Free Range Learning
How Homeschooling Changes Everything
Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning combines insightful wisdom, tender compassion, and vibrant understanding in helping the reader see the potential in meaningful, real-life learning—growing up in a respectful, engaged, and joyful family. Her handbook transforms boundaries—or does away with them altogether. She is a kindred spirit.
I would like to share my favorite bits of Free Range Learning—with mostly direct quotes. Apologies for the many salient points that I leave out within the 275 pages of this inspirational ‘go-to’ reference book.
The Wisdom of Laura Grace Weldon
(tasty morsels of her unique thinking)
Education as Life, for Life
ü The child’s wondrous progress from helpless newborn to a remarkably sophisticated five-year old happens without explicit teaching. In fact, most of a child’s learning is so continual that it goes unnoticed.
Ø Toddlers experiment like enthralled scientists. They rapidly develop a grasp of everyday physics.
Ø They master nuances of social interaction long before they can speak in sentences.
Ø Their comprehension expands much more quickly than their growing vocabulary. Often, children seem to ignore what they aren’t ready to learn, only to return to the same skill or concept later with ease.
Ø What they do is intrinsically tied to why they do it, making the learning process purposeful. They are confidently in charge of their own instruction.
Ø They require little fanfare for their achievements, as mastery gives them more than enough satisfaction.
ü Experiential learning, along with the guidance of parents and other elders, is precisely the education known throughout the majority of human history. Schooling is the experiment.
ü We are wired to understand down to the cellular level. Nothing can replace direct observation and experience. A natural education is complex and purposeful. When each person is empowered to learn as it suits him or her, the process of discovery is invigorating.
ü True education has to do with nurturing critical thinking, innovation, and lifelong openness to learning. When education is weighted toward measurable outcomes, the meaning of learning is diminished. Standardized testing is profound evidence of societal shallow thinking.
ü Dissent is an essential component of critical thinking. Disparate viewpoints are an excellent sign that a young person is developing a quality that goes beyond the mere accumulation of knowledge. It has to do with independent, clear-eyed thinking.
ü Educational standards increasingly focus on measurable outcomes that make learning an indirect rather than a direct experience.
Ø This translates into rigid curricula with regular drills to ensure passing grades on mandatory tests.
Ø And this approach takes children farther away from what we know actually promotes long-term learning.
ü The very structure of school makes the child a passive recipient of education designed by others.
ü The subject matter in school, even when taught well, isn’t necessarily what the child is ready to learn.
Ø It may cover material the child has no interest in.
Ø The material may be so remote from the child’s life that it has no relevance.
Ø Children soon learn that the educational process is boring or makes them feel bad about themselves.
ü Schoolwork repeatedly emphasizes skill areas that are lacking, or goes over skills already mastered with stultifying repetition.
ü The energy that formerly prompted a child to explore, ask questions, and eagerly leap ahead becomes a social liability. Often this transforms into cynicism or disobedience.
ü They see that what they achieve and how it is achieved is relentlessly judged.
ü They learn to quell independent thought and value-laden ideas.
ü Gradually, children’s natural moment-to-moment curiosity is distorted until they resist learning anything but what they have to learn.
ü The life force is drained from education.
ü Left to their own devices, children act quite a bit like geniuses.
Ø They don’t learn in a straight line
Ø They are highly individual
Ø They may not be all that interested in what others think of them.
Ø They don’t necessarily apply common sense to their pursuits
Ø When their concentration is interrupted, they may react with frustration
ü Notice that these traits are more common in the youngest children, before we “teach” them.
ü The concept of equality is educationally misapplied, muffling many students’ abilities and strengths in a misguided effort to build up areas that have been determined to be “weaknesses.”
ü Children are expected to attain certain measurable outcomes in all subject areas at each grade. This negates the uneven and distinctly individual ways in which children develop.
In the Flow: Focus and Creativity
ü As ‘free range’ children spend their days in exploration based on their own interests, they access their potential naturally in a way well suited to their needs.
ü Their focus makes a mockery of what is supposedly a child’s developmental handicap—a short attention span.
ü Adults may regard children’s pursuits as irrelevant—calling them away from their interests to what they deem more important. We may chastise them for not paying attention to the time. But, it is our own dreary grown-up preoccupation with schedules and planning that can harm a child’s ability to focus if we aren’t careful.
ü A huge part of learning is the “figuring out” process. Learning through creativity means mistakes will be made. Sometimes, the mistakes are the most important part of the learning process.
