When I was a child bedtime kicked off with a trip to my parents’ room. It wasn’t a place I was usually allowed to hang out but at bedtime my mother (usually it was Mom, but on rare occasion it was Dad) stretched out on her bed and began to read aloud to me. When I was very small it was simple story books. As I got older and my attention span grew it became chapter books. The Little House series, Nancy Drew, Little Women, and more were my picks for bedtime stories.
As my mother read I would dig earnestly through a small lacquered metal box that my father kept on an oak library table in their room or through my mother’s mahogany jewelry chest. Those two boxes were as endlessly fascinating as the story worlds I was listening to. They held objects of immense curiosity. Though my parents didn’t know it, they were “strewing” for me with those boxes. It was a tradition that I brought into my own home as a parent and explored more fully.
Nobody ever directed me to the jewelry chest or the metal box. In fact, even though my mother was sitting right there watching me dig through them, it felt deliciously naughty to be pawing through my parents’ “treasures” like that.
In those two treasure troves I explored gemstones and natural materials including ivory, coral, seeds, and more. I explored cultures from around the world with the small trinkets like the ivory Buddha statue and the currency my father collected from every place he was stationed. I learned history as I would interrupt my mother’s reading to ask questions about the various military “swag” my father had acquired, the “Majorcan pearls” my mother kept in her jewelry box, the pocket knife that had belonged to a grandfather prefaced with more “greats” than I could count, and the generations-old jade cuff links.
I have my own treasure box now that my daughters are always welcome to paw through. But more than that, I try to fill our home with “treasures” large and small to delight them and ignite their curiosity. I’ve come to learn that the word for this practice is “strewing” – the casual placement of items in a child’s path that you hope will spark their interest.
Strewing in the Bathroom
I love strewing shower curtains in the bathroom. It started when I spotted a shower curtain bearing the periodic table of elements. I had to have it though I couldn’t tell you quite why. It was followed in short order by a world map shower curtain, a pi shower curtain, and a giant word search shower curtain.
By that time pre-made “educational” shower curtain pickings were getting slim so I started experimenting on how to make my own. In the end I favored white cloth shower curtains on which I emblazoned my fancies with fabric markers. The early ones were drawn free-hand and included a handbook of medieval weaponry and a nice graphic depiction of a great many animals people tend to keep as pets along with the “normal” respiration, heart rate, and body temperature of the animals for my aspiring veterinarian.
Eventually I started borrowing the church’s overhead projector to trace “patterns” onto my shower curtains, including a human skeleton labeled with all the bones and a quick reference to basic geology.
Strewing in the Living Room
In the living room is a wire basket that looks like a birds’ nest. The contents change periodically but they never fail to fascinate the girls. Sometimes it’s interesting potpourri or vase filler. Sometimes rocks, minerals, and gemstones. Once I filled it with arrowheads and other Native American artifacts found on various fields we farm. Another time I found directions for using plants to tea-dye eggs and tried it out on blown-out egg shells that ended up in the nest. At one time the nest mysteriously filled with rubber bouncing balls.
Strewing with Magnets
My father-in-law collects scrap metal. He ends up with a lot of assorted doodads and geegaws. Nuts, bolts, screws, scraps of wire, and things I don’t have a name for. Most of them end up at a scrap metal yard but some of the more interesting stuff comes to my house. Here it meets a variety of interesting magnets I collect when I find them. I even have a REALLY powerful magnet in a metal base to hold onto it all.
The metal and magnets have become the lacquered metal box of my own children. They fidget and fiddle with fascinating sculptures while I talk or read to them. Even unpleasant or awkward conversations become more tolerable when held while building a magnetic metal sculpture. The magnets have also become a source of entertainment by testing various metals to see if they are magnetic.
Not all of my strewing is in the physical realm, though. I have a Pinterest board entitled “Learning is Fun.” I keep various craft ideas, recipes for play dough, and anything else I think might catch the girls’ interest. Recently I added a few links to origami using paper currency. Any time I spot a documentary on Netflix I think one of the girls might like it goes into the watch queue. They usually check there first if they’re idly looking for something to watch. I’ve even been known to download a book onto my Nook that I never intended to read because one of my daughters loves cherry picking through my Nook bookshelves for her own reading material.
Strewing is Simple
Strewing sounds complicated to people who hear about it for the first time, but it’s not really complicated at all. You don’t have to be a secret agent to strew effectively. Just think about things you’ve found interesting in your life and put those sorts of things out where people in your home can see them. They needn’t be “educational” or profound or special in any way. What just looks like a deposit slip for the bank to you might be the most interesting thing in the world to a child in your home, even if only for five minutes.