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Why can't learning look like this?

(Post three of the The Adventure of Learning series.)

One of the fundamental principles I believe about home education is that we as parents are active participants in the learning. Education is not something we do to our kids, or even provide for our kids, it's something we are all engaged in, all the time.

The most obvious is when we learn alongside our children, studying the same material they do as we teach it to them. We also learn when our children teach us what they have learned. So much of my homeschool learning has been of this variety.

When my kids are passionate about something, they study it, and they tell me about it. (You could formally call this "narration". Sometimes you may choose to write down what your kids are telling you and spend time talking about that, asking if what you wrote was what they were trying to communicate. These interest-led conversations "count" as writing and are the precursors to children doing their own writing.)

The other kind of learning, and the one I want to discuss in this post, is the learning we do on our own - as individuals, not necessarily as "homeschool parents". I can't extricate myself from being a homeschool parent, that's just who I am in this stage of life. But I am also a person, Renee, and I learn for my own sake, to achieve my own purposes and reach my own goals.

This kind of learning, the kind I do for me, is as important in our homeschool as the learning I do to support my children. In fact, the learning I do for me is a key piece of the interest-led, lifelong learning homeschool philosophy. How can it not be? How do we teach our children that learning is an ongoing process, something that they will apply themselves to their whole lives, if we aren't actively engaged in learning something?

What has my learning looked like over the years?

Here's a few things I've studied in the past ten years or so.

  • Guitar. I taught myself how to play and took a few lessons from friends. (I haven't played for a couple years.)
  • Organic gardening & herbal remedies. Self study and practice (just doing it) and some mentoring relationships with gardening/farming friends.
  • Knitting & Crochet. A few lessons to start, books and practice. I'm not very good at either and get easily frustrated.
  • Green living. I had to study this since I didn't grow up learning these skills, not many children of the '80s did.
  • Plant-based cooking. I think this is the one I've studied and practiced the most! I had a couple real life mentors in this but mostly everything was learned from books and then online.
  • Photography. Online instruction and tutorials, a few hardcopy books, lots of practice.
  • Soapmaking. I read books, did it myself and from my own experiences feel confident enough to teach others.
  • Writing. I still have so much to learn but I keep doing it, every day.
  • Blogging. I have studied not just the writing but also networking, marketing, and html code. To this end I have formed relationships, read books, and studied other bloggers.

I've also studied a lot as related to my job as a homemaker; organization, money management and budgeting are a few things that come to mind. And of course motherhood and marriage are my ongoing life studies. I read books, seek mentors and learn every day, mostly through trial and error it seems, how to be a good mom and partner.

Many of these things have shown up in my blogging since part of my learning is sharing with others, usually just at the edge of my growth curve. Remember what I said about narration, near the beginning of this post? Part of my own learning is teaching what I know to someone else.

When you've taught what you know to someone else, you truly own that knowledge and experience. You have completed the cycle of learning, if there is such a thing. Then you start over again with something new!

I'm going to ask you a question now and I'm not going to answer it. It's just for you to think about.

Why can't our kids learning look like this also?

You'll notice how none of the things I've listed above are broken down into subjects like history, science, math, fine art, language arts, etc. But I guarantee you I studied all of those arbitrary subjects in pursuing my interests. Speaking of which, those arbitrary subjects drive me crazy! The only time we think of learning in those terms is for 12 years of our life, or maybe 16 or 18 depending how much post-secondary education you get. Real life is not separated by subject.

The skills and experiences I listed above are things I learned because I wanted and needed to learn those things to reach a goal of some kind. This is self-motivated, interest-led learning.

One of the arguments against interest-led learning is that it's not practical. Learning what interests you doesn't prepare you for real life. Huh? This one always stumps me. I'm a real person living in the real world. This is how I learn. Why does it have to look different for my children?

Like I said, I'm not answering this question for you, just asking it to make you think.

