Learning More Deeply by Learning Less

Running a quick errand, fiddling with the radio, the children chattering in the back and I caught a glimpse of motion ahead and to the right. Not perceiving exactly why, I stopped the car and waited. Slowly, cautiously, a deer emerged from the underbrush and just stood at the side of the road, seemingly as captivated by me as I was by her. The children unbuckled and leaned over the seat to get a better look and still she just stood, watching us watch her. Finally, she decided to cross and the reason behind her hesitation became clear. A young fawn, smaller than our lab mix, hobbled across the road and hid itself in the dense vegetation on the other side.

It was a special moment for all of us and the children were strangely quiet as they buckled themselves back in, strained to look out the window at the fawn in its hiding place as we drove by and the rest of the way into town.

  • They were alone in their thoughts and their wonder and I left them to it.
  • I didn’t tell them everything I knew about white-tailed deer.
  • I didn’t stop by the library to check out every book they had on white-tailed deer.
  • I didn’t come home and Google the information.
  • I didn’t make up a scavenger hunt sheet for them to research facts for themselves.
  • I didn’t pull out file folders to start an impromptu lap book on the subject.
  • I totally let that teachable moment slip right by. Or maybe not.

I have a tendency to over-educationalize everything, to turn everything into a formal lesson. For some time, I have been wrestling with the value of unanswered questions, simple wonder and how to build a more reflective homeschool. Sometimes, I’ve decided, it is better to experience, to ponder and to be filled with wonder rather than to have immediate access to a deluge of information.

It’s like reading poetry. We study poetry by dissecting it, analyzing it and putting it back together. We develop a love for poetry, however, by being touched by it. I want my children to learn as much as they can about the natural world around us, but I also want them to simply be touched by it. To pause to watch the flight of a barn swallow, listen for the yips of the coyotes and watch the edge of the trees for deer.

I want them to develop a lifelong love for the abundant life around them and that happens perhaps best in the still, quiet moments where I do little more than direct their attention to something they otherwise might not have noticed. Their curiosity can take over from there.

Dana Hanley is homeschooling her five children while moving to the country. You can follow her plans and adventures while seeking to live life more abundantly at Roscommon Acres.


  1. says

    I have a tendency to pull my boys out of “self learning” modes to sit them down to “teach them something”. Such a mistake on my part! Recently, my youngest has become enthralled with making a paper roller coast. He has spent countless hours preparing, planning, testing and reinforcing what he is learning. It is truly amazing to watch a young mind ignited by curiosity!

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