The inherent value of Obsessiveness

Unschooling is based on the premise that children are programmed to learn, and that by letting go and letting them “do their thing”, they can and will gain an education about the world around them. And they’ll do this using innate, instinctual behaviours rather than having to be “taught” how to learn.

I’ve found that one of the ways young children learn is by being obsessive. When DD is on to some topic of interest, she immerses herself in it. When she’s interested in ladybugs, she picks out books from the library on them, draws them, plays at being them, and makes them out of clay or crafting supplies or even food! It’s “All Ladybugs, All the time” for a while. Then it’s on to the next obsession. She may cycle through a group of three topics of obsession for some time, with new ones coming up to replace older ones every so often.

Kids in school don’t usually get to obsess this way; they are generally not allowed to focus on just one topic and explore that through different mediums. Rather they are thrown a series of topics that someone else has decided they need to know, they are taught these in ways that someone else has decided is the best way to learn it, and they are not given any say in how long, or how much time per day, is devoted to that topic. When I look at learning in this context, it really hits home for me how traditional schooling goes so much against our Nature, and how nature has programmed us to learn and accumulate useful information. It’s no wonder there are so many kids who don’t “do well” in school, or are diagnosed as “learning disabled”.

An example of “learning by obsessiveness” is being played out as I type this. DH has subscribed us to a number of wonderful podcasts, such as the Ask an Astronomer series. When the kids sit down to watch these short episodes (of which we currently have five) they play them over, and over, and over again (which they are doing right now). It’s funny to see just how many times they can view them without getting sick of them. And even then, when they’ve watched them a dozen times or more, give it a day or so and they’ll be back watching the same five episodes over and over.

It seems so obvious to me that their desire for repitition is part of their innate learning instinct. For what better way to learn something than to experience it over and over again.

These video podcasts are great, by the way. We are also enjoying the DiveFilm series, and the National Geographic ones as well. I’m sure there are video podcasts out there for any subject of interest, and having them stored on your computer (or, as in our case, your AppleTV) is a great way to allow your child to “obsess”, too!

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One thought on “The inherent value of Obsessiveness

  1. Tammy

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Thank you. Obsessing is how humans learn naturally.

    Only with the things we are truly obsessed about can we “get into the zone”. Unschoolers/relaxed homeschoolers/zen-schoolers spend a lot of time in the “zone”. You know, that space where what we are doing over-takes our conscious mind and we lose track of time and where we are?

    Being in the zone makes our brains function better, gives us energy and inspires us to continue on to tough things that seem unsurmountable.

    Thank you for the great post.

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