Will wonders never cease

The more my daughter grows the more amazed I am at how much society takes it for granted that there are things kids will never learn on their own if they aren’t forced into it. I recently heard a program on the radio responding to the fact that 1/3 of Grade 3 students recently failed a Math comprehension test, which of course prompted a whole bunch of “back to basics” comments by people who felt kids needed to be drilled in their times tables and “too bad” if it’s boring because that’s Life, don’t you know, and sometimes in Life you just have to do stuff that is hard work and sucks. Apparently the best way to brace yourself for that is to make sure that the hard, sucky stuff is forced upon you as early as possible. Not, instead, that you grow to be so confident and secure in yourself and your abilities that tackling hard tasks isn’t sucky after all…but I digress.

When trying to explain to MIL and SIL what unschooling is, and how DD’s program works, MIL expressed concern that children who were allowed to learn “only what they want to learn” will miss out on all those “Basics”. Sad, sad, sad isn’t it? How we just assume that kids have no curiosity, no drive, no work ethic…The one example that MIL brought up was writing. She asked what child was going to willingly sit down and write out worksheets full of letters all on her own accord. MIL felt that drilling kids in handwriting was one of those “not fun” tasks that just “had to be done”.

Well, isn’t the point of those worksheets merely to provide repitition? It’s not something magic in the sheets themselves, it’s the fact that the kids get practice. Well then why, I ask, does the practice have to be on the teacher’s terms and in the form of something with no inherent interest to the child? I give you Exhibit A:

DD whipped this up one day while I was working on my computer. Nobody told her to do it; I have never once suggested that she practice her writing. She worked at it because she felt like it, and because she enjoyed it. She’s been writing alot lately. As kids tend to do, she gets focussed on a task for a while and right now, writing is it. She writes cards for me and other family members. She makes lists of things, or signs to put around the house. She’s constantly calling out to me “Mama! How do you spell…?”. She spends a few minutes at a time, not every day, but often enough that I’ve noticed an improvement in her penmanship.

In fact I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t ever write of their own accord, unless of course someone has made an issue out of it, subjecting the child to the suggestion that writing should be done on someone else’s schedule, when they think it should be done, and to the degree to which they think it should be done. I believe it was John Holt who said that as soon as it becomes someone else’s agenda the child is robbed of an opportunity to learn naturally. Now I realize that not all five year olds are as interested in writing as DD is right now, but I’d be willing to bet that children who grow up with total freedom in their learning will all, at some point, develop enough of an interest in it to want to learn. Emotionally healthy children want to be a part of society, and society writes! We’ll see what DS does as he grows – at age 3 he is still struggling to control the pen in his hand – and they say that boys tend to struggle with writing. I’ll be interested to see how it develops with him, but fortunately for my little guy I could care less at what age he starts developing that interest.

Sometimes it feels like unschooling is this wonderful experiment where the results just continually delight me, and make me want to shout out to the rest of the world “Wake Up! Education should be like *this*! Look at what these kids can do!”

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