One of the causes for tension in a homeschool environment is that we apply a different standard of study, a different method of learning, to our children than the one we model ourselves.

Another cause of tension, and a real joy-sucker, is that we don't recognize the learning in our own lives (or worse, don't pursue any, which I simply can't imagine because if you're not learning, you're not living). Therefore, we stress out about how our kids are going to learn all they need to know when what we actually need to do is teach through our example. Here's a scary thought - you're modeling how to learn whether you know it or not. Why not be intentional about what you're communicating?

I actually started this post to write about what we model for our children in our own learning. Everything I just shared was the intro that morphed into its own post. So stay tuned for part two: what they learn when you study.

I know what you're thinking (because I have wrestled with these questions myself for years), "What about the basic skills they need to actually learn what they want to know later in life?" I'm going to get to that, one day. Or you can call me directly to talk about it at your convenience.

And of course the big Kahuna question, "But what about college?" Seriously, everyone always asks about this like this is the goal of living - to go to college, get a good job (have you noticed those are hard to find these days?), find a spouse, buy a house, and pay that mortgage (hopefully) for most of your adult life. And then one day (if you've followed the program) you can retire well so you can start living the life you really want.

Wake up folks. Start dreaming bigger. College is one path, not the path. And an interest-led education does not preclude college. I hope to show you this a bit in my next post.

See you there.

27 February 13

Comments

I loved that last part "Wake

I loved that last part "Wake up people... college is one path, not the path..."

Definitely. I see a lot of common threads in our education philosophies, even when they don't play out in the same exact ways. The underlying philosophy seems to be quite similar while the paths are not always in sync.

OoOh, this type of stuff just

OoOh, this type of stuff just gets me going. I love 'having conversations' about this with others, or reading about it, and thinking about it. It really is a paradigm shift, and not one that many people even *want* to put the thought into to think about, because the other way is easy and routine and set out. I am excited to read what you have coming.

I never thought twice about going to college, because I was a good student and it was (mostly) paid for by scholarship. I was the type of kid who was working 20 hours a week, along with taking college courses at age 16 and up, because I could prioritize my time really, really well (and I DID have a great social life, too!). Not all teenagers can do that, but since I knew what I wanted to study when I was 17, I never once thought to change my major, and I loved studying those 4 years (really could have done without the subjects that bored me, though), and because I met my husband in college, definitely no regrets! ;) I basically look back at college and smile because I was paid to read 4 years of amazing books!

I did always want to go into the Peace Corps (my best friend ended up actually doing this, I was married by the time I hit sophmore college year), but travel and cultural knowledge is still one of our family's goals, and I have no doubt we will be able to travel/serve/WOOOF it in just a few years when my youngest is a little older and can be stretched a little more.

My husband, however, had the exact opposite experience with college. He hated it, never did his homework, and still managed to get low As or high Bs as grades because he mathematically figured out the best grade he could get for doing the least amount of work. This still cracks me up. He would ace calculus tests at age 17 without even studying! He was so bored, and he did not see it helping him in the long run job-wise. He dropped out after 1.5 years and still hates that he took out a student loan. He is very good at what he does, and makes a great wage for our family, and he just turned 27. I doubt he'll ever go 'back to college' unless it would be an option that his company would pay for his (slowly) earning his degree.

We have decided we will only encourage our kids to go to college IF that's what they want to do, or they need higher education for their path, like medical related or something. Even then, we're not paying for much (if anything) for a degree. I am seriously amazed how many families think it is their duty to pay for college and one parent takes up a full time job (or second job) just to pay for the one child's college education. Although I graduated college 5 years ago, the tuition increases at the time were mind-boggling, even for 'in-state' pricing. I can only imagine how horribly unaffordable it will be when my kids are older.
Sarah M

For some people, going to

For some people, going to college IS part of the dream (it was for me). My husband and I both loved our University experience mostly b/c we travelled, learned new languages, met people from other parts of the world (including each other), etc. Most of the courses were boring and useless, though, except to help attain the piece of paper at the end of the process. I want to help my kids know they have PERMISSION to do these things (travel, etc.) with or without heading to post-secondary school. To pursue THEIR dreams, make mistakes, change their minds if they want, explore options... that is what I think college years CAN provide to some: this period of time where kids or young adults get to do some of what they want before entering the workforce full time & drudgery of 'get mortgage, slog through work they hate to pay for all the stuff they feel compelled to buy'...

