I’ve been in a wee bit of discussion about <prepare yourself> UNSCHOOLING <gasp><recover> on an online forum. A few months ago I would have written the same ideas as I typed this week, but without the little phrases that come from A Thomas Jefferson Education. In recognition of the influence of A TJEd, I decided to copy-n-paste my scribblings in here too – I did write it, when all is said and done. (Please excue the disjointedness; it picks up on a few different ideas that had come up in the online conversation.)
I don’t think you can *make* a child learn anything.
I see my responsiblity (as an educator if you like) is to *inspire* my kids/students to want to learn for themselves. The responsibility for their learning is THEIRS. That doesn’t mean I ignore them. No way! Inspiring is hard work! It means you have to be learning stuff yourself, you have to be discovering things and have a love of learning yourself to pass on.
But if you have that, it really does seem that it is contagious. Do you notice your kids copying you? Even when they are really little? Well, the same thing just happens as they get bigger and bigger. They copy the sounds you make and before you know it, you can’t stop them talking. They pull themselves up on furniture and before you know it, they are doing their first triathlon (and in that case, they are exceeding the example I set!) They see you reading books and at some stage they are both ready and desiring to know what the squiggles say (they may want to know before they are ready, and in that case you end up teaching them about having patience!)….and they learn to read. They see you writing and they want to use a pencil too. At first they eat the pen or pull the paper off the crayons, but eventually they scribble and you frame it if it’s your first child’s work. Then they make recognisable shapes and give them names and put in backgrounds and patterns and words and before you know it you are finding love notes in the strangest of places (and you file them away even if they are from your fifth child, because the novelty of them never wears off)……in short, they learn to write and draw.That’s my basic premise. If you set the example, your kids will follow at their pace.
Taking this approach allows me to use each of the children’s interests to teach them the “tools of learning”. I don’t have to write unit studies for them to learn by – we just live life and they learn what they need at any given time. That may sound wishy-washy, but did you have a programme for teaching your child to roll over? No, you watched them do it, you maybe encouraged them when they did, you helped them back when they got stuck, you shared their delight. It need not be any different with any other skill. What could be better than a personalised education appropriate to the individual?
Before you think my kids run riot every day, we do have structure – we structure our time, rather than the content. The kids know that after breakfast we will revise memory verses and sing some songs before we do our chores. They know that the baby will then go down for a nap and we’ll read together for a couple of hours. What we read depends on what I feel like on any given day – I am sharing my learning with the children and so it depends what I’ve been doing. At the moment we are enjoying poetry by Tennyson and reading about some Famous Men from the Rennaissance as well as some novels set in that time period. “Bugs in a Jar” is waiting in the wings to be read and we’ve just finished “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”. After our reading time (when the kids can also do handwork or play with quiet toys if they like), we sit up at the table (or I might send them to run round the house a few times if they’re fidgetty). “Tabletime” is structured in that the time is provided for them to do something. WHAT they choose to do is up to them. Copying a poem or recipe they made the day before, writing a thank you letter, playing a board game, drawing…..the older two CHOOSE to do their maths (this is the first year they have used a text book and I have not needed to tell them to do it once – they are self-motivated so my romantic-sounding goal above is actually coming to fruition). My eldest has also been teaching herself Latin and is now teaching the next two down because they are interested. But for over a decade we had no textbooky learning happening at all.
On top of that I build a foundation that looks something like this: in the first few years (it seems to be around 8-ish years) we focus on learning to get on with other family members, learning what is right and wrong, learning mum and dad are there to help you, learning to serve.
Around 8-ish they tend to be reading and starting to create things (not the kindergarten activity where everyone makes identical flowers out of paper plates and pipecleaners – things they actually make up out of their own imaginations usually fuelled by some game they are playing). Then I notice the child is moving on from that “Very Foundational Core Phase” and into something, which more than one person has called Love of Learning Phase (actually, three people that I’ve come across, including me). This is not a set time – it’s not a consecutive thing. They don’t stop the Core Phase values when they move into LOL (not like if they move into Year Two they are no longer Year one students). They become LOLers and still have the Core values firmly planted in them. Likewise the Love of Learning will continue hopefully for the rest of their lives. But at this stage, it is the thing that is majorly focussed on. Our focus is not writing. But that they learn to love to write. Our focus is not maths, but that they learn to love mathematical concepts yada yada. When they are ready (and it is unlikely to be before the age of 12, and could well be later) they will move into a Scholar Phase – that’s when they’ll really get their education. And I won’t have to cajole them into it – they will be self-motivated. And why wouldn’t they be if they love learning? If we have focussed on them enjoying life, why wouldn’t they want to know more?