How Children Benefit from Unschooling
by Beverley Paine, April 2015
A considerable amount of research reveals many benefits to the home educated child. The gathering of evidence and statistics is an essential element in reassuring others that a system is workable and successful, but real stories touch the heart and mind more effectively - they ring true. I was never reassured by the figures that state my child would be socially better off, or achieve higher intellectual scores than school children. Instead I always wanted to meet happy, intelligent young adults with home educated backgrounds! Well, my children have now reached that age, and I am well satisfied that home education offers many benefits to children - not all of them measurable in a statistical way!
Foremost I can see the freedom that learning at home in a relatively unstructured environment where the children have a real say in the curriculum developed for them, has engendered a love of learning and an intense interest in the world around them. This love was always there, right from birth. Home education never diminished it in the same way schools seem to. Through trialing many different approaches to teaching and learning we have come to settle on methods that suit each individual child best. They progress in their own way, in their own time, choosing materials and processes that reflect and develop their unique characters.
In doing this the children have drawn upon a considerable variety of resources - many of them inexpensive or recycled, allowing us to be able to purchase precious and special items from time to time. Having watched us meticulously save for these things the children value their learning resources, often inventing new uses for them, reusing them over and over until there is no more learning to be squeezed out of them! I am amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of my children. Their attitude of 'have a go' reflects a learning environment where 'mistakes' are simply just another learning experience, an approximation on the way to knowledge, understanding and ability. The richness of resources they can draw upon reveals to them that the world is wonderful place, capable of sustaining them through any endeavour. I have watched them grow from simply taking what I offer to being highly selective of their own learning resources and materials, and making the best of any given situation.
Learning occurs throughout the day - it isn't restricted to timetables, although routines are naturally imposed by many factors, and the children have developed the ability to set themselves tasks and see them through to completion. Often this follows the form of 'binge' learning, where they study or follow an interest to amazing depths, but at other times they happily conform to weekly lessons or schedules. They are quite capable of setting their alarms to remind them of important daily tasks that have to be done. In this they assume full responsibility - I seldom have to remind or nag, staying in the role of support person rather than authoritative figure or tyrant! The development of this kind of responsibility has to be one of the most appreciated benefits of home education in our home.
Whenever my children ask for, or need, individual time we happily offer it, generally on a daily basis. Co-operative learning is highly valued in our family and if someone knows how to do something it automatically follows that they help or show others the way. Working with the children, working from their individual level of understanding and ability, saves much time. We don't have to spend hours on a single topic or skill like they have to in school for a classroom of children. Sometimes only moments of individual attention, given at the right time, is sufficient for a child to retain that skill or knowledge for life.
Being able to know the time to offer instruction and guidance appears to be intuitive, but it really derives from our love and closeness to the children. We spend our days either absently or acutely observing our children as we, and they, go about our different tasks. It is a habit we developed from their birth. We are perfectly placed to offer them a superior education because, with care, attention and desire, we can plan for the leaps and bounds learning often takes, and have the resources on hand to take the children further. We did this naturally with walking and talking and it is a simple matter to translate this skill to academic learning and other areas of growth and development.
Learning in this way gives the children instant feedback - they know if they are successful immediately and can evaluate their work or learning themselves. I have seen the children tackle self imposed tasks from many different angles, adjusting their approach, experimenting continuously, until a desired outcome is reached. I've also watch them give up, sometimes for months, before finally picking up the task again and having another go. This sort of persistence in learning is highly valued in our home. Watching them I can often assess any difficulties or problems encountered and offer assistance or additional resources, designed to scaffold their learning, rather than take it over. In most situations the children and I are cooperative and active learners - they are seldom passive learners.
I've watched my children grow in self esteem and self confidence, able to talk through any social problems they encounter. The huge amount of learning that is done conversationally has built up a level of trust and respect to enable conversations about sensitive topics. We have high expectations of our children based on their individual characteristics and abilities, and appreciate the effort they put into their projects and learning. Simply being there, for support or encouragement, as companions, facilitators of resources and opportunities, setting consistent boundaries, has helped to frame a nurturing social environment for the development of self esteem.
Home education has given my children time, above all else, to develop into the unique individuals they are today. Time to pursue their interests to whatever level and at whatever pace suits them. Time to assimilate social and intellectual experiences, to understand themselves and the people they interact with. They are growing confident and firm identities of their own, building on the values we set as examples in their childhood, free from the restrictive constraints of peer pressure to conform to undesirable or unhelpful behaviours. But best of all my children are flexible, able to adapt to whatever life brings them, open to changing situations and resources. They have the tools they need to succeed in any task they set for themselves, especially the ability to think for themselves and positive attitudes.
I am sure there are many more benefits home education has brought my children, but I think these are the most important.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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