HoltGWS Newsletter 2

Growing Without Schooling: You Don't Have to Go to Grow
December 2011


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Learning is Different from Schooling
Boy and Girl Exploring Nature

I think it is difficult for adults to trust that learning is happening when a child is playing, or daydreaming, or having a heated discussion about the rules of a game. This is because the causes and effects of such learning often take a long time to present themselves to us and we want to see results for our efforts much sooner. It is so much easier to purchase a curriculum, a unit of study, or any educational product (even young adult fiction!) and find a series of questions and tests at the end of the materials that make your learning “accountable” to some higher authority. By checking off the lists, answering the questions, passing a test, we believe learning has occurred and then move on to the next subject.

The Charade of Learning
However, just because we’ve completed a course doesn’t mean we truly learned it, nor does it mean the course or test actually will have any bearing on our lives outside of school (for instance, see my tweet: School board member takes standardized tests & scores show he is not college material: He has several college degrees!

The Joy of Learning
Real learning is learning we keep and build upon in our lives, learning that is self-motivated and purposeful for us. I want to provide you with several examples of how play, both individually and in groups, is vitally important for children’s learning and how parental knowledge and nurturing of children’s play will, indeed, help them grow into independent, resourceful, and thoughtful adults.—Pat Farenga

Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously by Nancy Wallace
Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously

This was the second book written by Nancy Wallace (her first was Better Than School) and the first book Holt Associates published that wasn’t written by John Holt. Better Than School was about the fight the Wallace’s had to wage in order to win the right to teach their children at home. Child’s Work is “about how children make knowledge and understanding out of what is available around them” (quoted from the back cover of the book). Here is an excerpt that illustrates how learning and play are difficult to correlate and how patience, watchful waiting, love, and parental guilt mingle in the learning process.—PF

When Vita and Ishmael learned how to speak, and later to write and read, the materials they used "to build their own intellectual structures" were quite apparent. Often, though the materials that Vita and Ishmael choose to build with, not to mention their actual methods of construction, are not nearly so obvious. Take Ishmael's music. He was eight years old by the time we got around to arranging for him to have piano lessons.
"You know, of course, that he'll never be a professional musician," the teacher told me after the first lesson . . .

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Speaking Engagements

Pat Farenga at Life Rocks Conference, North Conway, NH, April 1, 2011.

Pat Farenga on Dr. Drew Pinsky, Nov. 28, 2011, talking about unschooling.

Want to talk about these articles or anything related to homeschooling and unschooling? Chat with me on Facebook at the HoltGWS fan page.

Read my blog: Learning Without Schooling

Articles and Resources about Play and Learning

Why Parents Should Stop Overprotecting Kids and Let Them Play
An Interview with Hara Estroff Marano and Lenore Skenazy.
I excerpted the comments by Marano to whet your appetite for reading the entire interview. It is available for free online:
American Journal of Play, volume 3, number 4. © 2011 by The Strong.

Marano, for nearly twenty years an editor at large for Psychology Today and formerly its editor in chief, writes feature articles and the magazine’s advice column, “Unconventional Wisdom.” She has also written about human emotion and behavior for Smithsonian, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Self, the New York Times, and others. Marano is a member of the advisory board of the Bringing Theory to Practice Project, an Association of American Colleges and Universities initiative, which promotes the cognitive, emotional, and civic development of students. She is the author of Why Doesn’t Anybody Like Me? A Guide to Raising Socially Competent Kids (1998) and A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting (2008).
American Journal of Play: Ms. Marano, a couple of years ago, you said overparenting is making America a nation of wimps. Is America no longer the home of the brave?
Hara Estroff Marano: Sadly, it isn’t. The home of the brave has given way to the home of the fearful, the entitled, the risk averse, and the narcissistic. Today’s young . . .
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The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents

By Peter Gray
This article is available in its entirety for free online:
American Journal of Play, volume 3, number 4. © 2011 by The Strong.

Children are designed, by natural selection, to play. Wherever children are free to play, they do. Worldwide, and over the course of history, most such play has occurred outdoors with other children. The extraordinary human propensity to play in childhood, and the value of it, manifests itself most clearly in hunter-gatherer cultures. Anthropologists and other observers have regularly reported that children in such cultures play and explore freely, essentially from dawn to dusk, every day—even in their teen years—and by doing so they acquire the skills and attitudes required for successful adulthood.

