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Deep Learning: The Important Stuff that Adults and Children Learn Together

Deep Learning:
The Important Stuff that Adults and Children Learn Together

By Freya Dawson

I am absorbed in an adventure. It is a wild, challenging, unruly adventure that takes place every day in my own home. It is an adventure in learning.

When my family of four embarked on our home education journey over ten years ago, my attention was largely focused on the sort of learning that is emphasized by schools and mainstream culture. I was curious and sometimes worried about how my two boys were going to learn to read, write, calculate with numbers, and absorb the vast canon of knowledge that is considered fundamental to the task of “getting on in the world.” These matters still occupy some of our time. We enjoy exploring new skills and learning facts about the world. And yet, I think about this sort of learning less and less as time goes on.

The type of learning that fascinates me now is the kind that I am engaged in at much the same level as my children. We are learning alongside each other every day. And what we are learning is far more important to us than the skills and facts of the school model. The focus of our learning is our own wellbeing and purpose in life. It is about discovering the joy of living a unique, precious human life to the very fullest.

The Most Important Thing That We are Learning About is Ourselves

We are exploring what excites and delights us most of all:

  • What do we desire more of in our lives?

  • What sparks our curiosity and urge to explore?

  • What can we do today that will give us enjoyment and satisfaction?

  • What comes easily for us?

  • What are the gifts that we bring to this life and to those around us?

At the moment, we all have quite different interests and talents and this is exciting in itself. We enjoy this diversity of experience and take pleasure in sharing our latest passion with each other. I find that observing my children engage with the things that they love is delightful for me. I don’t have to share their enthusiasm for the latest video game or for re-enacting Star Wars in LEGO, but I love hearing about it. Their enjoyment of self-discovery and self-expression is infectious. My husband and I are both following our own passion for learning. My children don’t want to hear the details of my spiritual journey or discuss aeronautics with my husband but they get more excited, inquisitive, and creative when they know that their parents are engaged in learning and self-discovery too.

All four of us are also learning about what holds us back from our fullest self-expression: our fears, self-doubts, and the things that we react to negatively. These come up naturally as we move towards our desires and expand into new challenges and learning. I am learning to notice my fears, doubts, and reactions but not get captured by them. Like most adults, I carry limiting beliefs that shape my self-image and my worldview. Often, these beliefs are unconscious to some degree. When I choose to expand, learn, and express myself more fully, these old beliefs are brought to the surface, usually with a rush of negative emotion. I can be excited and confident about a new project one day and then plagued by doubts the next. I am learning to take these doubts as a good sign. It’s a sign that I am moving beyond my comfort zone into new and exciting expansion. It’s not a sign to pull back or stop but rather a sign that it is time to change my mindset.

My children are not as burdened as I am by limiting beliefs, but they still have their worries. I practice listening to my children express their fears and doubts without reacting to them. I try not to give advice nor to judge. When I hold the space for my children to feel their feelings, they usually resolve naturally. They have a good cry or feel their fear and then find their own solutions to their problems. And sometimes they still get stuck struggling with beliefs. Finding ways for all of us to unlearn our fears and limiting beliefs is essential to our wellbeing. This is a challenge that we are embracing as a family. I share with my children how I go about questioning and unlearning my own fears and self-doubts. We support each other through listening and sharing new perspectives. This process of unlearning has become an essential aspect of our journey together.

Connection, Interdependence, and Independence

We have chosen to create a home environment and community for ourselves in which we emphasize and explore a positive worldview. We are learning that we can choose and shape our own reality. It’s great to notice that there is help and support available when we need it and that it can come in diverse forms and from far afield. How amazing is this ever-changing world in which it is possible to connect with people and information from anywhere on the planet while we sit in our home in Australia? We find people who fill the gaps in our skills and knowledge, and share and receive support and information with us. We enjoy supporting and helping others and building a deep trust in our connection and interdependence with our world. This so much more fun than concentrating on competition and scarcity! We are learning to focus on the abundance of resources around us and to appreciate this fully.

We know the joy in connecting with each other through play, shared projects, adventure and rest. We love to chill out and feel close, even when we may be focused on our own interests. We are also learning more about the joy to be found in spending time alone and getting to know ourselves better. Independence is such a wonderful thing when it is allowed to develop and blossom in its own way and in its own time. I don’t believe in shoving children out of the nest or pushing them to be more independent than they wish. I am observing a natural desire for independent self-expression that arises from within and follows a unique path for each of us. The more I let go of beliefs about how things “should” be, the more we can each find a balance between connection and independence that suits us well in each moment. And it is all very fluid.


There is great joy and satisfaction to be experienced with mastery of a new skill or knowledge base. When we are excited about something and motivated by our own desires, we can embrace the need for new learning, practice, and repetition. Eventually, we can take things to a new level where learning, practice, and repetition become less important. Once mastery is achieved, things flow much more effortlessly and there is room for creativity and self-expression to flourish.

Reaching a level of mastery in something is its own reward. It is not about impressing others or ticking off a list of achievements. The feelings of confidence, satisfaction, and living with purpose form a base from which new expansion and new creative ideas can bloom. These wonderful benefits can be enjoyed just as well from the mastery of a challenging video game, the completion of a writing project, or a detailed understanding of dinosaurs. The skill or topic isn’t the key; it’s more about reaching a certain state of being and then continuing to grow from there.

