Unschooling and Self-Directed Education: How children learn without school and homeschool

Welcome to the exciting world of learning called “Unschooling.” Many people also call it “Self-Directed Education.”

Based on the book, Unschooling To University, this video encapsulates how children’s brains develop, how children learn without teaching, and why self-directed education is the most motivating and individualized education possible.

Presented by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM, certified in brain and child development, and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices.  Judy is the bestselling author of 5 print books and has unschooled 5 adult children. 3 children have graduated university, 1 is presently attending and 1 is a Masters student.

The book, Unschooling To University, is now available at bookstores everywhere including Chapters, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble. If your local bookstore doesn’t carry it, just ask for it.

ISBN Print 97809780509-93

ISBN E-Book 97817751786-06

Order on Amazon.com

Order on Amazon.ca

This book explores the journey of the Team of Thirty, a group of young individuals (and are either friends of ours or children of friends) who unschooled anywhere from 3 to 12 years each and were accepted or graduated at university, colleges, and technical schools.  10 went into STEM fields (4 into engineering), 10 into humanities and 10 into the arts. 22 have already graduated. 2 have gone on to Masters degrees. Learn more about what unschooling is, why it is beneficial (61 benefits of unschooling), how to unschool and how unschooling fits with brain and child development stages. This 384 page book outlines everything one needs to know about unschooling and self-directed education worldwide.

#unschoolingSTEM

Did you know there is a world-wide facebook group for Unschooling STEM?

Join Unschooling STEM

 

Many unschoolers/self-directed learners often get asked the second most common question in home education, (after the one about socialization) which is “What about university?  Aren’t you messing up your child’s chances of eligibility?” This blog’s sole purpose is to assure you that unschooled children can go to college, universities, trade schools or the post-secondary school of their choice, if they choose to go. And many do go on to STEM careers. When the time is right for them, they will often choose self-directed education to help themselves earn the requirements for admission acceptance.

Most parents can teach their children without curriculum until a grade 8 level.  They just need to regain their parenting confidence after 150 years of schooling giving society the message that only teachers teach. Parents are the first teachers and self-learners are the best teachers.  If parents don’t want to teach, they can let go and watch their children soar with curiosity, learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking at all ages.

Believe me, my “math skills” end at grade 8 and I had 3 kids get accepted into STEM programs at university.  Parents do not need high school subject matter expertise.  They just need to be present when their child needs them, and help the child find the resources if asked.  Parents help the child self-direct their education by facilitating what they need, not teaching the program. Most unschooled children reach an age that they wish to learn more and seek out tutors, online courses or simply teach themselves from the internet, Kahn Academy, and their jurisdiction’s textbooks.  Whether they learn the entire high school program, or just the final year courses to prove previously acquired learning, or even challenge the leaving or entrance (SAT) exams, children that are motivated are serious, focused learners and nothing will stop them.

As Dr. Peter Gray outlines in his 2013 study of 75 grown homeschoolers, those children with the least number of formal schooling years (either in a classroom or homeschooled), were more likely to go on to post-secondary learning.  That has been our experience in the homeschooling community as well.  The more time children had for play and self-directed learning, the more likely they were to continue learning and became motivated for greater stimulation outside the family. They were eager to self-teach high school content and were excited to go into post-secondary learning, at a time when many of their school friends were burned out from 16 years (12 grades and 4 years preschool) of institutionalized education.

The other myth is that unschoolers tend to choose more arts and humanities fields when applying to post-secondary institutions.  STEM options are also available to unschoolers. Many unschoolers find that the years of experiential learning from play, projects and travel help round out a solid background of understanding that numbers and formulas can build on when the child reaches their teens and acquires their abstract thinking skills from the development of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They have real world applications for problem-solving with math and science tools. As they entered their teen years, they were more curious to learn about STEM from textbooks and online videos.

We know that not everyone aspires to go to post-secondary schools, and that is fine.  Many unschooled children start businesses, do research, learn trades, and master the arts as adults.  Most unschooled children are very successful because they are happy.  They are doing what they love to do.

