As I wander ever deeper into life without school, certain ideas are becoming more and more alien to me, to the point that I can no longer grasp the questions, never mind come up with a reasonable answer. “How do you know that they are learning?” people sometimes ask. In the beginning, I would give examples of things they know, ways they interact with ‘knowledge’. But the real answer is that I can’t stop them learning. It’s inevitable, and most of the time I can’t even see it happening.
It would be impossible to move through life and not learn. Human beings are constantly learning. We are always confident that babies will learn to walk and talk. We may worry about milestones and note that they are earlier or later than their peers, but it doesn’t occur to us that the process may not happen at all. They need to walk and talk, they see everyone around them doing it. They inevitably figure it all out for themselves. I’ve never met a parent who felt they were responsible for getting their child to walk or talk. What would that even look like? An hour a day of getting the child to walk up and down in a straight line? Some designated time trying to make a baby copy sounds? It sounds ridiculous, which it is.
When children aren’t tested and graded constantly, there is no way to quantify what they know. But, just because the adults can’t quantity it doesn’t mean they haven’t acquired a huge amount of knowledge. It won’t be organised clearly by subject, or by age. It won’t be linear or neat or even noticeable at the time, but it’s certainly there.
I often have no idea how our children know what they know. It all just quietly adds up over time. They are interested in the world and each time a new bit of information comes up that adds to what they have, they store it away and the picture becomes a bit brighter. History, geography, maths, English, it’s all muddled up together, just as it is in real life. It comes from books, films, games and conversations. It’s gloriously messy, absolutely unquantifiable and it would be impossible to desconstruct it all and order it neatly against a syllabus. I don’t know if they are where they ‘should’ be in terms of what they know in school years. They just are where they are, like every one of us is.
So, how do we know they are learning? I think the question itself is strange and shows how little we understand. Perhaps it’s a leap of faith to move away from tests and curriculums, but the truth is that when you start to really observe and listen to your children you see that every day, quietly and inevitably, and entirely of their own free will, they learn.