a community for home and unschooled kids

“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgments of parenting peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” –Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Thats what we are doing. Bravely and confidently we are swimming up-stream, embarking on a new adventure for educating children. We are doing this because we truly believe that the current systems of mainstream education are fundamentally ‘not working’ for the diversity of all children. There comes a time when it become necessary to move away from what has been done before if it doesn’t innately feel right to be moving in that direction anymore.

“Today most people think of childhood and schooling as indelibly entwined. We identify children by their grade in school. We automatically think of learning as work, which children must be forced to do in special workplaces, schools, modeled after factories. All this seems completely normal to us, because we see it everywhere. We rarely stop to think about how new and unnatural all this is in the larger context of human evolution and how it emerged from a bleak period in our history that was marked by child labor and beliefs in children’s innate sinfulness. We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.” –Peter GrayFree to Learn

We are beginning a community for home and unschoolers to come together. We are creating such a place  ourselves because there are no such facilities for kids to regularly be together, who are on these new paradigms of education. And even though, I’m referring to this path of education as ‘new’, it’s really not ‘new’ at all. Free to learn schools have been around and successfully operating since The Summerhill School was first founded in 1921.  This model of schooling, whilst now is still seen as ‘radicle’ and alternative, is what I believe our futuristic education models will be based on and the direction they will begin to move in, eventually.  Why do i think this? Because there is a movement towards this. Parents are not content with the old system because children are not content within the system. It has become clear to those ready to see it, just how much children have outgrown the system already and how exceptionally hard it is to keep themselves ‘happy’ within it. This is why they can’t sit still. This is why we have more diagnosed ADHD now than ever before. If children were free to move, speak, play, eat, rest, run and even shout as their bodies needed,  ADHD wouldn’t be a problem. It wouldn’t need to be medicated. It probably wouldn’t even be noticed. Then the masses of children referred to as having “abnormal behaviours” thereupon become “normal” children once again. If you believe there is such thing that is.

Our idea for education is free from conformity, free from authoritarian fear based learning. Our community will fundamentally from a grass-roots level wholeheartedly trust children in their abilities to know what it is they need to learn about  without being restricted by the confinements of their age. Much the same way we trust toddlers will begin to talk by themselves. We don’t sit them down for hours of instruction, to teach them the spoken word. We just live, talk and play with them, and we instinctively know that the words will form by themselves and in time will be mastered, when they are ready of course.   Children learn better through experience, most would agree with this. If you can offer children experience in what interests them, they not only will learn about it more authentically but more important it facilitates the way for a love of learning. So much of ‘mainstream’ school is, consciously or not working against this philosophy.

“Human beings have been sharing information and skills, and passing along to their children whatever they knew, for about a million years now. Along the way they have built some very complicated and highly skilled societies. During all those years there were very few teachers in the sense of people whose only work was teaching others what they knew. And until very recently there were no people at all who were trained in teaching, as such. People always understood, sensibly enough, that before you could teach something you had to know it yourself. But only very recently did human beings get the extraordinary notion that in order to be able to teach what you knew you had to spend years being taught how to teach.” -John Holt, Teach Your Own

There is a saying “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” [Tony Morrison] Thats what we are doing. We are rewriting the story. We will do this because we are a small part of an important movement that knows we must because it has become vitally necessary for the well being of our children.

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How Children Fail

…thus  we find ourselves trying to poke certain facts, recipes, and ideas down the gullets of every child in school, whether the morsels interest him or not, and even if there are other things that he is much more interested in learning.

These ideas are absurd and harmful nonsense. We will not begin to have true education or real learning in our schools until we sweep this nonsense out of the way. Schools should be a place where children learn what they most want to know. The child that wants to know something remembers it and uses once he has it; the child who learns something to please or appease someone else forgets it when the need for pleasing or the danger of not appeasing is past. This is why children quickly forget all but a small part of what they learn in school. It is of no use or interest to them; they do not want, or expect, or even intend to remember it. The only difference between bad and good students in this respect is that the bad students forget right away while the  good students are careful to wait until after the exam. If for no other reason, we could well afford to throw out most of what we teach in school because the children throw out almost all of it anyway. John Holt, How children Fail, 1964

I know, I am unrelenting in my passion towards changing the way children are educated. I also realise that the very idea that the school system may not be working for our children, is just too hard to even contemplate for most. We have come to rely on the ‘system’. We have come to expect that this is the way, the only way our children can learn, therefore be educated, and have a successful life. This system has become so normal and so accepted, that to veer in any other direction is met with disturbing scrutiny. Nevertheless, many brave ones are tempting the path, and heading themselves towards uncharted waters.  We are a part of this movement. Not just because we love Autism too much to conform it out of our children but because we are simply not willing to conform our children to fit a broken system.  We are moving towards empowering our children rather than suppressing them. Moving in a direction of allowing, rather than controlling their minds and bodies.  Trusting that they have the ability to learn what it is they require to know at any given time. Much the same way we trusted that they would recognise us when they were born, or learn to walk and talk without our forced instruction.  Most important, understanding that they are not here to fulfil any requirements of my ideas of what they should be doing with their lives. This is not a new notion. There has been a quiet progressive movement towards this for a really long time. A.S.Neill founded Summerhill School, the first ‘free to learn’ school, in 1921 and the Sudbury Vally School in Massachusetts has been successfully running since 1968. Many more have been successfully modelled on this idea of educating.  The idea of allowing children to be free to be who they are, embrace what they want, and learn in a way that comes naturally and supports their thriving, is not really as radicle as it may seem. There continues to be an unassuming movement towards freeing children from the grips of the industrialised school systems. This unyielding movement is steadily growing and I assume will keep on growing as parents become less and less contented in allowing the detrimental failings that schools are  having on large proportions of children.

