What is Natural Learning?

So what on earth is natural learning? Isn't all learning natural? What would you do different if you were following a natural learning approach? How can I pursue natural learning?

Natural Learning: What is it?

Natural Learning is simply a conscious decision that learning should take place in a natural manner without recourse to the institution of school.

Natural learning is often known by the term "unschooling" which describes a learning approach that is without recourse to school. However, the term "unschooling" has negative connotations. It describes a philosophy of learning by what it does not represent rather than by what it does.

Even within people who ascribe to a natural learning philosophy, there can be quite a spectrum of views. Some would still argue that it is important to have a curriculum, while others would argue that it is important to plan, but a curriculum would be too restrictive, while still others would argue there is no need to plan learning in advance at all.

Natural learning is a "post-modern" form of education. It is a natural progression along the continuum of "homeschooling" to a point where any links to the institution of school are severed. There are, for example, many homeschooling families that have recreated the institution of school at home. This is not natural learning. Natural learning requires the abandonment of the form and function of school.

Natural Learning: Isn't all learning natural?

Learning is not natural when it involves adults imposing their ideas of the learning needed on children and young people. Adults find it very difficult not to impose their ideas on children! School is merely an institutionalised and standardised method for adults to impose on children their ideas of what is important to learn and how to learn.

Let's be clear here. This does not mean that parents cannot have aspirations for their children, but they choose to allow their children to develop their own priorities for learning and to find their own learning speed and direction. The parents, will support their children in their own learning by providing a rich and stimulating environment in which to learn, making available resources for learning, assisting their children to learn when requested to do so, and providing feedback and encouragement to learn.

Learning, that is truly natural, will be the result of the child's own development and own motivations. This is the way children learn to walk and talk. It can also be the way that they learn to read, write, and are transformed over time into a confident and independent learner.

What would you do different if you were following a natural learning approach?

If you are following a natural learning approach, you will no longer :

* have your child enrolled at school
* insist that you know what is best for your child to learn
* use a curriculum or instructional materials or pre-packaged solutions unless your child asks for them
* worry about whether your child is doing well compared with your neighbour's child
* be focussed on short term goals (such as school examinations)
* have to put up with a bored child who has no desire to learn

How can I pursue natural learning?

You will only want to pursue natural learning if you are convinced by the philosophy and are able to afford to have at least one parent available to support your child's learning at all time. I believe that this means almost all parents can take a natural learning approach.

Natural learning can and does work. However, it will be difficult at times. You will need to be ready to defend your decision, because there will be doubters. You will doubt that you are doing the right thing yourself at times, and at other times you will be absolutely sure that you had made the right decision.

Practically, you will need to:

* take your children out of school
* advise authorities if required that you are not seeking to have your child educated at school
* provide a rich and supportive home environment in which your child is safe to develop as they wish
* provide access to resources in the community (such as people with skills that you might not have, libraries and museums, work opportunities, etc.) as desired by your child (you may have to tell them or show them what opportunities exist)
* discuss with your child their interests and priorities for learning on a regular basis so that they know that you are interested in their learning
* model learning every day yourself
* provide encouragement at every opportunity for your child to take learning opportunities
* read widely on how you can support your child in naturally learning
* join a local support group and one or more email lists

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Posted by Mike Woods on February 01, 2002