What natural learning looks like

When my kids were younger I took them to quite a few organized classes.   At least, quite a few in comparison with the last three or four years.   They did Art and Gymnastics and Dance and Rock Climbing and Martial Arts and Shakespeare and Cooking and Self-Defense and Swimming and probably some other things I’ve forgotten by now.

The only class that stood the test of time is Art.

We ditched everything else, kind of all at once.   This year our only organized classes included Art for both Maya & Ben and then Spanish for Maya (Ben started it but wasn’t having fun and dropped out) and Wayfinders for Ben.   That’s it.

For the last two years, friends have tried to convince Maya and/or Ben to take part in various classes.   Which they politely and repeatedly decline.   Parents have asked me why I don’t just sign them up because “They’d probably have fun once they started,” and I just nod and smile & say no thank you.   We’ve been there.  We’ve done that.  Sometimes it was ok and other times it was misery.   Then I made the decision that my kids are old enough and aware enough of their own likes and dislikes to say yes or no to classes without my interference.   This does not mean I never say anything.  I will give my input and opinion.  Ben was unsure about Wayfinders last Fall, so I told him to try a class and see how he liked it.  Then he could decide.   He wound up loving it and during the 8 week Fall and Spring sessions talks of little else.

Maya has been declining to take dance classes for the last 7 years, but a few weeks ago when a friend approached her about participating in a class this Fall, the answer was a resounding “yes”.   She also mentioned that she wants to take a photography class, as well as continuing in Spanish and Art.     This is all coming from her.   When children are allowed to learn naturally, they do it in a rhythm that is all their own.  This is what makes it difficult for parents & the outside world who have their own opinions, born usually of years of schooling, about how learning should look; how it should happen.

The fact is that there is no right way.   A friend & fellow unschooler of mine told me that her daughter is interested in Algebra and wanted a tutor.  When my friend posted on an email list asking if anyone knew of a good tutor, someone sent her a long message implying that maybe they should seek family counseling to deal with issues of coercion and to learn a more natural form of learning.  In other words this person assumed that my friend wanted a tutor because SHE wanted her daughter to sit and do Algebra.   But that wasn’t the case at all; the request came from the child.

That’s the point.   Both of our kids are learning naturally.  Both are allowed and encouraged to follow their interests.  But the interests of our two kids vary so wildly & manifest so differently that most people assume we don’t have the same ideals when it comes to learning.   I’ve heard people say that my friends’ kid “isn’t really an unschooler” because she gravitates toward a more academic style.   Likewise, when I talk about our book club or the classes Maya wants to take I’ve had people say, “Wow, how very school-like of you.”

Wrong on both counts.

The only way those comments would be true is if there was force or coercion behind our kids’ decisions to be academic or take certain classes.

This seems to be the single most difficult concept for people to grasp when it comes to natural learning. They have no trouble recognizing that each child is unique and different with personalities all their own, but somehow cannot extend that to ideas about learning.

It makes perfect sense, though, doesn’t it?  If every kid is unique and unschooling is all about self-directed learning then each child will have a path and a method all their own in keeping with their individuality.    Any argument to the contrary is born of “school brain” which says that all children must learn the same way at the same time.

Our challenge is not to teach self-directed natural learning, but just to get out of the way and allow it.


2 comments on “What natural learning looks like

  1. Isabelle Hidaka says:

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for this article as I struggled figuring out some aspect of Unschooling that I thought we were doing & not at other times…
    This is helping me so much focusing on my child desires because at times I ask myself whether I am reading to much into his wants and perhaps coercing him to try a class or reading too much into my wants for him!
    It happened recently when a friend ask to join them for an audition at a choir.We did as I thought, or convinced both ourselves, that it would be a good experience whether it worked out or not.I did work and then came the call and dollars amount and the seriousness of it that I knew would throw us off completely ,almost in an allergic kind of way ( the committed attitude that is).I realized then I needed to back off since signing up would mean eventually dragging my son because we’d signed up!? He likes to sing but wants to create his own songs and doesn’t want to sing what he doesn’t like;makes sense.Plus he did it for a year at NYU Chorus,like it,dislike it,was on the fence and wanted to stop so this was going to be similar but with more engagement and it made no sense.So we talked about it and we will forgo.I guess my struggle was with me trying to figure out a social aspect time before or after class which is ridiculous to begin with.Anyway,long comment but…I wanted to acknowledge your input on the subject matter with gratitude as it helps clarify some perceptions we have in us whether conditioned or unfolding around us through pears and not necessarily helping.I even had a mom once trying to coerce my son ,in front of me,to take a class with her son,even though I’d explained earlier he was interested;it didn’t matter though since my son voiced it himself…I was grateful he had come into is own voice to let people know his will.He was 7 at the time,now 9.:)
    Thank you for lighting up the way,refreshing or reminding us,Isabelle

  2. Isabelle Hidaka says:

    Correction on previous…
    I meant to say ;
    “I’d explained earlier he WASN’T interested”

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