I spend a lot of time on Youtube trying to learn something or the other. And from time to time I arrive at some interesting videos shared by others. Most recently I watched the talk on Self Directed Education by Peter Gray. I suggest anyone interested in unschooling go watch it.

I agree with most of what he says and we have been in the same thought process since we started our unschooling journey. What is special about this video is that towards the end (around 1 hour 10 minute mark), he lays out 6 principles of what he thinks as optimal conditions for self directed education. I wanted to see how many of those we are following. So lets begin.

1. Education is child's responsibility

Peter Gray has this to say in this regard -- The first and foremost thing that we need to realize that education is child's responsibility. If we assume the responsibility then the child gives up the responsibility. Every child comes into the world subscribing to the belief that it is their responsibility to educate themselves. That comes instinctively. But as parents and at school we destroy that instinct.

How do we fare? Not so good. Although we have stopped teaching and trying to give directions, it is already too late. Our child believes that we are the ones to educate her. We are currently trying to fix this.

2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore and pursue

It takes a lot of time to immerse yourself into something that interests you. No one should be telling them that it is time to change to different activity. It takes time to be bored. Don't try to relieve the child of boredom. Let them be bored and let them figure out a new activity. It should be out of their own interest that they should move on to the next thing. Not on cue of parents or teachers or time.

We did pretty poorly on this front. Every time our kid spends too much time on tablet or some other non-productive thing (from our perspective), we ask her if it is time to change to a different activity. Constantly asking if she is hungry when she is immersed in some work etc. All these interruptions need to end.

3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture

Children should play with all the tools that are part of our lives. It could be knives, fire, computers etc. Playing with things means experimenting. It does not mean doing planned things that some one already laid out for them.

This again we fared pretty poorly. We never allowed our kid near knives or stove until she was quite old. I know for a fact that is safe because I know another unschooled kid who is 3 years younger than her and could cut vegetables with precision. Yes she might have gotten her finger cut a couple of times or might have burnt the fingers a few times on the stove. But the life experiences she is getting are truly out of her own interest to experiment.

The only saving grace for me is that I never time limited our daughter from using tablet. It is a tool she will grow up with and she better understand it and in future computers etc. She will get bored of it eventually and find better uses of the tools. I used to play quite a lot of computer games when I was a kid before I realized I could use the tool to do interesting things (via coding).

4. Access to a variety of caring adults

The children need to be able to reach out to adults who are not just parents. They are pretty good at figuring out which adult is good at what. That way they can have more role models and learn different skills and not just the skills of parents.

We are trying to fix this but it is once again not as simple. In this new age of nuclear families the kids have very little access to a variety of adults. And coupled with the fact that now with COVID-19 fears, there is even less access. This works best if there a lot of unschooling parents around so all the kids have access to all kinds of adults. We are trying to join unschooler meet-ups once a month when this COVID situation ends.

5. Free age mixing among children

Age mixing helps children learn faster and is more nurturing. Many schools deprive this opportunity for kids. In schools, kids learn and play with the same age groups.

Here too we are trying hard but struggling. There are kids of all age groups in the neighborhood but most are busy with school and play a couple of hours in the evening at best. During these COVID times, even that is unavailable. Hopefully things will change. Again, the unschooling meet-ups might help.

6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic community

Children should have a sense of growing in a larger community of which they are part of. We don't have a lot of connections in the unschooling community, but we do have some good ones though. So doing alright in this department.


That was my assessment of how we are doing on the optimal conditions for self directed education as described by Peter Gray. Like all things in life -- there is always scope for improvement. And in this case, there is a hell lot of scope for improvement on our part.