May 19, 2021
The fifth optimizing condition is free age mixing with children across all ages. Throughout history, children have spent most of their time in the company of other children, not adults. Sudbury Valley School offers this model. Children learn from one another. Kids don’t inherently self-segregate if they aren’t forced to. Age gaps provide learning opportunities for younger children by way of the older children boosting the younger ones up to an activity level they wouldn’t otherwise be at if they were with their same-aged peers. The older children learn how to explain things which cements their own knowledge. They also learn to care for others and lead. Kids even learn to read through games with older kids, because the game demands they learn it. This is a natural motivator for learning to read. It’s important for kids to have older children as models, maybe even more so than having adult models.
Jenna adds that for her, it’s been challenging to provide age-mixing for her kids during the Covid-19 pandemic due to all the restrictions on social gatherings. As a solution, she provided an online self-directed school alternative which allows for age-mixing and guidance from facilitators. You can learn more about Galileo here, or sign up to try it out with the code “Rogue Learner” and get $100 off your first month’s tuition.
The sixth optimizing condition is immersion in a stable, moral, and caring community. Even with the other optimizing conditions in place, if a child doesn’t feel a sense of being part of a larger community of people. They learn that the purpose of life is not just to serve their own selfish needs. It helps them become good citizens later on.
Jenna says that American schools can provide this sense of belonging through school spirit and mascots and ultimately provides validation to those raising questions about socialization and the lack of a sense of community for homeschooled children.
Peter Gray talks about the research supporting how school climate is the most important factor in determining how schools would perform academically, and closes the gap between students who do well and not well in school. Feeling comfortable and accepted in a school was critical.
Jenna points out that after interviewing people from all different backgrounds, she was surprised to uncover a trend in which people felt relatively happy in elementary school, but as they began entering secondary school, they lost their motivation and felt like a small fish in a huge pond.
Peter Gray notes that the pressure and stress put on children is however, happening earlier and earlier. His own half sister resigned after years of teaching in middle school because administrators dictated exactly how and what she taught even though she had evidence to support her methods were effective. Although kindergarten used to be a place of play and socializing, it’s now become drill and practice with worksheets and messages that children are already behind.
Jenna follows up with a question regarding the 3 R’s. If children are given full autonomy over their learning, how do they learn math, reading and writing?
Peter Gray asks, “Why are we so concerned about math in the first place?” Most of the math we need in everyday life can be learned in context by cooking, playing board games, and making change when you buy something. Research of the “summer slide” shows that children’s ability to solve computational calculations decreased over the summer, yet their ability to solve problems involving reasoning and problem solving increased, and increased at a faster rate than that of which it would have in the course of the school year. You can find some of Peter Gray’s blog posts on Psychology Today about math, particularly this article about a survey he did with unschooling families. We live in a numerate world and to the degree the child is being brought up in a numerate world, the child will learn about numbers and will learn to do those calculations that are necessary to do. Any other calculations can be learned at any point in life when the child finds them important to what they want to do in life. There are two times to learn something, when you’re so curious about something that you just can’t stop yourself from learning it, and the other is when you need to know it. There’s no critical period for learning anything other than your native language without an accent. You learn most efficiently when you need to know it.