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The Unschooling Series 2: When Parents Don’t Have Any Passions and Talents, Can They Still Offer Enriched Learning to Children?


natural learning following children's cues

In response to my article, “How Learning Happens Without School”, a reader/mom asked this:

“What about kids whose parents (like me) are not passionate about anything? I don’t expect of my kid too but I really want to give this kind of environment to her. I know you and your daughter are talented…”

The reader (am not mentioning her name) asked this in reaction to my writing that as part of providing a rich environment to my kids, I follow my own passions and keep my learning alive. Following my own ideas and interests may or may not serve as inspiration to them; I follow them anyway because that’s what feeds my own curiosity and creativity, and offers a rich environment to them and makes them see how much fun it is to dive yourself into your interests. Interest-based learning, anyone?!

Now, to answer the reader’s question:

You may not be passionate about anything, but you can be curious about something. Your curiosity will fuel your desire to learn something new. And, it may (or not) rub off on your children.

So, yes, you may not have passions. You may not be particularly talented at one or more things.

But, it’ll help if you’re open to learning yourself. You’ll make a rocking team if you kindle your curiosity – your natural state of learning. For, your children are inherently curious and will be curious about one thing or another. You just need to follow their cues.

And, feed THEIR curiosity, while feeding your own.

And, how exactly do you feed their curiosity and support their learning?

Here’s an example. Let’s say your son is interested in trains. This is what you can do, even though you know nothing about trains.

(What I’m listing below is from my perspective and current knowing. There can be tons of other things or newer things depending on your child’s personality, the place where you live, your circle of people connections.)

  • First off, start off by getting ‘curious’ about trains. A lot will flow from there.
  • Grab an opportunity to travel with him by train. Then, travel more often.
  • Play family board games like ‘Ticket to Ride
  • All of you visit a Railway museum
  • Buy him a railway model kit or building set and have fun together making
  • Organize a railway/locomotive quiz that the whole family can play
  • Strew railway books/coffee table books all around the house that he can pick and read whenever his fancy strikes
  • Read fiction based on railway stories. A classic is The Railway Children. I’m sure there are a hundred others.
  • Watch movies based around trains and locomotives. Here’s a long list of train-based movies.
  • How about railway and train craft and art in the form of collage, water colours, match-box train, lapbooks, cardboard box train, finger print train – all this you can do with him or facilitate.
  • You can even suggest/guide him (depending on if he wants and how much) to put together an exhibition or a presentation of train for family/friends/neighbours.
  • And then, of-course, discuss and debate – bring in related and connected ideas. Better still, YOU read about this subject if you have the motivation. This is the best way to feed his interest and passion.

One passion, dozens of connections!

Just one interest of his – trains – may lead to many related or unrelated topics and subjects. Trains may bring up Trans Siberian railway and that may inspire him to look up where Moscow is on the map. Moscow may lead to a discussion on Soviet and later Russian dominance in the Olympic games (Over 500 Olympic sports champions lived in the city by 2005). And, a mention about the Soviet era can lead you guys into various aspects of world history. Don’t be baffled, don’t feel pressured – you, as a parent, may not know all this before hand, but you’d be forming those connections as you learn along with him.

Is this not forming a rich environment? And, you weren’t really ‘passionate’ about trains to begin with. You were not ‘talented’ to make a wood model of train or to offer knowledgeable commentary on demand. All you did was go along with the flow. The richness of learning followed suit. Because, you were ‘interested’.

enrich your children's lives

It’s amazing how much natural learning can flourish when families learn together and support each other on their journeys. A parent can play a key role or a side role in forming those learning connections – if you’re interested, genuinely listening, if you are attentive and are keen to learn with your child. Above all – if you want to have fun learning. And, not treat learning as a burden or a curriculum to tick off.

I normally say that when parents are interested, and are interesting, it’ll help build a rich learning environment.

So, let’s say you meet the first part – “when parents are interested”.

You’re attentive, you support their ideas, you’re genuinely enthusiastic about what they want to learn, you get them the tools, the books, you take them places, you have them meet people with diverse passions and skills. You learn with them.

Now, the second part – “when parents are interesting”.

