You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2009.

For those of you infinite learners, I don’t have to tell you how learning can be all fun and games. I don’t have to tell you that board games contain math, strategy, hypotheses, moral lessons, instructions, creativity or numerous other valuable learning tools.

But, how did our culture get so off-track with learning? How did it come to be that learning for children involves hours indoors, uncomfortable desks, rules that aren’t easy for children to follow, people talking for long periods of time and text books that can be dry and lifeless?

I know when I’ve studied adult learning, I’ve been taught that ‘experiential learning’ is best. Participation, short amounts of lectures with large periods of interaction are best. I’ve learned that fun, games, allowing people to move, doodle, knit, share with others is helpful.

So how did classrooms and schools get things so turned around?

I know when people ask what we are doing in a day to ‘learn’ they often look dismayed when I tell them about the fun and games we do. I’ve heard them say it’s not real learning. But maybe we don’t have it so backward afterall. Maybe, just maybe, learning is best when it IS all fun and games.

Our favorite ‘classroom’ lately has been the grocery store. There is so much one can learn in a grocery store.

Learning how to select foods, nutrition, balanced diets, understanding our relationship with food are obvious things we discuss.

We also do a lot of things like more than/less than, price comparisons, which one would you buy and why? We discuss local foods versus imported foods. Which then leads to a discuss of economics, politics, social policies.

We’ve discussed animals, learned more about the crabs and lobsters that swim in the tanks. We discuss concepts relating to the circle of life, treatment of animals and what actually happens between an animal’s natural habitat and the grocery store.

We’ve learned about food. What is flour? Where does it come from? How do you think cheese is made? They’ve discovered that wheat from a field with some tomatoes, plants, vegetables and milk from an animal, combined together is actually a pizza.

And other surprising little bits of information have been uncovered at the grocery store. My kids learned about the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang in the grocery store when they were selling bamboo shoots in yin/yang pots for the Chinese New Year.

Because we have the time to be in the grocery store for hours at a time and because we look for learning everywhere, we’ve discovered this to be one of the greatest classrooms we can access.

Check it out!

My oldest son has been helping me cook and prepare his meals. He’s been eager to get ingredients, measure and add, mix and stir. There have been times in the past when I’ve encouraged my boys to come help, when I’ve wanted them to share the fun and experience with me. But, when it has been my idea, it has not been theirs.

Now it’s his idea and he’s really enjoying it and doing it regularly.

In my ability to step back and look at the situation from other perspectives, I’ve realized and remembered some important things.

First, personal motivation is the key to anything. If we feel compelled to learn something, share something, do something, it will be much easier and more enjoyable than doing something for someone else or because of force or coercion.

Second, when I am doing something I enjoy, when I’m having fun or feeling passionate about something, that energy transfers to those around me and can act like a magnet, luring them in to see what’s so fun. When I do something and want them to join me because I want them too and it doesn’t feel authentic, it acts like the other side of that magnet, repelling them from me.

Third, it seems my son’s motivation is largely about one-on-one connection right now. This is something his brother isn’t interested in at the moment so it’s time we get to spend interacting together, just him and I. And connecting while preparing food together for nourishment, is just such a lovely experience.

I love these little learning experiences for me and opportunities to share and teach things I enjoy with my children. I’ve also noticed how really being in the moment and experiencing the food and preparation has helped my son make some healthier choices because the fresh food requires some prep time, which is time spent connecting.

All in all, the experience is providing nourishment in ways I had not expected…and what a joy that is for both of us.

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” – Confucius

This morning, I lay in bed and heard my neighbour leave for work. I glanced at the clock, it was 6:15 a.m. I knew her toddler would be in the car ready to start his day at the day care. I pulled the covers up a little and settled back into sleep.

Our day was full today. We enjoyed some time at home to relax, time to catch up on a few things, a trip to the recycling facility, a moment to enjoy some slurpees and a long walk on a beautiful day-before-spring day. We discovered many surprises, discussed the how’s and why’s of life’s happenings, had fun watching the rivers of water running through the snow and ice and explored many things that seemed to be placed there, just waiting for us to take notice. It felt like a nicely balanced day.

Then this evening, we were still outside enjoying the warmth of the sun, when my neighbour returned home. It was 5:45 p.m and having been gone 11.5 hours, she told me they needed to get in and eat quickly before her son fell asleep in his dinner again.

Infinite learning was something that started out as a way to allow my children to learn at their own pace, in their own way, express themselves and be themselves. It seemed like the best choice for them to enhance their strengths and talents, build on their weaknesses and feel free to learn as they choose.

