This is a free online conference scheduled for May 23-27, 2016. Sign up for the conference on their website at www.ednextgen.com. They will be interviewing 25 experts discussing social emotional learning and mindfulness.
Most of us grew up in the public school system, and so naturally our frame of reference may be limited to this particular model of education. It’s easy to conclude that since we did it this way, and most everyone around us does it this way, then it must be the best way.
From such a limited viewpoint many people may see unschooling (natural, child-led learning) as a radical experiment: something new, unproven, maybe even a little crazy. But when we take a broader view of history and look at how humans have lived and learned and thrived over many centuries, we can see that compulsory public schooling is actually the “new” experiment—an experiment whose results are rightly being called into question by many people today.
In 2008 Peter Gray*, research professor of psychology at Boston College, published an instructive article titled “A Brief History of Education” where he lays out how public schools came about, how we got to where we are today, and some of the motivations behind the expansion of the public school system. (Hint: the motivations were rarely about the healthy development and well-being of children.)
Dr Gray’s article is really good, I encourage you to read it. Here are a few excerpts:
If we want to understand why standard schools are what they are, we have to abandon the idea that they are products of logical necessity or scientific insight. They are, instead, products of history. Schooling, as it exists today, only makes sense if we view it from a historical perspective.
In the beginning, for hundreds of thousands of years, children educated themselves through self-directed play and exploration.
For various reasons, some religious and some secular, the idea of universal, compulsory education arose and gradually spread. Education was understood as inculcation. […] The only known method of inculcation, then as well as now, is forced repetition and testing for memory of what was repeated.
Employers in industry saw schooling as a way to create better workers. To them, the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, tolerance for long hours of tedious work, and a minimal ability to read and write.
Everyone assumed that to make children learn in school the children’s willfulness would have to be beaten out of them. Punishments of all sorts were understood as intrinsic to the educational process. In some schools children were permitted certain periods of play (recess), to allow them to let off steam; but play was not considered to be a vehicle of learning. In the classroom, play was the enemy of learning.
Read the full article here:
Discuss this post in our Alternative Living & Learning Forums here.
* Peter Gray, PhD researches and publishes on how children learn, with a specific focus on the role of play in the learning and development process. He spoke at the 2015 Texas Unschoolers conference. A video of that talk, called The Biology of Education, can be seen below.
Peter Gray: The Biology of Education
TEDx video: The Decline of Play, by Peter Gray
Peter Gray’s 2014 talk at TEDxNavesink
I love this visual about Introverts. Since I have a son that is a true blue introvert, I have learned to interact with him in all of the above ways.
Introverts are such special and gifted people. They usually think long and hard before acting. They can figure just about anything out, given the time and space to do it. When they find someone that is their true friend, they will honor that friendship like no other. They usually don’t like crowds. When they DO speak, they like to be really heard, so pretending to listen doesn’t work with them. THEY DO notice when you’re not really present.
They NEED alone time, much more than an extrovert does. They NEED quiet. They really do need to be given lots of transition time from one activity to the next. When they are rushed they are stressed, more so than the rest of us.
Introverts DISLIKE labels. Don’t label them. Empower them to be exactly as they are.
Honor your introverted child by respecting his need for solitude and quiet spaces. Honor him/ her by being ultra respectful of his/her needs. If you do, you will have a confident, loyal and thoughtful person in your life. One who might change the world with his introspective nature.
Want to discuss Introverts more fully? Join us at the Alternative Living and Learning community here.
My son came up with a great idea! With my help, we’re going to collected data as we play every board and card game that we own. Over the next 17 days, we will play one game per day and then fill in our data chart with information about our gaming preferences. What we like about the game. What we don’t. What our favorites are.
Then we will collect our data and make a pie chart (or two).
Here’s our Game Plan: (no pun intended!)
1. Gather up all of our board and card games.
2. Make a chart where we can collect data about what we like, what we don’t like and how we rate the game.
3. When our game challenge is done, we will enter our data into a free pie chart creator to display our results. The Pie Chart will look something like this at the end of our study.