By this I mean, when parents are curious, when they have their own interests and passions, when they are keen to learn something new. This does not mean that parents MUST be “talented”.  Well, a certain talent of the parent can come in handy when the child shares the same interest. Let’s say, if my daughter is interested in writing, I can support her better because I feel I have a passion for it and ‘some’ talent (as a result of the passion?). So, if you and your child have the same passion, it won’t be long before you may become talented in that subject. And, that’s because the pace of your learning will be driven not only by your own interest but also due to the keen-ness to learn as you want to support your child. And, last but not least because you both are learning together as a dedicated team.

And yet, there’s a caveat to what I said above – about parent and child sharing same passion.

Often times, the passions of the parents may not coincide with the children’s. What happens then is interesting. What happens then goes into the making of either a true unschooling family or a poor, struggling version of it. Yes, take my word for it!

You see, my daughter, Pari, has passions that are very distinct from mine. I’ll give some examples (yes, they’re more than one). Infact most of her interests are tangentially different from mine!) I’m passionate about trees and leaves and earth and nature in general. She’s totally not the type. I’m passionate about gardening and growing my own vegetables in particular, while she’s not the sowing, planting, watering sorts. She’s not interested at the moment in gardening.

She’s very passionate about digital things – camera, mobile phones, apps, creating videos, editing them. She’s good at learning design softwares. I have a hard time with new technology – with smart phones and gadgets and picking up the nuances. I actually dislike texting on smart phones and feel better off with email communication.

Even when it comes to food, I love Indian food whereas she drools over Italian. She can eat Italian food day in and day out.

In the midst of totally different interests and passions, I try to support her learning by following her lead sometimes, by strewing her path (without attaching an expectation to it – however hard that may be!) with things that will make her learning more enriching, and by learning from her (she loves to *teach!) and with her. That train example I cited above is how I support her.

*I think teaching is the best way to learn.

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Well, we do have some shared passions too.

Like art, craft, writing, photography. She feels inspired when I make art myself. She likes to take feedback or tips from me when working on her art or writing. She sometimes asks me to edit her articles. I often find her reading series of articles on my blog, and then sometimes she points out what struck her. It’s a shared passion. So is writing and photography. But, of-course, she has her own style and taste when it comes to all these – art or writing or photography. I offer suggestions or a different view and step back for her to think about it and take it or not. She’s actually fiercely independent about what she wants and how. And, often has strong opinions about things.

nature journaling leaf art for kids

I’m saying all this because in the real world, it’s ideal and looks hunky dory if children have the same interests and passions as their parents.

But, if they don’t share similar interests (which often may be the case – as in my home), it boils down to we parents feeding their passions by taking interest in their interest, by making things available as they need, by exposing them to resources and people and environment that will fuel those interests of theirs. The train example above.

When their interests and passions are different from parents’, it doesn’t matter much what passion you have or whether or not you have any passion to be able to offer enriching environment. Feeding THEIR passions is fundamental to their natural learning. Exploring various ways to keep their flame alive and burning bright may become your own passion. Helping them be the learners that they are meant to be vital.

kid art leaf journaling

Supporting your child’s learning may become your passion.

And, believe me, in the middle of all this, it’s not humanly possible that you’ll not pick up a real interest or hobby or passion. You’re learning too, you’ll become curious too. You may find your own calling sooner than later. You’ll deschool yourself from all those years of schoolish conditioning that instilled in our heads that learning happens only when someone teaches us, sets up a curriculum for us and provides formal instruction. You’ll learn that learning happens when it comes from within you, for a purpose that’s meaningful to you. When you want to learn, you’ll seek out ways and means. And, that’s what your child will do too.

Am curious to know….

…..what other ways (other than the ones I listed) a parent can support a child who’s interested in trains (just an example to see what ways and tools and resources are out there to feed and support the natural curiosity of a child to learn.) Please feel free to share. Your sharing will open up my eyes and ears to more tools and ideas.

Read more Unschooling Stories, Thoughts and Experiences:

  1. The Unschooling Series: How Learning Happens Without School
  2. The Spiritual Aspect of Unschooling
  3. Mindfulness, Mothering and Learning
  4. Our Unschooling Journey: Seeing Value in What Children Want to Learn
{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Kavita Rawat September 29, 2016, 9:03 pm

    Wonderful write up, I also do not have any major skills, but with my son I have started developing them…..

  • Jayadeep Purushothaman September 30, 2016, 12:10 pm

    People are conditioned to believe that they don’t have any interests except watching TV or whatsapp :) They tend to believe that teaching is school’s job, they kind of outsource teaching/learning to schools and try to get their child in the bestest of the schools. And still the child is not getting good marks, they find a tuition teacher to fix the issue. This is a pattern conditioned into the brain of many of us, it is not easy to get out of this belief.

