Collaborative Learning Stages

Alright, so I’ve put together my own version of learning stages that I feel represent what I have seen my children walk down in their own way. The reason I decided to come up with my own that is different from “A Thomas Jefferson Education” (TJE) that I shared in my last post is because of a couple of things:

1) TJE appears to be a marriage of a classical education and unschooling. Although I think the stages embrace a lot of the natural stages of learning, I think there also seems to be a bit of an expectation in the later stages particularly that greatness is “expected”. I think greatness evolves. I think there is an overall feeling of helping them through the stages, or preparing them for the next stage, or priming them, if you would. I’m not sure that’s necessary, and I feel strongly that is the classical education side coming through.

2) As I contemplated how closely the stages TJE listed as matching my children’s, and yet, because we pursued each stage more “organically” if you would, I felt enlightened to immediately recognize what these stages might be “labeled”.

3) For most of these nineteen years of raising and homeschooling my children, I went with my own gut instinct in wanting to provide an environment that honors who each child is while sharing my opinions and perspectives along the way. I had always linked myself to unschooling from the start, but in those days, you “felt your way along” mostly alone buoyed up by resources like Growing Without Schooling and Home Education Magazine. When I went on-line a few years ago to hook up with unschoolers, I suddenly realized that “unschooling” as I had always known it had changed somewhat with the ability to “gather together” and start comparing notes. I realized what I had been doing all along was unique to my own “gut instinct”, and slowly over the past few years, I have been putting “voice” to what that is, and this is just another step in the process of doing that, sooooo

4) I thought this was a great venue in which to start sharing! So, I welcome any thoughts, comments, opinions, etc., on my thinking . . .

The Love ‘Em Stage (Ages Birth-1). That’s the best I could come up with for this age group! And, to me, it’s self-explanatory 🙂

The Temperament Stage (Ages 2-4). This is the stage that I was able to tell what type of personality and temperament each of my children have. It is also easier to see the difficult parts of their temperament as well as the easier parts. I have discovered that temperament certainly plays a huge role in learning, but especially in determining the style of relationship that is most conducive to living and learning together.

I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out what style of communication and interaction works best for this child in developing mutual respect and trust by using emotional collaboration.

The Learning Style Discovery Stage (Ages 5-7). Right on the heels of recognizing and understanding the temperament of my child came the discovery of how they best learn. Because play is their “work” during these ages in our home, it becomes apparent to what resources, tools, and toys they are naturally drawn. It is also the stage that what interests them is more apparent. Both of these combine to help you know a whole lot about what motivates them and gets them excited about learning.

I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out what style of learning and motivation works best for this child by honoring and giving value to what they were interested in and how they liked to go about learning more.

The Core Phase (roughly ages 0-8). He talks about having no formal instruction during this time. He feels this is the time to learn things like: right and wrong, good and bad, true and false, relationships, family values, family routines and responsibilities, learning accountability, and the value and love of work.

As one can see, the three stages that I created for this age group fits neatly into The Core Phase of the TJE paradigm since what is considered the important focus for this age group is similar to what I feel is important.

The Exploration Stage (Ages 8-10). This is the most fun stage for me as a homeschooling parent. It is the stage that the children did a lot of exploration in many topics of interest. Although each child had a style or interest that would be revisited consistently, they would move off of it easily using it to explore other arenas of potentiality. It is like sampling from the buffet table, but bringing the food back to your preferred table to eat.

I spent a lot of time in this stage figuring out how to open up the world and marry it back to how they best learn by facilitating requests, expanding through resources, and using knowledge collaboration.

The Love of Learning Phase (roughly ages 8-12). He feels this is the time when there is lots of fearless exploration. He feels home should still be the strong base from where they are learning everything and it is our job to bring in lots of opportunities for exploration.

Again, you see how there is a strong similarity . . . in fact, identical at this stage. But, I add more stages in the next section . . .

