Alternative methods of learning

Danielle Zukowski

Ever since reading an article, “How to Talk to Little Girls,” I’ve been cautious with my words when meeting children. It can seem that everything goes over their heads, but they really pick up on things.

Immediately focusing attention on their appearance resonates with them. They connect the dots. It starts at this age. They realize the importance of looks in our culture. Then they start participating in that. Not just females, as the article discusses, but males as well. Intelligence, humor, nature, so much loses significance before they even get the chance to explore it.

I kept this in mind as I volunteered at an arts and crafts workshop with children of all ages. It always amazes me how so much diversity can flourish from the same materials. I think it’s important to encourage kids about things they produce. Inspire creativity, imagination, thinking…it motivates them to keep trying.

So I walked around, table to table, and asked how they were doing. Then I asked about their work. I tried to get them to talk. I asked the usual questions too. How old are you? What do you like to do?

Then I came across two sisters and their friend. I sat down as I organized some supplies on the table. I started the usual repertoire. What school do you go to? Their friend was homeschooled. As an education major, alternative methods of educating fascinate me. I asked the girls and the youngest replies “unschooling.” At first I misheard her. You’re homeschooled? “No, unschooling, it’s different. I learn by asking questions.”

I had never heard of this method before. I kept asking her about it. I wondered whom she asked questions to and what sort of questions they were. I was instantly curious about the effectiveness of this technique. I asked all three children what they liked to learn about and what their lessons were like. They all were very involved in their education. Part of me doubted if the girls would be able to learn the set of standards in formal education. But I was still intrigued.

It is a radical choice. It could be incredibly worthwhile, but it requires immense effort to actually live up to its intentions. The parent needs to be well educated and willing to spend time doing research to provide answers for the child. They need to foster a learning environment. They can’t just leave the kid alone to do whatever. They need to introduce the child to subjects in order for them to have something to stimulate questioning.

Children are natural learners. They are infinitely curious, especially if you persistently encourage them to inquire. In high school, I had a teacher that would never just tell us the right answer. He forced us to question and figure it out independently. By the end of the year, we could actually say we learned the material. We didn’t just turn in worksheets and get a participation grade. We actively participated in our learning. In that aspect, I could appreciate the value of this alternative.