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Frequently Asked Questions…


 
 

Here are answers to some common questions that pop up for interested and new self-directed families.

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Can anyone HOMESCHOOL OR unschool their child(ren)?

YES! Specifically, in NY, there is nothing barring any family from homeschooling or pursuing a self-directed education (SDE).

WHY DO YOU LIKE SELF-DIRECTION SO MUCH? DO YOU WORK WITH FAMILIES WHO DON’T UNSCHOOL?

I work with all types of homeschool families and I respect each family’s educational choices. No two families approach education the same way and even within the self-directed community, there are many shades of gray.

Self-direction is where my heart lies because I believe it to be the most natural way to learn. I’ve spent time in all kinds of educational spaces and never have I seen learning that is more organic and passionate than in self-directed spaces.

I’m not sure my kid knows how to self-direct. Does self-direction work for every child?

Every child can and does self-direct as much as they are given space to do so. The question isn’t actually whether self-direction works for every child but rather whether self-direction works for every family.

Self-directed education of children and youth depends upon a trust in the student and an ability to recognize all learning as valuable. In my experience, when self-direction falls apart, it most often does so because the adults in a student’s life struggle with one or both of these aspects of facilitating, often due to societal pressure or anxiety over the unknown. A child who has the trust and support of his family and feels the way he spends his time is valued is a child who, by definition, cannot fail at self-direction.

Is self-direction like MOntessori?

While Montessori and self-direction certainly have some overlapping values and concepts, the short answer is….no. Self-direction takes every progressive educational concept you’ve ever heard of and pushes the proverbial line quite a bit further.

What exactly do self-directed learners do all day?

There is literally no one way to answer this- every single self-directed learner (SDL) would have a different answer! That’s the beauty of self-direction.

For some, the day looks like a pretty typical homeschool day- classes in algebra, art history, and dance, followed by some time spent reading a book and a little gardening. For others, the day is spent hopping from interest to interest, lingering no longer than their innate interest in the topic. Digging for worms, studying the wings of a moth, solving a conflict over socks that has been simmering for weeks, coloring, climbing trees, baking muffins, or sewing a new dress could all be on the agenda.

What is “deschooling”?

Deschooling is the process one goes through to shed the stories, baggage, and trauma we carry around from standard schooling. For a kid this often looks like pushing boundaries, doing ”nothing”, or exhibiting signs of worry that they aren’t spending time on meaningful endeavors. Some think the deschooling process takes one year for each year spent in a mainstream school setting. In truth, I think this sentiment is less an actual metric and more a communication to anxious parents that “it takes a while”. However long it takes, it’s normal and if allowed to run its course, will end eventually.

Parents and other grown-ups can also deschool. When we release arbitrary expectations that are based on our own school experiences, we can then create an environment where our SDLs can truly flourish without worry of unwarranted criticism. For adults, deschooling often looks like reading a whole lot, checking in with other unschooling parents for perspective, questioning their expectation and rules, and lots and lots of questioning whether you’re doing “the right thing”.

WHat if my kid wants to play video games all day?

Despite all of our best efforts to facilitate the free and unfettered exploration of genius minds….. sometimes they want to play video games.

Before you jump to anxiety and projection of doomsday scenarios, consider the following:

  1. Is your child deschooling? How far along are they in that process?

  2. Have you taken the time to find out what your child is learning from these video games? It could be far more than you think.

  3. Have you spent enough time bonding with your child over these video games and showing them you take a genuine interest in his interests?

  4. Is your child generally taking care of business otherwise? Does she eat, bathe, interact, and otherwise attend to her basic needs in a decently regular pattern?

  5. Is he really playing games all day? Or is he just playing them more than you (or someone else) would prefer?

  6. Do you yourself unwind with technology, rely on devices to assuage boredom, get into patterns of intense focus over certain interests, or otherwise have habits that would allow you to identify with your child’s interest in video games?

  7. Are they literally playing video games all day or are you just worried that that is how they will choose to spend their time? Problems are not actually problems until they exist so if this is just a worry… let it go.

If you consider these questions and still have concerns, the next best step is to talk with your child. Many times, it really is as simple as opening a dialogue and asking your child to partner with you to come up with solutions. When we trust our kids to work with us on solutions, we give them the opportunity to learn and grow in organic and meaningful ways.

At what age does self-direction start? Surely you can’t be giving freedom to toddlers?!

