Birds Fly, Fish Swim, Kids LEARN

Last night I ‘attended’ a teleconference on unschooling. For those of you who are still turning over the phrase ‘homeschooling’ and having trouble, ‘unschooling’ is not as bad as it sounds.

The wealth of choice of curriculum (or lack thereof) for homeschoolers grows by the day. And more and more, we hear the term ‘unschool’ associated with it.

I will admit, when I first heard the term, I was hesitant. How can you unschool? Would that be the antithesis of learning? How could you be sure your child was learning? WOULD they be learning?

Imagine my surprise when I realized that early childhood, prior to those organized activities such as preschool or kindergarten IS unschool.

Unschooling is what your child does when he learns to walk. Or talk. Or dress herself. It is learning…without an agenda or a due date on the paper.

As the guest speaker on the teleconference, Pat Firenga said with a laugh, “Birds fly, fish swim, kids learn.”

That in itself is such a beautiful sentence, such a beautiful concept, and yet we allow our fears and upbringing to get in the way of what is, essentially, a very simple way of learning.

We are hard-wired to learn. We crave knowledge, experiences, and opportunities.

If you think differently, then I would posit that the system of learning you were exposed to as a child injured you, greatly. I would go on to suggest that it is less a matter of ‘teaching children what they need to know whether they like it or not’ and more of finding the joy in the pursuit of knowledge and skills.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that all of my education, four years in public schools, and the most of the rest in private schools, topped with a community college education – were NOT where I have learned the most. They are not where I got my skills to learn the rest of what I know. Imagine my surprise when I counted back and realized that my education over the past forty years has comprised over more than 25 of it in what was essentially unschooling.

Yes, I am an adult and yes, I am self-motivated. But so are our children. Ever meet a child that wasn’t curious and didn’t get into awful fixes at least once? Ever meet a child that you actually had to teach a primary first language too? Or did you simply talk to them and eventually they started using a word or two one day, progressed to telegraphic sentences and eventually to full-bore “But I want to go play with my friends, I’m bored!”

Recent training certified me as a business and life coach. One thing that I realized as I went through the training was that a coach’s job wasn’t to give answers or solve their client’s problems. Instead, it was usually quite evident that the client already KNEW the answer to their particular problem. They already knew the particular career choice that was right for them or the steps they needed to take to make their lives different.

The job of the coach, I quickly learned, was to help a client to step out of their own way. It was as if they were standing, with their back to the door of their future, audibly wondering what to do, when all they had to do was turn around, open the door and step through.

Overly simplistic?

Not really.

With one child raised and my youngest so early on her path, I have learned one very important lesson…


When my daughter wants to learn something, the best thing I can do is to hand her a few tools, my backup presence, and let her loose.

Pat Farenga also brought up the analogy of learning to ride a bike. When our children learn to ride a bike, do we get on the bike and demonstrate how its done? Or sit on the back of the bike and shout instructions? No. We help them on it, point out the brakes and the pedals and the steering column, and then stand behind, balancing them momentarily until the pedals begin to move and we are left behind.

That’s what unschooling is. That’s what learning is. The act of introducing something, providing limited guidance, and then stepping back and watching them glide away, jerky movements and terrifying crashes often involved, but independent and self-motivated.

That’s what homeschooling and unschooling and being parents is all about.

For more info on Pat Farenga, who worked closely with John Holt (coiner of the term unschooling), visit his site.

For some other interesting sites, check out:


Universal Preschool

Unschool Your Teen

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