Comics project: Extending ideas

Published by Lori Pickert on October 26, 2007 at 12:28 PM


When Jack was first interested in/obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, he started by reading the books over and over and over.

Then he started drawing the comics. He tried to draw the characters as closely as he could to the originals. He filled two large sketchbooks with these drawings.


It was at that point that I began to support his deep interest with project materials and resources.

It is fascinating to watch as he makes the work more and more his own, as he becomes more confident. After mastering drawing the characters, he began copying whole strips.

After mastering copying the strips, he moved on to making up his own original C&H stories and drawing those.


After filling a book with his own C&H comics (which were hilarious, and very much in the original style), he invented his own comic, George and Falkin. George was the grown-up son of Calvin and Susie (Calvin married Susie Derkins!), and he had his own imaginary friend Falkin, a stuffed bear.


At this point, I have to stop and just admire my 7-year-old's grasp of storytelling and humor. He drew Calvin's dad the same, but older, and used a lot of the same running gags as the original strip. As Calvin used to pretend to be Stupendous Man, George pretends to be Fantabulous Man. And so on.

He was no longer just copying, he was extending the ideas.

At each level, he sticks with one thing until he feels confident to make the next step. I play no part in this. I just watch and admire his work. I don't say, “Why don't you…?” or “You should…” (Sometimes it’s difficult.)

At each level, he gains mastery (as defined and measured by himself) then moves on naturally and fluidly to the next, more complex thing.

His natural inclination is to stick with something until he thinks he does it well enough. He assesses his own efforts and decides when he’s satisfied.

His natural inclination is to make connections (noting similarities between two comics, among the drawing styles of different cartoonists and illustrators, across story and character development, and so on.

His natural inclination is to reach out to other people — to share his work, to talk in person with artists whose work he admires, to talk with people who do work that interests him.


His natural inclination is to enjoy everything he does. He pours his heart into his work.


If he doesn't someday become a professional cartoonist (right now he says cartoonist-scientist), he may not ever require the exact skills he is learning from this particular project at this moment. But he certainly is picking up a lot of intangibles and habits of mind.


Comment by Stefani on October 27, 2007 at 01:48 AM

First, I love this child. His wit and sweetness just shines right through. "conniptions"!!!!

Second, if you only had any idea what an inspiration this series has been for me. I have been on the fence, trying to ride between unschooling and recreating a "school" education at home. I'm finally ready to let go of more, and trust in their natural curiosity, and their innate desire to learn.

Thank you, so much for giving me a gentle nudge in that direction!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2007 at 01:21 PM

thank you, stef, that means a lot to me.

(and he is a salty peanut. his personality is too big for one person. ;^)

i hesitate to comment on "unschooling" -- in my experience, it's a term that is so broad that it is essentially meaningless. there are people working in vastly different ways and calling it "unschooling".

i don't believe that leaving children entirely to their own devices is the best route. learning in this way is a learned skill .. meta-learning. they can acquire the skills to learn about anything they want to know about -- and the confidence that goes along with that knowledge. but it comes with practice.

i think adults play a huge part in becoming a trusted resource for children, helping them get what they need and do what they need to satisfy their natural craving for learning.

and supporting children in this way is *also* a learned skill. it's so easy to accidentally say "here's the answer" and kill a line of inquiry. it's so easy to miss a child's out-loud wondering or quiet statement. it takes practice to get into a rhythm of back-and-forth, into a way of being where a child trusts implicitly that you're there to help them do their work, and it's *their work*.

i feel pretty passionately about this, obviously, and i've seen it work at school, too. school is not the enemy. a child-restricting, child-limiting, disconnected curriculum is the enemy. (mine, anyway! ;^)

(at home, however, it's even easier to supplement this kind of rich, child-directed learning with, say, a little multiplication on the side. there's so much time at our disposal. you never have to say "we don't have enough time to read to ourselves for two hours this morning". there are definite benefits to homeschooling that cannot be denied.)

i'm immensely glad you are getting some inspiration from what i'm writing about. in general. thank you for the encouraging feedback!

Comment by Stefani on October 27, 2007 at 03:33 PM

Hey lady! Thanks for the thoughtful response! Yes, I would agree terms like "unschooling" and even "homeschooling" can be ambiguous, and no, I do not mean to say that we just let them run, without any guidance or participation on our parts. What I mean is that I'm beginning to make their leading and interests the priority, whereas is has been what we do after we do "school".

I've always been concerned that if, for whatever reason, homeschooling didn't work out, we needed to stay at grade level and do things the way they would be done in school, in case they needed to drop in at some point. I'm finally beginning to relax, go with our projects, take more time to follow their lead, and let go of the scheduled plans and worksheets. It's a leap of faith, but really not so much... it always seems that we learn more when we're doing their thing than we do when we're doing my thing anyway.

I'm learning along with them, I guess, and that's a pretty great place to be.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2007 at 02:41 AM

it sure is. :^)

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