How Learning Happens


One of the most frequent question I hear is, “What does a typical day look like in your house?” It’s hard to know how to answer since what we are doing is what we have always done. We live our life, have fun, try new things, talk about them. Mostly, the learning happens almost “under the radar” – people talking, laughing, doing stuff, watching things, tasting things, and making connections that make sense to them. Occasionally, like spotting an insect in the grass, I “catch it” while it’s happening and I try to document it on Facebook. It pays to keep your eyes open.

Recently, we were at our local Farmer’s Market where they have, among all the stands for different farms, an Amish butcher shop. While we were there, Gabriella, 10, and Harry, 8, both found pennies on the ground. On the car ride home the kids took a very close look at their finds. Gabriella asked if Abraham Lincoln was always on the penny, and I was able to share that I have some pennies from the 1860s with an American Indian on the coins. Then we talked about the phrase “In God We Trust,” and how with money there has to be a kind of “leap of faith” about its worth as it is made of only bits of metal and pieces of paper. This led to a discussion of the gold standard, and why some people think we should return to that. The kids wondered what would happen if we “changed the rules of money in the middle of the game?” Would there be enough gold to go around? We then talked about how some countries use US dollars as their currency since US currency is considered more stable than their own money. We also talked about where money is made, and I wondered aloud if it’s still possible to tour a mint. I remember taking a tour of the Philadelphia Mint in the early 1980s.


Then Harry noticed that the two pennies were exactly 40 years apart...All of this for two cents. We got way more than two cents worth out of that discussion! Now THAT’s value!!!

After I got home, I wrote up what happened and posted it on FB, receiving a lot of “likes” and comments. One from a non-homeschooling friend jumped out at me:


Wow! That was certainly worth more than two cents. I probably would have said, “see a penny, pick it up, and all the day you will have good luck”, and left it at that. Ha ha ha.

The reason that jumped out at me is that I have also said that exact rhyme to my kids when they find pennies on the floor. I must have said it 50 times in the past. But this time I didn’t. Recently, I had been thinking that I don’t want my kids to feel like they’ve already heard everything I’ve ever had to say before. I want to be and continue to be an interesting resource for them.


Not long ago, the kids were playing Minecraft together, and Gabriella said to Harry, with regard to something in the game, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” To which Harry replied, “Probably not, since you are completely unpredictable!” I don’t want to be so unpredictable that they feel unsafe, but not so predictable that they tune me out, either. So when the kids found money, all I said was, “Hey cool!” and “That’s great!” From there, I let the conversation develop naturally. 


Another example of natural learning happened around the dinner table. My husband was opening a bottle of red wine. The label on the bottle read: Seven Deadly Zins, which quickly led to a discussion of the seven deadly sins. About half way through the meal, Harry whispered in my ear, “Hey Mama! I think the characters in Spongebob Squarepantsare based on the seven deadly sins. Mr Krabbs is greed, Patrick is sloth, Squidward is wrath, and Sandy is pride.” I was totally shocked, and at the same time I thought this was pretty great! I don’t think I would have made a connection like that until I was well into my university studies! Despite the fact that Harry at age 8 is only a beginning reader, he is capable of rather advanced literary analysis of the shows he watches. We then spent more time that evening trying to figure out if the rest of the sins were represented in the show. That was a fun conversation that reminded me again that there is so much going on beneath the surface when it might appear that someone is “just” zoning out in front of a “screen.”

The mind is always working – absorbing information and connecting it to things already known. Doing things for pleasure are the most educational activities of all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to arrange a trip to tour the Mint. 


-Sylvia Woodman has been thinking and writing about unschooling for more than five years. She spends time on Facebook helping out on several unschooling groups including Radical Unschooling Info and Unschooling Mom2Mom. She is a leader with her local La Leche League group. Sylvia has been married to her husband Jim for 14 years and they have two children, Gabriella and Harry, who have never been to school.