Having recently moved to a much bigger city than our home town, we have heard many stories of people home educating as a results-driven endeavour. To give their children a better education. A better chance at a good job. A better chance at an academic qualification and a better chance at life. As a university tutor I completely endorse the potential for home education to provide all of that for young people, however from my experience, my students often learn the most when they are offered the seed of an idea and left to their own devices to run with it! Sometimes the deadlines, pressure to perform or reach a certain level, or to over-achieve completely gets in the way of learning what you were hoping to learn in the first place!
Allowing children space to be themselves will give them the greatest chance at success
One reason for this is that giving children space, gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, take a road (within a safe environment) that is completely opposite to where they want to go, and then to discover which road it is that they want to go on - and head there, full speed, inspired by their own motivations to achieve something that is important to them! And when anybody, whether it be a child, young person or adult, heads in a direction that they have chosen on their own, they are much more likely to get where they are aiming to go!
For example, if you have been forced into law school when you really wanted to be a chef, chances are that you may do the bare minimum to pass, then become qualified, maybe practice law for a little while, and then run away to join the circus! Whereas by comparison, if you are really motivated to be a chef, you are more likely to work day and night to be the best chef you can be, perhaps opening your own chain of restaurants, or moving to the Whitsunday's and serving gourmet food on a cruise boat, travel around writing a food blog or starting a food tour business ( I know people who have done all of these things - after years in academia, studying things they didn't want to study in the first place!). Or alternatively, in my case, being given the space to leave school early, and taking up a very short career in delivering newspapers for 5 cents an hour (or $2.50 on a good day!) gave me the time to contemplate a life of living on $50 a week, and to pursue a career in academia and higher education, as I was driven by my own goals and motivations.
Giving space means ticking off all of the 'no's'
Sometimes as a parent of young children, it is hard to see how giving your toddler space to (safely) explore the world, climb things, get stuck halfway up a tree (with you spotting them) or make a massive mess in the kitchen is going to lead them anywhere good - but let me assure you that it will.
Every time that you allow your child or young person to explore something new and exciting, to study midwifery for a year at a time (when the math textbook is there gathering dust - perhaps never to be used again), or start a permaculture garden, or get lost in documentaries about WW2, or download 500 karaoke backing tracks onto the ipod and spend weeks singing and singing, you are enabling them to tick or cross of an internal checklist about who they think they are or aren't in the world. And this is a vitally important step to becoming a happy and healthy adult! (and they will be an adult far longer than they will be a child!).
Giving them space and time to explore different areas and interests without imposing a deadline on their learning, or expecting a set result from them, gives them that time to decide if they really love something and want to go further with it, or if they have had enough of Wildlife documentaries and would like to go fishing (i.e. fire-gazing and processing all of the information they have just learned) for a week. And you do not have to be an unschooler or a radical natural learner to allow learning like this. If the state's requirement is to learn critical analysis in a science topic, the whole world is full of science! Your child is free to choose from possibly half a billion different research or interest areas, from skin grafting to environmental damage, global warming to the periodic table, psychosomatic illnesses to animal reproductive systems - and if they have a high level of literacy, they will be able to do this mostly by themselves, with you there for guidance and help with gaining access to resources.
Giving space means having the midlife crisis early
It could be argued that the need for constant deadlines, and to 'produce' certain work from set study in school, is something that leads to so many 20-somethings (or 30 or 40-somethings) having identity crisis' - because they might never have had the opportunity to really spend time on anything without the expectation of a pre-determined outcome, or the pressure of having to study something to meet an 'end' of starting a career, or supporting a family with it. I have spoken to dozens of home educating parents who have talked about the 'year of...' when their child was absolutely obsessed with something, and then came to the end of their fascination and started on something new. This freedom allows that child at 20-something or 40-something to perhaps understand themselves more fully. What makes them tick. What kind of person they are. What things they have loved or left behind in the past, and what they are really good at and could take up again.
Allowing space also allows time for the development of life-long passions!
Recently, my daughter and I had the privilege of sitting in on a conversation (in front of a couple of hundred people!) about home education, the pros and cons of home educating, and the 'final outcome' for young adults who had been home educated and come out on the other side, as fully functioning, inspired and inspirational young people, passionate about their endeavours and excited by life. What was remarkable about the stories of these young people, much like the stories of our own teenagers, was not their exceptional academic achievements (although there were many) or their incredible career undertakings (although there were also many fascinating aspects to these as well!), but rather the vigour with which they embraced life and their passions
. Many of the young people talked about falling in love with something in particular, as early as 13 or 14, and being able to follow that through, to a point where at 18 or 19, many of them were running businesses in their chosen area, and pursuing studies that supported this. Imminent and persistent deadlines can take away or severely limit this opportunity for personal growth and to commence an idea and fully see it through.
We witnessed this first-hand with our daughter who was given the freedom to work without deadlines for a few months, and learned how to play the piano, first through an ipad application, then youtube video's and a keyboard, and progressing to a point where she found a job, saved for many months and bought herself a piano, which she can now play effortlessly, despite not having lessons (yet!). We had watched with increasing interest as her 1 hour practice per day became 8 hour piano marathons, crammed into every free hour of her time - until suddenly she could play complex songs with both hands, with a complexity that left us completely awe-struck!
What are your experiences of your children or young people learning in the periods of space and less deadlines? We would love to hear them!