I loved learning alongside my children in their younger years - and now mostly focus on my own learning. Sure they talk to me about what they're learning, if they're interested in it, but I have sooo much that I want to continue to learn and give myself permission for this. I laugh b/c I HATED science in school and now am studying chemistry, bio-chemistry, etc. by choice. Not that it is pure pleasure but it IS related to my current interests which makes me care alot more about it than I ever did in highschool.

I will say that I am, in no way, anti-college/university. I think the point is to care about each child as an individual and discover the best route to help them acheive their particular dreams/goals. Look forward to your next post!!!

"The possibility to make

"The possibility to make dreams reality is not just for twenty-somethings, and I want my kids to know this also. " This is an important message that comes across to me in a very strong way in your blog. It is a lesson that I am savoring and very much value.

I'm relatively new to

I'm relatively new to homeschooling my 6 year old (for 6 months) and have been experimenting with how we approach it. I've really been enjoying reading your blog. This post in particular was super helpful for me to really put things into perspective with a long term view. I've read your posts (2 I think?) about your daily rhythm and I'm really curious about the link between your planning for the day (which I envy that you're able to do between 6 and 8 am while I'm sleeping!) and interest-led learning. How much time is spent on activities planned by you vs. strewing and allowing things to happen during your morning homeschool block for your youngest two? Its something I'm currently wrestling with and so curious about your philosophy. I imagine that might be a big question to answer in the comments so no sweat - just thought I'd share my curiosity and a little of my own struggle! Thanks for all you do to share.

Thanks Renee. That was really

Thanks Renee. That was really helpful I appreciate it. I must say I love learning about how others are homeschooling. And I may indeed want more in-depth help at some point!

I never ever comment on

I never ever comment on blogs. But I adore yours, especially lately. The posts on Celine's 8th grade and your upper elementary plan were very interesting and inspiring to me!

I find that when I read your blog, I am encouraged and reminded of what my goals for homeschooling really are. I see that it works!

Thank you also for your sincerity and "realness" - I always find it refreshing.

“One of the arguments against

“One of the arguments against interest-led learning is that it's not practical. Learning what interests you doesn't prepare you for real life. Huh? This one always stumps me. I'm a real person living in the real world. This is how I learn. Why does it have to look different for my children?”

well, you already know what i think about this. ;o)

i think the people who say these things are equating learning about deep interests with having fun because they think it *sounds* like fun. and it is, but it goes far beyond simple enjoyment. when children dig deeply into something that really interests them, when they begin to have goals and plans, they start to gather knowledge and skills *authentically*. they begin to push themselves because they are self-motivated. it goes far beyond the cheap meaning of “fun” (cotton candy, yo-yo) and into flow and engagement and working at their challenge level.

i think the reason those people equate self-directed learning with being fun *and* fail to understand what deep learning opportunities it represents is because .. sadly .. they are usually not personally acquainted with learning in this way.

Ooohhh I have LOVED this

Ooohhh I have LOVED this learning theme! I am getting squigglies in my stomach thinking about these things! Thank you!

