Unschooling To University

Judy Arnall describes Unschooling to University

The book, Unschooling To University, is now available at bookstores everywhere. 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 who unschooled 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. 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.

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

Join Unschooling STEM

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Unschooling To University

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Welcome to Unschooling to University!  

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. When the time is right for them, they will often choose self-directed education to help themselves earn the requirements for admission acceptance.

Parents do not have to be the teacher and “catch them up” unless they really want to. 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. 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 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.

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.

We know that not everyone aspires to go to post-secondary schools, and that is fine.  We know that some families do wish to plan for that type of education and we aim to help them navigate the waters from unschooling and self-determining their learning during the “school-age” years to a more formal learning environment during the 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, now available for pre-order on Amazon.  12 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 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 and free thinkers.  We need thought leaders and world problem-solvers.  Join us!

#anyonecanhomeeducate         #letlearnerslead         #unschoolingtouniversity

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Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM

 

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Uncategorized, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Secret of Motivating Kids To Learn Cursive

Handwriting, Cursive and Keyboarding Skills – When should kids learn them?

The short answer to when kids should learn the tools of expression, is when they need them to express themselves. As homeschoolers, we bought Mario Teaches Typing and cursive writing books and left them available for the kids to use. However, my kids never used them. They saw no use in practicing cursive or following a keyboarding program. As unschoolers, we let it go.

As toddlers, our five kids started out on keyboards handpicking letters but as they used a computer more and more often, they became very proficient and naturally started using the home keys to do a more coordinated and efficient way of typing. Nothing was taught. They picked it up on their own.

Cursive was another story. Much of their childhood writing was block letters. It was slow and painful for them to write and I have to say, a lot of their sentences were unreadable. When a child can’t write cursive, they can’t read it either. I had to recite the letters from Grandma to them. However, they still didn’t see a need to use cursive and rejected all my nudges and encouragement to practice. When they picked up the odd online course, they wrote all their letters, answers, essays, and email on a computer. They were truly digital kids that only used a pen to sign their name. Here is a sample from first year university:

And then they went to university.

Now they were in trouble! Some university professors are very old school. Unless a student has a documented disability, they can’t bring a laptop to an exam. All essays must be handwritten, even in the humanities. And all exams have time limits. My 4 kids were at a distinct disadvantage by being forced to write timed, handwritten exams (even in the sciences) by using block letters.

In typical unschooling fashion, they decided that cursive might be useful after all! They asked me for resources. I dug out the old cursive writing book from grade 1 and they practiced. They practiced by copying sentences from favourite story books like Cat In The Hat for about 10 minutes a day, and used their cobbled cursive for taking notes in class. At least they could read it. In about 3 months they had a readable cursive style that was acceptable for handing in lab reports and essays and they scored much better on exams. Here is a sample after 3 months of practice in first year university:

The moral here is that when kids realize they need a skill, there is no stopping them from learning it. Trust that they will know when that day comes!

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Push Back Against Unnecessary Government Regulation of Home Education

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Like UBER, Amazon and AirBnB, home education is a billion dollar industry disruptor. The advancement of the internet enables students to be borderless and no longer constrained to their particular government’s provision of education.  Classes can be taken from other countries and knowledge is everywhere. Many children self teach. Education looks much different today than it did when public schools began 150 years ago. The days of the teacher being the smartest person in the village and the sole source of knowledge is over. Today, anyone can learn anything, anywhere and anytime. Every child has a right to an education, and with the internet, every child is automatically guaranteed one.

Governments are panicking with their lack of control, by increasing regulation, because they listen to powerful and well-funded unions that will re-elect them. When parents home educate, jobs are lost in an industry that is funded with billions of taxpayer dollars.

Yet, worldwide, home education is growing fast, and most of it is not funded. It doesn’t create jobs for anyone. Parents are acting in their child’s best interests and although many don’t wish to home educate, they attempt it in the desperate attempt to protect their child from bullying, sub-par curriculum, and mediocre instruction in a one-size-fits-all system. Who can blame them wanting the best for their child’s needs?

Increased government regulation comes in the form of wanting control over a segment of reality that the government should have no business controlling. The government doesn’t regulate the education of a baby, toddler or preschooler when brain architecture is developing the most in the first six years of life. Governments trust parents to do a good job and leave them alone. This is how education should be for the remaining 12 years of childhood.

Forcing families to register their home educated child is unnecessary as each child is already registered with a birth certificate. Forcing families to follow a government or school prescribed curriculum insinuates that the parent can’t do better at home, when research shows that home educated children perform much higher academically and socially than even private school children. Forcing teachers to do mandatory visits insinuates that children are being abused or neglected when 99.9999..% of parents are doing an excellent job. Most child abuse occurs in the early years of ages 0-4 in the form of Shaken Baby Syndrome.  School aged abuse is extremely rare and can be investigated under child welfare laws already in place.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26, states that parents have a prior right to choose the education of their children. This includes content and methodology. Governments must honor it. Children belong to their parents who know best, not the state.

How can one push back against government regulation?

  1. Join, form or support a legal registered home education organization that lobbies and advocates for parental rights first and foremost in their child’s education. Numbers matter so spread the awareness of the organization through social media. Network with other countries’ home education organizations to find out how they handle regulation. Be aware of upcoming laws and be noisy protesting them. Write letters, newspaper articles, sign petitions, attend stakeholder meetings and get in front of the news media.
  2. Make home education an election issue. Home educators and their children vote more than the average person. Home education is growing so much, that at some point in a child’s school life, a parent will consider doing it.
  3. Document research. Home education has been around and legal in most of North America for the past 40 years. There is good research on the effectiveness of it.

In Canada, there is the Fraser Institute’s two research reports and much more research here:

http://unschoolingcanada.ca/articles.html

In the US, there is the National Home Education Research Institute

https://www.nheri.org/

  1. Be visible. If your family home educates, tell people, answer questions and get out during the day. Dispel the common myths – it’s so much work, the kids won’t get socialized…it’s creating a 3 tier system….all not true.
  2. Challenge the effectiveness of existing regulation. Once regulation is in place, it is very hard to get rid of it, but try. Court challenges are useful in setting precedence.

Enjoy your children and enjoy home education.  It is your family’s right!

 

 

 

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Video Games Give Kids A Bigger Academic Edge Than Homework

Excerpted from Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content

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Games are just another food on the buffet of learning

Children love their technology and parents know it. If you treat screen time like any other educational tool, it will not be elevated to “treat” status in the eyes of the children, and they will naturally find a balance between that and other activities. Leave lots of other play options lying around. Everything kids are curious about is educational and contributes in some way to their development.

