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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, narrate a passage, do the math worksheet, complete the lab report, or watch the video.
There were some days, I expected them to be like little computers that could receive a daily upload. (I did this because it made me feel that their education was created & measured).
If I could do the work to research a topic, buy the book, plan the lesson, and teach it once, twice, then reinforce it, the kids should learn, right?
Alas, with many kids and many years, I’ve learned that most learning does not happen that way. So how to facilitate child-led learning in your homeschool?
Let’s chat about child-led learning in your homeschool.
In my early homeschool years, I often tried this classical teaching approach, doing the readings, lectures, and reviewing or expecting my child to return their readings with narrations (aka homeschool mama testing), and I was utterly surprised, and often frustrated, that they couldn’t regurgitate what I’d taught.
Surely if I had done the work, and been creative and interesting, they would be able to regurgitate what I had so eagerly wanted to share with them.
Rather, I learned these things:
- 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. But not always.
- If we discuss it more than once, more than twice, it’s likely locked in. At least temporarily locked in.
- But if they are interested in a subject, their little brains are fully front(al) and present.
- There is no need to entice them to engage.
- Engagement comes naturally, and easily, and is so much more fun for me to encourage their learning and their experimenting.
- And obviously, this is so much more fun for them.
- Oh, the depths they can go if they are given time to pursue their interests.
So, of course, I have learned to bend in this direction.
I’ve since learned that child-led learning in your homeschool WORKS. It works!
Deschool your Homeschool Journaling Workbook
Deschool your homeschool journaling workbook that aids in your self-exploration, to get clear on how you can bring freedom & individualization into your homeschool.
1. Your kids’ interests can always be accommodated in your 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, we happened to be attending a homeschool conference. She was so interested in that wedding we decided to forgo sleep that night in the hotel to watch the couple wed (just like I did when Charles and Di married).
Her interest remained and she did a whole lot of British history research as part of her homeschool years.
Our second daughter was interested in all things zoology before she was even homeschooled.
She was interested in underwater animals, creatures flying through the air, or barking in the backyard.
The week before she left for college, I took a series of photos with her and each of the animals on our homestead, our twenty chickens in Cluckingham Palace, Violet, our four-year-old Great Pyr, our cats, Neptune & Meredith, and our three goats, Clover, Thistle, and Poppy.
Her interest was apparent in animals was apparent when she was two. She studied them throughout her homeschool years, but now, it has mostly evaporated.
(Except for her interest in the baby chick that hatched yesterday, the first baby born to King Henry the Rooster, but I digress).
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, and 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 a section. They could create their own dictionaries with definitions, animal encyclopedias, or hand-drawn illustrations.
You can find a whole lot more ideas on how to teach a child to write through child-led learning on my website http://www.capturingthehcarmedlife.com
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.
Also, you can play Bananagrams, scrabble, create words with magnetic letter tiles on the fridge, play hangman on a whiteboard with erasable markers, or play my childhood favourite, Boggle (we just did that this morning).
Oh, and remember Wordl online. So many online games.
You can find a post on my website titled Get rid of the spelling program and teach the kids to spell anyway to find more outside-the-box ideas to teach kids to spell.
ps One of my kids also asked me for a spelling program, so consider them too.
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.
First and foremost, I would tell you to make a weekly date with the library. Your librarians are your new best friends. They know a little about everything and they know where to find resources for everything too. And all for free.
(Well, until you forget to bring the books back, which you will).
How do you teach kids to read? I share my tale of teaching my four homeschool kids to read.
But I’ve compiled a Homeschool Mama Reading List for you to read too!
(These books are ones that have taught me everything that has helped me structure my homeschool).
Math…When once I thought you could politely request to let math solve its own problems, I’ve discovered you cannot get away from math. (And I have tried).
You can’t not teach math. When I attempted unschooling for a time, I discovered the unbelievable…there is no way to get away from arithmetic.
You need to understand math…add, subtract, multiply and divide, estimate, and understand decimals and percentages.
Consumerism requires it. Because you buy stuff.
