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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Fear and Failure

He is not stupid. In spite of his nervousness and anxiety, he is curious about some things, bright, enthusiastic, perceptive, and in his writing highly imaginative. But he is literally, scared out of his wits. He cannot learn math because his mind moves so slowly from one though to another that the connections between them are lost. His memory does not hold what he learns, above all else because he wont trust it. Every day he must figure out, all over again, that 9 + 7 = 16, because how can he be sure that it has not changed, or that he has not made another endless series of mistakes? How can you trust any of your own thoughts when so many of them have proved to be wrong? I can see no kind of life for him unless he can break out of the circle of failure, discouragement, and fear in which he is trapped in. .. Worst of all, I’m not sure that we, his elders really want him to break out. It is no accident that this boy is afraid. We have made him afraid, consciously, deliberately, so that we might more easily control his behaviour and get him to do whatever we wanted him to do. ….They get bold and sassy; they may for a while try to give a had time to those adults who for so long have been giving them had time. So to keep him in his place, to please the school and his parents, I have to make him fearful again. The freedom of fear that i try to give from one hand I almost instantly take away with the other. What sense does this make? –John Holt, How Children Fail, 1962

Fear and Failure. I know this is not how we should be viewing our school system to be. However, it has been hard to see anything else that has been more unvarying than the fear and failure that has been systematically instilled into the belief system of my son during his ten years in the mainstream school system. I know there is nothing unique about our experience, that’s the sad truth about it.   We have been at a cross roads many times. Do we stay, do we to leave, do we try another school, only to return to the one that has had the greatest detriment of all. The one where, the reinforcing has become so great that there’s almost a complacency about it. What he has is a comfortable character there, he is well liked because he is a great person, but they’ve looked passed his innate potential because they have already successfully redefined it. I have watched the influences of the educators on my sons well-being over the years carefully. Trying to counteract the messages i could see being instilled and taking effect.  I have watched them change his mind on what he now believes to be true for himself. There will be so much undoing of school to do, when we finally make it and that is if we do. There has been little to no choice of this playing out any other way. An alternative way has never been an option that we have ever had the means to take. We have had to rely on and trust our State System. There simply is no choice for parents wanting to choose where their children should be educated if finances are playing a large component.  That is our system, and the fact is, schools are funded not children. Possibly the idea of funding children rather than schools would free up this predicament, and give parents the choice to choose the best education facility for their child’s unique learning style. Freedom of choice, is not what we have now. What we have now, is a system in such dire restraint that its powerfully failing Australian Children.

The idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorist, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self for filling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me ” if we didn’t make the children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” It is the creed of a slave. John Holt, How Children Fail

 

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

 

wetland adventures in Tootgarook

This special place is quietly tucked in between and behind urban development. It’s a place that will I imagine always remain an endangered species of its kind. It’s not greatly recognised or appreciated by a majority and even when trying to track down where to find this small existence, the local council where dumbfounded of its whereabouts.  With perseverance we did find it, and even before the onset of winter where the water levels will be high and the bio diversity will be flourishing, it was already truly captivating. We arrived to a symphony of frogs that lasted for about thirty continuous minutes, before coming to a complete silence as if it was a perfectly orchestrated concert for us. These are the small existences that may not out live us without us fighting for their survivals.  Ironically they would in hindsight out live humanity if it wasn’t for the perpetual threat of us.  There is no doubt that we will visit here often, and watch the changes that take place over the seasons. In a few months the wetlands will be high, and we will catch tadpoles and make frog habitats of our own, bringing new life and eco systems to our garden, all the while learning about this intricate detail that helps to weave our planet together.

 

 

thinking on tippy toes

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This is what i intrinsically believe learning to be for him.  Thinking requires immense bodily  movement. Walking, talking, bare feet and tippy toes.  Thought forms are  spoken out loud with tremendous enthusiasm and with repetition to anyone who is readily available to listen. He will do this until it makes picture perfect sense, to him. And sometimes it is absolutely necessary for him to move to higher spaces, where the air is somewhat clearer. Floor play is the preferred play way where chairs and tables are rarely sat in for extended periods of time and if they are he prefers not to sit down in the traditional sense. He moves to the freedom of how he is feeling and there are no forced days he is required to fit into. He is moving completely at will, and to the flow of himself.    Everything requires  a curious explanation with the discussion beginning first thing in the morning and continuing the entire day. There aren’t really any schedules or rules to follow, except eat when you are hungry, rest when you are tired, bathe when you’ve changed colour and if you can make it yourself, then you should.  This is what free learning for him means and as he embarks on his learning adventure, he won’t be constricted to rooms, spaces, furniture or shoes.  His body will remain as free to move with him as his mind is. He can think out loud, as loud as required without disturbing anyone. He can speak his thoughts as they arise without needing to pause and wait until appropriate discussion periods are allocated. This point is particularly important to note as often his thoughts and ideas that arise during conversation require additional verbalization for it to make sense to him and necessary if you are wanting him to retain the information for further learning at another stage. Often if waiting is required even for short moments, the ideas and the words chosen for the communication are unfortunately, usually lost.  His contribution to his learning is on going, and most importantly moves to his unique flow. He is learning to collaborate with people, not of just the same age and or development but from the many ages he is surrounded by. And like adults he choses who to engage with not by age but by the more natural laws that attract people to each other.    He is fortunate in not  being confined to only the experience of five year old minds. He partakes in the wild and expansive imaginations of his younger and older siblings, in a kind of play based learning that if acknowledged and rightly valued, should continue way past pre school years and will undoubtably continue to serve them all for the entirety of their lives. Materials that are usually phased out during the primary school years will most likely remain in our learning experience. We won’t be out growing our home corner, by the age of 6. Home Economics will grow and expand as he does. He will be able to learn math and operate the washing machine. We will learn about anything and everything that he arises interest in and we will learn it in a way that we have advanced to. There are few rules and no time limits allocated to any one subject. Everything can be interwoven and overlapped and expanded if there is freedom in learning.   I know, there are schools like this that exist. Learning environments that are willing to take the alternative way towards educating our children, one that nurtures individuality and inspires curiosity and most of all  values children’s innate ability to know what it is they are wanting to learn and know about at any given stage. And even though there are a few, it’s not many. And we are needing many. We are requiring this approach of educating to no longer be the alternative approach and  in retrospect only available to a handful of children but rather how unprecedented would it be to integrate this alternative way into the whole. And allow our children to truly lead the way in their learning abilities.