Educational benefits of video and computer games

Are video games educational? Of course, they are! Any kind of toy or game is educational in that it teaches children knowledge and competencies. Not every game has to be labeled “educational” to be educational. Other than volunteering, travel, and reading, video games have been the biggest “curriculum” in our home education and have been very valuable in keeping the children engaged in learning, over textbooks and worksheets.

As a parent of five gamers of both genders, I learned early that my children hated the “educational games” that have primitive graphics, poor logic, clumsy interface, are non-multiplayer, and are just plain lame. These educational games seem to be marketed to parents who aim for productive use of time rather than plain fun.

When my kids immersed themselves in games like World of Warcraft, Nox, Spore, Gizmos and Gadgets, Age of Empires, Graal, Lacuna Expanse, Civilization, Garry’s Mod, Crusader Kings, Runescape, and League of Legends, they learned not only reading, writing, and math skills, but also social studies, mythology, history, and science. They learned the valuable social skills of cooperation and conflict resolution with other in-game players, and with buddies in the same room playing the same game. In (World of Warcraft) WOW, League of Legends, and Overwatch, they learned the personal skills of resilience during adversity, perseverance and the commitment to continue and finish for the team, even when they were discouraged. They learned how to deal with challenges, problems, team members, and competitors under time pressure. They learned how to win gracefully, and how to face losing with dignity—and without throwing a keyboard across the room.

Indirectly, games and toys teach some academic concepts in ways that are compelling to children, aided by the focus that is essential for gaming success. Parents who don’t play video games may not even realize how their children have learned these competencies. Have a look at the following impressive list of competencies that video games can help to develop:

Academic Competencies

Executive function planning and working memory skills: Games teach critical thinking, analytical thinking, strategy, and problem-solving skills. Think about the scientific method. Most games give clues but not directions. So, a player has to hypothesize to find a strategy that might work. The game developers withhold critical information, so players must use trial and error to discover what they need to know. The games are giant puzzles that stretch executive function and working memory and develop skills. Further, gaming teaches problem solving under duress because many of the tasks they have to perform have time limits!

Multi-tasking: Players learn to manage many forms of information and options, usually under the stress of time limits and encroaching competitors. Just memorizing the number of items one can obtain in a game is an amazing feat. Some games make a player battle in order to stay alive, providing a great training ground for the workplace! When juggling competing interests, players also learn about time management and setting priorities.

Literacy: Games that require reading, writing, and spelling build literacy skills both on- screen and in game manuals that are often written at a high school level, telling gamers how to play and offering insights for getting over rough spots. Children who can’t read certainly try to learn! Our kids learned to read, write and use grammar from playing Graal, Animal Crossing, Sims, Sim City and many other games. Children who hate workbooks and seat-work can practice literacy skills in a format that really motivates them.

Math skills: Games develop pattern recognition and use math operations, reasoning, and logic to solve problems. The kids were motivated to learn how to tell time. They wanted to know exactly how long a half an hour was and how many more minutes until Neil gets off and they get their turn!

Computer programming skills: They learned coding, Perl, C++, CSS, HTML, scripts, and many other useful computer programming skills by playing user-modifiable games. My son learned how to use Java scripts by playing Lacuna Expanse.

Art, History and Science: Games initiate interest in many topic areas in history, art, culture, and science that spur research and reading. My kids also learned much of elementary school Greek history from playing Age of Mythology, and science from Gizmos and Gadgets and Magic School Bus. Civilization and Crusader Kings were great for learning history. Kerbal Space Program was excellent for learning orbital mechanics, space travel, physics, and engineering.

Knowledge: Gaming allows the elderly, poor, isolated or confined person access to in- formation and communication that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Creativity: During our children’s heavy video game-playing years, they continued with their self-motivated art representations: they played mostly the Mario series, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pokemon, and Kirby. They painted hundreds of pictures of the characters. In fact, the characters were represented in every medium possible—play-dough, Lego, wood, watercolor, markers, homemade costumes, stuffed figures, and many others. The handwritten stories of the adventures of Kirby and Mario, done by all the children, were equally impressive. They even made homemade board games featuring the characters. When Burger King ran a promotion handing out Pokeballs with characters inside along with their kids’ meals, we ate at Burger King four nights a week and acquired an immense collection of figurines! Although they wouldn’t touch those kids’ meals today, the figurines still represent many cherished memories of their imaginary play in which they set up scenes, built habitats, and invented stories and games with each other and with their characters. I am still amazed at the creativity that those video and computer games inspired. As the kids got older, their creativity moved from physical objects to a screen. They generated art, music, writing, and videos onscreen. The creative process was still there; it just changed formats. Once children reach school-age, mainstream parents tend to get rid of traditional creative items such as arts and craft supplies, paints, dress-up clothes, and drama props because “the schools can deal with the mess.” However, the schools become more academic from Grade 4 on, so very few children have creative outlets at home or at school. Hence the appeal of being creative on the computer, with games like the Sims, Sim Theme Park, and Animal Crossing, where children can create their own worlds. It’s not the children’s need for creativity that has changed, but the medium.

Social and Emotional Competencies

Connection: Children can easily stay in touch with family and friends around the world by playing games, talking, and socializing in real time over communication channels such as Discord or FaceTime. Grandparents love to connect with their grandchildren, regardless of how far apart they might be. My kids often would game with their siblings who were away at university or had moved to another city to work.

Entertainment: The internet and gaming provide limitless sources of entertainment in video and audio format. Name your genre and it’s available.

De-stressing skills: Gaming helps players to zone out, de-stress, escape into fantasy worlds, and relax. My friend is 45 years old and works as a realtor. To de-stress, she comes home and plays computer games with her daughter.

Delayed gratification skills: Players have to work their way up by levels and cannot shortcut without others’ help. Studies show that children who learn to appreciate delayed gratification at an early age tend to do better in life.

Executive function focus skills: Especially difficult in a background of music, noise, chattering, and distractions, gaming demands total focused concentration. This is a useful practice for many children. Often, children are diagnosed with attention deficits in school, yet can focus for hours on gaming.

Self-esteem: Games build self-esteem and confidence in skills that are admired by peers. This is especially important for children who don’t excel in academics, sports, or the arts. Being accepted and respected for a special skill builds self-confidence in other areas of their lives.