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true learning

“One is that school and society have programmed us to think our personal worth depends on how we are evaluated by others, and that our status is defined by our rank within an institution or society. Another very important habit that needs eliminating is thinking: ‘Life is a process of graduating from one externally-provided program to the next.’ – Conrad P. Pritscher, Einstein and Zen 

I am at ease with my children taking the lead when it comes to what they are wanting to do. I simply don’t feel that there should be any rush towards any one objective that needs to be reached in a particular time frame. I am not holding their development to any preconceived ideas of what they should know. This is not the way i have always moved. For the most part i have been a follower of the ‘normalised route’ when it comes to educating children.  Had it not been for the witnessing of the unfolding of my older children’s educational experience, it’s highly likely that i still would be following the more ‘traditional’ paths so many are accustomed to. Are we primitive in our thoughts about this process? Are we at the stage where we are willing to question it yet?  Or, does is it seem too big, too hard to fathom, that possibly this system that is so heavy relied upon and trusted, could in fact be far more detrimental to our children’s spirits and abilities to learn than we are willing to admit.  I’m not entirely sure what exactly or who rather that we are entrusting them to anymore.  It seems it is somewhat a political game, and is far from focused on the intricate details of what is required for children to thrive in their learning spaces. Our children are spending the greater part of their childhood growing within this system. It would be somewhat naive, if you believe that during this time, that they’re not being deeply shaped and affected by those who they are surrounded by in their day to day lives.  The greater part of children’s productive waking time is spent within the school domain, and as unsettling as it may be, the predominate influence in regards to what children believe about themselves and their abilities to learn has become that of their educators and peers. Children are taught very quickly that mistakes are wrong to make, that making mistakes will amount to failure, and failure inevitably is how they will learn to feel about themselves. This message is undeniable and very difficult for a parent to convince them of otherwise when the message is reinforced again and again over long periods of time. It’s a familiar pattern in modern teaching now, it’s become normalised and is somewhat expected.  Whether or not we should be accepting it for our children, is the question that we should be asking now.

“Once compulsory systems of state-run schools were established, they became increasingly standardized, both in content and in method. For the sake of efficiency, children were divided into separate classrooms by age and passed along, from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line. The task of each teacher was to add bits of officially approved knowledge to the product, in accordance with a preplanned schedule, and then to test that product before passing it on to the next station.” –Peter Gray, Free to learn

 

educate education

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. ” Albert Einstein

 

raising outrageously tall poppies of a new kind

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I am outrageously passionate about learning but not so passionate about schooling.

I have wild ones, that i am certain of.  Anyone who knows them well enough would find it hard to disagree.  It is true, that my little ones have the freedom to be as they are in all of their delightful and not so delightful shades. And it is true as a mother that i have recognised early what will and will not work for them without greatly effecting their inherent selves.  This has taken us on a path that is  undoubtably moving us away from any of the traditionalism that is usually expected right now at their ages. However, I am no longer really interested into moulding them into something that resembles little to who they are, for the sake of somebody elses idea of what they should be doing. The more I leave them alone, to follow their own guidance, the more i am recognising that they are always discovering and learning exactly what they need to be at precisely the right time for them. I cannot imagine these two little ones thriving in traditional school setting. My youngest would without a doubt conquer her experience if she was to embark on the mainstream schooling path.  She would surly learn quickly to play by the rules and manipulate the system well. I’m certain she would challenge where she deemed necessary and the probability of this occurring more often than not would be high.  She would absolutely, unquestionably survive the system. Except, to survive I’m afraid is no longer adequately enough. In every other part of our lives we are living truthfully, not measuring ourselves or abilities by any other person or methodical method. We are not comparing, justifying or compromising our selves. Most importantly we are not trying to please any one else’s expectations. And so much of education has been built around this calibre. Children are forever trying to please, do it the right way, the way that gets them the most praise and recognition. For what?  They are taught early that what other people think, matters more than their own innate inclinations and i wonder is that really what we are wanting our children to believe? That they don’t matter as much as the one who stands before them. The one who has taken a more conventional path, the one who is older, the one who has a higher degree, the one who has a larger bank balance, the one who was born male?  This familiar notion could go on forever.  Disregarding our own guidance to please somebody elses ideas for what they deem to be right.  I’m clear that my children were not born to please me or anyone else for that matter. Their lives are theirs to mould into what ever shape they desire, even at the ages of four and five. Their ‘wildness’ is inherently their own. Following this path of learning and living has been easier and come more naturally than any other orchestrated path we have followed before. This path is natural learning, a more natural education. It allows my children to show up fully in the truth of who they are. They don’t need to hide behind masks or pretend to be or like anything that they don’t.  It teaches them to speak their truth, and maybe when they are older they will be less afraid of this, especially if their notions lend themselves towards raising a little controversy.