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I Want Your Stories of Self-Directed Learning

Please share your stories about about freedom and learning.

Dear readers,

As you know if you have been following it for awhile, this blog is primarily about self-education, especially in children but also in adults. It's about learning that occurs through play, self-directed exploration, and self-initiated focused effort. The comments and emails I have received over the past few months suggest that many of you have stories to tell that are quite relevant to these themes. I would love to hear and perhaps share your stories, which can be about your children, others you know, or you. Your stories may be a great source of inspiration for other readers.

If you have a story to share, please email it to me at It can be as long as it needs to be for coherence, but please try to be succinct. (My guess is that most would be between 1/2 and 4 single-spaced pages long.) Please paste your story into the body of the email rather than send it as an attachment. If you have your own blog or website and would like to link your story to it for further information, you are welcome to do that.

Here are some topics that particularly interest me, about which I especially invite you to write:

Learning to read without schooling. I am interested in how children learn to read in situations where they have no or little formal instruction in reading. I know that this occurs within a wide range of ages for children at Sudbury schools and in unschooling environments. If you have a story about this, I'm interested in all the relevant details you can provide. I plan to do a post on this soon and would like to include your observations.

Learning math without schooling. Some young self-educators learn math because they love it. Others learn it because they want to go to college and have to take the math SAT, or because they need to know it to pursue some other interest that intrigues them. If you have a story about self-initiated math learning I want to hear it.

From play to careers: How interests developed in play become career paths. Many lucky people find that their play, done at first purely for fun, evolves into a joyful way of making a living. I'm especially interested in cases where children or adolescents developed passionate interests through their play and then, as they grew older, found ways to make a living by pursuing those interests.

Becoming an expert through one's own initiative. This topic overlaps with the previous one, but includes cases where the area of expertise is not necessarily a career path. How do people on their own initiative become extraordinarily skilled at some endeavor or extraordinarily knowledgeable about some subject? What seems to motivate them and how do they learn?

Age-mixed play and friendships: Contributions to children's and adolescents' learning. Dan Greenberg, at Sudbury Valley School, has long claimed that free age mixing is the key to education at the school, and my research tends to confirm that. What stories do you have about age-mixed friendships and interactions and the roles they played in someone's education? I'm interested in the benefits to the older participants as well as to the younger ones, and I'm particularly interested in cases where the age differences are substantial (3 years or more).

Roles of adults in children's and adolescents' self-directed learning. Some readers have wondered about the appropriate roles of adults in young people's learning. Adults can sometimes be intrusive, in unwelcome ways, and thereby interfere with children's and adolescents' experiences of self direction and initiative. I am interested here in ways by which adults can be helpful without being intrusive. For example, I am interested in apprenticeships and mentoring, whether formal or informal, where the initiative came from the young person.

Fantasy play: Listening to little actors and directors. Young children engage in elaborate fantasy play. If you can listen to their play--or even tape record it--and then talk about what you learn from it, you may have a fascinating story to tell. What themes do they play at and how does the play relate to real life? What sorts of negotiations go on in setting up the play and in altering it as the play progresses? What do you think children are learning in the play you observed?

Making and enforcing rules at home. One concern of many people who strive to be trustful parents (see posts of July 29 and August 5, 2009) is that of how to maximize children's autonomy and self-direction at home while still maintaining order and ensuring that their own (the parents') rights are respected. How has your family approached this concern? What roles do your children play in setting household rules and how well do the rules work?

I am planning posts on all of these topics--not necessarily in the order listed--and look forward to the opportunity to include your stories. They don't all have to be success stories; stories that highlight problems to be overcome are welcome too. To maximize the chance that I will be able to use your contribution, please try to send it to me within the next two or three weeks. You don't have to limit yourself to the topics above, and you may send more than one story if you wish.

Also, please include in your email answers to these questions:

• May I use all or (more likely) parts of your story in a future blog post and/or in a book I am working on? (If I use your story I might paraphrase parts and use direct quotations for parts, and I might edit quotations slightly--for grammar and brevity--without changing meaning.)

• In any use of your story, would you and/or whomever the story is about prefer to be anonymous or identified by real name?

If you have questions about any of this, please ask in the comments section, below, rather than by email. That way your questions and my answers will be shared with others.

Happy 2010 to you all,

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