Workbooks Are Not The Answer

A concern is raised: my child isn’t satisfied that they are learning, they want to do “real learning”. What about workbooks if the kid enjoys that? What do you think?

Cue the chorus of “if it is child chosen, it is unschooling”. Case closed.

But woah, wait, rewind. Is the seal of approval that your actions are unschooling really the priority here? Look at the child in front of you and what they are actually needing.

Let’s consider this scenario instead: your child comes to you feeling unattractive. Do you go out and buy them make up, new clothes, a diet plan, plastic surgery? Or do you support them in identifying the source and processing those feelings? I would hope at least as a starting point, right?

Just as a society can imply a person’s appearance is not enough, it too can suggest that they are not enough in other ways.

We want to confront that message, not conform to it.

Now we have a child who has doubt about their learning. If we rush out and buy a workbook what does that communicate? That their fear was accurate? That they were right to think their life was lacking? Does it not hand them confirmation that yes, to learn they do need more? Does it not reinforce all the subtle messages that have told them they are not enough?

But your child, in fact, is enough. The problem is not reality but perception. Focusing on changing their reality only gives weight and validity to the thought pattern, it enables it to further develop.

The majority of society is already saying that “real learning” looks a certain way, do you really want to contribute to that message?

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  1. I really like this blog and am so glad you have written it. I’d love for you to expand on this topic and write more blogs about it. Perhaps even share suggestions and examples of how to address these feelings especially for kids who have started out at school and are now free at home. Or for single parent families, where the non custodial parent does think in the main stream way. I personally would find this very helpful. I could even share them with some folks who I think would also benefit 😉 Thanks <3

  2. I know this won’t be for everyone, but I keep a journal of what my kids do every day. I also stick all of their creations in a big portfolio. This makes it easy for them to find anything they want to see again, but also how much they have learnt. It doesn’t look like ‘school’ but they see the stories they have written and how the detail has changed, how they have more control over different art mediums. They remember researching different pets we welcomed to family and creating their habitats, all the days of board games and the days we decided to read ‘all the books’. They see me keeping all of their ‘work’ and treating it in the special way it deserves. This has really helped with confidence issues in our house.

    I agree completely with your post.

  3. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. If my child came to me feeling unattractive because they didn’t like their clothes, of course buying clothes they did like would be seriously considered. If my child came to me feeling that they weren’t learning enough about something they wanted to learn (say, they are interested in maths and the maths they learnt naturally through life had sparked a desire for more) then a book filled with information and opportunity to explore that information would be a sensible thing to consider. Reading this post, I didn’t feel agreement. Usually I’m nodding my head, thinking “yes!”, but not this time. At first I thought it was because I could see other times when workbooks could be a suitable option and for some reason my brain wasn’t allowing me to focus on the particular situation you were describing. But then I realised the statement you attributed to a parent/child was being interpreted in a limited way, with an underlying assumption. Certainly I agree that if a child made that statement, the next question would be what’s making them feel that way. But their answer is by no means certain, and whether a workbook, makeup, whatever, will be useful can’t be determined until you hear the answer (and I can imagine ways in which those things could be used usefully even when the answer is exactly what you’ve assumed). I understand (and agree with) the point you are trying to make – “confront that message, not conform to it” – but I see a lot of simplistic judgement in this, a good v bad attitude. It feels a bit like the opposition saying “not what they said” in response to everything the government proposes regardless of each individual proposal’s merits, or my son’s friend who refuses to like a song if it’s popular without thought for whether he actually likes the song. An automatic “not that” seems worse than an automatic “that” since you’re allowing those you generally disagree with to make all your decisions by proxy. For me, the main message got lost in your own biases being revealed through the hypothetical examples.

    1. I appreciate your thoughts. The hypotheticals are intentionally the way they are because they are the circumstances I wish to address. I’m discussing situations where my assumptions are relevant! I’m not talking about a child exploring a curiosity in how the other half live or with their own goal they wish to meet and the ways in which that could be achieved. It is not about workbooks or make up or a particular action. It is cautioning that when we meet doubt with circumstantial changes, we enable its validity. It is a call to explore what the motivations are, not to burn workbooks 🙂

      1. Yes, I understand that’s what you intended and totally sympathise with wanting to address that. I guess, to me, “Cue the chorus of ‘if it is child chosen, it is unschooling’. Case closed.” sounded sarcastic and simplistic, and “Do you go out and buy them make up, new clothes, a diet plan, plastic surgery? ” like hyperbole, and that set the tone as anti-whatever for me rather than pro-questioning. Perhaps it would have been more convincing if the examples were real so that they had more depth and more validity. This one just didn’t hit the mark for me, but I do love your posts 🙂

        1. That’s fair enough. I think the comparison is valid; it would be hyperbole to respond to doubt with make up and I see it as a similar extreme to soothe doubt with a workbook… that’s why I used it, to highlight the complete ridiculousness. It’s funny you should mention using real examples because this post was actually inspired by me witnessing one!

          1. I would be really interested in reading about a real example 🙂 I like to point friends who are interested, but not ready to make the leap out of school, to posts that show how a real person deals with a real problem. I think they can relate to those types of posts more easily, when there’s a real person to empathise with.

          2. I understand there are those that connect better with that style of writing, it is not generally what I am interested in myself as I’m more a philosopher at heart but I strongly recommend Happiness is here who is a brilliant storyteller and aligned with similar ideals to myself.

            The example used in the post is vague because a) the places I have seen this happen are not public spaces and b) whilst I was inspired by one such incident, it was because it reminded me of so many others before it; it was about the concept not the specifics.

  4. I thought it was quite clear. That providing a workbook could be a bandaid fix for perhaps much deeper emotions and that addressing those feelings may provide a much better solution (that may or may not involve workbooks) just as makeup is unlikely to address self esteem issues etc.

  5. So you say you are all for autonomy and pursuing the things you love and that interest you. But what you really mean is as long as it is within the strictly defined unschooling ethos (as defined by you).Not really freedom then at all. They are as subject to your whims and desires as a pupil is subject to the whims of a teacher.

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