Friday, April 20, 2012

Diatoms and Street Signs

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Yesterday we went to the beach.  I was under orders NOT to make it educational.  My son thought it was going to be a 'field trip' in the school sense, and therefore did not even want to go, despite the fact that we were taking my mother, neice, and nephew.

At the end of the day, he apparently gives me a C- for the non-educational quality of the trip.  And that's with me trying (really) NOT to teach anything.

But with two eager new students, what's a homeschooling mom to do?  I can't NOT show the kids how to hum periwinkles out of their shells (old hat to my own kids).  I can't NOT answer questions about sharks off the coast.  And I couldn't resist my own curiosity to open up the bladderwrack (seaweed) to see what was actually in the little bladders.

I think, in order to stop teaching (more like... sharing what I know, not so much teaching really) I'd have to stop my own curiosity.  And that I just cannot do.  I love to look in tidepools, dig through the seaweed, and point out whatever weirdness I find there.  And sometimes I think you just can't appreciate what you see without knowing a tiny bit about it (barnacles aren't very interesting until you see them feeding).

So when I asked my nephew if he had caught anything in his bucket, and then told him the seawater was actually FULL of stuff too small to see... and wishing at that moment we had brought a microscope... can anyone really blame me?  Do people really walk around not wanting to see these things, not wanting to know what they do, not curious to see the process?

diatoms- cool right?
Image by Prof. G.T. Taylor.  Public Domain.

My daughter is just as curious (and picks up bits of trivia) as I am.  On the ride, she shared with us how coral fights for space, and what happens to the one who loses.  Most kids don't know this- heck I didn't know this until a few years ago, and I have no idea where she learned it! 

My mother asked me if the knowing took the joy out of it, and really I'm still wondering at the question.  I give a resounding no- the more you know, the more you realize there still is TO know.  So I know humming brings periwinkles out of their shells, but as the kids asked, WHY does it work?  Is it, as my daughter thinks, a combination of sound and vibration?  Or is it something else?  Why is the beach made up of tiny tiny rocks instead of sugar sand like down south?  Why is one tidepool full of life, and another very close by completely devoid?  Obviously some of these questions we can answer (tidepools vary depending on a lot of factors) but without a tiny nugget of information to get us started, where do we begin to ask them? 

No, I think my mother's question bothers me because it makes me think.... when did learning new things become work?  How did we let ourselves get to the point my son is at- where we want to go someplace new but learn nothing at all?  Sometimes he worries about being nerdy, but I don't get it- probably because I'm a geeky person myself, and at 37 I could care less if people dislike that about me.  The wonder of the world can't be really appreciated without being interested in the answers- maybe we don't purposely find them out, but we aren't afraid to learn it if it comes along. 

Image by Alians PLPublic Domain
This, really, reflects the difference between force-fed learning (you WILL know that rainbows are made up of light refracted by raindrops!) as opposed to asking the question and finding out the answers... and then feeling amazed at the complexity of the world around us.  We don't have to force feed our kids, or ourselves.  We can be open to the information without boring ourselves to death with it.  If you took me out to the garage right now and told me I'd learn to build a car, it would never work.  I don't have the interest- sure I'm amazed that it all works together, even more amazed that someone was smart enough to figure it out.  But I don't care to really understand it- even though the understanding might help me build something great on my own.  So yeah, really, I get it.  But to not be interested in the natural world.. that I don't get.  Or to be content to walk on the grass without knowing that tiny ecosystems are under your feet... that I'm glad I know (although I miss the days when I could eat a dirty carrot fresh from the garden without feeling like I'm eating a million nematodes). 

In my own career as a student, I'm also discovering how slanted the information I'm taught can be depending on the teacher.  This, too, tells me how important it is to discover your OWN knowledge.  I might feel that snails are really the backbone of a tidal pool ecosystem, but you might feel that the algae is, or the seaweeds, or the crabs.  I might only teach you about the snails.. and you might smile and nod and believe it all, but maybe if you asked the questions, listened to my answers, and kept an open mind... just maybe you'd discover something else that made your knowledge better, more complete than mine.  The learning never really stops unless we give up, accept it all as real, refuse to ask any more questions.

And I can't post this blog without noting one more thing from yesterday.  A tiny, defining moment in our reading journey.

As we were driving home my daughter read a street sign, "Stop Ahead". 

Then a moment later, we arrived at the stop sign, and my daughter stated (referring to the earlier sign) "Hey!  I read that!"

For most families, perhaps this moment would have passed into obscurity, but if you've read my blog post on my daughter's reading difficulties, you know how hard this has been for her.  We are two years into homeschooling now, she reads for me every single day.  But she will not read for herself.  It's as though she thinks it's a magic trick we share- good for our school time, but that she has no real skill outside of that.

This moment, this sign, was the defining second when she discovered that, on her own, she read something.  She didn't have help, she didn't have to sound it out or be reminded about the letters.  She just read, as simply as walking, talking, breathing.

In that moment, in that one sign, she realized she can create her own reading magic, that it's HER skill to use forever, that just like the rest of us, she can do it.  She isn't flawed, broken, missing something, confused, or damaged.  Just like everyone else, she can read.

I was not as surprised as she was- I've watched her skill grow, watched the ease that she can read.  Two months ago she was having me reread after her, so she could follow the thread of the story.  Sure, she was reading it first, but it was slow and staggering, and she knew she wasn't following.  That has been over for a month now, and I knew the rules were coming faster and easier.  But she did not notice.

For her, 'stop ahead' really means something entirely different.  And I wouldn't even know that... if we hadn't been sharing this journey together.

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