After asking, “are school subjects necessary?”, considering how “schools kill creativity“, discussing the “overrated college degree and apprenticeship” and the “philosophy of ‘school’ vs. ‘education’ “, we’re finally ready to talk about some of the nuts and bolts–practical application of real education.
Let me restate the most important thing:
“So what does educating look like if not like “school”?
The good news is, it can look like a whole bunch of things, depending on the family, the child and/or the goals and opportunities of each. The thing that is precisely wrong with “schooling” is the attempt to conform every child into one learning mold. So the first thing to remember is: there are endless ways to learn and endless things about which to learn.”
The other most important thing:
We learn best by doing. And “doing” can mean telling or explaining, or demonstrating or teaching. Don’t forget this invaluable truth that lets your child keep information.
The fear of removing structure
There are skeptics, because of the reputation “unschooling” has received by a large sector who embrace a child-centered worldview, who avoid anything that resembles a child “following his interests”. The argument is (and I used to use it), that without the structure, regiment and schedule of a typical school routine, the parent is defaulting to “child-centeredness”. But don’t confuse “unparenting” with “delight-directed study”. Consider:
- What is “unschooling”? Essentially, it is “learning all the time”, as opposed to “doing school”. Because the term itself has so many different meanings attached to it, we would do well to use a different word. But the philosophy has merit within the context of proper authority and a biblical worldview. I prefer to use terms like, “delight-directed study”. Gregg Harris has this to say:
“A delight-directed study is like a wonderful fire in the mind of a student. It starts small, but as it grows, it begins to consume vast amounts of information until it bursts into a roaring blaze of insight, understanding and creativity. It takes on a life of its own. In a delight-directed study, a child’s interests are fanned to flame and supported in ways that increase his interest in his studies. The child’s delight is the spark that ignites everything. Once established, like a fire, it is self-sustaining. The student begins to study for his own personal satisfaction, and the fruits of his study begin to flow outward to others.” Delight Directed Study
Remember how we learn as young children? Parents can have a perfectly structured home life, with authority in the proper place, and still be the facilitator of his toddler’s love of learning. Every parent, from the strictest to the most lax, teaches this way while his children are young, utilizing his God-given curiosities which propel him to learn what is necessary. If it is superior then, why not later?
2. Structure, routine and order can be implemented in all sorts of ways without squelching natural interests and learning instincts.
3. Rudimentary subjects can still be taught along with allowing your children to dive into subjects that interest him.
Those of us who reject the idea of a child learning what he loves is mostly still struggling to break out of the mental box of “doing school” to embrace a freedom of learning which should be more of a lifestyle than anything else. Yes, you can still require certain rudimentary work (We do.); but overall, education should be a living, constant pursuit of one’s natural curiosities.
This concept doesn’t mean there are no academics taught; quite the contrary. It sees “real life” as the perfect environment to make “whole men and women”, including the academics they need but not excluding the practical wisdom and skills many children and adults lack.
Textbooks, if used, should be thought of as tools, not masters, remembering that they are not the only way, and often not the best way, to impart learning.This is one big difference in schooling and education…we are educating a whole child, and the world is our classroom. Everything inside that world is merely a tool, to which we should never become a slave.
Here are some practical ways academics can look:
- Math games can teach basic arithmetic. With a foundation in numeration (understanding numbers well, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing), “real math” or “citizen statistics” is far more needful in this generation than higher math, for the majority of people. For one, our technical age affords us machines to compute difficult equations and problems. (Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something you can look up.” )
Also, real math matters--tremendously. Think of the enormous financial trouble so many are in and what it has ultimately done to our national economy. Making wise financial decisions and understanding basic living math is far more beneficial than knowing the quadratic equation. And life affords plenty of opportunity to teach it. From cooking, to building a house, comparing prices and learning how to budget money, math encompasses our daily lives. If children are a living, breathing part of our daily rhythms, they learn it. If a child needs to learn higher math for a particular occupation, he will have no problem doing so. He has been given the tools of “how to learn”.
