What is Strewing
What do you have strewn throughout your house? To assist independent learners of all ages, strewing items around your home can be a relaxed way to encourage curious learning. Whether intentional or not, you probably have items strewn about for easy accessibility. All too often, the things most easily accessible for kids at home, are the exact things we wish they'd utilize less often. Strewing allows us the ability to make low-expectation alternatives available.
Turning on the tv is monumentally easier than pulling out all the material to begin an art or building project. But if these items were already pulled out and strewn somewhere (like a table, work bench, backyard, or kitchen), your kids would be much more inclined to engage in the activity. If you strew it, they will come!
After all, that's how most learning occurs. Think of how advertisers work, they do not demand that we participant in what they are advertising. They strew visually and auditorally engaging information out, in hopes that we gravitate toward it and invest our time, energy, and/or, money into it. Strewing items in a visually appealing way will drastically increase it's gravitational pull towards it. My kids can't pass up a beautifully strewn area of play (and no, it doesn't stay beautifully strewn for long, but that's the point!).
Strewing items that stem from your learners interests is a great place to start. You can also strew items relevant to upcoming holidays, special events, or celebrations, setting materials out for your kids to take advantage of at their leisure. Below is what was strewn for Pi Day!
Why did we start strewing
My first “light-bulb” moment happened almost 10 years ago, when my oldest ones were preschoolers. I am sure many of you can relate to this experience. Every time I would pull out toys that no one was playing with (to pack up or donate), my kids' acted like they were their favorite toys and would proceed to play with them for days. I quickly learned that strewing items that have not been played with can reignite interest, combating the out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon. We now rotate the toys and manipulative strewn in our play areas at home to sustain interest.
Similar to the experience above, it dawned on me that every time we went to our library my older kids played checkers. And yet, they never pulled out our checker board at home. Why? Well, the checker board at the library was always set up and ready to play. So, when we got home, I experimented. I took out a game from our closet that my kiddos hadn’t played for a while, and set it up. And...Voila! They chose to play it, on there own, just because it was all set up, and that is when I started strewing things daily.
Aren’t sold on strewing yet? My last experience may change your mind. As part of our strewing endeavors, we do a lot of loose-parts-play, placing open-ended materials out to create and construct. On this particular day, I had strewn some materials, thinking my youngest daughter might get a kick out of creating with them. Within minutes, I had all of my kids at the table eager to create. They stayed at the table for almost three hours! (ages 4-13). Three hours of engaged active independent exploration and play! Did I mention it was all of them?
How to Strew
There are three keys to successful strewing.
First, you have to let go of expectation. There should not be a set agenda, curriculum, or expected end-product when using strewn items. The materials should be made available for the sole purpose of self-directed learning and curious exploration. Think of it as an invitation to explore. If introduced correctly, strewing can increase creativity, self-direction, confidence, and resiliency.
Second, it is important to place out items that are age appropriate for independent use as a means to increase autonomy and self-direction. So don’t strew items your toddler can choke on or strew out a glue gun for your 3-year-old, but do allow your older kids to use different tools to gain confidence.
Third, make the items you have strewn look inviting. Presentation can go a long way. Clear off surfaces except for the thematically strewn items and don't just plop out items in their original plastic bags or stored ziplock bags, try using bowls or trays. All of the bowls, trays, and containers I have purchased specifically for strewing have been found extremely cheap from thrift stores. Much like advertising, investing in your visual appeal will pay off in the end.
One final note, by definition, to strew means, “to scatter or spread (things) untidily over a surface or area.” If you are discouraged about the untidiness aspect of strewing, don’t be. While strewing may mean that you have to be ok with a little temporary mess, it doesn’t mean things have to stay messy or untidy. We have a much smaller home now that we live in a large city, so we no longer have a dedicated homeschool room/play room where we can leave things strewn out. So now, when curious and independent learning has dwindled or we need the table to eat, we clean up and I strew something else the next day.
So hopefully you now feel encouraged and prepared to start strewing!