Besides learning how to collect data and formulate that into a study, we will be working through numbers, reading, strategizing and thinking skills as we play. We will be expanding our minds and having fun at the same time.
Won’t you join us in the game challenge? Pull out those dusty games and have fun. Record your results and then jump over to the discussion forums to share your data.
Forward to this article: I wrote this article on my personal blog back in 2012. It has by far been the most popular blog post on my personal site. I thought it might be beneficial to some to share it here. I’ve learned since I wrote this article that everything in this post can be applied to just about every video game, tv show, movie, pop culture and everything in between. It just requires for the parent or guardian to step out of what they’ve been told about visual media and watch what is actually going on with the individual child.
~ Michelle Conaway
What My Kids Are Learning While Playing Minecraft
by Michelle Conaway (Originally published on July 17, 2012)
Who would have ever thought I would have been okay with my kids making a full time job out of playing a video game? I sure never thought I would get there. But I have. My boys spend most of their waking hours on a computer game called Minecraft.
Over the years, after I decided to homeschool, I found myself migrating more towards a philosophy of life called Unschooling. Yes, we pulled out the text books and “educational” websites at the beginning of our homeschooling journey, but my kids got bored with it. I saw them resisting the work I was providing for them and not retaining much of what I was teaching. They would even pretend to be sleeping in the mornings, trying to avoid my “school” work.
For the last couple of years, I’ve let go of doing anything that looked schoolish. Of course, if they want to do worksheets, they are welcome to explore that, but gone are the days that I force them to sit and do anything. Instead, I’ve started asking them what they would like to do and let them do it. What I’ve observed as they play video games, watch cartoons, make their own cartoons on Zimmertwins and read Garfield books is a huge improvement in their reading, math, vocabulary and social skills. In essence, I’ve fully embraced the unschooling philosophy that everyone learns differently and learns best when given the opportunity to pursue things that they enjoy doing. I know I always have. Why would that be different for my kids?
In March we were introduced to the computer game called Minecraft. My boys took to it like nobody’s business! This game is so much fun and the fun and depth with which they play never ends. You can create worlds from scratch, build your own towns, tools, weapons and avatars. You can play on multi servers where you plan communities with other people playing the game. I have observed my kids developing many new skills playing Minecraft and wanted to write about them here.
Problem Solving Skills
When you spawn in Minecraft you are in the middle of nowhere with only trees, caves and animals roaming around. If you are playing in survival mode, you will also see creepers, skeletons, zombies, spiders or enderman that will attack you starting at sundown. You must try to survive by cutting down trees and building yourself some type of primitive shelter to protect yourself from the monsters that come out at night. You also have a hunger bar and if you don’t find food, you will die.
Sounds easy, but trust me it’s not. You must come up with a statagy for surviving that first night and be quick about it lest you die at the hands of the monsters in the dark or a hungry belly. I have seen the kids come up with elaborate plans for surviving that first night. They’ve learned to hunt for food, build shelter, mine coal for torches and make tools from natural resources all within the span of a 10 minute Minecraft “day”.
After that, they have to think quickly about how to continue to survive and build up a world in which they can live more easily. They plan gardens, set up farms with pigs, cows and chickens, build crafting tables and furnaces. They figure out how deep they must mine in a cave to find diamonds, gold and other precious metals. They must learn which weapons or tools work best for hunting, defending themselves against monsters and mining. The stakes get higher the more you survive. If you die you are at risk of losing all of the accumulated materials you have collected in your inventory.
Minecraft provides a continuous arena in which to flex those problem solving muscles and continue down the path to further development in the game.
The boys have learned how to research by playing Minecraft. When they want to learn a new trick or how to build an intricate lighting system for a mansion they have built they head to WikiHow, Youtube and other internet sources. There they find tutorials on how to build elaborate systems for their cities- how to run recessed lighting, how to build irrigation systems, how to plant and maintain gardens and how to build extravagant things like showers for the bathrooms or fireplaces for the living rooms. They have learned to bookmark their favorite tutorial sites, share them with friends, and even explain to others how to do certain things. They are even considering doing their own tutorial videos for youtube.
