Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Favorite Unschooling Tip - Making the World Your Classroom

Theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, is often quoted as saying,

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

Of course, the truth of the statement is a little more subtle than the quote implies, and in the 1970's interview below, he did admit that knowing the name of things can be handy if you actually want to talk to people.

I've said it before, I'm sure, and I'm sure, given the opportunity, I'll say it again - the best education you can give your children is to teach them to identify everything they see. 

Work alone, in front of your children, reading details of what you find, to them. 

Work together with your children, teaching them how to look-up and find specific details.

Let your children flounder in the sea of information, picking out the specific details they need to find their way.

Knowing the name of something is not the same as knowing about it.  But, to find the name of something - the correct name - you've got to know, observe, compare, sort through details, persevere, and stretch your bank of knowledge in many different subject areas at once.

Want to make the world your classroom?  Then, take a look around, and try to identify what you see in front of you.  It's not easy, and you won't always get it right - but you'll learn things you never expected to know (and you might even be able to talk to people about them).


  1. Excellent advice!
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. I have so much to say on this topic and you have really hit the nail on the head. In the Smokies, they pioneered this effort to do and "All-Taxa Biological Inventory" meaning they have been working over many years to find every living thing in the national park from microbes to macrofauna. Kids have been involved in surveys and, while they don't teach the kids latin names, naming is in fact a very important part of the process. In some cases, they let the kids come up with new common name for the species. The kids might find a spotted spider and they make up a apt common name that will allow them to tally it if they find that same kind of spider again. It's genius! The kids use their observations to name the species and use the name for additional data collection. We just had our homeschool science fair and my 1st grader did a project where he's been watching all the different flowers bloom in our yard through different months. It's a classic phenology study and, of course, he's had to know names, but sometimes he makes up much better names! Like he calls Celosia "Gnomey Flowers" because they look like gnome hats. On a related note, we were just reading a Magic Tree House book where Jack and Annie go to the Amazon and at first Jack thinks he might find an unknown species and get to name it, but at the end he says, "Who cares if the bugs don't have names? They know who they are." So, with all these little anecdotes, I'm agreeing with you, that naming and observation and learning have many subtleties that are best experienced when you throw your or your child's mind right into the wild rumpus! Thank you for all your posts. I always feel lucky that I'm a subscriber!

  3. A skill which I'm absolutely horrible at. Horrible, but I always find inspiration to get better at it when I visit your blog.

  4. I am also horrible at identifying things. Moreover, if I even take time to learn the name, I just forget it again in a couple of months. I am amazed at your ability to track and identify things around you...