The Alternative Pathway to Learning
'Any child who can spend an hour or two a day, more if they want, with adults that they like, who are interested in the world and like to talk about it, will on most days learn far more from their talk than they would learn in a week of school.’ - John Holt
First of all, why do people take or keep their children out of school/chose to educate from home in the first place? Mostly for three reasons:
they think that raising their children is their business not the government’s
they enjoy being with their children and watching and helping them learn, and don’t want to give that up to others
and they want to keep them from being hurt, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
While it may have suited our families growing up and while it may suit most families, sending our children off to school while we work the normal 9-5 just doesn’t suit us as a family. Our parenting journey, although only really beginning has been absolutely wonderful because we’ve always done what we’ve felt is right in each moment, and we naturally adapted a gentle style of parenting.
Part of the reason why I wanted to write this particular post is because we have been receiving a lot of questions lately regarding our son Roran and when and where he will go to school. And we’d like to explain why exactly, we don’t plan on sending him to a traditional school.
Since we fell pregnant we have been drawn toward the idea of homeschooling, while also incorporating no-curriculum unschooling. And through thorough research, listening to inspiring podcasts, watching TED talks, reading blogs and books and generally planning the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ associated with it, we reached the decision that it is without a doubt the path we’d like to explore.
See, being a parent is a privilege that my husband and I hold very close to our hearts. Our toddler has taught us to cherish the countless moments and memories and we would hate to lose this connection that we have.
Thanks to our little one, every day’s an adventure. We are living a life with a love that is boundless, endless, and therefore unconditional and we’re constantly excited to explore this world with him.
Unschooling is radically different to everyone as not only is every child different, but everyone has different interests and everyone thrives in different environments. Traditional schooling is the exact same for every child, and the children are forced to learn a specific curriculum and move at exactly the same pace as everyone else - which I don’t believe is the best way to learn. This is in no way a fault of teachers, I personally know some wonderful teachers who give their everything, however unfortunately, there isn’t enough time in the day for one teacher to truly teach an entire class of pupils, it just doesn’t happen, and that’s a fault of the system. When I was at school I couldn’t pay attention, I was constantly watching the clock just waiting to get outside. I couldn’t learn in that environment and I know that many children also struggle. When I was at school I’d often come home and hideaway in my room. I didn’t want to talk to my parents or my brother, I wanted to be alone. I suffered headaches and anxiety and often I’d be hiding away because I wasn’t living up to the expectations that I thought were important back then. I don’t want that for my children. I want them to want to talk to us and be happy to spend time with us. Right now our days are filled up with laughter and the only days I go to bed disappointed are when there’s a day with less of that sound. So, because of all of this I believe home learning is the best way for a child not only to learn, but enjoy learning and actually remember what they’ve learned. Despite my own less-than-perfect public-school education and experiences, it’s clear to see that children have lost their love of learning, parents are waking up and no longer have faith in an “unnatural system created during the industrialization era.”
We’ve been extremely fortunate since becoming parents to have met other parents who chose to unschool in our area and despite Roran only just turning 2, we’ve been welcomed along to all kinds of different meet-ups. See, there is no specific age on when a child should begin learning, we learn from the day we are born. And this way of learning gives our child the freedom to learn about what they’re interested in, and fully immerse himself in it.
Unschooling is becoming increasingly popular due to the realisation that, here in the UK, the curriculum hasn’t changed in many years and we’re being educated to work jobs that no longer exist. We need more creative minds and activists and entrepreneurs. We therefore should be trying to raise unique, compassionate and thriving humans, not clones.
At first, I was anxious about not finding support from our own parents, we didn’t think that they would be able to shake the idea of a formal education. However, since showing them that we are extremely confident in all of our lifestyle and parenting choices they have fully jumped on board, even planning their own workshops and classes to teach to their grandchild. (i.e woodworks and nature.) It may have helped that my Dad bumped into an awesome mum and her children on a beach in Portrush during the summer, who preceded to tell my dad about how great home education is, and that she highly recommends it. She also informed him all about the online groups that we should join. Of course, we already had been accepted to the groups as we’d done our research, and I’m so thankful to be able to connect with other home Ed/unschooling parents in Northern Ireland and of course, worldwide via social media.
