Thursday, January 6, 2011

Learning the Charles

Yesterday, after jumping through some hoops in the early morning (mostly work on paragraph construction).  Norm and I went for a hike in a nearby nature preserve.  It was cold, but not too cold, which meant we were fine to stay out until lunchtime.  We brought a bottle of water and a sort of "travel kit" of art pencils, small sketchbook, and loose leaf photocopy paper to see if we could find some image to record.  We are learning about art and nature.  We are interested in the ways "creation" creates and inspires.

We took our time and found a variety of things to interest us.  There was deer fur on a tree and nearby off the path.  There were deer prints (and dog prints and people prints) in various locations.  We found a rotted stump and some interesting moss. There was ice clear enough to look through, though there was some distortion--like plastic swim goggles that have been left for a while on the wood stove--that only added to the interest. 

Finally we ended up by the Charles River, much smaller and quieter than it is in the city.  This is Burbania, after all.  There we sat down on the mostly frozen ground and spent time sketching the far bank.  We were learning about perspective, mostly, and light.  Neither my picture nor his came out looking the way the far bank did.  I added some mountains and a small barn (further evidence I need to get back up to Maine).  Norm added a house, a snowman, and a small boat.  Still, the lesson was learned even if a bit of artistic license was taken.

Getting out is important for grown-ups and for kids.  So is the absence of structure.  One of the goals I have for this time is to let Norm find his own way to learning certain subjects.  I would do more of this than I am, in fact, if I wasn't concerned about him going back next year.  For those who may not know, there is in the world of homeschoolers something called "unschooling" and if this were a multi-year project rather than one that will last (most likely) twelve months, I would be all over it.  The fact is, kids will learn on their own if you let them.  Contrary to popular belief, they do not have to be "molded" by adults.  Norm has been working hard on the subjects he selects and he learns about other topics as they intersect with his particular subject.  Geometry, for example, is big when figuring out perspective.  When we call it art, he studies it and he gets it.

I see this in the other kids as well.  Son #1 does his homework and jumps through the hoops, but what does he fill his free time with?  Things he likes. Yes, that means "flickering box" sometimes, but he has put in epic hours on the trumpet.  Why?  I know he wouldn't put it this way (he is twelve) but I think the music moves him more than other things right now.  Give your kids space and they will decide what to do with it.  Remove obstacles such as TV and computer.  Strip away all the programming that you hope will get them into Harvard, or their own big cubicle, or onto the the varsity squad (or even just make them "well-rounded" or "fulfilled") and they won't curl up in the fetal position on the couch. 

They will step up.  They will explore.  They will impress you with their vision.

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