How to build a community of self-directed learners?

I have in the past emphasised a great deal on the importance of community in our chosen learning path. And I have received questions from those keen on starting a group similar to ours but have no idea how to begin. Or there are those who formed interest-based co-ops to do science, math, history or geography, but have encountered various problems and inevitably had to disband the groups. Some of the problems may be:

1. Inter-personal conflicts – expectations differ and the process or outcomes may be unsatisfactory to some parties.

2. A lack of a sense of belonging due to the short and infrequent attendance of the meet ups.

3. Failure to find a suitable place for the meet ups and activities.

In our more than 10 years of unschooling with various groups of unschoolers, we have also encountered various problems along the way. Some groups click better than others, while some personalities just couldn’t click no matter how hard we tried. But whatever the issues, if the focus is on the children, and effort is put to make learning and interacting fun for everyone, differences can be put aside for the sake of community and continuity. Which means we have to put aside our egos (come on, we all have them – just a matter of how big😝), and focus on committing to the group, contributing our effort and time, and continuously share ideas to make it purposeful and meaningful for all.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for sincerity of purpose, honesty in communication and openness to the group. There may be an initiator of a group, but everyone has equal ownership and say in the group. Consensus is sought and no one should decide for the whole group.

But children grow and change at a rapid pace and we as parents need to keep up with the changes. In a multi-aged group, interests vary and preferences differ. It is easier to start off with similar aged kids, for example, primary school level, where everyone is at a more level learning curve. But there will be younger siblings, who will not be able to join in the planned activities, and there will be chaos because these little toddlers have yet to learn about boundaries! So the challenges are real especially when everyone is spending the whole day together under the same roof! But this is what real life is all about. In a family of more than one child, the members have to accommodate everyone and not segregate them like how it is done in schools. We understand the need of toddlers for space to run around in, to mess things up, and to create chaos in an otherwise perfect household. We don’t lock them up in a room so as we get to have a perfect and orderly house, do we? Hence the daily chaotic scene that we are used to during our days of learning and living together in a house we called our own – our Clic house 🏠

The advantage of having our own place was that we could practically do anything we liked. And I think we have done them all! From baking to gardening, carpentry to calligraphy and many more. We also celebrated every kind of festivals together, as well as birthdays (including the author called Dr Seuss!) and we have invited various people to speak on various topics (like a 10-year-old who came to speak to us about feeding the homeless and bringing joy to young patients at the hospital), and those who came to conduct art workshops (there was an artist from Hawaii who conducted a few sessions for us) jewellery-making workshops, and letter-writing workshop by someone from France.

We also had many visitors from overseas (Laos, Thailand, China, U.S. and Switzerland, just to name a few!) who stayed at our clubhouse during their visits to the country and we had enjoyed their presence as much as they had enjoyed ours.

These were some of the highlights of our unschooling community experience that would not have been possible without all the essential factors coming together to make it work, namely: a common purpose, a shared commitment and a clear vision of how we want to do education – in a community-infused environment like one big happy family!

Happy to note that despite the fact that we are no longer having our own place, we have managed to keep our group going by using our own homes for meet-ups and various activities. The spirit of community is still alive even though it had seemed at one point, to be headed south. Some of the once little ones have become teenagers, and the babies are now active toddlers, and the group of girls have finally started to gel much better. We try to cater to their specific needs and allow freedom of choice to the teenagers and the toddlers. And so, we face the new year with renewed hope and optimism that our children will have friends to learn and collaborate with, on projects that they are interested in and which they are self-directed to pursue.

May you too find meaning and purpose in seeking knowledge and happiness in the year ahead!

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