The boys have learned to communicate very well playing Minecraft. They have met friends through our Shine with Unschooling group and also through the Unschooling Gamers Yahoo Group and Facebook Group. Through these groups they have learned to set up and use Skype. It’s not uncommon to have several kids from all over the world playing Minecraft on our family server while skyping with each other.
They are learning to work together to gather food for the community, build stores to sell armor, weapons and food, build amusement parks and engineer new cities. They are learning to maneuver through different personality types and problem solve disputes between the players. They are learning to respect the wishes of others and communicate their own wishes and come to agreements on what is going to happen within the world.
If they don’t learn to communicate well on Minecraft, the game doesn’t go as well. Working with others on the Multiplayer servers is key to building and maintaining a world that works for everyone. Kind of like real life, huh?
With no keyboard or formal typing lessons, the boys have become very fast keyboarders. There is a chat section on Minecraft which has motivated them to learn to type faster and more accurately.
Cameron told me the other day that he is so glad I didn’t force him to do the typing program I tried to get him to do. Through his love of working on the computer he has gotten to be a master typist.
Spelling has improved immensely for the boys as they learn to navigate through the internet and chat with friends on Minecraft. It is essential that they are able to communicate with their friends on the chat section of Minecraft or in forums where they are trying to get answers to their questions. This has motivated them to learn to spell well so that they are understood by their friends.
I have seen the boys vocabulary expand a lot as they learn new words through friends or on the internet in articles they are reading about Minecraft. Many times they use words that me and their Dad are amazed by. Their new vocabulary spills out into their every day conversations. I can’t imagine that my forced vocabulary lists would have yielded boys who use language as well as they do.
Both Cameron and Caleb have asked to go to the library to get books about diamonds, obsidian, gold, silver and other gemstones. They have learned a lot about the layers of the earth. They have learned about all types of stone, wood, gemstones, caves and mining. Their love of Minecraft has peeked their interest in all sorts of geological study.
They have also become interested in Bioms. There are deserts, jungles, forests and oceans on Minecraft. Many different creatures live within the different biomes and the kids have loved learning about them all and often jump over to the internet to explore one biome or another.
I have seen a surge of creativity in the boys since they started playing Minecraft. Cameron’s love of drawing has expanded to drawing worlds of Minecraft scenery. Caleb has come up with stories about Minecraft characters. They have learned to invent tools and other things that help them problem solve in their game. Caleb and I even built a real stone pickax out of sticks and stones at the family farm recently.
I see them being more creative about problem solving in real life as well. They are more likely now to work out a problem for themselves, rather than ask me for a solution. They seem to be getting more creative in everything they do.
Math and Spacial Reasoning Skills
In order to build a structure that is functional as well as visually pleasing, you must develop math and spacial reasoning skills. I have seen the boys figure out in their heads how many blocks will be necessary for a foundation – doubling, tripling and even quadrupling that number in their heads and then apply that to a building in Minecraft. I have witnessed them taking an idea in their minds and building complete cities with recessed lighting and fountains and statues and stores using spacial reasoning and math skills. They are figuring it out on their own without any “formal” training in engineering. It really is remarkable to see some of the things they’re building. I also have Minecraft installed on my computer and haven’t had near the success that these kids do. Obviously, spacial reasoning and I don’t get along very well.
If you’re worried that your child is playing too many video games or that they seem to spend a lifetime on Minecraft, just know and trust that they ARE learning. Play the game yourself to get an idea of the difficulties that must be endured just to survive much less build elaborate cities. Talk to your kids and listen to what they are doing and how they are figuring out HOW to do it.
They ARE learning from these games. Many times it’s obvious that they are gaining valuable skills and sometimes it looks just like play. Gaming is truly an amazing way to explore the world if we can just let go of our preconceived ideas about it and let our children (and ourselves) thrive at it.
If you have questions or would like to discuss this post, please visit our forums community here.
