I can’t tell you how many times my Four year old will ask me a question that requires a complicated answer and once I start to answer it, he will, after about on minute, drift of into something else-dancing, jumping, eating, hiding, dinosaurs, construction emergency!
This morning, half way through my answer to his question of “Why is Minnesota so Cold because of where it is in the country?!” he declared with much emergency, “I need a snack!”
This was followed by:
“Is Everything made of molecules?” “What are animals called that don’t have fur or feathers?” “How many different types of birds are there? Are all birds owls or are all owls birds?” “Why do things have a life cycle?””Does everything have a lifecycle?”
And so on, at least 400 of these a day. Most of the time my response begins with, “I wonder…Do you have any ideas?” I let him really flush through these, and then we move on to investigation. (I do this in a effort to not cover over any developing ideas he has going on beneath these questions. Young people at this age are just figuring out how to ask questions, so if we leave space for them to expand their abstract ideas rather than jumping in with our own concrete explanations, we can allow them to better understand how to form questions around concepts they are curious about.)
Listening to these endless questions, while it can be exhausting at times, is one of my favorite parts of unschooling. It’s a privilege to witness this incredible growth hour by hour, day by day. You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to hand that privilege over to someone else. And because I value these questions so much it can be frustrating when he phases out mid investigation. Don’t get me wrong, he will focus for long periods when he is working alone, but I can’t even think about pontificating on the subject.
For some reason the Minnesota phase out, as will now be known, had me more annoyed than usual. Maybe it was because I don’t particularly like geography. Or maybe it was because It was early and I have had to give up coffee again. Sigh. I pulled out the picture atlas and I guess I was in the mood to be all “teachery” (side note, when I feel that vibe coming on, I can be sure a phase out is in the near future) anywhoo, because it annoyed me more than usual I decided to think about why.
As usual, I realized it annoyed me because of my own issues and insecurities “What if he doesn’t ever learn things because he refuses to listen to explanations?” Once I got to this place, I realized a few key things that made me feel all good about his disruptive calls of the wild during my explanations:
First, he learns more than anyone I know on a daily basis. So that just signals some more deschooling I need to do on myself.
Second, 99% of the time, every question he asks during the day he revisits later in the evening, usually around bedtime. And guess what? It turns out he was listening the whole time. How do I know this? Because he will ask me a follow up question based on some things I told him while he was dancing, constructing, playing with dinosaurs, or riding in a rocket ship.
And there you have it folks. They are listening. They are always listening. They may not seem like it, but they are. When they seem distracted maybe they are simply busy connecting things, or maybe the answer you gave wasn’t what they were looking for-either way, it doesn’t matter if they drift off, what matters is that we take the time to answer.
This unschooling journey is about nothing more important than relationship. Learning is a side bonus, a natural effect that needs no coaxing. By helping them to find answers to their questions-opening that book, taking them to visit that animal they are so in to, traveling to the museum, searching for the video, and yes, even waxing philosophical on the nature of a life cycle, we are not “teaching” our young people. What we are doing is developing a relationship with them. Joining them on their journey-walking and learning next to them, not in front of them. Developing a trust. We are opening doors, becoming that kind facilitator who takes the time to help them reach those branches of knowledge that they so feverishly seek to reach.