I’ve gotten a lot of questions about unschooling since sharing my two cents during a parenting panel on The Steve Harvey Show. One of the things that stuck out to me was when a woman on the panel said that none of her five daughters were interested in learning. It made my stomach lurch; I don’t believe her. I think it’s we (the adults) who don’t understand what learning looks like, and how to make space for learning to happen. Peter Gray, a research professor who studies how children learn best, has this to say about how to foster an environment that is ideal for learning to not only happen, but for it to be embraced by the child as their responsibility:
Peter Gray Chicago Ideas Week
“These are the conditions that optimize children ability to educate themselves.
So the first condition is a clear understanding that education is the children responsibility. When children know that they’re responsible for their education they take that responsibility. When they believe, are lead to believe that someone else is responsible for their education and all they have to do is what they are told then they tend to do that in the minimal way and they don’t take responsibility for their education.
Second condition: Unlimited opportunity to play explore and pursue your own interests. Unlimited time, not an hour a day not two hours a day, unlimited time. It takes time to try out different things. It takes time to get board, to overcome boredom. To find your passion and it takes time to become, to really delve into your passion it takes unlimited amount of time. You can’t interrupt that with bells and telling people constantly what to do and expect people to really develop a passion.
3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture to really play with the tools of a culture. In a hunter gatherer culture those would be bows and arrows, and knife and fire and digging sticks. In our culture of course the main tool is a computer. And it is not surprising that children everywhere in our culture love to play with the computers. They know in their bones that this is the tool of the culture, and they need to spend a lot of time with it so it becomes in a sense an extension of their own body.
4. Access to a variety of caring adults that are helpers not judges. How important that last part is. Helpers not judges. The last person you want to go to to help you learn something is someone who is evaluating you. Your nervous about that person. That person is a person you go to in the frame of mind of trying to impress that person with how much you know, not to say I really don’t know this and I would like some help with this. By not judging the children the staff members are much more able to be helpers to the children.
5. Free age mixing among children and adolescence. Absolutely key to the school the school would not work if it were children all the same age, because children don’t have much to learn from children the same age. They learn from children who are older and from children who are younger than themselves.
6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic, community. Communities in which every child knows that their ideas and their actions influence the others involved in the community so they are growing up in a setting where the feel responsible not just for themselves but for the community in with in which they are developing and that is an extraordinarily important aspect of education.”
Video made by Stomping Ground. An overnight camp dedicated to self-direction and growing empathy and possibility through play. Campstompingground.com. Dr. Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist that studies how people learn and a huge advocate of play. Learn more about his work at alternativestoschool.com.