Last week we talked about the first part of a paradigm shift: shifting away from the conventional wisdom that does not seem to mesh with our own experiences and understanding of the world around us. We looked at a couple of examples surrounding learning and parenting.
The second part of the shift encompasses moving toward the ideas, or principles, that seem to better align with our understanding, experience, and goals. For continuity, let’s continue with those same examples. The first conventional idea about learning was that it needs to be directed by a teacher and measured by a test and let’s imagine that, for any of the reasons we talked about last week, this doesn’t mesh well with your experience. What might better align with our intuition about how we learn?
Unschooling principle: Learning is everywhere.
So how might we get here?
Maybe we start by asking ourselves what we mean by learning. What is real learning? Does learning need to be hard? If it’s interesting and fun, is it still learning? Is it really learning if we forget it a few weeks down the road? What kind of learning do we remember for the longer term? The things that make a connection to something we already know? That expand our perspective? The information and skills we use regularly in our lives? Those related to our interests and passions?
In shifting away from the idea of learning paths dictated by others, some might ask themselves questions about what learning is important to an individual. Is there a definitive time line for learning? What would the consequence be if we forgot some of the things we’ve learned? What if they haven’t come up again in our lives for months or years? What if we didn’t spend the time learning them before we forgot them? What if we wait until there’s a need or a connection or an interest? Is there a downside to not knowing something before there is a need or an interest? Might you learn something faster when you are interested in gaining that information or skill along the way to satisfying a current need or goal?
Then maybe we wonder about where and when real learning happens. If we feel that limiting our definition of learning to the activities related to the physical attributes of school (desk, classroom, teacher, school hours) doesn’t do it justice, how does that open up our understanding? Is it still learning if it happens at 9pm? In our backyard? In our pyjamas? On our bike? If it’s inspired by something we see on TV? Or hear a friend talk about? Is there any reason to value one source of learning over another? One method over another? Is it enough that learning happens? Think about your own light bulb moments. What were you doing? Were you interested and engaged? Immersed in the flow of the moment? Were you inspired to rise to the challenge, instead of turning away from it?
Once you start looking for the learning instead of the teaching it’s like a whole new world opens up! When you stop judging the method and just look clearly at your child’s engagement and joy, you can see their mind hard at work through the window of their words and actions. You begin to recognize the learning they are doing all the time. Time and location and teaching becomes irrelevant. Exploration of the world becomes exciting. Being curious about things that catch our interest becomes a fundamental trait.
Unschooling principle: Why not yes?
The realization that exploring the world through their interests and passions inspires so much real learning often gives rise to another paradigm shift: from automatically saying no to most of your children’s requests to taking a moment to seriously consider saying yes. Your growing understanding that the best learning happens when your child is interested and engaged means that when there is something they are interested in exploring, it behooves you to take a moment to see if you can find a way to say yes. You discover you want to find a way to support their exploration, not stop it in its tracks.
That realization inspires an avalanche of self-inquiry. Do you really need to sweep the floor first? Get dinner on the table at 6pm? (You begin to question both the time and place of that scenario.) Is it really a big deal to leave the in-progress board game on the dining room table overnight? To let your kids sleep in their clothes? Or stay in the bath for over an hour? To watch the rest of the movie they’re enjoying even if it’s past 9pm? We’ll talk lots more about this transition time over the coming weeks as we explore deschooling, but for now, realize it’s okay to question the conventional wisdom of day-to-day living. It may well have made sense when it first became part of society’s fabric, but does it still make sense today? For you? For the individuals in your family?
Even with this quick look at a couple of principles, it’s plain that unschooling isn’t just a new set of rules to replace commercial curricula and it doesn’t just happen during school hours—it’s a lifestyle. It is exciting and daunting and exhilarating and exhausting. And if the ideas don’t make sense in your experience or align with your goals, it’s fine to move away from unschooling and explore other educational paradigms. It’s a choice. But if the idea of exploring the world and sharing it openly with your children excites you, unschooling just might be for you and your family.
Keep learning and see where it takes you. 🙂