Free range learning (Good Reads on Simple Homeschool)

Like most homeschoolers, I love reading and discussing good books. I also enjoy sharing them with my readers, so I’m happy to have the chance to introduce you today to Free-Range Learning:How Homescholing Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon.

As someone who pursues interest-led learning with my children, I was drawn to the concept conveyed by this book’s title, and glad to have the chance to review it.

The author, Laura Grace Weldon, is a long-time columnist with Home Education Magazine, a farmer, and the mother of four homeschooled children.

I recently had the chance to ask Laura a few questions. Enjoy her insightful responses in this interview!

1. How would you define free range learning?

“Every one of us is born a free range learner. We have an innate urge to immerse ourselves in the exciting process of gaining mastery.

We observe, explore, pursue our interests, ask questions, make mistakes and try again—-continually looking for ways to challenge ourselves. That’s how we learn to walk and talk.

That’s how young people have become competent adults throughout human history. And that’s how our species has advanced the arts, sciences, and technology. Narrowing the innate way we learn actually interferes with the full development of our gifts.

Free range learning isn’t another “method” of education. It’s a deeper understanding of how we learn, develop competence, and express our best selves. It helps us to foster learning in our children (and ourselves) and to enjoy the wonder it brings to our lives.”

2. What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a free range learning environment in their homeschool?

“Although it seems counter-intuitive when we’re trying to achieve all sorts of educational goals, one path to achieving those goals more naturally is by paying attention to what’s fun and what engages a child’s interest. I explain that in more depth here, but really, it takes a whole book! Learning is intrinsically pleasurable and interesting.

There are all sorts of ways to motivate kids, but there’s no need for artificial inducements when we can foster curiosity. In fact, the extra time homeschooling children have to play as well as pursue their interests is associated with greater mastery in adulthood, a far more important road to success than good grades or high test scores.”

3. What are the foundational aspects of your personal homeschooling life?

“Homeschooling gives us the freedom to be ourselves and the time to create close family bonds. This builds lasting self-worth.

My kids have developed abilities much different than mine. Now that they are older teens and young adults, this is glaringly obvious. My four offspring can play bagpipes, fix old tractors, milk cows, weld, build, repair, and do differential equations. All easily. Not me.

Our homeschooling lives have been wonderfully balanced between relaxation and adventure. We read for hours together sprawled on couches. We launched ambitious ideas like building a trebuchet to propel pumpkins across the pond and entering a national science contest that landed us a visit with an astronaut. Other equally ambitious ideas, like making a hovercraft, were more notable for their humorous failures.

We gave homemade gifts from woodworking, sewing, and pottery projects and learned to make everything from marshmallows to pop rocks from scratch. We called exploding experiments “science,” invited everyone we knew for large-scale projects like batiking, jaunted all over for concerts and plays, hosted an international guest for six summers, and whenever possible learned directly from people who thrived on work they loved.

We’re still here on our small family farm together. Conversation around the dinner table is a lively mix of fervent opinions, esoteric interests and very dry wit. My grown and nearly grown kids seek each other out for hour long discussions and cheerfully do difficult chores together. I like these people. I’m proud of all they are accomplishing. The foundation here is love and mutual respect.”

4. What are your children doing now?

“My children (now older teens and adults) are remarkably successful young people. One is taking college courses toward a science degree and constantly working on his own projects. Another is in college, majoring in engineering, getting straight A’s and loving his field. Another has graduated summa cum laude with a biology degree, works monitoring aquatic wildlife areas and volunteers on the weekends at a bird rehabilitation center. Another was recently married, has just bought a house, and has a successful career.

I’ll admit, sometimes I wondered if our homeschooling choices were a risk of some kind, since society tells us that success comes to those who follow prescribed steps. But watching my kids and so many other homeschooling kids we know who are now grown, it confirms for me that this is not an “experiment.” This is how people throughout most of history raised children to capable adulthood.

I hear all the time when homeschooled kids go to college and/or the workplace, that their continued passion for learning and mastery confounds those around them, because they’re used to jaded young people who do as little as possible to get by. This is who we are as a species–always curious–and to stifle that that really staunches the possibilities each one of us brings to the future.”

5. What activities from your book do you recommend for new homeschoolers?

First, build your knowledge networks. By that I mean seek out skills and experience in the people around you.

Consider your father’s interest in solar energy, your neighbor’s ability to fix anything mechanical, your friend’s volunteer time with a mountain rescue team, your sister-in-law’s expertise in running a small business. Chances are they’ll gladly share some of what they know with your child or your whole homeschool group.

