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Fronted Adverbials, Unschooling, and The Importance of the Freedom to Learn

 Fronted adverbials have been a thing this week. A thing I didn’t even know existed until I saw 

The tweet caused a great deal of churn in both the self-led, traditional education, and parenting spaces. Much of it deserved, and yet…

It’s also a really good way to illustrate that unschooling allows space for everyone. I hadn’t heard of fronted adverbials before, but as someone who writes—I’ve had one book published, not dozens, but still—and someone who enjoys plunking around with learning languages, I was secretly jazzed about the whole thing.

Fifteen years ago, I found it was easier for me to learn languages if I knew what the different parts of English’s grammar were called. Maybe it’s the computer programmer in me, (my other trade), but once I know the name for a thing, it’s easier to look up new usages of the thing—foreign languages for example—and then apply that thing successfully. So, you know, that’s nice for me, but wait…

As an unschooling dad, I hang out with the 9, 8, and 6 year-old unschooling kids here on a daily basis. And, since we seem to enjoy each other’s company—most of the time. And because we talk about our lives with each other. We tend to talk in the jargon we use for the various things we do. And it pays off. As an example, 8 year-old Towser—an alias—perked up reading-interest-wise after he and I started talking about diphthongs, and other technical names for vowel sounds. I wrote about it a week or so ago.

And so, sooner or later, the gang and I are going to be talking about fronted adverbial phrases. It’s just what we do. We learn a thing, and then we talk to each other about it.

Here’s another cool thing with unschooling, and this is where I have huge sympathy/empathy with the above tweet. We don’t have to use or learn the phrase fronted adverbial—not any of us. Our success doesn’t hinge on it. When we need to, we’ll use them. When we don’t, we won’t. And, we’ll never be graded on knowing what a fronted adverbial is, or how many of them we have in a given piece of writing.

And the reason we won’t get graded on it is because there are whole other ways of learning to write well. One of them is simply to write. Because, guess who uses fronted adverbial phrases in her work in progress? The nine year-old. Daize has been using them for a while without either one of us having any idea what that they're called. She’s been putting the comma after them, and the whole nine yards. She didn’t learn it because I taught her. She learned it because she was out in the world and she saw it. Where? What was that world? In this case, ‘the world’ was the ever expanding collection of books she reads. Those authors used fronted adverbials, and now, so does Daize. And I didn’t teach her, and those authors didn’t teach her, and she didn’t find a ‘learning resource’. Daize learned fronted adverbials by being out in the world.

One way unschooling kids learn to write:
Copybooking My Little Ponies


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