Orcas and Fossils and Puppets, oh my!

We’ve come to the end of another learning year, at least in terms of our homeschooling program. Nothing has changed for the kids – learning happens all year round for them. But Daughter has been up to some fun stuff lately and since I don’t get to put it down in a report for our program anymore (at least, not until September), I thought I’d post it here.

One day I found her in her room with various reference books on ocean life spread out before her. She was busy writing away on a stack of fresh printer paper with a set of coloured highlighter pens she pilfered from the computer desk. I had to stop myself from telling her that those weren’t for her use and didn’t she know that printer paper was expensive…but it wasn’t hard to suppress my inner nag when I saw what she was doing. Sometimes you just have to let go of the price of printer paper and highlighter pens and embrace spontaneous creativity when it happens! Daughter was making a book about sea creatures and she’d made up her own publishing company, Orca Books, complete with logo which was drawn on the title page. She had written down the names of various sea creatures with notes about each one to create a book she called “Ocean Life”. Orca Books has since published more books and informational brochures on the topic of marine biology, which can be found scattered around various rooms in our home.

This is the kind of activity I think of when people suggest that kids will never learn to write (one of the Three R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic) if not drilled with worksheets. Writing happens here all the time; it’s a tool that is so ubiquitous in our culture that I honestly can’t understand how a child could NOT learn to write if allowed to learn naturally. Obviously, reading figured into this activity as well;  I will never understand the logic behind making a child read a specific book that they didn’t even get to choose. But, I digress…!

On another day, Daughter approached me to ask for some garbage bags. She told me she was making a costume. Over the next 24 hours I watched as she drew, cut, painted, glued, and taped various things together to make an Orca costume for herself. It was pretty amazing. This was a lengthy project and quite complex in its execution. First, she made a body piece by cutting holes for her head and arms in one bag. She then laid it out on the table and painted half of it silver, to match the white colouring of an Orca whale. She cut out and glued on a dorsal fin. Then she took an old T-shirt and attached cut-out fins to each sleeve. This was to be worn under the body piece. the tail was cut to resemble a whale’s tail. By this time the silver paint on the body piece had dried overnight and she was unsatisfied with the result. So she peeled off the paint and used cut-out white paper instead, which she glued onto the body and tail pieces. She even had the foresight to cut out holes in the bottom of the tail piece through which she could put her feet. Finally, she made a mask, complete with white “eye spots” and tied to her head with string. Taking the end result at face value it wasn’t the greatest Orca costume in the world, but what went into it was the really exciting part. This was not the usual free-form, play-based, exploratory learning. This was planning and execution, working towards a specific outcome. This is a big step in her development (which I can appreciate all the more fully after hearing Gordon Neufeld talk recently) and I’ve been seeing a burst of this sort of activity in the last few weeks.

Our local homelearners group recently organized a trip to a fossil museum, complete with side trip to an open fossil bed where we were allowed to hunt for our own fossils. The small section of rocky beach beside an eroded cliff face exposed shale that was once at the bottom of the sea (the Island we live on is relatively new in geologic age, having been pushed up out of the water by tectonic plate movement). The shale readily chips apart into layers, exposing ammonites and clam imprints.

Once the guide showed us what to look for we were able to find several specimens. Most were partial imprints of clam shells, with one or two worm holes and fossilized plant bits. I was particularly excited because I recognized the terrain we were in – I’d passed something very similar in my walks around our forest neighbourhood. When I next got the chance I went by this spot – the trail goes down alongside an exposed wall where one section looks as if it were gouged out by a giant shovel (perhaps it was, or perhaps it was exposed naturally). The rock there looks exactly the same as the stuff by the river. Sure enough, when I started prying bits of shale apart it wasn’t long before I found clam imprints. A fossil bed right by our home! Turns out there are fossils even beneath our feet – the neighbours were clearing some rocks out of their field and found a big clam fossil, which they gave to Daughter. Who knew when we moved here that we’d be in paleontologist heaven!

One evening while Husband was away on business, Son and I were treated to a late-night puppet show. Daughter had come up with this idea all on her own – I love the characters she made! There were three groups: water life, sky life, and alien life (the last was for her brother, who prefers alien characters over animals these days). She put on a little show with the puppets while Son and I were lying in bed (when Husband is away the kids and I sleep together) and she was down at the end of the bed on the floor. The story soon degenerated into the kind of chaotic non-sensical stuff that meant it was definitely time for sleep, but up until that point it was much fun. I love how these creative urges just hit her at random times during the day (she started this project long after dinner). We went to bed later than usual that night, in part because she was so engaged in what she was doing and I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of creative energy. It’s nice that we can do this since we don’t usually “have” to be up at any specific time in the morning.

Categories: learning is fun, natural learning, the Three R's | Leave a comment

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