Perhaps one of the most atypical things our family does that clearly lands us in the “not dabbling in normal” category is the way we educate. Or rather self-educate. You see, our family follows a type of learning sometimes referred to as “unschooling” or “life learning”.
For us, “life learning” means supporting our individual personalties, learning styles and abilities in a limitless, diverse, hands-on and creative way. It means creating in ourselves a desire to learn from everything we find interesting that crosses our paths and continuing to grow throughout the entirety of our lives. It means enjoying life to the fullest and exploring all it has to offer.
Life learning isn’t for everyone but lifelong learning should be! As our ever-changing world challenges our capacity to evolve, the need for self-motivated and interested learners grows stronger. We need to know how to roll with the punches, how to expand our lives in ways meaningful and useful to us and how to use our self-motivation to stay ahead of the game. I’m here to share ideas on how to apply the principles of life learning to your life and your family - no matter where you are or what you do, no matter if you’re kids are in public school or homeschooled, no matter what your budget.
I’m sure most of you are here because you’re already lifelong learners but we could all use a bit of inspiration along the way. Here are my ideas for cultivating lifelong learning in yourself, as well as those around you:
1. Natural Learning Takes Time
John Holt said it best: “Birds fly, fish swim, people learn.” It’s what we do! And in an ideal world, this wouldn’t change. But in our fast-faced, often stressful life we lose touch with our natural desire to learn. The “shoulds” take over and our passion for knowledge dwindles as a long list of things we need to do overwhelms or exhausts us. This leaves us with little energy, time or desire to explore new and exciting things.
Creating balance in our lives by eliminating sources of stress or simplifying our lifestyles may be necessary to defining our time or priorities. In order for learning to flourish, we need to create a lifestyle that is peaceful, joyful and conducive to nurturing our growth. This will look different to everyone but prioritizing, downsizing, saying no to too many commitments, and proper self-care all come to mind. But as this principle is really an article in its own, I’ll let you chew on your own solutions to creating a balanced, nourished and joyful life.
2. Find Your Style
All of us have a learning style. Many of us probably didn’t realize our own until we were teens or adults. One of the best things you can do for yourself or those in your family is to know your learning styles and apply them. I’ve never known learning styles to be changed so knowing and working with your brain is a huge advantage to lifelong learning. The main styles of learning are:
- Visual: You need to see to get it. You think in pictures and things such as diagrams or photos help you the most.
- Auditory: You like to listen intently. You may close your eyes or stare at the ceiling to block out distractions around you as you take in the words. You like to read things aloud to really understand them.
- Kinesthetic/Tactile: You’re a do-er. You have to touch it, move it around or get your hands in it to really absorb the information.
Most of us are some combination of those three and can use any one of them to learn. But we tend to lean heavily on one style of learning. There are numerous books on the matter and online sites and tests to help you determine your or your children’s style of learning. Perhaps you’ll find you’re better off watching a how-to video on YouTube instead of reading the manual. Or maybe your child needs less verbal instruction but instead benefits from hands-on activities. Once you know your own best way to learn, start applying those principles and see how much easier the learning happens.
3. Create The Right Environment
The “right” environment is going to be different for everyone. Some people may require a creative mess around them, while others need things free of clutter and as simplified as possible. For some, bright colors may stimulate and inspire, while others need darker tones. Depending on the members of your household, perhaps you’ll will need a bit of everything! Something that helps is to create personalized “zones”. A desk with a lamp, a bean bag next to a low shelf, and a table with loads of creative objects are just a few zones that may be conducive to different people.
Other than zones, colors and decorating tips, one thing that applies to every household is to create a “rich environment” by filling your space with interesting and diverse things. Books of all types, a telescope and microscope, dictionaries, a thesaurus, computer games, a direct link to Google, craft and art supplies, building materials, quality tools, maps, board games, hiking guides, Fact or Word-of-the-Day calendars are just a few ideas. Place almanacs, or funny fact books in the bathroom (try Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader). Decorate your fridge with magnetic poetry. Get creative in creating your own version of a “rich environment”.
4. Ask and Answer Questions
Anyone who’s been around a four year old knows how many questions can be asked in a single day. But as we get older, we slowly begin to ask fewer and fewer questions. Sometimes it may be because we work out the answer internally or privately. Or perhaps we assume we know the answer. But sometimes it’s simply because we just stop asking! The great thing about ourselves is the more we self-feed, the fatter and hungrier our brains become. Likewise, the more we share our knowledge with interested folks, the more inspired and inspiring our lives become!
Engagement is a crucial key to lifelong learning and engaging through questions and answers with those around you or online will help feed that mind. So, don’t hold back. Engage in conversation with new people and allow yourself to be open to pondering or further researching new ideas and answers that come your way. Leave Google open to define new words you stumble across online. Or keep a list of things you want to learn.
Those of us with children, neices, nephews or neighbor’s kids can easily turn this principle around. Instead of telling the child to “look it up” understand the great honor they are giving you in turning to you as a source of knowledge. They are, essentially, “looking it up” in your brain! Answer that question! If you don’t know the answer, engage the mind of the child by finding the answer with them - head to the map and search out Argentina together, pull up Google to find out which animals are green, flip through the dictionary to find the definition of chary, or enjoy an interesting documentary on Ancient Egypt with them.
One last great way to engage our minds or our children’s minds is to ask (them or yourself) “What do you think” or “Why do you think that”. Talking aloud through ideas and thoughts, and brainstorming new ones never fails to lead to some amazing conversations and realizations.
5. Honor Your Passions
Too often we justify putting off interests because we believe they aren’t practical or are a waste of time. But lifelong learners know that every interest is valid and every passion should be supported. Most of the best learning happens when you’re insanely passionate about something and give yourself time and space to explore it to your hearts content.
Give yourself permission to delve into studying Mongolian battle fields, organizing your magazine clippings or collecting teacups. Support a child’s interest in horses by introducing them to a local breeder, adding to their stamp collection, or helping them design their own video game. Remember that all knowledge is valuable and allow your life to expand beyond the common. You just might be surprised where the road could lead you!
6. Allow Time To Process
Every one needs time to process information. Mindfully working regular mental down-time into your life gives your mind a chance to absorb the things it’s been given. Many people feel guilty over any form of “idleness”, thinking they should be doing something productive. But balance is needed in all areas of life and our minds needs rest, just as much as our bodies.
For some this downtime may be quiet walks in the evening or early morning, meditation, playing a simple game like Solitaire, keeping a journal, or even vegging with a movie or TV show.
7. Find and Set an Example
We all need a little inspiration. Surrounding yourself with people who interest or challenge you in a positive way could be seen as another way to create a rich environment. No one wants a friend who discourages our desire to grow. And finding a friend who is just as interested in starting a book club or participating in a Civil War reenactment as you are is just plain fun!
Whether you have children or just know children, you are an example to each one. Let them see you learn new things, even (or especially) if you struggle. Let them hear you asking questions, honoring your learning style as well as your passions, retreating to your “zone” with your favorite book or relaxing in the garden. Invite them along as you plant beans or bake bread. Accept their invitation to learn about fairies or Star Wars side-by-side with them. Listen and engage in their conversations.
Showing them with your words, tone, interest and actions that their thoughts, passions and ideas are important to you is perhaps the most important thing we can do to support a passion for knowledge in our children.
What things do you do to support lifelong learning in yourself or your family?