Yesterday some very ordinary play time in the back yard turned into an enlightening “aha” moment concerning the bright possibilities of unschooling – how easy and natural and engaging it can possibly be. Lucien was digging in the dirt when I noticed a large, horned lizard (?) crawling on the rocks in our yard. I was not sure what it was, but I drew Lucien’s attention to it, and we both watched it with interest as it crawled along the rocks and then climbed into the branches of a nearby bush.
Lucien referred to it as a big gecko, and I told him that it was similar to a gecko – and probably related – but that the horns and scaly (as opposed to slimy) skin made me think it was more closely related to lizards. We opened up a whole discussion about animal classification.
We had some difficulty locating the animal once it climbed into the bush, and I explained to Lucien about camouflage and how it can be an effective defense mechanism. By this time, Grandpa had come out the back door to join us in observing the animal, and our back neighbor was outside as well. He, having grown up in Hawaii, was able to identify the animal as a Jackson’s chameleon.
This led us to a discussion on invasive species and the harm they can do to an ecosystem. This led Grandpa to mention the invasive species of carp in the Great Lakes. This led us all to discuss how they should ship all those carp to Eastern Europe, where they would be considered a delicacy.
A chameleon led me to explain to Lucien all about ethnic culinary and holiday traditions. (Christmas carp in the bathtub, anyone?)
Now, I understand that Lucien is only two years old and not able to grasp all of the intricacies of that conversation, but at every juncture I explained the discussion to him as best I could. And he was interested and engaged. And he does now know the name of the Jackson’s chameleon, and he knows that the males have “1, 2, 3 horns” on their heads, and he says that they look “scaly, not slimy.”
But the point is not about how many factoids he can remember. This was such an enlightening realized how a simple, everyday sort of situation could spark curiosity in him and me. A chameleon in our backyard led to conversations about animal classification, defense mechanisms, invasive species, ecosystems, environmental stewardship, Great Lakes fishing, and a Eastern European cuisine. A chameleon led us to chat with our neighbor, more knowledgeable about Hawaiiana than I am, and get to know him a bit better. And should any of the topics we discussed continue to spark Lucien’s imagination, we have a plethora of topics we can investigate on our next trip to the library. (Believe it or not, he already likes some of the children’s non-fiction, especially relating to animals.) I could see how naturally unschooling could work with an older child, how easily we could weave together a study of all different subjects, sparked by an everyday occurrence and led by the child’s curiosity. A chameleon gave me plenty of food for thought.