When I picture homeschooling I see happiness and creativity. We simply believe in following our children’s interests, while keeping their curiosity sparked and their love of learning alive and bright. We want to fill their lives with nature walks, music, and tonnes of books! And I know, along with running a home and earning an income, it really will be hard work but we’re prepared to do it because we know it will be worth it in the long run.
I think the biggest worry that parents face when looking into this style of education, is whether or not their children will receive adequate socialisation. No one wants the only interaction their children have to be with the mail man and Adam at the local farm shop.
However, the last few months have proved that homeschooling actually gives a much better opportunity to socialise than sitting in a class room. What’s better than socialising in a natural environment? We’ve already scouted out local classes, all of which are very affordable and often free! There are classes in science, languages, creative writing, drama, art, street dance, pottery, swimming, gymnastics, yoga! We even plan on starting our own ‘mindfulness for children and parents’ classes along with environmental meet-ups. And, currently we are able to bring Roran along to the ‘little wanderers’ meet-ups where he can immerse himself in nature and explore the world in the most beneficial way imaginable.
Homeschooled children aren’t sitting idle. It’s far from what most people imagine when you first bring up the topic. Homeschooled children spend more time outdoors actually doing things that will benefit them. They are learning the alphabet, basic arithmetic, the Periodic Table, geography, much like the regular school-goers but a lot differently. They are pursuing Self-Directed Learning. Which means, they are free to choose what they want to learn (coding, music, dance, sports, filmmaking, cooking, or even daydreaming) and who they want to learn from (books, facilitators, parents, Internet, internships or travels). There is no curriculum, no timeline, and no expectations. And when someone asks “but, what if they don’t want to learn?” Children are born curious. They’re keen learners and it’s our jobs to keep that passion alive.
It’s true, homeschooling looks a lot less like sitting at the kitchen table reading books and more travelling around the country to the next event or educational visit, but on the flip side, we could spend an afternoon in a library, and we’re lucky to have such an incredible library here in our hometown, which is located on a huge public area with birds and games to play after, or at our local organic farm, where can see the work that goes into growing our food, or we could spend the day painting or playing in a park, everyday things that already play a huge part in our lives. See, our life is our school. This is our education. It didn’t begin with nursery and it sure didn’t end with a piece of paper that declares us ready for a job. Our learning isn’t confined to certain months of the year. Or a specific building. Or books that dissect and divide life into segments within chapters within subjects. We don’t have notebooks dedicated to separating science from history from art from fun. There are words we can’t spell. There are equations we can’t solve. We answer our questions with more questions. We aren’t concerned with earning points or impressing people. We’re not caught up in some great competition that pits children against children. Adults against children. Adults against adults. We’re not rushing to complete some bizarre race against the end of time. We don’t need a winter break, a spring break, a two month summer break from learning. Learning is our life.
Imagine if you could learn whatever you wanted? In any type of environment you choose, with the teacher or group of your dreams. What would that look like? That’s what’s happening today in the home-schooling community. It’s not just learning outside of the school system. It’s true educational freedom.
And of course, if our child would like to attend school in the future, we will address that because the whole point is to make sure they’re happy and thriving. I just want it to be a decision that they make confidently and I want them to know that it’s okay to change their mind. We’re fortunate to have an amazing school close to us, that offers alternative learning and I’ve already spoken with past pupils and teachers from the school who have nothing but positive experiences. So we are prepared for that.
No matter what, we will always let our child know that we never plan to home school to take them out of the world, but to immerse them in the world.
We gift them the freedom to explore every day.
Here are some amazing resources to help you get a better understanding of this alternative way of teaching children:
An amazing podcast by ETU: Episode 11