Some families want their unschooled children to have a university education. We aim to help them navigate the transition from unschooling during the “school-age” years to a more formal learning environment during the late teen and early adult years.

Many of these insights come from our family of 5 children, in which we unschooled (self-directed education) the children anywhere from 8 to 12 years that they would have been in school. We had many family friends that also unschooled and I tell their experiences (The Team of Thirty) in the Unschooling To University book.  10 of the 30 children profiled, attended university in STEM careers. Some went the high school (and self-designed) diploma route and some did not.

We are not outliers.  The gates to education are still there but the walls are coming down. We now know that anyone can study anything, anywhere, anytime, and any way. School is only one method of many in obtaining an education. We hope you enjoy our experiences, thoughts and insights to help you make informed education choices. We also welcome your questions. Yes, unschooled children can go on to post-secondary education and they are excellent learners, free thinkers, employed and enjoy life.  We need thought leaders and world problem-solvers, but more than that, we need happy, contented, educated citizens of the world .

Many of these blogs posts are excerpts from the book but many posts are new insights from unschooling 5 productive and educated adults.  Welcome to this blog and inside our home-life!

-Judy

 

#unschooling        #homeschooling      #unschoolingSTEM         #unschoolingtouniversity

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If Your Child Doesn’t Understand a Concept, Let It Go!

let it go

Parents. Relax! Your child will get it! Last Spring I was teaching my teen the final grade 9 concepts in measurement – trigonometry in order to prep for high school math. He was unschooled until he was 18 and decided to enroll in high school math to get credentials for university. I had to learn sine, cosine and tangent ratio 6 times – once when I was in high school (which as a humanities major I never even partially understood) and 4 times to help my older children understand it in grade 9 or 10 to meet high school credentials. Each child that moved up, I forgot it (because I didn’t use it on a daily basis and had to relearn it all over again to help the next kid in line). Ugh.

My last and fifth child was not getting it. We tried and tried last Spring and he was in tears and I was frustrated. I tried to explain it in different ways as it was the 6th and last time that I would ever have to relearn it to help my kids with assignments!!! As the tears and frustration mounted, we took a break. As we usually do, the best thing we did was LET IT GO! Now it is December, six months later and he is taking it again in grade 10 math. He has progressed so much further ahead and IS GETTING IT!

The takeaway? If your child is not understanding, LET IT GO! The brain develops in spurts, not linear progression, and what they find so difficult last month, comes easy this month, without any outside intervention. Relax. Enjoy your child. If they don’t get it now, it doesn’t mean that they will never get it. It means the brain needs a bit more development that will come entirely on it’s own. The pre-frontal cortex does that. It matures on its own. You can relax. Your child will have many more opportunities to learn what they are not understanding today – they will not get behind. Let it go. Build the relationship and the resume will take care of itself. They can always learn trigonometric ratios, but you only have one chance to build a life-long loving parent-child relationship. Don’t let that go.

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Evidence of Learning: If a child breathes, they learn

Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. To a parent of a homeschooled child, it all means the same. A representative from a school is going to enter one’s home and make a judgement on the learning of their homeschooled child. It feels like being in school again and being called to the Principal’s office for some unknown matter. It is fraught with terror at worst and mild anxiety at best.  But it shouldn’t be.

In the past 15 years, since the invention of the MRI, science has gained much knowledge on how learning takes place. We now know that every person learns from the time they are born until the time they take their last breath. Everything they experience through their five senses and brain activity contributes to their knowledge and skill base. Every bit of learning causes neurons to fire neurotransmitters across the synapse (gap) between neuron axon terminals and dendrites of neighboring neurons. Neurons connect all the time and hence, learning occurs all the time. Whether it be through math workbooks or video games, neurons are constantly connecting and all children learn everything they need to be successful in life, whether they go to school or homeschool or unschool.