We have recently added something to the Texas Unschoolers website.
The Alternative Living & Learning forums — at texasunschoolers.com/community.
One thing we have found is that when families begin to question the public education system and ultimately find their way to unschooling or another approach, they often begin to question and reevaluate many other institutions and “standard” practices in our society — work, religion, politics, health care, parenting, diet, technology, and more. Our goal with the discussion forums is to provide a place for people to talk about these topics, share their experiences, and learn about possible new paths of their own.
Registration on the forums is free, and you may use your real name or remain anonymous. An email address is required to verify your account and your personal information is kept confidential. There is a Frequently Asked Questions page to help you learn your way around the site, and you can use the Contact Us link at the bottom of each page to get in touch if you have questions.
We hope you will join in the discussions and be part of a growing community of families seeking a better way.
I believe that unschooling found us.
Our daughter was almost two when folks began asking me and my husband pretty regularly what we were going to do about her schooling. “Is your daughter in daycare?” “Is she going to preschool?” “Will she be in preschool?” What about kindergarten?” I felt pelted by these questions, all this worry: “Well, what are you going to do?” I still was awakening into a slightly less drowsy life with a toddler and was liking our routine more and more; I was enjoying motherhood. So when people bombarded me with what felt like pressure to conform — to know her future so surely and absolutely — now that family life post-infancy was really rolling, I felt uncomfortable, like I was expected to join the endless rat race of limited quality family time. So much hustle to be hurried. Everybody board the train to the future; forget about now. I repeat: She was only two.
This got me thinking and considering. What if I didn’t want to send her to school right away? What do I do with these feelings of wanting to spend time with her, of wanting her to be near me, of exploring mom and child, of letting the child explore for herself? Why would I have a child just to have her be raised and cared for essentially by others, especially those who are likely caring for many more simultaneously? And what about the culture of school? What about tests and early morning rising and late nights filled with homework? What about the assumptions we make about successes of — or failing at — school? Or the idea that only learning comes in the form of a standard curriculum? I knew what that was. I went to school. I taught. I walked the system. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted my daughter to do the same. There seemed to be more to parenthood and familyhood than the same old thing. I wanted whatever that was. My family wanted it, too.
So what was I saying? Homeschooling? Even considering it for our family was new to me and my husband. Could we do this? Would we be off-the-grid? It felt daring. I certainly was “qualified” to teach many things, and I had been around homeschooling communities while teaching language in Michigan. But homeshooling per se didn’t feel right either — that is bringing standard “educational” curriculum into the home. I further dismissed the idea of traditional homeschooling after I imagined interrupting my daughter’s own exploration or play — or mine — or snuggles for 9:00 AM spelling or afternoon math. What if that wasn’t her thing? Or her time? What if it was a perfect day to go to the beach? What if we just didn’t feel like doing what everyone else does? Conventional forms of schooling wore like ill-fitting clothes and would not work even if tailored to suit. Thankfully, unschooling found us in the form of an old friend.
It happened during the summer. This friend of mine was home for a visit with family. He, like many, asked about my daughter’s schooling. I told him, not so confidently yet, that I was tinkering with homeschooling … maybe. He sputtered and winced and moved around a lot in the chair, clearly disliking the notion. He said, “My sister unschools my niece … and she can’t even read yet and she’s nine.” I was immediately intrigued, mostly by his absolute disgust with something that was clearly not a crime, or evil or even bad. And, knowing his sister — who is also my friend — I figured that what he was saying could not be completely accurate. Furthermore, I was taken aback by his lack of open-mindedness. Clearly, he had evolved into a person I no longer knew so well, nor did he really know me.
With that, we said goodbyes and I began researching, while simultaneously emailing my unschooling friend to find out more. And what I learned boggled my mind, because it spoke to my heart. Radical unschooling. It seemed to be the perfect fit.
