I consider my primary function as a homeschooling mom to be Strewing the Path. Coined by Sandra Dodd, “strewing” is a favorite term of homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, which describes the habit of leaving books, puzzles, games, curiosities, art supplies, and other cool objects lying on tables and counters and in the car where unsuspecting children will find them. (Check out Sandra’s extensive page on strewing here.)
I learned the benefits of strewing from my husband. He hates to be told what to read. In high school, his favorite books were the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He read and re-read them for pleasure year after year. In college, he took a class on Tolkien. A certain number of chapters of The Lord of the Rings was assigned for each class. And Scott found that he never wanted to read the material. It had become “material.” It was an assignment, chopped up into increments and parceled out over a semester. He procrastinated or completely blew off the daily reading assignments. At home the following summer, he lounged under the air conditioner and read the whole trilogy for pleasure.
He told me that story early in our relationship, and I’m glad, because it tipped me off to the fact that if I really want him to read something, I shouldn’t ask him to. Instead, if I have a book I’m dying to share with him, I leave it in the bathroom and take all other reading material out of there. That’s strategic strewing.
It works with my children, too. I know their interests. I know where they like to hang out in the house. So I choose books I think will capture my 9-year-old’s imagination and leave them on the windowsill beside her chair at the lunch table, or on the sofa where she likes to sprawl. I leave baskets of books all over the house; I casually lay a picture book or two on my 4-year-old’s nightstand when I’m putting her down for a nap. I sneak into my sleeping daughters’ room and put books at the foot of their bed, because I know that when they wake up they’ll find them and look at them and maybe I’ll get to sleep ten minutes past dawn the next morning.
I have to be careful, because sometimes this gets me in trouble. Two summers ago I wanted to know what was growing in our unlandscaped side yard, so I checked a book on weeds out of the library. I glanced at it but decided this book was too dry to make it worth the effort and tossed it onto the kitchen table. The next day I returned it to the library. The next day, then-7-year-old Jane summoned me with an anguished wail. “Mommy, where’s that great book I was reading? The one about weeds? It was SO interesting!” She’d found it lying on the table and naturally assumed that it was meant for her. I admitted I’d returned it, and she was crushed. I had to promise to schedule a special trip to re-check it out. Apparently what is one person’s giant yawn is another person’s heart-pounder.
Scatter enough books in their paths, and they’ll find the heart-pounders for themselves.