Monday, September 22, 2014

Free to Learn

I recently finished reading the book Free to Learn by Pam Laricchia (kindle version is $3 on amazon). The book helps explain unschooling using 5 main ideas behind it. It's a good, quick read, gave me lots to think about and reflect on. A quick summary of the ideas in the book:

  1. Real Learning: realize the distinction between teaching and learning. You can try "teaching" something all day long, but that in no way guarantees that the learner has learned anything-- or that they've learned what you intended for them to learn. Many school teachers try their best to teach facts and ideas on their specific subject, while too often what the students learn is that that subject is boring, or they learn how to remember just enough to pass the test. So if we want to see real learning, we must do so through the eyes of the learner, not the teacher.
  2. Follow Their Interests: the best learning happens when the learner is interested and engaged in the topic, and when they have lots of other things to "hook" their new-found knowledge onto. Kids learn eagerly and deeply when they can pursue their passions, and when we stop dividing everything into distinct subject we can see that one "topic" can apply to all sorts of subject, creating a web of learning that leads to much deeper understanding and connections.
  3. Choices: we don't learn how to make good choices by having others make our choices for us. We need to practice making choices, having those choices sometimes not turn out so that we can learn from those mistakes, and sometimes the seemingly-questionable choices we make turn out to be the best. Allow kids to make their own choices, don't judge their choices (which doesn't mean talking about pros and cons and cause and effect, etc). Allow them to learn from living when the stakes are low, so they can be well-prepared for when they go out into the world on their own.
  4. Instead of No: don't give automatic no's, consider yes more often. Consider each situation as it comes, and discuss options together. Move from hard-and-fast knee-jerk-response rules, to more flexible and meaningful principles. 
  5. Living Together: everyone in the family has important needs, and has the right to their own voice. One important part of life is learning to live in harmony with others. 
Most of these ideas were pretty familiar to me...they fall in line with montessori and attachment-parenting philosophies. I've been most intrigued by the part about "rules vs principles." In a way that gives me some relief... I've often given myself a hard time for feeling like I'm not very consistent about setting rules. But this helped me understand what I instinctually gravitate towards anyway-- taking each situation as it comes, and bending or changing rules when it seems needed. I like talking with my kids about why I like things done one way, or why I'm not comfortable with something. I take their input seriously when they tell me why they want to do things a different way. As best I can, I try to help us work towards agreements that feel fair enough to everyone. 

It's also a reminder to myself, to not get too bogged down in the "rules" of unschooling. It's funny how for something that is meant to be so loose and unstructured, many people make it seem incredibly rigid and like there's only right one way to do it. When Q was a baby I found myself gravitating towards the Attachment Parenting ways of things, but quickly learned to adopt the practices that made life simpler and just seemed to work well for us, and leave behind what didn't. I am now working to study the "rules" of unschooling, to fully understand the reasons behind them and intended purposes, and do the same culling-- remembering that the end goal is not to pass some test of whether we're "doing this right" but to find a balance and way of doing things that works for US as a family-- that helps each of us within this family feel respected and fulfilled. 

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