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Unschooling and 'Interests'

by Beverley Paine, July 2019

There is a lot of misunderstanding about 'interests' especially during the early months and years of unschooling. When we talk about allowing children to pursue their interests it is meant in a non-judging way - which is the really hard bit. What we value and lablel as an interest as an adult is completely different to how a child perceives it. For a child, playing a game with their toys is an 'interest'. It could also be a simple question on a topic, that once answered isn't delved into again for a few weeks.

Think of their minds as a complex jigsaw puzzle - there are bits all over the floor that need to be fitted into the right space. When we do a jigsaw puzzle for the first time we have no idea how to select pieces - we simply pick up one piece put it down and then pick up another. We quickly realise that we need to be selective - we might look for a piece with the same colour as the first, or we might decide to do the border first, or we might spend time sorting pieces. Different people develop different strategies to help them put the puzzle together. Our kids are working out what fits where in life through play, helping with chores, looking after themselves and others, etc. It's a full and busy life.

And it is enough, but in those early years of unschooling it is hard to trust that it is enough - that simply allowing a child to get on with whatever it is they're doing will help them learn what they need to learn. It is hard to let go of the idea that they should be learning what others think is important to learn - or that learning has a particular 'look' or is a particular experience.

I was stunned one day when my then 3.5 year old sat for over an hour drawing a picture with a cottage (that had 3d perspective). I had no idea that he could sit that still for that long, let alone remain focused on one activity. The more I noticed little things like this the more trusting I became in my children's ability to learn in their own way. All I had to do was make sure that whatever they needed was to hand - that's why some home educating parents describe their roles as 'facilitators'. We're there to answer questions, help set things up, obtain suitable resources, etc - whatever our children need to take their learning wherever it is going to go. And to whatever depth is needed in that moment to learn whatever it is that is needed to be learned.

Giving up the need to direct that learning as parents or educators is the main work of an unschooling parent.

One of the things I found useful and comforting during this stage was spending time with my children, playing and working with them. The more I did this the more I got to know how they learn (their individual strategies and preferences, or learning style). I also 'translated' some of what they were doing into edu-speak, simply to reassure me that yes, we were actually covering the curriculum, just not in the same way or rate that school kids were. I started to notice and piece together bits of information that demonstrated progress - for example, a child asking if a sign said what it actually said - I'd interpret that as reading, although the child wasn't read books yet she knew that text conveyed a meaning and was using strategies to work that out.

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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 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

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