Monday, October 5, 2009

Teachable Moments

Jace has been curious about numbers lately. We've spent some time exploring Roman numerals and prime numbers and he has a good grasp of both. Roman numerals came to his attention due to a poster he spotted. He wrote out one through ten and quickly decoded what I, V, and X symbolize as well as how to determine the order of the symbols for addition and subtraction; he also deduced that he needed to use as few symbols as possible. He then asked me if there were more symbols so I told him the ones I could remember and he started writing out large numbers such as the year everyone in our family was born. When that got boring he asked me to create arithmetic problems to solve. This went on for about half an hour until he grew tired of it and found something else to do.

I'm not sure what sparked the question about prime numbers. He was watching TV and looking at a magazine when he asked so one of them must have used the term and he was curious. I explained what it meant and we had a brief conversation about 2 being the only even prime number and why. He listed a few out loud, testing himself to make sure he understood. A few days later in the car he wanted to know if prime numbers were infinite. I said yes and he thought it was very cool that a infinitely large number could be prime.

Both of these instances are perfect examples of unschooling at its best. Jace came to me with an interest sparked by something offhand and both times, although I was busy, I stopped and took the time to help him understand what he was asking. We followed the natural course of the conversation. If I had waited until I wasn't busy I think the interest would have evaporated, it was important to him IN THAT MOMENT and because I was able to make myself available to answer his questions and expand on the ideas he was able to learn. This is not to say that I never have to say I'm busy and can't help but I try very hard to do that as little as possible. I ask myself, "Do I really have to finish this now or do I just want to?"

I do admit this is frustrating at times. Both of my kids ask lots of questions about books, TV and movies. When I am absorbed in something and have to keep pausing to explain things that are happening I sometimes get irritated. However, I remind myself that asking questions is ultimately a good thing that I don't want to discourage so I try to be patient with the endless questions and answer them as best I can. This is especially important with Kya because media is what stirs her inquisitive nature the most. Jace is curious about any and everything while Kya tends to be a little more zen, accepting things around her as they are. However, books, TV and movies, especially documentaries, raise lots of questions for her so I try to be patient. Even if it means that it takes twice as long to get through something as it normally would.

Unschooling for us is about teachable moments and one of the most important things I've learned that we have to take those moments as they come, not as we wish they would.

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