by Leslie Fobbs
What is strewing? If you’re not into unschooling you’ve probably never heard of it. The dictionary generally defines strewing as this: To spread around; Scatter. That kinda sounds like you're spreading seeds to grow a garden. But think about it... you are! We sow seeds of learning everyday for our children to grow.
I really like how other moms describe it. Sue Elvis says strewing is, “…enriching our children’s environment with interesting resources or experiences. We scatter or strew things in front of our children, hoping they might capture their interest, inspiring them to ask questions, be creative, feel excited. We want them to enjoy the learning that results from something we have placed in their pathway.”
Strewing is the life-blood of unschooling. It goes right along with the idea of personal choice for children. Letting them choose what they want to invest their time in. As human beings, we are all influenced by the things put in our paths.
For children, strewing is a very casual, no-strings-attached approach meant to enhance their learning experience. It’s great for engaging kids on those days when there are no field trips and they don’t know what to do next.
As much as it works for unschooling families, strewing can be for anyone, anywhere, anytime of day. It’s good for all methods of homeschooling, and even for traditional schooling. So, here are eleven things I’ve learned about strewing that will help spark learning when boredom persists:
1. You don't need to spend a lot
Being new to unschooling, I thought I needed to buy up a bunch of learning materials, but it’s not necessary. The environment surrounding us is full of things to learn from, including what we already own. Your library card is the best outside resource. Many of them have so much more than books nowadays too. You can also swap things with other families or join a curriculum swap online. I still may go a little crazy on Amazon for fun though.
2. Expand beyond books
There are so many different ways to strew. I get excited just thinking about the possibilities (I’m having a geeky mom moment over here)! The first time I tried it, I placed a few books in one of my son's favorite reading spots. I got super excited when he picked one up and enjoyed reading it.
You can also use DVDs, music CDs, materials for crafts and experiments, science kits, art, toys, and items found in nature. Whatever you want. Even better, you can strew digital resources. Bookmark websites they might like. Download ebooks to their e-readers. Suggest YouTube channels or podcasts. It doesn’t stop at the physical.
3. Experiences count too
Another part of strewing that isn’t physical involves getting them outside the house. Taking them places to see things they might not have otherwise encountered. I’m learning to sign us up for field trips and activities going on around the city without checking in with my son first. Of course, I’m being strategic in my picks, but I'm ok taking a chance that he may hate it or love it. If he loves it, the potential spin-offs for learning are worth the risk.
4. No strings attached
I mentioned this above, but it has to be this way in order for strewing to work. Our only goal should be to show them what’s available. Remind them of the cool things around the house they may have forgotten about. Some days the things you put in their path will get used and other days, they won’t. You have to be ok with a 'no' or else you will drive yourself crazy trying to control what they learn from. Trust me, I know!
5. Don't take it too far
I’m so guilty of this. My son shows the tiniest bit of interest in a subject and I’m off to create a whole lesson plan around it. But, just because they pick up something you’ve strewn doesn’t mean you need to take off in that direction at full speed. I like what one mom said from a blog I read long ago. She said if her kid bugged her enough about something, then she would follow up and invest in their interest. Let the child decide and follow their lead. They may create a unit study for themselves.
6. Don't force it
If you homeschool in more traditional ways, there may be things you insist your kids learn. When it comes to strewing though, it shouldn’t be mandatory. If you see your child not taking the bait, don’t try to make them. Strewing teaches children that it's ok to refuse an offer from anyone. If you force it, then you take that away. I’ve tried making my son read books I thought he should because I liked them as a child. That didn’t go so well. The child may give in, but you risk compromising their love of learning. It turns something that's supposed to be fun into a negative experience.
7. Be the example
Kids will do what you do, that’s a given. If you show your own interest in learning things, they will pick up on that curiosity. They may even become interested in what you’re doing. Last year, in my effort to get away from social media, I started working on a large puzzle. Both my husband and son teased me about it, but I kept at it. After awhile, they started helping me and it became a friendly competition to find pieces. I'm quite sure my son would have left the puzzle on the table if I had tried to get him to do it on his own.
8. Inviting them is ok
Sometimes kids don’t pay attention to the resources we’ve laid out. There’s no need to freak out though. One thing I was also happy to learn from Sue is that it’s perfectly ok to invite them to enjoy something. That’s not forcing, that’s like… suggesting… or making an offer. They can still choose to say no. Example: “I know you’re into basketball and I found some cool books that I left for you on the table. Would you like to check them out?”
9. When rejected, do you!
It’s bound to happen as already discussed. Your strewing efforts will be rejected a good percentage of the time. I don’t know about you, but my feelings kinda get hurt when I hear no thank you, or the game I placed gets ignored. I’ve learned that I must get out of my feelings because it's not personal.
So what do you do when rejection happens? Most likely you chose the item because you were interested in it too, so use it for yourself! I tried to teach my son Solitaire to give him something to do on his own. He didn’t like it, but guess who did. Me! I still play a couple games of Freecell Solitaire throughout the day with a real deck of cards. It’s a great stress reliever by the way.
10. Don't worry, learning is happening
This is so important and yet hard advice to follow. I think of how disappointed I feel lately that Dee isn’t into reading as much as he was several months ago. This makes me resent that video games came along and changed that.
As homeschooling parents, we shouldn’t worry so much even when we believe they aren’t doing anything worthwhile. It’s quite impossible that they are not learning something, unless they’re stuck in a box. As long as they are breathing, moving around, and interacting with the world, they are learning always. And if we really want to know if our children are learning, we only have to observe and talk to them. You’d be amazed what you learn from them.
11. Get involved, they will come
Lastly, I’ve learned that you have to involve yourself. You don’t have to do every activity that you set out for them. Sometimes they need to explore on their own to let their creativity run wild. (And you need the quiet time!) However, if you invite them to use the strewn resources with you, they are more likely to say yes.
Growing up I really enjoyed the Cosby show (so many rich life lessons) and I wanted to share that with Dee. So I invited him to watch the series with me that I had bought on DVD. He loved it and we made a ritual of watching an episode every night. Kids crave connection and doing these activities with you has so much more meaning for them.
Strewing is such a wonderful tool for any family. You never know how many rabbit holes of learning one smartly-placed item will lead to. I had never heard of this concept until I started looking into unschooling last year. After reading so many stories though, I realized, I’ve been strewing all along! (hence some of the personal examples I cited). We all do it without realizing it. Now, we just need to do more of it.
Do you incorporate strewing into your homeschooling? I’d love to hear your ideas of what and how you strew.