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Lighting Learning Fires

Sometimes it feels like we are in a battle with our kids in regards to their education. Many of us parents are afraid that our children won’t be prepared for life if they don’t meet certain standards and if they don’t take all of the right classes. Sometimes what our kids want to do with their days is vastly different than what we parents and caregivers think they should do.

What would our kids really do if they were left to their own devices, to follow their own passions, to pursue their own goals? Would they be prepared for adult life? For post-secondary education? For work? Or is there another way to view education that might turn these fears on their heads?

Enter the concepts of self-directed learning, deschooling, and lifelearning.

I had a fascinating and inspirational talk with Matt Hern, Author of Field Day: Getting society out of school, during our Children’s & Teen Health Summit regarding these concepts.

During our interview, we discussed how it is imperative that children (and even adults) be engaged and voluntarily involved in what is being taught to them in order to learn from that experience. We talked about the power of letting kids direct their own learning, our parental fears surrounding such a method, and what it might mean to deschool ourselves so that we can fully engage in a concept many call lifelong learning, which is the idea that we learn all the time throughout our lives — not just as children in a school setting, but as people just living, exploring, and engaging in the world around us.

Matt said,

trust that your kid is smart, is curious, is interesting, wants to explore new things. Your kid is a wonderful, interesting, vibrant, intellectually curious person. And if you start from that basis and then begin as a parent or a step-parent or as a family friend or as a mentor or as their neighbor, but if you believe that about all kids, and you believe that they have inherent tendencies to want to explore the world and if you’re curious about where your kid is and you’re curious about your own passions and interests even if they appear bizarre to you, even if you don’t understand them…The point being you stay on your kid’s side with that. And there’s so much disciplinary social pressure on parents they have their kids adhere to particular renditions of what kids should be doing at that age…

It’s so much pressure, like, “Oh, my God. My kid’s not taking piano lessons right now. Oh, my God, the kid across the street, she’s already in grade seven in piano lessons. Oh, my God, every night those kids are programmed. And they’re taking Mandarin lessons on Monday night. And they’re taking extra after school calculus classes on Tuesday night. And then they’re taking art classes…”

And to recognize how much of our own insecurities get bound up in our parenting, to think about your kid from the very youngest age is an incredibly thoughtful, incredibly intelligent, curious person who’s exploring the world and will have passions and interests and desires and capabilities that you can’t even guess at. Just start from that process and then nurture all of that. And not just theirs, but yours as well. If your kids see you engaged in the world, interested, trying new things, excited about getting up in the morning the likelihood that that’s what they’ll do. If they see you dragging your ass through a job you hate, if they see you being bitter, if they see you not willing to take on new challenges, not willing to challenge yourself, then they’ll probably act that way too.

Education is a high priority and concern for us parents and caregivers. We deeply care about our kids and want them to be prepared with all of life’s possibilities open and available to them. This may seem ironic and counter to what we have been taught ourselves and what we believe about education, but sometimes achieving that might take a bit of letting go and an increasing trust in the process.

To hear more about what Matt says about this concept of lifelearning, encouraging engaged learning, and allowing your children to, in essence, educate themselves, you can listen to Matt Hern’s full interview by checking out the Children’s & Teen Health Summit here.

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