Inside: Strewing seems like a genius idea when you first start homeschooling. But does it really align with unschooling? The 5 strewing mistakes I made, and how I see strewing differently after transitioning to unschooling.
I wake up with my 4-year-old most mornings. If I do somehow manage to crawl out of bed before her, some kind of magical spidey sense alerts her to my absense, and she shoots up in bed 5-10 minutes after I sneak into the kitchen for coffee.
Alert! Alert! “Mom’s awake! MUST GET UP.”
So yes, screens are absolutely my go-to in that scenario. Some mamas can do “coffee and books” – I am not one of them. I need my morning (semi) alone time.
I’d finished my coffee and a few time-sensitive tasks, and I noticed that she was still watching a movie.
No big deal, but I decided to silently offer an alternative, in case she was interested. I set the play dough out at the kitchen table and started playing with it myself.
She noticed. I saw her noticing and asked, “Want to play?”
She wandered over and climbed up on the table and asked for a specific color. She asked to grab some LEGO people to join the fun: I obliged.
We played play dough and pretend for 30-40 minutes until she decided to be done.
Was that strewing? You tell me.
Strewing? What The Heck Is That?
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If you’re new to homeschooling or unschooling, you might have heard this weird word: strewing. What does that even mean?!
What is strewing? Most homeschoolers define it this way:
“The process of laying out or scattering interesting items around your home for your kids to discover.”Erin Vincent, Nourishing My Scholar
Some would add words like “strategic” and “intentional” to that description. Homeschoolers tend to universally agree that strewing involves physical items, and if you choose to strew, you should do so with no expectations attached.
If your child chooses not to engage with whatever you’ve chosen to strew that day, no problem. Just try again tomorrow.
If you’re sticking to the “rules”, you just set the things out where you’re sure your kids will see them. You don’t say a word.
That definition and those ideas are how I started strewing in the first place. It seemed to be what all the good homeschool moms were doing, especially relaxed, eclectic, unschoolish moms like me.
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Top 5 Strewing Mistakes to Avoid (If You Choose to Strew)
When I first started strewing, I was still “relaxed homeschooling”. I, the parent, was still in the driver’s seat of my children’s education.
I gave my kids lots of freedom in their learning, but at the end of the day, I still thought I knew exactly what they needed to learn.
Strewing seemed like a genius way to subtly inspire interest in all the schoolish subjects.
When I transitioned fully to unschooling, I started to see strewing in a new light. It didn’t really seem to jive with the whole “hand your kids the educational reins” thing. Honestly, it felt a little manipulative.
I’ve spent the last year taking a good hard look at strewing. Was it really working for our family?
I’ll explain a little more about how I approach strewing today after all that reflection.
But first, here are the top five mistakes I made when I first started strewing that I would definitely recommending avoiding.
1. Not examining your motives for strewing.
Before unschooling, I would think things like…
Maybe if I put out this multiplication machine, they’ll be magically motivated to learn their times tables.
Or maybe if I buy this beautiful animal book, they’ll want to take a deep dive into biology.
But what if they don’t want to learn memorize their multiplication tables? What if they don’t ever care to know the subtle differences between an amphibian and a reptile (I still look it up every time)?
Would you be ok with that?
If your strewing is still motivated by needing or wanting them to learn schoolish stuff, and trying to guide/control their behavior to achieve that outcome, it might be time for more deschooling (see THESE books and THESE podcasts).
…at least, if you trying to unschool.
2. Strewing exclusively schoolish stuff.
For a long time, I would only strew schoolish stuff. You know, things like…
- Multiplication Machines
- Educational Puzzles
- Educational Board Games
- Magnet Letters
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with those things. And they can be great if your goal is setting up a great learning environment with lots of available options.
As long as you remember that they’re just that: options.
We have a multiplication machine. And do you know what my kids mostly use it for? Creating patterns by pushing down the buttons.
Do they notice the numbers? Sure. But I rarely catch them using it as the creators intended.
If you limit yourself to strewing schoolish stuff, you might miss out on something like…
Buying figurines (or stuffed animals) from your child’s latest movie obsession that might lead to creative play or story creation or fan art or stop motion videos or…the sky’s the limit.
Figurines usually don’t strike us as having much educational value. Oh, but they do.
Anything you bring into your home can be an opportunity for learning, not just the stuff society deems “educational”. Learning.is.everywhere.
3. Spending tons of money.
Nothing will turn you off strewing faster than dropping hundreds of dollars on the latest STEM toys or curriculums or hardcover books only to have your child not give them a second glance.
How many times did I drop $50 on some cool educational toy, only to have my kids ignore it completely?
Then I’d spend the next few days either 1) kicking myself for wasting money or 2) resenting their lack of interest. Or even worse, 3) plotting the next great strewing mission.
None of those outcomes made for a splendid homeschool experience – for me or my kids.
If you’re going to strew random things that are not directly connected to their interests, stick to lower priced, second-hand or free items.
You could borrow games from a friend or check out books or magazines from the library. Or do as my husband does and make long audiobook wish lists in the library app for when the kids are between books.
