Homeschooling allows for natural curiosity and wonder to bring about learning in unexpected and joyful ways. One simple practice parents can employ to encourage the discovery of new talents and ideas is strewing.
The term strewing, as it relates to homeschooling, was first coined by unschooling expert Sandra Dodd. It refers to the practice of setting out objects for children to discover and interact with of their own volition.
How to Strew
This very simple idea has been a concept beloved not only by unschoolers but also homeschoolers of all sorts who appreciate the beauty of child-led learning.
To strew, choose an object or group of objects and set them out in a place your children are sure to discover them, arranging them in a way you believe they’ll find inviting.
What to Strew
There is no limit to what you can strew. Books, toys, art supplies, the makings of a science experiment, the ingredients for a cake, objects found in nature, a sewing needle and thread, recycled materials, hand tools—literally anything that might spark your child’s curiosity is a good object to strew.
You can make the practice of strewing something elaborate or very simple. A simple idea would be a new book set out next to your child’s breakfast plate in the morning.
Here are some more elaborate ideas:
Clear your dining room table. Open a brand new puzzle, displaying the finished picture prominently. Spread out the pieces of the puzzle, faces up. Then start the puzzle, perhaps with a corner, putting together just a few pieces to make continuing the project inviting.
Lay out some newspapers and then add a clay pot, a package of seeds, a gardening trowel, and a watering can.
Set up a game with all the pieces ready to play.
Lay out arts and craft supplies featuring either a wide variety of options to work with, including scissors, glue, cardboard boxes, pom poms, etc. or focusing on a particular medium, like watercolors, for instance.
Set up a microscope with slides ready to examine.
Ready a documentary or movie with a bowl of popcorn and cozy blankets on the couch.
Create a nature scavenger hunt with the first note on the mirror for the kids to discover as they brush their teeth.
Lay out a map and some travel brochures featuring a destination you plan to go to, along with crayons or pencils and paper.
Scatter a supply of Legos and accompany them with some Lego ideas, books, or printed out instructions for fun projects to build.
Lay out fun pens, some stamps, blank cards, and envelopes.
What Not to Do
The key to strewing is to let go of your expectations and to refrain from asking your child about it or directing your child how to interact with the objects you’ve strewn.
Sometimes your children will not be interested at all in what you’ve taken the time to strew. You’ll be tempted to mention it—“Hey kids, did you see what’s waiting for you on the kitchen island?”
The thing is at that point they’ll feel that you’re imposing something on them and gearing up for a lesson of some sort. The magic of self-motivation is nowhere to be found.
If your child isn’t interested, just put it away for another time and move on.
When your children do discover and begin to interact with what you’ve strewn, do your best to stay out of the way. You may find they take the ingredients you’ve laid out for a cake and make their own concoction, ignoring the recipe altogether. Or they may organize the Legos into color groups rather than make a project from the book you offered. They may utilize the items you’ve strewn in all sorts of unexpected ways, and that’s completely OK.
Strewing is an act of offering and letting go—allowing your child’s true nature and natural sense of wonder to take hold and explore in the way that they’re driven to in that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a miss, but sometimes it’ll be a hit, and those hits will occasionally lead down the sorts of rabbit holes of exploration that may stay with them for a lifetime.
Strewing is easy to do, it is fun, it adds delight to homeschooling, and it nurtures your child’s innate sense of curiosity and wonder.