The Collaborative Learning Stage (Ages 11-13). This has been an important transition stage between a more unschooling collaborative approach (collecting valuable information and honoring it) to a collaborative learning approach (sharing valuable insights about adult living and supporting the process in working toward their unique futures). This is where more formal discussions and frameworks are created in helping each child own and take responsibility for their goal-oriented learning lives.

I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to structure their learning and create goals by sharing information and insights about their learning style and timeframes by using learning collaboration.

The Gift Focus Stage (Ages 14-16). This is the stage that suddenly the child knows what he/she wants and loves to do and begins to pursue it passionately. This is the focus that will be pursued without reservation and for long periods of time independently. The child will encounter the need to know how to balance the pursuit of their gift along with other responsibilities and learning opportunities.

I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to prioritize their gift and balance their goals and responsibilities by having discussions and sharing experiences about living by principles and remembering the purpose of life.

The Scholar Phase (roughly ages 12-16). He feels this is when the person is starting to really get a feel for what he/she loves and starts to pursue learning heavily, on his/her own initiative. They can’t get enough of it. He encourages more outside the home mentors and opportunities at this stage.

I feel that all the previous stages combine to produce the stage of being able to discover and focus on the gift to which you will excel. If there was not an environment that valued and honored exactly who you are, and helped you flourish in the style and timeframe that works with who you are, and provided a setting that allowed free exploration of all that is available, how would you know what unique gifts and talents that were given specifically to you to bless your life and the world in which you live? If you do not have an environment that shares information and skills on how to organize and focus your thoughts, and a support system to create and develop short- and long-term goals, and experience balancing a full life, how do you fulfill your hopes and dreams? I feel a specific stage needed to be mentioned about how one transitions from the unschooled approach to a more collaborative approach, for my model, versus entering a type of “overachiever mentality” that I sense from the classical education approach. I agree, though, that this stage in particular would be the time to move to more outside mentors wherever possible to enhance the child’s opportunities to develop their gift(s) and personal guidelines.

The Transitional Stage (Ages 17-19). This is the stage that the child moves from a home and dependency based lifestyle to a community and independent based lifestyle. Some will move seamlessly into this stage, while others will be hesitant, and yet others will be outright resistant. This stage can encompass such things as consistent work, volunteer opportunities, college preparatory pursuits, entrepreneurial steps, and/or travel options. It is time for a full adult schedule, whatever and wherever it ends up.

I spent a lot of time in this stage helping each child figure out how to enter an adult lifestyle of their choosing and embrace a full schedule by sharing experience and insights regarding any acqusition process and modeling a mindful lifestyle through peer collaboration.

The Depth Phase (roughly ages 16-22). He doesn’t talk about this one in this handout, but says it is the time when they “take on a serious mentor to prepare them for the Mission Phase.” It is also a time when they go into more depth in the fields of his/her choice.

This is also where I parted a bit from TJE because for my children, an actual and real transitional time occurred at this time. Now, I can see how the Depth Phase could be reached through a classical approach mentality, which I equate with an overachiever paradigm. I just don’t believe in that approach as it encourages the “do as I should” mentality where one is not being true to self and one’s true “organic” stage. I think it is expected to have “transitional” time periods in one’s life, particularly around the teen years and the adult years. To allow a person that space to work through that time period in an honest and self-aware process I hope can allow for a more mindfully lived life that leads to greater joy and contentment. I could be wrong, of course!

I do veer off the unschooling paradigm, though, I think, around the teen years, at that first transitional timeframe where an introduction of goals and structure occurs. I do not believe everything to be a “natural” process, but that we are all here to support and learn from each other as we figure out our place in the world. However, I continue the idea that the child “owns and directs his learning life” through a collaborative model of interaction between child and adult mentor. I see the collaboration model occurring right from the start, and each stage builds upon each other and strengthens the bond of mutual trust and respect that was established at the beginning.

I will agree with the last stage . . .

The Mission Phase (beyond this). He doesn’t focus on this in the handout, but simply says that it is the time “where we each set out and accomplish our unique missions in life.”

Time will tell after this point, as I have yet to experience it with my children . . .

