Unschooling: Living Without School; Living Free Range-Freedom to Learn What One Wants When One Wants

Thursday, July 17, 2014


One thing about unschooling that you must learn if you plan to unschool is: There is VALUE in EVERYTHING. Everything. Now, as children, most of us were taught that we must learn certain things in a certain way and if we didn't, we were not learning. In fact, more often than not, if it was something of true interest to us, it was "not learning." And if it was, it was not as important enough to warrant putting off "other learning" until we have satisfied ourselves in our search. However, that simply is not true.

When I explain to somebody what unschooling is, I generally get the reply,"Um. So basically we unschool too" Then, this is what trips me up..."AND my kid goes to school, so that means they are twice as smart?" Well, yes and no. Yes, everybody can unschool. No. I don't think that makes your kids or my kid smarter. Personally, for my child, I believe that the extensive amount of time she is allowed in order to pursue and deal with the five items listed below, is of great benefit to her and her personal growth. So yes, unschooling-in part-is just living life and constantly helping a child to look up answers to their questions, facilitating their interests, etc. But the amount of time a child has to do these things and the amount of time a parent is willing to give to be there and support these things, which takes patience...My, oh my, does it take patience....the more a child will benefit from the unschooling lifestyle.

There are five areas that I would like to address, a few of them which are not even in the slightest considered learning to most.

Personal Interests-This should be a given. I preach it all the time. Personal interests lead to real, intense, meaningful learning. When a child studies something that is of value to them, they will receive more out of it. When a child's interest in art, fashion, airplane models, animals, government, etc is allowed to blossom to the FULLEST extent possible, that is when they really flourish. There is no begging a child to explore their interests like you would possibly have to beg them to do their reading worksheet. In fact, more often than not you have to peel them away from what they are doing to eat or maybe to attend a social event. (Of course that is where being careful not to overschedule comes in, at least for our family.) My S has recently taken an interest in all aspects of art. She could sew for 10 hours a day if she wanted to. When designing clothes, she generally starts out on a designing website, gets some ideas and generating drafts. Then she will sketch and write out notes. Maybe watch some videos. After all that she will begin to draw and cut. This teaches her patience, patterns, symmetry, measuring, art, perseverance, reading and writing, technology, home economics...I could go on. Not to mention what she get from the item she made, weather it is caring for others by giving things you make away. (She aspires to make her own fashions and donate them to people without clothing.) It could be a doll she made that she plays pretend with-lots of value. And all this from a "lazy, uneducational day" of sewing. But....I digress.

Questions-As I mentioned earlier, questions are an important part of unschooling and the main way that young children learn, along with exploring. Most all adults would agree that we understand that children have lots of questions and they can learn very much from having them answered, but are we answering those questions? That is where the patience comes in. Hearing all the "whys" and "hows" can be enough to drive you mad after just one day. We may decide to tune out or we may turn on auto pilot and say, "I don't know." more often than we say, "Let's look it up." or "Well, from what I have learned about _____, I believe the answer is _____" Er, maybe not so robotic, but you get the picture. I keep a running list in S's track book (records I need to keep for the state just in case.) of questions she has asked and discussions that we have. This week so far we have talked about cats and dogs, what a secretary is, what a certification is, grain fed vs. grass fed,  colloidal silver, how computers work-as well as seeing the inside components of one and helping to put it together, how to use a Dictionary, instrumental music, and perspective....I could go on but that is just the things I have remembered to write down in the last 3 days. (Our weeks start on Tuesday.) The point is, we are really missing out when we are not answering our children's questions to the best of our abilities, or at the very least assisting them in looking it up. Children are not only opening up opportunities for discussion that leads to learning, but when we have these conversations we are practicing for more serious conversations as our children grow. "Mom, why do people do drugs?" was a recent question S asked me. We had a discussion about it and I hope that my lack of reluctance to discuss it will lead to her confidence in the fact that she can discuss anything with me as she gets older. I want to keep those questions coming! What a day it will be when you can have a deep philosophical conversation with your child. The learning, the connection...It all gives me goose bumps to think about. But we must carry on before I get carried away...

