As a semi-nomadic family who’s traveled to dozens of countries, we’re regularly asked about how we educate our kids. Our answer, in short, is that we help facilitate their own self-directed learning. What does that look like?
We feel there’s no “right way” to learn, nor are there “right things” to learn. Each person has different interests, aptitudes, and learning styles. We support our kids in what, when, and how they want to learn. We encourage them to follow their own interests, and we help provide the resources they need.
We classify it as a type of worldschooling. As Brandon likes to say,
“We’re trying to give our kids a ‘world class’ education by making the world their classroom.”
As parents, we learn along with our children, sometimes the same things and sometimes different. It’s all about following wherever the interests lead. As you might expect, it’s a whole lot of fun! As Neville V. Scarfe, an early advocate for educational reform, stated,
“The highest form of research is essentially play.”
We find our slow-travel lifestyle an excellent catalyst to learn, create, and grow. We tend to get inspired in different places, learning things we knew relatively nothing about before we arrived. We’re introduced to diverse perspectives, ideas, people, and environments in engaging and stimulating ways.
Worldschooling is a natural companion of travel. It’s the interplay between the familiar and the foreign. As we integrate increased understandings, we find new ways to connect and share in the world. These experiences help shape us into ever unfolding versions of ourselves, which we’ve learned to absolutely cherish.
According to Daniel C. Edelson, an educational software developer and researcher,
“Interest driven learning allows learners to take the skills to a deeper level of learning and retention, because they are motivated by the content. Learners are more likely to persist through difficult tasks, when they are interested in the task. All of this leads to a stronger connection to the knowledge.”
A child who loves what they’re doing will spend many dedicated hours energetically developing their knowledge, skills, and abilities in that area, without anyone coercing them to do it.
Curiosity, motivation, and interest are already naturally occurring for individuals living in truly healthy and nurturing environments. I see it as a red flag when those innate qualities are being artificially created and manipulated, in order to “push” predetermined instruction, content, and objectives by precise timeframes, in order to pass particular tests in specific ways.
According to Carol Black, a writer, filmmaker, and director of the documentary film Schooling the World,
“Adults in many non-industrialized cultures understand that the mind itself is wild, self-willed; it cannot be forced. The mind must turn its attention outward to the world of its own volition, opening, seeking, expanding, creating its own connections with the fractal movement of a fern frond unfurling or a tree reaching for sunlight and water. Like a snail moving out of its shell, it pulls back and shuts down when threatened, blocked, pushed. This is considered obvious in many cultures; it’s common sense, something everyone knows.”
We all learn throughout our entire life. That’s the nature of being alive. Life doesn’t provide an instruction manual for any of us, other than our own intuitive guidance.
I believe in learning from the cumulative wisdom of the ages, but I don’t believe in directing another’s path for them. Facilitation and guidance are welcome, as sought or as needs may arise. Assistance is appreciated when it’s offered, not pressed, and given in deference and respect.
I feel like self-directed learning makes the most sense for both children and adults. We are each so distinct. Our path should be our own individually designed, heart-led experience. In fact, Peter Gray Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College, and author of Free To Learn, has published many articles on the subject, including how reading and math can be learned through this natural approach. He also conducted a survey of grown unschoolers, in which they individually reported on their childhood and adult experiences. The questions included topics such as social life and pursuit of higher education, among other things.
The best education we can give our children is attuning them to what matters to them. I think the best way to do that is by doing the same thing for ourselves. When we can fully engage with and love life in our own unique ways, that is where growth and inspiration happen.
One thing I’ve discovered as a mother, is that trying to force feed my children doesn’t work. Thankfully, my children are fortunate enough to have plenty of food options and they’re smart enough, all on their own, to eat when they need to. Even the pickiest of eaters usually ends up getting what they need one way or another.
I feel the same way about the learning process. As far as I can tell, forcing things just causes unnecessary pain and resistance in the lives of both children and adults.
I like this quote by Leonardo da Vinci,
“Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”
There are innumerable possibilities of things to learn in the world and skills to develop, including countless ways and timeframes in which to do so. Just like with food, why not offer our children a variety of options and let them choose? In the end, they will most likely come up with their own entirely new idea. We can simply help them find their own wings, so to speak.
