‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’
September is traditionally the start of the academic year. What thoughts and feelings does that idea trigger in you? Enthusiasm? Excitement? Joy? Or is it something more like dread, fear or lethargy? Many years ago, the start of September used to trigger a tightness in my chest, a feeling of pressure and contraction that I couldn’t explain. It wasn’t just the end of the summer, but a residue left over from school days and returning to the drudgery of a curriculum imposed on me by someone else.
This stress continued until I became self-employed and then started to home educate my children. At that point it became evident that we were each of us free to follow our own curriculum.
As we embarked on this stage of our lives, we found ourselves on a creative and, at times, messy but fun journey. I’d like to share with you some tools I learned from my children for life-long, heart – engaging, self-directed learning.
Identify purposeful projects
At any one time, my sons would be specialising, not on a particular ‘subject’ , but on a defined ‘project’. Their projects were likely to be within favoured areas of interest and I noticed that they would galvanise materials and ideas together to create a project that they’d then work on day after day. This wouldn’t be to the complete exclusion of everything else, but by reducing focus on other things to a minimum. For example, one son had a long standing interest in the emergency services. While he was majoring in ‘fire’, he developed a project around how to escape a fire in the home, looking at all the details of house plans, use of sound, images, materials etc.
As an adult I found I could do this too. When there’s something that catches my interest and I know I want to learn more, motivation often flows more easily when I create a project around it, so that the interest has a tangible purpose with which to ground it.
Allow exploration too
Sometimes I feel in the mood to learn and am not yet in touch with what’s coming next in my curriculum.
This could be a very trying time with my sons when they felt this way! They would flounce around, loll about and generally get in the way. Occasionally they would experiment with various ideas until they landed again, got their bearings and took off on another learning mission.
Ditch the hierarchy
We’re encouraged to believe, through the conventional education establishment, that some subjects have a greater value, and are therefore more worth studying, than others. When we develop our own personal curriculum, there’s no longer any need to subscribe to that idea. So, we can ditch the heirarchy. This leaves us free to assign our own value to whatever it is that we wish to learn, whether that’s an academic pursuit, vocational, creative, or any combination of those.
Let the heart lead you
My sons were not at all bothered about what others thought of the structure, timing or content of their curriculum. They just did their own thing. I would say they were sparked by moments of intrigue and inspiration. Sometimes, though, a new arena of learning would emerge from sheer desperation. A project would stem from a long-struggled-with solution to a tricky problem. It became a mixture of rational thinking and insight but it was still ultimately heart-led. Eventually I graduated to allowing myself this joy too. It was this willingness to follow my heart that led me to transpersonal coaching and group circle processes.
Scrub the time divisions
Any area that’s worth exploring actually doesn’t need to be a separate ‘subject’ or hobby at all. Often it can be integrated into what’s already happening in life. An enduring back injury, for example, led me to take an interest in Yoga and walking for health. I find them easy to incorporate into everyday routines and activities. This approach eliminates the need to compartmentalise wellbeing activities – they simply become part of a healthy and enjoyable way of living.
Volunteer to teach
Teaching can be such a rewarding process when it’s seen as an opportunity to learn. I like to consider teaching as a way of giving back to the world something of enhanced value. The enhancement happens when a particular interest takes on further enrichment through insights gleaned during in-depth, enthusiastic study and engagement. Maybe you think what you have to teach has all been said before. This might be true if you’re attempting to deliver material from which your heart is disconnected. If it feels like a subject that’s come alive for you, though, I would urge you to trust your unique understanding and presentation. The greatest learning comes through teaching as we put ourselves in a position to listen deeply to others as they wrestle with the material we’ve processed and push at the edges we too are facing.
I learned this creative and radical approach to learning for life from my children: The steps on the development of our personal curriculum can simply reveal themselves as we integrate acquired wisdom and allow next questions and explorations to arise.