- Educational “prompts”–create an environment of interest and stimulation. It might be a map laminated and placed on the kitchen table, a microscope available for use, musical instruments, particular books chosen and placed in view–anything to prompt a child’s curiosity and begin a journey of experience/investigation/conversation. Guide books are particularly helpful for finding specific information about a topic of interest.
- Using thank-you notes, stories and written summaries, etc. for grammar, spelling and writing makes more sense to a child than diagramming sentences. I did this with my own students when I taught English, and I still do it. Writing well means understanding how words fit together and which ones to use at the appropriate time. I know many great writers who have no clue what a past participle is and still use it correctly.
(Interestingly, I found this in an author bio of an article I was reading about marketing, not even looking for it: “You may find it amusing to know that I have never learned the formal rules of grammar. I learned to write by reading obsessively at an early age, but when it came time to learn the “rules,” I tuned out. If you show me an incorrect sentence, I can fix it, but if I need to know the technical reason why it was wrong in the first place, I go ask my wife.” Brian Clark, Founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media, and of course, writer.)
- Documentaries. Don’t underestimate the power of learning through listening to fascinating authors and watching programs on areas of interests. For my visual learners, this has been huge. There are great “how stuff is made” videos on YouTube and a good source of documentaries is Netflix and the library.
Example of interest-led learning:
My ten-year-old daughter, Alexa, decided she wanted to keep bees. So last week, we bought two hives with bees. My son will be helping her and so I am planning as many projects around bee-keeping as I can. I bought some books and magazine subscriptions and we’re diving in. Their written and verbal narrations and summaries are about the material they read on bees. We’re learning about the medical benefits of honey, that bees were the first inventors of “evaporative cooling”, why a honeycomb has a hexagon pattern (and what a “vertex” is), fermentation, pollination, charting and graphing, and a hundred other things.
We are studying several beekeepers from history and looking at geographical interests around the subject.
She plans to sell the honey too, which will facilitate great business and record-keeping skills. This is just one example of ways to capitalize on interests.
Don’t underrate interests in the arts.
As the video in part 2 stated, the arts are always rated “less important” than academic pursuits, crippling the creative gifts of children. If a child shows a propensity for a certain creative expression, consider letting him focus on that in any way that makes sense.
Talk to people.
Having people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences in your home is a priceless way to expand your family’s education. Of course traveling and experiencing other cultures and backgrounds first hand is the best way, but for many not possible. Everyone has a story and life lessons to share; form a habit of listening.
Get outside to the classroom of Nature.
Charlotte Mason believed that Creation provided a wealth of educational opportunties. She writes:
“We must assist the child to educate himself on Nature’s lines, and we must take care not to supplant and crowd out Nature and her methods with that which we call education. Object-lessons should be incidental; and this is where the family enjoys a great advantage over the school. The child who finds that wonderful and beautiful object, a “paper” wasp’s nest…has his lesson on the spot from father or mother.”
Children can be given journals and art books to record their findings or just be prompted to write about their feelings and discoveries. We have been programmed not to think of these things as “educational” because they are not “measurable”. But historically, nature was the best classroom.
“Without continuous hands-on experience, it is impossible for children to acquire a deep intuitive understanding of the natural world that is the foundation of sustainable development. ….A critical aspect of the present-day crisis in education is that children are becoming separated from daily experience of the natural world, especially in larger cities.” -Natural Learning, Creating Environments for Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching, Robin C. Moore and Herb H. Wong
“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” – Thomas Berry
Don’t forget the main attributes of a well-educated child and form your learning style around them:
- demonstrates wisdom (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”)
- communicates well–all forms
- demonstrates strong character traits of virtue (Character First Qualities)
- self-sufficient and knows how to solve problems
- eager to learn and knows how to find what he is looking for
- can think critically about a diverse range of topics
- can defend his beliefs and values
- knows how to handle numbers
- has a wide exposure of interests
- has hands-on experience with different skills
- has good conflict-resolution skills, especially with those in his home
“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent- is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.” ~John Holt~ Teach Your Own
I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I did writing it. And I hope you’ll leave your own observations, thoughts or challenges in the comment section!