Discipleship, Natural Learning and Unschooling

A question about discipleship, natural learning and unschooling.

I have been reading your blogs/ newsletters for a while now. A mutual friend put me onto them. We have been homeschooling our 4 kids aged almost 10,8,6,4 since last April. I have moved from doing "school at home" to being a little more relaxed to now considering doing things more along the "natural learning" line. However we very much believe in the principles of structure, routine, family identity and training our children to be other-centered. I am unsure how to go about encouraging a ‘love of learning’ (such as I read about in your blogs and other natural learning type websites) and yet not become child centered. I haven’t been able to find anyone else who does both. Have you managed to do that? It sounds from your blogs as if you are natural learning but have some structure too? Can you give me more details about your ‘schedule’ and how you still follow training your children while encouraging the love of learning to develop. PC, Australia

Your question cuts to the heart of my website and why I put it out there. I do believe there is a way to lean towards natural learning and yet not be child centered.

The basis of me making a distinction is that I believe God has given us, the parents, the responsibility of training our children. It is to be an active (not passive) role. Due to our age we have experience and wisdom on our side which needs to benefit our children. At the same time, we need to understand how our children have been put together and to use those aspects to their learning advantage.

I believe we need to be training our children’s strengths and weaknesses in all aspects of their life; physical, emotional, spiritual, moral, mental and social. The very essence of sin nature in us all means that we need encouragement to work on our weaknesses; this is why our children need us to be directive. If I was to give a name to the method that describes our homeschool it would be “Discipleship”. I believe Discipleship balances the two aspects you are asking about, natural learning and yet not being child centered.

The beginning years are very much parent directed (keeping in mind their bents, talents, ways of learning etc). The mornings are spent learning study skills and pursuing the knowledge and wisdom that is on our heart for them. In the afternoons they have plenty of “free” time where they tend to lean towards certain activities, which over the years have all been different from each other. If my children were given all day to pursue these activities they lose focus, purpose and interest. Therefore, we use the morning to teach them, and the afternoons to guide them.

I have observed that as our children get closer towards being an independent learner (refer to The Development of a Learner) there starts to be a strong interest and ability in a particular learning area or skill. We continue to have an educational plan for them but we incorporate the things that are on their heart as well as ours. This reminds me of the phases of parenting*. (*Gary Ezzo)

  • Initially we are Instructors – teaching them every step of the way
  • Then we are Trainers – putting them through their paces, building up their muscles
  • Then we are Coaches – Guiding them but giving room for them to take initiative
  • Then finally, we are Friends, encouraging each other and enjoying life together.

We follow this same sequence in their learning either academically or learning skills.

The key to discipleship homeschool is not the curriculum, not even the teaching methods, but the relational focus. Not only will this focus facilitate spiritual and moral learning but it makes way for the academic learning as well. I believe relational based activities will kick start a love of learning.

When we consider discipleship homeschooling there is a balance between being intentional and proactive (planning) and using natural family life and circumstances that come along. Both aspects need to be seen in our family life. It takes effort to balance your schedule, it takes flexibility to make the most of your lifestyle and yet it takes focus to keep with your priorities.

Further Reading:
Discipleship and Curriculum

Series on Routine, starting with Establishing Routines in our Family

Or a blog I wrote at about the time I answered this question, that paints a picture of our day (at that time)

Live life with your kids!

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