A little look into my latest publication… Thank you Taproot Magazine for publishing this personal project. <3
I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.
My journey to unschooling began seven years ago when I was pregnant with my first of three children. Homeschooling had always been on my radar, and I was feeling more and more attracted to it as my husband and I began exploring our parenting and education ideals. A dear friend of mine, a homeschooling mother of two and the person whom I went to with all my parenting and homeschooling questions, mentioned “Unschooling” to me one day. I was completely taken aback by the concept, fully believing the generally accepted idea that structured learning is the most effective method.
The concept of letting a child “just play and explore” for learning is radical, and it struck me as probably even irresponsible. This friend informed me that it had taken her quite some time to come around to the idea and she believed that, in time, I would as well. First I read a number of books that solidified my leaning toward homeschooling, including Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. Then I began leafing through a series of books by John Holt, who initially coined the term “unschooling”: How Children Learn, How Children Fail, and Escape from Childhood among others. I was shocked by how deeply his truths resonated with mine, and how articulately he illustrated the learning process of children and why we as parents should reevaluate our idea of what “education” really is.
As Holt describes it, education really happens when children are allowed to continue the curiosity-driven learning that all children engage in naturally before schooling begins. There is no curriculum in Unschooling; rather, Unschooling is an environment where children are being encouraged to ask questions and parents are facilitating the natural interests of their children. Children learn about what they are interested in and are free to not learn things they have no interest in. The idea is that, when children are interested, they are fully engaged in learning. Unschooling can look different from family to family, as it is child-led: some children chose to incorporate worksheets or part-time school while others choose to learn exclusively through some combination of games, nature exploration, books, and/or a variety of other resources and activities. There is no coercion or persuasion, just free will. The parents’ role then is to help facilitate learning by providing the materials, the support, an the opportunities to ‘jump in’. Sometimes simple encouragement is needed to try something new, other times children might need help finding the materials or local mentors they need to continue exploring their current interests. An unschooling parent is not a passive role, but rather an engaged and supportive one.
Over the past 6 years, I’ve thrown myself into learning all I can about Unschooling; I’ve read books, watched documentaries and TED talks, listened to podcasts, engaged in relevant conversations, and become involved in the daily lives of others on the same journey. This is what learning looks like for me, and I am thrilled that my children have been able to watch me go through this process of questioning, research, and self-evaluation. My own Unschooling journey has forced to me to question my assumptions and has challenged all my strongly held opinions about not only education and learning but also curiosity, childhood, and parenting.
I often use my camera as a learning tool, so I started a photographic project as a way to learn more about Unschooling: what it looks like and what it feels like for a variety of families at different stages and ages. I was expecting to meet interesting families and have dynamic conversations with the parents, which I did. What I wasn’t expecting was the conversations I had with the children and young adults; before I began, most young children I had encountered didn’t have much desire to engage in conversation with adults, let alone start discussions themselves. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself discussing the environment, education, health, science, politics, and passions with these students of life. They let me into their lives with open hearts and minds and showed me a path for learning that I will be forever grateful for. This project has been an integral part of my Unschooling education that I plan to continue for some time.
Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.
~Dr. Maria Montessori