I love it when someone asks me how I expect a child to learn without being taught and schooled. It’s the easiest question because everyone already understands the answer from their own experience!
I start by pointing out that kids really learn the same way older people do. They don’t need special institutions to do it any more than adults do. Everyone can think of a few examples of things they’ve learned outside of compulsory schooling. How did that education come about? A couple main categories:
Your life circumstance made it necessary to learn something by experience
Maybe you got a new job and you had to use a computer program or a machine you’d never used. You learned some new jargon and how to find your way around the office.
Maybe you became a parent and you learned how to hold your baby so it was comfortable, or how to breastfeed, or how to swaddle a child.
You were interested in something and sought it out
You’d always wanted to learn skiing so you signed up for lessons, or you were curious about the rings of saturn so you googled it, or you asked your friend to show you their bread recipe.
Contrast those ways with the way things are taught in school
Often in a school you’ve got someone else telling you what you need to learn and presenting it to you. Often you don’t see what connection these things could possibly have to real life (because a lot of the time, they just don’t).
In adulthood, have you ever been in a situation where someone had decided you needed to know something even though you didn’t care and it wasn’t useful? Maybe you have experienced this in a work meeting or in a church. Maybe you’ve been cornered at a party by someone who wanted to tell you their whole life story, or someone trying to sell you on a pyramid scheme.
What did you learn in situations like those except how to avoid and/or dread them in the future?
Children are no different. The only things they’ll truly ever learn and remember are things they are interested in and for which they see a use. You can certainly make them sit down and do lessons in things they don’t care about, but the main lesson they’ll learn is to rush through those things to get to the stuff they really want to do, whatever that is.
This isn’t to say that your kids will never be able to tolerate doing something difficult or boring in order to achieve a goal! I’ve seen my own kids put themselves in situations of boredom or difficulty for their own reasons, and I’ve done it myself.
Right now I am interested in learning more about running our family business, so I’m reading a book about accounting. It is not thrilling reading, but I have a goal in mind so I don’t mind doing it.
When my oldest decided it was useful to become literate, she sat down with a Harry Potter novel she could barely understand and read through it, taking ten or twenty minutes over each page.
When my third decided he wanted to ride his bike without training wheels he fell over a bunch of times and hurt himself, got frustrated, and then went back to try again over and over.
There is never (or almost never) a need to force learning on another person, besides the fact that it’s not really possible to do.