Executive function inhibitory control: Games provide a method of teaching and practicing emotional intelligence. Games give children practice in handling anger, frustration, and setbacks—especially when they lose an acquired level because they forgot to save!  It even teaches natural consequences and how to problem solve to fix a situation. Of course, children need an adult around to help them deal with those strong emotions, or else a controller will go flying against the wall!

Gender neutrality: The internet and gaming enable people to communicate without visual stereotypes. People are judged on their words and actions, not on age, gender, culture, or looks.

Commitment and work ethic: “My son doesn’t commit to extracurricular activities, but he is persistent in mastering a game, committing to a team of five in a game, or learning coding,” says Ellen, homeschooling mom of two.

Cooperation and collaboration: Multi-player games lend themselves to team building, cooperation, strategy formation, and group problem solving with other players both in the game and those watching the game. Players have to work together to develop a plan, achieve results, and cover each others’ backs. They learn to negotiate, compromise, and practice fair play.

Encouragement: As well, when one child plays and another watches, they both learn how to encourage each other to take risks, try another solution, and keep going. It’s wonderful to watch their “team approach,” even if only one child is at the controls. Often, my kids played as a team against other teams in League of Legends and it was lovely to watch how they bonded.

Independence: In a world of helicopter parenting, gaming and social media provide a playground for children that is not micro-managed by adults. Children make the rules or the game makes the rules, but not the parents. When children get together face to face, they speak a gaming language that is not understood by adults, but that bonds them together in a secret world.

Conversations: When my kids would meet up face to face with their friends, they spent non-gaming time engrossed in conversations, bragging about games they had and which ones to go for next, which characters they wanted to play, and what levels they had achieved—much like we used to discuss hockey stats, car enhancements, and movie stars. Teens especially like to differentiate themselves from adults in their form of dress, hairstyles, music, and activities. Gaming is one more avenue that helps them do that.

Family closeness: Many parents play video games with their children from a young age until the kids move out—then come back for Sunday dinner and a round of League of Legends! As a non-gamer, I personally found that taking an interest in my children’s gaming by sitting and watching them and listening to their descriptive adventures in the game brought us closer in communicating and sharing fun times.

Socialization: Minecraft Club! Computer Coding Club! Girls Who Game Club! As kids move into the teen years, they are not well practiced in initiating conversations because they are more self-conscious about what they say and do. They need an activity to focus on in order to relax. Gaming clubs provide that activity.

Social media has benefits too!

Social: Kids can easily connect to other like-minded kids who share their interests.

Writing: They can flex their debating and persuasive writing skills on hot topics in discussion websites, with other really good debaters.

Research: They can learn about people with different backgrounds, religions, and cultures as they make online friends around the world.

Create: They can create and share musical, technical, and artistic projects with others by writing blogs and making websites, videos, memes, podcasts, and webinars.

Collaboration: They can collaborate on projects without ever meeting each other in person. Several books have been published with such collaboration.

Citizenship: They can organize, volunteer, raise collective consciousness, and raise funds for charitable organizations and worthy causes.

Entrepreneurship: They can start and grow a business.

Health: They can access health information on any topic from sexuality to depression and get answers to questions that they would be embarrassed to ask an adult.

Because of the proliferation of smartphones and video games, which 80 percent of Canadian kids play, children as a school cohort are dating at older ages, having sex later, driving later, and moving out later, and have little taste for alcohol and smoking. (McKnight, 2015) These are excellent trends. The trade-off is that they spend more time alone in their rooms, connected to their mobile phones. Thus, inter-personal and socialization skills can take a hit. Family can counteract that by spending time together and scheduling outside family social time. Declare some screen-free zones and times, like meal time, to gather together, socialize, and enjoy each other’s company. Social media can also be brutal to children’s self-esteem, so open communication with supportive parents and siblings is critical in keeping peer stress tolerable and not toxic. Screens have value, but children also need face-to-face relationships in the three-dimensional, physical world. Like all technology, games and social media are tools and how we use them can be beneficial or detrimental. Balance is key.

Excerpted from Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content, By Judy Arnall

Available at Chapters, Barnes and Noble and a bookstore near you.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling FAQ – Societal Concerns

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Giving kids control of their education is giving them too much power.

Learners already have the power. The assumption that we “allow” control of their education is a myth. A child has power and control. We adults hate to acknowledge it! Eating, sleeping, toileting, and learning are all things parents have no control over. Sure, we can put the buffet foods on the child’s plate, but we respectfully can’t force him to eat it.

At some point in time, every child must take control and ownership of their education. The problem now is that kids are coddled too much by parents making children’s education, the parent’s responsibility. The kids know this. When someone else is responsible for your homework, grades and assignments, you don’t have to be. When puberty hits, the schools expect kids to start taking more responsibility. We hope it happens by junior high in that we have to stop nagging about grades and homework. We hope it happens by high school so we can let go and kids own their education. I know parents of university kids that still bribe them to get good marks. Who is owning that education? If the motivation is not internal by then, the child is not in the field they want or should be. They are the ones who will change careers in five years and have to re-study again anyways. Isn’t it better to find your path earlier? Unschooled kids own their education since birth and continue to take responsibility for it. Their parents empower them to steer their education, rather than “allow” them.

Working towards something challenging and tough is an accomplishment that builds self-esteem and confidence. How will they learn a healthy work ethic?

To devise a project and fail at it or succeed at it, brings its own accomplishments and self-esteem. Internally motivated projects are the best kind. Unschooled teens have the drive and grit to finish a project, a video game, a book or a job term. They don’t need school or external bribes and punishments to learn a healthy work ethic. Self-discipline or what we now call, executive function, is received through brain maturation.

Aren’t there some things kids just have to do?

Yes, but do they have to do them at the tender age of 6? As my friend, Bailey said, “Is this a lesson they truly need to learn today?” Can many things wait until later when they have the brain development and executive function (discipline and self-control) to fully appreciate and understand the need for them? Chores, volunteering, helping others, cleaning up the environment, voting, etc. are all things children should do. Education should not be one of those. Learning should truly be pleasurable, not a chore.

Unschooling sounds too easy. Kids shouldn’t be allowed shortcuts.

Are we speaking about true learning or doing time in an institution? Of course, kids that catch on quickly shouldn’t pay the penalty of having to do busywork. Kids that catch on longer should be allowed to take their time without penalty or ridicule.

As for parents, unschooling is sometimes more time-consuming and harder than for school and homeschooling. Interests erupt at inconvenient times and learning is a 24 hour per day, 7 day per week process. School is done in 6 hours a day (plus homework). Homeschooling is done in 1 hour a day. Unschooling takes 24 hours a day.

