Doing Nothing?


Many years ago, when Felicity was five, we went to our first homechooling conference. Our speaker was Jill, an experienced unschooling mum and she was pure enthusiasm. She walked around and around the room talking at speed, flinging her arms this way and that in emphasis. Jill told us how children are eager to learn; they love learning; they don’t need to be taught. A parent’s role is not to be a teacher but a facilitator. She illustrated her point with an example from her own family.

>“One of my children loves frogs so I took her to a talk at the museum. The speaker was an international expert in the frog field. He was passionate about his subject. My daughter came home. She borrowed every library book on frogs she could find. She wrote and she drew. She covered the walls with pictures of every kind of frog. So many frogs. I didn’t know that many existed. Wow! She’s now a frog expert. She knows far more than me, far more than most adults, and all I did was drive her to the talk.”

I soaked it all up. I went home dreaming. Would my children be frog experts? What projects would cover our tables? Perhaps there’d be hundreds of different butterflies adorning our walls. It didn’t matter what Felicity took an interest in. I was sure she’d be expert at something.

I waited. And I waited. I waited some more. Felicity didn’t seem inclined to research anything. She didn’t ask me to take her anywhere. She didn’t draw dozens of pictures of frogs or butterflies or anything else.  She didn’t set up any experiments. In fact she seemed inclined to do nothing interesting at all. She didn’t appear to know what she wanted to learn about. How could I be a facilitator if she didn’t let me know what she was passionate about?  I couldn’t understand how unschooling could possibly work. Perhaps my children weren’t of the right personality type. Perhaps Felicity was the sort of child that had to be pushed to do anything.

Looking back, I think I forgot something important. I forgot that children need a rich environment in order to learn. How can they know what they are interested in if they don’t know the possibilities?

I think about when my children were babies. I read all the baby parenting books and I knew all the latest research. I knew I had to provide a stimulating environment to maximize my child’s development. I drew human faces and hung them where my babies could see them. I sat each baby in a chair in front of a frame. Every day I searched the house for new and interesting things to tie to that frame, things they could touch and suck and feel: soft socks, cold spoons, a bristly toothbrush, a long ribbon… I took my babies swimming, sat them in the sand pit, sang to them, read to them in an animated voice, showed them bright pictures, danced with them, played peekaboo and a dozen other games, told them the names of everything we saw, carried them around and included them in the real world…

And then when they got to the age of five, I thought it was all up to them. I forgot to keep bringing the world to them. I forgot to take them out to the world. I forgot to keep on providing new experiences for them.

I soon realised what was missing. I enrolled Felicity in different lessons and she experienced swimming, gymnastics, physical education, music, brownies… Maybe I went overboard a bit at first. I don’t know if she really needed all these different classes. However, she discovered a lot of things she had no interest in whatsoever, and a few things, such as music, she loved.

I took Felicity to the library and we borrowed dozens of books, both her choices and my suggestions, and we read together. And soon she wanted to learn to read.

Occasionally I organised an outing to a museum, the beach, the bush, to friends’ houses, the shopping centre, the park.

I made sure we had a good supply of art and craft materials. Sometimes we tried a specific craft project but mostly Felicity experimented with all the supplies. She drew fairy after fairy after fairy and then, for a change, decided to paint fairies instead. She made book covers for little books she enjoyed creating. And wrote little stories (about fairies).

Besides the childhood music education lessons, I bought a range of CDs and we listened to music and danced and sang.
Felicity wanted to write. She made up poems, told stories, wrote letters. And I didn’t worry about the spelling.

She spent lots of time playing.

And we talked. We talked about everything and anything.

I guess what I’d been doing could be called strewing.

Sometimes it looked like I was ‘steering’ Felicity’s education by pointing her in directions she hadn’t realised existed but she was, at the same time, discovering  passions of her own.  Our walls did not fill up with pictures of frogs or butterflies or anything else but soon we had dozens of books filled with poems and stories. We had a daughter who loved music and reading and who asked questions about everything and was eager to learn.

And I discovered that an unschooling parent doesn’t sit back and do nothing, while her child goes happily off on her own learning adventure.  No, unschooling can involve real commitment and involvement, a lot of hard work. But is it rewarding? Of course!

I found this little article Felicity wrote for a homeschooling newsletter when she was 9:


Hi, my name is Felicity Kate Elvis and I am 9 years old. I have two brothers, Duncan (7) and Callum (4) and a baby sister Imogen (1 ½).  I have always learnt at home. I would like to tell you about how we home school in our family.
One reason we home school is that we think learning should be fun. We also like spending time with each other and being able to learn in our own way.
Mum doesn’t make any plans for each day. We don’t have a timetable. We just have a fresh new day to fill with reading, writing, learning and doing.


I usually start the day by writing a poem because all our thoughts are fresh in our heads when we get up. When Imogen wakes up I do clarinet practice. Then we do our maths because Mum thinks it’s important. We spend the rest of the day learning whatever we want like drawing, writing, reading, doing experiments, and making things.


I especially like reading. In the evenings Daddy reads us a few chapters of a book. Dad makes different voices for each character and brings the story alive.


I do lots of cooking and Dad’s a great cook. Mum is good at handicrafts and sewing and she shares all these skills with us.
There is still plenty of time left each day to play, watch TV, visit friends and do whatever else we want to do.
We love homeschooling!!!!


Update:

My children no longer learn maths “because Mum thinks it’s important.” Instead I look for resources that might capture my children’s interest in this subject. They learn maths because they have a need or desire to learn, rather than because I insist. Unschooling is a continual learning experience for me as well as for my kids!


