The Butterfly Effect

The phrase “the butterfly effect” entered the world in the 1970’s when Edward Lorenz published his paper “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas.”
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He wrote about the lack of predictability of complex systems (like weather) because the smallest of variables can cause multiplying effects over time.
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A child’s mind is infinitely even more complex. One idea or question can set in motion incredible outcomes. When this happens in one of our kid’s learning, we call this the butterfly effect.
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Recently the kids were watching a TV show about snakes when Bella was struck with a question. She came to me and asked, “Mom, could I see your phone? I want to look up where a snake’s heart is.” She began researching and this lead from one thought to another.
“Are all snakes poisonous?”
“Are snakes reptiles or amphibians?”
“Toads are amphibious.”
“What about a snake’s stomach?”
“They’re so skinny. How do they fit everything?”
“Do they even have bones? How do they expand?”

And this line of research went on and on from there.

We made Bella’s butterfly effect into a visual mind map.

As unschoolers, the butterfly effect is a desired outcome in our children’s learning. So how can we cultivate more of it? Here are a few ideas we have:

  1. Be available. Stop whatever you’re doing when they begin asking questions. This is a big moment.
  2. Support free thinking. Try responding to their questions with more questions.
  3. Provide Resources. Give them a broad range of tools and supplies that will help give birth to more understanding.
  4. Create the atmosphere. This usually just means resist the temptation to interfere and micromanage. Let it be.
  5. Empower them. A way to help create a healthy atmosphere for learning is by lovingly supporting them, joining in with them, and giving them freedom to follow their instincts as they self-discover the answers they’re looking for.
  6. Observe. Take a step back, soak it in, and watch what happens.

What are some other ways we can cultivate an atmosphere of self-directed learning?
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