How do children know what they want to study? They are too young to know.

They don’t. They only play. What catches their interest in play is educational and very absorbing for them. We may see their play as being frivolous time fillers rather than educational, but play is the way children learn.

Kids must have a prescribed set of outcomes that they need to learn.

Again the assumption is that they will not dive into math, Language arts, science, music, art, and social studies just through the course of their play or if they are not required or forced to learn it. Most people think those subjects are separate from real life and experience when in fact, they are inextricably melded together. Try to cook or build a table without math skills. Try to read a newspaper without language arts. Try to understand weather patterns without science and try to understand the government process without understanding social studies. Life and course subjects are not separate. Most of what is in the curriculum, children can learn through their play and living their life.

Kids do better with structures and routines.

Structure and routine are also life skills and can be weaved with the family setting, jobs, volunteering and community environment. School is not the only training ground for learning self-discipline.

Why did your children write exams if you are against standardized testing?

We treasure what we can measure. I asked politely and they agreed. I needed some “measurement” to ensure objectivity in their educational attainment. They had the choice to say no.

Shouldn’t our society expect our children to know and be aware of certain basic things like for example, “the Louis Reil rebellion” or “the Holocaust”. What lessons are not getting passed on if we don’t ensure that our children have this basic knowledge.

Again, the underlying assumption is that school is the only way children learn about these issues.

Yes, we can feed children prescribed curriculum, but does it stick? I studied Brazil extensively in grade 8 , but as an adult, all I know about Brazil now is basic trivia – it’s a country in South America. As soon as I passed the grade 8 social studies test, Brazil was out of my brain and mind. As an adult, I can visit Brazil and truly understand more about the country, because now I choose to. We took our children to visit Dachau and it was much more absorbing and understanding visiting the memorial than it was reading about it in a book.

Public education is the foundation of our democracy and the cornerstone of an egalitarian society.

There will always be a need for public education. Public education is needed for employment support. But it shouldn’t be the only choice for children. My goal in writing this book is to ensure every parent and child knows that school and homeschooling are not the only choices available. Unschooling is also a valid choice in education.

As parents, is the welfare of the “system” our first consideration when we make choices for our child? Never. Every parent acts in best interests of their child, and their family. We can’t deny our children a better education because some other parents don’t want us to have it. It’s like assuming that every worker needs to work in a big company, and no one can be an entrepreneur, because it would undermine the middle class. Choice in education is democracy. Choice in education is also funded choices.

Public education serves two purposes: one is for the child, but one is also for the public good. Do unschooled children miss the values in public education?

There is an assumption that parents of unschooled children don’t want or care about providing the best for their child. No parent wants to raise their child to encounter hardships later in life. That is why most parents do their best in raising the next generation. Unschooling parents’ value responsible, caring and empathetic citizenship just as much as any other parent of a child in school. I have met many parents of unschooled children who lie awake at night wondering if they are doing “enough” and comparing their children to school-based kids. I have not met an unschooling parent who doesn’t worry that they are giving their children their best. And they do an amazing job unschooling.

Public education is still there for people who want it. It serves a valuable need of providing childcare and employment support. Keeping my child away from it, in no way hurts the system. Which brings us to the next question…

Keeping kids out of the public system doesn’t support it financially and hurts it. Right?

No. All citizens pay taxes regardless of the type of education they get or even if they have children at all. When parents choose alternative education, they pay double. They pay taxes that support public education for everyone, and they pay tuition fees for private school and they also pay in lost income, and out of their own pocket for homeschooling and unschooling costs. In addition to supporting the system by paying taxes, they also support the system by not drawing the resources they pay for. The system can allocate the funds saved from homeschooling students to other priorities. For example, our family of five children pays $2,500 a year in education taxes. We receive $4,500 a year for resource funding to educate five children. We don’t draw out the $50,000 a year that our children would cost the system if we used it. Thus, we save the government $45,500 per year we unschool. Add in our tax money and it becomes $48,000 that goes to other children whose parents choose public education. In no way does our choice financially undermine public education. It supports it. Over 12 years of education, we have saved taxpayers a half a million dollars.

Some critics of unschooling tell us to keep our kids in the system and work hard to change it. Perhaps we did for a time and got tired of banging our heads against the wall of a big unchangeable bureaucracy with little incentive for change. Too many invested interests do not wish to see change – and the wellbeing of our children is often the last consideration ahead of jobs and funding. Change in a big entity happens usually when outside forces start pinching it.

We discovered that the way to change the school system is not to subject our kids to it, but rather create alternatives that could become popular enough, and viable enough, that they force the traditional school system to incorporate their key values. Look how self-publishing disrupted the book industry? Change happens with very small movements of committed, disgruntled people with huge amounts of energy and thick skins try something different. As one parent said, “I cast my biggest vote of all by showing ‘no confidence’ in the school system by not sending my kids to school.”

Any school alternative is creating niche enclaves and elitism and serves to segregate students. This is not good for the moral fabric of society.

Any educational choice is a niche community into itself. Individual schools are stand alone communities with their own mascots, uniforms, logo, governance, routines and culture. Homeschooling has various communities as well depending on the type of homeschooling such as classical, eclectic, worldschooling, and unschooling. As kids leave one community and enter another, they learn a new set of rules, norms and practices. Getting along with people is a life skill, not a school skill.

But perhaps the most compelling argument against unschooling (and independent education, generally) is that, if adopted on a large scale, it’s bad for society. Where are common social values learned?

At home and in the community. Diversity is a good thing, and it’s even better in education. Schools tend to be the homogenous institution. Unschooling celebrates diversity.

When a child can choose to do whatever suits his whim, aren’t we giving him the message that he is the centre of the universe and that is plain wrong?

Are we talking about education or parenting? There are still many times that a child has to be told “No” and their rights do not supersede others, and they learn how to cope with that disappointment and frustration. We don’t force any adult to choose a job. Why do we force a child to do curriculum? Is it because of the age difference? When a child grows older, they can understand that certain standards are required as a prerequisite for what they want to do and they may choose to undertake those. We may think we know what is best for a child, but ultimately, they do and eventually make those choices.

It all boils down to choice. At what age does education becomes a choice for children? What about food? Sleep? Religion choice? Marriage partner? When do children “own” their education? Birth? Age 6? Age 18? Age 65?

Do you take the summer off from unschooling?

No. Learning never takes a holiday. It begins at birth and ends with death, and no time off for weekends, holidays, birthdays or even sick days. It’s constant, and omnipresent.

