academics / homeschooling / philosophy

child-led learning

“A schooled education is a mile wide and an inch deep”

There are things I want to impart to my kids, no question. But to absorb things quickly, effortlessly, that is tricky.

I want to see them as little computers that I can upload information to. If I could only say something once. If I could do the work to research a topic, buy the book, plan the lesson and teach it ONCE, I would be in my home educating dream world. I really wish it worked liked that. Alas, it is not.

I often try this approach instinctively and become utterly surprised, and frustrated, that they can’t regurgitate it.

If they have someone to talk things through with, they are much more likely to process their thoughts and keep them stashed inside their little brains. If they can narrate, or tell me back something, I am much more likely to hear them regurgitate that fact later. If we discuss it more than once, more than twice, it’s likely locked in.

But if they’re interested in a subject, I am even more eager to create an environment of learning around that topic. If they’re interested, their little brains are fully front(al) and present. There is no need to entice them to listen to me, to correct them until they listen to me, attempt to force their little (or big) wills. It comes naturally, and easily for them, and me.

So, of course, I naturally bend toward this direction.

This is, in some ways, like doing unit studies.

Our oldest daughter, Hannah, has had a continuing interest in British history. You’d think it started with Kate and Will, but it really didn’t. Though she was SO interested in that wedding we decided to forgo sleep to watch them wed (similar to a night of sleeplessness when I watched Charles and Di’s wedding). Originally, her interest started from some girl’s historical fiction novel. And it stuck. And she’s still  sticking with it.

Our second daughter, Madelyn, has been interested in all things zoology: underwater, overwater, flying through the air, or barking in the backyard. Her interest was apparent when she was two and it hasn’t waned.

I wonder if she’ll follow through with veterinary medicine, but then some days she talks about being an OBGYN and asks all sorts of questions of dad: what happens to the pregnant mom when she’s got high blood pressure? What if a different mom’s uterus doesn’t clamp down and stop the bleeding? Does she have to go to surgery immediately? For a ten year old, she’s a wealth of obstetrical knowledge, and curiosity.

Either of these topics, or any topic at all, one could turn into a full-fledged curriculum. If you’re thinking traditional subject areas, then think writing, spelling, math, reading, science, history. Any of those topics can be incorporated.

1. Writing…doesn’t matter the topic, you could take a page from any book, Usborne Encyclopedias for kids, and get them to write it out. They could create their own dictionaries with definitions, animal encyclopaedias, or hand-drawn illlustrations.

2. Spelling…definitions, dates, names of significant characters…any of these could become spelling list flash cards.

3. Reading…there are endless books, and there will be some satisfactory reading for the topic if you check out Amazon or the local library.

4. Math…there is always counting, if you’re little…Count the ten cars, add the green dinosaurs to brown dinosaurs. For the bigger…tell me what percentage of British kings were married to more than one wife, what is the speed of a walrus, a dolphin, a porpoise. What’s the actual distance from one planet to the next? What is the area of the Roman empire?

I’ll be straight and say that I’ve got two out of four kids that would find this method entertaining…the other two would rather do workbooks for an hour. And so be it. To each their own.

5. Science…there is intrinsic science in many topics…geology, botany, astronomy, but is there history? But of course.

My children have listened repeatedly to a CD by Jim Weiss recounting the story of Galileo. The origins of different scientific fields have their  stories. These stories, written in narrative first person, or for easy-reading audiences, in historical fiction, will glue those stories to their brain, like Blackberry jam to my laminate countertop.

6. History…Is there science in history? How did the Spanish Armada get to England so fast? Who discovered the lightbulb? When did women begin to vote? (ha, that’s not a question anyone might think to ask; they might assume it should have always been)

It’s not that hard to incorporate any subject if you’re so inclined. Just think outside the box of textbook, lecture and lesson plans. This can be a much more fun approach when everyone is all ears.

3 thoughts on “child-led learning

  1. You are getting to the very heart of homeschooling. Well done! Strangely enough my oldest dds passion at 14/15 was English history which culminated in a speech on English kings and queens for Senior 4-H that resulted in first place in BC. My second dd was interested in all things medical. She ended up playing vet for the Yellowhead 4-H club in her teen years before becoming an RN.

    • Well isn’t THAT ironic. What will my third be interested in? I’ve got a lot to learn about this life (& my children), but it is so encouraging to hear your words, coming from a seasoned homeschooler of five!

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