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The Hidden Structure in Natural Learning

© Beverley Paine

"Is natural learning unstructured?"Ruth

A lot of people do think that unschooling or learning naturally is simply a matter of letting children do whatever they want, or not setting out anything for them to do - that is, completely unstructured learning. Some people think that natural learning means children are supposed to educate themselves.

However, it doesn't happen like that. We are a family who learn in a natural way, that is allowing life with all it's complexity guide the content and direction of our learning, rather than impose a rigid set of objectives to be reached by certain stages/ages, which is what a traditional curriculum does. Our home learning program isn't devoid of a curriculum - not at all - but from a casual perspective, from a visitor's viewpoint, it would look like it.

In order to feel confident educating my children in this manner I studied education and child development, both on my own (libraries, books, internet, talking to educators) and at University level (by correspondence, while I homeschooled my children, an unfinished degree). I knew what my children were learning and why, and how to help them set and achieve their learning goals. I discovered much about individual learning styles, about how learning occurs, and applied this to each learning situation. At the same time we constantly evaluated our values and life goals and designed activities that would move us in the direction we wanted to go, with life, learning and relationships.

Children are ego centric, but I'm not sure if this is the same thing as 'selfish'. I celebrate the early self centredness of young children - it is the only time in most people's lives that they really seem to know what they want and have some confidence about who they are. The process of socialisation quickly robs children of this confidence - this is a necessary part of growing up, but if too heavy a hand is applied to socialisation, such as in school, then self esteem can be irreplaceably damaged. I am guided by children's innate self confidence and understanding of who they are and what they want. When it conflicted with what the adults in the family wanted to achieve, or with what other people wanted, we negotiated solutions.

My children always learned - sometimes not what I planned, and sometimes exactly what I planned, but in a completely different way to how I envisaged such learning occurring. There lives were full of learning, and was tailored to their immediate learning needs and was personally meaningful and relevant to their lives within a time frame (sometimes this was an hour, other times the learning process on a particular theme stretched for years!). I learned to trust this - and to capitalise on what the children were passionate about, or interested in, to take their learning beyond what they might have managed for themselves. This is called scaffolding in educational circles - it's easy to do, parents naturally do it in the first five years of their children's lives.

It is important that children learn the basic skills, especially reading and writing, but with natural learning the emphasis in on child centred learning - getting the timing right, when to introduce challenges, when and how to consolidate knowledge and skills etc, is paramount. We were challenged by Thomas and his lateness in learning to read. What I find absolutely important in any learning environment is the presence of use (or practice) of skills by important adults and others - I write, I read constantly. My children grew up with one parent who writes and reads passionately and one who does not. Reading and writing are nonetheless valued in our home. Thom could see their importance in our society. His education was based on conversation, viewing, hands on activities as well as written material. Thom may never write as well as I - he may never have the passion or the need (and if he does get the need then he knows he can employ someone to excel in this area, while he fixes their computer or car, for example) - but he is literate, and that's the most important thing. This he accomplished without traditional schooling methods of learning.

Some people are worried that a 'relaxed' atmosphere to learning won't result in the gaining of wisdom, diligence or self discipline. Diligence is a skill that is acquired naturally through a child centred philosophy, because the time table for learning is internal to the learner and self set. Often tasks (whether initiated by the learner or someone else - all learning is a social after all) are abandoned unfinished - but only when whatever it was the learner wanted to know or learn is accomplished. Sometimes it's hard to know what draws us to particular activities until we've had time to reflect. The tasks a self learner feels most motivated to do are easily finished - and it through these 'successes' that self discipline and diligence are acquired. It is hard to build discipline to see tasks through to a satisfactory conclusion when the motivation for such tasks is external to the learning or, worse still, of little or no personal meaning to the learner. All too often doing tasks primarily to 'please' or 'impress' others (parents, teachers, examiner, course writer) can lead to a pattern of behaviour that promotes peer dependence and submission to peer group pressure.

As my children grew I realised that often they would abandon a project when it became apparent that they had learned the 'lesson' embedded in the task, and often this 'lesson' would be something I or they hadn't planned for, but through reflection and continuos evaluation we took notice. More often than not our projects were seen to completion. My children have, with their parent's guidance and help, built a house and a workshop. The boys, 16 and 20 are about to build a carport for themselves, having almost finished a pergola for their Nan. Roger is designing his house. This takes a fair amount of research - finding examples of architecture, working out what would be easily engineered and built, thinking about what he really wants, how space is used, etc. I've no doubts that within twelve months Roger will drawing blue prints and putting plans in to Council. This takes a fair amount of diligence, persistence, commitment. And wisdom. It is possible.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

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 supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since 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. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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