For example, many children learn better while they’re moving around, having frequent breaks, or playing games. There are as many learning styles and techniques as there are children. In natural learning environments, it’s common for a child to spend many days, weeks, or longer absorbed in exploring one particular interest. Following rigid schedules surrounding many different subjects can be distracting and counterproductive. Structure is only a useful tool insofar as it is used to enhance the learning process, and not detract from it.
A Natural Approach
Is there any human alive today who wasn’t born instinctively curious and interested?
How many adults have experienced the joy and fulfillment that come from following their own curiosity and interests in life?
What if more of our children could grow up like that?
I love the following quotes by Dr. Alison Gopnik, author, developmental psychologist, and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley:
“Instead of valuing ‘parenting,’ we should value ‘being a parent.’ Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.”
“As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to make a particular kind of child but to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.”
The Inside View
What does worldschooling look like for our family from day to day? It usually involves a range of local and online classes we’re interested in, plenty of time reading or researching on the Internet about topics we’re curious about, getting to know new people, asking questions, learning from different viewpoints, and practicing skills we want to develop. It’s constantly shifting for each of us as we change, learn, grow, and move locations. We do our best to accommodate the needs and interests of each person in the family.
For example, as of this writing (November 2016), we’re coming to the end of a six month stay in Victoria, BC. All three girls (ages 13, 11, and 5) have been taking ice skating lessons and also attending a democratic school one day each week. Emily and Marie have been attending a Japanese history class together and a technology/tinkering workshop, and they both spend quite a bit of time chatting with friends on Skype. Beyond that, Emily has been attending violin lessons and participating in a choir, and Marie has been attending a gymnastics class. Emily also has her ongoing weekly Skype lesson with her singing/songwriting teacher who lives in L.A.
Other than official classes, Emily’s been spending a lot of time drawing and animating with Fire Alpaca. She occasionally enjoys learning math on Khan Academy and language study on Duolingo (Spanish is her current focus). She’s made several Youtube videos, performing covers as well as her own songs. Her current favorite Youtube channels to watch are Vsauce, Life Noggin, and MinuteEarth. She also enjoys writing stories.
Marie’s been spending a lot of time reading on the Epic app. She recently finished thirty books in the Warriors series and is currently beginning the Emily Windsnap series. She enjoys improving her typing skills, including taking typing tests online. Lately she’s been using prodigygame.com, which is a math game and also plus.arcademics.com, which is a website with video games for learning math, language arts, vocabulary, and thinking skills. Marie’s been enjoying making artwork with the program Procreate, and also making videos on Animal Jam.
Aysia’s been immersing herself in imaginary play with her toys, mostly My Littlest Pet Shop. She’s also enjoyed a day or two of playtime each week with good friends who live nearby. Apps she’s been enjoying are Epic, Monkey Math, Endless Numbers, and Endless Reader. She’s spent a lot of time creating through drawing and coloring. She’s also developed an interest in learning to make food by helping me in the kitchen.
As a family, we’ve enjoyed reading together in the evenings, watching an occasional documentary/movie, and playing games. During the past few months we’ve attended a couple of natural learning (unschooling) conferences together, Life Without Instructions and Life Is Good. We’ve also explored some beautiful nature areas around Vancouver Island on various day trips, such as Mary’s Farm & Sanctuary, Mt. Douglas, Butchart Gardens, Goldstream Provincial Park (we saw the salmon run), Tofino, Cathedral Grove, and Botanical Beach.
Brandon and I have even attended a couple of conferences together, such as WDS and Expert’s Academy, and I have a coaching certification I’ll be attending in San Diego later this month. The two of us mostly spend our time reading, writing, blogging, preparing and participating in courses and workshops (including our upcoming Family Adventure Summit!). Brandon also spends time running his business, Music Teacher’s Helper, and creating and sharing his photography. I also enjoy taking voice lessons from an excellent teacher here in town.
For examples of what our family’s worldschooling journey has looked like in various destinations, please check out the blog posts below. And we keep a current update of what we’re doing as a family on our “now” page.
In essence, worldschooling in our family comprises six main points:
- Travel the World
- Facilitate Interests
- Engage in Self-Directed Learning
- Cultivate a Nurturing Environment
- Trust the Natural Process