Unschooling; How does learning go on outside of a classroom?

I am sitting here at my desk, it is grey outside and I am thinking back to my schooling, it was a long time ago. I struggled at school. That is where I used to think all learning happened. But as this unschooling journey has unfolded I have realised that schooling is not the only way.

Kids just keep learning whether they are in school or not, they are designed to learn, they learn to walk, talk, eat, go to the toilet. They learn all these things naturally and when outside of the schooling system the learning doesn’t just stop, it keeps going and going.

Here is a picture of a cake to try and explain it.

This cake represents a way in which our children learn, they learn mainly through life, there is not one subject to learn at one time, learning happens in all kinds of ways. Through observing a lot of unschooled children I have noticed over the years learning is very rarely a linear process. The children I have been with rarely compartmentalised subjects, one thing leads to another, learning happens organically. All the time, even when you think it is not going on.

To live is to learn. I have used the cake to try and explain to you what I mean.

I am no expert but this is what I have seen in the way our children learn. This is what goes on through the simple process of making a cake. Cooking; The girls sit at the table looking up recipes. They fix on a cake. They decide they are going to make the chocolate one, they read, they look up the ingredients. Then scout around the kitchen for what they need. They get in to action.

Maths; they weigh everything out, scrunching up their faces concentrating on get the right amounts. They try to get each ingredient exactly as it should be. Sometimes there is chaos. Flour doesn’t always move in the way that you expect it to. Reading; they keep reading and reading, flicking back and forth to the recipe on their phone. They say the words out loud. The words float across the room like ribbons on the air.

There is work going on in this kitchen. Logic; they follow the steps, sometimes things don’t go so well, flour gets spilt on the floor, they pour too much water in, they make it right eventually, logically getting the ingredients right and in the correct order. Science; they figure out for this recipe they need to replace the egg with linseed, they don’t want to use eggs. They look that up, follow the ‘linseed egg’ recipe, they blend the linseed’s then add the warm water to them, watch them swell and go slightly slimy.

They see the chemical changes in the food as it is all mixes together. It goes in the oven one way, uncooked comes out another, cooked. Socialization; the cake is ready, they leave it to cool for a while then declare it is cake time. They find out who is around and who would like a piece of cake, they make tea, invite people in, we all sit and chat and eat the cake. If you were here you could have a piece. Maths again; they slice the cake evenly, or not as the case maybe.

Why this is not like any cooking class.

The difference is that they choose when they cook, they choose how they cook and nobody is telling them how to do it, there is so much more going on than cooking, it is all in there, this is self directed learning. They do not have anyone over their shoulders watching them or instructing them on how to do it. If they need help they ask. They go to the internet, they follow blog’s on cooking, they try out new recipe’s. They are vegan and they are up on all the new vegan instagram sites that are out there.

They are learning all the time and teaching us stuff about vegan food. They are on a mission as they are passionate about it. This happens to be something that they love so the learning curve is huge. As it is fueled with passion and not reluctance. If they were curious and passionate about chemistry, the same thing would be happening and we would facilitate as best as we could how they could learn to become great chemists! In fact I say ‘we’ but actually THEY would look it up and THEY would take the lead and that is the difference between self directed learners and children that are taught.

So, does that mean no teachers ever?

I would suggest that the teaching of children should shift to facilitating and helping children get their needs met when it comes to learning. I think teachers are amazing and I am always really humbled and amazed at how many teachers follow this blog and connect with me. I think if teaching could make a shift to facilitating then we could be going in a healthier direction. Also sometimes the kids do want me to teach them something, they say they do and then more often than not, as they get older, they soon say ‘It’s fine Mum, I will figure it out’ or ‘Don’t worry I will look it up’ then I step away. The best teachers they have now, as the girls go to a circus school are the facilitators that impart their knowledge and the kids learn, there is no punishment system, these circus performers are amazing at sharing knowledge and tricks and the learning is joyous.

As an unschooling parent, does every subject get learnt in this holistic way?

What if they want to get deep in to maths? Do they ever just learn a subject ‘normally?’ I am questioning that use of normal, as what defines normal? Perhaps normal is what we have become accustomed to and there is nothing ‘normal’ about the way we have been historically taught to learn. So they want to learn maths? They go on the Khan Academy, they do the maths in bed, whilst listening to music or in a busy kitchen whilst conversations are going on. The girls want to take exams, then they have to study right? Well they do but their studying has seemed, so far to be fun, they enjoyed going through Italian pass papers, they called their friends to talk in Italian to them, they listened to Italian radio. Learning is fun, it isn’t a chore, it is part of life and that for me is exciting. They went on to take their Italian I.G.C.S.E and passed, it was fun for them. A far cry from my time at school taking exams.

I was nervous at school, I found exams really stressful, I didn’t feel particularly clever. I wasn’t the academic one in the family, where I did well is with art, drama and writing, all the things I do now, no surprise. But when it came to exams, if I put myself back to those moments I was a sweaty mess. My stomach used to make these huge roaring sounds, that then the fact that my stomach was going to go off made me nervous and the nervousness would make my stomach roar loader. I found it hard to focus and I often thought I was going to fail.

So when I watched our girls go through their exams with such ease it was very heartening.  Look I am not sure that every exam that they do will be such a doddle but I hope so. I am sure healthy stress will push its way in. They are studying for maths right now and I know for them it is a struggle but they want to do it as they have chosen to.

How they choose what they want to learn?

It seems to work backwards. So, they figure out what they think they may want to do when they are older. It is a myriad of things, which I think is very exciting. Then they equip themselves with what they want to know or what they will need. If they do want to go to circus school, they say they may do or may not but right now they know they need Maths and English, so they are working on that. We as a family are also working on a theatre show so they are learning a lot about that. They learn from us and we learn from them, all three of the kids are quicker on social media than I am so the learning flows back and forth. Our son loves computers and gaming and he is learning everything he possibly can about how it works. He is just in the present moment having a lot of fun and soaking everything to do with technology. It is where he gets extremely motivated. But he also loves circus. Our kids look to their possible future selves and work backwards which is exciting.

We, Anthony and I, as parents do what we can to keep this love of learning alive and to do all the other stuff all parents do! But we cannot keep the love alive for them as it is their love not ours but we can do as much as we can to keep the environment in which they are learning as open and as free as possible. I think that that is where the art of being a facilitator of a self directed child comes in and it is one thing that I aspire to be better at.

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About the Author Lehla Eldridge

Who I truly am is a creative who loves working to help, comfort and inspire other people. From performing in hospitals to writing a book for wonderful women to supporting self directed learners. Doing work with meaning is where I get the most joy. I am so excited to be a part of Jump, Fall, Fly and I aim to inject my best self in to this project so that I can add something exciting, new and upbeat to this challenging and fast changing world.

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