Naming Shells.

More than anything, I want my children to live an intentional life. To direct their own activity. Sometimes, when we’re home, this means leaving stuff out to entice them to explore.

Yes, it’s kind of funny that as a mother who has spent twelve years to date prompting her children to put their things away, one of my most important roles as a school free mum has been to leave things lying about.

Building on Children’s Interets.
My daughter is a collector. Any walk or outing in nature with her is a slow process that goes walk, stop, pick up a natural object, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Her interest in rocks is so intense that it led to an out and out stand off at the top of a mountain trail on a recent family trip to the Grampians, when her raincoat pockets were so full of rocks she’d collected on the hike that it was weighing her down and her pockets were tearing. Other hikers had left Inuksuk creations near the trails. She’d learned about Inuksuk a few months earlier when I left her rock collections and a book lying about. She remained completely inspired. Needless to say, our mountain hiking was frustratingly slow and laden with far too many rocks.
Strolling along the beach is a similarly slow experience. Not only are there pebbles at the beach, the are also shells to collect. Lots of them!

Shells on sand

It’s completely frustrating for a brisk walking mum, but a great opportunity to explore together, to talk about the implications of taking too much from a natural environment, to joyfully discover and choose treasures together. It’s also a great opportunity to bring home the collections that drive me nuts, that I know my daughter is intensely interested in, for future bouts of leaving things lying about.

A basket of shells left on the table would definitely interest my little pick pocketer of the beach.

What Else?
There are a wealth of things you can leave to inspire children’s exploration of natural objects: magnifying glasses, microscope, mirrors, fabric that might match in colour, texture or cultural context… fiction and non fiction books, water pastels, sketch pad and graphite pencils, camera or other photography device. Younger, my daughter would have explored natural objects with glue, clay or playdough, different sized baskets for sorting, scarves, toy creatures, sand, music, paint, other natural objects (and still would).

My daughter has had lots of sensory experience with shells so this time, with the basket of shells, I left cards with pictures and names of shells and a non fiction book about, yes, shells. Still sensory learning and exploration of size, colour, shape, dimension. Magnifying glasses, sketch book, microscope, pencils and paint are always available.


Silent With Shells.
Mid morning, my daughter discovered the basket of shells.

She spent a long, quiet time turning the shells over in her hand, looking at them closely. Touching them. Laying them out in groups together, frowning with thought, and rearranging the groups. Sorting. Concentrating. Deeply.
Then she gave her attention to the cards, picking them up one at a time and attempting to pronounce the name of each shell.

shell classification cards and child
She completely ignored the book about shell classifications. If I had interrupted her thinking to rattle on about Genus, Class and Species, my words would have wafted over her like ocean breezes. And meant nothing.
I could have asked her to do a page of writing about shells, or to draw and label different shells. But without her choosing these activities for herself, or showing inspiration that would allow me to prompt her towards these activities, they would have meant nothing. Except maybe the quelling of her interest in shells.
Too sad to imagine.
What if her interest in pebbles and shells is an important part of her future life path?
It is definitely important to her now, and I respect who she is NOW.

I respect that she has the right to engage with the things that interest her, without any expected ‘outcome’. I also respect that the more she is drawn to manipulate and ponder materials, the more concepts are internalised.

Asking Questions.

Sooner or later, when a child, or when anyone, is interested in something, they begin to ask questions.
“What’s this one?” my daughter asked, holding up a shell and its matching card. She read the label on the card and tried to say “Abalone.” I pronounced it properly for her, which led to lots of giggling.
“Abalon-ee?” she repeated.
Impromptu revision of short and long vowel sounds followed, with a captivated audience.
What questions was she asking in her head about language? What language concepts were refined for her?
She asked a bit more about abalone (giggle, speak, giggle, repeat), and found it both fascinating and hilarious that the sea has ‘snails.’

matching shells
She read. She discovered.

We didn’t write a thesis about shells. We didn’t move from Lesson One: Naming Shells, to Lesson Two: Classifying Shells, to Lessons Three and Four: Identifying Geographic Location and Geological Periods of different shells. No need. She will learn about the science and history of shells when and if she wants and needs.
We did learn how to say and spell abalone. And we did read about some of the creatures that live in seashells. That still wasn’t the point.
The point was that a child’s natural interest led her to explore and gain deeper understandings, and her interests and curiosities were further fuelled, so the flow of learning will continue.
For life.
This is the point of learning school free. Children learn. Naturally. It’s what humans are programmed to do. My job is to let my children get on with it.

My natural explorer will learn all that she desires and needs to know, sure as shells in the sea.


To download your own Shell Cards for free click here.


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