How kids learn from living – more than from schooling!

Another exclusive from ‘A Home Education Notebook’ that illustrates so well how home education works:

…Sometimes when we were home educating I got the feeling that education was taking over my life.

I remember one incident when I felt rather near the end of my tether. (There was more than one; but this sticks in my mind because of the poo).

Not only was the meal late and everyone starved to the point of tantrums, but also I was eating it with a fork covered in wax, I’d had to drain the pasta in a sink which was purple with dye and eat off a table with bird poo on it.

It wasn’t fresh bird poo I hasten to add. Actually it wasn’t poo at all; it just put me in mind of it.

It was an owl pellet lovingly carried home like treasure, to be dissected and examined and crooned over after the boring exercise of having dinner was out the way. But bird poo or not it was the last straw and I wasn’t enjoying looking at it while I sat chewing in moody silence, trying not to give in to the feeling of mounting irritation.

My youngest gobbled hers down as fast as possible so she could get her hands on it. She was just itching to take it apart, she wriggled about, shoving pasta down her throat like there was no tomorrow.

“Finished!” she exclaimed. “Can I do it now?”

“No!” the rest of us shouted in unison with our mouths full and our plates only half empty.

“Dohhh!” She sat and sulked, her impatient eye flicking between our dwindling meal and the pellet. “She’s deliberately taking a long time,” she said of her sister. We ignored it and kept on eating.

The minute we’d all finished she whipped our plates away in a whirlwind of rare helpfulness and pounced on the pellet with a pair of tweezers.

We gave up. We’d gone off the pudding anyway and everything seemed to taste of melted candle wax. (We were doing batik earlier). The rest of the family drifted away from what they considered to be the most disgusting member of the household and she and I started the dissecting.

The pellet was indeed a treasure. My irritation was forgotten and I became as absorbed in the examination as she was. It was fascinating.

There were stones, shells, bones, fish scales, bits of shellfish, a beetle – in pieces, putting it together was fun, fur and hair. We were so enthusiastic that the others came back and took part and we were soon fighting over who was going to excavate the next gem. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Who needed pudding when we’d got the excitement of learning and discovery going on?

How often did learning get this exciting in school?

The trouble with organised education, conducted by people who are bound by so many constructs, is that so many wonderful but incidental opportunities to engage and educate during every day life and interactions are completely missed.

For children don’t always need teaching or schooling  – they learn anyway.

Education and real life do not need to be separate from one another. Most learning does not come from teaching.

Much valuable learning cannot be timetabled

Learning really does go on all the time. All of life is important to a child’s learning and education. And much is lost when people try to compartmentalise learning into neat little outcomes, as schools have to do, and force children to be taught rather than trust that they can learn anyway.

Also, many children are put off learning completely by schools and institutions like them trying to fragment education away from real life and force it into different strait-jackets in order to teach and measure.

They fragment by subject and content, by levels and ability, by age, by standards and testing, by time and period, and by clustering people together. They segregate it from life by the very action of removing children from real experience and experimentation and confining them in a situation that has no equivalent in the real world outside at all. And we are made to believe that learning cannot happen without teaching, which is not the case at all. Home learning can and does happen successfully without all these restrictions.

Out in that real world learning and education takes place by the simple act of living a life and being exposed to all manner of things, bird poo and owl pellets included.

What a loss it would have been if we hadn’t collected the owl pellet when we were out on our walk simply because it wasn’t our objective; we were supposed to be having our exercise. Or if I’d said we couldn’t dissect it because it wasn’t on our timetable and we had to do reading right now.

All right, I admit I did want my dinner first and so did the other members of the family. There may have been a more appropriate time and place for this activity. But my point is that restricting learning to what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at the time, in other words compartmentalising it with rigid rules, misses out on so much. It also devalues the learning the children are interested in and suggests that it is only taught learning that is of value.

What an excellent and valuable learning opportunity would have been lost if I’d dismissed this activity just then because it wasn’t what I wanted to teach them. Not only the opportunity to learn about science and the life of a species, but the opportunity to develop in the children something very special; a love of learning and finding out just for the pleasure of it.

This is what learning without teaching and schooling becomes; learning simply for the pleasure and fascination of discovery and knowledge.

What a loss it would be if I didn’t answer at the time those inquisitive questions that come at me constantly; in the car; in the supermarket; at bedtime; even when she’s sitting on the toilet, just because that subject wasn’t on our timetable just then. Or if I stopped the natural curiosity by saying the child was too young, or too old, or too slow a learner. Or even more bizarre; wasn’t wearing the right uniform; or in the right room; or sitting in the right position. Or if I withheld information because another bit hadn’t been learned yet and I was in charge of the teaching.

How much education would not go on if I restricted it to so many constructs, regulations, teaching, schedules, subject divisions and age segregation? How ridiculous that all seems in comparison to just living an educational life. As all life surely is.

I am not saying there is no place for any kind of structure. Of course there is. Most people have some kind of self-imposed structure in their day, in their Home Education, and for successful interaction with society.

But to separate children from real life experiences and opportunities for incidental learning, and to impose so many restrictions on what they should do, how and when, is to miss out on a wealth of opportunity and at its worst to kill their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning stone dead.

It’s their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that produces educated young peoplenot teaching or schooling. So on days when you’re having a wobble about you not teaching them anything, or them not learning anything, it helps to keep this in mind.

By living a busy life, learning happens all the time. This is education with real meaning. For all of us; children and adults alike.

Education wasn’t taking over my life – it was my life, still is and always will be and that’s also true of my grown up young people who enjoy learning about stuff just as much as ever, even though they’re both over twenty now and never had learning rules imposed. They’re always looking up stuff on the wonder that is Google just out of curiosity and know far more than me.

Although, I do admit to feeling at the time that there may have been one rule I would have liked to apply: no bird poo or owl pellets on the table while I ate my dinner!

(For the rest – and more support for your home education see the My Books page. Or you can buy this book from Eyrie Press or Amazon)

2 thoughts on “How kids learn from living – more than from schooling!

  1. I love this excerpt, Ross!

    As you know, mine are all grown now, but they all still have a passion for learning. Even in their twenties, they’re constantly sharing their discoveries with me – often obscure documentaries about space, nature, history, you name it. And, bored during her summer holiday between university years, my daughter has taken it upon herself to have a go at watercolour painting and learn Spanish, US and European geography, and probably a whole lot more she hasn’t mentioned.

    I do wonder just how much all that would have been dampened if they’d been to school and come out with the feeling that learning is something you’re made to do to someone else’s criteria and timetable. I’m sure not all schooled children feel like that, but it must be very hard to help them retain that passion when they’re not the masters of their own education.

    • Brilliant comment Jane, thanks so much for sharing that here. I think you’ve identified a main problem with the system – the lack of chance kids have to master their own education and consequently practice the skills that make that ongoing! Thanks again.

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