Learning vs. Teaching

I sometimes get asked how I know what to teach my children. I think that this is a reasonable question. After all, homeschooling can be somewhat mystifying to those who are not in the throes of it.

My answer, like that of many homeschoolers in general and most unschoolers in particular, is very little. I teach very little; instead, I help my children to learn.

Children are innately curious and intent on learning about their world and exploring their interests, as long as we grown-ups get out of their way. Our role, as I see it, is to create space for our children's learning; to cultivate an environment that sparks their natural curiosity and then facilitate our children's learning by providing resources (e.g., books, museums, manipulatives, classes, etc.) that help our children to deepen their knowledge.

One of my favorite authors and researchers on the topic of unschooling and school reform is Peter Gray, a Boston College psychology professor and writer for Psychology Today. His blog, Freedom to Learn, is informative and inspirational, particularly his most recent article: "Is Real Educational Reform Possible? If So, How?"

In his article, which I really hope you will read, he states: "To learn on their own, children need unlimited time to play, explore, become bored, overcome boredom, discover their own interests, and pursue those interests. To learn what they need to know to become highly effective, productive, moral members of the larger society they also need a rich environment within which to play and explore."

Creating this "rich environment" for learning is what I see as my fundamental role in guiding my children's education. I watch. I listen. I trust. And then I find ways to link their passions with community resources. For example, my daughter is very interested in the solar system, so she was enchanted by a recent trip to a nearby planetarium and enjoys the library books we borrow on this subject.

My children are young and so the process of linking interests with educational opportunities is perhaps more straightforward. But many veteran unschoolers -- or homeschoolers who choose not to follow a prescribed curriculum -- agree that following our children's lead, acting as facilitator rather than teacher, is our essential role as parents.

In his article, Peter Gray goes on to argue that "real reform is not possible from within the existing conventional school system," and, as a result, "the trend for people to walk away from the conventional schooling system will continue and will accelerate."

If his prediction is true and more parents opt-out of the conventional school environment for their kids, then there may be more opportunities for real educational reform, with children at the lead.