Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Unschooling Philosophy

Unschooling, also known as free schooling, child-directed learning, and natural learning, is our educational philosophy and goal for our family. The word unschooling seems to spark quite a bit of controversy, which we feel is in part due to the radical sound of the word. The word isn't going away, however, so we have to live with it.

Basically what we are aiming for in our children's education is a loosely structured system of learning that is both exciting and flexible for all of us. That is: it's a lifestyle for the whole family. Learning doesn't happen at school; it happens everywhere, all the time, throughout our lives. Instead of being given assignments indended to "teach" concepts, the children (and we) will learn from those concepts coming into play in our daily activities and projects. We've always been aware of learning opportunities in everything we do. That doesn't mean we press the kids to read every word they see, or to help tally the groceries. But when they show any interest at all, we try to encourage it. And we have an unending trajectory of projects and adventures, some of which were conceived for their ability to educate/inspire the kids.

So why school at all? Because we believe that the most important aspect of group education is social skills, and that is something we cannot give our children here in the Rickshaw with only the immediate family around. We don't want the wild, often-violent and frightening social life of the public school playground, but a nurturing, supervised, mixed-age group where they can learn to celebrate individuality and togetherness. That is what we hope to get at our local Homelearner's Program (AKA The Learning Centre), where, starting this Thursday, Taliesin will be doing 1.5 days per week of learning with other children aged 5 to 8 approximately. He has the option to attend many other events at the centre, and the option to skip classes entirely without any reprimand from us or his teachers, as long as he is willing to discuss his decisions. We hope that the centre will also help us navigate the legalities of what we're choosing to do, as well as facilitate our homelearning.

I've found myself trying to explain our stance on education many times over the past few months, as we've navigated the procedure of signing Taliesin up for the Learning Centre. We've encountered a lot of genuine concern for our children's wellbeing, from people who, quite frankly, don't know what we're talking about... and that's our fault. It's hard to explain! Mostly that's because of our fear of criticism... Anything so radical as "unschooling" seems pretty scary, even to us, at times. It's partly uncharted territory, and requires a lot more from the parents than more traditional forms of schooling. But we believe in it wholeheartedly, and, since this is all about listening to the children, are ensuring that their options are left open. So if they decide to go to the local elementary school after a couple of months or a few years, they still can.

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