Please welcome guest blogger, Amanda Stockdale. I think we must have been separated at birth, because this post makes my heart sing, and makes me want to stand up and shout, YES! A thousand times, YES
My long-time readers know that I am ALL about child-led learning. I have written about, and spoken at homeschool conferences on the importance of child-led learning, and I love Amanda’s post because there is so much beauty and truth here.
I use to be a 4th grade teacher.
It was my dream job.
I loved everything about being in a classroom.
Then my third year of public school teaching hit.
This was a bit different.
I was a new mommy.
I wasn’t entering that year as a new teacher any more. I didn’t have those innocent teacher eyes.
I had mommy eyes.
As each day passed, it got harder and harder to stand in front of my classroom with mommy eyes.
You see this class was different than any other class I’ve had before.
I taught preschool for 9 years before becoming a public school teacher. I had seen it all…
…and conquered it all with success.
But this year, I had a 4th grade boy who was the most precious, hard working student I had ever taught.
He was on a first grade reading level.
In order to help him catch up, I was allowed to modify his assignments to a 3rd grade level. All his work was at a third grade level.
But it wasn’t enough.
This boy was also pulled out of my classroom every day for 1.5 hours. I only had him for a total of 2 hours.
During this time he was pulled out, he was getting modified work, but still on a third grade level. This pull out was suppose to help him catch up.
But it wasn’t enough.
Everyday, I left the school building crying.
Everyday, I saw tears in the boys eyes when he couldn’t figure out how to successfully complete his assignments.
I cheered him on, held his hands, and sometimes just gave him the answer in hopes that it would click….
But it wasn’t enough.
I knew from all my teacher training, and most importantly common sense, that if I gave him assignments on his level and met him exactly where he was…
Give him a taste of success…
He would succeed.
I knew that if I kept giving him work at the level he was at and gradually helped him grow in his reading abilities…
He would succeed.
But that doesn’t happen in the public school system.
My hands were tied. I wasn’t allowed to give him work on a first grade level because that wouldn’t prepare him for the test.
They were more concerned about preparing him for the test than real life.
My mommy eyes were sad. And I dreaded the thought of my daughter sitting in my very own classroom.
Not because of me or my teaching abilities.
Not because of the other students.
But because of the system…
A system that didn’t allow me to meet a student where he so desperately needed me to meet him.
I left that year.
And as I walked out those doors, I vowed to always meet my kiddos where they are.
There is no such thing as behind or ahead. Those are arbitrary assessments.
No. My kids are exactly where they need to be in this moment.
What is Child-Led Learning?
My kiddos are 1.5 and 3.5. I do “school” with them everyday.
But in our home, school is real life.
I follow my children’s lead in both interests and academics.
For interests, that means I take their questions and curiosities and turn them into unit studies.
For academics, that means I wait for signs of readiness before ever teaching a lesson on an important skill.
John Holt once said…
Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it.
The Benefits of Child-Led Learning
Your child is in charge.
This is one of the most rewarding benefits of child-led learning.
Children are highly curious and full of ideas.
When you let your child take charge of their learning and you fully embrace their ideas, you never know where the learning will take you.
The important thing is…they are learning.
Learning is un-pressured.
When you completely follow your child’s lead, there is no pressure to learn.
You won’t get frustrated when your child doesn’t do an activity because it’s always up to them.
The best part is when they are ready and motivated to learn a skill. Their face lights up, and you see true, meaningful learning happen right before your eyes.
You rely on the environment.
Your environment is your teaching assistant. The way you setup your activities and learning space encourages your child to learn the things you want them to learn on their own time.
Related: How to Create an Encouraging Environment
The way you incorporate learning into your lifestyle shows your child what’s truly important to your family. You provide a reason for learning, by modeling everyday math and literacy for your kiddos.
The things you place in their environment and the experiences you give them, is what will ultimately decides your child’s unique learning timeline.
Learning is deep and complex.
When a child is interested in something, they ask lots of questions and seek all the possible answers to their questions.
