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How to Tap into Children's Natural Desire to Learn

Kerry McDonald says that all children are natural learners. Our role, then, as parents and educators is to facilitate this learning. We need to provide resources and opportunities, while letting children guide their own learning. Kerry has unschooled her four children and is the author of Unschooled: Raising Curious Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom.

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About Kerry McDonald

Kerry McDonald has been deeply involved in education policy and practice for two decades. She has a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University, where she studied education administration, planning, and social policy. Her writing has appeared in Natural Mother Magazine, Green Child Magazine, Forbes, NPR, Reason, Education Next, FEE, and City Journal, among others. Kerry lives and learns together with her husband and four unschooled children in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Her book- Unschooled: raising curious well-educated children outside the conventional classroom

Learning About Homeschool

Kerry first became familiar with homeschooling in college.

It was legally recognized in 1993. Homeschooling was starting to become more popular.

Kerry was interested in education choice.

She shadowed a homeschooling family while doing a research project.

She noticed that the children were articulate and at ease with grownups.

At the same time, she was working in a school.

The atmosphere was more authoritarian and followed a rigid curriculum.


She decided to homeschool her own children as she saw that family and got more information.

When her oldest was 2 ½ people would ask where she was going to school.

She would say, she’s 2 ½ and people would say, oh, so she’s homeschooled.

Kerry revisited homeschooling and the idea that education is linked to schooling.

Homeschooling had increased, as well as diversity of the homeschooling population.

Homeschool is very diverse and representative of the general population.

The top motivator for parents to homeschool is concern about the environment of schools.

Unschooling means disentangling schooling from education.

Even in traditional homeschool environments, people will often replicate school environments with standards and expectations, testing and so on.


Unschooling challenges that idea.

Carl Wheatly : unschooling allows children’s interests to define their learning.

The curriculum that you use comes from the learner to direct their own education.

As her daughter neared kindergarten, Kerry thought that they had to get serious about academics and not focus on the fun.

She started investigating curriculums and then her daughter taught herself to read.

That triggered her interest in unschooling and the philosophy over the years.

What Unschooling Really Means

Unschooling is the opposite of un-intellectualism.

Humans are naturally driven to learn and to become naturally educated.

Children are burning to learn.

They accomplish a lot of things in early childhood.

We somehow believe that that changes around school age.

Unschoolers challenge that idea and say, let’s continue that process of allowing children to pursue their interests and be supported by the resources of their community.

Unschooling needs resources to be able to have access to education.

Schools have become narrower in focus. Unschooling attempts to go back and redefine how we think about education.

Changing from Traditional Schools to Unschooling

There would be a process of de-schooling.

Kids get used to someone else being in charge of their learning.

There would be a period of time when children would need to reclaim those instincts.

After that, children would have so much interest to seek additional knowledge.

Her son is interested in skateboarding and he learns about it through books and research and finding out as much as he can.

Kids become avid, passionate readers because they are reading what they care about.

We underestimate the interest that kids will have in math.

Kids who are self directed won’t think about it as drudgery.

Some unschooling families use math curriculums.

Interest Driven Learning

It’s a much more circuitous process that is driven by their interests.

At the root of that is a love of reading.

Most of the other content areas (with the exception of math) can be explored through reading.

Unschoolers do well in college and go on to pursue careers.

Many of them (over half) pursued careers as entrepreneurs that are linked to interests discovered in childhood or adolescence.

Trust children more.

Be less authoritarian.

Allow their own interests to drive their learning.

Act as their facilitators.

Connect them with resources.

See our role as a facilitator rather than a director.

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