Education advocate promotes ‘unschooling’ of children
MANILA, Philippines — Some parents are becoming anxious about having their children continue their education in the time of COVID-19.
But for Trix Clasara, a mother of two and manager of a social platform for “modern moms,” every moment, regardless of its circumstances, is a teaching opportunity.
Clasara said she had been following the same approach to teaching her children at home even before the pandemic.
Her daughter Ily, 5, learned how to write not by drills or by being shown how letters are formed. Clasara noticed early that Ily’s main interest is drawing, so she encouraged her to “draw endlessly as long as she pleased” until she mastered how first to hold her pen.
When Ily “draws sticks and circles to make a person, she is practicing the same strokes she will need to write letters,” Clasara said.
The same is true for reading. “I had to introduce to her my own love of reading and when we’ve had our shared love of stories, it was only then that she began showing interest in learning to read as well.”
Clasara called this approach to instruction “unschooling”—which encourages learner-chosen activities instead of the strict and formal learning modalities in school.
It was educator John Holt who coined the term unschooling in the 1970s. Clasara shared this approach in an Inquirer webinar on July 31 titled “Education in Focus: The Classroom at Home.”
Ily and her 4-year-old brother Aman do not follow any curriculum and are not enrolled in any mode of formal learning.
“Unschooling is about trusting children, trusting the design of humans that we are curious learners,” said Clasara.
She and her husband Brando “rely a lot on life experiences and a lot of indoor and outdoor activities” that help them create their own “curriculum” based on their children’s experiences, interests and personalities.
Since there is no fixed learning schedule for Clasara’s family, she said their only daily routine is “eating together, kids’ baths, kids’ naps and kids’ bedtimes.”
“Everything else in between is a mix of playing, storytelling, experiments, simple chores, biking, hiking, hanging out at the beach and whatever else we could think of or whatever else the kids are interested to do that day,” Clasara said.
She said “it took decades and a pandemic for people to really start talking about the unschooling.”
Clasara said there’s a growing community of unschooling moms, thriving in such online communities as her group Glam-o-Mamas.
This group was founded by Amanda Griffin-Jacob six years ago as a platform for “collaborative motherhood” in the Philippines—helping mothers cope with the different challenges of raising children.
Unlike homeschooling or distance learning, unschooling lessons have no structure, no tests, and no subjects, Clasara said.
“Subjects in school are all derived from life—concepts in math and science, for example are just representations of things observed in daily activities,” she said.
Under this learning style, children still follow a curriculum, but the goal is different from that of standard instruction.
“For us, it’s just not about getting a degree or any academic attainment as prescribed by our world’s standards,” Clasara said. “For us, it is more important to see our kids happy and healthy—[that they] think independently for themselves and … speak out their truths without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.”
Because unschoolers believe that parents are their children’s first teachers, she said morals and values were taught first at home, where children learn through observation.
“As a Filipino, [I find that] my culture, values and love for this country are also very apparent in the teachings we impart,” Clasara said.
Unschoolers like her do not have immediate or long-term plans to send their kids to formal schooling, because “even adults are constantly unschooling … if you really think about it,” Clasara said.
Unless her children “express [their intention] to go to school, there’s just no other compelling reason for us to send them at all.”
Unschooling can address two major concerns among parents who are trying to understand how to conduct distance learning.
One is the need for an alternative means of education for kids who do not respond well to online classes.
“Even if these parents find a way to work from home, the issue is the kids’ receptiveness to teaching, because not every kid will sit in front of the screen and [be] expect[ed] to learn … the same as others,” Clasara said.
Another is the insidious effect of using gadgets for prolonged periods, as remote learners now have to shift to digital learning.
But Clasara said parents “will be surprised [by] how easy” the shift to unschooling could be.
“Because in unschooling,” she said, “they can be their most natural selves, without the pressures of schooling, [of] social cliques and all the other aspects we have to consider when we try to do things the way the world does.”
Parents may differ with the learning methods they apply with their children. “So I want to encourage them that even when you’re at home, you can tell them a story or talk to them—it’s already a teaching moment,” Clasara said.
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