This video shows Learning in Action

The matter then becomes, are children learning the right things? And who decides what children learn? The parents decide in home education and the learner decides in unschooling (self-directed education). Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have the right to choose their child’s education. So in the vast majority of jurisdictions, including Canada (except for Quebec) children can learn whatever their parents decide, or whatever the child decides if their parents use a delivery method called self-directed education. They do not have to follow the government dictated curriculum of topics.

This is where the problem of assessment or evaluation occurs. Standardized testing only works if the child follows the government curriculum. So standardized testing can’t be mandatory when the parent can teach the child whatever they want. The government wants to see the child “progress” which means that the child has learned more today than they did yesterday. Again, we know from brain science that all children do this. The government also wants to see “Evidence of Learning” which is usually defined as physical proof that the child is learning, since they can’t cut open their brains and actually see those neurons firing. Physical evidence of learning is what teachers assess in schools by giving marks based on it, and it’s also what governments want to see in the home. It is proof of learning such as a powerpoint presentation, exam result, written work such as workbooks, essays, or project results. It needs to represent in the physical world what learning has occurred in the invisible world of the brain. It’s not enough that a child knows something.  They have to prove that they know something. Or rather, their parents have to prove they know something. This is the most problematic part of homeschooling and even more so in unschooling when we don’t press our children for output. Perhaps the child has learned a lot but doesn’t wish to put together a powerpoint presentation of what they learned. Or perhaps their parents disagree with the whole concept of testing, and do not wish to have their child forced to write an exam.

The only purpose of “evidence of learning” is to satisfy the societal public interest that children are getting an education. It is not for the best interests of the child. So it really is unnecessary. If science tells us that all children learn and progress no matter what, then we as a society have the proof that children are learning.

In reality, parents constantly evaluate their child’s learning from birth onward. They are with their children all day, every day and know exactly what their knowledge and skills are. They see if their baby can crawl like others at 7 months, and if their child has 50 words like other children at age 2. They worry if the neighbor’s child is reading at 7 and their child hasn’t cracked the code yet. This is a normal part of parenting and studies show that parents, as opposed to the professionals, are most often the first people to suspect a learning or behaviour diversity in the child.

What constitutes evidence of learning? Choices must exceed essays and exams. For the reason above, it must always include Parental Observation in place of or addition to the following:

Parental Observation

Journal records of activities engaged in

Portfolio of work output

Descriptive reports including learner narration

Individual projects

Demonstrations

Application of skills learned

Completion of work

Course certificates

Quizzes and exams

Chapter tests and questions

Standardized tests

In Alberta, regulation states that home education parents are required to meet with a certified teacher facilitator twice a year, on the school-supported programs, so the facilitator can talk to the child and make an evaluation on whether the child is progressing through the 22 outcomes of the Schedule (SOLO) in the Home Education Regulations. The child doesn’t need to master the 22 very broad outcomes until they leave funded education at age 20 so if some outcomes are hit and miss every year, that is fine. The facilitator then signs a report that they are satisfied, in their professional opinion, that the child is progressing. The parent and the government each get a copy of this document. Parents do not get paid for home education administration work and thus, are not required to put any effort into “presenting” evidence of learning. The facilitator is paid for the visit and must do the work of recording “evidence of learning.”

The facilitator can’t possibly evaluate all the child knows in a one hour visit twice a year, so they rely on what the parent tells them, and if they “presented an activity” to the child in order to enable learning to occur. If the parent says that the child went skiing, the facilitator then records that the child went skiing and perhaps a bit of what the parent observed that the child learned from skiing. That is pretty much all the facilitator can judge, especially when there is little physical output evidence of learning and certainly no formal measurement of progression. If the parent says the child is stopping better on hills this year, the facilitator records that. They have no evidence to make a different judgement.

