own personal learning skills to fall back on to help them learn the things they need.

My kids worked hard today to learn. New skills, new ways to gather information, new ideas to try. The fact it was doing things in the pool is irrelevant to me. I just want them to know how to learn best. How to use what they learn in practical, personal, immediate ways. This skill of knowing how to learn translates into other parts of their lives. Today, a dive…tomorrow, differential equations! (If, that is, they need to know how to use differential equations in their personal, practical lives!).

And my favorite trade off to this is when they learn something and then teach me. Today, Sassy taught me how to swim to the bottom of the pool and look like a mermaid. I think we’ll go back tomorrow so I can practice some more. Because we’ve learned that learning takes determination, focus, and repetition!



44 Responses

  1. well said. exactly. you rock. (keep inserting ooh’s and ahh’s here). it is indeed interesting as kids get older people suddenly question your kids, test them in line at the grocery store (like today), complete strangers comment as though they are welcome to discuss their experiences and philosophies on the matter. and most people don’t even know about unschooling–they do all this jabber thinking that people sit down in school rooms at home all day every day. wow!

    it is nice to hear you are settling in a bit and enjoying being in a warm wonderland. 🙂

    • oh, yes, the grocery store interviews. ::roll eyes::

      you rock more, woman! oooooohh and aaaaaahhhh! 🙂

  2. VERY well said, Tiff. Oftentimes I feel so bad for the second graders I used to teach..I mean, no running in the hallway. No talking while eating lunch. No running in the playground (!!!), no jumping from the curbside. What??!

    (sigh) I dread for that day to come so I would send my kids to school. I AM really thinking about homeschooling. Maybe you can give me a few tips.

    BTW..HOW IN THE WORLD did you take pictures under water? This can’t be your Canon..right..?

    • I’m dying for a waterproof case for my canon! But no, this is just a drugstore underwater camera for $10 🙂

      Rosina, you’d be a fantastic homeschooler! And I’m always up for discussing it. 🙂 And holy cow there are so many groups in this area!

      Tomorrow I’ll be at Eldorado Park in Long Beach for a park day, is that close to you? Call if you can come, from 12 to whenever!

    • I once ran a summer program for kids with emotional issues and got in trouble for letting them climb trees. How dare those kids running around outside in the summer actually climb trees?!

  3. Ummmmm yes. More please. You rock my world. And holy moly….hot mama in the bathing suit! I’m lovin’ it 🙂

  4. Looks like a perfectly legitimate school day to me! Great life lessons being learned.
    (And if you think folks get ramped up when your kids hit kindergarten, wait til they hit high school age. Geez!)

  5. Ok I just spent the longest time looking at your blog. Loved it. You love art, life, family, photography and math? Im sure so much more but this jumps out at me. We too spnd more of our days this way. Just living and learning as we go. Photographing it as we go. Oh yes and I love the simplicity your setting…
    ~ Cat
    Blessed Adventures

  6. Hi Tiff, great time ! great lessons ! hot swim suit !

    Now Swetha is having a very relaxed kindergarten ( at the expense of Siva )

    I have also thought about it several times. No matter how they learn, by 6 or 7th grade they will be in the same platform.

    Here there are some schools which conduct term exams only after 4th grade.

    Do you go with ur serendepity now also ? I saw it in ur face book account.

    • As far behind as Naturalist was in the early years with her dyslexia/dyscalculia, for the most part she has leapt so much developmentally in the last year or so…

  7. another great post….as I said before we did the cyber thing this year and we are letting loose this summer
    Our IS called yesterday I thought because my son has missed a bit because of asthma…instead she wanted to make sure my 5 year old takes the DORA/DOMA test for at least 30 minutes a day… its a crazy math and reading drill.. my 5 year definitely wishes she was your Sassy right now LOL

    • I did the cyber school thing for 1 1/2 years, and then said ‘enough!’ 🙂 Yikes, asthma, I hope he’s feeling better!

  8. boy, how i wish that schools understood the concept of process as well as you describe it.

