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Thank you, Twinkle, for putting words to something I've been pondering a lot lately and inviting my brains into structuring a bit of an answer for myself around this issue.
We follow the unschooling/relaxed homeschooling principles as well. It happens that in the Netherlands (where we live) homeschooling is quite unusual, but a large percentage of homeschoolers are unschoolers. It's a highly regulated and regimented country. Our current secretary of education is even trying to ban homeschooling alltogether, but that's another story. I just wanted to draw a quick picture of a mindset we deal with here.
We just try to live our lives fully and conscienciously and teach by example how to become a strong, fulfilled and moral person. In our view this should enable them to take mostly any challenge thrown at them in life, know their own wants and needs and do anything they set their minds on.
Tables of multiplication don't teach them how to face a challenge, but facing a challenge will help them through their tables of multiplication.
Obeying adults doesn't teach them to know their own wants and needs, but explaining their wants and needs to adults will teach them to recognize and fulfill them.
If it's the minds of adults setting goals and directing how to meet them, they won't easily learn how to set their minds to their own goals.
This is not something you can fit into a curriculum, and that upsets a lot of people around us. This is where your 'unstructured' resonates with me a lot. I teach my children all day long, even (maybe especially) when I'm not in the same room, but we don't do 'schooling' much, and if we do it's usually on their request.
This makes people nervous and often even angry. 'How will they learn to fit into society?' is a common question, which usually means: learn to obey societal constraints.
I always find this a bit puzzling when it happens. An unfettered look around you presents an image of a society heading for the end of the cliff at full speed, mostly because people are just going along with rules set by dead people in times gone by that don't even apply to the times we live in anymore.
I try explaining sometimes that society could use a few more people thinking outside the box, and inside the box isn't the best place to learn that. They then mostly say I'm putting too much of a weight on their shoulders by expecting that. Why is expecting them to carry on society as it is against all odds any less of a weight?
When pressed usually something emerges in the order of: following along society's path is clearer and less confusing, and you should avoid confusing children. I was even told recently that I should avoid telling my children 'maybe' to avoid unclear situations.
For me this was the summum of misunderstanding the nature of the child growing towards being an adult. Life isn't regimented into 'Yes's' and 'No's', and teaching children to live according to the thought that it is so, risks growing adults whom reduce every issue to yes and no, black and white and can't deal with the complexities of life.
However, if they've learned a lot of maybe's, they can reduce or expand any question or problem to as many or as few elements as seems necessary and logical.
Pursuit of passions requires time for play and self-directed education.
Moral growth is promoted when we allow little ones to act on their instincts.
If allowed to help, toddlers become great work partners later in childhood.
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