Why you can’t not teach math?
- Do you need to decide how much produce you can afford? Then you need to understand weights and measurements.
- Do you want to build something in the backyard or paint a room? You need to know geometry, area, and perimeter.
- (Otherwise, you waste a lot of money, could get ripped off, and take forever putting something together).
No matter how intense my math aversion was in my early years of traditional schooling, I discovered that math must be understood.
My simple grasp of rudimentary math skills proved that one can function in our culture when one is math illiterate.
(You can even get a university degree and use math concepts in your paid work, but still not understand them; while I don’t recommend that, it is possible. I am proof.)
But better to learn the basics early.
Arithmetic is everywhere.
- There is always counting, when the kids are 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, or a porpoise?
- What is the actual distance from one planet to the next?
- What is the area of the Roman empire?
- How many 1/4 cups in 1 cup (fractions and measurements are easily learned in cooking).
- Build anything and you’ll discover the Pythagorean theorem.
- Eat at a restaurant and learn percentages while tipping.
You can get more ideas on how to think outside-the-math box here.
Science topics seem to be curiosities of many young children…geology, botany, and 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 about your local rocks,
- use science kits (anything from chemistry to astronomy, there’s 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.
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?
You can incorporate your child’s interest in your homeschool.
2. 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.
Barbara Oakley, author of Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens, tells us “Neuroscientists have discovered that your brain works in two different ways. We’ll call these two ways of working the focused mode and the diffuse mode.* Both modes are important in helping you to learn.”
In other words, we don’t only learn by focussing.
Sometimes we integrate learning through random moments in our day. Like in the shower, going for a walk, when we’re sitting to build some Lego thing with our kiddo.
Learning happens in various ways:
- And sometimes we see our kids wanting to learn alongside their siblings, sometimes they don’t.
- Sometimes they want to attend a class, online, or in a college or high school class, and sometimes they don’t.
- Sometimes they like to just read books by themselves.
- Sometimes they like to watch a video instead.
- Sometimes they’re learners by doing things (like my son who likes to put stuff together, anything from his Kiwico subscription to helping build the goat barn to downloading new software to a computer).
One does not have to create alternative learning approaches for the sake of it; the goal is child-led learning.
How does your child like to learn?
3. Get to know your child.
- Who are you educating?
- Who are you raising up?
- Learn what drives them: aka their enneagram type.
- Learn their penchant for introversion or extroversion.
- Learn their penchant to plan or not to plan their days.
- Learn about the way they engage in relationships.
- Learn about their penchant for filling their days with activities or not.
Get to know your specific child. So that the specific child is your focus.
4. Think outside the box: outside of textbooks, lectures, and lesson plans.
As I’ve shared in a previous podcast, which of the following are educational activities and which are entertainment?
- Are you familiar with Minecraft and Lego? Are they games and toys, or are they skill-building activities?
- Are the following books entertainment or educational:
- To Kill A Mockingbird?
- War and Peace?
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid?
- The Kite Runner?
- Owl Magazine?
- When you take a child past a pond and she tries to lift every leaf and every rock in search of living snails, to discover where a snail chooses to live, is that entertainment or education?
- If he sits in a classroom with a teacher giving a lecture on polynomials, is that learning?
- If he sits in front of an online learning class discussing Krebb’s cycle, is that learning?
- What about watching a YouTube video on how to choose marine animals for his fish tank, is that educational?
- Is it educational if a child learns how to count coins when she’s trying to sell you a plastic cupcake for .75 cents in her pink plastic kitchen?
- Is it educational to take a food safety course to prep for a job at a local bakery?
No matter how you approach homeschooling, what philosophy you ascribe to, or what your approach prefers, I will always encourage you to lean into unschooling practices.
It helps us let go of the control of how we think our child’s education should be and just let them learn already.
“Children do not need to be made to learn about the world, or shown how. They want to, and they know how.”John Holt, author of Teach Your Own
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Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod
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!
Thanks ! nice post !
Yes! So true!!!
I love homeschooling for exactly this reason. 👏🏻