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The Bigger Picture: Quality Conversations

Quality Conversations


One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling that has been a pleasure since my son first began to talk, are spontaneous and organic conversations. Our most significant conversations mostly take place in the car or while going for a walk. They range in topic from spiritual to scientific, from sociological to culinary. As he developed, my son was full of fascinating observations and probing questions. I like to think that he felt free to share his observations and ask whatever questions because of the mutual trust I had consciously cultivated. Young people make connections out loud and appreciate when we adults choose to just listen. Other times there is more of a back and forth. It is a process of conceiving of new combinations of ideas. There is a great deal of wonderment, mutual respect, and relationship strengthening. For example:

Son: I wonder why the sky is so often blue.
Parent: I remember learning about that in school. Oh no wait, at the end of a science class in fifth grade the teacher asked if there were any questions and I raised my hand and asked why the sky was blue which was not related to the subject we were doing that day at all and the teacher smiled and said, “That’s quite a question. We’ll have to address it next class” (because it was time to move on to another class). So, I guess I never learned why.
Son: I suppose it has to do with light since light is what makes colors colors.
Parent: Oh yeah. I wonder what the light is reflecting off of in the case of the sky?
Son: We should look it up when we get home. I forgot to tell you I left my swimsuit at the pool today.
Parent: Argh. We’re not going back for a week, it will get all mildewy!
Son: Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will dry out.
Parent: You have a spare anyway. I would like to make peanut chicken tonight. Will you make the sauce?
Son: I don’t know. I watched this show about the poultry industry and I. . .

In a very organic and friendly way, this parent and son had a conversation that covered that colors are related to light, a personal story, that mildew grows in moisture, and the beginning of the subject of the poultry industry. Imagine ten of these a day about a variety of subjects based on the interest and experiences of the young person, sometimes followed up by online or live research.
At Talking Stick many of the conversations also come from a place of curiosity and sincerity. Facilitators are careful to avoid immediately dismissing an idea or correcting a misconception. We don’t praise or put pressure on participants to prove the extent of their knowledge. Information flows freely:

Youth (Y): I found a smushed bug.
Facilitator (F): Oh, let me see.
Y: On this smooth rock.
F: It reminds me of something else I saw earlier.
Y: Where?
F: On that bush. See the berries? I’ll get one.
Y: Sometimes there is berry poop on our car. Let’s smush the berry and see if it looks like this smushed bug.
F: What does the berry poop look like?
Y: Purple and white with seeds in it. The birds like the berries but I don’t. They fly high above our car to poop on it.
F: What would you like to smush this berry with?
Y: How about this stick?
F: If the poop lands in a garden, one of these bushes can grow. This berry is really crunchy and dry.
Y: Yes. It looks just like the bug. The bug is actually a berry. Let’s pick more.

These conversations place the focus on exploring and experimenting. They are learning-conducive. They are open and non-judgmental. They are as much for the pleasure of the adult as for the learning of the young person. I’ve learned much about my son’s thinking process and the content of his interests through conversations. They are how I know what he knows. No quizzes. No tests. Nothing contrived. Just genuine conversations.