Learning Without Borders

Many years ago, I worked with a family as they made the paradigm shift from the parents’ experience with traditional teacher-led learning to a more child-led approach. They were having difficulty understanding how their children would learn if there was nobody to “teach” them. They’d made this commitment to an unfamiliar approach to learning and then were faced with the day-to-day reality of implementing it in their home. This was where the rubber met the road!

Creating an environment that is abundant with learning opportunities can help facilitate a lifelong love of learning. Children gain experience with self-directing their learning when they have an environment that stimulates their curiosities and inspires them to learn and grow. Young children are naturally curious. They notice and learn from their surroundings. Our young babies and toddlers learned to walk and communicate because they were in relationships with caregivers who modeled and encouraged them to walk and communicate. So, too, older children can learn more complex concepts and skills.

When I was a Montessori directress, we called it “preparing the environment.” Later, as a parent, I learned about it through a different lens. In the home, we called it strewing. I’m not sure who coined the term “strewing.” A simple definition of it is when we enhance a learning environment to facilitate our children’s new interests and encourage curiosity to broaden their horizons.  Sometimes this is done by supplying new materials and other times it is with new experiences.  We don’t need to explicitly tell them, “Here is a book. Read it so you can learn about x.” We can simply leave books around and children, with their natural curiosity, will explore the ones that interest them. We’re a family of readers, so strewing books and other reading material in lots of rooms, including the bathroom, has been a way of life for us. Strewing is not limited to books. You can also strew various items such as art and craft supplies, blocks, nature collections, games, and science tools (magnifying glass, scale, etc.). As the children get older, it can even be electronic strewing with documentaries, podcasts, and other media. 

This family began to closely observe what their children were interested in. Then we began to fill their world with materials of all sorts. Observing the learning without judgment encouraged the children to explore more. As we discussed and reflected upon the materials and experiences each child enjoyed interacting with each week, they began to broaden their notions of what learning can look like and how much more powerful the learning is when it is based upon the learner’s curiosity. It is even more powerful when a parent or caring adult can joyfully join in the activity.  It seems everyone’s lives are busy these days. So in some families, it helps to intentionally set aside some special time in the day or week in which the child can decide on the activity and how it will occur. The parent or caregiver is the companion on the side. 

Also, along the way, parents can begin modeling strewing for each other. Each parent found it felt special when their partner noticed something they were interested in and left an article or activity about it. Everyone was learning. More importantly, the parents felt more relaxed, having witnessed that learning can happen in many ways.

Paradigm shifts in family learning models happen gradually over time. As always, reflecting back on the changes and the benefits is part of the fun! Try it out with your child. If you need some ideas on what to strew then start here: https://nourishingmyscholar.com/100-strewing-ideas-homeschool

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