One sunny morning, my five-year-old bounded out of bed and decided that he wanted to learn about tensegrity.
All right! Cool, I’m in. Let’s assemble all the supplies, find some videos, order new books and get to it.
That’s following their lead, right? That’s unschooling.
When unschoolers say, “it’s following their lead”, what is that? It sounds so out there, so far fetched.
When people hear that for the first time, I have noticed it makes them associate it with kids being unruly, a scene out of Lord of the Files, it makes the grown-ups uncomfortable, because the parents are the ones who are supposed to be leading.
The more I think about this, I am not sure I like saying, “follow their lead” as a definition of unschooling because it takes out the inherent partnership and it doesn’t necessarily speak to the anatomy of freedom.
We follow where their questions take us, we are open to hearing their ideas and creating a space in which they are free to explore those ideas but learning is always consensual.
Of course, my five-year-old didn’t wake up that morning and declare he wanted to master tensegrity.
Tensegrity crossed our path because we love technology around here.
I was sitting on the couch, scrolling through Facebook, when my kids came in from outside. My son came over and asked me, “What are you looking at mama?”
“Checking an event listing”, I said.
I was on Facebook to check the details of an event but I was scrolling first, as one does.
“Go back up”, my son said.
Something had caught his eye.
I had initially mistaken this post for an ad for summer camp because there are so many ads for summer camps right now and I ignored it because I am not interested in virtual camps at the moment.
I re-read it again and quickly realized it wasn’t an ad for virtual summer camp at all but a post by the Ontario Science Centre on activities to do with kids this summer.
The link led us to their website, which led us eventually to their YouTube channel, so we could make the video bigger.
Scrolling through their videos on the sidebar is what brought us to How To Build A Tensegrity Structure because the initial clip of lego caught my son’s attention.
We watched the how-to Build A Tensegrity Structure, then we watched another video on how to build a tensegrity structure out of copper pipes and then we came across a video on how to make a fan using upcycled wood and handtools and my son was fascinated and I added a whole bunch of videos to our playlist.
That brought up talking about hand tools and why people throw out wood and materials and how those materials can still be useful, maybe with patience and imagination.
It was an unexpected, enjoyable hour or so of watching new videos on topics, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of.
If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have thought that my five year old needed to learn about tensegrity and maybe that’s something I would have assigned to the upper ages.
In talking about following my child’s lead, in talking about following their interests, for me, it always goes back to how we began.
If I wasn’t open with my children about technology if I had determined that Facebook is something I keep away from them or only do when they are in bed if I had thought that YouTube was a waste of time if I had held the belief that screens are harmful, this discovery that aligns with my child’s love of kinetics and motion and gravity, wouldn’t have happened. Maybe at some point, we would have come across it and I am sure tensegrity is covered in some curriculum somewhere.
But everyday life lead us to it. That is the magick of our every day, unschooling.
It’s not something new each day and the questions and the following the lead doesn’t always lead to complex math problems but the potential is there because we are open to it and believe that learning happens through life and my life happens to include a lot of technology and many screens.
I learned a lot from this hour of sitting beside my child on the couch, too. I learned the definition of tensegrity is “Tensegrity is a design principle that applies when a discontinuous set of compression elements is opposed and balanced by a continuous tensile force, thereby creating an internal prestress that stabilizes the entire structure” from Scholarpedia.
After we watched the tensegrity and the upcycled wood videos, I was reminded that learning isn’t linear. We have legos and we string.
“Do you want to make your own tensegrity structure?” I asked.
“Not right now”, my son asked.
Many times during that week though, I observed him creating towers and building ramps and trying to make different structures balance. I realized that he was trying to find the centre of gravity in his creations.
Often observing unschooling daily shakes up your own boxes and much of the time, it isn’t what you think it is going to be.
Okay, we watched the videos we have all the materials, the outcome will surely be creating the structure for ourselves and when it isn’t you have to be okay with that, because learning is consensual and because you have to trust the process even when it isn’t what your take away might have been or even the outcome you had hoped for your kids to experience.