25 Jan 2013

Rabbit trails

Sometimes...okay...Often...when we do school we get distracted by something and off we go on little waffly side trails somewhere and we start making lots of really cool connections with things we'd never planned on connecting at all.

Like the other day when we found the gecko in the shower on the same day that we were learning about reptiles for natural history and how we had to draw it in our nature notebooks and look up its Latin name so we could label it. And then before we let it go we had to let it run straight up a window to watch its little feet stick magically to the surface, and then of course we just had to watch a YouTube video about sticky gecko feet. Which naturally lead to an explanation of van der Waal's forces, which lead in turn to us watching this cool Kahn Academy video on van der Waal's Forces and London Dispersion Forces and Dipole Attractions, and Hydrogen Bonds. And this got me so excited because I remembered it all from school that I had to narrate it all to Daddy over dinner. And then he remembered too. Which made Jemimah wonder about our sanity, but at least proved that I had learned something as well as her, even if it wasn't what we'd intended when I first went to have my shower.

Then yesterday when we were reading David Livingstone's Missionary Journeys and he mentioned tsetse flies and then we had to read about African Sleeping Sickness or trypanosomiasis and how it is caused by Trypanosoma brucei, a flagellate that lives in the blood of the tsetse fly and is transmitted to humans by biting. And then we got to wondering why Livingstone thought that the tsetse fly was not dangerous to humans, which it is, and then we had to google that, only to discover that we are not the only ones confused by his reports and that nobody knows the answer. So we made up a few of our own. Which was good fun, but not particularly educational. Anyhow, we laughed a lot.

I don't think these little wanders are particularly in line with Charlotte Mason's teachings. In her Introduction to Volume 6 where she introduces her philosophy of education, Mason actually states as point j that:

(j) No stray lessons are given on interesting subjects; the knowledge the children get is consecutive.

I comfort myself because she goes on to say that the Desire of Knowledge is natural for everybody, and because all learning is the Science of Relations, and mostly because we always manage to get back onto the main path by the close of the lesson. Possibly we should really complete the readings and narrations first before galloping off with the rabbits, as part of the Grand Conversation at the end, and sometimes we manage to restrain our enthusiasm enough to do precisely that. Sometimes.

Mostly, though we wander. Off the path and back on. We talk, we watch, we google, we marvel. We create links to other things we've learned in the past and we look at things from other angles. We form new opinions. We learn new things.

Sometimes I try to be good. I say, "Today we are going to read right through this reading without a break. We are not going to stop when something interesting comes up." I really mean it too. And then something interesting does come up, and we just have to talk about it. And then we have to google, or I need to tell a story about when I was at school, or in France, or rock climbing in Krabi or how I saved a boy from an anaphylactic reaction to a scorpion bite or about bear bile in China, and whoosh, there we are. Off on a rabbit trail to somewhere we know not where, and making really cool connections and learning lots of irrelevant stuff. And right then I really don't care, because after all, rabbit trails eventually lead somewhere too. Eventually.


  1. Never stop the rabbit trails, I say! Without then our, and our children's general knowlege would be so much less.

  2. Very amusing and I can relate. Aren't those days when you end up wandering down new, creative and interesting days so much fun though?

  3. Now you've got me curious, Jeanne: What *were* you intending to learn when you got in the shower that morning? ;)
    I think your way sounds more fun than 'strict' CM. In my home I generally feel we don't do enough rabbit trails. I tend to get fixated on my goal/plan and wear blinkers :/
    I haven't read book 6 yet, but wonder if CM's reasoning was more a matter of class discipline? They have a finite time to get through all those short lessons and if they followed every interesting thought/question they'd never manage it... OTOH I can imagine her talking about habits of self-discipline and attention... I suppose it depends what one's priorities are - is encouraging the habit of disciplined attention to the task at hand more important to me than encouraging curiosity and self-education? hmm... otoh, DH, who is *very* Meyers-Briggs 'P' naturally follows every rabbit trail, so maybe my focused get-it-done approach will provide a good balance...

  4. Rabbit trails do break the monotony and spark spontaneous explorations. So much fun!

  5. Well, we homeschoolers are a bit past having someone else dictate "how" our learning should be, aren't we? I LOVE rabbit trails and some of our Best Homeschool Days EVER have been Rabbit Trail days and I would not swap them for anything! Besides, in Real Life, who ever gets to completely finish something before getting interrupted or sidetracked? Not me, anyway!


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...