Learning to read, write, count, and to show interest in science, geography, and history without teaching our children? This is exactly what happens in families who support natural learning, also called unschooling!
Natural learning is a positive approach that is based on the child’s confidence, their internal ambitions, their natural curiosity, their desire to learn, and their rhythm rather than external factors such as rewards, threats, evaluations, and the imposition of teaching predetermined notions at specific times.
The child, in a natural learning context, learns by having fun, regardless of place, age, or time. This has now been proven by neurobiology : our brain develops when we use it with enthusiasm. The basis for such an approach must begin with an emphasis on the relation between the parent and the child, based on mutual respect. The parent must have a desire to know his child and to help them progress without judging what is important for them.
For the family, this consists of living and learning together, following up on questions and interests as they come up, and in utilising conventional school resources upon request, if necessary. This allows the children to pursue their interests and to learn in the best way for them, either as superficially or as in depth as they wish, for as long as they choose.
For the family supporting natural learning, there is no time or day for learning. The 8 to 3 does not exist, no more than the Monday to Friday schedules or March break. There is no set structure established ahead of time, there is only daily life. There are curious and enthusiastic children, accompanied by equally curious and enthusiastic parents. Jean-Pierre Lepri, doctorate in education and sociology, sums up the idea in these words: "To learn is to live… and vice versa".
For the parent, natural learning is to let the child live their own experiences, but to also accompany them, guide them, attend to their needs in order to favor the vitality of these unique qualities.
In this learning environment, the parents are very present, closely involved in their child’s development. The advantage of this method is that the parent does not have to become somebody else, such as a professional teacher. The child sees the adult as a mentor, a counsellor, an inspiration, an initiator. The parents play an active role that may manifest itself in different ways.
Children imitate adults: they gather around them, observe, take part in tasks, in their daily activities, they want to know more, and sometimes get involved. For example, sewing, playing a musical instrument, painting, reading, cooking, gardening, caring for domestic animals, making a budget, construction and renovation with tools, learning a new language, etc.
The parent strives to supply a rich and stimulating environment for the child. This may be to deepen their current knowledge or interests, or to invite them to discover unknown subjects, to stimulate their five senses, or to meet new challenges. This technique is known as strewing. This may be by access to material, places, or people that we put intentionally in our child’s path with the goal of enriching their educational day.
For materials, objects left within a child’s view can be of any kind. For example, wooden objects in different forms, an antique, a photo album, a newspaper article, a tropical fruit for snack, etc. The goal: find something that they have not seen before that will peak their curiosity. Equally, usage of educational resources such as books left out, board games, workbooks, measuring tools, etc. is not excluded.
Natural learning happens everywhere! It’s not just for at home. Access to places (library, community centre, shopping centre, museums, the forest, town, etc.) and meetings with people in the community (the cashier, firefighter, mailman, garbage collector, etc.) are also sources of information and great to ask questions.
This isn’t counting the entrepreneurial opportunities of taking part in a parent’s business (programming, working on a farm, selling artistic creations, etc.) or at the Young Entrepreneurs Day, putting up a lemonade stand, or offering to help with chores such as cutting the grass. In addition, many other knowledge and skill sets can be acquired by volunteering.
With natural learning, we do not confine knowledge, and no one discipline supersedes another. The learning program of Quebec schools explains that the development of competencies in an interdisciplinary context favours learning.
All the spheres of learning can be studied following one small question from a child. The discovery of a brown bug in the yard encourages them to read in books to gather the most information on what would be identified as a June beetle. Using the computer for online research requires the child to write in order to find articles on the subject. The child must therefore understand the text that he is reading to be able to answer the questions. He may want to draw the insect or photograph it and then integrate an artistic approach to their discovery.
An oral presentation may follow when an unannounced guest arrives at the house, and they want to explain how fascinating the insect they found is. They will be interested in geography when they ask where this insect is from. We want to learn about history when we learn that the insect arrived by accident on a boat from Europe, and it was discovered for the first time in Canada in 1959. Observing the insect and discovering its characteristics touch on the areas of science, more specifically biology. The children may want to measure it, compile statistics on the number of June beetles discovered per day, this touching on the area of mathematics.
Each answer provokes an infinite sea of questions. Questions which may, themselves, lead to other subjects… and another adventure begins!
The more we talk about it, the more the richness of this approach will be understood. Ordinary daily life is full of extraordinary learning occasions! Your child’s educational path is different, yes, but equally among the most personalized, where their objectives, their needs, and their rhythm are respected for their overall well-being.
This favours the development of their full potential, allows them to acquire general and specific competencies essential for today’s world, and prepares them to be ready for the world of tomorrow. Elsewhere, did you know that the big American universities, such as Harvard, are going to canvas in order to target parents who follow natural learning? They want to have these students in their establishments, as they are generally motivated and creative.
CÔTÉ, Geneviève et Isabelle Jean, Marilyn Rowe, Evelyne Dumas. L’apprentissage naturel, une boîte à outils pour le monde de demain, Mémoire présenté pour la Commission parlementaire de la culture et de l'éducation pour le collectif « Parents favorisant l’apprentissage naturel chez les enfants » concernant le projet de loi 144 modifiant la Loi sur l'instruction publique, Août 2017. En ligne : http://www.assnat.qc.ca/Media/Process.aspx?MediaId=ANQ.Vigie.Bll.Documen...
Thanks to Geneviève Côté, Suzanne Lagacé, Eva Ketelsen and Patrick Riley