Will unschoolers be able to meet deadlines in the workforce?

Yes, as much as the rest of the population.

All children need and have the right to an education.

Hard cases make bad laws. Why does the entire population of families who drop out of the school system need to be heavily regulated in order to catch a small percentage (0.0001%) of the population who might be abusive and neglectful? The percentage of abusive families is proportionally greater in the public system, than homeschooling, yet, we don’t demand stricter controls of public school when a child is found to be abused and attends school. The media loves to broadcast that families are homeschooled when abuse cases are exposed. It adds to the fear and distrust. That is not fair or good practice.

Many schools in the 70’s and 80’s turned a blind eye to abuse. But they are one element in a child’s life, and not the only one. Neighbors, churches and the community stores get to know children too. Every adult has the responsibility to report abuse – not just schools.

Government regulation is also so last year. Homeschooling parents are only in charge of their own children – not others. Thus, there is no more public interest in education than there is in good parenting. Do we trust parents to have their own children’s best interests at heart? Either we do as a society or we don’t. Most parents are motivated to pull their children out of school in order for them to flourish and do better. They want and will go to great lengths for their children’s education as they have the most vested interest in how their child turns out. Parents make every decision based on love. Schools and governments don’t. Parents who undertake their child’s education should be given more flexibility and trust, not less. They know their children best.

Homeschooling at the high school level is hard. Most parents are not up for the task. Parents do not always know all the ways in which they should help children develop. This might result in stunted learning or incorrect skills and habits that are difficult to correct later.

 

Homeschooling at the high school level has never been easier. Unschooled children can access the internet’s many free videos and courses. Parents do not have to know the material in order to teach. Curious kids will learn what they need through the various ways they can seek out information. Incorrect skills and habits can always be relearned. The brain’s capacity for learning new things never ceases.

 

“But don’t you need a break? Homeschooling is very hard on the mom.”

“I could never do that! You are such a better woman than me!” “You work and you homeschool five kids? Wow, you must be superwoman!”

Homeschooling and unschooling are the easy choice. School is stressful. In unschooling, there is no homework, tests, PD days, lunches, inclement weather, extra-curricular activities, uniforms, overdue library books, field day permission slips, over-tired kids, science-fair projects, fundraising, classroom volunteering, and parent-teacher interviews. A typical day of unschooling is like a Saturday afternoon in July. Fun. Relaxing. Close relationships.

Children who are not used to having their days filled by adults, learn to fill their own days with healthy activities. Most homeschooling parents have children around; but in the next room or working side by side with them. Having presence with another person in the room, (which is nice for a lot of people) is different from having to entertain another person. One is comforting and connecting, and the other is hard work. Many unschooling parents run businesses, or work in paid work outside the home. Having children around enhances the experience and doesn’t compete.

Some kids have no nurturing, encouragement or positive role models at home. If they didn’t get it at school, where would they get it?

Teachers can be a very nurturing, encouraging influence in a child’s life, and studies show that having one interested adult in their life can help them survive a dysfunctional family life. However, teachers rarely have the time to establish relationships because of all the outcomes they must teach in the ever-expanding curriculum. School is in the business of teaching academics, not parenting. Yet, the relationships that children get in school, especially the teacher-student relationship, is the best, and most crucial outcome of school life.

Unschooling may work with a caring adult and rich resource environment, but what about children who come from homes without an adult, books, or even a computer? Isn’t school a haven for those children?

The worst we can do to those children is put them in online courses which is where our education system is heading now. Online courses are someone else’s’ agenda (usually the government) of what they think learners need to know. Learners must obey instructions because the learning is not their own. Online education needs structured parenting overseeing it or an extremely self-motivated student. More than anyone, these children need adults in their lives and resources are secondary. At the minimum, a library card and internet connection can help them, but a caring, attentive adult, who can give smaller ratio attention will be most beneficial in developing competencies.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling FAQ – Academic Concerns

 

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Can kids really “catch up” on 12 years of schooling when they are teenagers?

Children are not catching up on knowledge but switching to a different track – one that requires more output/demonstration of what they already have learned. They have the knowledge.  Through their play, projects and field trips, they have been picking up all kinds of information, skills and knowledge, but they have little requirement to prove it. When they reach the teens years, they learn the “proving” requirements such as how to take an exam, how to write an essay, how to present a powerpoint, how to speak a debate. They learn the output required to “demonstrate” learning, but the input is already in their brains.

Some people suggest that unschooling is neglectful child abuse. Families should be regulated; required to register with a school, have certified teachers visit, and children must be made to follow the government curriculum and be tested.

Teachers are education experts in the classroom. Parents are education experts of their children in their home. Teachers receive no mandatory education in the uniqueness of home education or unschooling in their degree programs.

There is no government academic, social or emotional oversight of parenting children ages 0-5 when critical brain development sets a trajectory of health and education for life, so there is no reason for academic oversight when a child reaches their 6th birthday. There is no need for certified teachers or government to interfere in home education. 99.9% of parents have their child’s best interests at heart and we must entrust them to do the best for their children as we do in the early years as set forth by the Declaration of the United Nations.

Kids don’t know what to learn unless you don’t introduce them to.

Children are natural born learners. Curiosity begins at birth and never ends. How would a five-year-old know what they want to study? When kids play, they are already taking control of what to study. We just need to get out of their way.

How will they know they like poetry if they are never exposed to poetry? How can a child never be exposed to poetry? Do they not listen to music? Advertisements? Jokes? I don’t know one child that would go through 18 years of childhood without touching on the subject of poetry.

A love of any subject is exhibited at a young age by finding it in everyday life, and not segregated as subjects. Life gives way to learning opportunities and further exploration.

I don’t think we have to worry about exposure thanks to the internet. There is no information out there right now, that we can possibly shield from children. We don’t directly teach sex education and somehow the kids figure it out!

Some parents do facilitate an education, but what about parents who just let kids do nothing all day?

 

I have to say that there were times that I was NOT interested in facilitating my child’s desire to learn something (like the second world war) and it was NOT my decision to further his education or not- my child would pester me for resources and eventually found them on his own when I wasn’t forthcoming- great training practice for future university research.

We seem to think we are the gate-keepers to knowledge, but we are not. We are facilitators when we choose to be – but if we are not, our children will find out what they want to know anyways in spite of any obstacles in their path. It is arrogant of ourselves to think that we can stop a person from learning. You can’t force a child to learn and you can’t stop a child from learning. I keep thinking about the poem by Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s (learnings) longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

Kids need a broad education. How can unschooling provide that?