Why? Because it puts the family first, especially the relationship with the child. It fosters faith and trust in the abilities of the child. It advocates principles over rules. Something doesn’t work? Let’s try something else. Inherent in it is the idea that learning happens all of the time, anytime and from anywhere, particularly at the readiness of the child. It promotes peace, joy, patience. Unschooling makes space for a child to flourish, for the family to flourish. It is friend of togetherness, not separateness. It is thorough. It is exploratory. It lacks in stress and competition. It is abundant in helping a child thrive on her own terms, with help from her family.
And now our child is seven, and she has never been schooled. Unschooling for us is like breathing. It is lifestyle, it is love. Unschooling — “natural learning” to my husband — has given us the freedom to travel full time, to be together almost all of the time, to help each other grow. Extricating ourselves from the traditional model of child rearing has opened doors for us that would never be possible if our daughter went to school. She is thriving and learning in all ways. We all are.
If my dear friend knew that he was the one who introduced me to unschooling, he quite likely would choke on his beer. But thanks for the keys, man. We are on a beautiful, wild ride.
So unschooling came to us because we knew what we wanted for our family, rather than what was assumed of us. We put the family first, not in the hands or the expectations of the conventional culture, and it truly is wonderful. We experience sustained joy, peace and happiness on a regular basis and our daughter is expanding in ways that we understood to be true of her, that could be true of her, as well as in ways that we never saw coming. We continue to find ourselves as family and individuals through unschooling. It is a truly perfect fit.
Please join us to discuss this blog post in our Alternative Living and Learning Community here.
Liza is a passionate mom and wife, writer, linguist, painter, home cook, foodie, practitioner of yoga and meditation and student of life. She and her unschooling family travel full time and write about it at http://lifeuntethered.net/. You can follow her on Twitter @LizaBethRumery.
You wouldn’t hand your 16-year-old the keys to your car one day and they immediately hit the freeway at 70mph.
They’ve watched you drive since they were born. Toddlers start to connect that a key is required to start the engine, that you move a stick on the steering column for turn signals, and that the pedals at your feet are amazing sources of power. You talk about things that you see or bother you or are difficult as you’re driving. You mention people speeding, cutting you off, or tailgating. You involve them in vehicle maintenance: pumping gas, checking tire pressure, changing the oil, etc. Then they start sitting in the passenger seat and paying more attention, asking questions. They get a learner’s permit and spend more time driving while you ride along observing and offering suggestions. You take them to the farm or a parking lot or wherever and they get to drive around a bit and park. Then you try calm side streets, then busier streets. They hopefully have opportunities to drive in the sun, rain, snow, etc. (granted snow is harder to come by in parts of Texas). Eventually, they go up on the highway and potentially work their way up to rush hour.
As you’re navigating the online world with your kids, consider starting their “Driver’s Ed” early so that you have plenty of opportunities to work through the various scenarios, concerns, issues, and problems that may come up.
And it begins…
Our children see that phones, tablets, computers, and gaming systems are incredible sources of information, communication, and enjoyment. Even very young children can use apps, make phone calls, and play games. When we play with them and foster their curiosity we’re not only helping them build skills but we’ve established another connection point that strengthens the relationship. Just as a young child rides in a car seat for extra protection ~ you may initially have preset apps or websites that they explore. As they better understand how to use various devices, I would encourage you to reduce restrictions.
Talk it out…
Verbalizing why we’re making the decisions that we’re making helps our children understand our choices. It also expands their personal options and helps provide potential solutions that are respectful of others.
I’m downloading apps/movies in case there isn’t WiFi available (or it isn’t very good).
I’m bringing headphones along so I can listen without disturbing anyone else.
Give me a moment to finish this level so that I can stop and really hear what you’re saying.
I’m going to check another source to see if that’s accurate.
Maybe there’s another app that better suits my needs.
I know Jill prefers messenger to text, so I’m going to contact her that way.
I’d like to turn off my ringer before we go inside so it won’t disturb anyone.
I like the survival aspect of Minecraft without the intensity of Five Nights at Freddy’s. How do I find similar games?
