Once upon a time, I decided I’d devote a day of every week to answering some of the many questions I get about unschooling and/or gentle parenting. And for a few weeks in a row, I even succeeded. But, well, life happens, and it’s been many many weeks. I’m excited to bring it back again, for however long it lasts. :)
“I am trying to wrap my mind around unschooling…how do you set goals (do you?) how do you meter growth/success…do we even need to? if my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play? please help!”
“How do you set goals (do you?)”
My goal when it comes to my kids is to continually help and support them as they strive to reach their own goals. Everyone’s life/plans/timetable/passions are different, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to me to impose my own (arbitrary) goals on my kids. I also think it’s important to consciously ask ourselves if what we’re doing/encouraging is based on what our kids want, or based on what we as their parents want. For example, the child who loves gymnastics or soccer or figure skating at age 6 might not want to spend hours training, or in competition, or in climbing through the ranks, and that’s okay!! As a writer, I was always told I needed to go to college and major in English or journalism of some sort. I tried college…. It wasn’t the path for me. And my husband, who has a very good job working in finance, has long wished that he hadn’t listened to those who told them that his proclivity for math meant he should go into accounting, when his inclination had always been to pursue a career outdoors, working with his hands. We don’t want our kids to ever have those regrets, so their goals will always be exactly that: THEIRS.
“How do you meter growth/success…do we even need to?”
No need to formally meter anything. Just as it’s impossible for a child not to learn and grow when he or she has caring and involved parents, it’s also impossible not to SEE said learning and growth when you’re paying attention to your child. You’ll see it every day when your child is doing things he wasn’t doing the day before, asking questions she wasn’t asking the day before, interested in things he wasn’t interested in the day before, discussing things she wasn’t discussing the day before. Children are always learning, and it’s something you will see with your own eyes, every time you look at them. One of the best illustrations of this that I’ve ever read, the thing that really made it “click” for me so many years ago was the idea of thinking about knitting. If you learn to knit… whether you teach yourself, or someone else shows you how… do you give yourself a test or a quiz at the end to see if you’ve learned? No. You knit! And it’s the same way for children, whether it’s knitting or reading or baking or geometry. You’ll know they’ve learned, because you’ll see it.
“If my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play?”
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Let her play at 6, let her play at 8, let her play at 16. Forcing a child to read when she needs to play (or for that matter, forcing a child to play when she wants to read) is counterproductive at best. As John Holt says, “True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner” Your child, when given the proper support and attention, is the one who best knows what she needs to be learning, when, and how, and for what reasons. Natural learning isn’t always linear. It goes in fits and starts, in circles and loops, from one interest to the other. But when you step back and look at it, you’ll see that it was all interconnected all along.
Six months ago, my daughter (7 in February) wasn’t yet reading. Today she is reading, better and better each day, largely because she started playing Minecraft and other online games, and wanted to be able to chat with her friends. Her three brothers before her learned in much the same fashion – at different ages, in different ways, for different reasons – because it was important and necessary and useful to them. Looking at them now, at 10, 14, and 17, you’d never be able to tell who started reading when… and it doesn’t matter. They all can read.
Kids know how to learn. Do they ever know how to learn. The best thing we can do as parents is to pay attention, support, encourage, engage…. and otherwise get out of their way and watch it happen.