Alberta Home Education Regulations “Evidence of Learning”

The parent is only required to keep at least one dated sample of work, (we kept all our “Letters To Santa”) and a general record of activities the child engaged in throughout the year, according to the Home Education Regulations and that is all the “evidence of learning” a parent is required to submit to the facilitator. A super easy way to do that is to take photos. All a parent needs to do is scroll through their phone at their twice yearly visit so the facilitator can see pictures of their child in play or activities, and that constitutes a simple record. The facilitator can then take the notes they need for their report. That is all the parent is required to do. Pictures are already dated by the phone software. If the facilitator wants a copy of the photos, they can photograph the ones they wish. Done.

The school has no right to demand to see the child’s essays (if there are any), test results (again if they exist) or any other typical schooly physical evidence of learning. The school has no right to demand that the parent fill out a report card or put together a powerpoint presentation so the school can put together a report card or presentation to give back to the parent. The school can’t put the “proof of learning” on the parent. They must make those evaluative judgments themselves. The parent has every right to say “No,” as it is not required by the regulations. All parents have to do is provide activities. This is Home Education. Not school. Parents can teach what they want. And they don’t get paid for admin work. Their job is to ensure their child gets an education, not to prove it.

 

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All Children Have Gaps In Learning, Whether in School or Outside of School

Gaps happen. In an unprecedented year, will your child be missing content this year? You bet! Whether a child is homeschooled, unschooling or in a classroom or online, all children have gaps in learning. Not just this year, but every year! No child learns about every topic in the world. It would be impossible. And of the topics that they do learn, the breadth and depth vary immensely. Very few children get 100% in every course. And research from unschooling shows that it will be just fine!

Except for math and English, which are skill building topics, every other topic in social studies, science, health, physed, art, religion, languages and music is specifically chosen by someone other than the learner. Those people are curriculum developers, and then the government, and then the school and then the particular teacher, who has decided what kids should learn, and how much. The topics are local to the Province/State and country. Kids in other countries get a different education. But all over the world, math and language are the same.

Self-directed learners, (unschoolers), will learn many of those same topics on their own through play, research and projects, if interested, and if they are not interested – they will gain it at some other point in their life, not through study, but through living life when they deem it useful to know. They save everyone’s time and money when they are not forced to learn topics they are absolutely not interested in.

Many of the same grade 1-9 topics are covered again in high school where many unschooled children decide to take a more formalized program, whether chosen by the government or by themselves. School curriculums give students only a bare taste of as many topics as they can cram in. Students learn an inch deep and a mile wide. Homeschoolers and unschoolers have the privilege of unstructured time and can go a mile deep and an inch wide, in topics they choose. Unencumbered by the school year of 200 days and 1000 hours a grade, they can learn about whatever topic they choose, how much of the topic, in what method and can drop studies whenever they wish if they have reach a saturation level. Perhaps that explains why many homeschoolers know at an early age what they would like to do for adult work and study. They had time to discover their passions earlier and delve in deeply.

Every child who attends school has gaps. The school can’t possible teach about the 195 countries in the world, so has to pick 5. They can’t possible teach about all the major fields of science (math, computers, geology, physics, technology, biology, chemistry, astronomy) so they choose a few. They can’t teach about all the fields of social studies (geography, art history, politics, economics, culture, psychology, sociology, environmentalism, etc.) so they pick a few. There are 4000 languages in the world. They pick 1 or two. But why should they pick?

Why can’t the learner pick based on what they are interested in? When learning is desired, and internally motivated, concepts stick in long term memory much better. No one knows better what the learner needs to learn for that particular moment in time, than the learner themselves.

If children don’t need all they teach in school, why is there 1000 hours a programming per year? We all know that the task expands to fill the allotted space. Children under the age of 12 need supervision while their parents are working and school fills an important adult need of employment support. The curriculum expands every year to fill more and more of the 8-4 pm Monday to Friday workday of their parents. Preschool curriculum gets more in-depth every year – not because children can’t learn everything they learn in school at home, because it justifys jobs and an industry. Kindergarten grows from 2 hours a day to full day. It explains why elementary school is 10 months a year, high school is less than 8 months and university even less at around 7 months per year. As children age, time spent in school becomes less about childcare and more around learning specific knowledge.

