In our short time as homeschoolers we’ve tried on a few different titles; eclectic, relaxed, unschooler… but none have been quite the perfect fit. Yesterday, in the middle of a conversation, on the way to see Hidden Figures with my mom and daughter the title hit me. Spark Schoolers. That is what we are.
We were talking about bunny trails, and how when you get excited about one little thing, it can lead to the next thing, to the next, to the next, until you can’t even remember how you started down the path. This is probably my favorite thing in the world, and my favorite way to learn… following these bunny trails. It’s already happening in our homeschool… and I just didn’t SEE it!
The other day we were watching short videos from Great Big Story. One of them was Sharks of the Sky: Five Stories of Raptors and the People Protecting Them. It was an interesting, quick video. Because of this video we started looking for more videos on raptors and found a video about Generations of Flying Falcons in Dubai. Which created a spark of interest about Dubai, so we started looking up information about Dubai. I asked in a couple forums if anyone had any suggestions and we were led to a Girl Eat World episode on Dubai, and a No Reservations Episode (Season 6 Episode 16) on Dubai.
Then the spark fizzled out a bit, though I am still very intrigued by Dubai and the UAE, but life keeps moving and we were on to new things. We learned quite a bit about food, culture, raptors and Dubai on that trail though.
This is the essence of Spark Schooling.
Exposure to lots of things. A watchful eye for sparks. Support in following sparked trails.
What do these three elements look like in every day life? Let’s dig a little deeper!
Exposure to lots of things.
We have set up a Youtube channel for our homeschool. We follow a bunch of different channels that sound interesting, and add to our list regularly.
Each morning we start our day on Youtube. We make breakfast (for her, coffee for me) and go to our “recently updated” list, and scroll until something catches our interest. Yes, I am included in this process… and many times the things that interest me are not of interest to her, (and vice versa) and sometimes they are (and she’s super surprised, which is really fun!)
We also regularly hit the library. I’ve created an enormous list of picture books that are grade level. The books I picked hit on deeper subjects, things that could lead to spark trails. We get a bunch of books at a time, and we read them. Sometimes something sparks, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way it’s perfect.
The books we picked out this week are:
Six Million Paperclips ~ Holocaust (she’s expressed interest in this)
Harvesting Hope ~ Cesar Chavez
Only Passing Through ~ Sojourner Truth
One Boy from Kosovo ~ Life as a refugee
Sit in ~ The 60’s civil rights movement (we just saw Hidden Figures)
I also picked up a book called Bad Girls Throughout History; 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World. It’s short snippets about important women in history.
The The Hidden Art of Islam and a Walt Whitman DVD. (This came from a search for the Hidden Figures book lol) It’s really surprising the things that show up.
There is a lot of opportunity for exposure. It’s the exposure that creates the spark, so I am open to her being exposed to many many different things.
A Watchful Eye for Sparks
This is probably my most important job. Being mindful and aware when things spark. If you’ve ever tried to build a fire in the woods, you know sparks don’t last a long time… to turn them into a burning fire you have to be really aware of them.
Awareness of sparks comes from talking, having conversations, and really listening. It comes from being aware of how I think about my kiddo. It’s easy, when things get busy and crazy, to be dismissive, and just try to plow through what we’re doing. That is the best way to miss the sparks. I have found seeing my kiddo as an equal in conversations helps. Look her in the eyes. Listen to her, as I listen to another adult. It gives her confidence to share her thoughts, and feelings, her interests, her sparks.
Once you hear a spark you get to the hardest part of the process.
Fanning the fire without smothering it.
Support in Following the Sparked Trail
Before we get to what you should do, let me give you an (ahem) example of what not to do.
Oh?! You’re interested in China?! So Cool!!
Hey look! I ordered you a China Surprise Ride. I filled our Amazon/Netflix/Hulu queues with all these documentaries about China. Now we’ll start watching something about China every day. Oh, and look!! I found this awesome Unit Study on China! I printed out all these worksheets, now you can do one every day. Oh it’s going to be so fun to learn about China!
Oh you found a site that teaches Mandarin? Cool!! Oh look I found this app, you can do all these lessons, and take quizzes at the end!!
Let’s just say this is the BEST way to crush a spark and make your kid NEVER EVER want to learn anything about China, and as much as she loves Surprise Rides, never finish the China one. 🙁
So… how DO you support Sparks?
Hand your kiddo the remote and let them find something they might like on Amazon/Netflix/Hulu. Watch it with them.
Tell them things you found interesting while watching, and ask them what they thought. Ask open ended questions that you really want to hear the answers to, and listen to the answers.
Offer to add a subscription for a month to see if they like it. (We’ve got a history spark going so I offered to add History Vault to our Amazon, and she was very excited about it.) The key is to make it a short term commitment… let’s try it for a month and see how it goes… if we like it we’ll get it for another month. You don’t want to smother the spark… just fan the flames a little. For my kiddo… anything that makes it sound like she’s going to “have” to do something stomps out a spark. Things need to be her idea. She needs to have control of her learning, where it goes, and how.
Take them to the library and let them choose things of interest. (Don’t get annoyed when they choose NO books related to the Spark)
Take them to the bookstore and let them choose a book. (Don’t get annoyed when they choose NO books related to the Spark) 😉
Ask them what they might like to do to learn more about this Spark. Listen to their answer, and then brainstorm and problem solve how they could make those things happen. Try soooooo hard to not dampen their spirit with all the ways those things might not work or will be difficult.
Don’t make the spark be your only topic of conversation. Talk about other things, watch other things, read other things. If you fan too hard, you’ll blow the whole thing out. (It’s a crazy balancing act. It takes practice. Don’t beat yourself up too much when you accidentally stomp out a spark with your enthusiasm.) 😉
Find picture books related to the Spark and throw them in the pile when you go to the library next time.
** Here’s a quick aside about Picture books. It may seem crazy that I’ve got a 5th grader and we still use a TON of picture books. Here’s why… they are perfect for creating sparks. Once a spark ignites we find more in depth books and ways to learn about a subject. A picture book though, perfect for setting off sparks without smothering them.
When it comes to fanning sparks the most important thing you can do is two fold, first, let them take the lead. Seriously, be a follower/supporter, not the leader. Let the kiddo be in charge of where the spark trail leads. Second, understand, and completely 100% accept (this is CRAZY HARD) that not every spark will lead to an inferno, or even a tiny fire, and let it go when the spark fades.
It is HARD, believe me, I know. However, if you allow a spark to fade without resistance, a breeze may blow in a week or a year and reignite that spark. Another spark may be lit, and your kiddo will remember the initial spark, and recognize a connection between the current spark, and KABOOOM… an inferno happens. Not saying this is going to happen all the time, and we are still waiting, but I’ve seen it in my own life, I know it can happen.
Be happy littering the world with possible ignition sources. Know that as long as your kiddo continues to be exposed to all kinds of things… they will catch a spark, and someday… just the right spark will ignite, and a fire will be created, and one day, just the right fire will be stoked and you’ll find yourself in the middle of an inferno you couldn’t put out if you tried.
Isn’t that what learning is all about?! It sure is in my book.