  • Rashmy September 30, 2016, 9:48 pm

    Hi Rashmie,
    I’ve been following your blog for sometime. It has been a wealth of information on learning and working with kids. I have a 7 year old who goes to Montessori and a 2 year old. The 7 year old seems to love the idea of being in Montessori and being with friends but my 2 year old seems a totally tangential one who loves to learn things on his own. I’ve been thinking of unschooling my 2 year old and researching on it. Your blog has been a great help! Would it to ok to contact you to just talk through your journey?

    Thanks!

    • Rashmie October 12, 2016, 1:12 am

      Hello Rashmy,
      Sure, you can call me to know more about our unschooling journey. Will be sending you my number on your email id, right after I write this message.

      Thank you for reading and connecting here.

      • Rashmy October 12, 2016, 8:56 am

        Thanks! Looking forward to talk to you!

        • Rashmy October 16, 2016, 6:32 am

          Hi Rashmie,
          Looks like your email has not reached me. Could you please recheck my email id and send your contact info?
          Thank you!

  • Sunita October 1, 2016, 7:35 am

    You are spot on, as always! You are so spot on, that it seems like you described *my* particular son and his early interest in trains that led to so much other learning! We just had to go along with him and “litter the path” (make resources accessible) as John Holt says. The hard part for me was that while he was so entirely focused on trains for a number of years, people made so many negative or fearful comments about the unhealthiness of his fascination. But we were able to do so much deep learning and exciting communication with a very young child through the medium of trains, that I ultimately knew I had to trust him and not the naysayers. Over time, he has developed many other interests, but the foundation of his interest in (and enjoyment of) learning were put in place during those preschool train years. The focused interest in trains was a self-directed means by which he felt comfortable to explore the huge world around him. Most importantly for me, I learned to have “faith in the child” and his ability to learn when allowed the time and space to do so. You are really doing a great service writing so clearly about unschooling, which can be a confusing term.

    • Rashmie October 12, 2016, 1:26 am

      Sunita, sorry about the late reply. The story of your son’s fascination with trains is so inspiring and hats off to you for following his lead for years together and helping him indulge his passion.
      As you said, and as John Holt has written, trusting the child is the key to being his supportive partner. Trusting him to learn, trusting him with his inner compass that will lead him to the exact things he needs to know and learn. But again, that’s the hardest thing to do. We listen to those naysayers and not listen to the child. We coax and coerce them to learn something as though if we don’t interfere, they’ll never want to learn anything. The premise people hold is that given a chance, children will just laze around or do silly things that are of no importance!
      Thank you for reading and appreciating, Sunita. And, as it often happens now with you and me, I’m so amused that your son was nuts about trains and an example I loved to elaborate on was nothing else but trains!

  • Jeanine October 4, 2016, 5:02 am

    DITTO! Ditto! Ditto! Ten times! Ok to all of thee above commenters too. We do no need to have ANY “prerequisites”, educational training, ‘passion’ or even any ‘talent’–all it takes is a little curiosity and follow through! A wonderful blogger over at no time for flash cards Alison I believe, made something Very SIMPLE this Summers beginning: a Curiosity (ask Ple chalkboard) Board for her Children to write on. Here what it said: “I am curious about…” And left the chalk out for them to Answer! Let the Children lead the way to the things they want to learn about. I would even just chose something if they don’t, like dogs, go to the loca library, pick some age appropriate books on dogs, go to the thrift stores (secondhand stores) & grab some fabric, glue and a cardboard box and make what you read about! See! No Passion or Talent required! Xo

    • Rashmie October 12, 2016, 1:29 am

      Thank you, Jeanine, for stopping by to share your own thoughts on this topic. I liked the idea of asking that question: “Im curious about….” :-)

  • Murali Reddy October 5, 2016, 5:06 pm

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  • M October 5, 2016, 9:39 pm

    How would you do this with high schoolers? With transcripts and graduation?

  • Nidhi October 6, 2016, 9:43 am

    Thank you Rashmie! You understood what for. Thank you(100 times). I got it…let’s say a bit. But I will re read it again and again. You are awesome writer and understand to the root of it. Thanks for empathetic article. Keep writing. You are an inspiration.

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