ü Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery. This is why it is so essential to encourage a creative, self-aware approach from the earliest ages.
ü The fertile imagination of young children can stay alive to invigorate learning and inspire problem solving throughout life.
|I am living te dream...|
Trust, Empathy and Cooperation
ü Demonstrating our trust in our children sends them a potent message.
ü This is a continuum that begins at birth. When a parent is consistently responsive to a baby’s cries, the infant forms a sense of security.
ü Infants have a biological need to be held, carried and cared for tenderly.
Ø Deprivation of physical comfort in the formative years is a root cause of violence.
Ø Infants and toddlers often spend many hours a day in car seats, carriers and other restraint devices.
ü Guiding children is invaluable.
ü Controlling and judging children hinders them in ways that we cannot readily see but which harm them nevertheless.
ü If we can truly relax, something nearly magical starts to happen. Demonstrating trust in our children, we too feel it. We become more centered. That makes all the difference.
ü Through eyes of trust we are more readily able to see, really see, how much learning is taking place.
ü We see the uniquely purposeful way our children are maturing as they explore, argue, question, play, and participate in the world around them.
ü A heart-centered lifestyle has to do with being attuned to one’s feelings and intuitions while remaining sensitive to and respectful of other people.
ü When children are brought up in this atmosphere, the best in themselves is called forth.
Ø They are empowered to develop strong values and trust their own perceptions.
Ø They can learn to solve problems without extensive adult intervention.
Ø They don’t have to hide their tenderness, warmth, enthusiasm, and optimism.
ü All children learn through observing and working along side older youth and adults.
Ø They want to gain useful skills.
Ø For example, when a toddler wants to help in the kitchen, he doesn’t want to play with a toy cooking set, he wants to participate in the real work he sees taking place.
Ø It slows down a parent to pull up a stool and let him cut fresh mushrooms with a butter knife—and restraint to avoid criticizing or re-cutting the resulting vegetable pieces.
Ø Staunching a young child’s eagerness to help often results in an older child who is reluctant to do chores.
ü Too many children are deprived of normal challenges.
Ø For example, if a parent helps a child on and off playground equipment for fear of falls, the child is taught that she can’t trust her own body.
Ø These are not messages the parents intend to convey.
Ø Frustration, embarrassment, and a few bruises are normal and important aspects of growing up.
Ø Attempts to make childhood frictionless are misguided.
The Nature of Interests: In Perspective
ü Thankfully, parents don’t need to have all the answers.
ü In fact, they sustain a child’s curiosity best as facilitators.
ü They provide a home environment rich with reading materials, learning supplies, and ample time for discovery-based learning.
ü They support the child’s interests with resources in the community.
ü They empower the child to find answers.
ü Each child is equipped with an educational guidance system of his or her own.
ü When children initiate learning, they are ready. Motivated.
ü If a child could describe what the state of curiosity feels like, chances are it would have something to do with highly focused energy—akin to awe—a sense of enhanced aliveness.
ü Let your child’s enthusiasm guide the depth of exploration—do not take over and thereby dampen the child’s eagerness.
ü Naturally curious children will learn more than any external reward, punishment, or praise can compel them to learn. Artificial inducements actual interfere with the process of genuine learning.
ü Mastery has a flavor all is own when gained by your child’s initiative. It becomes strong and distinctive. It is theirs alone.
ü A wise parent allows a child the honor of owning his or her passions.
ü The key is to simply whet the child’s appetite, preserving their right to learn in their own way, according to their own interests.
The Importance of Play
ü Play is generative, transforming the ordinary into something unique.
ü Play imparts advanced social skills and a creative approach to life.
ü The best play is inventive. It gives children a world of their own.
Ø Whether alone or with friends, children have the wonderful capacity to use whatever is at hand for make-believe or games of their own devising.
Ø They have the satisfaction of generating fun.
ü Children who have not had the opportunity for unstructured play tend to resist it, as if they have lost the ability to create their own fun. Restoring a child’s ease in generating his or her own play may take some time.
The Transformation of Boredom into Play and Imagination
ü When children complain of boredom, there is no need to provide them with endless distractions. Distraction is the problem.
ü At the heart of boredom is a kind of discomfort. The feeling of discomfort is an inner signal to pay attention.
ü There is a kind of boundary line—a crossover—between boredom and imagination.
ü We can encourage children to stay with discomfort when they complain of boredom.
Ø Some children may think quietly, some ask questions, others run around.
