Learning From Life
If you’d have told me 6 years ago that I might become a homeschooler I’d have laughed you out the room. Funny how life goes. Now I’m contemplating not only homeschooling, but in fact, it’s radical little sister unschooling. Unscholing is a subset of homeschooling. It’s an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning without any compulsory curriculum or arbitrary goals.
Basically that means “learn however you like and I’ll help you”. This looks different for each family, but the general idea is that you learn from life. You learn all the skills you need, within your cultural context, from living life engaged and immersed within it.
- Play, exploration and flexibility
When you unschool you can really allow your children to have a childhood that is chockfull with long hours of uninterrupted play. That’s probably the number one reason I’m interested. Because I truly believe that play is the most important past time children engage in, for every type of development. When you aren’t fitting into someone else’s schedule you have maximum flexibility – to explore, travel, hang out, sleep in… you name it. To some that’s probably a nightmare, but I’m intrigued.
- A one sized all curriculum can’t fit all children
Schools, almost by definition, need all the children to conform to the same curriculum, to learn the same pieces of information, in pretty much the same way and at basically the same pace. At home, you have the freedom to craft a curriculum that makes the most sense for your children and your lifestyle. What do your kids need to know? What do they want to know? How do they learn best? These are questions we have the luxury of asking when we’re taking control of our children’s education.
- Multi age learning
One of my favorite authors on this topic, Peter Grey, writes extensively about the deep benefits of multi age learning. In short: Older kids learn responsibility and nurturance. Younger kids learn skills and maturity. I see this so clearly when my (little) kids play with their big cousins. It’s a beautiful thing. In schools 5 year olds don’t even mix with 6 year olds, let alone 14 year olds or 1 year olds. But at home, kids can enjoy the company of elderly people, adults of all ages, babies, teenagers…
- Non competitive environment
Schools (usually) work with grades, tests, bell curves, awards, valedictorians… etc. This by definition means that the environment is competitive. In order to be the best, you have to beat others. This is the opposite of a collaborative environment that promotes teamwork and community. I really hope and believe that the way of the future is more collaboration and less competition, and even if it isn’t, that is what I’d hope to teach my kids throughout their childhoods.
- Closer family ties
I’m really excited by the idea that I could spend most of my children’s childhoods with them, and they with each other. It’s almost quaint. To think that I don’t have to outsource many hours of their days and that instead we could enjoy unlimited family time – while the kids are still young and interested – excited me.
- Emphasis on creativity
As Ken Robinson pointed out in the most famous Ted talk of all time, many schools kill creativity. And creativity is the literacy of our time. I’d like to provide maximum emphasis on creative learning and creativity, and my hunch is that I could do that better outside of the mainstream classroom.
- Emphasis on character, kindness and community
In schools, usually the bulk of the emphasis is on advancing and bettering oneself academically (and perhaps socially). Perhaps, at home we could have more time to be involved in our community, and put the main emphasis on developing character and kindness.
- Autonomy, choice, freedom
Schools are compulsory, and usually they enforce pretty strict rules. Where you sit, when you talk, when you go to the bathroom, what you do, and how you do it. They even monopolize time spent at home with increasingly more homework, even though homework has been proven again and again to have no benefits to learning. We know that kids (like all people) need to feel ownership over their lives, and yet we increasingly limit their downtime, playtime, free-time with more ‘work’. I’d like to avoid that if possible….
- Whole body learning
Many kids do not enjoy sitting at a desk and listening. Schools are catching onto this and trying to offer a varied approach to learning – including moving around – but sometimes it barely scrapes the surface of what is needed. And other times it’s dripping with irony, almost like a cruel trick – see these under-desk treadmills for example. I believe in a childhood fill with running, jumping, climbing, rolling, kicking, snuggling, building, swinging, riding… I’d like to have that kind of adulthood, too. Sedentary work is a bit depressing to me, and it’s completely impossible for many children (unless medicated). This also means I can follow my kids learning styles. Some kids need to be moving all the time, others need to lie down and rest more often. Outside of a classroom, that’s no problem.
- Definition of success
I think for most schools, the definition of creating a successful ‘product’ is sending out someone into the world who can earn a living and get a good job. Whilst I think that’s vitally important, it doesn’t begin to cover how I would define success. I would like to think that childhood has value in and of itself. That a child isn’t merely an adult in the making. And therefore, I’m not looking at what happens now only in terms of how it serves the future. Being a fulfilled 4 year old is of value, not because it’s a step on the way to becoming a 5 year old.
Whether or not we unschool, and for how long, remains to be seen and will ultimately come down to what works for us and our kids, and what we can manage within our resources. But I think there is so much to learn from and strive for in this trusting, free lifestyle, and I hope we get to continue down this path and experience it!
Have you heard of unschooling? Does it sounds crazy to you? Or have you been doing it forever?