When visiting a city, I try to time our outings to children’s attractions so that we’re visiting during school hours. I’m highly aware that this is the last week of the school term and so we’ve been prioritising some places that will get busy when holidays start at the end of this week.

Ever since we left Indonesia, the girls have been asking to go for a swim. Yesterday we visited the newly revamped Beatty Park complex in North Perth which has several pools, a terrific kids’ play area with fountains and spouts and two large slides as well as several toddler-sized ones.

Lana at Beatty Park, Perth, WA, July 2013
"This rainbow snake is my friend," says Lana. Because it's the middle of a school-day, the pools are almost deserted.

The girls were thrilled to be back in the water again. Lana is the only one who isn’t swimming confidently, and that’s more because she believes she needs the flotation in her suit than an actual lack of skill. Slowly, I’ll coax her out of her float-suit, and then she’ll discover she can swim just fine.

Going down the slides at Beatty Park, Perth, July 2013
There are no queues or crowds at the slides!

Today, we returned to Perth Zoo which we last visited in February 2009. Before we went in, we enjoyed browsing that blog post in anticipation of the animals we’d see and reminiscing about our times spent in this city when we were visiting my sister’s family!

Aisha, Brioni and Calista at Perth Zoo, July 2013
The girls pose in front of the zoo entrance in a re-creation of the photo I took four years ago when we last visited Perth Zoo.

Lion coughing up a hairball, Perth Zoo, July 2013
We like to see animals in action, and there's something extremely satisfying about watching the king of the jungle hack up a hairball!

Lana at the zoo, Perth Zoo, July 2013
Lana cheerfully greets the giraffe (and the zebras) in this pen.

Interesting fungi, Perth Zoo, July 2013
Apart from the animals, we also like examining the interesting plants that are growing in the zoo. Many exotic species are labelled, answering our questions, but others — like these exquisite fungi — remain anonymous and mysterious.

The girls really took their time while going through the Nocturnal House. Everyone was talking in whispers and identifying the creatures they could see in the dim, red lights. I was particularly impressed by Lana who correctly identified a spotted quoll and took me back several enclosures to show me another one the same — albeit from another part of the country. Even a three years old, Lana understands the complexities of the world around her in a way that I often don’t give her credit for.

In Melbourne, we purchased an annual zoo membership that gives us unlimited entry to the main zoos around the country, and so when the girls were more hungry for food than for looking at animals, it was easy to walk back out to our bus. In the bus, the girls’ imaginations were fired up from the animals they had seen and they started some great games and opted not to return to look at more animals today.

A while back, this sort of “incomplete” outing would have stressed me. We completely missed the Asian animals and the highlight of our last visit — the HUGE croc — but the girls were still satisfied with their experience. I often need to remind myself that the girls’ attitudes in doing something are more important than the motions we go through. Sure, I could have dragged reluctant children around the rest of the zoo, and perhaps they would have snapped out of their moods to enjoy some more animals, but would it have fostered a safe, loving, learning environment? In this case, I don’t think so.

In a recent article for Psychology Today, Peter Gray writes eloquently about the “freedom to quit” and its implications for society. It’s interesting to explore the notion that we should allow ourselves (and our children) freedom in this area despite conventional wisdom that insists “a job half-done is a job not done”. Gray posits that if we gave our children the freedom to quit school, then schools would have to transform into places where children wanted to be! He writes:

When children are truly free to walk away from school, then schools will have to become child-friendly places in order to survive. Children love to learn, but, like all of us, they hate to be coerced, micromanaged, and continuously judged. They love to learn in their own ways, not in ways that others force on them. Schools, like all institutions, will become moral institutions only when the people they serve are no longer inmates. When students are free to quit, schools will have to grant them other basic human rights, such as the right to have a voice in decisions that affect them, the right to free speech, the right to free assembly, and the right to choose their own paths to happiness. Such schools would look nothing at all like the dreary institutions we call “school” today.

Seasoned unschoolers understand that natural-learning children browse through their education, grazing on knowledge and experiences without, perhaps, finishing a decent-sized portion. We recognise that exposure — with a positive attitude — is more important than expertise.

A child who has tasted something and enjoyed it — however little an exposure it was — will be inclined to return to that subject matter again if it suits them (if they need the knowledge later or simply want to follow up on their own line of enquiry). A child who is forced to complete a line of study against their will may tick all the adults’ boxes and may be able to pass an exam on that subject matter, but will their mind be open to exploring the topic again? Certainly, it depends on the individual and on the topic, but personally, I prefer to keep our children free to learn at their own pace with positive attitudes towards life and education!