Just like real life rabbit trails, educational trails are joined together in never ending circling paths; creating an information network through which we can journey with our homeschoolers.
I first heard about following ‘rabbit trails’ in the context of using literature studies to inspire and direct learning in other subjects. Classic works are full of connections. You’ll find references to History, Maths, Science, Geography, Literature and other areas of interest. When we extend this form of thinking and education to our homeschool, the trails leading to different topics of study come in a abundance. Our biggest quest is to figure out which ones to follow.
What is a rabbit trail?
Okay, so your sitting down enjoying stories with your child. For the sake of this conversation let’s say the book is ‘The Snail and The Whale’ by Julia Donaldson. There are lots of different trails you could follow in this book. The one that catches your childs interest is the “fiery mountains” that the pair pass on their journey. “Mum, why is there fire coming out of the mountain?”
Of course, it’s not intended to be fire, but molten lava. This one question prompts a whole conversation about volcanoes. You put down the book and go to your shelves to see if you can find anything else related to land formation and volcanic eruptions. You might take a trip to the local library or fire up the laptop and watch a related video. Then you follow that up with a DIY Volcano craft. You may spend just a few hours exploring this topic or equally enter a whole unit study about volcanoes and plate tectonics.
That is what we call following the rabbit trail!
Rabbit Trails Are Not Only Found in Books
Take the same concept as above and apply it to the things we come across every day.
Let’s try another example.
In the kitchen, you and your children decide to bake a cake for some visitors. You might be following a recipe that calls for 2 eggs and ½ a cup of milk which feeds 4 people, but you need to bake for 8. Without thinking you’d probably just tell the kids “we need 4 eggs and 1 cup of milk” right? As well as doubling the quantities of other ingredients in the recipe of course. Your children might stop to ask why but then again, they might not. Yet this would be a perfect moment to follow one of life’s many rabbit trails.
Instead of stopping to tell them what you need, you ask them to figure it out. Get them to grab the pencil and paper. Let them have ago at the math for themselves. Depending upon the age of your homeschoolers, it may lead to exploration and application of numbers, ratios and simple equations.
Life Becomes the Mode of Education
Following the rabbit trails of life and literature allow you to explore subjects in depth with your children. You answer the questions they ask, pursue subjects they show an interest in or even the things that leave YOU curious. As a result, learning isn’t something that happens only during set hours or under specific conditions. It doesn’t become a chore that has to be completed. That method often results in homeschool parents and educators having to contend with individuals who are reluctant to learn.
Instead, gaining knowledge becomes a normal part of everyday life. In fact, life becomes the curriculum. Following educational rabbit trails utilises that instinctual curiosity of childhood and allows us to recognise this natural trait as an educational advantage.
For more examples of following rabbit trails life you might like these two posts: A day of learning inspired by the very hungry caterpillar & Little Explorers – A Mini Study of Egypt.