I enjoy seeing N.’s accretive learning process in action; I like seeing how new interests and ideas turn up across the whole range of his activities as he absorbs information. Sometime in the past couple months or so, Tim and N. got David Macaulay’s book Cathedral from the library. Although it seemed somewhat more detailed and technical than a four-year-old needed, N. loved it. Then on our recent trip to Richmond, N. happened to pay particular attention to the architectural features of the old buildings we saw. Then from another trip to the library came David Macaulay’s Mosque, which had lots of interesting drawings. Then came a story book called Iggy Peck, Architect (which, by the way, is a great unschooly book about a boy who loves architecture and a teacher who forbids all interests in buildings until Iggy Peck saves the day by building a bridge from shoe strings). Another day he asked Tim about the Coliseum in Rome, so they looked that up in the encyclopedia and later N. asked me, “Mom, do you know what the Romans used to do in the Coliseum?” “Umm, lion fights?” “No, Mom, they had chariot races and wrestling and things like that!”
One night after supper N. and I were reading Iggy Peck and talking about the buildings drawn on the book’s cover. N. thought that the picture of St. Paul’s cathedral looked more like a Capitol than a cathedral. So I got out the encyclopedia to show him more pictures of St. Paul’s; we ended up poring over the images of many other famous buildings for an hour or so, talking about different styles and features. The next day when I came home from work, there were block structures all over the living room. N. showed me the different kinds of buildings he had made, some of which were “ruins.” Another morning he showed me a drawing of a pyramid he’d made. I love to see him playing with the new information he’s gathered by trying it out in blocks and with crayons. This is the kind of learning a standardized test could never assess.
(don't know why this 2nd picture is showing up sideways...)
This interest in old buildings is not exactly a “unit studies” approach to home school; we didn’t plan it, it happened spontaneously, and we have no idea where it will take us or how long it will last. In fact the whole point of this accretive approach is that the “unit” doesn’t end, but that it gets added to and developed over a whole life time, whether N. continues to be explicitly interested in old buildings or not.
Not only is this interest in architecture unplanned, it also has no boundaries. We can’t foresee what other interests or “subjects” it might introduce. Thus far, I’ve seen N.’s developing sense of history (and of his own taste and preferences) come into play when he adamantly asserts that he doesn’t like modern buildings, he only likes ancient buildings. The complexity of belief or non-belief in different religions is elicited by the comparison of mosques and cathedrals (and especially when we talked about the complicated history of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (not Constantinople)). Macaulay’s books explain the basic engineering and physics of buildings in very engaging ways. This all sounds high-falutin because as an academic I enjoy seeing how many areas of learning emerge from N.’s open-ended pursuit of his interests. But for N., it’s just play!