Learning Is What Happens, Naturally
I’m sitting here at my makeshift computer desk (an old sewing table) with my legs folded under me. I’ve been staring at this blank screen for a while. Now and then, I type several lines, then delete it all. What do I write? How do I explain? How do I define what we’re doing?
Whenever someone asks my daughter, “Where do you go to school?” she smiles and replies, “I go to Sunday School!” I guess this would be a good time to mention, we’re unschoolers! My children do not understand the usual definition of school!
My son doesn’t realize he already understands math. He knows he wants three cookies, and he definitely makes it known when I short him! My daughter has difficulty counting on her fingers, but she knows how to count out eggs as she cracks “two for Mommy, two for brother…” when she’s helping make breakfast.
I often wonder how many four-year-olds have such a passion for cooking. My daughter understands what spices and seasonings are and often tries to name the ones I’ve used when tasting the dishes I’ve laid out for supper. As I type, she’s “cooking” a meal of her own. She just announced she’s making chicken noodle soup… “with garlic”. I suppose baking and cooking is chemistry and basic math, but she doesn’t know that! (By the way, now she’s moved on to making mashed potatoes “with cheese on top”. )
When I first started home schooling, I found myself extremely frustrated. My daughter didn’t seem to be on the same level as some of her peers. I felt it was time to reassess, so I began researching different methods, hoping to find some sort of curriculum or cure for what I feared was a “slow learner”.
For several months I looked into various learning styles. Occasionally, I’d try a different approach, then realize it wasn’t a great fit. I became frustrated, until I stopped to look around me and realized….
Both of my children were learning. Yes, my two year old and four year old were learning without my prompting, hassling, and force. While I was stressing out about learning methods, they had continued on a natural path. On their own, they had come around to figuring out all sorts of things. I wasn’t even aware I was teaching them because, in my mind, I had created two separate worlds: Learning and The Rest of Life.
The obvious hit me, life is learning.
A baby is naturally curious about his world. At first, it’s all about his body. He becomes amazed by his hands, staring at them for hours, guiding them to his mouth, rubbing his eyes, and wiggling his fingers. No one tells him how to do this. He just does. He learns how to grasp things on his own. He learns how to roll over, sit up, and walk. He moves beyond his interest in his own body and begins to explore the world around him. Sure, we try to lend our support, but it’s something we cannot force. It will happen when he is ready.
As a parent, it’s amazing to sit back and watch our children’s capabilities and personalities unfold. One day we wake up and realize they’ve mastered something we haven’t purposely tried to teach them.
I always say, “We didn’t choose unschooling, unschooling chose us.” It’s true. Unschooling is what happened when I stopped forcing workbooks and lessons. Unschooling is what happened when we went about our day-to-day life. Unschooling is what happened… naturally. Our children continued to do what they’ve always done…. learn!
We guide them along by being available. We’re available to answer their questions, available to join them in their adventures, whether it be around the house or on a fun field trip. We’re available to read books, create crafts, and watch them as they explore their interests. We’re available to help them, especially when they ask!
My children don’t have free reign over the house. They do have to follow a set of rules (after all, God did give us authority over our children, and has commanded them to obey). My authority comes from God, and I submit to Him. His command to “train up a child” [Prov. 22:6] means I am required to be active in their lives. At this point, I am not their friend, I am their mother. I am not someone who merely keeps a watchful eye. I watch over them, yes, but I have been instructed by the Lord to discipline and guide them in the right direction. I mention this because I want to make it clear that my children are not running wild, exploring whatever they desire under the guise of education.
In closing, the greatest lesson I have learned from this experience (so far… as I’m sure there are many more to come) is that children don’t learn by our schedule. They are naturally curious. They have a thirst for knowledge. They may not learn things in a certain sequence at a certain age when other children are, but you can be sure they will learn what they need to know. Give it time. Be patient. Remember, you have the ability to let their natural passion for learning flourish. Don’t hinder it!
Mandy is a former homeschooling student who has set out to unschool her three young munchkins. In her column The Natural Noggin: Adventures in Unschooling, she gives a glimpse into the curious minds of her children as they explore their natural instincts to explore the heights and depths of knowledge. She blogs at MandyMOM.com.