Unschooling brings about its own re-education for parents. One of the challenges a parent learns is the art of letting go, accepting, and embracing the fact that learning happens everywhere and in different forms for each being.
In an unschool family, the learning does not stop.
As parents, we must re-learn the correct way to collect and store new bits of information using basic psychology, innate skill, and giving the child the lead. Worrying whether the child has desire and willpower to learn can be scary. Also, not having complete and utter control on what is being learned, when it is being learned, can seem difficult to keep up with.
We focus on how to learn, rather than what to learn. We actively cultivate and stoke the fire that ignites once the child knows how to use this inexhaustible tool.
While we aren’t experts, there are a few things we can say we’ve learned ourselves on our unschool journey:
1. Lean into interests.
Each person has a collective set of interests or ideas about the world. Use these interests to further subject understanding.
Annie loves to collect rocks. Therefore, she possibly shows an interest in geology. Talk to Annie about geology and gauge her knowledge on the subject, then you can determine which areas to pursue.
2. Answer questions as quickly as possible.
Who cares that you are in the middle of a family photoshoot...when Billy has a question about space, you answer it the best you can, then and there. If you are shopping, stop and get into the world of the inquisitor.
You're out for a walk and Billy notices that there are yellow leaves in the trees and asks about them. Take this moment to potentially launch into a discussion about the seasons and lifecycles of trees and plants.
It's also possible that Billy just likes the color yellow and isn't the least bit concerned with trees and changing seasons. But you'll never know if you don't answer those questions.
3. Follow up.
Seems simple, but sometimes the little things can fall through the cracks. “Why does the bark fall off the tree?” can be an easily forgotten question, but following up may ignite a fire for a future in dendrology. Intently provide examples in all forms within reach to properly address questions in as many formats as possible.
Annie has recently shown an interest in bears. You might start a conversation by saying "Hey, remember what we learned about bears the other day? Well, check out what I just learned about bear cubs!"
Keep the momentum going and ride the wave as long as it will carry you.
I said it, you read it. That’s right. Although basic education is extremely important, play needs to be okay. Dawdling among the flower bushes is education. Play is education too! When you show your willingness to let them lead with their interests, you are allowing the information to make an imprint. That imprint sparks the interest that lights the fire to learn. Staring into a cup of water may not seem like learning, but trust me, the gears are turning!
Billy won't pick up the books on farm machinery that you set out. However, you can't get him to put down the toy tractor and combine that he has become unnaturally attached to.
These toys are leaving their mark in Billy's mind. And it's totally ok that he has to tightly clutch a mini grain cart in order to sleep.
This means simply place items around that are related to the things you want them to learn. You "strew" them about. You want them to understand the importance of education? Place materials about philosophers, mathematicians and scientists, pioneers of equal rights within arms reach for them to become curious about. I first heard this concept from Saira Siddiqui (@thesairasiddiqui) and it just makes sense.
Annie is full-steam-ahead on baking. You've made sure she has the appropriate books at her disposal. Now go to the toy closet and find all the kitchen toys and put them where she can't ignore them. She will pick them up.
6. Encourage, don’t direct.
Encourage the natural curiosity, do not direct them away or toward it. Provide the means for them to learn, without dictating the path they take. Simply listening to the questions they ask is a good way to inform your role in the process. It might seem like the child has shifted gears, and that's fine. In the end, their interest will win and they'll be back.
You are feeling confident having researched space all morning to be ready for Billy's questions and you say to him, “You did so well learning all the planets names! Would you like to look at this space encyclopedia and see what else we can learn about together?”
Billy, with utmost vigor responds, “Sure! Can you recycle old tractors?”
After emerging from the smoldering debris of your pride and a collapsed plan, you return “Let’s find out right now.”
Maybe space isn't for now. But if Billy has that interest, we'll be circling back to space. Otherwise, we're about to find out about recycling tractors!
We are in this together.
Whether you are an experienced unschool family and have some tips to share, or you are new to this philosophy, please share your experience with us! We know there is more to learn and that it truly takes a village.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!
Parenting organically brings a few challenges and fears into one's life. Besides the basics, there are the stress of the child’s education, and understanding the exact intellectual needs of each child.