If I told you an 8 year old is perfectly capable of making her own decisions about what to learn, what would you think?
I’ve gotta be nuts, right? It’s crazy to give a child that much control, right? Unschooling is educational neglect, right?
A child that young is too immature to make such weighty decisions, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I’m not nuts; this is by design. My children all choose what they will learn about, when they will study or practice, how long to study or practice, and with which resources they will study or practice.
I am much more concerned about having them learn certain life skills while they’re young and under my guidance than I am about when or how they learn anything academic. I want them to learn:
- How to make decisions, for there are far too many indecisive people in this world.
- How to articulate what is important to them.
- How to prioritize what is important to them.
- How to locate and evaluate resources.
- How to think critically about when, how, and why they choose to invest their time and energy into something.
- How to determine when to stop using one resource or another, when to stop pursuing an endeavor, and how to do so confidently.
- How to evaluate the pros, cons, and possible consequences of their own actions (or inaction), and acknowledge that not acting is, in fact, acting…it’s just giving control to someone or something else.
- How to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction).
It’s not crazy to give a child that much control over what she’s learning. She’s the one doing the learning. It’s the perfect avenue for helping her develop those soft skills that I think are crucial for success, because it’s actually an authentic choice and meaningful to her.
Unschooling is not educational neglect. As you’ll see in the video below, Jillian isn’t being thrown to the wolves or left entirely to her own devices. I’m very engaged with her, asking her questions, challenging her, getting her to think.
It would be much easier in some ways if I just handed her a workbook and insisted that she learn the material. Instead, I choose to keep engaging. It’s more work with Jillian because she is younger and less mature than her siblings, but it is still definitely worthwhile.
A child that young is definitely not too immature to make such weighty decisions. I want all of my children to have had years of practice making meaningful decisions before they grow up and leave home. The only way children can practice making good decisions is to be empowered to make decisions.
Real decisions. Not ones where the options have been carefully whittled down to what is acceptable to an authority figure. Not ones where nothing is really at stake. Real decisions.
I’m inviting you in here, for a behind-the-scenes look at how this looks with my youngest.
I promised someone in a Facebook group that we’re both a part of that the next time I talked to Jillian about “doing her school” I would capture the conversation on video and share it with her. Jillian has chosen what she wants to study, and that’s her “school”. The conversation is about a typing program I bought a subscription for after she asked what she could do to learn how to type. It has turned out that she hates it, so this isn’t the first conversation we’ve had like this about typing. It is the first time she has made the decision she ended up making.
The video is 10 minutes long, but if you watch it all the way through, you’ll get to see her whole decision-making process and the questions I ask her from start to finish.