Monday, February 1, 2010

Doing Nothing

After lunch today, I sat back on the sofa and sipped my soda.

To the casual observer, it may have looked like I was doing nothing. (Especially since I periodically closed my eyes.) But if you looked closer, you would have seen education in action.

In reality, I was helping Boy #2 write a story. He LOVES to draw and last night created his very own super hero and nemesis. Today, he drew an entire cartoon story featuring his characters -- 5 pages with 4 panels each, plus a title page. Since he's not yet an independent writer, I'd promised him that I would help him add words to his book after lunch.

Writer that I am, I pictured narrative sentences. Comic book kid that he is, he imagined sound effects. He asked me how to spell "whoosh" and "beep" and "aaargh!" and a thousand other things I can't even type because I have no idea how to replicate those sounds with letters.

He became frustrated with me. He retreated to another room. I gave him time and space before settling in next to him on the couch. We tried again. I expected him to hand over the pencil at any time -- "You do it, Mom" -- because he hates writing. But he didn't. This was his book, his story, and he seemed determined to do it himself.

Frame-by-frame, he filled in the words. Sound effects. Dialogue. He asked for the spelling of words he didn't know and I replied -- sitting there, on the couch, eyes closed, sipping my soda.

At times, it took all of my patience to sit quietly and repeat the letters. His frames, after all, went from the upper left corner of the page, down to the lower left, then up to the right and down again. His spacing was occasionally non-existent. A couple of his letters were reversed. And he, intent on his project, was often less-than-patient.

My 12-year-old son, meanwhile, kicked off Black History Month by reading three books about the Underground Railroad in front of the woodstove.

I sat on the couch and did nothing....

...except allow my children to learn in ways that suit their natural learning styles. Boy #2 developed fine motor skills, spelling, handwriting, reading, writing and language skills. His story had a definite plot and two distinct characters. It featured a beginning, middle and end. Boy #1 reveled in historical knowledge -- from books I'd selected on a previous trip to the library and left casually laying around the house. Is it a co-incidence that tomorrow we go see The Freedom Train, a musical about the life of Harriet Tubman? I think not.

Real, vital learning is frequently invisible. Often, the best teachers are as well.


  1. Doing nothing but allowing your boys to explore their own interests! Getting out of the way can be really hard, especially the writing on the "wrong" side of the page!! Is your tongue bleeding :)

    Have you thought about going to the UWWG in Ohio? It is probably the closest I will get to WI in the near future, and I would love to meet!

  2. Andrea,
    What's the UWWG? Sounds interesting!

    Here's the link, join us!!!

  4. Love it! Cody and I spent the better part of the afternoon the other day giving each other quiz's he'd found online. Quiz's on Greek myths, Star Wars characters, James Bond movies, WWII, etc. - basically all stuff that we love! It was great, and we both learned a bunch of stuff we didn't know :)

  5. Jenny,

    I read this post a few days ago -- it struck me then and has stuck with me since.

    Such a great essay and so true. I often tell friends that I'm just trying to stay out of my kids' ways.