This past summer, I was looking for ways to keep the kids involved in something productive but not too formal (that is, no 24/7 Minecraft allowed… but nothing that would require too much work on my part, either).
Among other things, my plan included intentionally setting out interesting activities for my kids to find and explore if they wanted to (aka “strewing”). If you haven’t yet, check out the original post – Our Homeschool Summer Break – Year 5 – for a little more context and my original summer plan. In that post, I promised you an update on how it went and here it is!
Long story short…. strewing was awesome… when I remembered to do it.
Side Note: In my defense, we had another huge home renovation project going on. And even though we’ve already seen our fair share of house projects (you can check out more about those here and here) I still totally underestimated the life-interrupting effect that our current DIY window & siding project would have on everything.
Even though I didn’t even use half of my original list of strewing ideas, the ones we did do were so fun it made up for it (I hope)!
Our Homeschool Strewing Experiences
Here are a few of our favorites strews (is that a word?) from this past summer:
Cardboard Boxes & Tubes
I’ll start with the easy one first. My kids love inventing and making contraptions, so it was a pretty safe bet that I could leave out almost any box or recyclable container and they’d run with it.
Having a renovation project going on always ensures a steady supply of unique packaging materials and this one was no exception. Their favorites were the giant 12’ long, 4” diameter super-sturdy cardboard tubes that originally held the house wrap. For my marble-run-loving kids those tubes were a dream come true.
Life of Fred Books
I mentioned in the original post that I accidentally started strewing when the kids found the Top Secret kids’ spy book before I had a chance to “officially” strew it. Well, that wasn’t the only time they got ahead of me.
Earlier this summer, I got an awesome deal on more Life of Fred books and was planning on using them as supplements for math this year and in the future. Before I had a chance to put them away, my 2nd and 5th grade boys found them and couldn’t put them down. To date they’ve read and re-read the entire series up through Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics at least a half-dozen times!
Homemade Paper-Making Supplies
About a year ago I asked my kids “do you want to make homemade paper?” Their response was underwhelming. One was only mildly interested and another said he didn’t want to get his hands dirty.
But when I left the paper-making supplies out for them to discover on their own this summer, it was a whole different story.
Their curiosity drove the whole thing. They experimented with different materials, colors and methods. It was a bigger mess than I remembered but it was worth it. All three of my kids loved it and there were parts of the project they could all do, no matter what their age.
Who would’ve guessed a container of stretchy potholder loops would end up turning into a new hobby for my 2nd grade son. After the initial excitement of throwing them all around the room like confetti died down, the kids decided to try and make something with them. After finding our little square plastic potholder weaving loom was broken they tried finding other ways of weaving them into something.
My seven year old started asking about weaving tools and researching what other options are out there. I steered him in the direction of kids’ looms and we ended up finding the Melissa & Doug Weaving Loom. We don’t make a habit of getting them every cool-looking thing that catches their eye, but he was sooo into it I thought it might be a good investment (plus… I wanted to try it, too).
Since then he’s woven a draw-string pouch, coaster, and a pillow for his favorite stuffed animal – and he doesn’t show signs of stopping.
My parents have encouraged him by giving us atypical materials (like foam strips and plastic ribbons) for him to weave. After he went to bed one night, I even took a turn using the loom and made a little woven straw mat out of dried lily stems from our garden.
I’m a planner at heart but it’s amazing to see what happens when we go with our spontaneous interests and let creativity run free!
One morning I set out a bowl of whole walnuts (still in the shell) and waited to see what they’d do (my kids that is, not the walnuts).
They banged them on the counter, punched them with fists, cracked them with kid hammers, painted the shells to make little walnut guys, sorted shells and nuts and, of course, ate them.
It was great for all ages since each kid played and explored according to their own interest and ability level. It couldn’t have been easier on my part and the kids had a blast!
Interestingly, some of the store-bought items I strewed (like puzzles and games I’d gotten at garage sales) were the least effective ones. I guess my kids have never outgrown the toddler desire to toss the fancy gift and play with the tissue paper it was wrapped in. Open-ended possibilities are often more inviting than a prescribed experience.
And, ultimately, I think that’s why strewing works. It’s all about giving the ownership of the learning experience back to the kids. It succeeds because the their own curiosity drives their learning and they can take the activity in any direction that is meaningful to them.
No pressure. No expectations. Just creative freedom.
Although we’re not unschoolers by any stretch of the imagination, I do try and give my kids time in afternoons, weekends and summer breaks to run with their project ideas and child-led learning topics. After our experiences this summer, I definitely plan on using strewing as another “free time” learning method in the future.
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