Children begin learning through play and experimentation, gaining insights and understanding by interacting within their milieu. If they spend most of their time in restrictive environments where play isn’t encouraged, or if television is used as a central distractive tool, they have much less opportunity to develop creative abilities, critical thinking skills, and imaginative modes of interaction, such as role-playing and make believe. Thus, creativity can be stunted and learning is relegated to educational programming, structured workbook learning, and other rote methods of education.
Many new parents hardly have any other concept of learning, other than the compulsory educational expectations they themselves grew up with. More often than not, the majority of children in American society go through some sort of preschool program, then they begin a long career in public education, or might attend some sort of private school or charter school, depending on what options are available and what is affordable for their parents. But what if we delayed that abrupt entry into the state-sanctioned educational systems, which more often than not teach our children mostly how to memorize and regurgitate information, and allow them to learn how they actually want to learn?
Most children have the ability to absorb life lessons primarily through conversation, experience, and free play, if only given the freedom to do so. But unfortunately, many parents today are too busy, stressed out, and pre-occupied with their own careers, life struggles, or pursuit of financial gain to allow for much time being devoted to reading with children, playing outdoors, doing art projects, and walking in the woods. I know this from experience, as my ideal parenting situation would involve much more time in nature, and I myself am guilty of utilizing videos too much, for one thing, as a distraction at times or even as a substitutive learning device. But I’m sure we could all do much better, even if we would just simply let our children direct the learning process instead of trying to force them into the prototypical educational mold.
There is a homeschooling approach to education called “unschooling” which involves letting the learner direct their education based on what they’d like to learn and what interests them. If this idea seems a bit unorthodox, that’s because it is. However, it’s a much more natural approach to learning that facilitates discovery and fosters curiosity, which in turn helps the student and the teacher (who are actually both learners) become more engaged in the educational process. Learning is based more on the desires of the student, and is directed by their preferred style of learning, their interests, and their natural talents.
Unschooling can be as varied and unique as the personalities of the children who are involved in this style of learning. The main idea is that the child gets to direct the educational process, and they only learn what they’re interested in learning, and when they’re ready to learn. That is one of the most detrimental aspects of traditional schooling, where all students are required to learn the same subjects, in the same manner. There is usually not much, if any, consideration given to learning styles or preferences in your average classroom, and some students get bored while others get left behind. Obviously, this leaves a fairly narrow window of opportunity that is only really accessible to children who can learn in a highly structured environment, that don’t need a lot of one on one interaction, and can tolerate mostly sitting at a desk, taking instruction, and basically learning how to tell the teacher what he or she wants to hear. There are many concerns about public educators having to “teach to the test” in order to make sure their students can pass standardized state tests, which many say detracts from actual learning, as teachers have to focus curricula on getting their students to pass these tests.
There are many different approaches to learning, and so many options for schooling (or unschooling) children both within the home setting or in a more traditional classroom environment. There a charter schools that employ more art oriented, student-centered methods, Montessori educational institutions, and also the Waldorf philosophy of education. Montessori allows for more freedom for the student, as they are allowed a range of educational choices, rather than just being given one specific mode of learning. And the Waldorf technique is another more holistic approach, which incorporates music and art, and takes child development into account, as a benchmark for introducing certains concepts and subjects.
Whatever our approach is to education, let us all pay more attention to the way our children prefer to learn, and let them direct the educational process. Not all kids are comfortable sitting in a classroom all day, being systematically instructed in various subjects which may or may not interest them. I’m sure we can all agree that the more interested we are in a particular subject, the more apt we are to understand and retain information. Let’s allow our children more freedom to seek their passions, learn, ask questions, and discover the answers how they see fit.