Learning and Teaching
This will seem SO OBVIOUS to seasoned unschoolers/home educators (so I ask for your tolerance) but it is still one of the most common misconceptions we try to explore when people ask questions about why our children learn at home for their early years.
The most common question after
“Are you a teacher?” (NO!) “.. don’t need to be; children LEARN!
“Aren’t you worried about socialisation?” (NO!)
is actually not really even asked. It’s clear that people think whichever adult is at home with the children needs to know ALL the answers; that we sit with the same books as our children’s same-aged peers; that we are at desks with a timetable. Some homeschoolers fit this perception, obviously, but an increasing number, in my experience, are on the unschooling continuum. Especially as they gain confidence with just how much children want to learn, many parents are reassured and realise that Minecraft, music or learning to perform magic tricks can be routes to literacy, numeracy, self-confidence and all the traits, knowledge and skills we’d like our children to possess and understand.
I have some sympathy with the belief that effective education at home involves an adult “knowing more” and imparting this knowledge to the children. I am reminded of a lovely geography teacher who explained to us in our teen years that we were “empty vessels” and she a jug, going to fill us with knowledge….
I met my first home educating family when I was 19 and my first child, Darragh was 9 months old. Some days the 8 and 10 year olds sat at the kitchen to do a page of maths and English after the cow was milked and the sheep were fed and the sticks had been brought in for the fires and the compost bin had been emptied. I read their John Holt books, “How Children Learn”, “How Children Fail” and I watched the family go about their lives with the discussion and endless questions that to me are the key to our children’s (and our own) learning.
So I took a deep breath. Darragh learned to walk and to climb stairs without me deciding when he should. Maybe I could TRUST his other (more academic?) learning would unfold like this?
But I did sign up to a correspondence Montessori course so if we were stuck, I’d have a way to “TEACH”.. forgive me, I was 19.
I was always grateful for the time I spent learning about the Montessori approach (I worked briefly in a Montessori school in the USA) and the respect for children she exemplified. Her book “The Absorbent Mind” is a classic, in my humble opinion. But I don’t think it ever fulfilled the reason I undertook it, to enable me to TEACH something, if I were stuck..
You could be the most gifted communicator. You could have prepared the most beautiful lesson plan. You could have engaging resources and props and tools to hand. You may have catered for the child’s dominant learning style, whether that be auditory, visual, kinaesthetic, or whatever.
But if your chosen “student” is not receptive to whatever your subject or topic is, you will have a very frustrating session.
Children LEARN… children love learning, they are on fire about the things that they passionate about. What I have learned over the 28 years of being my children’s learning companion, is to sometimes just BE.. Don’t try to explain everything unless asked, don’t try to turn every experience into a “learning opportunity”.
As Alison McKee says in “Homeschooling our children, unschooling ourselves” , she had to train herself to stop killing the love her children had for topics, by learning not to butt in, with helpful suggestions or commands about making them document or record or quantify whatever their particular passion was.
As John Holt advises:
Great post, really enjoying your blog Monica! One of the first things I read when looking into home education was that you shouldn’t turn everything into a learning activity. Our best fun, and their best learning, is almost always based on the spontaneous. Thank you for a perfect coffee break post 🙂
Thanks Ciara! Glad to have you reading and commenting… here’s to spontanaeity ( and coffee breaks!)