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Unschooling movement not for everyone

BABIES are born curious. Just take a look at the face of an infant who discovers his own feet and determines that not only are they part of him, he can control their movement. It's a seminal learning moment.

BABIES are born curious.

Just take a look at the face of an infant who discovers his own feet and determines that not only are they part of him, he can control their movement. It's a seminal learning moment.

When we provide our children with a stimulating environment that includes books, art supplies, trips to the park and walks around the neighborhood we are encouraging their learning.

We follow the lead of our babies and toddlers and watch them learn to walk and talk and relate to others and us. It's magical. They expand their learning by attending preschool and then elementary and secondary school.

But there are parents who are not sending their kids to school because they believe that children can continue to learn and explore on their own. They are choosing an alternate educational experience.

It's called unschooling and is a philosophy centred on allowing children to learn through natural life experience and by exploring topics that interest them. It is not home schooling, which is more likely to follow a curriculum at home rather than in the classroom. There is no curriculum in unschooling. The learning is driven by the children.

I believe that unschooling has a lot of merit. Kids learn all day. They learn by watching us, by experiencing everyday life, by being encouraged to follow their interests. Unschooling is part of the growth and development of every child.

But promoting unschooling for all children instead of school, has many drawbacks. Unscshooling assumes that parents have the ability to be home with their children 24/7. This would seem to imply that either a parent would not be employed or that parents would work and parent in shifts so that there is always one adult at home. Kids do much of their learning by figuring out how to handle the variety of experiences that come their way. When they spend almost all their time with their parents and siblings, they miss this chance.

There is a reason that teachers have university degrees. They are trained to teach children, I am not.

I cannot imagine that every child can explore advanced physics, the implications of ancient history or the subtleties of poetry on their own. Possibly an extremely bright child would succeed, but my guess is that the mainstream child would flounder and her parents might also be quickly out of their depth.

My daughter is an engineer. I am certain this would not have happened if she had depended on herself and her parents for advanced math and calculus in high school. She had a great math teacher who prepared her well for her university level courses.

I believe that kids should go to school.

Children are citizens of their neighbourhood and community. When they don't go to school they miss the diversity of people who live in their vicinity. I appreciate that most will be part of some extracurricular activities, but even then the range of kids they are meeting is limited to those who share their interests.

The schoolyard is the meeting place for all children in the neighbourhood. At school, artistic kids meet jocks, nerds meet the popular kids and rich and poor rub shoulders.

What about letting kids learn what they want to learn when they are motivated to do so? It's certainly true that school cannot offer that option. But then, neither does life. What if the editors of this paper just weren't particularly interested in following the news this week or decided that although a big story was breaking it just didn't appeal to them? What then?

School is just one part of a child's life and learning opportunity. We can learn better ways to engage kids by looking at the unschooling movement and figuring out how to let them learn more by experience.

Let's give our kids all the chances in the world by sending them to the local school and letting them pursue other interests at home.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at