To Strew Or Not To Strew?

Strewing is one of the latest techniques used by educators and parents to lure children to learn things that the adults want them to learn at a time of the adult’s choosing. It has become especially popular among “unschooling” homeschoolers. Consider, for example, the following excerpt entitled “Some Ideas for Strewing”, posted on an unschooling website (

(1) If applicable, set up a new area (even a simple shelf) related to your child’s interest.

(2) Add new items from nature to your nature basket/tray/shelf/table.

(3) Leave out an invitation to be creative – with new art or craft supplies.

(4) Place together tubes and/or ramps with appropriately sized cars, marbles, or loose parts.

(5) Organise a new activity tray related to an interest (like ‘busy bags’ – lacing, sorting, matching, cutting, colouring, etc).

(6) Set up a small world play invitation with loose parts, animals or toy people.

(7) Leave something to take apart, with tools alongside.

(8) Reintroduce or introduce math manipulatives such as counters, connecting cubes, pattern blocks, tangrams, dice, a hundreds board, graph paper, or rulers with a material that relates to a current interest (i.e. some tanagram or pattern cards with animals that they are interested in, or various parts of figures of their interest and a ruler to measure and compare on graph paper).

(9) Put an interesting book beside a current project, open to interesting pictures. I have wrote about using books to enhance materials before.

(10) Magnetic letters, numbers or shapes set next to a metal cookie sheet.

(11) Set out a puzzle or game.

(12) For the older child – ‘iStrewing’ – adding a new interesting app to their device.

It is not a mystery to everyone with common sense and knowledge of childhood that the young are eager to figure out what the world they are born into is all about and to find ways to survive and thrive in it. That is as true now in the modern world as it was true from earliest times. In fact, most parents let their babies decide when to walk and talk and use a spoon to put food into their mouths. Of course, if you want your babies to talk you have to talk to them but you do not have to tutor them or entice them to learn. They will do so in due time when they are ready. It puzzles me why people don’t have faith in the natural processes that have evolved during human existence which ensure that our species will survive from generation to generation due to the ability and drive of our young to learn and understand the environment into which they were born.

The major tool for all this learning is curiosity. It seems to me to be obvious that all children are infinitely curious. It is not necessary to goad or entice them to learn new things. All you have to do is be there to answer their questions and make them feel safe.

At Sudbury Valley we do just that. The kids are surrounded by activities. They see adults as well as students engaged in reading, writing, using computers, phones, copying machines, painting pictures, doing pottery, fixing the roof or the plumbing, doing carpentry, talking and debating, laughing, playing basket ball, capture the flag and four square, climbing the rocks and trees and sledding and skating and on and on and on. They also see a lot of older kids taking care of younger ones when they are upset or need help to figure something out that eludes them. In short they are immersed in a peaceful, active and vibrant place where they can learn about the world and themselves when they are ready to deal with the information that bombards their senses in full force.

They don’t need strewing which is artificial and not organic or natural. Above all children dislike inauthentic behavior from adults. They seem to be averse to phoney activities and thus no benefit accrues from all the effort to expose them to this or that, facts or skills. Just the opposite will result: they will tend to avoid the very things that are set out for them and prefer to follow their own agendas.

So why not just trust in nature and let them explore and learn on their own? No strewing is needed, thank you very much; their own curiosity will lead them to lots of skills and knowledge they will need in order to grow up to be capable of functioning as effective adults.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.