    • I think teachers totally get this, but the No Child Left Behind stuff really ties their hands behind their backs.

  9. Great post and perfect timing as I am working on a Kindergarten post. I was asked to speak at my kids old preschool about homeschooling and I couldn’t believe the intensity with witch these parents were quizzing and interrogating the local schools that also attended to promote their K program. These kids are 5 for god sakes! Hope it’s ok if I link to this post when I finish my K post.
    I love what you said “I haven’t written anything unschooley, we’re just living it everyday” Perfect–

  10. Fantastic post, Tiffani! My three boys are thriving and learning everyday – without pressure or stress. You’re very eloquent on this topic. Thanks for spreading the unschooling love!

  11. Tiff, I was so excited to see you mention Josh Waitzkin. I just saw Searching for Bobby Fisher for the first time ever (and then twice more, of course) this weekend. My son and I both loved it.

    I’ve just bought his book at Better World Books, on your recommendation.

    If you haven’t read Vivian Paley, you might like her, even though she writes about school. She was a kindergarten teacher who wrote about the value of fantasy play.

    >Today, a dive…tomorrow, differential equations! (If, that is, they need to know how to use differential equations in their personal, practical lives!).

    Or if they want to learn it, just because it’s beautiful. ;^) Differential equations describe how things change. Very powerful ideas.

  12. you totally make me want to unschool my imaginary children.

  13. love, love, love this post. i hope you don’t mind me sharing it with some people. you so look like your all having fun and of course you are learning while having all that fun.

  14. I LOVE when you write about unschooling, and learning. You do it so well. Great, great post, thank you. I used to come to your blog when I was a nervous, new unschooler. It made me relax and trust more. I am so confident now, and our lives have changed for the better.

  15. This post really resonates with me. I have recently decided I will home educate my two young children after my oldest finishes kindergarten at the end of this school year. I love the flexibility and child/interest driven aspects of ‘unschooling’ but as I have never ‘homeschooled’ before I have a lot of anxiety around this. Thank you for this post as it helps me to get a better idea of the possibilities that are open to you if you allow the world to be open to you. This doesn’t mean I won’t buy any curriculum but it means I will try not to be a slave to it.

  16. Love this! Totally awesome, like, post, dude! I just had an interview session while out this morning, but I always turn the tables on them and ask why they would send kids to public school, especially if they hated it so much. I usually get a lot of stammering after that.

    Can’t wait to get back to some heavy duty learning in the ocean this summer. With one of those waterproof cameras, naturally.

  17. i love you approach to it all and now you live in a place where you cna be out and exploring so much more i would think.
    and your mermaid pose is dead on tell sassy!
    man you have the best body too!

    i need you to teach me how to get that!!!!

    • we are doing so much more exploring, it’s just so warm!

      body=getting outside and running/walking every day. Simple!

  18. So eloquently expressed. Thank you!

  19. This is wonderful post and how I feel/felt about homeschooling. Look at all the child learns before she/he goes to school! An entire language and so much more! I still have qualms about sending my son to school, and your post makes me want to pull him out and try to homeschool him again.
    And the photos are fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!! So glad you all are enjoying yourselves!

  20. Thanks Tiff. So glad to read this today. We are blowing off our “school” to go to the zoo today. (that being not doing our homeschool stuff.) I love that you inspire me to let go and so often, more than you know, this really helps me go with the flow of our day. If we get to math great, reading, probably tonight…but we don’t stress it. We are just five too and loving playing. Thanks for your always encouraging words and example!

  21. thank you for putting into actual words my schooling philosophy. I have homeschooled my 6 kiddos for 6 years and this is what was in my head trying to come out!! Im reading alot more of your blog….thank you!

  22. […] Instead, I’m here doing the unschooling thing. Chris isn’t the only one to wonder if I’m doing this for an easy life. Since moving to California, other peeps have accused me of being on a long term vacation. It must be all the beach/pool/hiking/sightseeing we’re doing. Hello, people! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…there’s a lot of learning in the play going on! […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: