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Using School as a Natural Learning Resource

by Beverley Paine, Nov 2014

Today, on Unschool Australia while sharing our definitions and descriptions of unschooling, a discussion arose about if it is possible at all to unschool at school.

Speaking as a mum of a daughter who chose to go to school and chose to stay there after mainly being home educated... and who is unschooling her preschooler...

It bugged me enormously. What annoyed me the most was suffering through an hour or so of complaints about the school and the teachers and the way the whole thing operates every day for about a year (well, it seemed to go on for that long!) After endless days of offering different ideas and possible solutions, etc I insisted she stop complaining - going to school was her choice, I didn't agree with it, didn't think it was a good idea, everything she said just entrenched my position and she could come home anytime she wanted!

Silly me. Complaining was her way of working through the complexities of learning what she needed to learn at that stage of her life. School was the resource she'd selected to learn it.

I believe I could have worked more diligently to provide satisfactory alternatives but, for various reasons, that was too much effort at the time for me. And school, as a resource, was within reach and easy for her to use. At some point in time this insight came to me and explained why, despite her obvious dislike of many aspects of school and her history of home education, school was okay for her.

She needed to learn particular things life at home wasn't enabling. She wasn't aware of what those things were at the time: she was directed by a need that arose from her personality and temperament. What she was learning had nothing to do with the curriculum presented to the school - it was drawn from the experience at being in an institution. And it made me realise, yet again, that we're not always aware of what or why we're learning throughout life, it's often revealed afterwards, when we have a 'aha' moment of insight, or realise we've picked up some skills or ability we didn't have before without deliberately practicing it or choosing to learn it. Natural learning. So that's why I say that she was natural learning at school.

Sure she did a lot of things she didn't want to do - but she always had the option to say no at anytime. Knowing this made it an unschooling experience. She could walk out the school gate at any time with the support of her parents. She could fail a subject or not do school work at any time with the support of her parents. We encouraged her to remember her commitment to people at the school but ultimately being there (or not) was her choice.

And she vociferously encouraged her younger brothers to not go to school. Thinking on that now I can see that she was acting on her knowledge of them and understanding of their needs - school fulfilled a need for her but it wasn't a resource that would work for them.

So what do I think that school gave her? At the same time she began working part-time at a local supermarket, after school and on the weekend. Together these two experiences gave her an insight into how institutions operate, how people are managed and how goals and tasks are achieved. Perhaps if we'd owned a small business at the time these needs would have been met by that, but then again, perhaps not.

School, distance education, classes, tutoring - these are all resources our children can utilise. Our role is to support them, help them learn about themselves, who they are and help them identify their needs so that they can more effectively meet those needs. Sometimes it's a bumpy ride and sometimes we don't like or approve of their choices, but that's our challenge, the learning we need to embrace.

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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

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