Learning Authentically Through Homeschooling

My mother tells me that she read to me while I was in the womb. Certainly as soon as I was born, I was surrounded by words. My father and mother both read a great deal, both novels and non-fiction, and long before I learned how to read or write, I would dictate stories to my mother, which I would then cheerfully illustrate with brightly colored stick-figures and landscapes that, to my grown-up eyes, look more like the impressionist art I now love than clouds or trees. Every wall in our house with space to hold bookcases has at least one, and the shelves are packed with sci-fi novels, cookbooks, encyclopedias, steam train operation manuals, fantasy, historical novels and poetry. It’s pretty accurate to say I grew up in a literate home, and one where the written word was very well loved. I learned to read and to write almost by osmosis. Or at least, I have a great deal of difficulty sharing with others how I learned the basics of those skills since one small step was built so organically on top of the other. Little pieces of knowledge coalesced in my mind until a solid enough shape took form, and I could pick up the Harry Potter book my mother was reading aloud and start reading it on my own.

I believe that it’s an innate human desire to want to share ourselves--our stories, our visions, our feelings--with others. How we do this will vary: some people are drawn to film making or photography, others painting or drawing, theatre or singing, woodcarving or computer coding. Probably in large part because of the household I came from, when I felt the need to express myself in a more public way, I turned to writing, and more specifically, to blogging.

It’s always felt to me that the way many adults approach “educating” children is backwards: first deciding what a child should know and then setting about teaching them the smallest mechanics of the craft: the nitty gritty boring parts, the focus on making a sentence “correct" but not on creativity, self-expression, or on any of the reasons a child might actually want to learn the skill.

I learned to write by writing, and I was motivated to do so because I wanted to share my thoughts, my opinions, and my experiences with the world. Blogging especially helped me to develop strong writing skills in a variety of ways. As I wrote in a post on my blog earlier this year, the ways that I believe blogging is helpful include that your content is personally meaningful; you get feedback; you learn to write accessibly; you get better at communicating; you focus on the content, not the mechanics of writing; and you have something exciting to strive for.

Learning has remained something exciting and fun to me precisely because of how I’ve learned.

To me this is a perfect example of one of the strengths of unschooling, which is nurturing learning that’s meaningful, relevant, and authentic. It isn’t a “learning” plan constructed based on checklists of what children “should” know at certain ages. Instead, it’s something that grows naturally out of living rich lives. It’s learning based on what’s exciting and important and useful to the learner themselves, and to their family. It’s learning that feels alive, learning that changes and grows as the needs of the learner and their family change and grow.

I get excited just thinking about it—the same way I still get excited by tackling a tricky new project in the kitchen or finding a wonderful book on writing at the library.

Learning has remained something exciting and fun to me precisely because of how I’ve learned. The passions and goals I've pursued have always fit with what I wanted to do at any given time. My education was never something I had to try and shape myself into like a badly fitting item of clothing. It was made to fit because it was made by me with the support of those who knew me well and cared for me deeply.

Thanks to my childhood -- a childhood where my pursuits were always well supported— proudly claim “writer” as one of the core parts of my identity. I’ve been writing my main blog for over 6 years, and I have written for a variety of other blogs and publications. I keep saying “yes” to writing opportunities, and I’ve even started to make some money doing it.

I admit to a hidden delight at telling people I’ve never taken a class on writing, never been formally taught grammar, and I never had to diagram a sentence or write a five paragraph essay. We as a culture have some pretty deeply ingrained ideas about the ways children have to be educated in order to learn, but when we move past those ideas and embrace learning that’s authentic, exciting, and motivating to children, that’s when you really start to see deeply engaged and meaningful learning unfold.