My best answer to your question is that the reason self-motivated, interest-based learning isn't "taught" in most schools is because it takes a lot more courage and one-on-one energy than most school systems are able to support and teachers are able to muster. (There's also a lot of history and sociology and that make our education system what it is--but I think that the logistics and FEELINGS are our biggest hill to climb.) I do not blame anyone for this--what you are doing seems to me to be very difficult--it requires blazing a unique trail for each of your individual kids. I will also clarify 3 things: 1, I do not think the answer is for every family to homeschool (because every family is different and every child is different and I believe that schools are better suited to the lifestyles and desired lifestyles for many families), 2, being a teacher is a profession that I am seriously considering, and 3, I hope for and believe in an institutional--ew, that word--but authentic, supportive, encouraging, interesting and educational answer being available for every child. I don't believe that it looks much like what we have now. I do believe that it looks a lot more like self-motivated, interest-based learning. I believe that because the skills we learn in that type of learning are really many of the most important (being self-directed, pursuing something without an existing structure or safety net, establishing independent relationships with mentors, PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE AND TAKING RISKS... I could go on). There are a lot of important skills that I learn in the work I do in school, too--and not to say that these can't be learned in a more traditional school--and CERTAINLY not to say that these are well taught in many public schools (dealing with challenge, critical analysis, discussion of difficult topics, collaboration, communicating and learning to understand and empathize with others, problem solving....). (Major apologies for that run-on sentence--I hope it's clear... you might be questioning whether they're really teaching writing at all!). So, to get back on-topic, I believe that it is less difficult and requires less bravery (because trying something that is not readily accepted and promoted and tried and true is difficult!) to teach "necessary" skills (and in my mind, unnecessarily "required" knowledge) by lecture and with a set curriculum (the same for every child). (My classes are definitely mostly not lectures, by the way.) It requires less worry ("will they have the skills and knowledge in this crazy, changing world even if we do/don't do xyz?") and it requires less time and thought because working to guide 20-30 individual children on independent projects would take tons of time and effort (as I said, I don't blame people for shying away from ideas like that). I believe there is an answer out there to provide an incredible learning experience and childhood for every child but I believe it will take a lot of work and a significant amount of time (because it definitely takes time to change people's minds).

As you know, college is the path I've chosen... and as of now, I am beyond excited for it. To listen to brilliant people, read books, discuss ideas, explore, work hard, and learn are some of the things I love most. I am financially privileged, and so I don't have to think about difficult questions about how to pay for this incredible opportunity for myself (and that is truly what I see it as--NOT a necessity, but an opportunity, and one possible path out of many). When I first talked to my mom about how I don't think "college" will really mean much in the future, she said "that's so sad" because in her life, she has seen a lot of people find a way "up" (out of poverty and through lots of hard work) because of college. I recognize this--but I also think that technology will make higher education more available without college--I think that is SO COOL--people will more easily be able to learn what they need to know and there will be MORE OPPORTUNITY for those who don't have as much opportunity otherwise. There are some things (that I value) such as research and academia that need--or at least, are based off of--the system of higher educational institutions. I hope that those don't go away (because I love that stuff!). But I am really excited to see more people be able to create the life they want even if they don't have a college education. (p.s. http://www.uncollege.org)

Apologies on the tome--you can see I am excited!

I can totally relate... I

I can totally relate... I didn't want to go to college after I experienced a 2 week program on a college campus. It just wasn't for me, so I didn't. And I don't regret it. BUT that doesn't necessarily mean *I* don't have an interest in furthering my own education. No, I love to learn and I am completely open to learning in as many ways as I can, be it in a classroom or not. I've been considering taking classes to become a certified herbalist for years. I just haven't yet since I'm up to my eyeballs in kids at the moment, lol. But it's still a dream of mine. I love interest-led learning. It feels so right. :)

And on the opposite side, if my kids want to go to college, I am behind them 100%. I just knew it wasn't for me.

