If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
There is back to school excitement in the community where we once lived that we are now visiting. Since school is on everyone’s mind, it has led to many enlightening conversations with friends, old and new, about what it means to really educate. When people ask me how we “world school” the conversation typically ends up on the subject of my favorite technique – strewing. That’s right, scatter, sprinkle, and spread widely with gusto! Strewing works with old and young alike, heck, I have even turned it on myself. Here is how it works for me.
- I think about my children and what they are naturally drawn to and then I think about slightly expanding that horizon. It could be as simple as placing a new book on the couch, a jar of pipe cleaners on the dining table, or a blank piece of paper and something to draw on near the bed.
- I strew new food choices when I can – not things that must be eaten, but things that may pique curiosity. I have even been known to digitally strew. I signed the kids up for Kahn Academy where they can work on theorems or computer programming on a whim. I download audiobooks and different music almost daily from our local library that they find on their virtual “bookshelf.”
- I make sure I don’t work too hard at strewing. I find if I am attached to the outcome and really want something to take hold, it does not work. I have to think of it as an invitation. When I receive invitations loaded with expectations that feel burdensome, I am not inspired to attend. That is how I frame my strewing efforts.
- I have even been known to strew people into their experience too! It sounds a bit covert, I know! For example, at a recent National Park, the ranger was offering a survival class for $2 per child. I knew my kids would jump at the chance and I knew that this gentleman had a wealth of knowledge that went beyond the class. After the survival class ended, I watched two of my three kids pepper the ranger with questions about his work, favorite encounters with animals, and his success gold panning. The invitation was accepted (by two out of three anyway)!
- I resist any temptation to call out my strewing efforts and if they are not attracting anyone after ample time, I try something new.
- I try to keep strewing materials from being finite. It can be as simple as binoculars or a magnifying glass on the porch. There needs to be room to expand on an idea or topic and permission to color outside the lines. For that reason, I don’t strew things that need a lot of supervision, like cooking or acrylic paint, unless it is age-appropriate.
- I give the learner time and keep strewing. I only insert myself if more materials are requested, or if I’m needed to facilitate a deeper understanding of a new passion. For example, if I leave an open piano with music on the stand, someone may go to it time and time again because they are drawn to play. At some point, they may ask for further instruction. The precise moment to facilitate is when I place something for consumption and tangible readiness develops.
Although I have talked about using this technique with children, I have used it with co-workers, employees, spouses, and even myself. Does a loved one have a passion for photography but no time for pictures? I will look for a beautiful coffee table book and place it on a nightstand. If there is something I have been wanting to learn but never seem to have the materials when I have the time, I gather what I need and place it where I will see it. I like to call it “STREW FOR YOU”! I have to remember to apply the same principles to myself and not make it a “to-do” that feels burdensome but rather an inspired act.
The technique now has a following and a label, but beware, if it becomes too official and compartmentalized, the scattering becomes too ordered and less inviting. When my attempts start to resemble learning stations more than scattered inspiration, that is my indicator that I have a hidden agenda and it never works. It is an invitation, not a product placement.
I have tried many approaches to education but strewing is the only one I have been able to do in any country, on any budget, from villas to tents, successfully and with ease. The invitation is what leads takers from engaging with strewn materials to seeking more knowledge about a given topic on their own.
Once the attraction ignites the imagination and seeking begins, stand back and watch in wonder as the longing for the “endless immensity of the sea” takes hold.