When they run into a complication, ask if they’d like ideas for possible solutions. Our son was in a situation where someone he initially enjoyed gaming with began texting him constantly, even if our son had expressed not wanting to play (or play a particular game). We walked through options. For example ~ like how our son could be more clear about a length of time. Instead of saying, “not now”, he would reply, “How about Friday?”.
So many of these online resources rely on e-mail to create a login and to track individual preferences or achievements. I strongly recommend creating an e-mail address dedicated for each of your children. Shared family accounts make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to play together. Since my husband and I already had gmail accounts ~ it was easiest for us to create an e-mail for our children through Google. (Now, you can just create a single Google account to be used for e-mail, YouTube, Drive, etc.) In the settings, we chose to have their incoming emails automatically forwarded to ours so that we didn’t have to constantly log-out of our e-mail to log-in to theirs. This allowed us to help them process the information/emails they were receiving. (Our daughter still has no interest in her e-mail and never checks it herself.)
Most online log-ins will ask how old the person is. Some people use their children’s actual birthdays under the assumption that it will provide protection for them (especially if they’re under 13). Unfortunately, we’ve found this actually makes things more difficult and removes our ability to make parental judgements as to whether or not something is appropriate/useful for a particular child. For instance ~ Skype will not let you create an account if the birth date provided is under 13. Our entire family sharing one account is a logistical nightmare (especially since we’ve been known to Skype each other within the house). So, we use the parent’s birthdays and they each get their own account to use.
Get your own accounts too. My husband and I have accounts on Minecraft, Steam, Origin, Roblox, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, School of Dragons, League of Legends, Khan Academy, Coursera, etc. Anything that interests them. This has the dual advantage that we have a better understanding of what & how they are learning because we’re witnessing and experiencing it ourselves and it’s an opportunity to strengthen our relationship. We don’t know everything about every game or YouTube channel. We certainly don’t play or watch as much as our children, but when we watch or play with them, we learn the “lingo”. Gaming terms such as DLC, NPC, FPS, as well as the names of their favorite YouTubers. Later, when we can’t play with them, but they’re telling us about a new app, game, or YouTube upload (like while I’m cooking dinner) ~ we can fully participate in the conversation because we know what they’re talking about.
Driving on their own…
For our family, keeping the lines of communication open and being positively involved in their online/gaming life has been the best way to help them navigate that realm. Some parents rely on stringent internet blocking software or tight personal controls on their children’s activity. Unfortunately, this can provide a false sense of security and at worst, can result in children who rebel in secret with no guidance. There are numerous ways around parental controls and filtering. Tech savvy kids can circumvent blocks, set up secondary accounts/e-mails, acquire their own devices, and access the internet outside of your home. By setting up accounts/access early, by asking questions without judgement, by offering gentle information about pitfalls, and by allowing them to make mistakes ~ we have fostered a trusting and supportive environment they don’t feel the need to circumvent.
Don’t forget the insurance…
Accidents happen. Other drivers are careless. Sometimes we make a poor decision in an unfamiliar situation.
Downloading new games and content can be scary. No one wants to have their computer overrun by malicious programs. Invest in good anti-virus and anti-malware protection. Downloading mods for Minecraft and other games is incredibly popular. Together, you can learn how to research developers, recognize the difference between an ad and the actual download, and how to fully remove unintended downloads. Consider adding a password requirement to prevent unintentional downloads or in-app purchases on phones & tablets. It was *me* who inadvertently spent $10 on a special character in a free app that instituted the password requirement. We don’t use it to block the kids, just as an extra “alert” that we’re about to spend money. Talk about internet safety like not sharing personal information to strangers and ways to respond to bullying.
If you’d like to talk with other Unschooling families about possible solutions to concerns, learn more about facilitating your children’s interests, or just meet more people on this journey ~ please join us on the Texas Unschoolers Facebook Group.
Please join us to discuss this blog post in our Alternative Living and Learning Community here.
Rachel Miller is married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, and they happily Unschool with Cam and Livy in the Houston suburbs. Her children will join her in speaking about their gaming experiences this April at the Texas Unschoolers Conference in New Braunfels. Her family will also be at the Free To Be Unschooling Conference in Phoenix at the end of September.