So don’t worry about gaps. The ability to read enables children to learn anything they want. Math is simply a set of tools on how to figure out life’s daily problems. As long as kids can read and do basic math concepts like adding, substracting, multiplication, division, decimals and fractions by the end of grade 9, they are fit and ready to complete a regular high school diploma or continue living as a contributing citizen and learning what they want. Unschoolers will have gaps just like their school peers – but they will have extra knowledge and skills in areas that their school peers won’t have.

All children learn. All children progress. No matter what the topic. If they breathe, they learn. It’s all good!

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Fire is Just as Much Science as Water

Fire. The four-letter F word that is taboo to speak about in parenting. In science learning, children find fire just as interesting as water. So lets talk honestly about children and fire. Before we do, lets set the stage: lets be judgement free! My house has working fire alarms every 10 feet, batteries changed every year. We have yearly fire drills, keep the bedrooms door closed at night, set a muster point and each child knows 2 ways out of their bedrooms. The matches and lighters are hidden in child-proof places. We supervise all fire-related activities including candles, fireplace and firepit. Most parents will tell you that children are as fascinated by fire as they are with water, ice, dirt, rocks and metal. Fire is science and we empowered our children to learn about all the elements.

When I was 7, my brother and I were curious about fire. We waited until our parents were out for the evening and the babysitter was engaged in the TV show. We took a box of tissues, a pack of matches and headed to lock ourselves in the bathroom. We gleefully set every tissue on fire in the empty bathtub and watched the result with fascination. That babysitter never knew, but our parents found the remnants the next day (7 and 8 year olds don’t clean up very well!) and we were punished accordingly. However, our fascination with fire never waned. It just went underground.

I operate under the parenting theory of Forbidden Fruit Tastes the Sweetest. My children loved exploring the elements as all children do. They loved magnets, sand, mud, water and fire. We empowered them to play with all those elements except the last. Fire is fascinating to children and people. The hearth of warmth and the people gathered around it is the primary reason humans survived and evolved over millions of years. Fire is essential to our lives. As water is.

Both water and fire can be deadly and require respect. However, my children learn through hands-on experiences. With water, we supervised constantly and were an arms length away until the children were 10 years old and through us out of the bathroom. We did the same with fire.  We empowered our children to experiment with fire-safely.

The kids called our fire pit – the Power Plant and would beg us regularly to let them play “Power Plant.” We supervised constantly. We showed them how to douse the different types of fire and had a hose and extinguisher readily available. We taught them what to wear such as no dangling sleeves. We watched the kids enjoy the experimentation – how a cheezie would burn, how fast paper catches fire, and what blowing air does to ignite a dying fire. They learned how fire starts, what keeps it going and how coals burn long after fire is doused. They learned what types of materials burned the fastest and slowest and what didn’t burn (foil). They learned the deadly properties of smoke and how it affects the human body.

Many times they wanted to play “power plant” but the timing didn’t work so we could supervise. We honoured their curiosity by putting a time on the calendar and being sure to make it happen. They honoured our concern for safety and didn’t try it on their own. Of course, they is age appropriate – we only began this about age 7, when they had a bit of frontal cortex brain development.

No, I wouldn’t let my kids try drugs in the name of exploring science, but experimenting with fire is different. None of them set fires outside the safety parameters we set up and they learned a lot of science in our studies. Not every parent is comfortable with what we did and that is okay, but we need to talk about it – children are curious and learning about science in a safe and supervised environment means that kids probably won’t do it on the sneak.

Join our UnschoolingSTEM facebook group!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/UnschoolingSTEM

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling STEM

When parents think of “unschooling” they imagine their child as a clerk flipping hamburgers at McDonalds. We all need hamburger flippers, but we also need to dispel the myth that unschooled children are uneducated. And especially in the STEM fields. Math is one area that many unschooling parents worry about and it is needless. Math is all around us.

