Thursday, August 30, 2012

Segue Style Learning

To segue (sey-gwey, seg-wey) means to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption. People often segue from one topic to another in conversation. Sometimes the transition is clear, and other times it is difficult to tell how the speaker related one thing to the next. He may seem to have diverged to an entirely new topic, but something in his mind made the connection. "That reminds me of the time when..." is a common type segue.

Segue style learning, which is a term I have coined, refers to an organic progression from one related topic or activity to another. For example, I had planned to do a rainforest unit for science in our homeschool. A couple of weeks before we started, Beezy, her dad, and I went to the zoo for my husband's birthday. When we walked through the rainforest habitat, I made sure to tell Beezy that we were in a tropical rainforest and to remember what it was like. This experience kicked off our science unit perfectly, and segue style learning works well in unit studies.

On the first day of "school" we watched a PBS Reading Rainbow video from the library of The Shaman's Apprentice, a book by Lynne Cherry and Mark J. Plotkin. After the book was read by Susan Sarandon showing its illustrations with some added movement in the pictures, the video host, LeVar, flew by helicopter over the Amazon rain forest and landed in the very village, called Tirio, featured in the book. He met the real Kamanya, the shaman's child apprentice who grew up to be the tribe's next shaman and teacher of traditional healing. They went into the forest and learned about the various medicinal trees and plants and what ailments they are used to treat. Animals of the Amazon were seen, and the whole self-reliant way of life in the village was beautifully depicted, including food preparation, arts and crafts, transportation by river in canoes, and ritual dance. The whole video was a prime example of segue style learning.

The next book, which we are still reading, is One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest, by Jean Craighead George. In true Charlotte Mason fashion, the facts of the rain forest are related via story about a native boy of Venezuela named Tepui whose forest area is about to be bull-dozed. Tepui assists scientists working in his forest to find animals, and in particular, he is helping to search for a new, unnamed species of butterfly in hopes of saving his home.

One of the animals mentioned in the book is a sloth. Beezy did not remember what a sloth looked like, so we segued to an online article from National Geographic to learn more about this creature, and then on to some additional photos, including 111 pictures of baby sloths. I think Beezy viewed over 50 of them!

Today we were reading Kaya's Hero, an American Girl series book about  Native Americans of the Nimiipuu tribe (a.k.a. Nez Perce). The women were crushing dried deer meat in a mortar with a stone pestle to mix with berries to make pemmican. There was a small picture of a mortar and pestle, and I asked Beezy if she remembered seeing one at Sauder Village, a living history museum in our area. She did not, but of course I happened to have a mortar and pestle, which I promptly got out of the closet. The maple trees in front of our house were gracious enough to have dropped dry, brown leaves to the ground. Beezy immediately went out to get leaves to crush, discovering that green leaves do not lend themselves well for grinding, whereas the brown ones are perfect. But she tore up some green leaves to add anyway to make her "stew", for of course one needs some color! She fed me the stew and continued to grind while I read more of the book, and I reinforced the new vocabulary of mortar, pestle, and pemmican.

 mortar and pestle

I allowed her to make discoveries, such as wondering why the green leaves she found had little bumps on the back of them. This I could not answer, but if her dad had been home, we would have segued to asking him, and we will pursue this question later. The mortar and pestle provided a practical life lesson, fine motor skills practice, and dramatic play.

When I was a Montessori teacher, the classroom was divided into sections, such as language arts, math, science, art, ect... When we did unit studies, there would be something in almost every area relating to the unit. A similar approach can be taken in the home. As Charlotte Mason taught, education is a science of relations.  In public schools, subjects are usually so compartmentalized that no connections can be readily made between one area of study and another, and this is simply not how real life is. I have hopefully illustrated a better way in my "segue style learning" approach! It also helps one stay in the present moment and avoid getting locked into your lesson plans/curriculum.

Allowing the child to make her own connections, to freely move from one thing to another through natural transitions--which can be initiated and guided by the teacher but should not be impeded by the adult--inspires discovery, wonder, and imagination. This is an invigoration of the spirit and makes learning as natural as breathing--and so much fun to boot!

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