Many of the criticisms directed at unschooling are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how unschooling works. There is the mistaken belief that because young unschooled children spend so much time engaging in imaginative play (aka: unstructured free play) they will never learn the more “serious business of work”. In my last post I wrote about what the natural learning process looks like for “tweens”, based on my own observations of Daughter and how her free time is increasingly spent on structured, focussed study rather than imaginative free play (although that still takes up the majority of her time; she is still, after all, only 9 years old). I wrote about the dearth of opportunities for kids her age to pursue the study of topics or skills in more depth, other than trying to learn on their own. I believe that mentorship represents the next step in the natural progression from the unstructured free play of childhood to being a productive member of adult society. I wrote that I was searching for a artist to mentor Daughter and I’m happy to report that we have found someone.
The lady is a local artist (I’ll call her “Sandy”) who offers classes and workshops to students in the area, including weekday ones for homelearners. Daughter had taken a few classes from her over the last two years and really enjoyed attending her week-long Animation Workshops, held twice a year. She and Sandy developed a good relationship and it warmed my heart to see my anxious and sometimes socially-awkward girl feeling so secure and comfortable with someone that she would happily go there on five consecutive days for 5 hours each day (a demanding schedule for my girl). We thought Sandy had moved away last fall after the last workshop but it turns out something came up and they ended up staying longer than expected, and we heard from her recently when she decided to offer another Animation Workshop.
Realizing she was here for at least the next six months I proposed my idea to her and she was very keen! So for the last few weeks Daughter has been going to Sandy’s home studio (a delightful seaside cottage with a wood stove, a dog and a cat, and an inspiring view of the estuary with mountains in the background) for once-a-week 1.5 hour sessions. Sandy got her a proper artist’s sketchbook and each week they work on a different concept of drawing. As Sandy explains, so much of drawing is “seeing”. The sessions are very free-flowing, which pleases Daughter. Sandy always talks to me about what they did that week when I go to pick Daughter up at the end of the session and I love hearing about all the neat concepts they work on together.
There is so much about this setup to love. My girl gets to go off and pursue her work in a more self-directed way, without her mother or brother tagging along. She is learning tons; not in the condescending way of being told what to create and how to create it, but instead by having a skilled artisan share her techniques and knowledge while giving Daughter the chance to be master of her own creations and inspiration. Daughter also gets to spend quality time with a woman who is really kind and talented and generous in spirit. This is one of the unseen benefits of mentoring, the chance to get to know a whole person in the context of a skill set (the two mentors I’ve had in my own life were inspiring not just as professionals, but as wonderfully kind people). I’m also thrilled with the work Daughter is doing. She takes it all in stride, not realizing how lucky she is to have this opportunity for focussed study. But I do a little happy dance every week when I go to pick her up.