Marlborough unschooling community grows as children take up life learning

Talia Burton-Walker has decided to unschool her children. She and daughter India Walker, 2, do some painting.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Talia Burton-Walker has decided to unschool her children. She and daughter India Walker, 2, do some painting.

A woman in Marlborough plans to take home schooling to the next level, opting to unschool her two daughters when they get older.

Talia Burton-Walker, who is trained in early childhood education, sees the choice as encouraging life learning, away from the structured nature of conventional schools.

The concept focuses on allowing children to lead their own learning through pursuing their interests, Burton-Walker said.

Unlike its close cousin home schooling, unschooled children dictate the daily agenda, deciding if, when and what they want to learn about.

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There are no textbooks, homework or testing and the role of the parent is more of a facilitator than a teacher.

The unschooling philosophy is that children will enjoy learning and retain more information if they are allowed to follow their own interests. The term unschooling was coined by the late author and educator John Holt, who after years of lobbying for education reform in the United States abandoned the notion of traditional education deeming it better for parents to teach their own children. 

"It's about working alongside and joining [our children] on a journey rather than sending them off to be taught [and] separating them from life learning, because learning isn't separate from life," Burton-Walker said. 

"In terms of education school is a relatively new thing; 200 years ago children learned by being at home, they learned by cooking and gardening and being part of a community."

Before having children, Burton-Walker and her husband Blair Walker, a primary school teacher, were not aware of the concept of unschooling, she said.

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"Understanding how children learn and grow [as teachers] has given us a unique perspective but having our own children has completely changed our thinking about it in the same breath."

They had since explored the idea, and planned to apply for an exemption certificate for their daughters, Peyton Walker, 4, and India Walker, 2, to exclude them from school when they turned 6-years-old.

Under the exemption, the couple would have to satisfy the Ministry of Education that the girls would be be taught at least as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school.

Their children already undertook self-directed learning, for which Burton-Walker provided the resources, including books, YouTube videos, and visits into the community to help them further explore each chosen topic.

"I thought things needed to be taught but then I realised these children are learning them on their own; my job is to give these children the opportunity to see and feel and touch," Burton-Walker said.

Her research saw her form a group of like-minded families within Marlborough, who interacted with each other, creating different learning opportunities for their children.

The group consisted of about 15 children, ranging from newborns to those aged about 13.

"We aren't anti school in any way, [but] we want to give our children something different; the opportunity to sleep when they want to sleep, eat when they want to eat and learn what they want to learn," she said.

The girls attended Playcentre, and took part in many of the events and activities around town.

People often asked how the children had the opportunity to socialise, but Burton-Walker said they had ample opportunity for that at Playcentre, within the unschooling and home schooling communities, and through their activities within the wider community.

"As the children have got older they have more social interactions or opportunities than we can fit into our week," she said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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