The Order of Learning for Students: Learning Order Series (Part 1)

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We have been programmed by society to see education in terms of school grades or levels including: pre-preschool, preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, and then post-secondary. No one seems to question these levels or terms.

Many years ago, I started thinking about the term “post-secondary.” If there is a post-secondary, shouldn’t there be a secondary to “post”? And if there’s a secondary level, shouldn’t that require a primary level, first? The more thought I gave this, the more I realized that there may be levels to learning, but not as we have been trained to believe.

Levels work if we are to grade people in a structured learning environment, as in grade 1, 2, 3. A child completes one level and then moves on to the next. However, life outside of school is not like that. We are constantly learning what has been presented and move on.

Since learning is continuous, progressive levels may work when there is a focus to what is being learned as we see in school. But learning as we grow is best described as going through stages rather than levels. Describing learning as occurring in stages is more in keeping with where we are in life, while levels describe where we are in our “education.”

Now, let’s look at the four stages of learning.

The first stage is the pre-structured (pre-school, pre-kindergarten level). This initial stage includes learning to communicate using language. Little children, full of questions, ready to learn, casually growing while being exposed to an enormous amount of information. It begins before birth and is determined largely by the environment in which the learning occurs.

Some folks think this is a good way to leave things and essentially encourage students to “go with the flow” or learn as you go as they get older. Without getting into too much detail at this time, this can be described as the un-schooling approach to home education. I just need to point out that this does work with some families.

Now, the second stage is a bit more formal and begins when the child is ready. At the primary (elementary) stage, you learn the fundamental skills. You learn the basics of reading, you learn the basics of math, you learn a lot of what works and what doesn’t. This stage is largely pre-puberty. It can begin at any age, not necessarily at age six as prescribed by the school.

In fact, research has shown that it takes approximately one hundred hours to acquire the fundamental skills of reading and basic computation. So, if your child is six, seven, ten and not reading yet, don’t worry about it. If it takes about two and a half weeks to learn the fundamentals once you get going, there is no need to start when the child is not ready and risk academic child abuse!

That may be the research, but has anybody proved it? I’ve actually seen it many times in my career. For instance, I’ve seen a nine year old learn to read in two and a half weeks. In less than three months he was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Many times I have heard a mom voice her concern about her daughter or son not reading during one visit, only to hear her admonish the child to “put down that book” at the next visit. I find it amusing, but moms usually fail to see it, as the child seems to learn to read, “overnight.” They literally transitioned from being illiterate to book worms without capturing mom’s attention.

Remember, we’re brainwashed with “school” thinking. School seems to take forever to accomplish what can be done in a short time, perhaps because school is first a daycare and then an institution for learning! Seriously, you could take everything they learn in six years of school and likely do it in one at home. We don’t have to worry. So much for that fear or concern!

The secondary stage of learning generally begins after puberty. Now the child expands in knowledge by applying the skills learned during the primary stage. Again, “school” starts this level roughly at age 12 (junior high) and makes it last until the child is roughly 18 (high school). However, I have witnessed this stage take less than a year with the student then advancing to the next stage of learning.

Simply put, the post-secondary stage is what happens after the secondary level. That can be anything. It can be part-time or full-time employment, entrepreneurship, college or whatever awaits the student as they transition into the adult world.

Two things are for certain. Everybody is headed for post-secondary and learning never stops. And another thing, children never stop one level and start another while being educated. They slowly transition from one level to another when they are ready, doing so as they grow through each stage.

If we consider the post-secondary stage to be a level of formal training, we need to consider one more stage of learning. Indeed, this stage is essentially “adulthood after formal training.” If we give this stage the title of “life,” it becomes obvious that it actually starts at birth, transitions from one method or process or level or opportunity or stage to another, and considering that learning transcends the temporal into the eternal, it never ends.

To wrap it up, the primary stage is when learning the fundamental skills, the secondary stage is applying those skills, and post-secondary is the specialization of skills. Life continues both before and after these “levels” of formal learning, occurring in stages as we mature and grow older and wiser.

The Order of Learning for Parents: Learning Order Series (Part 2)

As far as parents go, there are also a series of stages they go through when raising their children. This is also the case when deciding to teach their children at home.

The first stage is to naturally assume school is the answer to their children’s educational needs. Parents will usually, initially go this route and most will stay there.

Those who either learn through experience or otherwise determine that the home is the place to be raising, training and teaching children, will usually bring a lot of the school’s thinking home with them, at first. This is the home schooling stage, a place full of confusion and associated fears as it is often a hybrid between what God has ordained and what government directs.

The home schooling stage eventually gives way to home education as parents realize their God-given authority, get comfortable with having the children at home and take greater control over what will be done respecting the education of their children.

Most parents are comfortable within the home education stage and stay there throughout their children’s formal education. At this stage, the program usually fits the child, even if employing at least some notions of school. There is nothing wrong with this, but some of the more “daring,” or should I say “faithful,” will eventually come to be free of all school ‘thinking” and become “un-schoolers.”

