Follow me on this one, it’s sort of a winding trail. About three months ago Alder chose a Bob the Builder DVD from the library, on it was an extra short of a Welsh animation from the eighties called Fireman Sam. Ever since then life has been all about firefighting, and the extensions Alder has found. First it was just finding the movies, then it was playing firefighter, all of this was a welcome change from trains and animal rescuers, there was much more to do in a fire rescue. But being adults our attention began to drift after the fifth week. For Kevin he transformed playing firefighter into learning how to be a firefighter; translation let’s go out to the playground and do all sorts of activities like running and climbing and at home lets learn first aid). This has led to a lot of talk about the body, stretching in the morning, even more detailed playing of firefighter.
I’m glad we are both involved in his learning, because I would have never done any of that. For my part I just happened to set up the easel around this time and he started to paint plans for firehouses. In fact every piece of cardboard he could find has been turned into a plan. From this we’ve moved into two directions. First we’ve moved from plans of firehouses to building plans, and recently learning about real architectural floor plans. At the same time we started to paint with different paints in different situations. Not only does he have his easel set up where he can use tempera when ever he wants but he now likes to sit down with me and do watercolors.
A few weeks ago I had a grownup painting party. I explained to Alder that if he wanted to join in the party he would have to sit at the table and paint and talk. We talked about fast and slow painting as well as how he could talk with us but not ask the grown ups to go play with him. Well for two hours he sat at the table with us and painted, and collaged until he finally decided to go to bed with a small stack of paints and a very mellow feel to him.
A few days later we were at a bookstore warming up before the walk home when we found a book we sat for an hour looking at each building and floor plan. He talked about them in terms of his personal opinion of the buildings as well as an imaginative sense of whether or not he could build them. The next day at the library I suggested we go upstairs to the adult design section and choose a few books on building. Since then he’s asked me to show him how real architects design building. We’ve also been spending a lot of time at the Art Museum in their Just For Fun Architecture activity (like 3 or 4 hours at a time), building structures out of the giant silver foam blocks.
This is learning at it’s best, when as parents our job is to make access to information, tools and time for doing projects is available. There isn’t a lot of external planning going on, I’ve taken notes of his questions and ideas we have but that’s about it. Of course this time the subject is one that interest me too so none of this seems like “work”. I’ve caught myself a few times coming up with activities and reading we could do that would add to the projects but I try not to push anything, just put them out there and let him decided where to go with all of this.
This is the hardest part for me, the not directing of learning, but as this is the first real project that he has come up with I feel as though it is a good start. The choices I make every day when he is learning are all about not teaching. Every time I feel the urge to explain something un-asked I stop and write it down instead. Then I will ask if he wants me to explain. A lot of the time he seems to already have an answer or wants to look at it from a different angle that I had not thought of. Intellectually, I understand that these are the moments that I am deschooling myself, where I am learning not to teach, but to follow.
Except that I don’t feel like what I am doing is intellectual at all, it feels like learning to love unconditionally and peacefully. I’ve been taking a lot of deep breaths and letting the teacher in me flow away and replacing it with love. Like water, it fills the empty spaces left from the controlling and the trying to make the world fit. At four this boy is teaching me more than I have ever learned before, about letting go and embracing the world around me, about being me without trying to fill anyone else’s preconceptions of who I am or who I should be and about seeing the people around me for all the excited beauty that they are.