Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blue brains, blood, books, strewing and texture.

Lyddie is naturally fascinated by what's inside people's bodies, these days. She asked yesterday what hair is made of, and what it looks like inside. We could have looked online, I suppose, or paid £14.50 to go down the road to Eureka, but we're still saving up for that one. Instead, we got out the collection of Dorling Kindersley body books that I've had for years and spread them out on the dining table checking out body parts.

One of the books is far too simple even for a four-year old, and they've coloured everything unnaturally brightly, in psychedelic colours. "What's that?" asked Lyddie, on the same page she always does.

"A brain, but it's not actually bright blue."

"What colour is it really?"

"Red, I think."


"Because of all the blood."

She likes to hear about the blood, and she absolutely loves the series of pictures showing a baby growing in utero, turning upside-down and being born.

One of the other books is just right for her and she spends the most time on that one. It has good maps of the skeleton, the nervous system, the digestive system, the respiratory system and the circulatory system and how the organs fit together. (That reminds me, I must ebay for one of those anatomy kits: the ones where you have to fit all the organs etc in the right place. It would be perfect for her just now.) And it has 'peel-back' diagrams, showing how all these fit together.

We spent about half an hour looking at the books ("Wow, look at that picture, showing where your blood goes!"

"No, they're your nerves. They send messages to your brain. So, if you're hurt - like if your hand is burning or something, a message goes to your brain, then you feel the pain and your brain sends another message to move your hand away from whatever's burning it."

"Like a fire?"


"Or hot water?"


"Zara hurt her shoulder, so her nerve - that one, will have sent a message to her brain."


Then she went outside, "To watch slugs turning into butterflies."

"Errr..." The phone rang. "I don't think it's slugs that do that, is it?" to the confusion of the person on the phone. I reached for the DK book on insects, but Lyddie wasn't interested in that.

Books are great: I've always made room for them in our house and made sure they're accessible. My parents had a bookcase when I was a child, but it was never enough. Now we have the internet, but it's not the same feeling, somehow - not the same kind of learning - as finding something out in a book.

The books stay in the same place, when not in use - as much as possible in the same place on the shelves. I love the spontanaiety of autonomous learning, but I think some things in a child's life need to be predictable - like those books will always be there.

I deliberately do not consciously practice the popular unschooling habit of strewing, though. I tried it sometimes, when Tom, Ali and Zara were younger and it felt unnatural, coercive and dishonest to me. In case you don't know, strewing is leaving interesting things in your children's path, in the hope they'll be 'discovered' and trigger certain activities. I don't want to trigger activities in my children: I want to them to trigger their own.

But that's not to say I don't prepare the environment, though not in such a structured, Montessori-type way. Things are arranged so that we can live in a relaxed way, but because I'm responsive to Lyddie's developmental needs I do tweak certain things, and find certain things and leave certain things, according to my instincts and also my memory of being four.

There are lots of books, and space to play, and lots of mingled up baskets and crates of toys and other items which I'd really like to sort into neatly ordered separate sections, but I know that's not what she needs right now. She needs the freedom to find the right thing for herself from amongst the chaos. She develops intricate games of make-believe with whatever she comes across: her imagination broadening to accommodate every next thing into the story as it unfolds. Tidying it all up feels like cruelty if it's done too early. Left out too late though, it's just a stale mess that's in the way.

Yes, I'd say that timing is the most crucial thing in this kind of learning system. Living in the moment, not planning much, just being flexible and ready and available for whatever comes up next. It's a very pleasant way to live as well as being the optimal way to learn, in my opinion.

We had a eureka moment of our own later on. Her reading has got as far as breaking down words into separate sounds. We'd been trying to isolate the first sound in a word, with mixed success. Suddenly, thinking out loud, picking up on a word she'd heard, she said: "Texture. That's a ticking tess word. It's things you feel," and I knew that another jigsaw piece in the picture of her reading ability had just slotted into place. It's times like that when you know that it's all worth the effort.


Blogger Tim said...

I do strewing for our mice.

"Ooh look, there's an interesting trap"

"Let's go and explore"

1:54 pm, March 29, 2007  
Anonymous Clare said...

I've never heard of 'strewing' - sounds far too contrived for us and probably invovles far too much planning ahead too...I guess you'd have to have all the relevant learning resources available before you decided to 'strew' something.


ps. Brains are grey in colour...hence 'grey matter' :-)

1:57 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Ooh I do that with mice too.


Is it too coercive for their educational development?


2:41 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I have heard of the strewing idea. on D and B would just see strewed stuff as getting in the way of what they were doing.LOL I do have low bookcases tho and cupboards with predictable contents.

5:18 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Merry said...

e, we strew, he, she and they strew.

We strew - but entirely by accident. And sometimes the mess makes me say "strew-th!"

5:18 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

LOL Merry:)

9:30 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

I recently moved the box of puzzle books (kakuro, sudoku, sticker books etc) off the shelf and onto the floor. This made them suddenly fascinating.

We mainly strew because the book shelves overflow!

9:34 pm, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Me too Ruth :-)

Yes Clare it's not really child-led, is it?

Merry, ROFL!

Allie it works here by accident sometimes too. Must google kakuro - never heard of it!

9:00 am, March 30, 2007  
Anonymous Lucy B said...

I totally agree about the timing thing for tidying ... I try and aim for after it's finished being interesting to the girls, but before it gets teeth-grittingly irritating for me. My 'strewing', such as it is, happens when I put some puzzles, or whatever, in the cupboard, and realise that one has stayed at the bottom of the pile so long that everyone has forgotten about it ... so I move it to the top of the pile, and the next time the girls fancy a puzzle, they'll find it first and maybe/maybe not play with it. The Montessori shelf-arranging thing was one of the first things I read about all this stuff, so I did have a brief period of striving for that, but given up now!

10:12 am, March 30, 2007  

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