Welcome to The Educating Parent Beverley Paine's archive of articles about homeschooling and unschooling written over a period of 30 plus years

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Unschooling and following the child's interest

by Beverley Paine, June 2024

Defining what unschooling is and isn't comes up a lot in my world, usually in a problematic 'us and them' kind of way. I feel I am an unschooler and I have my understanding of what it is and sometimes I get a little protective about it because I think it is still largely misunderstood. But hey, there's plenty of room for a spectrum of unschooling experience - to me it is a journey towards authentic respect and understanding that each and everyone of us are capable natural learners, continuously learning in our own way what is important to each of us. I see my role - for myself and those I care about - is to remove unnecessary obstacles that get in the way or prevent that wonder from unfolding. Because observing learning in action it is wondrous.

However, I'm off track already... I came here to share Annie Regon's word, particularly these: "'Following their interests' is not the same as unit studies, project-based learning, or even interest- based learning. All of those are great ways to home educate (and are even used in some school settings), but they are not unschooling."

So what does 'following their interests' look like for an unschooling family?"

For me, it's a step on the way to unschooling, if that's the direction the family want to take. I also think that the longer people home educate the more they lean into the basic principles of unschooling - autonomy of choice, trust, non-coercion. And I think it happens regardless of style or approach, because we make space and time in our children's lives to show us what they're capable of, how they learn best, what works for them. If we don't they make our home educating lives a little more difficult, and no one wants that, so we all adapt, adjust, tweak, and learn to work together to achieve a common goal. But I'm digressing again! (that happens a lot... LOL)

Annie goes onto to describe what 'following their interests' in a home educating sense mean to her, and it's a description I agree with - "they read, watch, research, play or explore because it's something that they enjoy, and the learning happens as they do it."

Learning to value and appreciate my children's interests was a huge aspect of me becoming an unschooler. Before then I was always seeking to encourage my children to get interested in things I am interested in! A current example about to unfold with my grandkids - there's a brilliant historic toy exhibition happening in Adelaide at the moment and I want to take my grandkids. Are they interested in historic toys? Probably, probably not. Do I have a home educating agenda in wanting to take them? Sure. Am I imposing my interest on them? Sure. Will I give them choice in going? Sure. Will I go without them? Sure. But if they come with me, they'll see my enthusiasm and they know that I value this kind of thing and they'll humour me and engage with me, or not. They'll come along for the ride because they like doing things with me and sometimes I do interesting things. And because they know that I do the same with the things that interest them. I pay attention, I listen and learn so I can chat with them about those things. Not always, because hey, sometimes those things are too boring for me.

And I know that it doesn't matter because regardless of our motivations learning will be happening anyway. I might not know what learning is actually unfolding - often it's not apparent until much later, sometimes years later. I trust that learning is happening. I don't need to know what it is, I just need to accept that it is.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and get something out of Annie's post on the HEN website. Because whether you are unschooling or homeschooling, it's talking about what is actually happening anyway.

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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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