Life Learning: Difficult Subjects & A Difficult Subject

Life Learning: Difficult Subjects & A Difficult Subject

I recently posted a link to this article on my personal Facebook page.  It is by one of the premier voices in life learning, Wendy Priesnitz.  The article talks about letting children slow down and explore their worlds.  It also stresses the importance of schools moving away from “results oriented” evaluation, and moving towards self-discovery for children.  A perspective that I appreciate and identify with.

In response, I got an very interesting response from a friend.  Anyone who has chosen to homeschool, probably knows what it is like to face opposition to their choice.  In many ways, I actually enjoy the debate, because it allows me to put into words the many things that swirl around in my brain when it comes to home learning.  And, I usually find some clarity, or at least a healthy debate.

In this case, my friend, who is also a passionate public school teacher, expressed concern that kids educated in this fashion wouldn’t face anything that was difficult or uninteresting for them, and would therefore lack necessary life skills.  A valid argument that we have all heard.  And, one, if I’m being honest with myself, that I can entertain.  My mind immediately runs to the worst, a child that can’t add or never learned world geography and has no idea how people live outside his own existence (you can feel free to insert whatever dire scene you can come up with here).

The thing is (and what I said to my friend, amidst a lot of rambling, trying to get to this point), that the life learning approach advocated in the article stresses two things (or at least my interpretation does).  One: that kids learn better, and the information they are learning sticks better, if they have a vested interest in what they are learning.  If they can approach a subject or skill in a way that interests them, they are much more likely to both succeed in, and grow from, that knowledge.  And, two: that the very ability to learn, and teach oneself new skills in life, trumps any particular information or subject that a child could learn.

Now, I don’t know any “unschooler” or “life learner” or parent, really, who doesn’t want their child to have a good grounding in foundational skills.  In my opinion, it is more a matter of the timing, and method of acquiring these skills that is in question.  Which is where public schools have their limitations.  Standards, which are dictated by age and grade are pretty hard to avoid in public schools.  And an individualized learning plan for each and every student is nearly impossible in a classroom setting.

So, is it okay to sit in the happy medium?  Decide what is right for your children, and be at peace with that?  Who advocates for all of the other children?  I think this is what my friend was also getting at.  That every child deserves the best kind of education they can receive.  Although we may be seemingly worlds apart in our approaches, I don’t really think we are.  I think we would agree that we both have the best interest of children in our hearts.  And, I admit to being challenged by what she says: that all children deserve advocates.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to all of these questions.  I am exceedingly curious to know what your answers and responses might be.

So, if you are up for it, throw in your hat, and enter the debate.  Give me your two cents on the subject.  Where do you fall on the spectrum, and why?  And do you agree that learning to learn may very well be the best skill we help our children attain?  Please do be respectful in your comments, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

We’re linking up with The Momma Knows for The ABC’s of Homeschooling.  Enjoy!

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  1. I think children already know how to learn. Sure, we can introduce them to some tools that will help them learn like how to research better or how to find mentors and internships. But I think each child already knows how he or she learns best and she’s trying to do that every day. If we don’t interfer with that process, they’ll continue to learn in the ways that come naturally to them- some kids will ask lots of questions, some will take apart things, some will watch lots of DVDs,some will read a ton and some will want to be outside all the time.

    I agree that there are fundamental things kids need to learn, but that list is relatively small. We just need to find ways to introduce those skills and topics in ways that honor how each child likes and wants to learn the most.

    • That’s beautiful. Especially the part about honouring the child. As for learning, you’re right! That has certainly been my experience with my son. The less I interfere, the more he learns. I love the process. It may seem strange to some, but it is pretty magical when you let it happen, isn’t it? What you say about learning is perfect. It gives voice to what I think as a librarian, that you just need to connect kids with the right resources (be they books, people etc). Thanks for your thoughts. =)

  2. Yep, I completely agree. Kids are born to be curious about the world around them. It’s when we start micromanaging the how’s and why’s of learning in their life that they lose that curiosity and learning becomes mundane and a chore. My kids teach me new things on a daily basis. It amazes me the wide range of knowledge they have.

    I think the greatest gift we can give our kids is to have that same curiosity ourselves. Kids learn a lot by example. If they are surrounded by people who are constantly in wonder at the world and continuously learning, they will catch that excitement and hunger for knowledge.

    • Well said. It’s pretty wonderful when your kids can inspire you towards creativity and continual learning, while you inspire them! Such an amazing reciprocal relationship. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Such a challenge to put into words how I feel about this, but I really am learning daily that the less I interfere with my daughter’s learning, the more she takes it on herself. When I say “Let’s sit down and do home-school” she groans, but when I say, “what do you want to do today?” she pipes up with a handful of ideas that she’s really excited to do. If I follow her lead, and gently guide her, she absorbs so much more than if we sat down to “do a lesson”, and she also has far more endurance in her “work” and takes way more pride in what she’s doing. I’m just at the beginning of homeschooling my daughter (who’s in grade 1) but am learning so much already and love seeing her thrive and grow as a person!

    • That’s exactly how Dylan is. He loves to do things that are his idea. In the past week, for example, he came up with leaf collages on contact paper, making cards, making carpet cleaner, and playing doctor. I helped him make a volcano, and go owling – both things we’ve talked about before, so he was keen already. I love that delicate balance between leading and following that happens when home learning together.

  4. There are core subjects and activities that I feel that my daughters have to learn. That being said, I give them a lot of flexibility to pursue their true interests – whether that be learning about animals, reading their choice of books, or puzzles.

    Fostering and supporting their interest in a variety of subjects and hobbies makes a well-rounded child. When they feel encouraged by an adult/parent while being completely engaged in what they’re doing….that to me is the best type of learning.

    • So well put, Ann. I like the bit about a well-rounded child. The idea of a child being good at, or at least working in, many different areas is one of the key concepts I love about Waldorf education.

      I love how you say, “fostering and supporting their interests.” Variety can be fostered, and kids can be (and usually are, when supported well), interested in so many things!

      I love watching my son’s natural curiosity shine through. And, I agree, it is the absolute best when he’s completely engaged, and I just can encourage him where he needs me.

  5. I spent all of last semester researching (with my college students) education reform and over and over again, we would find research that showed that traditional forms of education destroyed curiosity, “trained” students to be less creative and diminished the love for learning. As a college instructor, I do find a number of students who are much more focused on the ends than the means of their education. They look for the easy way out, someone to give them the answer or are even willing to cheat if it means getting the grade they need or passing the class they need to.

    I think its important for children to have some direction – someone who guides them through their learning, helps them make connections, etc. But, I think when they find something they love to learn about, the more we can tie that into math and science and writing, etc. the better they will be at learning all that information and those skills.

    I also think this type of education is incredibly difficult to expect from teachers in classrooms that are too large and too vastly different in skills. There is no simple answer…only complex problems.

    • You are so right about the complex problems. Yes, I agree, having a person (or more likely, people) to guide children through learning is important. Teachers, parents, mentors, other family members – there are a lot of possibilities. It is always a bit sad, though, when someone makes it to the college level and (in my opinion) has missed the point of being there in the first place.

      And, I agree wholeheartedly that interest can help anyone learn any subject much more easily and permanently. It’s a tough job teachers have, without even attempting any interest-led learning in the classroom isn’t it?

      Thanks for all of your insightful comments!


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