This week I had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca and Dave Zak. They are artists and entrepreneurs, and I got to see their studio, geek out about self-directed education.
I want to share with you this video featuring Rebecca Zak. I especially like the creative process visual that I included at the top of this page. As Rebecca explains, the creative process isn’t a timeline or necessarily ordered in a direction. The starting point is arbitrary and people move to or remain engaged in any portion of the process for as long as they wish. How a person engages in the creative process is probably related to each idea or project as it is personal preferences and strengths. Learning at the Barn School is based upon this fluid concept of creativity. Free play or freedom to choose your activities can be an organic gathering of information, an incubation period, part of the critique, or production. Sometimes it might make sense to have learners plan their ideas and project management techniques can to help them do that but learners can always break from the process when they need to. Forcing a project or idea along a timeline to completion is the fastest way to remove creativity, innovation, and learning for those engaged.
Right now, I am also re-reading The Conscious Parent; Transforming Ourselves, Empowering our Children by Shefali Tsabary. There are lots of great tidbits in there but reading a book a second time is always eye-opening to me. The second time through I am always surprised at my own growth since the first read-through and there are aspects of the book that I relate to and incorporate into my thinking in novel ways. (If you want to read more about the power of re-reading a book, check out this article written for parents by Virginia Zimmerman.) When I first read the book, I was not at the application part of We Learn Naturally philosophy. Upon starting Learning in the Woods and applying self-directed education on a larger scale, I quickly realized the importance of holding a trusting mindset about the world. Reading Dr. Shefali now, the section on trusting the wisdom of life has new meaning for me.
She mentions that “because so few of us trust the wisdom of life, people tend to project their lack of trust onto their children.” Our society has an idea, based in fear and fragile egos, that trust, especially for children, must be earned. Conversely, a trust in life and a broad sense of trust towards our children creates an environment that allows for growth, learning, mistakes, and ultimately creativity. If we trust our children to know themselves (or are capable of discovering themselves) we can let go of our worries and allow them to spend their time as they wish and learn in their own directions. Their minds can pursue thoughts and activities that help them grow in ways that we could never fathom. If we want creativity, first we must trust.
I’d like to share with you an observation about my son. He’s 6 and he has never been in a formal learning environment, including daycare. As his mom, I have a lot of trust about his place in the world, his understanding of what his needs are, his ability to communicate them, and find ways to have those needs met. I trust that he will learn because that is what humans do. He is introverted, so for the most part, I am not privy to what is going on in his brain. But every once in a while he asks some questions or shares his thoughts and I get a quick glimpse inside. In those moments, I realize how limitless his capacity for learning and creating really is. Here is an example of my son playing with the creative process of information gathering, incubation, and critique over the course of a day.
Yesterday, we visited a theme park that we have a season’s pass to. It was a day of busy playing in a familiar setting. We had lunch where many other young families were congregating and the noise was like sensory overload for me, so I didn’t try to initiate conversation at all. After about 30 minutes of eating in this setting he said, “I’ve got a really tough question for you. Is gravity constantly moving or does it not move.” We talked about gravity for a bit, building on previous conversations we’ve had about forces and gravity and the earth and the moon.
We didn’t come to an answer to his question, but we talked enough so that there was more to consider. Then he ate his pizza without saying a word and we continued on with our day. As we were leaving the theme park, I was collapsing the stroller his sister was using and he was lying on the ground under a tree and asked “how do you know you are at the end of the earth?” We talked about how we know the earth is round and that like all spheres, there’s really no start or stop to it, or if there is one, it’s probably arbitrary. This is another favorite thought for him, the concept of infinity, no start or stop. Then he said “Lying here, I can’t feel that I’m moving. I can’t feel gravity.” We talked about how he can feel the earth underneath his back and how that is a force pushing against the pull of gravity. We talked about how the earth is moving and we know this because of day and night and the seasons. Then he asked “If our sun is a star and every star we see at night is a sun with gravity, are all the stars everywhere also moving and working with forces that we can’t feel even more than we can’t feel gravity on earth?”
He returns to these thoughts of forces and gravity and infinity and the universe often. I think all kids are capable of these sorts of profoundly interesting thoughts. The difference is, my son has been given trust in the form of time and freedom to engage his mind in the creative process on his own terms. He may incubate and gather information about forces and gravity and the universe like this for years and never move onto the production side. Or maybe his ideas *are* the product? Who knows? It’s really up to him how his learning evolves.
I should mention that my son is not interested in reading or writing at this point in time and occasionally that plays on my ego as I watch friends and family with similarly-aged kids “learn” those skills. When that insecurity creeps in, I ask myself, “Am I doing this right?” but when he shares these interesting questions, suddenly I am reminded of the ideas that are bursting in his head like fireworks. His mind is his own and if I want to facilitate his learning, creativity, and innovation, I need to trust *HIS* process and keep my ego in check. Our relationship and his learning depend on it. We live in a culture of mistrust, fear, ego, and comparison. It is a difficult paradigm to shift in our heads, let alone on a societal level, but I’m up for the challenge. Let’s see what we can do, shall we?