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How Did You Wind Up Here?

How Did You Wind Up Here?

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“God can use the delight-driven learning method that comes naturally to you as well as He can use the more structured, traditional model.”
“God can use the delight-driven learning method that comes naturally to you as well as He can use the more structured, traditional model.”

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Published by: The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine on Nov 07, 2013
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11/07/2013

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How Did You Wind Up Here? By Carol Barnier
 “Carol,” my friend quizzically began, “
what are you and your kids painting on the wall of your garage?
My children and I were throwing large orange brush strokes over the white drywall.
 “This is
our re-
creation of the Aurora Borealis in Alaska!” I gush
ed.
 “Wow. That’s
 . . . big. Are you guys
doing a unit study on Alaska?” 
 
 “No. A
ctually
we’re
in a study about musicians from the Baroque period
.” 
 
 “
Then,
why the wall?” 
 
 “Because the sea monkeys aren’t done breeding yet.” 
 
 “
Come again
?” 
 
 “Over in the corner. Our sea monkey population has to peak and wane before we can throw them out. That’s why we’ve started b
uilding a trebuchet in the back
yard.”  “
Um . . . and what does all this have to do with Baroque
musicians?” 
 
 “
Well,
” 
 I began
with enthusiasm, “
we started off with Vivaldi, who taught music in an orphanage, which someone said was right next to a bakery, which took us to a quick study on yeast, which we decided look remarkably like sea monkeys, which
. . .” 
 
 “Stop right there.” My friend’s face seemed concerned. “I’m already exhausted.
 
You’ 
re not helping.
I’m gonna go take a nap.” 
 
 “
Alrighty then
! We’ll see ya tonight at our octopus dissection!”
This is how learning sometimes seems to go in our house. I may be exaggerating just a bit in the above dialogue, but not by much. We do sometimes head down some rather interesting and unintended trails.
I’ve grown so fond of it that I’ve not only learned to
embrace it, but
I’m
even developing it into
a whole new curriculum method. It’s called
Rabbit Trail Education. A study of one thing brings up an interesting question, which we track down, which might lead to another question, which we track down. (Rinse. Repeat.) And before you know it, a
study on Gladys Alyward’s missionary work in China has us
out in the local woods, scouting and classifying mushrooms.
Let’s start with a confession.
I have a mind that loves distractions. There. I admit it. I delight in finding a new question that begs for an explanation. I love tracking down answers to questions that just pop up in the course of a typical study. Following a prearranged lesson plan to the letter, with no deviations, is almost painful for me. I used to despair at this truth about myself.
I worried that this was going to damage my children’s education—
that there would be huge gaps in their package of learning. But over the seventeen or so
 
years I’ve been doing this, I’ve found good reasons to relax. In fact, I’ve
even found there have been some benefits to this method of study.
Learning and information are exciting
. My kids have absorbed an unintended lesson: learning is an adventure. This method has
a sort of Indiana Jones feel to it. We’re exploring,
mining truths and facts from the dull dry ground, retrieving a sparkling gem of interest. Anything that piques their curiosity is information ripe for the plucking. Lessons are not rote or drill or drudgery when they are propelled by a question that your kids want answered.
It sticks better when it’s relevant.
 You might have a child who asks what type of stone the pyramids were made of. You might even say to them:
 “That’s a great question, but we won’t
 
be looking at Ancient Egypt till you’re in fifth grade. So let’s get back to Daniel Boone.” Okay. That’s not unreasonable. But if you answer questions when they
arise, when
the child has an expressed interest, when it’s tied to something that is meaningfu
l to them, their retention of the final answer is greater. You can wait for two more years when the question appropriately fits into your lesson plans, but by then, your students may no longer
have an interest in what the pyramids are made of. They’ll lear
n the answer long enough to fill in a blank on a test, but the spark of interest that made it intensely fascinating is now gone.
It’
s active, not passive
. Much learning comes in a rather passive package: read this, fill in the blanks, take a test. This
is
 
a method for learning. Don’t get me wrong. Many curriculum
packages use this method and the students do indeed learn. But it is passive learning. Information is handed to them, prepackaged, ready for consumption. It is a very different experience to have a question with no answer. That requires an active approach to learning and information. That not only makes learning more interesting, but it prepares kids for exactly the kind of approach and discipline needed by scientists, researchers, and analysts of any sort.
It ties the world together
. You might think that this Rabbit Trail Approach would lead to a disjointed view of the world of information, but I have found it to be exactly the opposite. At its core, this method is all about connections. The very reason that a question comes up in the mind of a child is because of something else that is
connected to it. It doesn’t take very
long to start seeing connections everywhere. Things that seem to have no relation whatsoever, in fact, if you look, are tied somehow to everything else. This is truer in the
study of history perhaps than in any other subject. I don’t know about you, but when I left school, even college, I couldn’t tell you if Cleopatra w
as a contemporary of Shakespeare or if the Crusades happened before or after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was all a blur of memorized dates without connections. The Rabbit Trail Approach, over time, actually pulls more things together, recognizing the touch points that each person, place, or event has with other things.
It’s a family
activity.
This is perhaps my favorite of the benefits. Unlike many learning moments that have children sitting off by themselves, reading something or filling in a workbook, this method requires people to get up, get moving, and get going. It often requires Mom and Dad to lead the way, finding resources with answers. In other words, learning is a group activity. Your children could read about longitude and latitude from a textbook, or they could learn about coordinates from the family activity of geocaching (
).
Even if it’s simply some
thing best answered by a trip to the Internet, you still tend to see Mom typing on the keyboard with all her children gathered round, excitedly watching as the answer unfolds. For me, this aspect of homeschooling has

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