Image credit: Me (our son playing Color Symphony on Steam)
Before I really “got” unschooling I loved to explore and bring my kids along for the ride. Exploration and expanding our world wasn’t new to me. I was interested in the world and wanted my kids to be interested as well. However, my exploration of the world was primarily driven by what I thought we “should” know rather than what we wanted to learn more about. I still wanted clear measurements of what my kids were learning and was interested in making sure they were covered in everything they “needed” to know.
So, screen time, free play and “frivolous” activities were put on the back burner in favor of what I thought they should be learning. I realized pretty quickly on our homeschool journey that books and text books were not going to work for us and promptly put them in the trash about two months in. But I still wanted measurement of learning. I wanted to know what they were learning, when they were learning it and I wanted to be in charge of how they learned it. Learning though exploration was wonderful, it’s just that I wanted to be the leader of that exploration.
After I realized curricula based learning was not going to work for us, I decided I would “teach” my kids based on their interests. In this way, my kids could choose what they wanted to explore and we could have more fun with it.
My oldest boy chose Space – and I was to provide ways in which he could learn more about it. This way – we were working on what he was interested in, but I would still be able to measure the learning that was taking place.
So, I went about pulling materials, projects and internet sites together for us to explore. The challenge came when my son wasn’t interested in exploring the subject in the way that I had so carefully and time consumingly laid out for him. My probing and prodding him to learn through my “fun” activities wasn’t proving to be so fun for him after all.
He could feel the underlying coercion and manipulation that was happening by my desire for him to “learn” something – by my need to measure his learning progress.
This experience shattered my paradigm about how real learning happens. In the beginning, homeschooling curricula wasn’t working. Then homeschooling through interest wasn’t working either. What was I to do? How was I going to make sure my son was learning?
This is where expanding my mind came in. Even though I thought building space models with Styrofoam balls would be fun (plus – he would learn the planets this way) – it wasn’t fun for my son.
To him, it felt like I was measuring him up and manipulating his interest of space. It wasn’t fun when I was in charge of HOW he learned more.
Slowly, I realized that the exploration had to originate with my son. Not a general exploration of one thing but an integration of lots of interest intertwining and looping together. Yes, my son was interested in space. But he wasn’t interested in learning through preplanned activities every single day. He wanted to play space games on the computer. He wanted to build space ships with Lego. He wanted to pretend play space aliens with his brother. How was he going to learn anything about space by building Lego space ships? And more importantly, how in the world could I measure what he was learning if he was playing Lego and video games?
Yet again I was faced with throwing my preplanned materials out the window. He wanted to LEARN about space, not be TAUGHT about space. Big difference to him. And it became very important to me as well.
So how did I align myself and my actions with my son’s desire to lead his own exploration? At first, I had to expand my trust in my son. I had to trust that if he was interested in any particular thing and he was in charge of his own exploration – he would learn.
For about a year I found myself biting my tongue and letting go of wanting to measure his learning. I had to let go and trust that his Lego building and video gaming were leading him to where he needed to go.
Connections were being made that I might not see for days, months or even years! This was difficult at first because I sort of felt that I was out of the loop. Sure, he shared his experiences with me and I even joined him in his video games and Lego building, but I wasn’t in CHARGE anymore. I wasn’t measuring anymore. This felt uncomfortable and led me deeper into exploring my own paradigm around learning.
So now, instead of spending energy on directing my son’s learning, I was diving deep into my own belief system about how humans learn. I spent my time playing with my kids but also reading and researching different learning styles. I later came to know that I was in the deschooling process. I had naturally landed here after so many other things had not worked out for us.
As time went by I began to notice that we were having lots of fun. We were all joyful, spending our days doing that which lit us up. I dug deep each day to see the learning that was taking place in our home.
I rejoiced on those days my son would excitedly tell me what he had learned about Jupiter from his Minecraft mod or how he had planned out a Lego spaceship build. He worked for days illustrating a “book” on how the planets orbit the sun (with a few aliens mixed in, of course!) Learning was happening without my controlling and manipulating it! After about a year of this, I was sold on life learning.
