“Unschooling recognizes that what schools see as learning is really just a small fraction of what there is to discover in life. Learning takes a lifetime, and the order and manner of gaining knowledge is not as important as making and reaching goals.”
My family has been on an unschooling or natural learning path with homeschooling for about a year now. In a nutshell, unschooling is allowing your child’s education to be guided by their intrinsic motivations and natural curiosities about the world around them. With a Masters in Education and after having taught in an elementary classroom for years, unschooling was an education philosophy I shied away from at first. It felt like such a radical idea, but these days it couldn’t feel more natural and normal.
The hardest part for me has been reprogramming my brain with what I thought I knew about education and how children (or anyone for that matter) learn. In a classroom, it is rare that the teacher walks in and says, “Ok class, what do you want to learn today?” When I was in the classroom, I had my lesson plan book filled out a few days to a week in advance. On occasion those lessons may have been informed by the student’s interests, but mainly, they were guided by the state implemented guidelines of what my students should know. Even though I would attempt as much hands on learning as possible, the fault in this method of educating lies in the fact that the motivation to learn the skills and information was not intrinsic to the students. It was forced upon them and though some had an interest in what was on the schedule that day, some did not. But regardless, it was what they had to learn.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~Benjamin Franklin
Though I loved the idea of unschooling, I was struggling with the classic questions of many naysayers: “How will they know they want to learn _____ (enter any subject/idea/skill) if they are never taught it?”
Enter the art of strewing.
Strewing is the act of scattering things in the environment of your children to spark their interest and curiosity.
In a recent book I read called The Art of Strewing: Instilling the Love of Learning by Piquing your Child’s Natural Curiosity, Aadel Bussinger writes extensively on how to go about strewing. She suggests that strewing involves:
- Opening doors to new ideas and opportunities
- Feeding the flames of interests and hobbies
- Providing resources, structure, and information
- Showing examples of how to research
- Sowing seeds of potential
Bussinger stresses that strewing is a passive, gentle practice that is not attached to negativity or punishment for non-participation. Sometimes, my attempt to strew is not met with enthusiasm…and that is perfectly OK. Maybe we’ll try it again later down the line or not at all. As an unschooling mom, I see it as my job to be less teacher-like and more the facilitator for my children’s education by providing opportunities for discovery. I am letting go of ALL the shoulds and trusting in the power of my children’s curiosity. I’m listening to their questions, watching their interests, and recognizing their potential. I’m not sitting down with lesson plans in mind or an objective to teach them certain skills. Instead, I’m filling their environment with opportunities to discover their world and allowing them to show me what they want to learn. Bussinger points out that:
“Strewing is different than most interest-led learning methods. It does not require or expect anything from the child. It suggests, invites, and entices, but never does it coerce. Strewing is much less about providing a rounded education and more about enriching your lives and making it more meaningful, mindful, and observant.”
Sometimes people will say to me, “Oh I could never homeschool. I don’t have the education background that you do.” But as I said before, I’ve taken most of what I knew in my career as an educator and thrown it out the window. As a homeschooling mom, I do not have the expectation to be my children’s sole educator. I don’t know all the answers or all the things…but I do know how to research the answers, look for resources, or find classes or experts who do know so that my children can learn about what motivates them. To my out-of-home school readers…you can strew, too! I don’t think that this is something that only unschoolers/natural learners can use to enrich their children’s education. Any parent, grandparent or caregiver can strew for their beloved child.
And strewing is not just about objects in their path. Sure I will strew a book or a material that I think would ignite their passion, but strewing also includes experiences, field trips, a conversation that may encourage critical thinking, a class that may unlock a curiosity, or maybe something as simple as a walk around the block! I actually find the act of strewing really exciting and interesting. I look at my children like puzzles. As their mom I’m figuring them out and learning what makes them tick. When I think I have unlocked something that drives them, I take great pleasure in searching the world for opportunities and resources to support and encourage that drive. I feel so proud and joyful when I see my children excited and motivated.
This journey of natural learning in some ways is as much mine as it is theirs. As a product of public schools, I feel my education was severely lacking and this lifestyle of unschooling gives me the opportunity to have a do over. Often times I am learning right along with them and it’s amazing to experience that together. As a family. Naturally.