self directed learning,  unschooling,  unschooling special needs

Of Hoop Skirts and Xbox Games

One of the fundamental principles in the unschooling philosophy is freedom….freedom to choose how to spend one’s time, to direct one’s life in the way that is most meaningful for that person.  Living out this philosophy is challenging when the dominant culture pushes back with its demands for conformity and compliance.  

As I sit at the “family” computer to write this post, I can hear the gentle hum of the sewing machine coming from my daughter’s craft room down the hall.  She is making a hoop skirt.  My son just purchased a new Xbox game and has been playing it for the last two hours, working towards mastering the levels.  He provides commentary on what he is doing and, since we are in the family room together, I can share in the intimate details of his progress….or not.

Each of these endeavors was initiated by the kids themselves.  And, as I observe their activities, I am consistently impressed by how much they are learning in the “simple” process of directing their own lives.  

So, back to the hoop skirt.  My daughter has been wanting to execute this project for some time now.  Just recently, she decided that she would use some Christmas money to purchase the needed supplies.  She follows youtube creators who specialize in costume design.  She researched, and compared, materials to determine which ones would meet her needs.  She calculated how much steel boning, bias tape, and fabric she would need based on the circumference she wanted for the bottom of the dress.  There was a lot of math.  And, though we have never “studied” math, she now understands the relationship between the radius of a circle (the distance from her legs to the edge of the bottom hoop) and the circumference (how far around the dress will be).  The calculations were relevant and meaningful.  It was her interest and desire that motivated her to learn what she needed in order to complete the task at hand.

As I mentioned in the above, my son recently purchased a new Xbox game.  He, too,  has been watching videos about this game and decided to use some of his birthday money.  For him, the simple act of buying a game and using his money is a mathematical exercise.  When in the store, he picked out 3 games for consideration.  We had a discussion about budgeting, comparing prices from different sources, prioritizing which game he wanted the most, and how much money would remain.  These are NOT skills that come easily to him; but, after some time in the game section, he made a final choice.  It’s the following day, and as I mentioned previously, he has been playing his new game for a few hours now.  And, as he continues to master each level of his game, his commentary reflects all that he is learning.  He asks himself questions about what he should do next, then answers himself.  It is an iterative process of back and forth question and answer that pushes him forward.  It is trial and error.  It is learning patience.  It is developing persistence.  It is experiencing frustration……and moving through it.  It is ALL learning! 

These are just two examples of how the inherent freedom of unschooling leads to self-directed learning….and, indeed, a self-directed life.

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