I touched on this a bit last week, in the childhood we wish we had, discussing a couple of solid reasons to play with our children now, as adults. But that’s just a start at excavating our buried curiosity.
How did it get buried? Most of us grew up enmeshed in conventional schooling and parenting, where our learning at school was directed by curriculum and teachers, and living at home was directed by our parents. We didn’t have time to discover and pursue the many things in the world that we were potentially curious about—our interests were far down the family’s list of priorities. We were promised that “we could do what we want when we were adults.”
So we grew up. We began questioning the conventional wisdom surrounding parenting and schooling and now, as unschooling parents, our days are focused on nurturing our children’s curiosity, not burying it. We delight in helping them discover the joy and wonder that accompanies an inquisitive mindset, and the incredible learning that inevitably follows.
What does that look like?
When our kids are younger, they need more of our immediate attention and ongoing care. We are with them, their extra set of capable and reliable hands. We build that tower over and over and over, and bask in their delight as they knock it down … over and over and over. We answer their seemingly unending stream of questions. “What is that?” “Why does that happen?” “How does that work?” “Let’s find out!” Learning at this stage is a joy to watch. It’s unfolding before our eyes, visible for anyone to see—if they pay attention.
As our children get older, their learning becomes more internal, less immediately visible. Now it sometimes takes a different kind of effort for us to nurture their curiosity. We fall back on our intellectual understanding of the value of curiosity, using that as our motivation. We remind ourselves to help them gather supplies for their project instead of discouraging them from making messes; to drive them to their activities or host their friends rather than hitting the couch. It’s a mental exercise we do to convince ourselves to keep going. But, in my experience, that only gets us so far. We’re just playing the part.
But when we become curious creatures? Then things really start to shine!
I remember when we first came to unschooling and I mustered an interest in everything that came along—but that wasn’t sustainable because it wasn’t me. Over time I noticed that when I was truly interested in something, my curious and engaged attitude was deeper and more joyful than I could ever “fake.” It was fun! I wanted more of that. So I began to more widely explore the world, and myself. To follow my curiosity and see where it led me.
It took some time. This wasn’t something I was used to doing. I was used to staying in what I already knew, my “areas of expertise.” That’s what I learned growing up: gain compentence and stay there. To be a beginner at things was painful at first! We are so accustomed to being shamed for not being good at something, or not knowing something. But unschooling is an entirely different way of life—the discovery that you don’t know much about something is full of possibilities, not shame. “Do I want to know that?” “How can I figure it out?”
But remember, don’t do this in a vacuum—share! Not necessarily the knowledge (though by all means that too if your kids are interested in the same topic), but the process. This exploration is what your children are doing as well! Mention how you find new information. What you do when things get challenging. The fun you’re having. What you find so interesting about it. How it connects to other things you know and love.
As curious adults, we exemplify the joy of digging into things we don’t yet know or understand. When your child comes to you to share their excitement over figuring out something new in their game or how they fixed their toy, your connection with them isn’t just over “cool, you did it!” but a deeper, stronger connection surrounding the joy of discovering new knowledge or skills. And that doesn’t happen unless you are discovering new stuff too.
Side by side, you and your kids will discover that some interests come and go, while others may show no signs of abating. You’ll explore the many ways to gather information and connect with others who share the same interest. You’ll examine different ways to handle challenges and frustration. You’ll unearth the connections between different interests, learning more about what makes each of you, uniquely you.
I bet you’ll also come upon times of restlessness, as an interest wanes while nothing else has yet grabbed your attention to take its place. Sometimes in those moments we might describe ourselves as bored. I like Leo Tolstoy’s definition of boredom: “The desire for desires.” Yet as we and our children cycle through those times over the years, we learn more about ourselves yet again. We learn to trust, to know, that something will appear in time. That those moments are as much a part of the ebb and flow of life as those times when we are intensely focused. That though we may not be actively pursing something, our minds are still processing and connecting and growing.
For example, sometimes the passage from childhood into the teen years is accompanied by a transition of interests—the games and activities that engaged them for so long are no longer as interesting, while they have yet to find new interests and passions to absorb their attention and engage their expanding view of the world. There may be a period of listlessness, or cocooning, as our children move through this time. When we’ve experienced these transitions ourselves, we can often be more understanding, more supportive.
Here’s the question: Who do you want to be today?
Deeper than your role as parent or adult—fundamentally, as a person. Do you find the world interesting? Do you want to better understand the pieces of it that catch your fancy? Are you apt to pursue that tug of curiosity? To engage in exploration and discovery? The zest and passion for life that we see in our unschooling children is ours for the taking too!
We share things with our children. They share things with us. It becomes part of our family culture.
4. Curious and Engaged—HSC conference talk