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Unschooling or Natural Learning?

by Beverley Paine, Sep 2016

Do you use the term unschooling rather than natural learning these days? If so, what made you change? I've noticed some people separate natural learning and unschooling. I have always considered them the same with the term natural learning more likely to be used in Australia.

I use all the terms: 'homeschooling', 'unschooling', 'natural learning' and sometimes 'life learning', but probably the one I find myself typing the most is 'home educating'.

I think my audience is so wide and diverse I need to mix it up.

I am at heart a natural learner but find it much easier to emphasise our role as parents in "helping children identify and meet their needs" instead of getting hung up on what we call how we do that. It's my way of describing what I think the essence of being a natural learning unschooling educating parent is... And I also think that in the majority of cases home educating parents lean towards allowing their children more choice and freedom in what and, more particularly, how they learn than is available to schooled students.

For me, natural learning is what happens anyway, despite what we do, or think we do. It's the learning that is always going on the background. It can be conscious learning too, as we grow aware of how we learn, and then work with that to achieve our goals. Becoming aware of the learning that is occurring helps us build some measure of control over the process so that we can learn more efficiently and in beneficial ways.

On the other hand, unschooling is a conscious decision to reject the whole paradigm of school-based education, especially the compulsory parts of it. I regard natural learning and unschooling as separate things: one we naturally do anyway, the other is a choice.

I also believe that children at school are also natural learners. It's just that they are also learning things they, and their teachers and parents don't know they are learning, or even want them to learn!

So, unschoolers are natural learners but natural learners do not have to be unschoolers. What, an unschooler, if your child decided to go to school?

Everyone learns naturally. Learning is as natural as breathing. There are things that get in the way of it, slow it down, hinder it, but quite often what is happening then is that we're learning things that will make our lives more difficult, both in that moment and in the future. But we're still learning something on some level, perhaps not cognitively, perhaps emotionally, or about values and attitudes, or establishing habits that we might not find useful or helpful later.

My daughter went to high school, first part-time and then full-time to obtain her high school certificate. I considered her a natural learner. I remember having a great conversation with John Peacock about this in 1999. I think I convinced him she was still learning naturally at school, because she was using it as a resource to learn things she wasn't able to learn at home. She also started part-time employment at the same age, and I believe this was also driven by the same need. It took me a while to identify the need behind her choice: until then I was confused and concerned about her choice, judging it. In that I wasn't acting like an unschooling parent, I had forgotten to trust. She, however, was still operating as an unschooler. Even though it wasn't conscious knowledge and understanding on her part, school was simply the resource she chose to learn what she needed to learn. And these weren't necessarily subjects offered through the curriculum, or things the school had decided to consciously teach her either.

In short: if a child decides to go to school of her own free will, and acknowledges that it is her choice to stay or leave at any point, and she is empowered and enabled and supported in this choice, she is both an unschooler and a natural learner. School is simply another resource. John Holt made it clear in one of his books that we don't need to discard text books, etc, and that it was how we approached and used these resources that mattered.

I also define unschooling as learning without school. When I do that, in my mind, school is a way of thinking about learning, rather than an actual place: it's an institutionalised way of thinking and being. I think taking the compulsion out of schooling changes the whole nature of schooling. Makes the buildings and what happens in them akin to centres of learning, where learning can happen individually and collaboratively.

Unschooling requires us to be attentive parents. We look after our children's basic needs, and encourage and enable them to learn how to look after themselves. That's our job as parents. Our educating role, as John Holt would say, is to get out of the way of their natural learning, stop intervening and interfering and trust in their innate ability to learn whatever it is they need to learn.

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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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