Can Unschoolers Use Resources Designed for Schools?
by Beverley Paine
Natural learning is actually taking cues from the child's educational and developmental needs within the social context in which he or she lives. The way in which we help our children grow and learn in the years before child-care, preschool and school are the most obvious examples of natural learning, as is the way we operate in the world as adults. School is simply a tool people (and society) uses to achieve a particular goal - once we determine what we think those goals are (for us and for society, because often they are different!) we can examine the methods used by schools to achieve those goals and see if they are effective and make sense for our children. Unschooling families and those that embrace a natural learning approach to life are happy to use some of the tools used within the school system, however they see using them as optional rather than compulsory. We don't have to educate our children in any particular way to achieve the educational and developmental goals that we and our children determine are important.
It doesn't matter where are children are at educationally or developmentally, or what their strengths or limitations are, or health, or situation and circumstance - natural learning happens no matter what educational tools we use. Place emphasis on the tool rather than the child and you end up making the same mistakes schools do and will probably encounter some of the behavioural and motivational issues that arise in the classroom. Be attentive to and meet the educational and development needs of the child in whatever way makes sense to both of you - that's the natural learning way.
Natural learning isn't the 'easy way out' some people think it is and can be very difficult especially in the early weeks, months and years, but mainly because it involves so much unlearning of unhelpful ways of thinking about education. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our children to perform and reach certain standards, many of which are contrived for the purposes of fitting in with the 'normal' crowd!
Natural learning grows out of meeting our everyday needs - it's not something we present or offer to the children in the hope that they will learn what we want or society needs them to learn. It is centred on the needs of the individual within the context of the needs of the family and the community and society (and world) in which he or she lives. Understanding the nature of the child and the various elements in which the child interacts is our role: and yes, that isn't always easy and it does require us to be attentive, observant and reflective. But it is okay if we falter frequently because our children are resilient and forgiving.
The other important thing is that we need to learn to value what our children are already learning as they go about their daily lives. This helps us recognise and identify those educational 'outcomes' so important to the authorities if we are registered for our reviews, plus it helps us to feel confident we are enabling a well-rounded education as natural learners for our children. We can use our children's natural activities and those that arise from simply living in a busy world as scaffolds to help them make sense of things we or others consider important for their health, safety, well-being, growth and development. From little things big things grow! For example, while doing the dishes together you can talk about how other people do their dishes in different countries and cultures and how it might have been done differently at various stages throughout history. If you don't know, imagine the answers: be satisfied that you have helped to keep the fires of curiosity burning. It is little conversations like this that broaden your child's world, in the same way that exposing a child to the world of literature through reading expands their understanding and experience of life.
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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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