I’m so excited. We recently returned from a trip to France. I wrote a little about that here. We had an amazing time and I was keen to “practice” some of the tips I’d picked up from home educators, about learning in the moment and autonomous learning – basically, making learning an everyday part of life. I was initially a little skeptical, having once hung out with a mum I didn’t know very well, who had taken the idea that everything is a learning opportunity very, very literally.
It was kind of annoying – perhaps it didn’t help that our children were barely a year old old but I remember you couldn’t really talk to her because she couldn’t take her focus off her baby for a nanosecond and everything was about teaching said baby constantly. So her baby would pick up her keys and she’d be saying “yes, those are mummys keys…k…k keys, can you say that?” “this one is my car key, that means i can drive the car, brrrrmmmm, car, car, can you say car”. On and on it went and I remember thinking good god woman, the brilliant thing about car keys and kids is that you can dangle and jangle them which allows you to have a normal adult conversation with the person you’re sitting with. But anyway, I digress.
So. We were in France and in the back of my mind I was looking for opportunities for me to practice helping the kids to learn and get engaged in something. This sounds a bit ridiculous, clearly they’re learning all the time and we’re teaching them all the time, it doesn’t really require fore-thought. They’re very curious kids and we have billions of conversations all the time in which they’re learning, sharing ideas, expressing opinions. But this time I just had in the back of my head about how they would be learning whilst we were travelling and how we’re travelling right now so I wanted to be more consciously aware of it. Within 3 milliseconds, the first opportunity scurried past us. A gecko. A cute little fella that made a dash for the corner of the room. The movement meant everyone saw it and, curious to take a closer look, Nick gently tried to trap him under a glass bowl.
Spoiler alert at this point. I’m truly sorry to say that I can’t reassure you that no animals or children were injured in this process. I’m just going to dish you the bad news right upfront to not get your hopes up. Reader, the gecko died.
It was the most peculiar thing. The gecko’s tail seemed to get trapped by the bowl and instantly fell off, the gecko did a tragi-comic dead-dog position, legs in air. We all looked at each other. Nick looked guilty. Finn looked sad. Whilst we gathered our thoughts about how best to handle this, we noticed the gecko’s tail waving about, wiggling. It all seemed too strange, so we turned to google for an explanation where we learned that geckos commonly drop their tail when frightened, which will then wiggle and jiggle for a good 10 minutes after, acting as a decoy to distract a predator whilst they either play dead or make a run for it. Oooh, we thought, he’s not dead, just play acting. Goodness, he’s very good – if he was a cartoon, his little tongue would be hanging out, he’s so so still, and looks so so dead. We gave him a gentle prod. Nothing. We flipped him over. At which point we also looked up how to identify the sex of a gecko, so that He Could be Named. That was a bit tricky so we settled on Lizzy. Still no movement. We decided to leave him on the table and go out for a bit – maybe he really was dead, but what if he was just really good at this play-acting mularkey and unable to move whilst we were all crowding around him. We went out. We came back. He hadn’t moved. So, dead gecko.
But the lessons weren’t over, the kids had lots of questions which took us through all sorts of learning opportunities – science; talking about reptiles and lizards and what cold blooded means, talking about how lizards have babies (eggs_ and how big they grow, camouflage techniques, what they eat (crickets, worms, beetles). Imaginations fired up as Saff talked about where he lived (in the hedge) and what he liked doing. Finn decided he really really wanted to take the gecko to show and tell at school, but being hundreds of miles from home we talked about the decomposition of living things and the impracticalities of taking him home. Problem-solving skills were honed as he decided to freeze the gecko in an ice cube, to preserve him.
This one subject kept everyone engrossed all afternoon. That evening, there was an incredible storm to break the heat-wave, and the sky danced with lightning. I got the kids out of bed to watch it and we counted the seconds between thunder and lightning to determine the distance. Maths and physics rolled into one.
I can really see how, on our travels, there will be so much ever-changing fascinating material for us to tap into and how much they will learn just by absorbing it all in. With such instant research tools like youtube and google at our fingertips, there’s nothing we can’t teach them. Definitely feeling reassured.
And yes, there is now a gecko in a little box in my freezer.