UnschoolingSTEM

When children unschool, they are empowered to explore their passions and for some children, that is interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Babies, toddlers and young children are natural scientists. My 2 year-old son’s favourite activity was to open the fridge door, reach high for the egg tray and drop each egg from the height of his eyelevel. He loved the sound of the eggs cracking on the floor. He was learning velocity, physics, and biology in an experiential learning environment. After we duct-taped the fridge door closed, he moved on to other science adventures.

We allowed as much exploration as our tolerance for mess and our need for safety would allow. The children learned math and science through play, watching Magic School Bus Videos and their own self-designed projects and experiences. And, by playing a lot of computer and video games. When they reached the age of 13, their brains developed their abstract thinking abilities and they took their first formal structured math class taught by a teacher at a grade 8 level. They skipped the grade 9 level and went structured again for grades 10, 11, and 12. Their first science class was grade 10. Many of these courses were self-taught by reading the textbook, trying the experiments and writing the qualifying exams. They were keyboarding at age 4 because we had few limits on computer and gaming time. They weren’t starting at a grade 1 level because math and science is all around us and they were familiar with many concepts at a experiential level. By the teen years, they were ready for textbook and workbook study. They were motivated because they wanted a career in STEM, not us.

Today, 1 child is now an electrical engineer, another has a degree in Bioscience and another is working on a degree in Chemistry. The other 2 kids could have persued a degree in STEM (their math marks in high school were 90’s) but decided on humanities instead.

 

The beauty of unschooling STEM is that the learner is in control of the learning insights, exploration and discovery. Do children need classes in STEM? No. If they desire them, fine, but STEM classes with proscribed curriculum can smother the joy, curiosity and creativity needed to succeed at finding out “why….?”

 

All children love science and are good at it…we just need to get out of their way and empower them to learn what they want to learn, not just what we want them to learn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-fm5vw0OMM

 

For more information about unschoolingSTEM, this video explains how to nurture interest in STEM and the appropriate times to introduce more structured learning. Be sure to join our dedicated world-wide facebook group on UnschoolingSTEM:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/UnschoolingSTEM

 

Yes, you can unschool and still have your child thrive in STEM careers.

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Create a Learning Environment that Teaches Without Textbooks

Emily is unexcited about filling out another workbook page for grammar. She is resisting Mom’s coaxing and eventual threats. At age 8, Emily wants to play, but mom wants to feel like some “academic learning” is taking place. Can both get their needs met at the same time? Yes!

Unschoolers often do not use textbooks or workbooks to learn. Some children may ask for them but many under the ages of 13 learn best through experiential learning.

Many families new to homeschooling want to know how to make learning more fun and unschoolers can share resources they use for facilitating their children’s learning. There are many ways to learn core subjects without textbooks, workbooks and boring zoom lectures, especially for children under age 13 whose brains are wired to learn in a 3D world, not a 2D screen setting. Teens are great online, and learn a lot through researching websites, but younger children need hands-on experiences to learn.

Here are ways to teach core subjects without using typical classroom workhorses such as textbooks and workbooks. These are excerpted from Chapter 13 Resources, from the book, Unschooling To University. In the book, there is also additional information on what video games teach.

Please note: Children do not need all these resources! Many were borrowed, bought at garage sales and many were not used because they did not appeal to the kids at certain ages and stages. This is only to give you an idea of thinking outside the box (of curriculum textbooks and workbooks!)

Check out the post “Ways to Learn Math Without a Workbook” for more math ideas teaching grades 1-8
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How to Motivate Children to Do Assignments Without Tears and Tantrums

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In unschooling, there is no motivation problems because children do not have to do assignments. Everything they do in everyday life contributes to their knowledge base without them even knowing because life is an education. We don’t separate learning from … Continue reading

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Unschoolers Excel in High School With No Previous Schooling

Many homeschooling parents and unschooled children do their own thing for grades 1-9 and then sign their kids or self up for high school grades 10-12 at a physical school. Usually there is no report card needed, nor testing for a child to begin a formal high school program. And the kids do wonderfully – academically and socially. Most of the grade 1-9 topics are covered in high school again, but at a higher level because the 15 year old’s brain development is proficient enough at thinking abstractly. Because they haven’t spent 9 years in a classroom, learners are self-confident, conscientious and eager to learn via classroom delivery. (It might take them awhile to get used to the immaturity of their classmates though.)

