When you become an unschooling parent, there is an extra thick layer of armor that you must instantly apply to protect yourself from the judgement of others. Every unschooler will tell you the same. If your family chooses not got to school or recreate school at home, there will inevitably be instances where well-meaning friends and family will engage with you and/or your children in a range of activities from gentle questioning to calling child services.
Mother culture runs deep and, for most folks, the idea of not teaching our kids a curriculum really does look like child abuse to them. Accusations will range from negligent, absent, insane, experimenting on them, and so on. Some people really just can’t comprehend what natural learning looks like, or that it would ever work in the “real world”.
I must admit, we’ve been really lucky. Most of our extended family look on with concern and maybe a little judgement but for the most part they seem to understand what we’re doing, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the approach.
However. We are currently facing an issue with one extended family member “taking the reigns” and trying to teach some core curriculum concepts to one of my sons. I’ve been unpacking all the feelings and asking all the questions around the discomfort that I’m experiencing in order to figure out how to support my kiddo the best in this particular situation. I have some very angry feelings about the lack of trust or the attempts to take over, but those are my issues to deal with. My son and I have talked about it together, weighed the negatives and positives, and tried to find the path of least resistance and least conflict.
I know this isn’t the last time that something like this will happen in our lives.
The mind-blowing part for me is all the prevailing theories around learning that suggest that we must learn core concepts at a specific age, regardless of whether they are rooted in practical application or even if the learner’s brain is ready to process and understand the concepts themselves! I could regale you with tales of knowledge that was forced into my head in school that never made sense, only to revisit those concepts as an adult and have them instantly click. I think most of us have these experiences.
Some might claim that the foundation laid in those early years was what set me up for success in the future. I believe that it’s much more likely that the circumstances were more ideal for learning rooted in practical application along with my brain being more ready to form connections and deeper understanding of the concepts I was learning about.
This is my understanding of natural learning: our brains gain more information about the world around us and then allow us to form natural connections as we understand more concepts. What’s more: because natural learning is based on interest and passion, it’s more likely the our brains will become engaged with the concepts being learned because we’re enjoying ourselves.
I believe in this approach to learning and trust it completely. It’s how I’ve learned as an adult, and this process has removed the utter pain and frustration that I remember from school years being force-fed information that I was not only uninterested in, but that I had to simply memorize for tests and grades rather that actually comprehend.
Natural learning makes so much sense. We all learn based on interest and need. Adults usually only learn naturally. Why is it so hard for people to realize that this is how kids should be learning as well?
As for my well-meaning relatives, well, you can’t win them all. I’m just happy that I can provide a space for my kids to commiserate with me, share their concerns with me, and work through these challenges together.