With the internet, kids can easily go as broad as they want. School is becoming the narrow filter in that it can only cover so many topics. Options in junior high are limited to 6-10 subjects. In high school, they have 10-40 subjects depending on the funding of the school. Of all the information available in the world, schools can only focus on a few topics. They go very narrow and shallow in order to be as broad as they can. With class sizes of 30 children, a teacher cannot individualize learning according to a variety of interests. They must choose a narrow topic that all children will be standardized graded on and study. Why can kids only study Brazil in grade 8? Why not other countries or them all? Not enough time.

With unschooling, kids have a chance to go deep and narrow according to interests and wide and shallow on topics they are not too interested. Children don’t want to waste time learning things they really don’t want to know about. Ultimately, we all must go deep and narrow at some point in our lives as we choose careers. But even that is open; the average adult changes careers and may have 5 in a lifetime.

What about math?

Math is problem solving issues in daily life. A child learns fractions by baking and cooking. They learn decimals from shopping and allowances. Not everyone is going to need linear equations and polynomials though. Why do we need to drill it into 100% of the population when only 30% might use it? Sure, it is good training for the mind – but so are a lot of other skills that the student might enjoy more. The 30% of students going into a career that requires higher level math will be motivated to learn it, when they decide they need it.

Education is so competitive today. Isn’t more school better in order to give kids an edge?

Research shows that the quality of education matters, not the quantity. More academic and earlier school entry leads kids to early burn-out. When school kids start winding down their educational drive, around grade 8, unschooled kids who never had formal learning start engaging and ramps up their enthusiasm for learning during the high school years when marks really count.

Rich resources, engagement from the learner and competent facilitators make for a quality educational experience. Not the name or rank of the school one goes to.

What’s wrong with toddler school, preschool, tutoring, Saturday school, and homework?

More and earlier formal learning in school for the general population is not better. It may have small beneficial effects for targeted, disadvantaged groups, but not for everyone. The problem is that kids burn-out from 16 years of school (age 2 to 18) before they even get to university. Is it no wonder they party and mess up that first year, out from under parent and school thumbs?

One study shows that the more years children spend in formal school or formal homeschool programs, the less likely they were to pursue post-secondary education. (Dr. Peter Gray, 2013)

Kids will forget things not drilled into them.

Yes, if it is not relevant or useful to children, they will forget it. Even now in school, retention is lost over the summer because most of what is learned is forgotten. It’s deleted from memory because it is not relevant. Most people who don’t use math for their careers lose it. Until their children get to high school and they want to help with homework and have to relearn it to help them.

There are some things kids just have to learn.

Unschoolers do not force continued exposure on children who demonstrate a dislike for the idea or activity, like is done in school. Without coercion, many children will try the activity again, perhaps later and find they like it then. Much like forcing vegetables down children is a guaranteed way to get them to dislike them.

Won’t a child have gaps?

Yes. Children in public school have them too! Public school is designed to give kids a broad, general education with little room or time for depth in any particular order. Children that are not interested tune out. They lose that knowledge from their long-term memory. Perhaps that is why so many children graduate without knowing what their passions are or what they want to do as opposed to what their parents, society and friends tell them they should do. They have been listening to other’s opinions of what is good for them for all their lives.

How do unschoolers get to university in Canada?

 

Very few post-secondary institutions in Canada require a high school diploma to go to university. There are at least 13 different ways to get in to university that do not require a diploma.

 

How do post-secondary institutions know that unschoolers have a benchmark of knowledge before admittance?

Most unschoolers present a portfolio of work or write the same government grade 12 diploma exams that all other students have to write. They also present SAT, ACT scores or other equivalents. Because Alberta Education courses are based on outcomes, how a student acquires the knowledge and skills required is irrelevant. If students have the education needed for good exam marks, they can bypass the entire grade K-12 system and still be accepted for post-secondary education.

If kids have content at the touch of their phone, what are we teaching them?

We are moving as a society from content to competencies. It is not just what you know, but what you can do with what you know. That involves relationships. School does not have a monopoly on teaching children competencies. Children can self-teach competencies or learn them from parents, coaches, grandparents, neighbors, siblings and friends if they wish.

Taking initiative, perseverance and mastering a topic area are all competencies. Committing to doing something because you gave your word is a competency that can be taught in so many other ways besides school – family chores, volunteer work, jobs, or even a computer game guild.

Are you suggesting that kids will just play video games all day?

Children learn from everything and anything. Video games are educational that they teach content and competencies and spur other interests. As well, certain types of kids are drawn to them and some are not. If a child chooses to play via games, chances are he/she will choose a career in computers, art, etc. Video games are just as valid on the “education buffet table” as “math workbooks”.

If a child is given a choice between reading a book and playing video games, surely, they would pick video games?

No. Not if we don’t sort the choices into bribes or punishments. We tell parents in “Picky Eating” classes (I’m a Family Life Educator) to start putting desert on the same plate as the meat and vegetables. Parents reluctantly try it and are surprised to find out the child gives equal preference to both. If the broccoli (math) is given equal status on the buffet table as the chocolate (video games) the child will pick what they need at the time, giving no thought to its status of desirability.

How do you deal with a child who is cranky about learning? A teen?

That teen has probably had “school” shoved down so much that they are burned out of learning. They need to de-school and find their passions. By the teen years, they have been drilled that learning is not fun. It is an activity they do out of fear of punishment (truancy charges, detentions, class humiliation, bad marks) or bribery (good marks, pizza coupons, sports awards). They are burning out when they really should be gearing up because those courses are what is going to get them into the schools of their choice – post secondary.

How will they adjust to university if they have never had a school “schedule”?

When children go from taking no courses, or a single course in the high school years, to a 5-course load in post-secondary, there is a few months of a learning curve. But they do fine. They adjust when they need to. They get up and get out the door for 8 am classes, even if they have just spent the previous 12 years sleeping in until 2 pm. They learn to juggle multiple final exams in one week and they learn how to study. Adults need 21 days to learn new habits. Universities have many workshops on study skills and time management because many kids still don’t learn that in school.

How do you prove they are learning?

 

How do you prove that they are not learning? It is interesting how questions always focus on the perceived inadequacies of unschooling and not the real inadequacies of the school system.

 

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling FAQ – Social Concerns

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What about socialization?

Forced association is not socialization. In any area of life, people come together from different ages, genders, cultures, religions, nationality, and occupations. Except school which sorts children according to the above categories.

