In July we will have been a home educating family for 5 years. But the decision to unschool the smalls ones has been fairly new. Or at least, the decision to put that name on the child led approach that we were obviously taking has been fairly new.
I came to the realisation over recent months that N was learning brilliantly whatever interested him. He wasn’t having formal lessons or structured learning time but he was observing, exploring, questioning and working things out for himself. He was asking for different topics on YouTube (bee keeping being the latest biggest) He was helping in the garden and observing minibeasts and tadpoles in his bug catcher under magnifying glass. He was asking incredible and fascinating questions about poop, baking, the water cycle ….. whatever idea pops into his head.
So we made a decision to carry on and go with it, totally following his lead.
On Sunday we visited Fort Knebworth and played at the adventure playground. Part of the fort was a series of logs across a raised platform. There was no instructions on how to get across, and it was quite high and looked daunting. I was worried for N as he approached it, he looked once and turned and ran away thinking better of it. But it wasn’t long before he returned to the challenge. I watched from a close enough distance to respond quickly if he fell but made a conscious effort to sit on my hands and allow him the chance to try. He sat on a log, he looked down and around trying to figure out his next move. He watched a child step log to log holding on to the fence, but he was too small to try that. His legs wouldn’t reach, and he couldn’t reach the fence. Without even trying he seemed to know that was not an option for him. Slowly, he crawled under the log beside him, putting his foot on the lowest log and reaching across to the next log level to him, and he made it. I was right there to see his face light up and his method click. From then there was no stopping him! He wound over and under the remaining logs, jumped onto the rope net the other side and with a loud cry of “later suckers!” He was off around the fort. Soon to return with his big sister in tow to challenge her.
I watched children for quite some time on this equipment. I was interested to see that it was mostly older children that seemed to turn and walk away, or slowly and awkwardly try to clamber across the top. Younger children seemed far more fearless and figured their own paths out when left to it. I found this to be a really interesting example of how unschooling works, how children have a natural spark and curiosity and that once children are institutionalised this is often forced out of them. These children appeared unable to problem solve their own way, so all struggled across in the same manner.
Yesterday I made another eye opening observation. A wooden balancing scale set that I ordered arrived. And the children got to play without any instruction. They were placing the different sized weights on, one after the other and having fun playing. When N turned to me and said “mummy look, the red one is the biggest and is heavier than the others, but if I put these three smaller ones on it is the same!” And what an observation!! He hasn’t had any lessons about heavier than, lighter than etc. Nor was he shown or instructed in how to use these balance scales.
The brilliant thing about home education is that we can review and adjust to suit the needs of our children. So unschooling perhaps won’t last forever, in time we may find the craving for structure comes along. Hone education in general and especially unschooling places a lot of emphasis on trust, trusting your child to learn what they need to learn, I know a lot of parents have wobbles and moments of doubt sometimes and I am hoping that the brilliant online unschooling community will help with these if and when they arise, because right now it is working and the children are thriving.