SDLs are people of all ages. This way of thinking about education means even the youngest of children can be self-directed learners because everyone is learning all the time.

In my home, our two young children are what we consider to be fully self-directed. They eat what and when they want; they choose how to spend their time and who to play with; they decide when they desire to share and when they wish to decline social invitations. As their parents, we provide opportunities for them to succeed at self-direction. We make sure there are healthy foods available, that we don’t overwhelm them with social invitations when they are tired or otherwise overwhelmed, and that we help them navigate conflict and upset rather than punishing them or taking sides.

If we can let go of our expectations and our stories around what toddlers can and can’t do, it’s easy to recognize that even toddlers can enjoy a liberating self-directed experience.

Can unschoolers and self-directed learners take classes?

Of course! SDLs take classes all the time. They also participate in clubs, activities, sports, theatre productions, and musical ensembles. There is noting barring a self-directed learner from experiencing typical classroom settings as long as the decision to partake in such classes rests with the learner.

In short, no one is going to take away your “unschooling card” for signing up for an Algebra II class.

WHat about math?

SDLs learn math. Math is all around us and it would be virtually impossible for anyone to walk through life without encountering real world need for mathematical concepts.

Some self-directed learners choose to learn math in pretty typical ways- classes, worksheets, rote memorization…

Others choose to explore math through their environment- baking (fractions), running a business or daily economic exchange (arithmetic, fractions, decimals, algebraic concepts, etc.), sewing (measurement, arithmetic, etc.) saving for a longed-for toy (arithmetic, budgeting, etc.), games (dominos, go fish, monopoly, etc)…

All self-directed learners learn some form of math; not all self-directed learners choose to take their mathematical comprehension through calculus.

What about gaps? People don’t know what they don’t know so don’t you need someone, like a teacher, to identify gaps?

I’m going to let you in on a not so well kept secret: everyone has gaps in their education. Public school students, private school students, Harvard graduates- all of them are stronger in certain areas, weaker in others, and completely oblivious in… a lot. The world is a vast network of information and opportunities for learning. It’s virtually impossible to be a master of everything.

Don’t believe me? Google a high school exam for a subject that wasn’t your favorite but that you got an “A'“ in in high school anyway. Take it. I’m wiling to bet most of you don’t score as high as you used to. You might say it’s because you’re “rusty” or because you haven’t visited the material in a while. Consider this- if you mastered the material completely, would you need to revisit it again? Would you actively lose so much high school information if you had truly learned it and internalized the material? How much of your high school career was wasted on material other people thought you might need, worried about gaps in your education?

Self-directed learners will have gaps. It’s unavoidable. What makes a SDL and a traditionally schooled student different is that a SDL accepts and acknowledges those gaps and knows they have an entire lifetime to fill in gaps as their life dictates they must.

Can self-directed learners go to College?

Definitely! I personally do not know a single self-directed learner who desired to go to college who was denied (and I know a fair number of self-directed learners).

Many colleges and universities have gotten hip to just how much students who have been alternatively educated have to offer. Some colleges have even done away with the SAT/ACT requirement, opting instead for a more holistic portfolio application process.

Perhaps better yet, there are some universities and colleges that are actually catering specifically to the self-directed learner. Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Hampshire College, and Goddard College are just three excellent options to consider.

SUNY and CUNY schools do remain more mainstream though and anyone applying for acceptance to one of their programs will find themselves having to jump through more academic hoops. Still, the SUNY/CUNY process can be, and has been, navigated by SDLs with success.

The bottom line is, if an SDL has a clear desire to go to college, they can.

WHat do I say to people who tell me I’m doing my child a disservice?

I can’t tell you how to respond when your FIL starts quizzing your 9 year old at the Thanksgiving dinner table and then announces loudly that he deems her to be “behind”. Nor can I tell you how to address a librarian who insists that your child “must be in school of some kind!” You’ll have to develop your own elevator speech for the inevitable moments where others just don’t “get” what you and your child(ren) are doing.

What I can tell you is that developing confidence in your educational philosophy will allow you to find your own answer to those comments. As you develop your own confidence, your child(sen) will likewise follow your lead and start to develop their own responses to well-meaning but misplaced questions. My goal is to support every SDE family I work with to navigate all aspects of there journey with confidence and ease.

Where can I learn more?

There are LOTS of resources out there on self-directed education. Check out the resource page for a non-exhaustive list of further exploration.