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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: Unschooling Boy Only "Wants to Play"

I just read your article: "Nurturing Children's Natural Love of Learning", and I am so thankful.

I have three homeschooling children. The oldest, who is 10, I have been "teaching to the test" the IOWA Basic Skills Achievement Test, because he is in fifth grade, the compulsory grade in my state to be tested. I have really gotten on his case because all he wants to do is play. Computer games, hand-held Gameboy games... imaginary games... and I feel like he's somehow going to fail if he doesn't take learning seriously.

I'm not one who is comfortable with complete unschooling, yet I sense that my disappointment in my child is damaging his spirit. I'm going to bookmark your web page and digest it for a while. Today, "TV Turnoff" week is officially over. It brought a lot of healing into our home. I think some of your wisdom will too.

Thanks,

Heather


Jan's reply:

Thank you so much for taking the time to send me this thank-you note. It may help you to know that every unschooling parent struggles with these conflicts. Unfortunately, we learned at home and at school to see a false dichotomy between "learning" and "fun". We've come to believe that if it's "educational", it can't be fun, and if it's fun, it can't be learning! When there is also a state testing requirement, unschooling parents naturally worry even more, yet the vast majority of uschoolers test ahead of their schooled peers, even when not specifically instructed. They also tend to test ahead of homeschoolers who follow a curriculum.

You might contact your state homeschooling support groups to see if there is any interest in working to change the law. Unschooling parents in many states and provinces have successfully lobbied their governments to have this type of requirement removed. After all, standardized tests that are based on a school curriculum can't be expected to be relevant or meaningful for a homeschooling child who may well be learning the same subjects, but in a different way, and in a different order over the years.

In a way, we are the generation with the most difficult task, because we are truly blazing new trails and gaining new understandings. As I often say in my workshops, homeschooling should be much easier when formerly homeschooled children become parents themselves. They will have little need to "unlearn" old concepts and relearn new ones, and this process should become easier with each generation.

Given all of this, we should be gentle with ourselves when we falter, and celebrate our successes. "Attachment parenting" is for our own "inner child" as much as it is for our children.

"The mind grows by self revelation. In play the child ascertains what he can do, discovers his possibilities of will and thought by exerting his power spontaneously. In work he follows a task prescribed for him by another, and does not reveal his own proclivities and inclinations -- but another's. In play he reveals his own original power."
- Friedrich Froebel, Education of Man

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