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Unschooling-Getting the Hang of It

alec vanderboom

Our family spent a long time chatting about clouds on our drive home from Grandma's house on Saturday. We talked about fog as a low hanging cloud as we past the mist in the valleys. We tried to figure out if we could find animal shapes in higher clouds. Jon remembered that you could tell the height of the cloud by it's shape. I told the kids that I'd look up cloud shapes when we got home.

Yesterday, I picked up some cotton balls during my weekly grocery run. I pictured making diagrams of cloud shapes with glue this morning.

Today didn't go exactly as planned. The baby is fussy from her new molars, and needed extra attention during her morning nap. Meanwhile, my older kids are especially maniac after a non-nap for three days trip to Grandmas. I helped Hannah find the glue and clear off a section of our kitchen table. Then Maria woke herself up with a wail. By the time, I got Maria back to sleep, Hannah had torn open the cotton ball bag herself and was busy in her own project. She had no interest in my tutorial of how to make a neat diagram of cloud types.

Three weeks ago, "No Mom, I don't need you here!" would have thrown me. But now, I'm a new girl. I decided that I was really interested in learning Jon's theory of cloud height, so I went on the computer myself. I found a diagram of fog, culumus, stratus, and cirrus clouds. I wrote down their names and Latin meaning.

I asked to borrow some unused cotton balls and set up my own cloud project on the dining room table. In a few minutes, Hannah, Alex and I had a lively conversation going on about our various cloud drawings. I pasted some "fog" and drew a car that went into the fog. Alex had pasted clouds over a series of volcanos. Hannah drew flowers under her clouds, since flowers like rain. We talked about rain and plants, which eventually became a spring board discussion into what plants can live in a desert. Hannah and Alex took a look at my cloud drawing, just like I kept stopping my work to look at their projects.

My next drawing was a diagram of the water cycle. I pictured Hannah copying this for her school portfolio. (Alex by this time was off exploring Twister video clips on You Tube.) Instead, Hannah made up her own diagram. It's lots of different clouds with arrows pointing to them. She talks about "first this cloud turns into that cloud, and then it turns into this cloud." There are about nine clouds with various arrows in different colors pointing at each other. At first, I'm tempted to correct her knowledge "No, only cumulus clouds turn into cumulunimbus (rainclouds)."

Then I had this memory of my first few weeks of law school. At the beginning, we had to master the rubic of "logic".We read difficult, dense case law and then tried to make up our own evaluations of new situations, this incident is like that case, not this one. Because the whole legal structure was new, our beginning arguments didn't make much sense. Our "baby law talk" went sort of like "a tomato is like a stop light because they are both red." I remember this period in class when I actually had to cover my ears during most of my classmates questions since their theories were so wild that it would mess up my own teeny understanding of Civil Procedure or Torts. All of this babble was important, however. We had to practice how to "argue" as lawyers, before we could understand the content of our classes. In otherwords, we built a mental framework of what a logical argument was, and then went back and filled it in with specific knowledge from our class.

I realize that this is what my five year old is doing with science. She knows that you create a visual diagram where information goes in a certain way. She wants to copy a flow-chart as a concept. She wants to practice the art of a presentation. She knows that clouds have different names, but she's not ready to memorize them yet. If I let Hannah mess around with glue and crayons in her own way on her own time, my reward is hearing "This is fun Mom! I love studying clouds." In Hannah's mind, a morning spent with cloud is even more fun than all the new toys at Grandma's house.

Such a sweet day with my own budding meterologist!