There is a lot to be learned in the process of achieving mastery. In fact, the process is crucial. There will always be setbacks, frustrations, and possibly some tedium as we practice, repeat, and make mistakes. There will inevitably be times when we take some turns that do not bring us closer to our goal. We are learning to give these feelings and setbacks some space. I have learned so much from watching my children express their frustration fully, allow the feelings to pass, and then return to a natural equilibrium. They then return to their practice and tackle the challenge again. They don’t get bogged down or give up easily. They might take a break for a while, but they eventually follow through on pursuing what they really desire to learn and master.

Creative Problem Solving

We have learned as a family that there is a solution to every problem that everyone can be happy with or at least accept. We don’t see conflict in terms of winner and losers. I don’t “pick my battles” with my children and we don’t engage in a contest of wills. In a family of very strong-willed people, this would be highly stressful and inflammatory.

Creative problem solving is fundamentally about the process. It is a process which we are continually adapting and refining as we develop our trust and experience. The key elements of the process are:

  • Everyone that is affected by the problem is involved in finding the solution.
  • Everybody is treated with respect and listened to.
  • Nobody gets priority or special treatment.
  • No threats, manipulation, punishment of bribery are used.
  • We make requests of each other rather than demands.
  • We try to be as flexible in our thinking as we can and let intuition guide us to the best solutions.

We are all learning so much about honest communication, open-mindedness, and trust. I have learned a lot about being true to myself in situations of conflict and not giving in to others for the sake of a temporary peace. This sort of problem solving requires assertiveness as well as a willingness to express my feelings and make myself vulnerable. We have found that the more we use this process to find solutions to family problems, the fewer problems we have.

Power, Authority, and Integrity

Something that our children are teaching my partner and I is the value in being true to yourself. Each of our sons has always been strongly guided by his own inner compass. They know what they want and what they don’t want and do not hesitate to express their preferences. They are not worried about peer pressure, conforming to outside standards, or what other people think of them. This gives them confidence to stand in their own inner authority. This is something that I gave away to my own parents at an early age and have spent years working to reclaim.

It might frighten some parents to have children who are willing to stand in their own inner authority. It certainly tests our problem solving skills at times. And yet, I have observed that as our children grow into their inner authority. they have more respect for the inner authority and free will of others. Nobody feels the need to exert power over another member of the family, or even believes that this is possible in the longer term. I might want to get my own way sometimes but I know that if I tried to exert power or force over my child it would ultimately fail and damage our relationship in a fundamental way.

Instead of rules, we make agreements with each other about issues that concern us and we honor those agreements without the need for parental enforcement. We also know that our agreements are flexible. It is always OK to change your mind about something that is really important to you. When circumstances or desires change, we renegotiate our agreements or find new solutions.

We discuss as a family the importance of the legal system that provides the context for our lives and how the rules of the outside world intersect with our personal free will. Questions about the reasons behind certain laws, the reasons why people choose to comply with or break the law, and the whole system of enforcement and punishment provide endless topics for exploration and learning.

The Subjectivity of Beliefs and Knowledge

We are all learning that it is possible to question anything and to see it from a new perspective. This is particularly helpful in relation to thoughts or beliefs that bring stress and conflict into our lives. I share with my family my own process for questioning my stressful beliefs. I ask myself questions like this:

  • Can I be certain that this is true?
  • How does that belief sit with my own inner compass?
  • How does that belief make me feel?
  • Do I want to keep that belief in my life?

Through this practice of self-inquiry I am learning greater open-mindedness. My children are often able to help me see new perspectives on issues that are bringing stress into my life. Their minds are much freer from learned and limiting beliefs as they have never been to school or church. They have, of course, taken on some beliefs and concepts from popular culture and the environment outside our home, but they are encouraged to question what they see and hear if it doesn’t sit well with them.

We also like to observe the way information and knowledge are constantly changing in our society. Sure, certain facts will remain useful and unchallenged for a very long time, but developments in science, mathematics, health, and spirituality are throwing much of the modern cannon of knowledge open to question. How exciting it is to live in a time when reality is understood to be subjective and malleable! How wonderful to let our curiosity and desire to learn have free rein in any and all directions that it may take us.

This is an educational framework in which unlearning is at least as important as learning. It is one in which adults and children relate as friends, partners, co-facilitators, and co-creators rather than in a fixed role as teacher and student. The quality of questions asked is just as important as the accuracy of answers given. We value a flexible mindset as well as the acquisition of knowledge and skills. We aim to support each other’s wellbeing and individual goals while still living harmoniously as a family. This sort of deep learning requires a willingness to step outside the mainstream system and to follow our own ideals. It takes trust and courage and is often a whole lot of fun.

Freya Dawson is the mother of two boys. She speaks to other parents, not as an expert, but as someone who has learned through her own experience about the challenges and joys of raising children. Before she had children, Freya spent fifteen years as a university lecturer in Law. Her life was turned upside down when she faced the intense challenges of raising two highly spirited children. The intense emotions that engulfed her during those years turned out to be a wonderful gift. She found a willingness to explore her own inner world and applied her skills in research to finding a peaceful way to live with her children. In the last ten years, she has developed a deep and trusting relationship with her children who are now fifteen and eleven years old and are both home educated. She has developed an approach to communication and problem solving that make conventional parenting tools such as punishments and rewards completely unnecessary. She has a down-to-earth and practical approach to her relationships while also maintaining a deeply spiritual perspective. She has recently published her first book Joyful Parenting: The five skills to take your family from Conflict to Connection, available on Freya’s website.

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