4. Being attached to the outcome.
I’ve already alluded to this. But if you’re going to buy random things or set up random little invitations every day, you have to be ok with your kids ignoring them or not using.
This is the biggest challenge in strewing. It’s a big reason why I stopped.
I would invest energy or money because I thought it was my job as a good unschooling parent to strew.
Then I would resent spending the energy/money when 8 times out of 10, they weren’t all that interested in my offerings.
I had to shift how I was strewing in order to do it without resentment. More on that in a minute.
5. Buying way too much stuff.
There’s such a balance in homeschooling. We’re quick to try new things, or buy every little thing we see influencers parading around Instagram.
Strewing doesn’t need to be about stuff necessarily.
It could be Youtube videos or library books or conversations. Those things don’t add clutter, and bonus – they don’t cost anything either.
Buying too much stuff can end up being overwhelming because it becomes clutter, a.k.a. things taking up space that no one’s using. And then you’ll resent this whole strewing thing even more.
The last thing homeschool moms need is clutter.
Related: How Much Does Unschooling Cost? Typical Expenses & How to Save
I’ve Mostly Stopped Strewing: Here’s Why
Even after switching to unschooling, I still splurged on stuff to strew: new Usborne books or games or a cash register with real money.
There have been a few wins, but honestly, they could have lived without most of those things. A lot of it was rehomed or is gathering dust on a shelf in hopes that younger kiddos might want/need it one day.
Could I download a “strewing calendar” full of activities to set out for my kids every day? Sure.
But I honestly don’t have energy these days to set up things my kids might enjoy for 15 minutes 1/30 days of the month (and ignore the other 29).
We still do some of the things on those calendars, but more in the natural course of life. Because we decided to go on a nature walk or the kids came across a cool experiment on Youtube. Not because I decided: “today, the kids will examine pine cones” (science! yay!).
Ultimately, I decided to be done with strewing, at least in the traditional sense, because I honestly, I didn’t see the point. And feeling like I was manipulating my kids to learn things I thought they should…I just couldn’t make peace with it.
What’s Replaced Traditional Strewing in Our Unschooling Home
Still, one of the ideas behind strewing is that you, the parent, are more aware of what’s out there in the world. You’re the one holding the keys to all the information and resources available, at least when your child is 10 and under.
So how do you show your kids what’s out there without strewing? Simple: offer things to them directly.
I say things like…
- “Hey, there’s this cool museum nearby. Want to check it out?”
- “There’s a new documentary on Netflix. I’m gonna watch it – want to join me?”
- “I thought you might be interested in this Outschool class because you mentioned wanting to code your own mods. What do you think?”
- “Anybody want to play Ticket to Ride?” (a game we already own)
- “I saw this on the news about climate change. Can you believe it?”
If I want to buy something that seems directly related to their interests, I ask first. I’ve found that not asking often creates a yucky feeling of obligation.
Mom bought this for me, I should at least try it. I’m working to eliminate as many shoulds as possible in our lives, not create more.
I still buy things for our home to create a rich learning environment (like THIS poster), but they are things that I’m happy to buy, regardless of whether or not they get used.
I’ll still bring home some books from the library I think they might like. Or I’ll occasionally buy a new game because it’s related to a game we already love.
I’ll pull out things we already own to remind them they exist – like the play dough or a board game – and ask if they’re interested.
I also will buy things match my interests: puzzle books, physical puzzles, news articles, pretty posters for the “homeschool room”.
But there’s no pressure for the kids to use the things I randomly bring in or to look at the maps/posters I hang up or to say “yes” to the invitation to play a board game.
This is my new, low-key unschool style of…something. Am I still strewing? Who knows, but it works for us.
Related: Unschooling Resources & Plans for 2022-2023 (7th, 5th, 3rd, K/1st)
Honestly, Strewing Happens Naturally
Last year was an election year. I didn’t need to strew a single thing to peak my kids’ interests in politics.
Political ads came in the mail. They were all over my kids’ Youtube channels. Bumper stickers got slapped on cars. They overheard their dad and I discussing the elections every day.
All of those things combined prompted so.many.questions. We had deep discussions about American politics and marketing and how other countries’ elections work and the ethics of it all.
My kids learned so much from something I didn’t even plan.
From my point of view, strewing happens naturally. You really don’t need to stress a lot about it or even plan it all that frequently.
Follow your interests and your children’s interests. Buy things that make you, your partner and your kiddos happy. Live life.
The rest will take care of itself.
Read Next: Unschooling vs. Homeschooling – 5 Key Differences
As an unschooling mom (is that a thing? Am I unschooling? Lol, yes I am, that’s how adults learn, but I’m not unschooling my kids, I guess they’re unschooling themselves, HA! semantics) I would likely label what you are doing as inviting, and separate from strewing. I also only strew free or low cost things, but I invite almost constantly. Mostly bc I came to unschooling from an attachment parenting perspective and so the relationship amongst my family are my primary concern, so it’s more about me hanging out with my kids, and I’ve found schoolish things take care of themselves.
“Inviting” – thanks for putting a name to it for me! And yes, more and more I realize the schoolish things do take care of themselves.