Child-Led Inquiry or Unschooling

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It’s been a long time coming, I think, but our family is finally taking the plunge into unschooling.  Unschooling is also referred to as child-led or interest-led learning.  Basically it is a way of viewing the learning in everything so that you see the educational value of it all.  Let’s face it, learning can happen anytime, anyplace, if only you open your mind to it.

Why We’re Making the Switch

My son “Winter” has come to dislike learning.  That’s not to say that I can’t occasionally grab his attention with something particularly interesting, but for years now there has been an incredible amount of resistance.  Winter has struggled with sensory issues since he was  a baby, and it has been suggested that he may have PDD-NOS, though we’ve refrained from putting him through the ordeal of testing; basically he’s high functioning on the Autism spectrum.  I’ve used the lure of video games to coerce him to work through his chores and school lessons, but even still there is resistance.  I can’t say that the resistance I face with Winter is surprising to me; my own husband has a lot of ingrained resistance.  In high school it was his rebel-attitude that attracted me to Keith, but as we grew older, developed our life together, and had children together, I realized the full extent of this “resistance”.  The Burnses are largely Scottish, and that resistance is basically their stubborn-streak shining through.  And it is prevalent throughout the entire family.  How can I teach anyone anything when the attitude ingrained upon their very soul is rebellion?  “I’m not going to do this just because you tell me to.”  And how can there be a pleasant learning atmosphere when you’re constantly locked in a power-struggle with your child?  Curriculum and formal schooling are not working.  It’s time to try something different.

Why Unschooling?

I’ve been considering unschooling for a few months now.  Struggling to maintain control over my children is an exhausting endeavor.  Trying to organize materials and actually teaching takes a lot of time and energy.  It would all be worth it if Winter enjoyed the lessons, but even though I’ve tried to incorporate his interests and learning style into our curriculum, he just doesn’t like learning this way.  And what kind of relationship is that anyway?  Trying to control one’s children?  GASP!  Some folks probably think this is the only kind of relationship a parent should have with their child; the kind where the parent makes a request (gives an order), and the child obeys without question.  But I don’t try to control anyone else in my life on principle.  Why am I attempting to control this little person, my child?  He is his own person, and (apparently) he will do as he pleases whether I like it or not.  And in a household that promotes critical thinking and questioning of the world around you, I’m often met with a very analytical “Why” or “How come?” or any number of variations that involve my child questioning the reasoning behind my requests.

unschoolingfreedomIt is this innate questioning that I want to encourage in my child by dropping the curriculum.  I hope that by not forcing Winter to study and learn that he will come to enjoy learning again and in time willingly pursue his curiosities.  I’ve already learned to see the learning that takes place away from the table where we do our lessons.  Letting go of the battle for control is less scary with the knowledge that he will learn.  Hopefully by giving him the power to decide how and when he learns he will be a happier individual and we will have a stronger relationship for it.

Encouraging Inquiry in the Scientific Homeschool

The more I think about unschooling and how it will affect our scientific homeschool, the more I realize that this is a perfect opportunity to practice scientific inquiry.  By dropping the curriculum we’ll be free to go and do and explore even more.  By exposing my children to the world around us we will be able to observe new things and develop new questions.  It will be exciting to see where these new curiosities take us.

About Samantha Burns

Sam(antha) Burns is a farmer and beekeeper at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm in Maine. She has spent more than 20 years gardening and writing, has kept bees for more than a decade, and worked 4 years in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Sam uses methods of regenerative agriculture and bee-friendly farming on her 53-acre farm, and is a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation─especially pollinators. In her spare time she enjoys writing, and tormenting her 2 teenaged sons with her banjo-playing!

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