Natural curiosity- unschooling to keep it? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 05-01-2011, 06:32 PM - Thread Starter
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New to this topic, but have been thinking about it for awhile. I was looking for a way for my DS to keep his natural curiosity and desire to learn. I have always noticed how little ones are SO excited for school, and SO excited to learn. They are like sponges. But somewhere between the excitement of early grade school and graduation, these same kids have gone from happy to learn to active avoidance.

For YEARS I have been trying to understand WHY kids go from curious to dull in such a short span of time. So few are able to retain the love of learning, which is awful because its hard to be truly happy and successful without a curious mind. How are we suppose to have the inventors and entrepreneurs that make a nation great, and more technology forward, when no one cares to think?

Observation showed me that few kids are wired in a way to enjoy rote learning and tight schedules, but for some reason this is how our "educational" system is set up. Plus, I moved to TX, which has abysmal schools, their sole function seems to be to train children to tolerate, submit, and work within a police state. It is seriously depressing (I know not every school in the state is like this, but every one I have experience with is)

Its all about fitting the square pegs in round holes, and if they can't be broken, they get to go to "bad kid schools" that are more like juvenile detention centers. My DH had this experience and it disgusts me that people consider this educational. No one noticed his severe dyslexia, but didn't mind putting him in the prison school for refusing to tuck his shirt in repeatedly (yes, really).

I REFUSE to allow my son (only 8 months old) to have this experience. He will NOT have his love of life and learning crushed, and will not learn to submit unthinkingly to authority. It sickens me to think of this happening. But, what to do???? When I heard about homeschool, it seemed like an improvement, but when I learned about unschooling, it seemed like a solution. I think I understand the basic philosophy, and am doing some more reading on it.

My question, after this long rambling post, is- did you choose unschool for this reason? And, has unschooling allowed your child to retain the curiosity they were born with? Do your kids love to learn, or do they become lazy? Does it work for most kids, or just some? I know I was strongly interested in reading everything and learning, amazingly I still am (stubborn and willful, lol), and I know this would have worked for me. If. Y kid is anything like his parents, it will suit him.


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#2 of 6 Old 05-02-2011, 09:04 PM
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Our family homeschools because I don't approve of learning by the bell.  And I think full-time preschool and school severs the parent-child attachment prematurely.

     I choose unschooling, because I have faith that life and community have ample learning opportunities, and I trust that the curiosity and fascination my kids express can last indefinitely if I don't squash it.  Personally, I love learning about things and doing things, and my fascination often rubs off, so I can introduce a new focus successfully, at least sometimes.  An interest in sharks and whales expanded into dinosaurs, and now dragons (thank you, Tolkien) and monsters (especially Medusa and other Greek myths.  That was my idea to introduce those stories, because the monsters are balanced with the nobility of the heroes.  Plus, I like talking about the ancient worship of Medusa as giver of LIFE and death, not just as an evil monster as she became in Greek times.  It helps that she gave birth to Pegasus, a creature which also love to read about.)

     I ramble.

     You are on the right track, and I commend you.  I will say that our kids are little, just kindergarten and preschool age, so i don't have experience with learning as they age, but I feel we have been unschooling for years.  Washington is a pretty supportive and liberal (i.e. lax) state to homeschool in, and there are many, many families.  How does Texas view homeschooling?  What are the laws?  If they expect a curriculum and want you to stick to it (as some states) that will take some creativity.  I keep a homeschool calender on which I write anything remotely homeschoolish they've done, and it also serves as a brief diary.  This gives me a chance to review what the kids have learned, if I need to.  I don't need to report to the school district until my oldest is 8 (6 now) but it's good practice for me, creating good habits to make the spontaneity of unschooling more seamless.

     I really love the focus of Home Education Magazine, their website and Facebook page.  It's like Unschooling Central, though they have supporters from all kinds of homeschoolers, secular and religious alike.  They also have plenty of reading selections that are inspirational for parents--not curriculums, but attitudes and habits of unschooling parents.  One book--I wish I would have looked up the title--"Homeschooling our children [?] unschooling ourselves [that part's right]"

is a brief book about one mother's experience unschooling her son through the high school years.

     Hopefully, some Texas homeschoolers and unschoolers, and all unschoolers with older children will jump in and tell you about their experiences.

     Good luck!  I think you are making the very best choice.

"She is a mermaid, but approach her with caution. Her mind swims at a depth most would drown in."
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#3 of 6 Old 05-04-2011, 04:29 PM
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It wasn't my first reason for choosing unschooling (I was, at first, more concerned about keeping my kids away from the dysfunctional social dynamics of school), but I soon came to understand their early curiosity and love of learning as evidence I could already see with my own eyes. In other words, throughout babyhood and toddlerhood my kids learned amazing things without any need for formal instruction or schooling, so it wasn't such a leap of faith to believe this could continue well into childhood so long as we didn't interfere or try to take over. 


