The #1 Ingredient For Effective Learning Is……

Hey guys,

We are currently in Tucson, Arizona, and absolutely loving this place. FYI, this destination wasn’t part of the itinerary but we’ve had to come here for my work so tadaaaaaa…….here we are! And this is another reason why we love world schooling…….we can be as flexible as we want to. But back to the really really fun part…..I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that being here was going to ignite a learning frenzy like nothing I’ve ever seen! Watch this video to find out more:

Ok, now a common question (or dilemma) I’ve often get from parents is ‘how do I teach my own children when I’m not even a trained teacher?’. Well, you don’t have to! That’s the best part about unschooling. However, if you were homeschooling and you were following a curriculum and doing assessments, then it will be tricky because you’d need to learn dry and unrelated stuff with your children. But since we decided to go with the far superior approach of unschooling, I didn’t have to do any ‘teaching’ because my boys taught themselves.

So you might think ‘If you don’t have to teach, then what, exactly, do you do to facilitate their learning?’……well…..I ASK QUESTIONS! That’s right! My boys will naturally ask questions (in fact, they do a lot of this every time we went outdoors and walked amongst tall cactus plants) but my questions challenges them to investigate further and to ask more questions.

What do you think happens when a child’s mind is BURSTING with questions? Or rather, what do you think will happen when YOU are dying to find out something……like when you needed to find a recipe to make a special cake for your child’s birthday party?……or when you needed to find out about a virus that your child recently contracted?…..or when you wanted so badly to plan an amazing holiday for your family?……..

…….you’d run off and do your research! And that’s EXACTLY what my boys did……for hours on end! And it was nice to see their determination to find answers……jumping over hurdles after hurdles (I’m not sure if you know this but when you google stuff of look up stuff on National Geographic websites, you’d often come across lots of words that you don’t know…….and in order to fully understand something, you’d end up having to google the other words that you didn’t understand…….big job for small children!).

I’m listing a string of questions that we asked (my questions are italicized) during our stay in Tucson so that you can take a look at just a fraction of some of the things which we have explored. I know that you don’t really get to see the context in which these questions were raised but it’ll give you a good idea of what it looks like.

  • What’s a desert?
  • Why are there so many cactus in the desert?
  • What is cacti?
  • If the desert is dry, how do plants survive?
  • Do desert plants store water in water bottles?
  • Does it rain in the desert at all?
  • I wonder how much does it rain here compared to a forest back in Malaysia?
  • How are desert animals different from rainforest animals?

And here are a few of the ‘mom, did you know…’ statements, which are their ‘aha’ moments:

  • Did you know that the desert is actually hot in the day but cold in the night?
  • Did you know that when you spell desert with two ‘s’s, it become a sweet food you have after dinner (dessert)?
  • Did you know that small birds hide amongst the thorns of cactus to escape from bigger predators?
  • Did you know that the cactus’ thorns are really sharp like a porcupine’s but the body is actually quite smooth?
  • Did you know that because there isn’t much water in the desert, birds get their water from the blood of insects that they eat?
  • Did you know that it sometimes snow in the desert?
  • Did you know that Minecraft also has deserts and cacti?

I’m also including some of the concepts that we came across that as a result of our initial investigations (this was totally unplanned but happened rather spontaneously as it was a part of the context of topics that we were exploring):

  • Annual rainfall,
  • Precipitation, (ok, I have to admit, I had to look this one up because I had no idea what on earth it was)
  • Condensation.

Note: The pre-requisite to unschooling your children, is not being the all wise owl or the fully trained and qualified teacher. In fact, the less you pretend to know, THE BETTER! The ONE THING that I have learnt from my decade and a half of working with young children…… that when you let them teach you (instead of you teaching them), you allow them to talk about it and that, in turn, helps them internalize their learning! So when my boys come to me with ‘mom, did you know that…’ statements, all I do is ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at their findings and then I……..ask more questions!

This is the amazing view outside our porch. My son takes pictures of this hills every few hours when we first got here because he says that ‘mom, did you notice that the mountains look different when the sun moves and the shadows falls differently?’.


‘Mom, does this cactus look like it’s as high as a double story house?’

“Look at how hard the pokey things are! I wonder what it’s for?”

“Whoa! There are gaps between the thorny bits and if you can poke your finger through the thorns, its actually quite smooth inside”

“This looks pretty and it’s nice that it doesn’t have too many thorns but look at the leaves! They are so hard and thick! Mom, I don’t think you can give cacti away in flower bouquets……unless you want the person you give it to to poke themselves” (hmmmmm….that gave me an idea. lol)

This is my office for the few days that we are here. I love being able to set up my work station wherever we are.

My boys watching Shark Tank for the first time! For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the program where entrepreneurs bring their ideas to a panel of judges/investors and pitch their ideas to see who can hold up to a scrutiny of questions and to convince the judges/investors to invest in their business idea.



Foong Kwin Tan

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