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(by Sylvia Lee)

A concerned family member asked me the other day,
“Aren’t you worried?”

“Worried about what?” I asked.

“That they will be illiterate! I’m so worried for you & for them! Aren’t you scared?” she asked again.

“No, I am not. I appreciate your concern but no, I’m not worried about that at all,” I replied calmly.

Perhaps because I know for a fact that both my children are reading, with Kieran possessing an extensive vocabulary & a knack for word-play beyond his age, and Amber teaching herself to read in her own way at her own pace. Perhaps because I trust my children & their ability to learn anything, when and if they need it. Perhaps because I believe our surroundings are so proliferated with words that literacy is only a matter of time, not “whether or not”. Whichever way, my children being illiterate because we unschool had never really been a concern. However, it was obvious that it worried her. The notion of “children must go to school & be taught or they will be illiterate & uneducated” has been so ingrained into our belief system that we never actually stopped to question whether it is true or not. I understand that because I once had that belief. What made me question that belief & adopted my current belief that “children will learn just fine following their natural instincts, without specific instructions”, were my children. Since we started unschooling 2 years ago, I have the blessed privilege to witness how children really learn. Without any curriculum or forced instructions, my children were encouraged to follow their natural curiosity. They actively pursued their own learning by following their own innate interests & passion, without force, coercion or manipulation. All they needed were ample of time & space, and all I needed to do was be patient & let them unfold. Not a day had gone by with them not learning new things or challenging themselves to learn something that they already knew more deeply or widely. Not a day had gone by with them sharing with me repeated information that they had already shared before. Not a day had gone by with me finding them idle or completely bored out of their wits. Not a day had gone by that they knew less than the day before. Their capacity to learn from everything we experience on a daily basis had led me to re-examine my limited belief on learning.

Learning is not limited to the academic subjects we artificially formulated that is called schooling. Learning is organic, fluid & non-linear where many “subjects” are experienced in a single activity.

Learning is not merely the regurgitation of memorized facts or information deemed relevant by an unknown group of “experts” or how well one can out-perform the other in standardized tests. Oftentimes, when the learned facts & information are forced & not experienced, they are easily forgotten. Learning is the process of actively obtaining information & knowledge motivated by an intrinsic curiosity. The information is retained without deliberate memorization & the knowledge is expanded with continuous self-motivation. Unlearning & relearning happened often, where the learner would analyse, compare, edit, discard and/or expand existing knowledge repeatedly according to new learnings, which made “mistakes” fun, insightful & purposeful.

Learning is not something we do in a specific place under specific instructions for a specific period of time. It is a life-long process of continual growth & expansion to facilitate the best versions of ourselves, true to our selves.

Okay, I admit I do worry sometimes. I worry whether they will become the person they came here to be, whether they will spend each day on things they are passionate about, whether they can be of service to others, whether they will be happy & fulfilled, whether they will live & love whole-heartedly… but whether they will be literate? No, I’m not concerned at all.

Kieran: “Mom, what’s a quadratic formula?”

Me: “It’s a formula to find what “x” is in a quadratic equation.”
(I tried my best 😁)

Kieran’s eyes lit up.

Kieran: “I already know what the “x” is! It’s when you break up with someone!”

I laughed hard.

Kieran: “Oh Mom, can’t talk now… I need to go & remove some fecal matter from my rectum!”

Sylvia has been an unschooling mother of two for 2 years. Then she joined the Sudbury team in HK and practice Sudbury philosophy. She believes her role as a mother is to support her children to become who they truly are.

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