Good grades without any school years? Yes! Here is the recipe. Unschooling

In truth, I wouldn’t have believed that 100% years ago, but the answer is definitely yes, a child can get their grades without years of schooling!

Our 17-year-old daughters weren’t homeschoolers for 8 years, but solid self-directed learners, from around 8 to 16 years old. Our son wasn’t a homeschooler either. He was also self-employed from ages 5 to to, well, he still does. Before that, they had a couple of years in school and a couple of years in which I didn’t really know what I was doing but effectively taught them at home.

Now the girls have just completed a GCSE Fast Track course in 9, i.e. 6 months, due to Covid. They all passed their exams with very high grades. They are not geniuses and they and not super kids. They are autonomous learners who sent themselves back into formal education by the age of 16 and they loved it!

So what happened

First, it didn’t seem to work for anyone to get our children through the system. The curiosity in her eyes subsided and the tension increased. They were in great demand for learning so much information. It all seemed very stressful, like too much water pouring into a small jug. They weren’t ready for the massive wave of learning that was coming their way. Our son couldn’t cope either and we wanted to do something different. So we left the formal school system and traveled, I’m writing all about it here. We changed everything. We met them where they were.

Play is the key!

One of the most important things we learned among many things that are all in ours book (shameless plug there) that was, let your child PLAY. It’s so very important.
As they grew up, I realized that there is no separation between learning and playing, it’s the same thing. This runs counter to anything I’ve ever been taught. So it was a huge penny to drop. This can be hard to hear when you’re home teaching, following a curriculum, and trying to get them to keep up.

With self-directed learner there is no sustaining, there are no grades to keep up with, no tests, no set amount of time to read, it’s an organic learning process, and it’s so liberating for everyone. It might be like ice skating for the first time when you first start, but once you get it it’s that simple and it makes perfect sense.

One of the first things I had to learn was to let them play, not to interrupt their fun, so that THAT is always the top priority. Even if you nag yourself to sit down and get her to study. To play is to learn. That way, you give them their autonomy to find out what they love and what makes them tick. It took me a while to learn.

I went through the system so I had to desystemize myself, it was work. You can read about it here. When it comes to getting the parents out of school I refer to that, that’s the hardest part.

Here is the key to self-directed learning

You can show yourself positive by offering them a choice, and when I say offer I mean alternatives. Not textbooks and worksheets, but ideas, people with experience, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, the world is your oyster. When you see that they love to dance and want to pursue it, take them to dance classes. If that’s out of your budget and it doesn’t happen due to Covid then online dance classes. Immerse them in shows and see who is out there to inspire them.

I’ve learned that people are friendlier, more open and more responsive than you think and often enjoy imparting knowledge and sharing their experiences. If you see a great interest in history or science, support this. I just heard from a self directed learner who is now doing a Masters in Forensic Criminology. This child followed a passion. I think what happens is that children are figuring out exactly what they want to do and they are enthusiastic about trying as it is their choice.

They are not told what to do. They are driving towards their own passions. Isn’t that an empowering thought?

Another thing I learned is that the internet is your friend. While I agree that there is nothing better than seeing someone in person to inspire you, right now we are all doing what we can because of the coronavirus. It’s mostly online, but luckily there are plenty of resources out there.

Also something that struck me especially with shy children who don’t integrate perfectly is the internet amazing. It seems like a place where they can safely build their confidence from their own room. This is for the “coddlers”, I’ll be writing another blog about them. Those who put their hoodies up and play for years … trust them, think caterpillar and then butterfly. It’s hard to see when they’re at this stage, but it happens, I’ve seen it over and over again.

So, going back to those shy ones, they can learn to develop. When you think about it, it makes sense that they are not physically in a group, they are less intimidated. It is their choice to duck if they want. Self-directed autonomous learners promote self-efficacy.

While I think being in a group and integrating socially is important, there are times when it’s just perfect to pamper yourself from home and learn how to be social. This is a different perspective on the closed teenager, they are going through a process, I will write about it on another blog!

How do you support your child in learning?

For me, it’s important to remember that learning is a bit like a butterfly on your finger. If you move too fast, it will fly away. Do not rush and attack the child. I was guilty of this and saw my child stare at me as I tended to turn things into a lesson.

Relax. Try things, do things yourself, buy the art materials, look at the science experiments. Ask the curious questions. Your child will see this and most likely will or will not go along with it, or will later.

For me, the most important thing was taking care of the garden, leaving things around, watching interesting movies, having the supplies or just being there.
Listen to what they are talking about and remember that this process can be slow. Let them lead the way too, let them reveal who they are to you. As I said, meet the child where they are.

Lessons I’ve Learned

I heard a beautiful Maori example once, it was this, learning is like an underground river. It’s always flowing and always there, even though you can’t see it. It comes up from the ground as a source every now and then, trust that it is there.

You can find the example on this wonderful blog by Carol Black called “A thousand rivers” You can also listen to or find this great talk on learning from Mereana Taki on this blog Here, She is an indigenous Maori. In this video she shares Maori views on learning, intelligence, spirituality and child development. She speaks wonderfully and is worth listening to, she has very wise and gentle words.

I love this river analogy. I realized that years ago I was constantly looking for spring and wasn’t sure if the river was underground.

I’ve learned to trust. Now I see that the spring and the river in our family with our girls have arisen and flow. They flew through years of study in 6 to 9 months. These self-directed learners are on their way to high school graduation. For me it’s not about the grades at all, it’s about their path, their journey and who they want to be and what they want to learn.

The same goes for our son, who is not interested in history or handwriting, but learns something about philosophy with his sister in the next room. He’s not a genius either, he just loves the difficult philosophical questions. He’s decided after years of seemingly non-stop play that he wants to dive deep into learning, so he does and we support him.

The flow is there, trust it and do your best so that social history patterns don’t stop its flow. Your grown children will thank you for believing in them and for being the wind behind their wings.

Other self directed learners, how do you learn, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this which you can comment or comment on below Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I love continuing this conversation about education!

You can read more of Lehla’s writing here in our book “Jumping, Falling, Flying from School to School to School”.

Thanks to Stanley Morales from Pexels for the main photo

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