I frequently describe unschooling or self-directed learning as kids doing what they want to do all the time. Because I chose not to put my kids in school, nor did I make any real study requirements of them, they spent a lot of their childhood playing. We had lots of opportunities for activities, such as gymnastics, museum science classes, music lessons, ancient history classes, swimming or Shakespeare, so we were never at a loss for things to do, but again these were choices they could make. Their closest friends were also homeschooling and involved in the same activities, which put us together with them several times a week (often daily) allowing them lots of time to play together.
With all this play and little to no coercion, some adults wonder Do unschoolers ever do things they don’t want to do? Of course they do — the same way free adults do things they don’t want to do — as a means to an end that they do want. For example, you may not want to exercise, go to work, clean your house or attend a funeral. The truth is that you don’t have to do any of those things, but most of us choose some disagreeable or difficult things because of something we do want out of that effort. We work out because we like being fit and healthy. We go to work because we like the positive contribution we can make and the paycheck we can earn. We wash dishes, do laundry and clean the house because we value order, harmony and health. We attend the funeral of a friend or family to pay our respects and to show support through a time of grief and loss. We feel a benefit from connecting in this way. There are personal benefits to all of these activities, or else we would not choose to do them.
Our experience with unschooling was the same. Our kids pushed themselves over and over again to achieve things meaningful to them. Things that definitely weren’t easy. They polished violin concertos, set and surpassed goals in swimming, memorized lines for Shakespeare performances, went above and beyond expectations at their summer jobs, and completed college entrance requirements, not because someone “made” them, but because they enjoyed the challenges and felt the rewards were worth the efforts. We helped them connect the dots — explaining to them the future benefits they might see from efforts they put in now — but we left the choice to do or not do up to them. They didn’t always make the same choices we would have made, but they are different people and we accepted them and honored their choices.
Our experience has been that children who are given a sense of value as individuals and are allowed to unfold in their own time and in their own way, invest their time and talents confidently and effectively, even in ways that are sometimes challenging and difficult. They are motivated to become functioning and contributing members of society when they see themselves as part of that society from the beginning. Trusting in kids is good for our world.
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