Raising children in a home and diverse community environment is more like the real world than raising children in an age-graded artificially segregated institution. Sometimes home schooling is called community schooling because very few families actually stay at home. Communities provide rich, diverse, social interaction opportunities with greater adult-child ratios to facilitate caring, decent social skills and relationships.

In institutions, socialization amounts to the ability to be controlled by the status quo rather than a set of values determined by reason or faith, apart from peer pressure.

The purpose of “socialization” is, or should be, enabling children to become ethical, kind, and helpful citizens as adults. Unschooling provides this, with actual social interaction with actual adults providing actual role modeling. The more I think about it, people who worry about ‘socialization’ are probably more worried about children’s lack of indoctrination, entirely BECAUSE they are upsettingly independent thinkers. The best person to teach a 15-year-old boy how to be a man is not another 15-year-old boy. It is a man.

Generally, people who throw out the “socialization” argument are people who don’t know any homeschoolers and are just repeating what they’ve heard in the media where for some reason this myth pervades. The person making the comment tends to imagine mom sitting at a table all day with her kids, teaching. In this imagined scenario, the kids never get a chance to make friends outside of their siblings. I think we all agree that this is inadequate, which is one of the many reasons that homeschooling parents work so tirelessly to provide such a rich and diverse set of experiences for their students.

Teen culture dictates that children need peers to be emotionally healthy. If kids are not raised in huge cohorts of peers, won’t they be missing out?

Do teens who have not been raised in an artificial institution called school, have the same peer influences on family life that school teens do? No. Is peer influence necessary? No. Teens cling to peers in school and resist family time because they are socialized to do this. It is assumed that ALL teens go through separation from parents and peer bonding is a natural developmental task of all teens regardless of how they were educated. This assumption is born out of a lack of studies in the area. Most studies done on children have been done in the cultural context of institutional age-graded schooling for 12 of their developmental years. Most homeschooled teens I’ve met have cherished family and play with their siblings and are much less attuned to peer influences then teens that have gone to school.

Where do children learn how to line-up, wait for their turn, wait to speak, and listen?

If school is where kids learn to listen and take turns, when did they stop learning those basic courtesies? Go to any cocktail party and listen to the adults that have forgotten those important listening and respect skills. Go to an amusement park and watch the number of children butting in line. Children need these skills taught by parents, not just at school.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Video Games Give Kids A Bigger Academic Edge Than Homework

Excerpted from Unschooling To University, by Judy Arnall

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Games are just another food on the buffet of learning

Children love their technology and parents know it. If you treat screen time like any other educational tool, it will not be elevated to “treat” status in the eyes of the children, and they will naturally find a balance between that and other activities. Leave lots of other play options lying around. Everything kids are curious about is educational and contributes in some way to their development.

Educational benefits of video and computer games

Are video games educational? Of course, they are! Any kind of toy or game is educational in that it teaches children knowledge and competencies. Not every game has to be labeled “educational” to be educational. Other than volunteering, travel, and reading, video games have been the biggest “curriculum” in our home education and have been very valuable in keeping the children engaged in learning, over textbooks and worksheets.

As a parent of five gamers of both genders, I learned early that my children hated the “educational games” that have primitive graphics, poor logic, clumsy interface, are non-multiplayer, and are just plain lame. These educational games seem to be marketed to parents who aim for productive use of time rather than plain fun.

When my kids immersed themselves in games like World of Warcraft, Nox, Spore, Gizmos and Gadgets, Age of Empires, Graal, Lacuna Expanse, Civilization, Garry’s Mod, Crusader Kings, Runescape, and League of Legends, they learned not only reading, writing, and math skills, but also social studies, mythology, history, and science. They learned the valuable social skills of cooperation and conflict resolution with other in-game players, and with buddies in the same room playing the same game. In (World of Warcraft) WOW, League of Legends, and Overwatch, they learned the personal skills of resilience during adversity, perseverance and the commitment to continue and finish for the team, even when they were discouraged. They learned how to deal with challenges, problems, team members, and competitors under time pressure. They learned how to win gracefully, and how to face losing with dignity—and without throwing a keyboard across the room.

Indirectly, games and toys teach some academic concepts in ways that are compelling to children, aided by the focus that is essential for gaming success. Parents who don’t play video games may not even realize how their children have learned these competencies. Have a look at the following impressive list of competencies that video games can help to develop:

Academic competencies

Executive function planning and working memory skills: Games teach critical thinking, analytical thinking, strategy, and problem-solving skills. Think about the scientific method. Most games give clues but not directions. So, a player has to hypothesize to find a strategy that might work. The game developers withhold critical information, so players must use trial and error to discover what they need to know. The games are giant puzzles that stretch executive function and working memory and develop skills. Further, gaming teaches problem solving under duress because many of the tasks they have to perform have time limits!

Multi-tasking: Players learn to manage many forms of information and options, usually under the stress of time limits and encroaching competitors. Just memorizing the number of items one can obtain in a game is an amazing feat. Some games make a player battle in order to stay alive, providing a great training ground for the workplace! When juggling competing interests, players also learn about time management and setting priorities.

Literacy: Games that require reading, writing, and spelling build literacy skills both on- screen and in game manuals that are often written at a high school level, telling gamers how to play and offering insights for getting over rough spots. Children who can’t read certainly try to learn! Our kids learned to read, write and use grammar from playing Graal, Animal Crossing, Sims, Sim City and many other games. Children who hate workbooks and seat-work can practice literacy skills in a format that really motivates them.

Math skills: Games develop pattern recognition and use math operations, reasoning, and logic to solve problems. The kids were motivated to learn how to tell time. They wanted to know exactly how long a half an hour was and how many more minutes until Neil gets off and they get their turn!

Computer programming skills: They learned coding, Perl, C++, CSS, HTML, scripts, and many other useful computer programming skills by playing user-modifiable games. My son learned how to use Java scripts by playing Lacuna Expanse.

Art, History and Science: Games initiate interest in many topic areas in history, art, culture, and science that spur research and reading. My kids also learned much of elementary school Greek history from playing Age of Mythology, and science from Gizmos and Gadgets and Magic School Bus. Civilization and Crusader Kings were great for learning history. Kerbal Space Program was excellent for learning orbital mechanics, space travel, physics, and engineering.