To summarize, I believe our homeschooling lives progressed from an unschooling paradigm to a natural stage of being ready for a more structured/goal-oriented setting achieved through a collaborative paradigm with adult mentor. I feel it represents a more “organic” paradigm of “natural stages” of learning versus an “overachiever” paradigm I feel is associated with the classical educational approach.  I feel it represents a more interconnected paradigm of mentor based collaboration of learning versus an “island onto themselves” paradigm I feel is sometimes associated with the unschooling approach.

It’s interesting so far how much each of my children have followed the age representations fairly accurately, and yet, it can look SO different between the children. This is even basically true for my more disabled children! There may be a bit of a rearrangement of the first few stages for my children who had intensive interventions in the early years. The discovery of their learning style came much sooner, but by the exploration stage, it comes back into alignment.

Anyway, I’m interested in any and all feedback. And, I hope it was understandable 😉

12 responses to “Collaborative Learning Stages

  1. Dumb Ox Academy

    Cindy, this is brilliant! I am going to post a link to your blog on the unschooling Catholics list I am on. I think they will find it very interesting.



  2. Wow, thanks for sharing! I printed your post out to re-read later and figure out how my children match up with these stages. They make a lot of sense in terms of how children develop. It would be interesting to see if these stages are interrupted, delayed, or progressed through faster by entering the school system and being part of that environment.

    Will you please consider submitting this post to the Country Fair homeschooling carnival? I think it would be a great addition.

  3. Faith and Susan,

    Thanks for the positive feedback. It encourages me 🙂

    You know, Susan, I think the school system wreaks havoc on these stages of learning. I really do. For instance, schools are the last place that take into account temperament and learning style knowledge, so it’s already discounting the stages that have already occurred and are currently occurring upon entering the system. Further, love of learning is dampened by the exploration stage, so the desire to explore is gone. And how many people do you know find their gift at 14-16? Most discover it in college or later, after they have a season of “finding themselves”. Now, the adult transition time occurs for schooled children, but it is an automatic pilot sort of deal, where they just robotically continue to plug in to the expected next route . . . college, or job, or some such. My oldest’s transition is going bumpily along, and I wonder if it’s because he is experiencing it mindfully and as it is, besides his learning style and temperament have always been “high maintenance” and emotive.

    That’s my take, anyway . . . with some thoughts . . .

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  5. These were great stages. I like how they were more broken down then just say 0-8 years old (there’s lots of variation in kids between those ages and so much going on with them developmentally).

    Your stages do seem to make a logical progression, as well, from less structured learning for young children to more for adolescents and then into adulthood. Unfortunately, I think school systems (and most people in general) tend to feel that young children need to have very structured lives with everything planned out for them and little time for real exploration on their own terms. Thanks for posting this list, as it will help me as we begin our official homeschooling adventure soon.

    My husband is registered for one of your sessions at the VA Homeschoolers Conference (IEPs). I’m in another session, but maybe I can stop by and introduce myself (if you aren’t swarmed by other attendees).


  6. This is very helpful and your comment in response to other comments also gave me important food for thought about how this might work with a child who has been schooled for some of it.

    I don’t think your approach veers away from unschooling, though. You just don’t have an extreme libertarian view of what unschooling is. Instead of seeing each of us (adults and children) as self-contained individuals, you see us as a web of connected people. The collaboration you describe fits with how I understand unschooling, anyway. I prefer to think that there is variation within unschooling.

  7. Karen, I look forward to seeing you at the conference!

    JoVE, I really like your outlook about unschooling. I particularly like how you were able to connect with how I view things. Your saying, “instead of seeing each of us as self-contained individuals, you see us as a web of connected people”. YES! That is it precisely 🙂 I also see collaboration as fitting easily into the unschooling paradigm, but lately I have felt to not label what I do as such so as not to have the focus become about if I “fit” or not with what I do.

    Thanks for both of your comments!

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  9. Excellent article! I have a much better understanding of unschooling after reading this, and it has given me a great deal of food for thought about how children gain independence and find their gifts and callings.

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