Free Play-Free play can be one of those things that parents struggle with. I know I have! Aren't they too old to play ALL DAY? What are they really learning? Most of us see the value in playing when a child is very young and they are playing pretend or when an older child has turned their play into  an "academically related hobby," such as playing with army men, leading to an interest in the military and reenacting famous battles.
But what about when they are outside playing with friends? If you have spent a lot of time observing your child's play, even if it is just through the window, you know that when children play together they are learning to work as a team. They are learning to make their own rules because adults aren't there to make them for them. Children get creative. There is nobody there to tell them the guidelines of the game or what to play, so how about we adjust them to each player, be it on ability or age, or whatever. Children are making compromises. Children are learning how to make each other happy, how to settle arguments, take care of younger children in the group and how to keep up with the older ones. They are learning skills from each other. They are being children and learning through life's experiences, which is what they are best at.
What about when they are playing the same toys over and over? Littlest Pet Shoppes are high on S's list. But honestly, what good can come from that? I used to roll my eyes when she would drag out the big box of pets instead of her globe or tangrams. But as I listened to her play, I realized that she is learning. She is saying things along the lines of, *in a high pitched, British dog voice* "Well, if we need 5 dogs, but I only have 2, I need 3 more! So which dogs to choose?" And the storytelling alone, let us not forget that! All writers start out telling elaborate stories! And not only is she practicing those academic sorts of things, but she is learning problem solving. What do you do when the cat steals the cookies from the cookie jar? Do the dogs eat her, throw her out of the house, sit down and talk to her? What is the outcome? There are so many more benefits to free play that you can find just by a Google search. Or, there are several books on children's play including two that I recommend, Free to Learn and Children's Play.

Building Sand Castles-It is the little things in life that matter. Building sand castles is one of those things. Watching grass grow is just one other. In order to successfully unschool we must see the significance in these things too. Even the "menial" things like taking one of those plastic poppers and popping it over and over are things that have value to children. And when something has value to a child that means it is adding something to his or her life. Children will do things until they are satisfied they have had enough, and who are we to tell them when they have had enough? S will sit for hours just humming. I always wonder, "What is she getting from that? Should I tell her to go find something to do? What is she benefiting so much from it that she will sit and do it for hours?" Must be something, even if I don't see it. Maybe she needs it to calm herself. Maybe she enjoys music just that much. Maybe she is getting ideas for a symphony. ;) Of course, then again, maybe not....Could just be boredom....

Boredom-This is a big one. S has recently been dealing with this. It is Summertime and there are no twice weekly trips to gym or other "organized CHEA activities." So she must learn to fill her time with other things. I remember as a child I got bored a lot...a lot, especially as I got older and "playing" wasn't exactly my forte. But when I was bored I learned to occupy myself. I learned that I don't need others to keep me occupied. I got creative. I would make things. I would re-arrange my room or go through my photos and make a collage. I developed interests in things like politics and the works of Poe and Shakespeare. (Unfortunately my interest waned after awhile, as I had not developed the intellectual patience or understanding to delve deeply enough to understand those things.) I also had a book called "Amelia's Boredom Survival Guide." This book gave me many ideas, even silly ideas. Even though I was getting ideas from somewhere else, I was tweaking them to make other activities. I was finding that there are things to do and each of those things held value for me, even if they didn't for somebody else. Boredom is also a good sign because it means that children have down time which is an important chance for free play to take place, interests to be found, and creativity to flourish. And most important of all, it gives children the chance to build sand castles....for hours.

I understand that this may not be what some people are looking for. Maybe some people want to hear that children can learn all they need to know about the Three R's just through the things I listed. (Well, they can learn all they need to know, but not all of what the schools say they need to know. Generally, children will not learn about coordinate planes through their play, but there is a chance, and if they need it, they WILL learn it.) The way we must look at it is not only seeing the value IN everything, but the value OF everything. We must say, these things teach x, y, z. And also, x is just as important as z. X, being problem solving, z being reading. Everything has value. And everything we learn is valuable.

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