This leads to learning on multiple levels. Your child has time to explore, investigate, and experiment. They try to figure things out for themselves, and in turn grasp a deeper understanding of the topic.
Fosters a love of learning in our children.
When you give your child the freedom to choose what they want to learn and how to learn, they begin to enjoy learning.
There is no frustration or sense of pressure to learn.
Your child is born with the instincts to learn and be curious.
When you let that run wild and free, learning becomes a daily habit. And when your kiddo loves learning, they start to seek out all learning opportunities.
The child gets to advocate for their learning.
Your child loves being in charge, so letting them lead their own learning is a huge win-win.
But that doesn’t mean you have no control over what your child learns.
You control the environment. Your environment controls the what is learned. Your child controls what is done in that environment.
Learning happens quickly.
Every child has their own unique learning timeline. When they reach their time to learn a specific skill and they are 100% motivated to learn it…
The learning is inevitable. And it happens so quickly.
Here’s what one of the mama’s I work with said about this very thing…
You guys were right about kids hitting a “learning spurt” when kids are ready. Last week my new four year old learned his numbers 1-10 by sight in a matter of days…after my trying for months with no success. I am relieved and rather in awe of how kids eventually find their own path to learning if you just support them. And that “ahead” or “behind” are rather arbitrary benchmarks in the preschool years.
One small interest can ignite multiple learning opportunities.
You never know where an interest might take you.
One day you could be learning about your body.
But a few weeks from now that body interest changes into different animal body systems which may lead into animals habitats which could lead into animal adaptations…
You see where this is going?
An interest may take a few days to explore or it could take a whole year to explore. It all depends on the child.
The 4 Essentials to Child-Led Learning
Child-led learning is not as simple as asking your kiddo what they want to learn about every morning.
After a lot of experimenting with my own kiddos, I’ve discovered the 4 essentials to child-led learning that will make your days relaxed and full of playing, exploring, and learning.
When starting a child-led experience, you want to keep these 4 things in mind:
Simple Child-Led Activities
Your child can learn more with a rock and stick than any worksheet or fancy learning material. Keep it simple and keep it child-led. Let your child take the reigns and guide you down their own unique learning path.
A Relaxed Routine
Your daily routine should be relaxed and flexible. I recommend at least 2-3 hours of free play the majority of your days. You’ll want to set up your child-led activities to be explored during this free play time.
An Encouraging Environment
Now just because you’re following your child’s lead doesn’t mean you give up all control over their learning. An encouraging environment is your secret weapon to getting your kiddo to learn the skills YOU want them to learn. The things you place in their environment and the experiences you give them is what ultimately shapes their unique learning timeline.
Trust the Process
This is the hardest part of the whole child-led process. You have to trust!
Trust that your child is learning.
Trust that he is exactly where he needs to be in this moment.
As long as you’re providing the right environment and plenty of time to explore, your child WILL learn what you want them to learn in their own time.
When you get these 4 things right, your days become peaceful. Your child starts to focus and build independence. And most importantly, your child learns…quickly.
I want you to be able to confidently teach your toddler and preschooler at home using a child-led approach too. Click here to download this free getting started guide.
For a more in-depth look at how we do child-led learning in our home without spending hours planning & prepping, take a peek at my Ultimate Guide to Creating an Engaging Homeschool Preschool in Less Time.[left]
About the Author:
Amanda is the owner of Sicily’s Heart & Home where she helps beautiful mama’s homeschool their littles using a child-led approach without spending a lot of time planning & prepping. She is a former elementary and preschool teacher with over 11 years experience. Amanda has 2 littles of her own, Sicily & Kade, who follow this exact child-led approach that she advocates. Amanda is the creator of Learning Through Experiences: A Child-Led Curriculum which currently has a full toddler and preschool curriculum with plans to expand up to sixth grade. In her spare time, she likes to read, garden, and relax in a bubble bath. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Or better yet, go join her Learning Their Way Facebook Group.