Self-Directed Learning: the Art of Encouraging Independent Homeschooling

Self-directed learning, a new term evolving from the unschool movement, enables our children to indepedently learn.

In my early homeschool years, I lapped up all things John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. These unschool founders radically shifted my homeschool from a top-down approach.

I radically unschooled for six solid months and learned that children learn, with or without curriculum, schedules, or workbooks.


the art of self-directed learning

We gradually transitioned to a self-directed learning because it worked.

For a long time, I referred to our homeschool philosophy as classical unschoolers.

Now I see that we have a rather traditional-looking day, so unschoolers would understandably balk and suggest we’re not unschooled.

But we do our homeschool day in a very child-directed way, there isn’t a top-down academic focus, so classical homeschoolers would raise eyebrows too.

So what are we?

Hard to say.

The more we move toward a self-directed approach, the more I see the kids capturing their days and their activities, with independent gusto.



How we expect them to do their work.

If they are given the freedom to work on their own at times, they begin to take ownership of their activities. Specifically, if they think they can do a math concept by listening to the DVD, then trying out a page by themselves, checking their work (compared to the teacher’s manual), and asking for help if something doesn’t make sense, they come to understand they can do a few things themselves.

This helps them gain a sense of “I got this, I can do this”.

And you see that they got this, they can do this, too.

This process begins to cultivate an ability to be independent. The child assumes they can figure things out. (And many times they can. Unless they can’t. Then you’re there to notice and check in with them, help them, or find someone to help them.)

As soon as they can handle one thing, they move on to the next thing, and the next and the next, and then not much long later, someone randomly remarks “Wow, you’re kids are so independent.”

But what you enabled was trust in your child. A trust that your child can learn, that they can figure things out, that they can be expected to process something that might not be easy, something that might require effort, something that others might not expect him to grasp.

I expect that if they can do something, they should try something.

Though I am always available for whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t mean I’ll check their every step, page, or minute. It certainly doesn’t mean I’ll be able to help them figure out the coding program given to them at Christmas or be able to decipher the instructions to their new drone. Nope, definitely not. That is beyond my pay grade.

And though I could summarize their hundred pages of textbook reading in their first-year English Lit class, they won’t need me to. Because they’ll figure that out independently when they’re at that stage. (Though I have edited many first-year college English essays for my girls).

Yet, not one of my four kids presently needs help brushing their teeth, because I…

  1. taught them,
  2. expected them to brush their teeth independently, and
  3. trusted that they could do it.

This entire independence thing can begin with a daily chore list where the child recognizes the first letter of her name on the fridge with a picture of a garbage can (if she is pre-reading, of course).

If they’re given tasks they can handle, they become confident that they can do those things independently. Gradually, based on the child’s abilities, their independence grows over time.


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