Wednesday, July 31, 2013

6 ways unschooling can inform practice for innovative educators

I'm so excited to be a guest writer over at The Innovative Educator.
Here's how it starts:

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.  —Henry David Thoreau

There is a whole world of learning that unfolds, starting with the spark of an interest.  For unschool educators, it is a matter of following the lead of the learner.

The learner focuses on what he wants to know about. From this node of knowledge, like an octopus sending out its many arms to the environs around, the learner links to ever more nodes—making connections and expanding his knowledge.

It’s the job of an educator to shine a light on the nodes so that the child can choose to look closer at or not.

Putting a spin on some familiar platitudes that are regularly associated with school, I offer six thoughts on how the unschooling method can inform and help us improve educational practices everywhere:

1. Share
Imagine you are holding a newborn baby—fragile and utterly helpless. But then you see the light in the baby’s eyes—the way she searches the room, the way she tries to focus on her immediate surroundings: the patterns on the blanket, the shaking rattle, her mother’s face.

You notice the length of time she stares at her waving fingers and you begin to understand that she is taking it all in, working it out—as much as she is capable of, a little at the time.

The newborn infant has power—however limited it may be. She is already a great communicator. She lets us know her needs (belting it out for all to hear and we’d better hop to it quickly!) and we have the power to meet or ignore those needs.

We begin to understand that education is not being ‘done’ to the learner. Rather it’s a partnership we enter into together with our young learner—herself, a self-educator—who is sharing her educational path with us.

We commit to the child, meeting her half way in her effort to learn. We do not begrudge the baby nor do we mark her ‘wrong’ for not being interested in what we might be offering.

2. Discipline…
yourself.  You’re so excited that your learner is excited! As unschool educators I can’t tell you how many times we want to rush in—uninvited. But what can happen is that the interest cools because, in our enthusiasm, we’ve unintentionally taken over the project. Slap your hand and remind yourself, “Not yours.”

Ever noticed on birthdays how everyone gets the kid something around a theme or subject they like? She loves horses? People bring horse books, horse sweaters, posters of horses, mugs with horse images on them. “I love horses but I like other things too!” my daughter once said.

At times, we might be more invested in the thing than they are. Months and even years later, we might still be assuming the passion or interest is current when in reality it has long since morphed into something else. No child should be beholden to an interest.

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