Archive | February, 2013

What does “organic learning” look like?

5 Feb

“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I was driving my daughter to school one morning when we stopped at a traffic light right next to a truck with a bed full of small tanks. “What are those Mommy?” asked my 6-year-old. “I think those tanks contain some sort of gas,” I replied.

Pause. “What’s a gas?”

“Well, a gas is kind of like air. It’s not a liquid like water or juice and it’s not a solid like ice or this steering wheel.”

“What’s it used for?”

“Well, for lots of things. That lady at Party City filled our balloons with helium gas to make them float up and our bodies use oxygen from the air we breathe.”

“Ooh. I know where oxygen comes from!”



“That’s right.”

Pause. “Mom, how do people breathe oxygen in the desert?”

“Well, you don’t have to be right next to a tree to get oxygen. Trees let out oxygen all over the earth and then it mixes with the other gases in the air and travels all around the planet.”

“Mom, what’s the rainforest?”

I thought to myself, “Whoa! That’s a pretty cool jump.” We continued to talk about the Amazon, South America, Brazil (where a friend recently traveled), and how people might be able to live in the jungle without modern comforts. Finally, her interest waned and she turned her attention to the Nintendo DS in her hand.

In this short conversation, my daughter and I touched on chemistry, biology, weather, geography, and anthropology all because we pulled up next to a truck full of tanks. She’s got a lot more information in her head than I imagined. It reminded me that she is learning all the time and making connections for herself.

When we arrived at school, I knew that she would probably share her new knowledge with someone else who might connect it with something else that they had learned. This is how organic learning happens.

My daughter attends a Sudbury school where kids are free to interact with each other and follow their own interests all day long. Because she isn’t forced to learn things that she may not be interested in, she has the time to do her own investigating. When I hear her friends at school gently tease that she asks too many questions, I know that this is the right place for her to get what she needs to build her own knowledge of the world.