Ø They are letting in ideas.
Ø Then play or introspection or art begins.
ü Distractions are easy but they keep us from accessing our inner lives.
ü Learning at a young age that we don’t have to resort immediately to distraction adds dimension and depth to a child’s character that can sustain imagination for life.
|eye wove u 2|
Ethics, Spirituality and A Greater Good
ü When adults insist on compliance in their children—true understanding is usurped—encouraging moral immaturity.
ü Many adults continue to assert that children do best raised with more punitive, heavy-handed methods. That is shortsighted. The real underpinning of civilization is cooperation.
ü We can be mindful of where we put our parenting energy.
Ø It’s easy to notice children squabbling for five minutes and ignore two hours of peace.
Ø What we consistently notice is amplified.
Ø If we habitually notice the worst in a person, even though we are trying to bring about improvement, we unwittingly reinforce these negative behaviors.
Ø For a child whose self-image is forming, this principle is even more important.
Ø What we recognize persists.
Ø Noticing when a child has done something right helps to strengthen not only that behavior, but also the motivation behind that behavior.
ü We adults tend to cede our true authority to experts until we no longer recognize it in ourselves.
ü Separation between our beliefs and our actions creates a schism that is profoundly unhealthy for the world around us, just as it is for our bodies and spirits.
ü Learning of the highest value extends well beyond measurable dimension. It is activated by experiences which develop our humanity such as:
Ø finding meaning
Ø expressing moral courage
Ø building lasting connections
Ø channeling anger into purposeful action
Ø recognizing one’s place in nature
Ø acting out of love
ü This leads to comprehension that includes and transcends knowledge. It teaches us to be our best selves.
ü It takes significant inner work to act with integrity. But when we do, we begin to usher in a mighty personal peace.
ü The way we nurture our children is one of the most profound ways we align with our values in this transforming world.
Ø We understand that the way the youngest are raised shapes the resulting society.
Ø We understand that young children are complete beings right now.
Ø We remain open to the mystery, turmoil, and wonder of each person’s creative response to life—leaping ahead and falling back in a rhythm unique to the individual.
|flow in action|
Simplicity and The Slow Movement
ü Children feel better about themselves when their self-image isn’t reliant on what they own.
ü There is no need to offer rewards such as treats or money for good behavior, such bribes tend to foster selfishness rather than develop character.
ü In concert with other like-minded people in the community, children will develop traits like generosity, frugality, and altruism—traits often de-emphasized in a consumer-driven society.
ü When we see that the simplest choice—togetherness with those we love—leads to the greater well being, we are oriented towards gratitude rather than acquisition.
ü The nature of early childhood is the perfect antidote to a hurry-up attitude, that is, if adults truly pay attention to the lessons the youngest model for us—a world oriented to the present moment.
ü The ‘Slow Movement’ is part of a cultural shift toward reconnecting with a simpler way of life, such as locally grown food, slower-paced work and closer relations—savoring rather than rushing.
|creator of play|
ü Children who:
Ø stay up late to stargaze
Ø who eagerly practice the violin and study Latin
Ø who slosh in the edges of a pond to see tadpoles
Ø who design their own video games
Ø who read books till noon in their pajamas.
ü These children are empowered to be free range learners. These children grow up to think for themselves and care passionately about the world around them.
ü Each child is encouraged to walk the path of his or her own possibilities.
ü The guiding light on that path is unique to each individual.
ü It’s illuminated by elements found in imagination, talent, intellect, and the strongest aspirations of the heart.
ü Living in harmony with those aspirations allows each person to be at peace with who they are.
ü A world made up of people directed by meaning, purpose, and integrity would indeed be a better place.
ü In such a world, limiting definitions of success would become irrelevant.
|share a smile|
Although Free Range Learning was written as a handbook for parents contemplating or already taking the home schooling initiative, it would be a disservice to Laura Grace Weldon’s considerable grasp of the human spirit to simply recommend her book for these individuals. Granted, no one, after reading Free Range Learning with an open mind, can justifiably argue in defense of formal K–12 schooling. However, any parent, teacher or professional in the field of education would do well to read this gem. It could change your entire way of living, let alone thinking, as this book asks first and foremost for a more benevolent and serene world. I’m in.
Laura Grace Weldon's website and blog (and Facebook) are active and fresh resources for the interested reader. The pictures used here are from Laura's Facebook page—search 'Free Range Learning'.
Papa Green Bean