Conventionally, there is a separation between academic skills, taught by schools, and life skills, taught by parents. Yet more and more parents are feeling a time crunch and are encouraging schools to take responsibility for teaching their children life skills beyond academics, like health, character, and sex education.
As unschooling parents, we choose to retain the responsibility for all our children’s learning, academic and life skills: unschooling encompasses the whole range of learning that goes into being a person, a human being.
Being (noun): existence, journey, living, life, presence, vitality, essence, self, soul, spirit, substance
How does unschooling support all that? If fitting into the school system isn’t your child’s “job”, if living is the focus, what does the business of being human look like day-to-day?
Certainly being human looks different for everyone because each of us is a unique combination of cells—we have our own personalities, our own emotional landscape, our own physiology, our own ways of learning. And then there’s how we relate to our environment: our community, our family. We each have our own ways of connecting and interacting. The beauty of unschooling is that we recognize that uniqueness, we celebrate it. We support our children as they explore their unique makeup and how they fit into the world, learning all the while.
That’s another idea fundamental to unschooling: humans are born to learn. We want to make sense of the world around us.
Instead of seeing childhood for learning and adulthood for living, unschoolers see learning as an integral part of living regardless of your age. Unschoolers go about their day open to the world around them. They are curious. They notice things. They seek things out. They actively gather information about the world around them. That is the mindset that unschooling parents cultivate. When we open up the idea of learning beyond the teacher-student/classroom paradigm, we discover many different ways that our children go about learning.
Conventionally, these varying ways are grouped into three basic learning styles: visual; auditory; kinesthetic. Schools try to accommodate them, though the classroom environment definitely favours auditory learners. Unschooling has the freedom to genuinely support any and all ways of learning. As an unschooling parent you don’t need to be an expert in the current academic model being used to describe learning theory. Instead, you have your children in front of you. Watch them.
That’s the key. How do they like to learn? When you’re new to unschooling, this is a great thing to focus on. Think of this deschooling time as a season of Saturdays and, as you’re spending time with your children, notice how they gather information from the world around them. Challenge yourself to be open to whatever you see. Don’t try to filter your observations through learning style labels: drop any preconceived notions of what learning “should” look like, and discover what it does look like, for your children.
For example, we probably know how we like to learn, but there’s a good chance our children have a different style. The first part of the learning process is gathering information. Maybe we love to read about our interests, and they love to be hands-on, playing around. Or to listen to others as they talk about a topic or idea.
Think about a story and the ways it can be conveyed to an audience: through a book, words on a page to be read; through a storyteller, to be listened to, maybe with eyes closed; or through a play or movie, acted out physically. All are wonderful ways to connect an audience with a story. If we personally favour one way over another, that’s cool! But that doesn’t mean the other styles of story-telling aren’t just as valuable to others. If we look at our children’s lives through our filter of what learning looks like for us, we can easily miss seeing the learning our children are doing in their own ways. And if we don’t recognize our children’s day-to-day learning, it can be hard to build trust in unschooling.
Yet once we discover the ways they like to gather information, we are much more able to connect them to the world as they prefer to experience it. Whether it’s books and websites, museums and hands-on workshops, movies and plays, podcasts and audiobooks, they are all wonderful ways to explore the world, none better than any other, except to an individual. Each of your children will have their preferences, those experiences they get the most out of i.e. the ones they more strongly connect with and hence learn from the most. That is their style.
There’s also a good chance you’ll discover that your children’s learning styles aren’t as cut-and-dried as the labels imply. Human beings are more complex than that. In fact, it’s likely that your child will enjoy more than one way of gathering information and experiencing the world. And you may see their preferred style change over time. It’s the individual that matters, not fitting into a label.
By bringing information about the world to your children through various mediums you are helping them explore and discover which ways of gathering information work better for them. You’re helping them learn how they like to learn. Not as a student or child, but as a person. A human being. Priceless.