Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Exploring the Slow Lane
by Deb Baker

On a recent trip to Orlando, my children and I took in all the sights… at just one attraction. While planning to accompany my husband on a business trip, both kids announced they wanted to go to Sea World. I’m not sure where they got this idea, but that’s a topic for another article.

After I breathed a secret sigh of relief that no one had even mentioned the “D” word (Disney), I began to research ticket prices, exhibits, shows, and everything else I could learn about Sea World from their Web site. I discovered that though it’s not cheap to visit, it’s only a little more expensive to get an annual admission pass, and there appeared to be a great deal to see. After a little number crunching and thinking out loud, we decided to get the passes so that we could explore Sea World at a comfortable pace. In other words, at a pace set by two nature loving unschoolers who wanted to spend time getting to know the sea creatures.

In the short time between this initial planning and our trip, several people tried to tell me we were approaching our visit the wrong way. They counseled me on two things dear to my heart: “seeing it all” and “getting your money’s worth.” I heard it all: “Orlando has so many other places to see!” “Surely they’d enjoy Disney.” “The kids will be bored, going to the same park all week.” “There really isn’t that much to see at Sea World.” Only my mother, who knows the children’s interests well, and another homeschooling mom who likes to travel with her family, supported my plan.

I stuck to it, however, and as it turned out, both kids were delighted to go to Sea World every day, we had plenty of time for other treats such as miniature golfing and swimming at the hotel, and we had a wonderful time. Both of them were able to spend time watching favorite creatures as I watched other parents consulting both their watches and the daily park schedule and barking, “Let’s go, we have to get to the dolphin show right now, because then it’s time to get to Shamu before lunch so we can see the sea lions later!”

As I listened to people cajoling and rushing their way through Sea World, I reflected on my own tendency to maximize such an experience. I’m definitely the “type A” sort who wants to see everything when we go somewhere (and, to my family’s dismay, read every sign at the museum or zoo – preferably, aloud), and I might have been hurrying the kids along if we’d only had a day or two. But my children enjoy exploring in the slow lane, even though at least one of them seems to get the same satisfaction I do from checking off everything on the park map and knowing for sure that we haven’t missed something. Come to think of it, I enjoy learning at my own pace as well, and my happiest memories of childhood family outings were those that allowed me to explore our destination at my leisure.

A Learning Rhythm

As I observe my kids and other life learners, I realize that people with the internal motivation to learn and explore tend not to rush along, giving a subject a cursory treatment just to get it done. My kids naturally find a learning rhythm, and I tend to work into a slower, more comfortable pace after initially rushing. Perhaps their instinct for exploring in the slow lane comes from never having to study just enough to pass the exam, complete the worksheet, or finish the essay that someone else has assigned. My mother notices this tendency to linger and says they have incredible attention spans. Maybe she’s happened upon a potential treatment for ADD – long stretches of time, free to explore?

This sort of freedom can lead to wonderful surprises. On our last afternoon at Sea World, my son suggested returning to an underwater viewing area next to Shamu stadium. We’d stopped there several other times, but had never seen orcas in that pool. This time, however, there were not just any orcas, but a group that included a mother and her three-week-old calf.

The kids had heard about the calf each time we’d seen the Shamu show (three times that week, and in case you are wondering, each show is a little bit different, so we had fun comparing and noting the variations we enjoyed most). Now they had time – as much as they wanted – to stand with noses pressed to the glass, watching the whales. They saw the baby swim, nurse, head to the surface for air, and leap out of the water. They spoke with a Sea World staff member who was watching the mother calf pair and transmitting her observations to a colleague via walkie-talkie. They had time to ask questions and hear the responses. My son took pictures, my daughter made up sound effects, and I sat on a bench, glad to be off my feet, enjoying both the children and the whales.

During the half an hour or so that we stayed there, many other people came and went. Most of them stayed long enough to notice that one of the whales was much smaller than the others, but some walked past without even stopping, even though the viewing area was well off the main path. Those who stayed watched for a brief time and moved on. Many children were protesting loudly as they were told it was time to move along to the next thing, and I realized that exploring in the slow lane is an unusual treat these days.

Seeing It All

Just how unusual lingering is became clearer as we visited Kennedy Space Center before heading home at the end of the week. We’d waited until the weekend to go to the space center so that my husband could come with us. Arriving on a Saturday morning, we lined up for tickets and looked over the map and schedule. We wanted to go on the bus tour, allow time for lunch, and fit in seeing the exhibits and IMAX films as well as hands-on exhibits at another site. Suddenly, we were feeling rushed and harried, like the people I’d had the luxury to observe all week at Sea World. How would we “see it all,” “get our money’s worth,” and not make the kids and ourselves miserable?

We ended up getting annual passes there as well – we’re fortunate to live only about six hours north of Cape Canaveral, so we can return. But we also decided it was worth it to go through the tour in the slow lane, as much as possible, and return the following day to take in whatever we hadn’t done. Many people spend just one day there, and we saw them, glancing at their watches and hurrying. We saw kids stop before an interactive exhibit, poke a button quickly, and move on. We saw parents looking frazzled. Even with two days to explore, we felt a little worn out ourselves.

Is life spent exploring in the slow lane superior to the harried, fit-it-all-in approach of our culture with its canned curriculums, teach-to the-test schools, and endless after-school activities designed to someday impress college admissions officers? The slow lane is certainly better for my family, and it seems to be a natural pace for the unschoolers I know. As a product of the aforementioned system, albeit the slightly less frenetic version of my own childhood, I know the unhurried, more deliberate exploration of topics that interest me is more productive and enjoyable for me. I’m thankful it comes naturally to my children, who teach me to slow down. It isn’t that my kids can’t hurry if they need to, or that they can’t assimilate lots of information, say on a field trip to a museum, in the usual time allotted a tour group. But given a choice, and the freedom to honor their own learning curiosity, they choose to linger, to savor the world and to learn in the slow lane, where delightful surprises abound, and even the schooled, “type A” parents are more relaxed!


Deb Baker resides in Americus, Georgia, where she writes, unschools with her children, volunteers, and works to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis and other social justice issues in her community and around the world. Her poems, essays and children’s literature have appeared in journals in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

 


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