My kids are 6.5 and 8.5 and I can tell you that they are both just as curious, as passionate about their interests, and as driven to learn as they were when toddlers. They've never been told what they "should" know, they've never been forced to do any sort of busywork. They pick their interests and I might suggest things along those lines but they are always free to say no. They see learning in everything; they don't categorize things as "educational" (math) and "not educational" (video games). To them, everything is learning. Yes, they have their "lazy days" like we all do. But then they'll have a day that is just packed with creativity, exploration, reading, what-have-you. They both learned to read on their own, write, and learned about numbers (basic math) all through pursuing their interests.


I can't say whether all kids are going to be like this, but certainly in the unschooling communities I've been part of I have seen this as by far the most common outcome. You might want to read some of Peter Grey's articles in his Freedom to Learn blog on Psychology Today  about Natural Learning. They back up unschoolers' observations of how children *really* learn, and that it is an innate behaviour. I firmly believe that children are equipped to learn what they need to know, and that we do best by stepping out of their way and letting them follow their natural inclinations. Our society does this naturally when they are young, but seem to believe it all stops in childhood. I think this is because we step in and "ruin it" with attempts at coercive education. Ken Robinson has much to say about this as well.


You are definitely on the right track! (IMNSHO) :)

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#4 of 6 Old 05-04-2011, 08:39 PM
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This was definitely part of our reason for homeschooling. It was way back in 1999, with my eldest not quite school-age, that I wrote the following:


"It seems impossibly idealistic to expect that children will actually want to memorize the definition of latitude and longitude lines, or their multiplication facts. It seemed impossible to me too, but I am watching it happen. Erin is as interested in learning about these things as she is in learning how to ride a bike or tie her shoes. Children have an incredible drive to make sense of the world around them, and unless they are pushed into learning things in a way that is convenient for someone else, not them, they seem to maintain this drive even when it comes to those areas we adults think of as tedious."


Now it's 12 years later. Did it really work out that way? Did the enthusiasm and drive continue unabated? Well, yes and no.


I've noticed something: little kids run everywhere. They set across parking lots at a run, much to their panicked parents' consternation. They run to the playground at the park. They run to their bedrooms to look for a misplaced stuffy. Their boundless curiosity as learners is a little like that running. They find everything interesting and exciting, and their brain energy gushes out at the slightest interest, just as their physical energy gushes forth through running.


As kids get older, they don't run so much. My 8-year-old still runs (or skips or gallops) places from time to time. My 12-year-old runs once in a while. My 14-year-old, not so much. My 17-year-old? Much like me, she runs to meet her fitness goals. Adults don't burst out of their cars and run up pathways to parties because they're excited to be meeting up with their friends: they walk. And I don't think it's because they have had their love of running ruined by years of forced cardiovascular exercise. It's just part of what happens as we mature.


I now think that there's a similar tempering of intellectual enthusiasm that's simply the result of maturity. Sure, school and coerced learning can quash that enthusiasm outright, but it tends to settle some even in unschooled kids. My teens don't squeal with delight and get all pink and trembly when they master a new violin study or successfully install a java script. Nowadays their learning isn't so much driven by excitement and curiosity as it is the desire to accomplish certain goals. They find certain things "hard" or "tedious" or "boring." And they often stick with them anyway despite their lack of enthusiasm for the work itself, because they see that it will get them something else that they want. 


Now, I wouldn't describe my kids as dull. They still have curiosity. They still have enthusiasms and passions. People often describe them as highly motivated, very focused and well-grounded in who they are and what they want to accomplish. Their passions are as likely to be for things that would be considered academic or schoolish in nature as those that are not. But they're not effervescently enthusiastic for every new thing the way I imagined they might be as lifelong unschoolers back in my naive days as a parent to preschool-aged kids. And that's okay, I think. I really like the people they've become.



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#5 of 6 Old 05-10-2011, 05:51 PM
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I suppose this is one of my reasons for wanting to unschool my kids, but it's not one I think about much since I kept my curiosity in spite of schooling. (Am I the only one who read moominmamma's post and wondered, "Who wouldn't want to memorize the definition of latitude and longitude lines? Why would anyone think that someone else wouldn't want to memorize the definition of latitude and longitude lines?!")


Personally, I don't consider myself to have "enthusiasm for learning," and I don't think little kids usually do either. I rarely seek out knowledge just for the experience of learning. I'd more call it "enthusiasm for knowing." I want to understand things. I want to be able to do things. But not just any ol' things. Some just don't matter to me. There's so many facts, disciplines, details, poems, birth records, etc etc etc in the world that you can't learn it all in a lifetime. It's literally infinite when you think about it. So you kind of have to prioritize your time!

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#6 of 6 Old 05-11-2011, 01:07 PM
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I began looking into alternatives for educating DD when she was a baby as well. She is just 3 1/2 now and I can tell you that just seeing what she has learned in such a small amount of time has fueled my resolve that she will learn what she needs to, how and when. 

moominmamma, I appreciate your glimpse and perspective on how unschooling adapts as children grow older.

Ultimately, the more I read and the more I hear of other's experiences with unschooling just make it feel like the right way for us. Anyway, I just wanted to recommend a book I'm about half through reading that is an easy read and offers ideas, resources, etc. It's about 12 years old though so I'm sure others can offer better recommendations but this one is The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.

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