The Art of Learning.

Mar 03, 10 The Art of Learning.

It feels like the only things I’ve been writing about lately have been packing, organizing, selling, moving, and living in an RV. Oh wait, that IS the only things I’ve blogged about!

I’m boring myself.


I guess I did spice things up with my trip to Vegas! But now I’m back, and as I sat down to blog I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about any of those things again.

It’s been soooo long since I’ve written anything unschooly, even though we’re living it every day. People have been very concerned about the kids and our ‘schooling’. “Are you keeping them up to speed while you’re travelling?” “Are you able to keep them on track in the RV?” “Do they still do their workbooks while on the road?” You know, those kinds of questions. And people are especially focused on Sassy, now that she’s kindergarten age.

Have you ever noticed how ramped up everyone gets when kids enter kindergarten? It’s like everything before then was a cake walk…their kid was just slacking off until one day BAM, they’re 5 and it’s time to get serious about learning. Letters! Numbers! Reading! Writing! Stress enters the picture and hysteria ensues. I wish I were exaggerating.

Jean Piaget famously referred to “the American question,” which arose when he lectured in this country: how, his audiences wanted to know, could a child’s development be sped up? The better question may be: Why are we so hellbent on doing so?

According to Crisis in the Kindergarten:

A survey of 254 teachers in New York and Los Angeles the group commissioned found that kindergartners spent two to three hours a day being instructed and tested in reading and math. They spent less than 30 minutes playing.


Considering this blog is Child’s PLAY, you all should know how completely appalling I find this. The article goes on to highlight:

“Play at age 5 is of great importance not just to intellectual but emotional, psychological social and spiritual development,” says Edward Miller, the report’s co-author. Play — especially the let’s-pretend, dramatic sort — is how kids develop higher-level thinking, hone their language and social skills, cultivate empathy. It also reduces stress, and that’s a word that should not have to be used in the same sentence as “kindergartner” in the first place.”

But my favorite part?

Thinkers like Daniel Pink have proposed that this country’s continued viability hinges on what is known as the “imagination economy”: qualities like versatility, creativity, vision — and playfulness — that cannot be outsourced.

And people, I got this. I got it! No, I’m not keeping up with any worksheets in the RV. We are not slaves to a curriculum. To the outside world, we are ‘slacking off’. But to me, we’re full on learning.

Let me explain. Today for ‘school’ we went to the pool and swam all day.


No one memorized state capitals, no one did long division, no one took a spelling test, science wasn’t discussed. So how is that learning?!

One of my favorite books is by Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. If anyone has ever seen my favorite movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer then you’re familiar with Josh and his story of being a chess prodigy. If you haven’t seen it, take some time to find and watch it. Sooo goooood.

Anyway, in his book, Josh describes the learning process not as the end result of a memorized set of facts, but as a process where the actual learning process is the end result. Learning how to learn…how to love to learn, and how to use that in all aspects of your life.

Today, my kids wanted to learn specific things:

how to dive,

how to swim to the bottom of the pool,
how to do an underwater summersault.
(apparently, I forgot to get a shot of that! But she did swim like a fish for a lot longer than she has before!)

Not scholarly, no, but it’s the process that’s the key. And it’s a fact that most kids, regardless of when they learned to read, write, etc. etc., will all reach a similar level from 4-7th grade. It’s why Finland (who kicks our National butt on every educational test at every grade) postpones teaching reading until kids are older than 7. John Holt is brilliant at explaining how we need to trust that our kids will learn the facts they need.

Schools put the cart before the horse–instead of learning the art of learning (a personal journey that is different for everyone) in the younger grades so they then can take that love and passion and direct it to learning important facts…schools drill facts and minutiae into young kids so by the time they get old enough to care they really don’t anymore. And worse than that, they don’t have their own personal learning skills to fall back on to help them learn the things they need.

My kids worked hard today to learn. New skills, new ways to gather information, new ideas to try. The fact it was doing things in the pool is irrelevant to me. I just want them to know how to learn best. How to use what they learn in practical, personal, immediate ways. This skill of knowing how to learn translates into other parts of their lives. Today, a dive…tomorrow, differential equations! (If, that is, they need to know how to use differential equations in their personal, practical lives!).

And my favorite trade off to this is when they learn something and then teach me. Today, Sassy taught me how to swim to the bottom of the pool and look like a mermaid. I think we’ll go back tomorrow so I can practice some more. Because we’ve learned that learning takes determination, focus, and repetition!