A cut above

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-two

Excuse the incredibly specific focus of this post, but there were a couple of moments this week that reminded me why I love the unschooling approach to learning new skills.

Months ago now, I first started trying to teach Arthur how to use scissors ‘properly’. It felt like one of those seminal fine motor skills, one of the things that pre-school teachers tick off to show progress, one of the milestones that parents proudly share on social media.

And he just wasn’t having it. He was fascinated by scissors, but every time he picked them up he seemed sure to injure himself. Any attempt to encourage him to use them more safely was met with a blank stare, and generally prompted him to give up and go and do something else instead.

So I stopped bothering. We had plenty of other things to focus on, and this particular one just seemed a bit dangerous to pursue any further. But still it would niggle in my mind: just one of the many skills through which I was failing my child by not pushing him to master it as early as possible.

And then this week, whilst we were making a congratulations card for his dad, he came across some foam letters and asked if he could have his scissors. I queried what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to cut them up to ‘make other letters’ – an idea we’ve been playing around with at breakfast time with his alphabites cereal. I handed the scissors over, resisting the temptation to tell him how to use them, and watched amazed as he carefully placed his finger and thumb inside the handles and demonstrated complete control over the task he had set himself.


He did it again yesterday, finding some tissue paper and asking if he could do some cutting. And again he was careful and precise and achieved his self-set goal. Admittedly he was using his other hand this time – he’s taking a while to let go of his ambidexterity – but I figure he’ll work that one out too in his own time.


I’ve started to notice the same tendencies when it comes to Arthur’s approach to drawing. Again I have been trying for ages to push him towards a ‘proper’ pencil grip, and again he’s resisted my efforts, preferring instead a resolutely clenched fist.

But a few times recently I’ve looked over when he’s been scrawling out circles on his easel and I’ve realised that he’s chosen to adjust his grip all by himself.

These are very precise skills I’m talking about here, but they are precisely the ones that I worry about with an unschooling approach. Sure, it’s great for the broad brush strokes of independence and creativity, but what about those things kids have to just know?

The more I learn about how Arthur learns, though, the more I feel a creeping confidence that unschooling might just be a cut above for developing those skills, too.

1 thought on “A cut above

  1. EMA

    I have felt the same way about scissors as my 3 year old cannot do it yet and even my 4.5 year old struggles sometimes. I must say we probably don’t do enough stuff with cutting but I’ve felt a bit guilty sometimes thinking that they would do these things if they we at pre-school. But I know, like everything, they will eventually get there on their own. My oldest used to refuse to hold a pencil properly mostly because she was asked to. So I sometimes explained it was easier to draw in that way but mostly let it go and now she does so herself.


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