Often, new unschoolers feel as though they should “get it” with ease and grace immediately. Some people may be able to do that but more likely it takes daily expansion and daily exploration of our preconceived notions about how learning happens to get us there.
Small steps lead to big changes. Asking myself, “How can I expand TODAY?” is what led me to “getting it” eventually. Moment by moment and stretch by stretch is what gave us the space to truly learn in my family. When we can relax and enjoy the journey, get a clear picture in our mind of what is important to us, the learning takes care of itself.
Periodically, Sue Patterson takes questions that come in through the Texas Unschoolers’ website or Facebook group. Do you have something you want to ask? Contact us and we’ll get some answers in an upcoming issue of Ask A Veteran. We’ll leave your name anonymous. If you have a question, most likely there are others with questions just like yours.
Q: How will my unschooler learn to read if I don’t use a curriculum?
A. “Curriculum/Curricula” is an interesting concept to me. When we think about it, it’s a method to REPLACE real life experiences. Schools use a curriculum because they can’t take a kid to a variety of historical landmarks or go to the fabric store to buy materials for curtains or wait while the yeast rises for a rainy afternoon of bread-making. Curricula is the pale substitute for Real Life. It’s ok, they have to use it. They have to get in their 170 days of attendance…
…but I digress. You asked about reading.
Children learn to read in the same way that they’ve learned to talk and to walk. They experience it incrementally and then when they’ve had enough exposure to have a foundation, they can read. So what can you do to up the exposure factor and ultimately the foundation-building?
Create a literate house. Read together. Read little things, big things. Have a family story time together where you all snuggle in together.
Help them notice when the words have caused you to do something – road signs, building signs, directions for games.
Make reading a fun happy activity. No drudgery. No judgement. The more you wrap up reading in joy, the less obstacles you create. (Because you can TRULY create obstacles if you nag and teach-teach-teach!)
Here’s a graphic I used at one of my talks at the TexUns Conference. See if it sparks your imagination!
Q: I’m uncomfortable with the word “unschooling.” It seems so… confrontational. Do you think it will ever morph into something easier for the rest of the world to handle?
A. No, not really. And we need the term to help us connect and communicate. “Life living,” or “Delight Driven,” or any of the other many terms people try to use simply don’t convey the whole picture. Everyone is Living Life, sure some more fully than others, but I know some kids that go to school and their families really plug them into the community and help them with following their interests. But they go to school. And we don’t. And therein lies the difference.
When we choose an alternative to GOING TO SCHOOL, that’s a big enough deal that I don’t think any term you try to placate people with is going to work. People that feel “unschooling” is too confrontational simply want you to get back in line where you belong.
The term “unschooling,” for those who don’t know, harkens back to the old 7Up commercial from the 1960’s. A fabulous Caribbean man talked about going a separate way from the other colas: Becoming The UnCola. John Holt took that idea and ran with it… school being the cola-approach and homeschoolers choosing the fresher better uncola alternative. Hence the name, Unschoolers.
But even after saying all of this, if you’re still uncomfortable, don’t use the word. No one will care if you do or don’t. You can simply call what you do homeschooling, or “individualizing the kids’ learning,” or “trying out a variety of things.” You’ll only need the term when you’re communicating with other homeschoolers or looking for information online about how to learn without all the trappings of school. But there are no Unschooling Police saying you’re a traitor. No one cares. Everyone wants you to do what works for you, what brings your family more joy and a happier life.
Sue Patterson, wife and mother of three grown unschoolers, lives in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. She has been an active homeschooling advocate at the local, state and national level for nearly two decades. Her newly released book, Homeschooled Teens, is available now!
Sue is the Managing Editor of The Homeschooler Post – an online parenting journal focusing on learning for home educators. She manages the Unschooling Mom2Mom Facebook group, blogs at her website, speaks at various conferences around the country and works as a Life Coach and Unschooling Mentor.