But, it has evolved into something more. It’s become a whole lifestyle for us. It’s helped me change our focus from ‘what is required of us’ to ‘what do we love to do’ and I have to say, I really enjoy it. I love how what started out as something for them has become a benefit for all of us. I’ve found a way to create a career that fulfills me at home, allowing us to be out of the rat race and enjoy a lot of flexibility and freedom. I love how, like my young infinite learners, I can choose to work when I feel called to it and take breaks for other things just because.

There are some days when we do get into a slump or have spent one too many days being in the house. But generally, I love the balance we have and the freedom, flexibility and the ability to honour ourselves. I love that there is room for naps, snacks, spontaneous adventures, interesting excursions and moments of connection all throughout the day.

I feel grateful today for noticing my neighbours schedule. I continue to feel blessed for the choices I’ve made along the way that have led to this lifestyle choice that seems to be working really well for us right now. And I have no doubt, when I am curled up in bed tomorrow morning as my neighbour drives off again to work, I will smile and feel grateful for my choices all over again.

In a conversation one day, I was informed that this ‘infinite learning’ thing we’re doing was ‘fine for now’ but eventually, there would be things I would need to teach my kids.

My rebellious nature matched with my intense curiosity collided and I wondered…are there really things (skills,knowledge, etc.) that we, as humans, absolutely need to be taught?

I could think of things that would likely make our lives easier if we knew them, but for every instance, I could think of someone who lived well without them. I could think of things that are beneficial and valuable to know based on our unique cultures, but moving to another culture makes them irrelevant. I could even think of things that may be relevant for our chances of survival, but I could not think of one thing that was UNIVERSALLY required that humans need to be taught.

Even things that are basic to the human experience (other than instinctual things) are also not universal. Most of us agree that eating (knowing how to get, prepare and eat food) is critical to our earthly experience, but knowing how to go to the grocery store, prepare and eat foods in our technologically advanced kitchen is not going to save our lives if we have to learn what foods are edible in a remote region in Africa (and let’s face it, that IS a real possibility given the fact that we are ‘radical infinite learners’!!!)

I’ve noticed that even in our family, we all have very different ideas about what we want to learn, what we think is important to learn and what is relevant for each of us to know.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that there does not appear to be anything that is universal to the human experience that really needs to be taught.

How free I’ve become since this realization. (So if you find an exception to my revelation, please be gentle if you choose to share it with me). It allowed me to trust that my children, over time, will be drawn to things that are interesting to them, they will learn things that are important to their survival and they will, indeed, learn despite the fact that I’m not formally teaching them things.

Radical infinite learning, indeed.

It’s Monday morning. We’re barely out of bed enjoying a leisurely start to the day. Mondays have become a day of a bit of planning, tending to things that need to get done, and connecting with others. What a difference from the life we used to live where weekends were the ‘holy grail’ and Monday’s were doom and gloom getting back to schedules, routines and the drudgery of work.

Mondays now feel like the week is open for exploration and adventure. There is an excitement of all the possibilities that could unfold over the next few days. The kids and I often discuss options for the week and feel open to the many possibilites and adventures that are about to come our way. Monday feels like a fresh new page.

I love how infinite learning has become a way of life for us and one that’s allowed us some freedom to drop out of the rat race a bit. I love how one day flows into another, how anything is possible on almost any given day and we can be flexible with our time.

It feels good, it feels balanced and I must say I have come to love Mondays. I wonder what’s in store for us this week?

I love watching how learning happens spontaneously as life unfolds. To be fair, I have learned things in books and in classrooms, but often those concepts or theories have not really come together for me until I’ve had some time to make sense of them again in my own experience of the world.

Our learning yesterday came from the electric company. We were outside playing in the snow when a woman from the electric company told us she was coming to change our meter over to a new digital one.

Suddenly, my kids are interested and open to learning. And from that one interaction, we have education happening right before our eyes.

They watch her and ask questions. (science) We talk about how they can now read it directly using the digital signal and GPS (science & technology), which leads to a conversation about the meter readers being out of a job. (social studies/economics) We compare and contrast the old and the new meter. (contrast & comparison) From that we looked at the new meter and read the numbers. (math) We discussed how we use electricity and pay for it based on this meter. (math) We determine to check it daily for a period of time to see just how much electricity we’re using. (math) Which leads directly into a conversation about electricity…what uses electricity in our home, how we can be more green-friendly etc. (science & social studies) And, I must say it all blended in very nicely with the previous day’s lesson of electricity which spontaneously occured when we drove home, saw a power pole was down and realized because of that, we’d have no power. (cause and effect)

What I love about this is how clearly it demonstrates that learning happens everywhere, how anyone (even the unsuspecting electric company worker) can become a teacher and the best learning happens when the topic is relevant and people are interested to learn.

