It is popular, in homeschooling circles, to do rabbit trails and "delight directed" unit studies. Usually this involves some careful planning and strewing of beautiful materials by Mom. We use a curriculum that isn't really conducive to that kind of thing, per se, and it gets harder and harder to find time to add anything extra to our days. But I have found this spontaneous child-led learning can still happen if you are on the lookout for budding interests and then provide materials the kids can use independently. Maria spent the first part of this semester making an insect pin board for biology. She is not a fan of bugs, really. But the younger kids were enthralled with her collection. Jack, especially, has become a little obsessed with them, and he is taking Tess and Henry along for the ride. I can't tell you how many insect homes I have made out of emptied containers and jars (and how many containers I have found lying around the house, lid removed). I have looked up articles and videos for Jack, procured books from the library and our bookshelves, and printed off coloring pages. And just like that, with very little effort and absolutely no planning on my part, we have a little rabbit trail going.
I just had to share this hysterical picture, if just to show how spontaneous these moments are. I took this just last night. I was giving the baby a bath, and Jack brought me the laptop and asked me to let him look up different insects. He is not allowed to use the computer without direct supervision, and he had been asking me all day to help him do this, so I let him sit with me in the bathroom and do this while I bathed Mary Claire. Tess and Henry quickly joined him. So there they all are, hunkered down on the messy floor of our tiny bathroom. Yes, Henry is, as my Grandma would say, nekked as a jaybird.He's waiting for the tub, you see. While he eats his dessert. Why? What do you do while you are waiting for the tub?
Anyway, that's our version of unit studies. It's not pretty. It's not pin-worthy. But at least it happens!