The best way to define this stage or process is that it simply is not doing or playing school in any way. Those who make this stage generally have a greater trust in God and less confidence in man. You may want to see what Psalm 118:8 has to say about that. (I will be discussing this approach to home education in more detail a bit later.)

As parents transition from one stage to another there is a greater sense of freedom as they make the program fit the child rather than having the child fit the program. As you, no doubt, know, working with children has always been better than fighting with them, so finding what works for them is definitely a better idea.

As the children grow, they become more and more independent. In the end, they do as you had planned from the start and what you knew would eventually happen. They leave home to start a life of their own. In a home education, parents have the privilege of growing with the children as they grow together as a family.

Without diminishing the importance of having a good education, one must understand that relationships are of far greater value. Keeping and teaching all the children at home is the best way to develop the most important relationships, which are our relationships with God and with each other as a family. Friends may come and go, but family should stay and stick together, forever.

Now, while home education may go through a few stages or phases, it actually follows the transitions in parenting, which also has to change as the children grow older.

When babies, children need to be nurtured and protected. Training starts soon after birth (potting training for example) and is essentially completed by puberty. In fact, a very experienced older neighbour lady told us that if the children are not properly trained by age five, it is too late and there will be lots of issues to deal with as they grow older. That was wise counsel.

Once a child reaches puberty, more teaching and less training takes place. However, once the student begins taking responsibility for his or her education, parents will find their role changing from that of being teachers to being mentors and guides.

This new role is long lasting, continuing until the children reach their thirties or forties, at which time the parents are old enough to be appreciated as sages and the children are old enough to finally appreciate what the parents were saying all along!

Whether students or parents, everybody grows older and, supposedly, wiser. While each generation is responsible for helping the next, each new generation seems to be faced with problems the former generation has not experienced.

Although there can be what appear to be stages in growth and learning, the fact is most things are simply continually changing and we transition from one level or stage or phase to another as we learn and apply our new found knowledge.

And, I don’t believe this process ever ends.

What is Unschooling? Learning Order Series (Part 3)

We have had the privilege of ministering to a great many families over the years and I must admit that some have caused me to seriously rethink some of my original beliefs about education.

On occasion, we have served families that were in two parts. Not that they were separated, but that their children were in two different age groups. These parents had the first family and years later, for whatever reason, started a second family. Same parents, different batch of children with ten or more years between the first set and the second set of children.

One of these families, that remain as personal friends to this day, is a case in point. They sent their first child to school, found that it was not as good a place as expected, and brought their children home. As usual, they also brought the school home. Trying to do school at home proved to be more trouble than it was worth, so changes were made to the program to better fit the family and student.

Eventually, this family became more home educators than home schoolers as they took on more and more responsibility and independent, family centred, individual programming.

Several years later, the family was blessed with another child and a couple of years after that, another one, creating a family of two sets of children, the older bunch and the younger bunch.

We have all heard how experience is a good teacher and this situation is a good example of this. By the time the family was completing the education of the first family, the second family was ready to begin. However, by now the parents were experienced. They had already transitioned through home schooling to home education and by now were comfortable with allowing the children to simply learn as the opportunities were presented.

As a consequence of the parents being more experienced, older and wiser, the second family was raised in a more relaxed environment, not that the first family was under undue stress, but the second set of children were given the freedom to learn as they grew. The family had become un-schoolers.

I was relatively new to this way of educating at the time, but I soon saw the wisdom to this novel approach. As I became more familiar with the family, I was amazed at how the children were progressing in their learning and soon became not only a supporter, but a fan of the un-schooling method.

Now, remember that I was a public school teacher, not only teaching students at the high school level, but mentoring young teachers as well. With the parents’ permission, I brought a few of these student teachers with me when performing my duties as their facilitator.

Without exception, these students who were indoctrinated to think in the school way, were completely flabbergasted with what they saw and every one of them vowed to incorporate un-schooling within the school once they had the ability. Sadly, I had to inform them that you cannot un-school at school. It is only when not in school that you can un-school. They could plainly see the advantages to the un-schooling method.

As mentioned, I continue to be very much involved with this family. The oldest of the second family, without having used any curriculum, courses, training or programs; without any accreditation or post-secondary courses; and without any type of paper certification, is the genius behind our unique world class web sites and all the technology behind it.

Un-schooling works! It is simply working with a child’s natural learning ability without having to resort to the school’s way of doing things.

It is not un-parenting. It is not un-structured. It is not un-disciplined. It is not un-learning, nor is it un-acceptable. Un-schooling is simply not doing school and it is as diverse in its application as the uniqueness of each child.

Learning naturally as we grow is …natural. I believe that is what was meant to be. No doubt, school will provide you with a lot of information and most students can succeed in school, demonstrating their intelligence and willingness to do as they are told. However, very little of this information is ever used in the average person’s life.

Un-schooling simply cuts out what will ultimately be useless to a particular child. It allows them to play when young, learn as they go and study what interests them in preparation for what could only be, their lives.