This magical learning moment opened up to us and then we got to go back to playing in the snow.

Infinite learning is the best!

I’ve come to realize just how little we really know about ourselves.  We talk to strangers and consult books to inform us what is best for our own unique bodies.  We ask others what they are doing to help us make a decision for ourselves.  We seem to be going outside of ourselves for answers to things that really, we should know about ourselves.

In our infinite learning lifestyle, I give my children a lot of space to really get to know who they are and what they are all about as individuals.  I encourage them to ask questions about anything, to create anything they feel compelled to create, to listen to their inner voice and feelings and to know their own bodies.  I encourage them to tell me what they feel is best for them.

This idea is radical indeed.  I can assure you it’s not always been easy for me to let them have so much free reign and trust that it would be okay.  There was a time when I felt I needed, as their parent, to regulate things like television.  But, as I continued my own journey, I realized I was not encouraging them to know what was best for them and teaching them to rely on someone else (me) for their guidance.

When I did feel brave enough to let go, I was amazed.  Yes, there have been times when they’ve done little else but watch television for three days in a row.  But, somewhere, on that third day (or whatever day) they turn it off themselves, they ask to play outside, they suddenly create an extremely inventive, detailed and interactive game with each other. But, they are learning to listen to themselves, learning to self-regulate and learning what they really want for themselves and their lives.

I am not just allowing them total run of things without boundaries or guidance. I am there, suggesting things, expressing my point of view, sharing my own experiences and knowledge. But after our discussions, I honour the choices they are making.

I have been pleased with how well they do with this kind of guidance. I remember when my son was younger and wanted to watch certain shows. I would express my point of view about their violence or my feeling of them being inappropriate for his age and watched as he admitted it probably wasn’t best for him and turned it off.

It is tough sometimes for me to let them take control of their lives, especially when they choose something I wouldn’t necessarily choose. I do believe though, that allowing them the understanding, self-awareness and room to learn, that when it comes time to make more and more difficult decisions, they will be making them from a better place than those who have relied on decisions from others. I feel it is important for me as their parent, to be there to guide them, help them navigate through things and honour themselves above all else.

Indeed, this thing called infinite learning, is a perfect way to explain what is happening for me…as I continue to keep learning more and more about myself, my children and life.

For the first few years, I wanted to measure my kids learning.  I was still caught between the culture of school I grew up in and my strong feeling that we were meant to be infinite learners.  I don’t even think it was even wanting to do it so much as me feeling insecure and still unsure about my decision to unschool and feeling I ‘should’ have some degree of measurement or something to show the outside world.   But, while I focused on those ‘school’ measurements of numbers, reading, writing, I was missing all the wonderful things my kids WERE learning and how wonderful those gifts are for them and the world.

Fortunately, my kids weren’t participating well in the ‘school measurement’ concept so I had to stop looking at those measures and start to look at what they are really learning.  I love how it changed my entire perspective and helped me gain more confidence as infinite learners.

I found that even though my kids may not meet the standards in school, there are some really amazing skills they do have, that in my opinion are going to serve them very well over the coming years.

They are curious, inquisitive and critical thinkers.   They have asked me some difficult questions, inquire about things that many kids their age may not even think about and have no censors when they want to know something.

They think outside the box, are imaginative and feel comfortable to create whatever they feel inspired, even if it’s not the usual way of seeing things.

They know there is no time limit on their learning, so when they want to dive into a topic, we can continue to study it for months if that’s necessary to satisfy their curiosity.

They are kind, empathetic, have the ability to realize their strengths and weaknesses; helping out when needed or asking for help, they work cooperatively with others and play and interact with people on a daily basis that are different ages, interest, gender, and abilities.

They take interest in things I’m doing, ask about things, and at times, have told me directly they don’t believe me or think I’m wrong (which, I really love).

I realize that infinite learning is not the ONLY way to experience these things, but for us as a family, it’s really working to the benefit of all of us.  I love how I was able to expand my interpretation of measuring knowledge, intelligence, education and place more importance on the wonderful things they are learning and things, that really matter in my view of the world.