Natural learning happens, well… naturally!
As humans we are programmed to learn. It is a lifelong process; an evolutionary design to give us the best chance of survival.
We see this clearly in babies as they learn to walk and talk – they learn incredibly complex actions with no need for formal instruction, through a process that is highly efficient.
But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are many ways that we can support our children with natural learning and much that can get in its way.
In the eight years that our family has been home educating I have seen many times how these positive and negative forces can play out.
Of course, every family’s experience will be different and every child is unique. But there are some proven steps that can support you and your child to work with nature, rather than against it.
- Allow time for deschooling. If you or your child have ever been to school then you are likely to benefit from some time spent deschooling.
Deschooling is a process of adjustment. Allowing yourself time to consider your beliefs about learning can be really valuable. It can be a chance to let go of expectations and to rethink some ‘schooly’ ideas about what learning looks like, how it can be measured and what it should be at different ages and stages of life. Compare these ideas to the reality of your own learning experiences and be willing to question any assumptions you have previously made.
It is generally thought that deschooling can take at least one month for every year that a person has been involved in the school system – this may not be very long for children but for adults who may have been to college or employed in the education system, and then had children who also went to school, the time begins to add up.
Take the opportunity to focus on family time and reflect on why you have chosen this path. Resist the temptation to launch into a ton of ‘educational’ activities and be open to challenging ideas about what ‘educational’ even means. Use this time to research ideas about natural learning but be sure to pace yourself and watch out for information overload.
- Look for the joy. Make time to play, relax and have fun.
Spend an afternoon drawing up joy lists – literally listing what brings you joy. You can decorate these lists and display them if you wish, but the most important thing is that you set aside time to think about what you and your children love to do. Plan how you can bring more of that joy into your lives. Make a conscious decision to engage in activities from your joy lists regularly. Become a tourist in your local area and visit those places you always meant to. Watch your favourite shows together, listen to music and dance, make art, spend time outdoors and play lots of games.
Prioritise time together and nurturing your relationships. Give your children space to explore their interests and be careful of overscheduling your time. Pay attention to your family’s natural rhythms, notice how your children like to spend their days, when they get hungry and sleepy, and be sensitive to that rather than imposing rigid schedules on them.
- Be attentive and curious. Observe your child and actively engage in their world.
Spend time with your children discovering more about what they like to do. Notice the activities they seem to enjoy most, their likes and dislikes, and pay attention to their strengths and areas where they ask for help.
Chat regularly about their interests and try and get a sense of their priorities. You don’t need to have a meeting or be too formal about this, although family meetings can be lots of fun. Conversation in any context can be such a valuable tool for learning. Allowing lots of time and space for this can deepen our relationships, give us a better understanding of each other, and boost our levels of mutual respect and affection. Take the time to really listen so your children feel genuinely heard and respected.
- Create a rich and stimulating learning environment. Gather useful and interesting resources and make them available for your children.
As you make time for steps 2 and 3 you will be gathering vital intelligence to inform your actions at this point. Support and encourage your child’s existing interests, offer ideas and help so they can delve deeper into the activities they love.
Add to their fun by considering what else they might enjoy. Sandra Dodd has many great suggestions for strewing, the art of leaving out interesting bits and pieces for others to pick up. Perhaps these items will spark someone’s curiosity or just brighten their day. It’s a lovely way to introduce all sorts of things…new games, pattern blocks, books that you think someone might love, unusual craft bits and pieces, retro technology, whatever you like and think others might too. Let go of any expectations of what should happen next – leave them out for a while and if no-one’s interested then embrace the challenge of looking for stuff that might go down better next time.
These two articles might inspire some new ideas for possible resources –
But don’t feel any pressure to go out and buy lots of lovely shiny new things all at once, or ever. Be realistic about your budget and the space available in your home. You are likely to have lots of useful and interesting resources already and you can always add to these over time.
- Make your home a safe space to grow and learn. And not just in terms of physical safety.
Along with providing lots of inspiring resources and interesting surroundings it will help if your emotional environment enables natural learning to flourish too. Be patient, gentle and kind with your children. Respect their views and their preferences.
While supporting your children’s interests be wary of becoming so invested that you are unwilling to allow for twists and turns in the learning journey. Be okay with unfinished projects, feel grateful for the learning that’s occurred and be open to new adventures. Allow for changes of mind and changes of direction.
Remember that the value and learning in different activities may not reveal itself until later, if ever, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Learning is happening all the time. Develop trust in your child and the process of natural learning. Accept that your child is continually learning and growing and an external reflection of this may be changes in their interests. Likewise, if your child remains committed to a particular interest over a long time and you’re struggling to understand the appeal, be reassured that there will be some value for them even if it’s not clear to you.
- Prioritise learning in your own life. Be receptive to new ideas, keep curious and keep questioning.
Open your heart and mind to new possibilities, recognise that your own learning is never done and there will always be fresh challenges to our certainties.
Modelling, or setting examples for our children through our own behaviour and actions, is such a powerful force, often underestimated and misunderstood. Be intentional about the example you set for your children; be a positive role-model with your own commitment to learning.
- Look after yourself. Make time to take care of yourself so you can give your children the care and support that they need.
This is an important step that can be easily overlooked. Putting our relationships first and being a responsive parent is a wonderful way to live a more peaceful and fulfilling life. But it is not an easy option. It takes a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, to meet our children’s needs, and while the benefits are many, there are bound to be challenges and difficulties along the way.
Taking the time to look after ourselves leaves us better equipped to meet the needs of others. Give yourself permission to relax and recharge your batteries. Get support from others, maybe partners, extended family or friends. Join local home education groups, or perhaps if you have younger children, breastfeeding support groups, attachment parenting networks or toddler play sessions may be a good way to meet like-minded people. Search online for relevant forums, and explore Yahoo Groups and Facebook to find local meet-ups and online support.
- And repeat.
As parents we all play a part in shaping the relationship our children have with learning. This guide can help you be more intentional about this. Each step will support you in learning more about the unique needs of your child and how you can work with them to get these needs met. At the same time, you’ll be gaining more confidence and trust in yourself, your child and the process of natural learning.
Supporting our children with natural learning can be a voyage of discovery for us all. It is likely that many of us will repeat some of these steps, if not all, many times, lingering longer on some than others depending on our needs at the time. Be reassured that this doesn’t mean that natural learning doesn’t work, isn’t effective or doesn’t suit your family. It is not an indication of failure on any level, or on anyone’s part. More likely it’s a good sign, it shows your commitment to the learning process, your willingness to adapt to change, and your recognition that you too are continuing to learn along with your child.
Let me know if you found these steps helpful or if you have any more to add. I would love to hear about your experiences and what has been most useful for you and your child in this exciting adventure of natural learning.
Enjoy the journey x