Asking others to impart some of their wisdom is actually a way of honoring them. People who are passionate about what they do convey knowledge in ways that go well beyond what any flat page or screen can. They transmit enthusiasm. That’s priceless.

Second, look for ways your children can meaningfully participate at home and in your community.

They may want to sell unused household items on eBay and donate the proceeds to a charity of their choice. They may want to plant a garden and learn together how to preserve the produce. They may want to make puppets and stage a puppet show for the daycare down the street. There are endless ways to involve youth in useful endeavors. They’ll not only learn, they’ll build character and a wonderful sense of purpose.

And third, listen to your intuition.

It’s a vital resource. You will be demonstrating to your children the value of paying attention to their own intuition.

Your intuition will also help you trust that your children are well equipped to learn in the way best for them. Better yet, when you listen to your gut instincts you’ll notice you’re being guided toward what is authentic and undeniably joyous.”

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Thank you, Laura, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us! You can also read more from Laura on her blog.

And I highly recommend Simple Homeschool readers pick up your own copy of Free-Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. It has become one of my long-term, continue to flip through, homeschooling resources.

How do you try to cultivate free range learning in your home?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. I love the tip to “build your knowledge network.” That’s something that my husband and I talk about doing for our kids–in theory. We’ve never actually put our knowledge network to use for our kids. They’re still young, so thanks for the encouragement to step out and actually DO IT!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Deep Thoughts About Money and Happiness (Or, Let’s Talk About Legos)

    • You can become familiar with expanding your knowledge networks even when your kids are tiny by asking if they can get a closer look when you go some place or visit someone and notice their curiosity is piqued. We’ve gotten a behind-the-scenes look at a pita-making bakery, the photo developing room at a camera shop, a chemist’s lab, and much more simply by asking. This works best if you’re in a locally owned or owner-run establishment. And it doesn’t work if the kids aren’t curious. People pick up on a child’s wide-eyed fascination and questions, happy to feed the hunger with information they can share. If the child isn’t curious and the parent wants only to instruct, chances are people will pick up on this and turn you down. It was humbling for me to separate my own eagerness to transmit information from my children’s receptivity. There’s always a next time.
      Laura Grace Weldon’s latest post: Pride Goeth Before Tiny Bite Marks

  2. Thank you, Jamie, for a wonderful interview. Networking is a vital part of the free range learning lifestyle. When our oldest wanted to learn blacksmithing, my husband didn’t stop talking to people about it until we found a suitable apprentice for him. Also, I’ve found that the answer “no” rarely is given when one of our children ask about trying something. Better they try and make a mess and learning from their mistakes than never be given the opportunity.
    Carol J. Alexander’s latest post: The Progressive Story part 1

  3. Susan E says:

    I’m so glad you interviewed Laura Weldon and featured her book. It has been incredibly helpful to me during this, my first year of homeschooling, and has confirmed my husband’s and my belief that if you let the child do what they love, the learning will follow. The book is a great resource from high level philosophy to day-to-day suggestions (like finding mentors) for how to help your child thrive.

  4. I am most amazed by free range learning in how much I learn when my daughter asks one of those complicated questions or wants to create something I have no experience with. We bond over figuring out answers and solutions together.
    Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)’s latest post: Six Tips for Planning Summertime Fun

  5. Rana says:

    I have this book on my night stand as next on my list of to read. I have skimmed through it and I love the ideas it has to offer. I think someone said it already it is a great resource to have in your homeschool library.

  6. Angela says:

    Thank you SO much for bringing this book to my attention. It’s not something I would have picked up on my own, and it sounds right up my alley.
    Angela’s latest post: Ranch Dressing recipe (GF, DF, and more!).

  7. Kika says:

    Thank you for the link to her blog. I’d ordered the book from the library last summer and couldn’t really get into it – was having a hard time visualizing what elements made sense for my family. But blog posts sometimes demonstrate “a philosophy in action” and make more sense to me. (I always want and need the practical application of an idea)

  8. I love to hear from those who have adult homeschooled children. I will be looking into this book. Thank you for being a mentor to us other homeshooling moms.
    Jennifer Castro’s latest post: Up for Some Competition

  9. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for this article! Today I was looking at our homeschooling year and seeing what we needed to change for this coming up year. I was really inspired today.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!
    Stephanie@MakeMoneyOnline’s latest post: Work at home as an online tutor: Brainfuse Review

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