Child-centric, child-directed, unschooling, free learning, speed learning, … there are so many names which try to explain what we do, when not coercing children to fit into preconceived curricula and plans. I’ve never been fond of terms which include “school” – even unschool – because what we do isn’t about school or not-school. It’s like “driving a not-Ford” or un-Fording. Who defines an automobile, bicycle, or horse as the negation of a Ford? “Natural learning” or “organic learning” or “self-directed learning” or “child-centric learning” come closer to what I intend. These all emphasize working with the nature of the child, as opposed to coercing the child into unnatural behaviors.
Some of these terms may seem passive. It helps to recall the early days and months of infants’ lives – when they are so obviously, so joyfully, so actively engaged with and learning from their world. It helps to remember that parents, too, are learning. I recently learned of the Reggio Emilia Approach, which emphasizes something important: teachers (and parents) as co-learners, as partners; as people who work with, rather than on the child. You as a parent, if you are attentive and observant, will learn more than you can imagine from your child.
Why do it this way? Why not the simple, direct, step-by-step linear approach favored by most schools? Won’t this ensure that “nothing is missed?” I can almost say that the reverse is true. If we’re trying to push “today’s lesson, page 24 in the textbook,” it is quite possible that the child learns almost nothing, because “today’s lesson” almost never fits that child on that day. It has already been mastered, or is too far ahead, or is incomprehensible because the prerequisites were not well-understood. So many children struggle more than they ought, because the assembly line does not recognize them as unique individuals, does not match them, does not adapt to their particular resources and needs.
By contrast, we wonder how it is possible for some children to graduate from college while still prepubescent, or for others to be math or chess prodigies at extremely young ages. How can a child cover “years” of arithmetic in 20 hours, or before the age of 6, except by running full speed at their own pace, rather than the snail-like pace of the typical assembly line? Maybe we should emphasize the positive: what we do is “speed learning.” Or, as another post of mine put it, the slow way – playing with and absorbing and enjoying the foundations – is the fast way.
As a recent comment on the Whole Life Unschooling FB page remarked, “We’re ninja learners. Learning just pops out of nowhere.”