Reflections on Informal Learning: An Interview with Dr. Alan Thomas, MSc, PhD, FBPsS

I found this link via Homeschool Activities on Facebook this morning. It is a video interview with Dr. Alan Thomas who did research on homeschooling and how children learn.

Video found here:

Reflections on Informal Learning: An Interview with Dr. Alan Thomas…

I have copied my blog here for you to read:

I found this link this morning as I was scrolling through Facebook.  Timely, as I had plans to write this morning.  I watched the video nodding my head as I listened.  Dr. Alan Thomas’ research confirmed everything that I have learned living with my children over the past nearly 17 years. Children learn through living life.

When I began homeschooling, I met some “unschoolers” and said, “I could never do that”. I identified as a relaxed homeschooler but unschooling, radical unschooling, merely allowing children to learn on their own with no formal structure or plans.  I couldn’t do that.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook today about how we often say or hear people say to us, “I could never do that” in regards to homeschooling as well as many other things.  Why do we limit ourselves in this way?  She challenged us to instead say, “I would like to try that.” or “I would like to learn more about that.”    I think asking “How do you do that?” is even more open than the closed-minded statement declaring, “I could never do that.”

So here I am about 12 years after I declared “I could never unschool”, calling myself an unschooler. I found over time, that my child was learning so well because I was taking a child-led approach.  I was following his lead and his interests. He likes structure and I was providing that for him.   Looking back, I was able to see that we really were “unschooling” without calling it that.  As Dr. Thomas describes in the video interview, we use a less structured approach.  My oldest likes structure and so I have provided more to him to help him.  Yet, when I look back on the academic planners that I bought each fall beginning in 2002, I became less structured as I “unschooled myself”.  I was the one who needed unschooling, not my 5-year-old son.

Dr. Thomas spoke with a large number of homeschoolers in his research who followed a variety of approaches in home educating their children and talked about the common practice of becoming less structured over time as parents observe how much their children learn outside of structured learning time.  I see myself in this category and I began with minimal structure. I choose not to buy a curriculum out of financial necessity.  I also witnessed first hand, my son, learning to read and write without school and without the curriculum.  I am grateful that I did not have the money at that time to purchase the curriculum.  We went to the library weekly and used the internet and went on field trips.  I was determined to homeschool on a limited budget and discovered in the experience how much learning happens without a formal structure.  When my second child arrived, my oldest was four years old and she had the privilege of growing up in the homeschool word of weekly park days and time with other homeschooling families.  She was not reading and writing at age 4 like her older brother but because I had been unschooling myself, she grew up with even less structure around academic learning and thrived in her own time frame.

If you are still shaking your head or trying to grasp the idea of how children can learn without formal structure, think about how you learn.  If you want to learn to knit or maybe you want to learn Italian because you are going to take a trip to Italy in 5 years or maybe you just want to learn to repair your dryer.  How do you do that?  Maybe, you research what you want to know online, possibly purchase a book or two, watch a video,  or enroll in an online class.  You might also talk to other people who knit or who have repaired their dryer or who speak Italian.  Maybe you even call a repairman and watch what he does and ask questions.  Are we not learning this way on a regular basis as adults?

Why do we think that children can not learn in this way?  You say they aren’t motivated.  You say they will only want to watch TV or play video games.  My mother claims my sister learned to read watching Sesame Street which aired the year that  I was born when my sister was 3 years old.  Have you not witnessed your children learning something from a TV show?  My daughter went through a stage several years back when she watched Electric Company over and over.  I think it helped her learn to spell.  And video games, eye-hand-coordination for starters.  I will save the rest of my ideas on TV and video game learning for another post. And leave you with this thought,  we are learning every day of our lives and all of the time whether we realize it or not.