In January this year when most children Hannah’s age were donning their uniforms and backpacks and heading off to their first day of school, Hannah slept until 8am and then we headed to our local city farm to explore, learn and hang out with our friends. We had the most amazing day and as I watched my 5 year old running around in her dress-up tutu and painting with clay, I knew we had made the right decision.
During my pregnancy with Hannah I became obsessed not just with preparing for birth but for everything related to parenting, and this eventually took me down the path to Alternative Education. I began to use little bits of all the different philosophies and methods I had read about, in our day to day life. I love so much about the Montessori approach and our home is designed to be very child friendly and is influenced by many Monetssori principles. Some aspects of the philosophy were missing for me and so I adopted what could easily be termed Steiner ideas into our home as well. As Hannah grew though, and as we watched her take her first plunge into ‘academic’ learning just after she turned 2 by learning to write the letter ‘H’ we – well, mostly I! – felt a little lightbulb go off that quietly said ‘She is learning, not by force or compulsion, but naturally‘. And so I did what I have always felt was right and I followed my child.
As Hannah grew, we watched her learn. She learned from the moment she woke up to the time her eyes closed and we were even speculating that she was learning in her sleep (which is actually true!). As I watched this process happen I started to question everything I had known or read or accepted about education. I began to see that children are born to learn. I mean, everyone knows that, but I began to see this for what it really is – a completely natural state for a child. A state of constant inquisition with the driving force being a need to learn how to grow into a competent adult in the society they have been born into.
When Brian and I sat down and discussed what we wanted for our children in the future, we decided we wanted to find a way where our children could learn with joy, with desire and with a thirst for knowledge. Where we could be there next to them as a companion that could answer questions when asked, supply materials if needed and offer different perspectives when required. We wanted to be the person who could offer inspiration and varied experiences and then leave them to learn for themselves like we knew they could. We knew this because we had watched them learn since the day they were born.
No one taught my baby to crawl or babble or reach for a toy or touch her toes. She noticed the toy and felt the desire to touch it so she strived to reach that goal until she did. It was an insatiable need and she wasn’t going to be satisfied until that toy was in her grasp. And how did she feel when she held that toy and moved it to her lips to finally begin to recognise exactly what it was that she had been looking at that whole time? Absolute delight! And satisfaction. And then she moved onto the next thing, the previous knowledge safely tucked away to be used in the future. She never did anything before she was ready and never until the learning was meaningful to her.
Everything my children have learned happened in the right way, in the right order and at the right time. For them.
And we trusted it to happen that way.
We expected it.
And it did. They learned. And they have never stopped.
And you know what?
I still see that same delight in their eyes when they reach a new learning goal – whether it be climbing a tree or writing a word – that I saw when they were just babies. Their desire for knowledge has never been disapproved of or feared. We have always welcomed it with open arms even when it seemed frightening to us. We knew they were ready to learn it because they wanted to try. We trust that they will want to learn the things Brian and I know – such as reading and writing – because they see us use these skills in every day life. We trust that when those skills become important to them that they will become interested in learning them and we have no doubt they will.
And so in the last 5.5 years, Brian and I have been witness to something spectacular – our children learning all about life, through life itself. It really is a beautiful thing to watch. To see the opportunities that are created every hour to learn and to watch children take on the challenge with an enthusiasm that is essentially unremarkable because it is their everyday. That is the true beauty of this approach to learning, to life. When we began to look very closely into our childrens world we began to see that learning is everywhere and in every thing and this is what makes us confident in our decision to unschool our children.
I won’t go too much into what unschooling is as a philosophy as there are many other sources of that information elsewhere. But basically it is all about what I described above. This is a quote from a blog called The Path Less Taken that sums up unschooling really well – “Unschooling is a philosophy that allows that given a rich, interesting environment, and attentive, supportive parents, that learning will happen naturally. To believe in unschooling is to believe that true learning happens best when it arises from the experiences and interests of the learner, not from an imposed curriculum or a teacher or a parent. As unschooling parents, we don’t act as teachers, but as facilitators and partners. We do not separate the day into subjects, or into school time, or play time, or learning time. We live as if school does not exist. We live our lives and we learn from it.“
I am not pedantic about labels though. Our life is what it is. We know why schools exist and we don’t feel that they will need to be a necessary part of our childrens lives. We feel that learning cannot be contained or explained or tested. It cannot be trained or directed or controlled. It is a personal, individual and unique experience that every person travels through themselves. Learning doesn’t only last for 12 years! It should continue for a lifetime.
As an example – which was prompted after hearing Dayna Martin speak at the Conscious Parenting and Natural Learning Conference we attended in 2012 – I realised just how much time and effort I had put into learning about pregnancy, labour and birth. I knew almost as much as a midwife and yet I wasn’t going to be be tested on this information. I was reading, researching and memorising because I desired to do so. I had a goal and I was meeting it. It was entirely self-initiated and therefore it was self-activated. My satisfaction came from the learning itself. I was educating myself because the learning was meaningful to me. This is the key to unschooling.
This realisation affirmed for me how much I wanted my children to keep that love of learning burning in their hearts. I wanted them to feel that if they wanted to know about something that all they had to do was follow that desire and seek the required knowledge. Keeping our children home from school makes sense to us. We are living in the real world and our children will learn from living every day, following their passions, experimenting, asking questions, travelling and experiencing new things. We don’t need to teach our children how to learn. That is an oxymoron. They have been learning since they took their first breath and we know all we need to do is step back and let them live life. And for us, that just happens to mean life without school.
[I will be blogging more of our unschooling journey in the near future but if you want to see more real-life updates then follow us on Instagram via ‘hippyhappymama’ and check out the #ourunschoolingjourney hashtag]