Do you work hard and more effectively at a challenge when it is something you want do, or something you are told to do? It’s a rhetorical question of course, and perhaps a silly one. We all probably realize that our most productive times are when we are engaged and excited about whatever we are doing.
It doesn’t matter if that activity is personal or work or education related. If we enjoy it, we want to do it. And the resulting self-motivation spurs us on to our best work. This holds true at all ages and phases of life, from infants learning to crawl or talk or self feed, to much older people who are learning a new skill or hobby or profession, or simply researching and exploring new ideas out of curiosity.
Self-motivation is the key not only to a great deal of success in life, but it is also, quite naturally, the key to effective learning. Children and adults alike learn more effectively when they want to learn something. Although this truth is rarely implemented well in modern education settings, it’s certainly recognized in the field as a while. Enormous amounts of research have acknowledged the importance of exciting children about academic material so that they learn more effectively. Likewise in the business world numerous books have been penned about how to motivate worked to feel passionately about their job so that they will in turn become more productive.
Our world recognizes this truth of human nature, and it is this truth about how humans learn and succeed that forms the fundamental basis for Unschooling.
Unschooling, by removing structure and compulsion, allows children the freedom to explore what they are interested in – whatever they are interested in – be it traditional academic realms like reading and writing and mathematics, or pursuits less commonly recognized as learning endeavors; such as video games or computer science or LEGO building.
Children in turn respond by passionately pursuing their interests. In doing so they learn in remarkable and surprising ways, without developing the negative feelings about various subjects and realms of knowledge that so many products of modern education produce.
The process is great fun to watch in person. Before my family began Unschooling, I attempted to use a traditional homeschooling cirriculum with my children. Each day was planned out with a series of ‘academic’ tasks and activities. We worked on math and literacy skills, tracing letters and working out the sounds of letters. Our children still had plenty of free time during the day, as many homeschoolers do, but they absolutely hated the structure of forced learning.
And so, wanting our children to be happy and love learning, rather than making it a burden, we became Unschoolers. A year ago our eldest daughter announced that she wanted to learn to read. She threw herself into the project with gusto, spending time each day with myself or my wife laboriously reading through a couple of large My Little Pony and Disney Princess phonics readers. When she reached the end she started again and soon they became much easier for her.
Eventually she moved on to other early reader books and after only a few months began reading some simple chapter books. The rest of the process happened quickly and even more organically, as she read through progressively harder and more complex books. She’s devoured the works of Roald Dahl, E. B. White, James Howe, Robert O’Brien, and Ann Martin and Laura Goodwin. Mysteries, comedies, fantasies, non-fiction, realistic fictional and talking animal books, she voraciously reads them all.
Currently she’s spending her days in Oz, well into the third volume and showing no signs of slowing down. Her desk and shelves are covered with books and artworks and journals.
She has become a genuine bookworm not because she was forced to learn to read. She wasn’t. She was self-motivated because she wanted to be able to explore books and stories on her own, so she learned how to do it. It didn’t take long, it wasn’t stressful, and she had no negative feelings about books and literature. She’s not intimidated by long books or small fonts, or a lack of pictures because she’s confident in her own abilities. Rightly so.
This is what the best learning looks like. People who are passionate about acquiring skills or knowledge and taking the initiative to do it. And that is why we Unschool.
Check out more of The Dad Hatter’s Unschooling Primer: