home education

Immersion over obsession- Autonomous education.

Recently I’ve found myself preoccupied with little niggles about the amount of Terraria the boys have been playing. Where do these niggles come from after more than 6 years of autonomous home education? The same place every other parents niggles come from. And also.

There might be guilt in there from being so ill the past 3 weeks and feeling like I’m not being present enough.

There might be feelings of lack from seeing so much home learning stuff online currently, that ties to curriculum learning. Which breeds comparison.

It might also be all the conversations online I keep seeing on how much screen time is healthy/unhealthy for kids. This is a long term argument thats been debated for years now with as many arguments for, as there are against.

And also, maybe its a little of all of these things.

Heres the thing

When an adult finds something new that they are really interested in, we don’t bat an eyelid. When a child does it? Words like obsessed and addicted get thrown around instead.

These were some of the first words I had to learn about and unpick when it came to autonomous education and the really simple switch to the word immersed that completely re wired my thinking and approach.

When I recognise that my boys are currently immersed in Terraria I notice that it must be engaging, fun and interesting.

It must be providing a solution to a need that has come up otherwise they wouldn’t be so immersed in it, but as an academically minded person I also feel a strong need to understand more deeply, what this game is firing in my boys minds too.

The easy route when we as parents have niggles about something our child is doing is to restrict it. And we can find every reason under the sun why that restriction is best for them.

But in my own work in psychology and especially in the psychology of eating I know that when we restrict something, the brain cannot stop thinking about that thing and how to get the thing.

Restriction doesn’t work. You can definitely train yourself to go without but the mental and emotional stuff that causes, often outweighs whatever goal you had in mind. What does work? Is adding options.

In my experience the same goes for children. It feels counter intuitive but a child that has always had access to foods of all types at all times, without any food group being classed as a treat, naughty, good or bad- generally regulates their own intake beautifully.

This kind of self regulation is generally a lot harder to achieve for a child that has had food restricted and then been given unrestricted access.

And the same goes for stuff like gaming. When a child has always had access to gaming in an unrestricted way, they self regulate really well. They pick up gaming and drop it. They immerse in a game and then drop it when they’ve got what they wanted out of it. (Whatever that may be)

You see, they trust its not going anywhere so their brain doesn’t see it as something that needs to be thought about and fought for at all times.

But every single time that a parent reverts back to restrictions because of self doubt, worry, niggles- that trust disappears.

Many people reading this might be thinking that I clearly don’t know their child then because if they had unrestricted access to gaming (or food) they would NEVER come away from it. They’d make poor choices. They are too obsessive to be allowed to regulate this for themselves. They have SEN etc etc.

I have 4 children. Ranging in age from 7 up to 18. 3 of my 4 children have complex additional needs. We have autism, communication disorders, dypraxia, developmental disorders, medical needs and mental health stuff too.

And no, I dont know your children but I do know mine and I know many other autonomous and unschooling families too.

What I do know is that when I have niggles its my job to investigate those niggles and get under the surface of them. Why am I worried about how much Terraria they are playing? What am I really worried about?

Because even after more than 6 years of unpicking what learning and education means to me, I still find myself occasionally worrying that they arent learning anything.

When I realised this was my worry I didn’t restrict their access to the game and start downloading curriculums. (Been there in the early years many times!)

Instead I began researching the educational value of sandbox games like Terraria and Minecraft. I read forum threads on what people gain from playing these games. I chatted to my kids about what they have been doing in the game and what fun stuff they’ve discovered.

And I added options.

‘Do you guys fancy doing this?’

‘Shall we do some painting?’

‘This new documentary on reptiles is out, shall we watch it?’

‘I’m going to do xyz do you fancy joining me?’

‘Your Kiwi box arrived, shall we do it?’

And sometimes they say yes. Sometimes what they are gaining from the game is more important than the thing I’m offering and that’s okay too.

Because I’ve calmed my own niggles by doing the work on what I was worried about. I know they are learning. I’m back in a space of recognising that learning happens naturally in all moments.

And that stuff is my job. As crazy as it sounds its my job to partner them in having the best learning experiences they can and they do that best, when I get out of the way and let that happen.

I was taught children couldn’t be trusted to learn for themselves. I was taught they couldn’t be trusted to make choices for themselves. I was taught not to guide and partner but to instruct.

And that stuff? Will continue being unpicked because I need my kids to trust themselves first, which is something we all deserve.

Off now to go look at my sons gorgeous painting he’s been doing after his tablet ran out of battery. And to smile at the memory of us giggling together this morning reading ‘The owl and the pussycat’.

Maybe we aren’t doing so bad after all.

Massive love,


2 thoughts on “Immersion over obsession- Autonomous education.”

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