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Comments

    • Lily
    • June 27, 2011
    Reply

    I have always been afraid of "Unschooling" maybe I should give it a go. How do you do your state reporting? After 15 years of homeschooling, I am ready to consider other options.
    ~Lily

  1. Reply

    As usual Sue, as I read your blog I am so excited and inspired in my own home schooling journey. You really do have such a beautiful gift of bringing unschooling into reality through your words and your own family's experiences, and you always seem to address my own questions and insecurities. I have always worried that there would be too much "nothing" in our days if we went to a "true" unschooling approach but now I see that there is not much time for nothing in the midst of all the exploring and discovering. I think for many children (and adults) it takes time to find our passion and all the learning along the way as we try to figure it out is valuable in making us well-rounded and able to understand ourselves and others better. I also want to thank you for your sweet comment on my blog. We are doing well and my husband's job search is looking VERY promising right now. Thank you for your prayers and support. Blessings to you and your family. ~Kari

  2. Reply

    This is what I've been learning, recently – that unschooling means more work for parents. I guess it looks easy because it happens so naturally, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work and involvement, isn't there?:)

  3. Reply

    Hi Lily! Perhaps you might like to read Suzie Andres' book "A Little Way of Homeschooling." You can get a Kindle version for $7.99 and it is a wonderful read. Also Suzie's first book "Homeschooling with Gentleness".

    Here in NSW, Australia we must register our children as homeschoolers if they are not attending a public or private school. Registration periods can be up to 2 years at a time, so we don't have to report very often. We keep records of all learning activities and we have to show some outcomes or what our children are achieving. We can either plan ahead in detail or post plan by showing what we did in the past registration period. I post plan because with unschooling we never really know what adventures we are going to have ahead of time. But there is always a lot to report when the time comes to renew our registration. The whole system is very workable. I've never had a problem in all the years we have been homeschooling.

    Lily, what style of homeschooling do you follow at the moment? I wonder what works for you. I periodically reconsider our options as we learn more, and see more clearly what is really important. I think this is a part of life.

    God bless!

  4. Reply

    Kari,
    thank you for your kind words! I'm so glad you stopped by to share my story. I was writing this post last night thinking maybe I am the only person who has had these thoughts on unschooling. So it is great you have stopped and commented, and made me feel I'm not alone in my questions and worries and struggles to find out what it is all about.

    Yes, it takes time to find passions. And sometimes we discover new passions we weren't expecting to come across like my husband and cooking. I love it when we share passions as a family and learn from each other.

    I'm so pleased to hear things are looking good for your husband. I will continue praying!

  5. Reply

    Hi Vicky. I'm constantly on the lookout for good things to share with my children. Lots of work but I get to share them too!

    • suzy
    • June 29, 2011
    Reply

    Such a fantastic post!
    I think unschooling facillitates an enriching environment just as much as an enriching environment facillitates unschooling.
    The other day I bought a big basket of felt scraps.
    Right now my middle girls are busy making felt dresses and vegetables downstairs. My eldest has been on the sewing machine making a waldorf doll dress and the second youngest has been embroidering patterns on her embroidery hoop.
    They are all absorbed in their own interests, feeding off and inspiring one another.
    Your days sound so similar to ours:)

  6. Reply

    Hi Suzy.

    "They are all absorbed in their own interests, feeding off and inspiring one another."

    Yes! This is one of the wondeful things about unschooling. I used to think unschooling was a very individual, maybe self-centred method of education. But we all interact so much with each other and are eager to try out each other's ideas. It really makes for close family relationships.

    For days now, my younger girls have been absorbed in making mud and flower pies. Despite it being winter here, they spend hours outside absorbed in their games. I haven't listened to their conversation but I am sure they are busy sharing and learning together. What they're learning I have no idea! But I'm sure it is all very valuable stuff!!!

    Thank you for sharing, Suzy. God bless.

  7. Reply

    Hi Sue~ Great to find your blog and thanks for stopping by over at my place:) Great post here! I look forward to taking a look around…your books look fantastic. Blessings on this Feast of St.s Peter and Paul:)

  8. Reply

    Hi Tiffany, while you were visiting my blog, I was over at yours! Thank you for sharing my post. It's good to make new friends and share ideas. God bless!

    • Suzie Andres
    • June 30, 2011
    Reply

    Oh Sue – I agree with Suzy: this is a fantastic post! It helps me a lot to read your clear wisdom – like looking into a calm pool of clean water. Much to think about in your words. Thank you! love, Suzie

  9. Reply

    Suzie, you always bring joy with your words. Thank you for sharing this story. I've been mulling over ideas for a St Therese and Suzie Andres story… It will come together I am sure! God bless you Suzie

  10. Reply

    OH, I loved reading that little letter. How encouraging. I'm getting a better picture of unschooling by reading these posts. My son has been BEGGING me to let him take pictures with my camera. I'm so afraid! I think I need to just teach him how to do it and let him experiment.

  11. Reply

    Hi Elisa, I am so pleased you stopped to say hello. I am glad you enjoyed Felicity's story. I love reading things my children wrote years ago. All sorts of memories come flooding back, things I'd almost forgotten about.

    My girls love taking photos too. It is so much easier these days with digital cameras. They take hundreds of pictures and then load them all onto the compututer to play around with. We hardly ever get any printed off though. I bought Sophie a digital photo frame last Christmas so she can display her photos and share them. Perhaps you could buy a cheap camera for your son, one of his own so you don't have to worry about him breaking yours. It doesn't need to be a complicated camera to have fun. He would have such a great time with it. God bless!

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