Olympic Learning and Letting Curiosity Lead

When we started homeschooling, even though I’d been a teacher, I remember wondering how in the heck we would manage all the learning I thought we had to do?

When we started moving from homeschooling to unschooling, I still wondered if it would really work to let a learner’s interests and curiosity drive their education.

I was still in the schooling mindset; that learning was somehow separate from life. And that it only “counted” if someone else told you what to do and how to do it and then measured it.

It took awhile for to deschool myself.

And then a wonderful thing happened, I realized we’d always done tons of learning on our own –it just didn’t look like school.  We’d already created an environment with time and space to ask questions and then try to find the answers.

I realized you can allow wondering and curiosity to evolve without having to preplan and control the outcome, and learning will happen.  Amazingly motivation that had gone missing can return.

If it seems hard to imagine, here is a little snapshot of unplanned, natural learning that can happen when you make time for wondering, curiosity, listening, and space. 

Let me reassure you, you don’t need to be a teacher to help your kids learn!

I invite you to eavesdrop on a recent conversation with my visiting grandniece, who attends public school.

“What are we doing tonight Aunt Lisa? It’s my last night here.”

“Well, tonight is the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and we thought we could watch them together. Have you ever watched the Olympics?”

“No, I don’t think so. Why do watch them? I thought you didn’t like a lot of sports.”

“True, I’m not a big sports fan, but when I was your age, I loved to watch the gymnasts since I was on the gymnastics team. Now I love to see the big presentation the countries do for the opening because I learn so much about the host country and their culture. I love to learn about the history and see what the people are like and what they think is most important to share. And you know I love all the nations coming together peacefully, I think that’s cool. And it only happens every four years. So, do you want to watch with us?”

“Ok. I guess.”

We arranged the chairs and cushions and got comfy. While waiting for the show to start, one camera panned the lights, costumes and people lining the darkened streets in Rio.

She asked, ” Why is it already night there?”stencil

I walked across the room to pick up the globe and handed it to her. “Okay look, find where we are in CA.” Easy because we already had a push pin with a string attached placed at our epicenter.

“Now, find where you live in on the east coast. Do you know what time it is there? Do you know why is it later?”

She nodded.

“Yep, you know the earth spins on its axis about every 24 hours – what we call a day. Hey look, you can hold the globe by this lamp if you want. If the light represents the sun, what happens as you turn the earth around? Put us in the sunshine since it is still daylight here. So, now, can you find Brazil? Look where it is compared to us in CA right now, and compared to your home. What do you notice?”

“It’s farther over than I knew.”

“It is a lot farther to the east! I was so surprised the first time I realized that South American wasn’t due south of the USA. How much farther do you think it is? So if it is 7 pm here, and you know it’s 3 hours later at your house, what’s your guess about the time right now in Brazil?”

“Can I just look it up?”

“Sure, you can look it up if you want.”

“It’s 11 pm there!”

The commercials ended, and we started watching again. As the images changed or new countries and people were introduced, I expressed my curiosity out loud:

Geez, where is that country?
Huh, I wonder what the population of that country is?
Wow, I wonder what it was like for that athlete growing up?
Do you think that’s what their national dress is like? I wonder why they have clothes like that?
Hey, I’m hungry. What do you think they eat in that country?
Ohh, how do you think they made that prop? How long do you think that took
Sometimes I grabbed my phone, the Atlas, or the globe to answer my questions.

And share my discoveries, of course.

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My grand-niece turned to me, “ You sure wonder a lot.” 

“Yes, I guess I do. Grammy said I was always asking questions even when I was a little kid.”

“Why do you do that?”

“Well, I’m curious. I like finding things out about people. I like knowing how things work, and how they are different and how they might be alike. Also, I guess it keeps me from ever being bored. Even if nothing is happening, I can always wonder about something.”

“Oh. Ok.”

“What do you wonder about?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure.”

We watched in silence for a while.The announcers introduced the new part of the ceremonies showing the history of Brazil.

My niece turned to me,

“I wonder when the explorers got there?       

How big is the Amazon compared to the whole country?

Why is the rainforest such a big deal?

How many places did they get slaves from?”

She grabbed her smartphone, one hand typing while still occasionally glancing up at the tv.

“Aunt Lisa, is this what it was like when my cousin was homeschooling? And when your exchange student lived with you?”

“Yep. Pretty much.”


Over to you:

What are you wondering about this week?

What are your kids wondering about?

Are you tuning in to watch the Olympics?

What kinds of discussions are happening at your house?

Let me know in the comments!
Learning all the time, enthusiastically,

XO Lisa

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