Knowledge: Gaming allows the elderly, poor, isolated or confined person access to in- formation and communication that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Creativity: During our children’s heavy video game-playing years, they continued with their self-motivated art representations: they played mostly the Mario series, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pokemon, and Kirby. They painted hundreds of pictures of the characters. In fact, the characters were represented in every medium possible—play-dough, Lego, wood, watercolor, markers, homemade costumes, stuffed figures, and many others. The handwritten stories of the adventures of Kirby and Mario, done by all the children, were equally impressive. They even made homemade board games featuring the characters. When Burger King ran a promotion handing out Pokeballs with characters inside along with their kids’ meals, we ate at Burger King four nights a week and acquired an immense collection of figurines! Although they wouldn’t touch those kids’ meals today, the figurines still represent many cherished memories of their imaginary play in which they set up scenes, built habitats, and invented stories and games with each other and with their characters. I am still amazed at the creativity that those video and computer games inspired. As the kids got older, their creativity moved from physical objects to a screen. They generated art, music, writing, and videos onscreen. The creative process was still there; it just changed formats. Once children reach school-age, mainstream parents tend to get rid of traditional creative items such as arts and craft supplies, paints, dress-up clothes, and drama props because “the schools can deal with the mess.” However, the schools become more academic from Grade 4 on, so very few children have creative outlets at home or at school. Hence the appeal of being creative on the computer, with games like the Sims, Sim Theme Park, and Animal Crossing, where children can create their own worlds. It’s not the children’s need for creativity that has changed, but the medium.

Social and emotional competencies

Connection: Children can easily stay in touch with family and friends around the world by playing games, talking, and socializing in real time over communication channels such as Discord or FaceTime. Grandparents love to connect with their grandchildren, regardless of how far apart they might be. My kids often would game with their siblings who were away at university or had moved to another city to work.

Entertainment: The internet and gaming provide limitless sources of entertainment in video and audio format. Name your genre and it’s available.

De-stressing skills: Gaming helps players to zone out, de-stress, escape into fantasy worlds, and relax. My friend is 45 years old and works as a realtor. To de-stress, she comes home and plays computer games with her daughter.

Delayed gratification skills: Players have to work their way up by levels and cannot shortcut without others’ help. Studies show that children who learn to appreciate delayed gratification at an early age tend to do better in life.

Executive function focus skills: Especially difficult in a background of music, noise, chattering, and distractions, gaming demands total focused concentration. This is a useful practice for many children. Often, children are diagnosed with attention deficits in school, yet can focus for hours on gaming.

Self-esteem: Games build self-esteem and confidence in skills that are admired by peers. This is especially important for children who don’t excel in academics, sports, or the arts. Being accepted and respected for a special skill builds self-confidence in other areas of their lives.

Executive function inhibitory control: Games provide a method of teaching and practicing emotional intelligence. Games give children practice in handling anger, frustration, and setbacks—especially when they lose an acquired level because they forgot to save!  It even teaches natural consequences and how to problem solve to fix a situation. Of course, children need an adult around to help them deal with those strong emotions, or else a controller will go flying against the wall!

Gender neutrality: The internet and gaming enable people to communicate without visual stereotypes. People are judged on their words and actions, not on age, gender, culture, or looks.

Commitment and work ethic: “My son doesn’t commit to extracurricular activities, but he is persistent in mastering a game, committing to a team of five in a game, or learning coding,” says Ellen, homeschooling mom of two.

Cooperation and collaboration: Multi-player games lend themselves to team building, cooperation, strategy formation, and group problem solving with other players both in the game and those watching the game. Players have to work together to develop a plan, achieve results, and cover each others’ backs. They learn to negotiate, compromise, and practice fair play.

Encouragement: As well, when one child plays and another watches, they both learn how to encourage each other to take risks, try another solution, and keep going. It’s wonderful to watch their “team approach,” even if only one child is at the controls. Often, my kids played as a team against other teams in League of Legends and it was lovely to watch how they bonded.

Independence: In a world of helicopter parenting, gaming and social media provide a playground for children that is not micro-managed by adults. Children make the rules or the game makes the rules, but not the parents. When children get together face to face, they speak a gaming language that is not understood by adults, but that bonds them together in a secret world.

Conversations: When my kids would meet up face to face with their friends, they spent non-gaming time engrossed in conversations, bragging about games they had and which ones to go for next, which characters they wanted to play, and what levels they had achieved—much like we used to discuss hockey stats, car enhancements, and movie stars. Teens especially like to differentiate themselves from adults in their form of dress, hairstyles, music, and activities. Gaming is one more avenue that helps them do that.

Family closeness: Many parents play video games with their children from a young age until the kids move out—then come back for Sunday dinner and a round of League of Legends! As a non-gamer, I personally found that taking an interest in my children’s gaming by sitting and watching them and listening to their descriptive adventures in the game brought us closer in communicating and sharing fun times.

Socialization: Minecraft Club! Computer Coding Club! Girls Who Game Club! As kids move into the teen years, they are not well practiced in initiating conversations because they are more self-conscious about what they say and do. They need an activity to focus on in order to relax. Gaming clubs provide that activity.

Social media benefits

Social: Kids can easily connect to other like-minded kids who share their interests.

Writing: They can flex their debating and persuasive writing skills on hot topics in discussion websites, with other really good debaters.

Research: They can learn about people with different backgrounds, religions, and cultures as they make online friends around the world.

Create: They can create and share musical, technical, and artistic projects with others by writing blogs and making websites, videos, memes, podcasts, and webinars.

Collaboration: They can collaborate on projects without ever meeting each other in person. Several books have been published with such collaboration.

Citizenship: They can organize, volunteer, raise collective consciousness, and raise funds for charitable organizations and worthy causes.

Entrepreneurship: They can start and grow a business.

Health: They can access health information on any topic from sexuality to depression and get answers to questions that they would be embarrassed to ask an adult.

Because of the proliferation of smartphones and video games, which 80 percent of Canadian kids play, children as a school cohort are dating at older ages, having sex later, driving later, and moving out later, and have little taste for alcohol and smoking. (McKnight, 2015) These are excellent trends. The trade-off is that they spend more time alone in their rooms, connected to their mobile phones. Thus, inter-personal and socialization skills can take a hit. Family can counteract that by spending time together and scheduling outside family social time. Declare some screen-free zones and times, like meal time, to gather together, socialize, and enjoy each other’s company. Social media can also be brutal to children’s self-esteem, so open communication with supportive parents and siblings is critical in keeping peer stress tolerable and not toxic. Screens have value, but children also need face-to-face relationships in the three-dimensional, physical world. Like all technology, games and social media are tools and how we use them can be beneficial or detrimental. Balance is key.

Excerpted from Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content, By Judy Arnall

Available at Chapters, Barnes and Noble and an independent bookstore near you.

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