What Unforced Learning Looks Like

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

One of the biggest misconceptions about children is that they would not learn unless they were forced. When I look at our life, that could not be further from the truth.

We do not force learning. Our children don’t go to school and we don’t create a school-like environment at home.

We unschool.

That means we support their learning, we’re present, we’re there to answer questions, we provide an inspiring environment, we’re committed to exploring the world with them, but they are in charge of what they learn and when.

The majority of people seem to think that means that inevitably kids will end up watching TV all day or *gasp* ‘just‘ playing. Don’t even get me started on that.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

This week we’ve been home all week as there was illness going around our group of friends. We decided to cancel events for the week and get rid of it, instead of risking spreading it around more! So we really were pretty much ‘stuck at home’ this week. Despite the name ‘homeschooling’ this is actually a really uncommon occurrence for us. We usually have at least two whole days with friends.

Sometimes the best way to challenge assumptions is to live your life accordingly and show people a different way. And so, I wanted to show you what our week looked like. It seemed like a week with ‘nothing’ planned was the perfect opportunity to illustrate the point. Kids want to learn, they seek it out. With the help of a supportive and interested adult, they explore the most interesting things!

Here’s what they got up to just this week. Or at least, everything I can remember…

Went to the shops and spent some of their money on lego.

Built a lot of lego.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Made a weather station and checked temperature, precipitation, and wind direction daily.

Started an online cooking course.

Practiced cooking.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Worked out how to use a new microscope.

Made slides of saliva and hair to look at under the microscope.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Watercolour + salt paintings.

Completed some pages of maths problems in a book.

Swam in the dam.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Read aloud to others in the family every day.

Completed the online cooking course.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

More cooking.

Made a mechanical sweeper from a kiwico box.

Made an hydraulic claw and experimented, troubleshooted, and customised it.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Practiced dance routines.

Attended 10 dance classes.

Learned how to measure electricity with a voltmeter.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Went to Netball training.

Observed and cared for frogs.

Watched an online class on poisonous and venomous animals.

Finished an online watercolour class.

More lego construction.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Played minecraft.

Worked on designing a ‘club’ and writing a post about it to invite friends.

Researched the Grey Wolf.

Wrote a questionnaire about the Grey Wolf for club members to fill out.

Finished the audiobook ‘Nevermoor’.

Planned club activities like nature clean up days and raising money for conservation.

Researched the cost of printing club t-shirts, badges, or stickers.

Made up a schedule for working on flexibility.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

Joined Jane Goodall’s roots and shoots program.

Big girls started reading The Secret Seven together.

Went to see a Netball match.

Designed, made, and served an original dessert.

What Unforced Learning Looks Like

And the best part? When I sat down to make a list of everything I could remember, I was so shocked! That seems like a lot! And yet, our life feels relaxed and easy. It makes all the difference when all your activities are self motivated and self chosen. Then it doesn’t feel like obligation and commitment. It just feels like inspired kids living their life and it’s the greatest to be a part of that with them.

We live together, we’re interested in each other, we’re connected and supportive, and the learning just happens. Amongst all this was hours and hours of play, although they wouldn’t distinguish that from the ‘learning’.

The myth that children would not want to learn unless forced is untrue and offensive. Provide the right conditions (i.e. without time limits, coercion, testing, competition, standardization, and lack of autonomy), and learning is as natural as breathing. Children are passionate and inspired and seek to understand the world, unless something has come along to interfere with that natural desire.

4 thoughts on “What Unforced Learning Looks Like

  1. You are very inspiring! But I don’t feel like I have the money to spend on half of those things. Do you get that box in the mail as a sponsor and all the online courses too? I feel very non creative so although I want to unschool I feel like I don’t provide the best environment to do that? Do you sit down and plan out some ideas to get out for them each week?

  2. My biggest question is how, with unschooling, do you help the kids achieve success when it comes to college or university entrance exams such as ACTs and SATs? There is a certain division of learning, even a certain level, that cannot be reached by play. I know for a fact that I would not have completed algebra 1, let alone 2 if I had not been required. Even with that “minimal” amount of maths training I could have done far better on those portions of the ACT. If we want to prepare our children the best we can, how do we reconcile this?

    • I will be curious to follow Rachel as her kids get older, but I have a story that partly answers your question.

      I have gone to visit some extremely progressive project-based schools that are not unlike the environment Rachel describes and which go through high school. The kids at that school do very well on the entrance exams and they do it by using self study with tools like books, internet, and Khan academy. Of course the teachers are there for support to. For the question of *why* they do it (eg without force) the kids themselves told me simply: it was because they wanted go to college to study x and become a y and they understood the sat was a requirement.

      These were 11th and 12th graders, knowing themselves and what they wanted enough to decide this path and execute it. It was so inspiring.

      I’m not myself brave enough to go completely unschool with my kids (at least not yet) but I think the most important and inspiring thing that comes out of these methods is helping kids get in touch with their own interests, abilities, and agency asap. Rather than waiting until you’re out in the world to figure out what you want to do with your life, you’re learning about yourself, building confidence in your ability to learn and get what you want, right from day 1.

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