Coffee and Conversation: The Nature of Gaps

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – and, around here, that means it’s time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my familywas driving on an interstate highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living their lives, lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to see what those lives were, and to share my own…

Here, each Monday, I strive to reach that understanding through offering ideas and tidbits from my life. Settle in for a while, and share something of yours.

I recently watched “Is School Enough?”, a PBS documentary which explored alternative educational programs. Rather than a curriculum designed to cover everything that’s deemed important, with the solid reassurance of textbooks and homework and tests, slamming locker doors and ringing of bells, the clockwork schedule of traditional schooling, here were kids doing meaningful projects, following their passions, and accessing mentors to help them with their independent studies.

Most schools, though, still attempt to construct solid bridges from point to point, so that there will be no gaps in learning. Lesson plans, worksheets, homework, test review, going over the same material in several different ways, are all intended to assure there will be no gaps. Summer reading lists and “summer bridge” workbooks, represent efforts to “make up” for the bridges that are apparently burned when kids aren’t in school.

Gaps are a natural and beautiful part of life!

Our children, now 9 and 12, have never attended school, and might never choose to do so.

Will my children have learning gaps?

Yes. For one thing, they may never experience first hand how it feels to go to school.

Do schooled kids have learning gaps?

Also yes. The vast majority don’t know what it is to live year-round without school framing their lives – to live life on their own terms, gaps and all.

We all have gaps. I have gaps you don’t, and you have ones that I don’t. We’re all different, and live different lives that require different knowledge and skills. None of us can ever learn everything there is to learn, and what we need to learn changes, depending on our life circumstances of the moment.

The learning that happens here, every day, makes me thankful for these naturally occurring gaps in learning. I see it as the continuation of the intense learning drive that we all had as babies and toddlers, a maturation of that passionate and endless investigation of the very young; it’s grown along with us.

Recently, here, it’s been a small colony of woolly bear caterpillars, and Kindle documentaries of their activities. It’s researching anything from My Little Pony videos to TNT to Morse code to liquid-cooled gaming computers to Schrodinger’s cat. It’s reading William Carlos Williams poetry, and Death in Yellowstone for hours, stopping to explore geology, biology, litigation, history, safety, parental attitudes, ethical and conservation considerations, geography, and more. It’s going places – museums, playgrounds, the ocean, the mountains, events, to other states. It’s touching, tasting, smelling, feeling budgeting,building, creating, laughing, and being…and MORE. So very much more.

For us, learning is a thriving meadow, wild and beloved, nourished by sun and rain, pollinated by bees from various hives, but not forced to a shape of someone else’s choosing. Here, learning always belongs to the learner.

We value what each member of the family is interested in, whether it’s a lifelong passion, or a fleeting spark, quickly ignited, and as quickly flared out. We budget for and seek out adventures and resources that feed those passions. We are a family of busy, impassioned learners!

So what do we do, when we find a gap in what we know?

Exploring a gap near Missoula, Montana.

We might:

  • Explore the gap’s shape.
  • Play around with what to do next.
  • Find someone who knows more about that gap than we do.
  • Ask for help.
  • Hike into the gap, and learn it as we go.
  • Research it via books, internet, discussion, or otherwise.
  • Find other gaps we didn’t know we had yet.
  • Know that we can’t possibly learn everything. and other stuff matters more to us…
  • Walk away, and leave the gap as it is.
  • Revel in the gap’s mystery.
  • Come back later, or not (see above; no one can learn everything!)

So, what about those gaps I know our kids will have in their learning?

Before our kids could read, their lives were a treasure trove of gap-navigating tools. With a lifetime of practice, they can find many ways to learn things they want to know. They haven’t forgotten the techniques they first learned as babies, and they have, over the years, expanded upon that foundation. What they are interested in today is far more sophisticated, and closer to adult learning, than what fired them up when they were younger, and they’ve grown independent and inventive at learning what they want to explore.

Each of us, when we’re born, has a vast and deep gap – but we evolved to begin filling it up right away – Mom’s smell, face, and voice, control over a small body, social gestures, language, eating, toileting…and the list goes on and on. We all begin by filling those gaps.

Which is why I love to write about topics like this- to offer us all a chance to explore the gaps between us, and maybe learn something of value, in the process.

I want to acknowledge these posts by Sandra Dodd and Vickie Bergman, which inspired my thoughts on the gaps in out lives. I was especially inspired to hear Vickie give her talk, “Mind the Gap”, at NEUC, with my son Jeremiah.

What are you learning these days? Have you explored any new gaps lately? Made great discoveries? Thoughts on this post, or the nature of gaps? Wanna share?

The joy of space… that gap!


  1. SJ, I really like the concept of the gap. It becomes an invitation instead of a deficiency.I am trying to “mind”–as in pay attention to, and lean into–my own gaps in technology understanding, rather than “minding”–being annoyed by–them.

    • Gretchen,

      Thank you – and YES! That was exactly the point of Vickie’s talk (which included slides of her adorable little ones, too!). It was based on the British Underground signs advising “Mind the Gap”. I think your approach is just right – leaning in, learning a little more, paying attention…and technology often befuddles me, too. I am very lucky to have a Tech Boy in residence to help me with those gaps. =)

Take a chance! Type something in this box, and see what happens! =D

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.