How can this happen? Is learning cumulative or absorbed in stages? Do kids not need 9 grades of schooling before high school for preparation? No.

The 15 year old is equipped to learn high school material because they have experiential learning of the education concepts from birth to age 14. Unless they are locked in a room for 15 years or denied access to books or the internet, they are picking up all the knowledge they need at each age and stage. By puberty, the brain is able to process information abstractly and understand theoretical concepts without information being tangible (physical: able to touch, see, hear, smell) or concrete. This means that a child can go from experiential learning (learning through hands-on activities) to a more theoretical learning (reading, analyzing concepts and writing). A teenager is more ready for paper-based learning. A child is not starting at grade 1 when they are age 15. They have still accumulated a massive amount of knowledge, except they did it in an informal way such as self-directed education and observation. This is the stage model of education. Children can learn in different stages because the brain is more developed as the child ages. The brain develops from the back to the front and from the bottom of the brain to the top. At certain ages, different parts of the Cerebral Cortex are sensitive to special types of learning whether motor control, visual processing, language development or mathematical/analytical learning. But these windows of opportunity are never closed to future use.

We used to think that education was cumulative – we put the child on the conveyor belt of education and each grade/year pour more content into their brains, so that by the end of Grade 12, they would have a brain full of knowledge, attitudes and skills. We hoped they would remember everything.

But they didn’t. We know now that brains operate on a use-it or lose-it pruning of neurons. If a child doesn’t keep using a language they learned at age 5, they will lose it. How many of us remember how to factor trinomials when we don’t use it everyday in our work? Yet, we all had to learn it. I was surprised that my 5 adult children didn’t remember most of the travels, birthday parties, childhood friends, or the many homeschooling experiences and lessons they did before puberty. I worked so hard to give them a huge range of experiences and learning opportunities. They remembered quite a bit from their teen years, but not much before puberty except a few out-of-the-ordinary moments or events.

We also know that children can learn a new language even as adults because brains never stop learning. In fact, adults can learn anything, anytime. It may not come as readily as when that sensitive window of language learning happens from ages 1-8, but they will learn enough to be proficient for their use.

Which now begs the question, why do we send children to school for 9 years if they don’t remember anything? The simple answer is that trains the brain. Learning fires the neurons to connect with each other and form pathways through the brain. But this occurs whether a child is working in a mathbook or playing Fortnite. The real reason we send children to school for grades 1-9 is employment support. When parents need childcare for 7 hours a day, school officials designed a “curriculum” to fill the time and keep the kids occupied. Over 170 years, the education industry, media, and society contributed to the myth that children only learn in school and absolutely can’t learn everything they need elsewhere. With digital access to unlimited education, we now know that learning happens everywhere.

We still need teachers. The best part of school is the relationships they provide to children while facilitating a learning environment. Parents do the same job at home. Most parents can teach grade 1-8 content without teacher’s manuals and provide the nurturing, warm relationships that children’s brains require.

What this means is that unschooled children are never “behind.” They can learn anything, at anytime, as their interest and need dictates and learning never stops. They can start formal direct instruction anytime they wish. For high school. Or not. Many unschoolers teach themselves high school material, write the SATS and move on to post-secondary studies.

Posted in Democratic Parenting, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All Children Learn to Read Without Direct Instruction

From our website at www.unschoolingcanada.ca

Worried that your child is not reading yet?  Tried phonics? Tried Whole language? Tried APPs?  It is not your child’s fault or your fault. It is because your child’s brain needs time to mature.

There are no studies (zero in fact) out there that show children learn to read naturally on their own, because most studies on child development began in the 1950’s when all children were in school.

