I could talk forever about all the things the unschooled children I know are learning. I could tell you how in the photo above they were playing ‘wild survival kids’. They had built a fire, lit it with their flint and steel, whittled sticks and toasted marshmallows, started building a shelter, pretended to be animals, made a fishing rod to catch imaginary fish, and who knows what else. I could tell you how they also read poetry together that day, how they participated in research on pollinators in Australia, how they resolved disagreements, negotiated, problem solved, worked together. There were endless learning opportunities.
But people don’t care. All they see is children not in school. Not sitting behind desks, not completing worksheets, not being evaluated. They can’t possibly be learning what they are ‘supposed’ to be learning if they are doing it in any other way than the only way we are familiar with, right?
Firstly, wrong. They are learning it all, and so much more. They are learning it joyfully, they are learning it meaningfully, they are retaining it because it is relevant, and they don’t have to give up their rights for this education.
Secondly, you are right. There are some things they are not learning that children in school learn. I think about it whenever I watch them together. But you are mistaken if you think I am worried about that. I watch them and I think about all they are missing, and I am so very grateful.
While the majority of children are sitting in school learning all they are ‘supposed’ to, our kids are missing so much.
They aren’t learning to doubt themselves, that they are not good enough and always need to be better, that they must focus on the future instead of enjoying the present. They don’t worry about people constantly testing them, measuring, and comparing them against others.
They haven’t been led to believe that academics are more important than creativity, or that being different is a bad thing. They don’t know that learning is work to be avoided. They don’t believe that anyone knows better what they need to learn than them. They still think they are in charge of their learning, and that they have the ability to learn anything they want to. They ask their own questions and look for answers, instead of waiting to be told what they should do. They know there is more than one way to solve a problem.
They haven’t been conditioned to need bribery or coercion to learn. Their intrinsic motivation hasn’t been dampened. They haven’t even learned there is a difference between learning and play.
They don’t expect people to be unkind to them, to judge them by their appearance, or that they will be picked on for standing out from the crowd. They don’t look to others for validation, nor put others down in order to build themselves up. They’re not learning that their self-worth and self-concept is dependent on their grades or peers.
They haven’t learnt that adults are more important, that their needs and wants don’t matter, that they don’t get a say in what happens to them. They expect to be taken seriously, to decide what they want to do, and learn.
Yes, they have missed a lot of the learning that comes along with school. But they are far from disadvantaged by it. They are empowered.
Just because it doesn’t look like ‘school’, doesn’t mean it’s not learning. In fact, without the restrictions of compulsory schooling, without spending every day sitting at a desk waiting to be force-fed information, the door opens to much greater learning. And even more importantly, they don’t need to sacrifice who they are or their self-confidence for an ‘education’.
Unschooled children are inspired, passionate, self-motivated, confident, creative learners. The fact that their learning looks vastly different from schooled learning is a huge positive. School is incredibly limiting and detrimental, both academically, and socially. If you’re going to worry about children missing out on learning opportunities, you’re focusing on the wrong group.