How to Facilitate Child-Led Learning in your Homeschool

There are things I want to impart to my kids, no question. But learning doesn’t necessarily happen because I said something out loud, or because I have the kids read through a passage or watched a video clip.

Some days, I expected them to be like little computers that could have a daily upload. I did this so I could feel that their education would be secure. If I could do the work to research a topic, buy the book, plan the lesson, and teach it once, the kids should learn it, right?

Alas, learning does not happen that way.

How to Facilitate Child-Led Learning in your Homeschool

In my early homeschool years, I often tried this approach and was utterly surprised, and frustrated, that they couldn’t regurgitate what I’d taught.

If kids can discuss their readings, they are much more likely to process and keep them stashed inside their 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. At least temporarily.

If they’re interested in a subject, though, their little brains are fully front(al) and present. There is no need to entice them to engage. Engagement comes naturally, is easy for them, and so much more fun for me to encourage their learning and their experimenting.

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

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

Their interests can always be accommodated in our homeschool.

Our oldest daughter had a long-time interest in British history. It may have been Usborne books that introduced her to that subject area or a historical fiction novel.  When Kate and Will were married, she was so interested in that wedding we decided to forgo sleep to watch the couple wed (just like I did when Charles and Di married). The interest stuck.

Our second daughter was interested in all things zoology: underwater, overwater, flying through the air, or barking in the backyard. Her interest was apparent when she was two. I wonder if she’ll follow through with veterinary medicine.

Some days that same daughter asks her physician dad all sorts of OBGYN questions. 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, could turn into a full-fledged curriculum.

If you think in traditional subject areas like writing, spelling, math, reading, science, history, you can learn to incorporate their interests in all of them. (Which you likely do, I share a few ways to approach child-led learning in these areas.)

Writing…You can take a page from any book, maybe Usborne Encyclopedias for Kids, and get them to write out a section. They could create their own dictionaries with definitions, animal encyclopedias, or hand-drawn illustrations.

Spelling…The kids could choose a topic and look up definitions to a related vocabulary list and create a specialty dictionary. These vocabulary lists could also become spelling list flashcards.

Reading…There are endless books on any topic. If I were to sell anything at all, I would sell you on Usborne books. They are straightforward, engaging, and books for every topic.

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

Everyone learns differently.

I’ll tell you straight that two of my four kids were happy with a free-flowing approach to their interest-led education. The other two would rather do workbooks for an hour. And so be it. To each their own. One does not have to create alternative learning approaches for the sake of it; the goal is child-led learning.

Who are you educating? Who are you raising up? Your specific child. So make that specific child your focus.

ScienceScience topics seem to be curiosities of many young children…geology, botany, astronomy, so easily accessible…but is history as easily accessible?

How to engage the history of science? My children listened repeatedly to a CD by Jim Weiss recounting the story of Galileo. 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.

By far, the most interesting way to study science is actually to be a scientist. So get out in nature, draw the veins of a leaf, learn to name birds and recognize their birdsong, head to a geology museum to learn your local rocks, use science kits (anything from chemistry to astronomy, there’s is something for every aspect of science), raise painted butterflies and baby chicks, dissect owl pellets and crayfish, enroll informal science programs when the kids are older (and only if they’re interested).

History…It’s easy to find history textbooks, but not every kid wants to study in that way. Many books are written from a historical perspective and provide a rich, easy-to-understand narrative about a time period. These books abound on homeschool readaloud websites and are an enjoyable approach to readaloud time too.

Add a few activities to your history study. Include a study of geography and an atlas. Study the other events occurring around the world at that time. Record an event in a Book of Centuries journal. Read diaries of children (fiction or non-fiction) at that historical moment. Watch things on Discovery Channel, Curiosity Stream, or Brain Pop. Create a lapbook of all the things you’ve been learning about in that time period.

Is there science in history too? 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 has always been, understandably.)

Think outside the box of textbook, lecture and lesson plans.

It’s not difficult to incorporate any subject our children are interested in if we are so inclined.

“Children do not need to be made to learn about the world, or shown how. They want to, and they know how.”

John Holt

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Homeschool Mama Self-Care: nurturing the nurturer