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Unpreschooling part 3 the art of strewing

by Beverley Paine

Coming home from a wonderful afternoon spent chatting and playing at your friend's house found you once again questioning your ability to unschool your little person. She had loved exploring every nook and cranny of the open plan home, poking her nose into boxes full of educational toys and resources and peering intently at the rows of games and books that lined one wall. Her delight at the tiny gumnut people in the winter scene on the display table led to an impromptu craft activity that kept all the kids busy and happy and lasted over an hour. It was the ease with which your friend put her hands on exactly what was needed to keep the activity and fun flowing that had unsettled you: if only you were as organised!

At home, with your little person munching on a snack she helped you make, you critically cast your eyes around your living space: one small bookshelf next to the TV, a row of baskets with teddies and toys, a cluttered dining table, and the little person's spotless easel crammed awkwardly into a corner. This catches your attention now because your friend's art easel was covered in many layers of paint, a much-used, much-loved artifact in that busy happy open space. It had been parked a little way from the paint-spattered piano on which rested a tray of percussion instruments and a couple of recorders. You sigh: your home is far from what you want and expect of a learning environment for your little person.

Chatting to your friend about feeling inadequate, she'd been able to reassure you that it didn't make sense to compare your home to hers, or how she did things to the way you did. Every family is different, she'd said, so it makes sense that for each family unschooling happens differently. Still you wonder how you can capture some of the magic that seems to naturally happen in her home.

Weeks ago, in a book by Sandra Dodd, you'd come across the term ‘strewing' and now wonder if it's a strategy you can use. Once your little person is tucked in tight with her furry friends lined neatly along her pillow, story read and eyes finally closed, you search the internet for inspiration.

The idea behind strewing is to deliberately seed your child's environment with things that will arouse her curiosity, spark or extend her interests; to stretch, expand and grow her thoughts, feelings and experiences as she makes connections, learns new facts and develops insights and understanding. Books, magazines, games, puzzles, art and craft materials are obvious educational choices, but anything can be used: a collection of autumn leaves or old coins, magnifying glass or bug catcher. Stamps and an atlas might kindle an interest in discovering the location of different countries, which could lead to talk of explorers and onto creating treasure maps and dressing up as pirates, then chatting about modern day pirates, oil exploration and finally electric hybrid cars. Strewing is an awesome join-the-dots journey of never-ending fascinating connections with destinations we can't begin to guess!

An important principle of strewing is that there are no strings attached, no ‘must do' or ‘must finish', or even notice or become interested in what is strewn: it is simply an invitation to play, explore and discover. What your child does with what is strewn is completely up to her. It's not a springboard for creating a unit study although what may evolve may resemble a comprehensive one! Strewing is akin to playing intellectually: whatever the child does with whatever is strewed is entirely up to the child.

As you read and learn you realise that you are already adept at this strewing game, have been doing it since your little one's birth, providing scaffolds upon which she can safely and confidently explore her world. The importance of letting go of any expectations regarding outcomes is new, however. When we relinquish the need to control and subtly maneouver children's learning to meet our objectives and goals something wonderful happens: our children naturally and abundantly engage in the world with the same enthusiasm and awe they did when they were babies.

Bringing more of what children love into their lives naturally sparks abundant learning. Being enthusiastic about learning and adopting a ‘have a go' attitude as a parent is another subtle strewing method: children are naturally curious and usually don't want to miss out on anything exciting or enjoyable. It's easy to bring the wonder of the world into our children's lives and tickle their senses with new smells, sounds, tastes, objects and activities if we're enthusiastic about learning too. Strewing doesn't have to be spontaneous but over time it grows to be that way as we share the joy of learning together without any pressure or expectation.

People are natural strewers, we love to share our experiences with others. Strewing can occur in conversation too. A casual comment can spark an interesting conversation that can last hours or ramble over days or weeks and that interest may perhaps become a consuming passion. Don't underestimate the power of strewing by limiting it by definitions: strew experiences, thoughts and ideas!

As you shut down the internet, eyes tired from so much reading, your mind is buzzing with the potential the act and art of strewing is going to bring into your unschooling lives.

See also Unpreschooling part one value of play and Unpreschooling part two tuning in and trusting, part four schedule versus routine and Unpreschooler favourite toy shops in this series.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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