Are These Self Directed Learners Changing Learning as we know it?

J on hols

There are some mornings where I wake up with another large family of five in our kitchen. Behind the bright sparky face of our son’s Minecraft buddy, I see this family waking up. They are in South Africa and we are in Italy.

Slippers, pajamas and all. I see breakfast being had and I can hear the teaspoons stirring in cups and I wonder if they drink tea or coffee…This feels a bit like community, even though it is bizarrely though a screen.


I listen to the way my son and this sparky little girl talk. They collaborate. I hear them learning, if learning can be audible. I hear things like;

‘Can you teach me how to do that?’


‘Yes, watch me, I will show you.’

Then the conversation is peppered with ‘Mum, how do you spell chest, how do you spell sword.’ And I as I always do spell things out. Curiously something that Anthony noticed is this, they seem to tell each other what to do. They say things like ‘DO this, do that!’ they don’t leave each other hanging. They clearly give each other instructions. It is interesting…then I hear them shrieking so loudly that my ears actually hurt. I have to tell them to turn it down so that the ringing in my head can have a chance to subside.


Then it hits me. This is what a lot of the world is doing now. They are collaborating on-line. They are sharing skills. In the last three years all the illustration work that I have done has been on-line. I collaborate. I talk with people on Skype, we discuss what the other person needs, I send sketches through, we go back and forth. We work together on-line. I work with this woman and her theatre company, again, on-line. In most of my jobs I never actually meet the people I work with. I redesigned my whole book and had such a lovely collaboration with a publisher and I never actually met him. In fact I have three publishers that I have never met.


If our kids end up working via the internet what they are doing now is invaluable. They are learning to communicate, they use Photoshop. they play games, the record songs on Audacity. They explore in a way that is much braver than me. They click around, gather information, use it, change things, collaborate. On Photoshop my kids teach me things that I don’t know how to use. I have been using Photoshop for years and I tend to stay in my comfort zone, they don’t, they explore.


These unschooled/homeschooled kids are internet savvy. In fact a lot of kids are internet savvy, there is a whole world out there that is about the present and the future that my nearly forty five year old self is marvelling at. It couldn’t be further away from what is going on in classrooms across the world. When our kids were in a schooling system I felt I was perpetuating a lie. As when one of our kids said ‘Mum, why am I doing this, why do I have to go to school?’ I couldn’t answer this question without making up a lie. Because for me schooling did not fit with how the world is moving forward today. 


I feel that kids when are left to explore, not only through the internet, I am talking about exploring life, and following their own passions. When they are left to unfold naturally the whole world opens up for them.


As Sugata Mitra once said to me in a tweet when talking about SOLE’S which are Self Organized Learning Environments, where the child leads the process in finding out information on a subject. He said ‘@Lehlae keep going! It will take you and your children to the edge of chaos, the limits of human understanding.’


They do take me to the edge of chaos, especially when I hear the shrieks of joy in the mornings from my son and his friends conversation. This self directing learning process does, I believe ‘take them to the limits of human understanding’ and beyond, as education never stops and I think that they are leaping in to a future that is wildly exciting. 


  • I love this post Lehla. We do not do any sit down learning with our children and sometimes I think we should be, but then they are learning all the time from exploring their own interests. And, it always amazes how confident they are at using technology to find things out. Our 8 yr old taught me how to use my iPhone 5!

    • Yes, they are so very quick it is amazing. I kind of just follow in their wake, and I think at what point did they actually learn this stuff? I am starting to feel like an older fumbling parent and thought I was so up on technology…am clearly not!

  • Selina Gough says:

    I really struggle with the role of technology in children’s lives so as an unschooler I find this stuff really hard. I recently installed the pocket Minecraft app for the boys to have a look at. What became apparent very quickly though was just how much time online was needed just to figure out how to play it. Time in front of a screen then must stretch to hours of a week? There’s no criticism here I hope you understand, I’m just working to understand my feelings and thoughts on a of it and how it works for families who are more tech focused.

    • It is such a great point Selina, I don’t feel criticized at all. You mirror back to me something that I wrangle with, as I think about screen time versus not screen time a lot. It doesn’t sit well with us that one of our kids wants to be in front of a screen so much. Then I question myself around my issues of not letting go re Unschooling. The on-line world is so easy and fun and different to the physical world, it is very very rewarding. I know that a lot of unschoolers advocate for non stop screen time but I really feel that it isn’t so simple, maybe I will learn that it really is that simple. I don’t judge others around constant screen time but I feel that each family can only do what feels right for them. I also feel that screens have become more a part of life these days as to 20 years ago or when the first group of unschoolers started they may not have had the same things to deal with as now. I think a lot about posture, eyesight, constant brain stimulation, constant quick rewards, etc so we do have a point where the screens are off. I love computers in lots of ways as they bring so much wonderful creativity into our household and so much learning but I also am aware that the physical world is so important. It is magical, beautiful, constant and will always be there for them as a huge classroom, if that makes sense…

  • Rosa Brown says:

    If you changed the number of kids to 4 and your name to Rosa, I could not have written a better description of the process of Home Schooling in our household.

  • Brenda says:

    We are about to embark on this journey of unschooling with my youngest who would be starting grade 1. I’m looking forward to the journey in some ways however I’m very new to this concept. My partner is encouraging and together I know it will work out. Thank goodness for Internet..reading every article we can find helps to prepare us.

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