unschooling and the pandemic

Written 9 June 2020.

When my friend told me she was worried that her daughter would “get behind if she did not go back to school soon”, this got me thinking. While these are very real concerns for parents, who know how fiercely competitive the job market is getting, I started to think what does ‘behind’ mean? Perhaps now, in the midst of the Pandemic, is the time to reassess what education is actually for, and doing. Education should not be about content, that if we miss it, we will get ‘behind’, but should be about exploration, development and growth. These are very personal things, that should not solely be tied to a national curriculum and a keeping up with the peer group, and are not solely experienced within the four walls of the school building. 

learning to tie knots with dad

Since the beginning of Lockdown, when kindergarten closed, now reaching 9 weeks for us, I have witnessed my nearly five year old son grow exponentially, and we have not even opened a text book. We have been juggling full-time home working, temper tantrums, no outdoor space, the draw of screens, parental arguments, Ramadan fasting, elderly parents’ struck down with the virus, and all this involves learning and growth. My son has learned, and is still, learning so much.

 

balcony water play marble run

He has grown taller, he is has cycled through, and emerged from, various stages of early years development, including the stealing ‘treasures’ from the kitchen stage; playing with knives stage; experiments with blackmail and manipulation stage. Left completely to his own devices, we have discovered he loves: taking apart electronics; music, dance and percussion.  He – as I am sure heightened for many of us in the Pandemic Lockdowns  – has been struggling with addictions: ‘just one more biscuit’; ‘I’ve got to watch the next programme then I’ll do my chores’; ‘I’ve just got to scroll ten more, then I’ll go to sleep’*. 

pandemic telly addict

In todays age, GCSEs should be measuring how clearly you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day; if you can be faithful and trustworthy; if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can live with failure; how well you can sit with pain in the empty moments when all else falls away.**

The best thing you can do is nurture children’s spirit and desire to learn, to want to explore, to find out. The rest will follow. Many more parents are ‘unschooling’ now, which is a deliberately provocative term, but nevertheless useful one. At the centre of this, is allowing children to learn in a self-directed manner. That is giving them freedom to explore, and to support what they want to learn about. 

pandemic NHS appreciation rainbow drawn by 4 year old

For more inspiration on critical and alternative approaches to education visit these two projects.

One of which is very resonant with me:

Disco Learning by Lucy Aitken Read is an unschooling course giving parents the courage to unschool.

The other of which I am a founder and governor:

Arbol Madre Holistic School is a Waldorf-inspired school aiming to educate mind, body and soul.

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*Thats me, not my 5 year old. My 5 year old is not scrolling before bed. It’s not that bad. Yet.

**Credits to The Invitation, a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

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