Chasing Rabbit Trails…and Finding Wonderland

by ChristinaPilkington on May 9, 2012 · 12 comments

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Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite books when I was about 8 or 9.

I’d sit by myself in the attic, reading it out loud, and acting out the story. I’d line up stuffed animals to be the Mad Hatter and the Door Mouse. I’d push two chairs close together and jump down in the space between them, pretending to fall into the rabbit hole.

This week while reading a post by Susan at Learning ALL time!, I was immediately brought back to those days again. Susan wrote about how some families follow “rabbit trails” when they take a break from their regular curriculum,” but her family follows rabbit trails all the time instead of following a curriculum.

Not only was I reminded of hours of pretend play I enjoyed with the characters of my favorite books, but it also reminded me of how I loved following my own rabbit trails every summer….and how sad I would be in the fall when I had to stick to one straight path instead of exploring the wonders of all those delightful side trails.

But today my life if full of those wonderful rabbit trails again. I feel so blessed to skip down the trails with my kids every day, stopping for a long time to stay in one place that fascinates us, and then quickly skipping down another path without lingering at all.

Each little bend in the road, even if it’s blocked with huge trees, is a chance to discover something new.  Each time we come across something new, it’s a chance to connect it with something else we’ve come across earlier on our journey.

Learning doesn’t have to be chronological or linear. It can be, if you like learning that way, but while you are picking up bits and pieces of knowledge along the way, there will come a time when they all start to fit together, to make a wonderful, intricate pattern that makes sense in a way that would never have been possible if you had refused to wander down branching, twisting, off-the-path roads.

We can talk about subjects because it’s easier to give something a label when describing what you’re learning about to someone else, but really everything we learn in life is comprised of many different subjects, themes, topics and ideas.

In fact the more we can relate a new bit of knowledge to a wide variety of other bits of knowledge, the greater understanding we have.

So instead of worrying about whether your kids did any math today, or whether they can read a map correctly or know where to place commas, be glad they are walking, and often running, down the path at all.

Too many kids today want to get off the path; they want to sit on the side of the road and watch others pass them by. They’re frustrated at being excited about something interesting off the side of the road, only to be told to keep going straight and quit slowing everyone else down. Or they want to run and fly along the path, but are quickly pulled back so they stay with the rest of the group.

They don’t want to walk along the main path anymore because they know where it’s going and they aren’t interested in going there anymore.

Embrace all those wonderfully delicious rabbit trails. Explore them to your hearts’ content. You won’t see everything along the trail, but what you do see will be magical and memorable.

And that’s the only way you’ll ever arrive at Wonderland.


Photo Credit: DennisM2

What rabbit trails have you been following lately?


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  • Tereza Crump

    I really needed the encouragement today. :) I have been busy cleaning and organizing the house and am feeling like the children’s learning is being neglected. But you know what? I realized they have so many skills I didn’t have at their age.

  • Steph

    I’ve always loved the term “rabbit trails,” which is more or less how we live and learn, too. Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books of all time. Thank you for another lovely post. I really like the way you think and write.

  • Jessica

    I believe that when learning is truly organic, the connections are everywhere and happen at unplanned, unexpected moments. For example, yesterday Lilah was listening to a lecture about ancient Greece and the story of Zeus and Ganymede was told. We were not familiar with this myth but Lilah made an immediate connection to the Shakespeare play we just saw, As You Like It, in which a main character disguises herself as a boy and calls herself, Ganymede. It brought her understanding to a whole new level and she made this connection on her own. It never ceases to amaze me and constantly validates why we are learning this way.

    • christinapilkington

      I love it! I think it’s hard not to be amazed by it because even though it’s natural and should be what happens all the time, most people have been conditioned to think that jumping from subject to subject is somehow wrong and learning should always be linear and according to a pre-laid out plan. When you’re immersed in natural learning, though, you can see how limiting that thinking can often be.

  • Jenn

    Beautiful! And exactly why our family learns the way we do.
    It’s a magical journey…if you allow it to be!
    Thanks for sharing this, Christina:)

    • christinapilkington

      You’re welcome! It’s incredible that we can keep learning a magical journey for our kids.

  • Susan

    I love this post, Chris, and not because you mentioned me :) My favorite part is: “Learning doesn’t have to be chronological or linear. It can be, if you like learning that way, but while you are picking up bits and pieces of knowledge along the way, there will come a time when they all start to fit together, to make a wonderful, intricate pattern that makes sense in a way that would never have been possible if you had refused to wander down branching, twisting, off-the-path roads.” So, so, SO true!! Our learning here is rarely linear, although I do attempt to put things in a larger context when it’s appropriate. So many connections wouldn’t be made, and so many fleeting interests would be lost, if we didn’t follow those rabbit trails. I also love the last few lines you used to close the post :) Perfect!

    • christinapilkington

      Sometimes I just stop and look at all the wonderful connections we have been making that I never could have planned out and all the wonderful random things we get to do, and I’m just bursting to overflowing!

  • Michelle Barber

    I totally agree with you, I think it teaches children to be inquisitive. It also makes education magical.

    • christinapilkington

      It’s sad that magical is often the opposite word we’d think of when we imagine a great education. When we damper children’s natural inqusitiveness with our own agenda, it teaches kids that what they care about doesn’t really count so they stop caring altogether.

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    I love this. I love the rabbit trails…they are what makes the journey exciting and not plain old boring. It is so strange all these Alice references lately.

    My very first blog post, 4 years ago has a line that says, “Like Alice, I feel like we fell into the rabbit hole and have been running around crazy down here ever since.” That is about starting homeschooling. And yesterday Keilee started a new photography blog and she named it “Through the Looking Glass”.

    I want our journey to Wonderland to be ‘slow. lovely, exploring every nook and cranny, stopping to smell the roses, splashing in mud puddles’ awesome. I have ALWAYS said when it is all said and done I want Keilee to say, “I had the most delightful childhood”. Love this post Chris.

    • christinapilkington

      Exactly! And how many children can say they’ve had a delightful childhood? How many adults can stay they’ve always held onto their joy and curiosity about the world around them? If the path isn’t interesting and exciting, why travel down it at all?

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