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Ditching the Curriculum: Passion-based Learning

The following post has been written for:

  1. People who work with children.

  2. People who are curious about alternative methods of education.

  3. ALL PARENTS – including those who are already invested in the school system.

When my oldest daughter was new to the world, we spent most of our time reading, playing, traveling, talking and exploring. Whenever she was interested in something, she became an accidental expert on the subject. If she wasn’t interested in a topic/place/concept, we’d leave it alone and move onto another adventure.

By the time my daughter was four years old, she could read, write, add, subtract and multiply without ever having had a formal lesson.

She loved history and animals, and wanted to be an archaeologist or a vet (or both) when she grew up.

It was clear to me from the beginning that my daughter didn't need school to learn. She simply needed to be immersed in the natural joy of learning for its own sake. Most parents of young children intuitively know this, and facilitate accordingly.

When the time came to enrol my oldest daughter in school, I couldn't bring myself to do it, because it felt so wrong. Instead, I decided to register for homeschooling. Unfortunately, I was under the false impression that I had to 'replicate school at home' in order to be able to legally homeschool. If I’d had access to the internet, logic may have prevailed over this misinformation sooner!

And so it began - our shift from joy-based learning, to traditional homeschooling.

It didn't last long.

Our experiment with forced, arbitrarily structured, unnatural learning taught my bright, enthusiastic daughter three things she hadn't previously known:

  1. Handwriting is stressful, and must be avoided at all costs.

  2. Mathematics equals worksheets, and worksheets equal boredom. Therefore, mathematics equals boredom.

  3. Learning is a chore.

I'm not saying we didn't enjoy our brief foray into the world of traditional homeschooling. We actually had a lot of fun, and she did ultimately recover from those three damaging thought patterns. However, it became obvious to me that the structured learning imposed upon my daughter was very much interfering with her natural (and very effective) ability to learn for herself.

I gave birth to my second child shortly after embarking on our homeschooling journey. I no longer had the time (or the energy) to stay up late making worksheets and activities for the following day. Our structured routine disappeared. I’m not sure whether it ran away, or whether it simply got lost in a basket of breast-milk-soaked-bed-sheets, but either way, we returned to learning naturally, and my daughter's love of learning was delightfully reignited.

We never looked back.

Very quickly, we ditched the concept of curriculum, and re-immersed ourselves in play, exploration, and passion. My daughter continued to learn at an astounding rate, like all children do, especially when they are given the freedom to explore what is interesting to them.

Over the next few years, I researched various forms home education. I discovered a fascinating word, which described our lifestyle more accurately than any term I'd ever heard - unschooling.

Unschooling is basically living life as though school didn't exist, without relying on any curriculum to guide educational outcomes. Unschooling is a child-led, interest-based, and intrinsically rewarding lifestyle, which is non-coercive, and deeply fulfilling. Unschooling, I realised, is what we had been doing all along.

Dayna Martin was one of the first unschooling advocates I found online, whose words were comforting and reaffirming to me. Finally finding a family ‘like ours' made me wonder – why is this wonderful lifestyle so uncommon?

Despite the vast (and rapidly increasing) numbers of homeschooling and unschooling families around the world, society still focuses almost exclusively on the experiences of schooled children, as if school itself is the be-all-and-end-all of childhood. Granted, all forms of home education are better understood (and far more widespread) than they were fifteen, ten, or even five years ago.

But we still have a long way to go before the majority of children in our world are consistently given the opportunities and freedoms they require to maximally flourish as learners, and as people.

Alternatively-educating families are crucial in the rising of this cultural shift. This world can change for the better, through the actions of those who are brave enough to hold to their convictions, stay true to themselves, question social constructs, and live by their own truths.

Some people, like Dayna Martin, are especially passionate about helping children, families, and society transform in hugely positive ways.

Can you imagine what the future would look like, if an entire generation of the world's population were raised with respect, freedom, compassion, self-direction, creativity, and a thirst for learning?

In an interview for ‘The Literate Child’, Dayna Martin says (of radically unschooled children), “… you couldn’t even fathom putting them in an authoritarian dynamic like school, after them being treated so respectfully at home. It’s two totally different paradigms.”

This is so true.

The question is, which paradigm do you want your children to live in?

Dayna Martin’s passionate advocacy is helping to shift those paradigms – redistributing the balance between the authoritarian, inherently disrespectful, obedience-training mode of education/parenting - and the joyful, respectful freedom of autonomous discovery.

(To learn more about what Dayna Martin is currently working on, support her advocacy work, or to contact her personally, please click here.)

If you are among the many who believe our modern mode of traditional education to be counter-intuitive, you might like to read the work of John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Peter Gray, or Sandra Dodd. Dayna’s book, ‘Radical Unschooling – A Revolution Has Begun’ is also fantastic.

Wholeheartedly supporting the interests and passions of children is key to nurturing the next generation's love of learning. Exposing kids to a diverse range of environments, concepts, resources, mentors, and experiences is the greatest contribution you can make to enable children to discover for themselves what drives and inspires them.

My children and I are still enjoying the joyful journey we embarked upon at the turn of this century. Trusting my kids (and my intuition) was the best decision I've ever made, and I have never, not even for one moment, regretted that choice.

Today, my oldest daughter is the owner/CEO of Turner Books. She built (and maintains) this website. She publishes and illustrates books. She is currently studying art at University, whilst undertaking an (unrelated) arts internship. She volunteers at the zoo two days a week, plays several instruments, and was the winner of last years Young ESTEAM Champion of the Year award. She is sixteen years old, loves learning, and is the most passionate and self-motivated young person I have ever met.

All three of my children are happy, creative, intelligent, passionate, and highly driven individuals. I love the life we live together, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I wish it were the same for all kids.

I would love to see passion-based learning become the default setting for children worldwide, regardless of whether they are homeschooled, worldschooled, unschooled or traditionally schooled.

Nanci Nott


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