Learning to “crack the code” in reading, is a developmental task that all children accomplish on their own, much like toilet training, learning to walk, and learning to talk, without direct instruction, when their brain is ready and coordinated to work in conjunction with other parts of the brain to accomplish the task. The parts of the brain involved in language processing are the Occipital Lobe (seeing), the Parietal Lobe, and the Temporal Lobe, which begin working together to decipher sight words and sounds at the beginning of what is traditionally called Kindergarten in school. Because this happens from ages 4-12, which is a normal range, when most children are in school, most people think children learn to read in school because their developmental mastery happens to take place during the same time as the school grades of 1-6. Most people assume it is a skill that is taught, by teachers, rather than a developmental leap of brain connections that occurs naturally in a stimulating environment.

Our world today is so full of words, whether from street signs, screen advertising, to radio and media and printed material. One can’t escape the printed word!

The bottom line is that reading will happen when it happens. We know now that no baby walker is going to help a child walk before they are developmentally ready, (and thus, they are now banned in Canada due to their danger), and we also know that no amount of direct instruction is going to help a child’s occipital lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, and frontal cortex work together to read words before it’s time.

Your job is to cultivate a love of reading and enjoyment of the written word and all children will learn to read eventually! Have an environment rich in the printed word such as a variety of board, picture books, novels, graphic novels, non-fiction, reference books, story books and cartoons for your child. These can be digital or paper-based or even auditory (great for vocabulary). Curl up on the sofa with your child cuddled near and read to them or have them sound out words if they want. Let the child lead! It will come!

Why are some adults illiterate? It could be an undiagnosed learning challenge or sight problem. It could be a lack of books in the home for the child to enjoy. For evidence of a child’s brain ability to crack the code, look at the hundreds of thousands of kids that self-direct their learning and all have learned to read by age 12. Without a teacher. Perhaps someday…someone will do a research project on this!

 

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Children Learn To Write When They Have Something To Say

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Many people are worried about teaching their kids to write. Children will learn to write when they have the passion to say something. And it may not be until high school or even when they are in post-secondary schooling.

What most unschooling families forget is how children’s brains grow – a big reason why I wrote the book, Unschooling To University, and listed children’s capabilities in each chapter by age. By age 13, your children are going to know more than you do about a lot of subjects. They will know how to research their interests, argue on Reddit, and critically discern information from the internet. Again, writing is a skill developed from a passion. Most children need a passionate reason to write and more importantly, to be heard, and then they may decide to learn the 5 paragraph essay method. There are lots of Youtube videos showing how. (Anything that one wants to learn is on Youtube!) If they are passionately interested in writing, as my one child did, they will live, breathe and learn about writing improvement every day. My other 4 kids were not as keen to learn about writing, but did self-learn the basics in Grade 10 and wrote pretty good research reports in University when they self-discovered the need to learn how for their assignments. All of my kids didn’t do any formal writing until grade 10 when they had to write an essay or 2 for for meeting APS outcomes in courses for credits. The one child who is going into a Masters program this Fall (the writing fanatic) only did 1 ELA course in high school – Grade 11. She challenged the  grade 12 diploma exam because she probably knew as much as any English Language Arts teacher with all her independent self-taught research and knowledge. She also had the time to self-learn everything about crafting novels.

As far as children’s capabilities are, unschoolers go from playing video games/life learning/play/projects and interests to mandatory textbooks in high school pretty easily –  again we have to be aware of how much more capable our children are in the teen years. My math skill ends in grade 8. My 3 children who persued STEM careers had the ability to self-teach from textbooks beyond grade 8. They are average kids. All kids have the ability to self-teach from the interest. By age 13, they have their abstract thinking skills so they can pick up a textbook/or screen and read it. No problem. It’s like the difference of toilet learning between an 18 month-old and a 4 year-old – one takes months and the other can do it in a day – because they are cognitively, physically, and emotionally ready. Have trust in your children’s brains. Their learning will bypass your knowledge.  You can’t force and child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning. Learn more about how children read and write:

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments