The morning began like it usually does. The typical chaos of six children sorting out their breakfasts and eating while chatting about how they wanted to spend their day. It’s been moderately cold lately, but today was going to be warm and so they were talking about visiting a playground. I’ve been just as unhappy cooped up inside, so I was more than willing to escort them, just as soon as we decided which one to visit.
We’re a family of playground connoisseurs. Everyone has their favorite, and so making such an important decision takes some serious deliberation and compromise.
“I think we should go to the pirate ship playground,” G suggested as his opening bid.
H quickly countered, “We should go to the lake playground. We haven’t been there in a while.” She was strongly supporting her argument even as she made it, and G knew he was losing, despite his initiative.
“But the pirate ship playground is cooler! It has a pirate ship!” G said, looking around hopefully. This line of reasoning has worked before, because it really is a cool playground, but H wasn’t going to give up.
“The lake playground is cool too. It has bigger slides and lots of sand. And it has monkey bars and I want to practice on them,” she said. Her argument carried the day. A playground with lots of sand for digging is always worth the visit, and H really does enjoy monkey bars. We all know that, so there were no more arguments, and minutes later we were in the car and on our way.
I wasn’t going to argue with the decision either, because the lake playground has some great views of the mountains, and is almost always a great place to do some photography while the kids play. Today was no exception, and once I got them settled into their play, digging pits in the sand and playing on the equipment, I pulled out my camera and began exploring the Fall colors a little bit.
Photography is a passion of mine, and although my one attempt to start up a photography business was a mixed bag and didn’t last long, I’m still constantly trying to improve my skills. The lighting wasn’t particularly great this morning, but there were still some interesting subjects. The kids were having fun and I was enjoying the chance to use my camera, and then I turned just in time to see something awesome.
The bald eagle flew past just after scooping up a large fish from the lake. I wasn’t really prepared to catch such a fast moving target, but I managed to snag a single frame of the bird in flight before it was past me and landing not very far away.
It was an opportunity too good to pass up so I quickly gathered the kids together, told them what I saw, and we immediately abandoned the playground to walk down the path for a closer look at the bird. It was well worth it. After spending a while cautiously surveying it’s surroundings, the eagle eventually began to eat, tearing into the fish and gulping pieces down. The children were enthralled, even though we couldn’t get close enough for them to get a particularly detailed view. Eventually the novelty wore off a bit and we headed back to the playground, but the incident was not forgotten and will invariably be a source of inspiration in the coming days.
M, in particular, has mentioned it several times since it happened. Bald eagles are his favorite animal, and no trip to the zoo is satisfactory for him unless we stop to see their eagles. Seeing our wild neighborhood eagles has always been exciting for him, but to see one eating a fish that it just caught was beyond his wildest dreams. This sort of excitement invariably leads to learning. It may be subtle, under the surface, as they mull over new ideas and experiences in the privacy of their own minds. Or it may be very visible, involving questions and books and documentaries and art, and whatever else it takes to explore the experience.
This is what unschooling is like, in real life. We do ordinary things, and sometimes we have extraordinary experiences. Naturally, we when this sort of unexpected thing will happen, and we certainly can’t plan it, but we’re always watching and waiting for moments of inspiration, no matter how mundane or exciting they may be. Watching a predatory bird eat a fish may not seem like an enormous experience, but to vibrant young minds who are constantly observing the world around them and learning from everything they encounter, it really is enormous. It’s precisely this sort of unplanned learning that we live for. This is why we unschool.
We do ordinary things, and sometimes we have extraordinary experiences.