Our whānau has just returned from a four-day camp for those who unschool or practice natural/child-led learning. Held at Foxton Beach Boys Brigade, it was a great space and an amazingly inspiring time. Best of all, it confirmed for me that exploring the possibility of unschooling could be the right choice for our children (or should I say, they have made the right choice themselves!)
We've been investigating/doing unschooling with our six year-old for a year now, but really the last year has been a continuation of our parenting style/philosophy and the holistic approach that we learned through Playcentre. In a wiki nutshell unschooling is:
an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the childLike the idea of anarchism, this does not mean no rules, structure or organisation—far from it! We've actively developed an educational practice to suit our eldest child that we constantly document and review. But it does mean not going to school, which for many is a radical concept. (I'm also aware that for many people, having one adult not engaged in waged labour is either impossible or too much of a struggle. We as a family may have little money on a single income, but we are privileged enough to be able to make it happen).
But as the camp demonstrated to me, the kids and adults were loving the unschooling approach. 'Free' is the word that springs to mind—not in the hippy-happy-joy-joy sense, but in terms of autonomy, independence, self-determined.
Around 200 people from across Te Ika-a-Māui/the North Island came and went over the course of the camp, which included co-operative dinners, the odd activity, and lots of play—in the bush, in the sand, at night, in the hall, at the chess table, in the tents, cabins and grass. Lots of noise and lots of fun! And it meant some well-needed downtime for parents.
A market and child-led concert showed that unschooled kids are social, confident and talented (this is obviously something I needed assurance on, as the question I inevitably get asked is how social unschooled children are). Poetry, performance, guitar, dance, jokes — it really was inspiring to see children free to be themselves; to create, to sing and to collaborate.
I was amazed at the huge amount of respect the children had for each other, and the respect adults had for children as people. From teens to toddlers, their interactions were based in a way of being grounded in reciprocity and respect.
Linked to this was the fact that the camp was a co-creation space, which meant that it was organised and run collectively (while allowing space for those who couldn't or didn't want to participate). As the website notes, 'this encourages trust, openness, flexibility, ease and self-responsibility.' Which is apt, considering what I'm reading at the moment:
Commoning is primary to human life. Scholars used to write of “primitive communism.” “The primary commons” renders the experience more clearly. Scarcely a society has existed on the face of the earth which has not had at its heart the commons; the commodity with its individualism and privatization was strictly confined to the margins of the community where severe regulations punished violators...
Capital derides commoning by ideological uses of philosophy, logic, and economics which say the commons is impossible or tragic. The figures of speech in these arguments depend on fantasies of destruction—the desert, the life-boat, the prison. They always assume as axiomatic that concept expressive of capital’s bid for eternity, the ahistorical “Human Nature.”Of course it's far-fetched to claim that this camp was perfectly pre-figuring some kind of post-capitalist society. It was not without its faults and complexities (I would have liked a little more acknowledgment of the tangata whenua of that place, and/or pōwhiri). But as a first-time attendee with much to learn, I've come away feeling inspired, and with a connection to others who have similar values and approaches to education. Bring on the autumn camp!
Many thanks to the behind-the-scenes organisers, the parents who made us feel welcome, and of course, the kids.