I strongly believe in giving children freedom to learn the things they’re passionate about in their own time and in their own way. But even those families who have been unschooling for awhile can be swayed by the mainstream way of thinking about education. During those “back to school” months, it’s even more difficult to escape from thoughts that maybe you’re not doing quite enough or that your children are “behind” in certain areas.
Here are a few ideas for getting rid of those unschooling fears.
Take a look at your state’s educational standards- and not just for your child’s “grade.” I think you’ll be in for a surprise. If you can get past all the “educational” terminology, you’ll understand that most of the standards are pretty general and usually carry across several grade levels. You might read that in 3rd grade your child would have learned about say, American Indian history, and start to worry because you haven’t discussed that topic much, but if you skip up a few grades you might notice that in 6th graders learn all about invertebrates and he’s an expert in that topic. Remember, you’re child is on his own unique developmental timetable. So are the children that go to school, too. It’s just that their timetables are usually not respected.
Talk with parents who have children older than yours and are using a natural learning approach. I love to talk with other unschooling families who have children in their teens. I’m constantly amazed at the variety of work they do, the knowledge they have and the lives they lead. Obviously, not all unschooling families are the same, but I’ve noticed that in families where the children are used to self-direction and have lots of time to focus on their unique talents and skills, they are years ahead of other kids their age in maturity and taking responsibility for their learning and future goals.
Keep a notebook where you record the activities and interests of your children. I keep a family blog (you can find it at www.aneclecticodyssey.blogspot.com or click on the link in the nav bar on the home page of this site). It’s my way of recording what we’re up to, what we’ve been learning and all of our adventures. I also keep a notebook for each of my children where I list the different things they’ve done over the past week, questions they’ve had and ideas they want to explore further. I don’t have to do this, but I love looking back over the months and years to see all the things they have learned from their own interests.
Do research on the history of childhood. In October I’m going to start a series of posts on the history of childhood. It’s been a topic that has interested me for a long time. How have children learned for most of history? How do they prepare to take on adult responsibility? When did school first become compulsory? If you’ve never read John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education you need to do so. You can even read it for free here. It’s a fascinating, and frankly, scary book to read, but it also gives a lot of insight into why we’ve changed the way children have always learned and transitioned into adulthood.
Tape a list to your refrigerator of all the opportunities your child has because they don’t go to school. Yes, the schools may have a nice gym the kids can play in (for about twenty minutes a day if they’re lucky) and expensive lab equipment to use (by following specific directions, usually not by experimenting on their own). But you don’t have to stay in the same building all day. Some of the things on my family’s list include: playing outside as long as we want, going to a different museum each day of the week, travelling to Europe during September, taking an hour to eat lunch, spending an entire day reading all the books we want, having hour long discussions, and finding new and fascinating places to explore.
Keep track for a week of all the things your children are learning outside of normal “school” hours. Yes, I know that kids who go to school learn outside of school hours, too. No one can stop from learning all the time. The difference is that kids who go to school often have hours of homework to do when they get home. Most of it is busy work that teachers need to give a grade or because it’s a school policy to give a certain amount of homework every night. I know; I was a teacher once. But kids who don’t go to school may be up at 10:00 at night learning about horses, or the moon or building a robot. Instead of working on a research paper all weekend long that no one but the teacher will read, they might be writing their own novel, or helping to build homes for those in need, or just hanging out with the family.
Make a list of all the things you have learned since you left school. When I sat down and did this I was amazed at how much I’ve learned since leaving school- even graduate school. I’ve learned parts of other languages, more about physics, Egypt, art history, writing, creating websites, cooking and so much more. And I’ve retained it, too, because I’ve had my own reason for wanting to know those things. If your child doesn’t know a lot about a particular topic most kids learn about in school, why can’t he learn it when he’s 18 or 30, or 72? We can’t learn all there is to know in this world. We just need to know those things that are helping us achieve the goals we have right now.
Review the list of goals you have for your child. I don’t mean goals like wanting them to learn how to read or learning geography. I’m talking about big life goals. For example, I want my kids to always be curious and imaginative. I want them to be interested in those things that fascinate them, even if other people don’t care that much. I want them to love God and become loving, responsible and dependable people. I want them to love learning and take charge of their own lives by self-directing, knowing how to plan and set goals, and reach for their dreams.
Will living a large chunk of their lives spent in the same building, with the same people, and doing the same things prepare them for the life you dream for them? That’s what you have to decide.
Photo Credit: Greg Westfall
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