(none of them are a curriculum and all of them are free)
If a child doesn’t need a curriculum to be able to learn, what do they need?
I’ll cut to the chase because no one likes scrolling to the end before they read the answer.
They need you.
When curriculums and required activities are removed from learning, our children find their own curiosities in the world around them. If your child has been to school and is used to being told what to do and when, it will take time for them to be comfortable with, and begin to feel confident in, asking their own questions and finding things to do that truly interest them. This is part of the deschooling process and you read more about that in a previous post.
Often, parents and children are left feeling a little at sea when they remove the idea of using a curriculum from education. How will you know what they need to be able to learn?
Let’s start from the beginning.
Unschooling trusts in our children’s natural ability to learn. It is this that we want to nurture. It might take a while for your child to find their voice again or to be brave enough to ask a question or request an activity. At first, they may look like they are doing nothing. They won’t know what they want to do. This is totally normal. Then, they may ask to do things that appear similar to school. This happens for several reasons, depending on how long your child has been in school, they have spent years being told schoolish things are what matter, and what they are interested in doesn’t matter. It is their most recent experience of learning and so they are using what they know. This is what they are working through. And your children will work through it, in their own time.
It might also take you a while to be brave enough to listen to your child’s questions and nurture their natural curiosity. This can especially be the case when they start to ask questions that don’t readily fit into that school defined box. When the things that they are interested in are Roblox, Lego, Barbies, and endless craft, with not much variation, it can be difficult for the adults to not intervene and try and redirect.
What we are aiming for though is for our children to be confident in their ability to learn for themselves and for us to trust that process. And to help our children along this path of reigniting their curiosity, I propose that you can provide five things to help them. And not one of them is a curriculum and all of them are free.
1/ Your child needs you to be interested in them.
What they need is to feel like they can ask any question that they have. When a child is in school their own questions are silenced in favour of asking questions on the current topic or subject that they are learning. Children discover very quickly that the things they want to do and the interests that they have are not important. They know that they need to do what is being asked of them in order to get that gold star or pass that test. And, depending on the child, this can erode their own inquisitiveness and actually destroy their natural love for learning.
What they need when they are no longer in school, and no longer using a curriculum, is someone who will show an interest in the questions that they ask. Someone who will share their awe and wonder at the world. An adult who will help them to find the answers, ask more questions, and follow their own trail of discovery wherever it may take them. Your child needs you to be interested in them and interested in the things that they are interested in!
2/ Your child needs you, to be their facilitator.
There are things that your child will want to do that they can’t do without your help. When our children are younger this is more obvious. They may need help getting dressed or reading a book. They might need you to help them cut a picture out or write a story that they dictate to you.
Even as they get older though they will continue to need you to help them by booking activities for them, taking them places or arranging transport. They might need you to help them organise their time or pack the right equipment.
Being a facilitator means making things easier for your child, making whatever it is that they want to do possible. The world is big and wide and as the adult in the relationship you have a wealth of experience and knowledge beyond your child’s own. You also have access to groups, activities, community that your child may not even be aware of. Facilitating your child’s learning means sharing that knowledge with them and opening up the doors of possibility to them.
Self Directed Education is not about our children becoming more independent by us not doing things with them or for them. Your child will grow in skill and independence in their own time. Our role along the way is to make getting dressed fun, easy, possible. Our role is to be available for our children and enable what they want to do to be a reality. In this way they can fully explore an activity in a way that suits them. They are unrestricted by their own skill level with you facilitating by their side.
3/ Your child needs you to be their partner.
Your child knows what they want to do. They have questions they want to ask, books they want to read, games they want to play and things that they want to find out more about. In the same way that we would help a friend or partner to do what they wanted, we can do the same for our children.
This might be by being their cheerleader. Encouraging them and supporting them along they way. Being by their side as they climb that tree, learn to ride their bike, or put their face in the water in the pool.
It might be that you sign up to do an activity with your child so that you can be physically present during a class. Attending Judo, taking pottery classes, or committing to regular café dates, board game nights, or cinema trips together.
Whatever it is, the focus is on being your child’s partner in learning. You are not their teacher. A teacher controls a child’s learning, tells them what is important, when to learn it and how. A partner trusts the other person and comes alongside them in their own journey.
4/ Your child needs you to be their guide
The world is big and wide, I know I already said that. But there are a great many things that can be confusing or even overwhelming to those who have less experience of it. Alternatively, they may be oblivious to what is actually going on in any given situation. Whichever it is, your child needs you to be their guide.
Sharing how to safely cross a road, for example, when you are on your way to the park. Maybe walking through how a queue operates when you need to send a parcel from the post office. Explaining why you can only take 20 books at one time from the library when they want to take home the entire Jacqueline Wilson collection.
There are things out there in the world that your child will need you by their side for. There are places and spaces that your child will need help navigating and times when you will be required to advocate on behalf of your child. Be ready to be their guide and help them navigate the world safely.
5/ Your child needs you
Finally, and I think that this is the most important one, your child needs you.
Your child will flourish in their own innate abilities to learn if they are surrounded by people who trust in those abilities. You can demonstrate this trust beginning with points 1-4. And you will become more confident in your child’s natural curiosity the more that you do it. It’s a symbiotic process, the more you trust in your child, the more they trust in themselves, the more confident you will be to lean into your child’s journey, the more assured they will be in their own capabilities.
Your child needs you to fully embrace who they are, what they can do right now in this moment, relax into the reality of your own personal situation, and enjoy your time together. For so long we have been taught that we must be progressing towards the next thing, improving our skills towards a goal, behaving in a certain way from fear of punishment. Now you can stop striving and just be. We call this radical acceptance, and it applies to both you and your child.
Your child needs you. They don’t need you to be super mum. They don’t need you to be exciting dad. They don’t need you to be their entertainer. They don’t need you to be perfect. They just need you. Someone who loves them unconditionally, by their side. Present, available and attentive.
When our children operate from this place of safety and security, a place where they are listened to, their choices facilitated, fully supported, with a reliable adult by their side who accepts them just as they are, then they are free to ask any question they want, engage in any activity that they want to, and can explore the world around them, confidently, on their own terms.
You will have created a situation in which learning cannot just happen, but it can flourish and grow with ease.