Over the past half century or so, in the United States and in some other developed nations, opportunities for children to play, especially to play outdoors with other children, have continually declined. Over this same period, measures of psychopathology in children and adolescents—including indices of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism—have continually increased. This article documents this decline in play and increase in psychopathology and argues for a causal link between the two. Humans are extraordinarily adaptive to changes in their living conditions, but not infinitely so. . . .
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Dr. Drew's Building Blocks

We used these blocks and now that our children are adults we look forward to playing with them with our grandchildren. Not corporate-marketing-sponsored play but free-range, wide-open play is encouraged by these simple, smooth blocks.—PF

Stories from GWS about Play and Learning

Play is Necessary
By Mary Anderson (OR) in GWS 99, page 14.  
I have three children. The oldest is 13. They have always learned at home. When my two oldest were young, I tried not to pressure them into academics, but using the Oak Meadow curriculum, I introduced them to numbers and letters using art and storytelling. They enjoyed this but resisted anything too school-like. Both of them learned to read at about age 7 (or was it 8?). My daughter eventually got interested in reading the Little House books to herself. (We all read several of them out loud first.) My oldest son (now l2) didn't really read until a friend gave him a dozen Garfield comic books. Both children now read easily and with enjoyment (compared with many schooled children who hate reading because they were forced to do it).
The interest that Mara is showing in ceramics may be a big factor in widening her scope of interests and learning to try out new things that she enjoys. It shouldn't be seen as just a ceramics class. There is such potential for something like that to lead to many other interests and activities. This class itself is a big deal to her, a window into the world, instead of just one of many activities the parent thinks she should be doing. . . .
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Access to the World
By John Holt in GWS 1, page 2.
The following is part of an article that came out in the New Schools Exchange Newsletter, and later, in the magazine Green Revolution.
[in this alternative school] there is more than a little talk about the curriculum, so carefully planned, guided, and enriched. So here in free and alternative schools we are still doing what conventional schools have always done. We take children out of and away from the great richness and variety of the world, and in its place we give them school subjects, the curriculum. Perhaps we may jazz it up with chicken bones, Cuisenaire rods, and all sorts of goodies from EDC. But the fact remains that instead of giving them access to more and more people, places, tools, and experiences, we are cutting the world up into little bits and giving it to the children according to this or that theory about what they need or can stand. I say instead that what they need is access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; advice, road maps, guide books, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out. Finding ways to do all this is not a small matter. . . .
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A Young Person's Perspective
By Rhianon White, in GWS 135, page 7.

I love home learning. I can learn what I want and don't have to wait for the teacher to choose it. I am interested in dolphins and other marine mammals. I signed up to volunteer at a new rehabilitation center, and when it opens, I can work with them. I like that I can spend so much time with my mom and my sister. My sister and I play a lot. We can go outside whenever we want. I feel badly for schooled kids on beautiful days. I can sit at the picnic table and do my fractions and decimals, which I love, while they are stuck inside a yucky building. . . .
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Joy in Learning

Joy in learning is rarely addressed as far as conventional compulsory education goes; however, words like “expectations,” “accountability,” and “rigor” have accumulated around education like flies to fruit; now we pay more attention to the flies than the fruit! It also seems that parents have lost trust in the value of children’s play, with pressures mounting to put children, at ever-younger ages, into controlled education environments in the hope it will make them successful adults. In the name of academic achievement we are depriving our children of the vast quantities of quiet time and personal interactions with other people that are needed to create a self, learn how to solve their own problems, master their emotions, and participate well in group settings. These things can’t be easily structured into a state or national curriculum and that is probably why schools discount them. However, homeschooling allows you and your children to own your schedules, so you have the time to appreciate and leverage your children’s natural tendency to play and learn. I hope the stories and articles in this issue help you feel how desirable it is to remain playful through all our life.—PF

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Photos from The Child: His Nature and His Needs, Children's Foundation, 1924
“If we give children access to enough of the world, including our own lives and work in that world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to us and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than we could make for them.”—John Holt, How Children Learn.

Photos are from The Child: His Nature and His Needs, by The Children's Foundation 1924.

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