Strewing: A Learning Hack

L recently had a birthday–he turned eight! One gift I got him was something I suspected he may be into: a LEGO Gadgets kit, which has parts and instructions for making all sorts of simple machines. Essentially, I got him a gift that was basically a form of what unschoolers call “strewing”. Today I was pleased to see the gift was a success–he spent the morning making a grabbing claw, a stirring machine, and a windmill. Then, he proudly showed me this:

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He had taken the windmill, and improved on the design so that the pieces would stay better in place, and so it could stand on its own. So cool! That’s the kind of tinkering a parent loves to see.

This moment got me to thinking: one argument for the value of the public school experience is that children have the opportunity to be introduced to and try things they may never have thought of themselves. This is absolutely true! The problem with the argument is that it’s not unique to public school. In your average homeschooling experience, this opportunity may be called “curriculum”. In your unschooling experience, it may be called “strewing”.

So if every situation affords the same opportunity, what’s the difference? Essentially, the homeschooled child is privy to a more customized, curated experience, specific to their personality, interests, and level of engagement. With the unschooled child, there is the added element of personal choice–instead of the teacher or parent requiring the child to engage with any one thing, the parent rather suggests or makes available certain opportunities (strewing), and the child is in charge of whether they engage with it.

You might be inclined to declare that such a child is bound to miss out on valuable opportunities because they perhaps just didn’t know they were interested in something at first. But who cares? How many skills and topics exist? Will any person come anywhere close to learning all of them? No way! So why make a child waste these precious learning and growth focused years trudging through things that don’t interest them? Engagement with something you don’t connect with is nearly meaningless anyway–your chances of remembering any of it are slim.

Strewing definitely isn’t unique to unschoolers–it’s just a word we made up for that thing all parents occasionally do. What is unique to unschoolers is that this is often our primary mode of introducing new things to our kids, because we want to ultimately leave the choice of what they learn, and how they shape their lives, up to them!

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