I recently picked up a book ‘The Unschooling Handbook’ (Mary Griffith) , and started to thumb through it. I have had the book for many years, originally having bought it when we were in California and started to ‘homeschool’ our kids. At that point Leon was only about 5 years old, and Maya barely 3, so our ‘homeschooling’ was largely based on play, and learning through their interests. ‘Unschooling’, however, is based on this – picking up on the children’s own passions and interests, and learning through these as much as you can, through as many different areas as possible.
Many years ago I trained – almost by accident – as a teacher of 3 to 12 year olds (though later concentrating on the early years), and I remember to this day the excitement I felt when we were asked to write as essay about a learning experience in our childhood. I wrote about my time in Africa, where I was brought up for a few years, and home educated by my mother, incidentally learning more in that time than ever in my school life. In fact I still remember the names and description of copious snakes, insects, and sea creatures from the Indian Ocean; I remember also how I learnt to draw a scale key map, and how the fishermen used sticks as a trap to catch their fish, how to walk around a coconut tree and not under it, how to identify a baobab tree, and numerous kinds of shells. The list goes on. As I wrote this essay I remember thinking “Wow! How exciting! Life is about learning, and children are so curious and eager to learn, they can learn from anything, and it can always be fun, and anything, ANYTHING, can be turned into an exciting and valuable lesson”.
To this day I believe this. I believe that, given the right enthusiasm and encouragement, and a a certain amount of independence and trust, children can learn from anything, and learning can be so very exciting.
The ‘Unschooling Handbook’ itself is no miracle, and in fact many of the points are obvious, but it does make one think, and realise how much our children have the potential to learn, and inevitably to teach themselves, through their own passion.
This week I have watched my kids bake together every morning. Sometimes cakes, sometimes sweets, mostly Leon and Maya, but once Leon and Alfie. The recipes have been their own, they have cleaned up after themselves, everything has been done alone except for putting on the oven. They have written out recipes, and solved problems, worked together – even with a 2 year old. And I have been impressed.
It particularly makes me think of Leon. Through his own enthusiasm, he has taught himself to cook, to garden, to ‘cut and paste’ and write ‘keynote’ presentations on the computer, to use the internet as a resource, to play chess to a high standard, to swim, to ride a bike, to read and write in two languages, to calculate mathematical sums to a year above his school year, to play the piano from heart, to use woodwork tools safely, to take the bus alone, to go to the shop alone and get the right change, to set up a tent and pack a rucksack for a week away, to light a fire outside, to sew and to weave, to communicate in two languages, to solve problems, to take care of his younger siblings…. and I’m sure the list goes on.
And what amazes me is this – he has just turned 9. And he is more or less independent. And he has largely taught himself these things. With a little encouragement from his parents, and a little from school. But just a little.
It just makes you think – what children are capable of – given a little encouragement, and a little independence.