So true Renee! College is

So true Renee! College is not the answer for everyone when they are 18 years old. Our oldest decided he did want to pursue college to learn more about theater and he is going to a state college and has very few loans and hopes to not have to get any next year as he is applying for more scholarships after getting on the dean's list his first semester. I just wish our state's home schooling regulations were more relaxed because I do have to provide a course of study each year and then follow up with a portfolio, testing or teacher evaluation at the end of the year - yeck! Actually this was the first year we became "legal" and I only did so because the new Education commissioner was sounding a bit scary.
Anyway, I agree 100% that facilitating our children's interests and gifts is what it is all about.
It drives me crazy that this one man is changing the face of the northeast kingdom (and am considering a blog post about this) - by developing like crazy and now working with the local school systems to train the kids to fill the jobs - yeck!!! that makes me sick just thinking about that. I am in the minority, unfortunately, about this as most people think that even low paying jobs are worth it...
Anyway thanks again for all of your sharing - it is so great to know I am not alone:)

I might be in direct conflict

I might be in direct conflict with the Canadian educational system, since I don't know it at all, but the United States education system was never designed to be a place of learning. If you read the foundational documents it was a place of training. Even college was set up for that reason. In that way, it does exactly what it is supposed to be. It is only over the last 100+ years we have shifted the thought to the word "learning." School was initially a way to eliminate child labor since it was easier to pass compulsory schooling for minors than child labor laws. It has repeatedly been so effective the United Nations is currently trying to pass the legislation in many African countries with skyrocketing child labor rates.

This is the major reason that "liberal arts" colleges were set out from other colleges. Liberal Arts or Classical Education colleges were more focused on the act of learning or the broad base of knowledge instead of training. Up until that point, college was never a place you went to learn anything but how to do a specific skill. During World War II this was kicked into high gear with all the manufacturing needs and then Cold War ramping it up significantly due to math and science needs.

Federal schooling, in any form, has always been a political endeavor, so I've never understood why anyone equates it to learning.

Hello! I agree with you on

Hello! I agree with you on all the history--and the idea that federal schooling is meant as training (for the workforce... and we may all have our opinions on that... I know I have my own)... and has, in the past, been meant as "children's work" to parallel adult work and to keep children out of child labor, as you talk about. However, I just wanted to point out that training is a type of learning. Perhaps not the type of learning that children should be learning... but it is producing an output that is different from the input/changing the way humans think and behave--thus, I would call it learning (again, not the type I would like to see).

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[...] breaking it up, again. When I sat down to finish the thoughts on the post I published yesterday, Why can't learning look like this? I figured I should probably define [...]

Thank.you. This post

Thank.you. This post continues to help me wrap my brain around some of our similar thoughts on homeschooling. It is helpful for me to hear your thoughts through your experience as well as your intentional articulation and explanation of learning.

We want our children to love learning, know themselves and be able to practically survive in the world beyond our home.

Interesting thoughts Renee.

Interesting thoughts Renee. My kids have been homeschooled for two or their schooling years but currently attend a government funded school here in NZ. While institutionalised learning in NZ has the same history as other industrialised countries I see a firm change in the current aspirations of many schools. While there are distinct limits to how much interest led learning can occur in a class of 25 kids, my kids' school really encourages it and is very clear that their aim is to teach kids how to learn well, not to teach any specific set of knowledge. Unfortunately we currently have a right wing government that has reintroduced national standards and therefore "teaching to the test". Our school has like many others been outspokenly opposed to this.

Healthy lifestyle and community service are an everyday part of school life for my kids. I spend a day a week working with the Seed to Table programme where kids garden in the school garden and cook with the produce. While my kids grow up surrounded by craft supplies, gardening and cooking at home and healthy choices and service are part of our family character I really see so many kids benefit greatly at their school because they are not getting these things at home.

Our kids will likely exit and re- enter formal school depending on what our family needs and their needs are over their school careers.

I also wanted to touch on college education. I borrowed 100000 dollars to attend medical school and it was worth every cent. My chosen career is my vocation and calling. My partner has been enrolled in some form of part time study for most of our 16 years together and has two degrees and three post graduate qualifications. She has also been a full time parent for the last 12 years and although her education has not had a financial return it has been an excellent investment. We will be on the "college is one path, not the path" trail with our kids too, we hope to encourage them to live fulfilling lives in service to others in whatever way they choose.

