Natural Curiosity (by Lisa Carne)

I was delighted to be contacted by a publisher, a few weeks ago, and asked if I would like to read and review this book. I’m always eager to read new books by home educators, and although I had not previously heard of Lisa Carne, I liked the sound of this book. So I agreed, and the book arrived in my mailbox about ten days ago.

‘Natural Curiosity’ tells the story of a family’s adventures with learning primarily through the natural world. It begins by introducing the family’s philosophy of education, for which they use the acronym EPIC, standing for: explore, ponder, imagine, create. We learn a little about the author and her husband’s background, and the ways they ensured their children spent a lot of time outdoors and related well to nature in their earliest years.

It’s quite refreshing in that it’s not at all negative about schools; the author’s children (a boy and a girl) went to a local pre-school and, since they liked playing with their friends every day, decided that they would go to primary school. They knew that home education was an option, but it wasn’t until a few years later that, one at a time, they determined that they would prefer to continue their main education outside the school. The author stresses that there were none of the usual problems: simply a growing realisation that their needs were better met when they could learn in their own ways, at their own speeds, without the structure of a classroom.

They proceeded fairly naturally into a form of unschooling, based around the children’s interests in nature and the natural world. The son was particularly keen on dinosaurs and studying history through nature; the daughter was keener on birds and butterflies. By spending a lot of time outside, watching nature and asking questions, the author found that they were learning across the curriculum. They read books about natural history, both factual and fiction; they used technology to research questions about history and the animal world, they planned gardens and went for nature walks, and used their own natural curiosity.

The book is nicely structured, showing the children’s progress and looking at questions home educators are often asked. I like the way that school learning is seen as a positive thing for many, with benefits as well as disadvantages, and that the children retain friendships with school friends, nurtured both in playing together outside of school and in some online interactions with games such as Minecraft. I had no idea that this could be used to build historic structures or realistic areas, but these children, while not spending all their time shut up indoors, nonetheless use available technology in constructive ways as part of their education.

This style of learning would not work for everyone, of course. Not every child is interested in natural history or geology, and while there have to be benefits to all to work and explore outside, it’s important for any home educator, whether full-time or educating in addition to school, follow the children’s leads and interests rather than trying to impose their own. Nevertheless, this is a great picture of a family of motivated learners, aided and encouraged by parents who share similar interests.

My slight concern about the book is that the children have only been fully home educated for about a couple of years. While the author talks about their home education before ever going to school, and continuing at evenings, weekends and holiday times while they were registered at schools, they haven’t yet reached the teenage years, nor have they become in any way disillusioned by home education. Either that, or the author is very quiet about the bad days. For some, struggling with day-to-day home education, this could be quite discouraging as everything is presented so neatly, as an ideal solution for these children. I would love to know more about the times when things don't go so well.

The style of the book is a bit jumpy, too. There are random ‘notes’ and ‘interruptions’ throughout, presumably actual interruptions to the writing as a child points out something in nature or asks a question. But although interesting, I found it a bit distracting to have these interspersed in the text itself. I’d have preferred them at the end of chapters. However that’s a personal thing; for those dipping into the book rather than reading it straight through, they provide breaks in the text, and look quite appealing.

Towards the end the author writes about their general parenting style, which - like ours - tries to offer respect, good examples, low-key structure, and a listening ear at any point. Lots of good advice is offered, but it sounds as if these children are naturally motivated and inclined to want to please; not all children are as easy to unschool and parent, and, again, I’d have liked a bit more about times when things went wrong or were more stressful.

Still, these are minor gripes about what is, overall, an excellent introduction to the principles of unschooling, demonstrating how child-led learning can cover an entire curriculum - and more - and how children can flourish when encouraged to follow their passions and spend as much time as they wish on any project or interest.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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