Sunday, April 25, 2010

life learning continued, and continuing

More on life learning…

Life learners…know that learning is not difficult, that people learn things quite easily if they’re not compelled and coerced, if they see a need to learn something, and if they are trusted and respected enough to learn it on their own timetable, at their own speed, in their own way. They know that learning cannot be produced in us and that we cannot produce it in others – no matter what age and no matter if we’re at school or at home.
Life learning happens independent of time, location or the presence of a teacher. It does not require mom or dad to teach, or kids to work in workbooks at the kitchen table from 9 to noon from September to June.

Life learning is learner driven. It involves living and learning – in and from the real world. It is about exploring, questioning, experimenting, making messes, taking risks without fear of ridicule, making mistakes and trying again.

Life learning does not involve memorized theory so much as it requires applying knowledge. And that often means moving around, talking, experimenting, thinking, jumping up and down...and sometimes appearing not to be doing anything at all. It allows flexibility, independence and freedom.

from Understanding Life Learning by Wendy Priesnitz from Life Learning Magazine

Life Learning

Life Learning is personalised, non-coercive, active, interest-led learning from life

Life Learning Magazine

This tagline, from Life Learning Magazine, really resonates with me. I've been thinking a lot about how learning happens, and how over and over again, I find that joy-driven and interest-led learning sticks with my kids infinitely more than any "lesson" I or others try to give. As I move more and more towards this kind of learning, I can see how at times, in my first year of homeschooling, I've unintentionally blocked my kids from learning with joy and self-motivation.

When we've sat down to "do" maths in workbooks, for example, the kids have barely made their way through a page. They have groaned, put their heads on the desks, and said, "How much more do we have to do?" But when we decide not to use the workbook, they say, "Can we play a maths game on the computer?" or my kids create a toy shop with made up money or create a board game involving dice and counting.

When I've given them a list of comprehension questions or a book report to write, about a book they have just read and loved, they have complained, resisted, sometimes even cried about not knowing how to answer a question. But at any given time in the day, I can ask, "So how are you liking that book?" and I'll get so much information, about the characters, the story, what they like and don't like about the book, that we might talk for an hour. In that conversation I can ask all the questions I might have put onto paper. But talking about the book is so much better, because it is a natural extension of our shared love for words. We are in it together.

Sometimes the workbooks and planned curriculum have taken us away from stated passions, like science. There have been times in the past where we've hardly touched it, because I've thought, "I have to get organised to do this. I have to get materials. It's got to be part of a larger 'plan.'" But when I started looking through a science package on Biology I'd recently downloaded, to see if there were any fun labs we might like to do, the kids wanted to see what I was reading. That led to us right then doing two of the labs from the package, lying on the trampoline outside looking at living and non-living things in our back yard. That led to us buying art journals from the local shops and my son "working" into the night. He drew a title page, stuck in copies of the information from the labs, wrote a page summary of what he'd learned and drew some great cartoons about "life processes." He said, "I love this, Mum. I can't wait to do more."

When I've given the kids the freedom to build their days their own way, they invent, draw, imagine, read, create, play. They invent machines and marble runs, draw detailed pictures of animals they've read about, imagine themselves inside elaborate worlds with distinct characters, dive into fiction and pore over information books, create collages, cartoons and board games, play science, maths, and literacy games on the computer.

As I begin to understand what life learning is, for us, the more it feels like the path we need to take, and that in fact, we've already begun taking.

Finally, I don't think embracing life learning prevents me from being part of my kids' learning experience. I don't think it prevents me from making suggestions, or putting things in front of my kids that they might not have known about otherwise. I don't give my kids unlimited time on the computer, so they don't spend the hours I do, looking for books, science and maths websites, geography and history websites, educational games, and other cool stuff. So when I find something they might like, I tell them about it.

Or perhaps I'll notice that one (or both) kids are really interested in animals, plants and how life happens, and I'll research and find a way for them to have access to the information, even if the kids haven't specifically asked to study "Biology." When we did the Biology labs, for me it was still life learning, because a) the kids had expressed the desire to do science, b) in that moment, they wanted to participate, and c) they participated with joy and with no coercion or sense of expectation from me.

What a revelation it is, to find I love homeschooling more the less I lead, the more we are a team, and the more I let my children show me the way!

Monday, April 19, 2010

give give give

I was just looking at Sandra Dodd's website and there she has written the "formula" on how to unschool. It is tongue in cheek, but ultimately very moving. What she says applies not just to unschoolers but to all parents, I think. What she says to do, is give.
If you want to measure, measure generously. If you want to give, give generously. If you want to unschool, or be a mindful parent, give, give, give. You'll find after a few years that you still have everything you thought you had given away, and more.

So many people say, "How do you do it? I couldn't. I'd need time for myself." When I began homeschooling, I received a lot of responses from people who said, "But what about your writing?", and "What about time for you?" I thought this might be an issue too, but wanted to homeschool more than anything. So I put time for me on the backburner. In the beginning, I put all my energy into "teaching" my kids, and yes, I found little time for myself. But what I found as the year passed was that the things I loved, were the things my kids loved too.

"Time for me" used to involve riding my bike alone, going for a swim or bushwalk, writing and reading books. Well, guess what I do (and have actually done for years) with my kids! It is wonderful, sharing my passions with them. And as the year has passed, I found that the more we embraced homeschooling and the giving that involved, the more responsive and supportive my children became. So that when I say now, "I'm going to do some writing," or I simply sit at the computer to work, the kids are interested and excited about what I am doing. I am leading by example, showing my kids that I have interests too.

I believe, and believe passionately, that if you give, as Sandra says, and give with all your heart, with no expectation of receiving something in return, good things will happen to you—they won't be able to help themselves. You will receive such a sense of love, from your children, for yourself, and you will appreciate and be sensitive to the world around you because you are putting love first, and giving first. When you give with all your heart, you feed your spirit.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I've been homeschooling for a year now. A whole year! How'd that happen? I'm still feeling around, finding the homeschooling methods or philosophies that ring true for me. Some days I feel like an unschooler, through and through! Other days I am attracted to more structured methods, with leanings towards Charlotte Mason or Classical education. What seems to work for me is a mingling of many methods, usually prefaced by what my children want to learn. And this is always affected by whether they feel like "learning" in that moment, and how, in that moment, they are open to learning. Some days a workbook or lesson plan is exactly the structure my kids need; other days the only answer is the beach!

What I have realised above everything is that I want my children to have an education based on respect. I also want their education to have a global perspective. I want them to actively seek peace and have compassion for the earth and all living things. I want them to always treat others as they would want to be treated, with honesty and kindness. And I want them to like themselves.

The rest is just "stuff," just the stuff you pass through to move forward, time always moving, and you moving, pushing or simply waiting, breath held, to see what happens next.