"Wake up folks. Start

"Wake up folks. Start dreaming bigger. College is one path, not the path. And an interest-led education does not preclude college. I hope to show you this a bit in my next post."

This! Yes! I agree with what you wrote here and in the study post. It is frustrating to me when others questions the authentic learning my children do and suggest an institution would be better. I wonder if they have even talked and listened to my children.

Children living an authentic life are learning and doing all the time. There desire for more is fueled by their interests, their wonder and their innate passion for learning.

I just had to nod and laugh

I just had to nod and laugh at those last 3 paragraphs that are absolutely true and something we have come to realize as a family. It's hard sometimes not to fit in with what society considers 'successful'. Absolutely! College is not THE path and by no means do I want to wait until I am 65 to live the life I want, AMEN! Life is here and now :)

Wow this is making me think

Wow this is making me think hard...maybe I am just tired. I've been thinking similar thoughts going around and around my head lately. I can't put into words what I am thinking (this happens to me a lot from being tired)...anyways, you've given me a lot to think about. :)

Renee, I've been an

Renee, I've been an occassional reader of your blog over the years but I'm subscribing so I don't miss any in this series. This is pretty much how we've homeschooled. My oldest graduated last year and is in college studying to be a jeweler. It's funny because he loves working with metals but he also loves languages, reading and writing. He just told me he's reading through a book on the origins of the over 100,000 words in the English language. For fun.

My second son (16) feels God calling him into the entertainment industry and he's in an internship with a christian entertainment training program. He'll be taking some classes at our community college but he probably won't get a degree.

My third son (15) just said last night that he thinks he wants to be a doctor.

I love that we've been able to give them the opportunity to each follow their own dreams. BTW, my oldest son got into college just fine with being "schooled" using an interest led approach.

I absolutely LOVE this post!

I absolutely LOVE this post! This is what I've been thinking about and pondering over for a few weeks now. I picked up a book at the library about unschooling (it makes me giggle a bit that there's a *guide* to unschooling!) but I've been reading it, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I can't say yet, that I'm completely sold on this philosophy, but I realized that this is what we've been doing already. My children learn what they are interested in learning. But guess what? They (speaking of my almost 6 year old and 3 1/2 year old- but I also have a 9 month old) love letters and numbers and reading and learning what all these things mean. They are interested in shapes and colors and drawing and painting and people and how the world works. They want to know about animals and nature. It's been an awesome journey so far, but when we started "officially" homeschooling, I felt like I needed to switch into "school mode" with subjects and lessons and stuff. Well, I've been pretty terrible about planning and sticking to a schedule so far, but you know what? They go right on learning. They want to know all kinds of things, and I am more than happy to facilitate that learning. Obviously, I've only been at this parenting thing for almost six years, so I know I don't have all the answers, but my husband and I will keep on trusting God's direction for our little ones. He knows best anyway!

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[...] Why can't learning look like this? @ FIMBY. I really resonate with Renee's thoughts in this post, and yet I struggle with some of the questions she brings up. I truly want the best learning experience possible for my children, but even though I recognize how it was lacking in so many ways, my own public school background taunts me with the safety of feeling like I'm teaching my children well by covering all of the appropriate subjects and completing the right books. Any other homeschooling moms struggle with this? [...]

I so appreciate your writing

I so appreciate your writing this post and I completely agree! It is so important for all of us who homeschool to realize what a wonderful opportunity we have to give our children the gift of knowing that there is more than one way to learn, to live, to be happy.

"Another cause of tension,

"Another cause of tension, and a real joy-sucker, is that we don't recognize the learning in our own lives"

As you know, we don't educate at home, but we take learning at home very seriously. I LOVE what you are saying here about how we don't recognize the learning we do as adults as something to be valued, to invest in, and to model for our children. I've never thought of it that way before.

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