Marcia Miller's Reflections & Resources

Choosing Activities

The topic of classes, camps, programs, and workshops for young or new unschoolers came up on a discussion list this week.  It got me thinking about the variety of adventures we’ve enjoyed over the years, and how we went about choosing those we participated in.  It also reminded me how we weren’t quick to sign up for every class or program that came along.  During the discussion, the idea was raised that it’s important for unschoolers to give themselves adequate time and space away from feeling the need for academically focused classes and programs so that they have time to really see and appreciate the natural, everyday learning all around them.  I thought it was an important discussion, so I’m bringing some of the details and my comments here.

This is a comment from Sandra that sparked my own response:

“…if beginners don’t go through a phase in which they REALLY focus on seeing learning outside of academic formalities, they will not be able to see around academics. If you turn away from the academics and truly, really, calmly and fully believe that there is a world that doesn’t revolve around or even require or even benefit from academic traditions, *then* after a while you can see academics (research into education, or classes, or college) from another perspective.”

My response:

“For the longest time, some of our homeschooling and unschooling friends didn’t really understand why we didn’t always sign up for the latest and greatest offerings of classes or programs available in our community: swim lessons, the homeschool science co-op with the really fun teacher, the full-time local alternative school programs directed at homeschooling families, etc.

“We didn’t feel that we needed them, and we didn’t want our lives constrained by endless schedules or the implications of such structured learning situations when Ben was young. He wasn’t that interested, and we knew that there was plenty to explore naturally on our own.

“I think because we chose things very carefully early on, it helped us retain our independent thinking and mindfulness about learning from ordinary situations instead of feeling the need for formally structured situations. We knew Ben could learn to swim naturally by going swimming with friends and family at the local pool or lake. It was more interesting and meaningful to go to the zoo or aquarium, or explore the woods and garden out back, or play in the park with friends than to sign up for science classes or other lessons and formalized activities.

This photo is from our weekly lake days with friends. We went to the same lake to swim, picnic, and relax together every Friday of every summer for at least a decade.  Ben (2nd from the left) was about four years old.  He’s still close with a few of these friends now.

“Sometimes it’s hard to pass up programs that everyone else is involved in, but it’s easier when you’re clear about what you want or are interested in. Ben was usually pretty clear about activities that were important to him and those that weren’t. Over the course of a dozen years, he enjoyed some gymnastics, a unicycling club, a few metalworking classes, and a wilderness program. When he was 15, he was offered a job helping at a ropes course, but first he needed a first aid/CPR certification. So he took a class. This was the first remotely academically oriented class he had ever taken, and he did great! He was ready. He didn’t need anything like it before, and then he did. It was fine.

“Today, at 17, he’s taking an introductory fire service technology class for a couple hours a day — mainly because another friend had the year before and talked it up so much, and it sounded like a cool opportunity. It’s part in-class-academic work and part outdoor hands-on training. He’s really enjoying it. He may or may not choose to pursue firefighting in the future. It’s just something to explore now — one opportunity among many in a rich life.”

About ten years later, swimming with friends on a camping trip.

Not afraid of the water.

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2 Comments for “Choosing Activities”

  • Nikole says:

    We are still learning our balance with this. My kids are much younger than yours (oldest is 7), but she wants to try Everything. I’ve slowed down on mentioning new classes to her because we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed, but the freedom to drop in or out of classes has made all of the difference for us. Also, the classes have all been fun (not-schooly) and her choosing… I like your last caption 😉

    • Marcia Miller says:

      Thanks for reading, Nikole! It’s fun to try lots of things, but I think you’re wise to be careful about not overwhelming yourselves. You’ve got years and years to enjoy it all.

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