Episode 048: Kerry McDonald – Self-Directed Learning

I learned so much from Kerry, and the importance of unstructured time. I have been focusing a lot of my studies lately around coping skills, and she and I talked about this idea that we all have a coping strategy to escape from our stressful lives, right?! How often do we come home from a stressful day and watch TV? Well, kids spend time on their devices because it is their way of coping with how over scheduled their lives are!

When our kids are spending lots of time on their devices, we need to give them more freedom, and with freedom, they will be less likely to engage in these escape-type coping mechanisms. But, with that freedom, we need to provide them with opportunities. This can be challenging since it isn’t as easy to encourage free play, or less structured time. We are often coerced into the institutionalizing everything we do as families. We turn them over to our schools, day cares, camps, sports, and classes to keep them busy. We parents need to be more deliberate about creating space, and opportunity for our kids to explore their freedom and engage in productive activities without the pressure of doing things because they are required by some institution. As parents, we need to figure out how to get away from over-scheduling their lives.

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One important reason is the decline of play. Studies are showing a correlation between play deprivation to mental disorders! Watch this video of Kerry’s colleague, Peter Gray explaining why play is so important: “The Decline of Play.”

Kerry makes a distinction between structured time, and providing opportunities for engaging in productive activities on their own. Kerry gives an example of a camp called Camp Stomping Ground where kids have free time most of the week they are at camp, and they have unlimited access to electronics! But, they also provide lots of opportunities to do other productive things! The might be playing a video game, but then they see a shaving cream fight going on and get swept into the action. Soon, the devices hold little interest because there is so much going on to capture their attention. Plus, they don’t have anything to escape from because they experience freedom all week.

This all reminded me of my conversation with Carol Danaher in episode 036 where we talk about allowing more freedom for kids at the dinner table. But, something to remember is that not everything is going to be OK according to your family standards. Kerry talks about a study by Peter Gray on civilizations that provide their children with access to adult tools including bows and arrows, except for their poison darts. Even when we are providing freedom for our children, we will all have those “poison darts” that we will always want to guard our families from. They may be different in every family, but we will all have something we believe our kids should not have access to.

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So, what are your family’s “poison darts”? What are your important values? How can you create space for your children to have freedom so they can create a life they don’t need to escape from? Do you have that kind of life? Wouldn’t you like to have that kids of a life?!

About Kerry:

Kerry McDonald is an education policy writer and unschooling advocate whose articles have appeared at Forbes, Newsweek, NPR, Education Next, and Natural Mother Magazine, among others. She first became interested in alternatives to school while a graduate student in education at Harvard, but it wasn’t until she became a mom that homeschooling and Self-Directed Education really resonated. Kerry is the author of the forthcoming book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, being published in early 2019 by Chicago Review Press.

Kerry’s site: http://www.wholefamilylearning.com

https://www.self-directed.org

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About the author, Jodi

I live in Richmond, Virginia with my husband, Michael, and our four young kids. We homeschool, and work remotely, so I guess we may take this on the road some day! I have a bachelor's degree from George Mason University in Health Promotion Studies, but I attended five different universities before finally finishing while I was expecting my third baby! I'm a returned missionary from the Hawaii Honolulu Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, but I do enjoy reading personal development and parenting books, finding new ways to enjoy exercising, and learning more about being an entrepreneur.

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