Many years ago, we had a basset hound named Max (think sleepy dog, drooping eyes, and s-l-o-w motion). There were only two things that got Max’s attention and caused him to hustle—food and the scent of a rabbit. At that point, we lived in a somewhat rural area, with wooded acres to explore. Normally, Max stayed close to home and the food bowl, but there were times we would hear his distinctive, “Ah-woo-woo,” and the crashing sounds of a rather large dog running for all he was worth.
I don’t think he ever caught one. . .but he never got tired of following the rabbit’s trail.
Now, let’s talk about kids. Specifically, let’s talk about kids when it comes to learning math, science, literature, and history. Do you ever notice a marked decline in their enthusiasm? Do their eyes start to droop when you bring out the books? Do they drag through the day UNTIL school is done?
If so, then a rabbit trail is just what you need.
First, we need to define just what constitutes a rabbit trail. What was it that propelled Max out of his lethargy and got him bounding excitedly down the path? There was something hardwired into this dog that found the scent of a rabbit fascinating. It made him want to run (unlike his normal approach to life), it caused him to shout for joy (Ah-woo-woo), and he didn’t even notice how much physical exercise it demanded.
Now, I don’t know what the hardwiring is in your children that will cause them to wake up academically and go bounding down the path of learning. But here are a few possibilities:
• playing with, sorting, and making rolls of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters with twenty dollars worth of change. . . as they are learning math facts;
• discovering the incredible design of a rotifer under a microscope. . . as they are learning about ponds and what lives in them;
• creating an outdoor drama for the community, complete with costumes and props. . .as they read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men;
• finding a globe so they can envision the drama of an 1800s sailing ship rounding Cape Horn. . . as they learn a song from the California Gold Rush.
Let Them Follow the Rabbit Trail
Secondly, as they are learning, when they come up with an idea, a question, a puzzle, or a hunger to read-know-learn more, give them freedom to go for it.
Here are a few possibilities:
at the very moment they catch the scent, let them run;
when they say, “Why?” or “If” or “How”—with the intensity of real curiosity, not a help-me-fill-in-the-blank-Mom desperation—then look at the schedule and make a time as soon as possible for them to follow this interest;
offer them a free day this week for the pursuit of this knowledge or project.
Consider this question: what fascinates your child?
Give Them Time on the Rabbit Trail
Finally, as much as lies within your power, don’t call them back from the trail until they are finished. Obviously, if your student becomes intrigued with a project that will take a year to complete (like music, art, gravity, or missiology), you need to help them discover how to manage their time so they can spend a few hours per day on it and the rest on their other studies/work/chores/sleep/etc.
Following the rabbit trail is one of the most powerful learning motivators on the planet. Ah-woo-woo!!
Applying This To History Revealed
For those using my curriculum, in Phase 2 of each unit, you will find potential rabbit trails in the Research & Reporting section. After learning the background information in Unit 1 for this time period, your student will be able to choose from a wide array of rabbit trails to pursue the person, concept, or event that is personally fascinating. If the suggested topics are not exciting, let them choose something else from the time period, whether interesting personalities, weaponry, artists, clothing styles, musicians, technology, politics, scientists, cultures, etc.
Here are the rabbit trail possibilities suggested in Unit Seven of Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries. Choose one:
• The Renaissance
• Artists of the Renaissance
• The Reformation
• The Reformers
• Protestant Denominations
• Ferdinand & Isabella
• The Conquistadors
• Bartolomé de Las Casas
• Francis Xavier
• The War of the Roses
• Henry VIII
• Charles V
• Renaissance Popes
• Two Florentines (under Lorenzo de Medici and Savonarola)
• The Reformation in England
• The Counter Reformation
Do you recognize the potential delight for learners in getting to choose the topic they find most fascinating? Their personal interest and curiosity gives them motivation to learn. And their motivation will help them bound down that rabbit trail!