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Home: A Learning Laboratory

learning laboratory at mama smiles

I was raised by an amazing mother. Possibly my favorite of her carefully-thought-out parenting theories is the concept of home as a Learning Laboratory, designed to inspire and facilitate learning. Our home was full of music, books, toys, math manipulatives, and art supplies – accessible for us to use in whatever ways we deemed best. She never tried to “trick” us into learning; opportunities were offered, and there was plenty of room for us to explore in ways that she didn’t personally find interesting.

I think it’s an idea that needs to be shared, so I’m starting a new weekly post on this blog. Every Monday I’ll share one way in which intrinsically motivated, self-directed learning and exploration is happening in our home. I’m hoping that you will also link up with activities going on in your homes, so that I can feature your ideas as well. I’m a big believer in lifelong learning, so posts do not have to be focused on childhood learning. Any family-appropriate content is very welcome! You can link to a new post or an old one, but please do link back here, either with a text link or using the button (the code is in my left sidebar).

Yesterday I watched my kids learn, explore, and teach through our summer gardening project. Lily found some tomatoes on our tomato plant:

Lily points out a tomato on our tomato plant

She wanted to pick them, but couldn’t reach them. Emma explained to Lily that those tomatoes weren’t ripe yet anyway. So, instead of picking the unripe tomatoes, Emma and Lily collaborated on a fairy home in one pot:

Emma and Lily build a fairy house
While Johnny built a second home nearby:

Johnny's fairy home
A simple afternoon outdoors, but so much to learn! All three children explored textures and the laws of physics. They learned that heavy rocks push down plush piles of grass, and sticks only stand up straight if they are well set in soil. Lily learned about where tomatoes come from, and Emma taught her a little bit about how tomatoes grow and ripen – reinforcing her own knowledge in the process. And I want to learn what makes the leaves at the bottom of the plant in Emma and Lily’s pot turn yellow and wither up – does anyone know?

What hands-on learning do you love?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

20 thoughts on “Home: A Learning Laboratory”

  1. Wonderful. I always struggle thinking that my home is not ‘rich’ enough. That’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about our play-based co-op preschool that Rebecca is in now, most of the time they spend exploring the very rich environment, and choosing what to explore themselves. The sensory tub rotates weekly without my having to change it, there are many more interesting props in the dramatic play area for roll playing (which also rotates monthly I think) than would ever fit in my house… I just wish we could keep with the open play-based self motivated school through kindergarden…
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Acorn Tea Set =-.

  2. Your mum is the kind of woman I would love to sit down with and have a chat about her thinking.

    I will have to find some examples on my blog for this so that I can link up.

  3. How great that you had a mother that raised you with that value! There is so much to learn and I love being able to use the everyday as a teaching tool!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Weekending =-.

  4. Your mom must be amazing – having 10 children and allowing everyone their own way to learn. I will link one of my old posts on child-led learning for now even though it’s not exactly the same approach that you do.
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..Our Favorite Math Books =-.

    1. @Natalie – thanks for linking up! I remember thinking that post was really neat originally, and now I have extra motivation to try it out with my own kids!

  5. Love the idea of highlighting intrinsically motivated self-directed learning!

    Is this the same thing as what I think of as “open play” where Nikki discovers how many Duplo people she can fit on a Duplo car or Michael puts the train tracks together in a way the manufacturers had not envisioned or Vi explores the different sounds created by bashing cymbals together vs hitting the floor with them?

    I’m afraid our hands-on learning isn’t very polished. But I’m looking forward to seeing all the wonderful things you guys get up to!
    .-= Elisa | blissfulE´s last blog ..day trip to York =-.

  6. @lynn – It can be something you do with your child, provided they are the ones doing most of the experimentation and you aren’t directing them much.

    It’s pretty wide-open, really. I’m looking to celebrate any kind of learning people do because they WANT to know or understand more about something…

    I hope you do link up =)

  7. What a fun idea. I will try to link up. It sounds at least from your post that multiple kids makes this idea a little easier (or at least having a child that enjoys independent play). But we do plenty of unstructured learning around here too so hopefully we can join in the fun. It sounds like your mother was a wonderful teacher!
    .-= lynn´s last blog ..Science Sunday Review- Fur and Feathers =-.

  8. This is a great idea! I’m that Type A mom that has to have things scheduled (something which I’m trying to break free from!) I’m hoping that with your blog and others that post, it’ll encourage me to let loose a little and see what exciting things my kids discover on their own!

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Jennifer @ The Toy Box Years´s last blog ..Tot School 25 Months =-.

    1. @Jennifer – I always thought I would be a Type A mom, and then somehow my kids left me feeling too mellow to care about schedules. I do admire the many things Type A moms accomplish!

      @Little Wonders’ Days – Isn’t it amazing how kids always know how to embrace and make the most of nature?

  9. @Elisa – Definitely! I think it’s important to recognize the many ways people learn. So any “open play” would qualify, but so would one of your kids consciously researching and exploring a concept with or without your help, provided they are the ones driving the learning experience. I think that, most of the time, the kind of learning I’m talking about is not going to be very polished – because it’s exploration-based and hands-on, and those are two learning features that tend to get messy or lead to unexpected destinations =)

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