I use to be a 4th grade teacher.
I loved everything about being in a classroom.
But when my third year of public school teaching hit, everything changed.
For starters, I was a new mommy.
I wasn’t entering the classroom as a new public school teacher any more. I didn’t have those innocent teacher eyes.
Instead, I had mommy eyes.
As each day passed, it got harder and harder to stand in front of my classroom with mommy eyes and be okay with what was happening.
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…
Or so I thought.
But this school year, I had a 4th grade boy who was the most dedicated, hard working student I had ever taught. He faced any challenge head on, even if it was meant to bring him down.
So why were my mommy eyes so sad?
For starters, he was on a first grade reading level.
In order to help him catch up, his IEP allowed me to modify his assignments to a 3rd grade level.
This boy was also pulled out of my classroom every day for 1.5 hours.
Keep in mind, I only had him for a total of 2 hours to begin with everyday. And I was still expected to teach him humanities in the 30 minutes I had him.
And if you don’t know, humanities includes reading, writing, grammar, spelling, and social studies. Which all needed to be taught in 2 hours and each of those subjects were expected to be taught each day.
Which doesn’t seem bad if it’s done right and you combine them all. You know, teach reading and writing while learning social studies in one interconnected lesson.
But for some reason, the school system I worked in, didn’t do that. Their intention was for it to be interconnected, but the curriculum had separate lessons for each subject that we were expected to teach and they never connected together.
So this meant, I had 30 minutes each day to basically teach 5 subjects to this child who is three grade levels behind.
During the 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 didn’t.
Everyday, I saw tears in the boys eyes when he couldn’t figure out how to do his assignments.
I cheered him on, held his hand, and sometimes just gave him the answer in hopes that it would click….
But it didn’t.
I knew from all my teacher experience and training, and of course common sense, that if I gave him assignments on his level and met him exactly where he was, he’d make progress.
I knew that if I kept giving him work at the level he was at and gradually helped him grow in his reading abilities that he would make progress.
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. According to my supervisor, he was a 4th grade student and his would should be rigorous enough to pass the 4th grade assessment.
Um, well how can they expect him to do “rigorous” 4th grade work if he can’t even read a simple sentence and understand it?
They were more concerned about preparing him for the test than real life.
My mommy eyes were sad. 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 because learning isn’t about anything else except the child.
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.
Homeschooling is About The Child
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 kiddos’ lead in both interests and academics.
That means I take their questions and curiosities and turn them into unit studies and projects to help them answer their questions.
For academic skills, I create an encouraging environment then wait for signs of readiness before ever teaching a lesson on an important skill. Then I model and let them explore in their own way. Trying to figure it out on their own and develop their own understanding in their own time.
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 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.
But it doesn’t have to be as complex as rushing around each night setting up elaborate activities that will help them answer their questions from that day.
After a lot of experimenting with my own kids, I’ve discovered the 4 essentials to child-led learning that will make your days relaxed and full of playing, exploring, and learning without spending hours planning or prepping.
1. 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. Model activities, but let your child take the reigns and guide you down their own unique learning path.
2. A Relaxed Routine
Your daily routine should be relaxed and flexible. I recommend at least 2-3 hours of free play most days. You’ll want to set up your child-led activities to be explored during this free play time.
3. An Encouraging Environment
Child-led learning 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.
4. Trust the Process
The most important and, quite frankly, the hardest part of the whole child-led process is trusting your child’s unique learning timeline. Trust that your child is learning exactly what is needed to be learned 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.
The Benefits of Child-Led Learning
Your child is in charge.
Children are born with natural curiosity. They are hardwired to learn.
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.
And that’s a good thing!
Learning is un-pressured.
When you completely follow your child’s lead, there is no pressure to learn.
The best part is when they are 100% ready to learn a skill or about a topic. Their face lights up, and you see true, meaningful learning happening right in front of your eyes.
There is nothing sweeter to a homeschool mama’s eyes than true learning unfolding right in front of them.
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.
The things you place in their environment and the experiences you give them, is what will ultimately decide your child’s unique learning timeline.
Learning is deep and complex.
You know all those why’s your preschooler asks when they’re interested in something? It’s because they are eager to learn and seek all the possible answers to their questions. All of this, leads to learning on multiple levels. One little interest can lead to learning 10 other things.
Fosters a love of learning.
When you give your child the freedom to choose what they want to learn and how to learn it, they begin to enjoy the learning process.
When you let their natural curiosities run wild and free, learning becomes an enjoyable past time for your child.
The child gets to advocate for their learning.
Your child loves being in charge, but that doesn’t mean you have no control over what your child learns.
You control the environment. Your environment controls what is learned.
Your child learns that their curiosities and ideas matter. They learn how to advocate for what they want in life.
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.
Here’s what one of the mama’s in my community 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 the squirrel in your backyard.
But a few weeks from now that squirrel interest changes into chipmunks which changes into other animal adaptations which could lead to geography and different habitats…
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 your child.
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.
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.
Join in on the fun of our Homeschooling is… series. Over 30 families share with you what homeschooling is for them and their families. We will have giveaways, freebies – tons of freebies, support, encouragement, and community!
Make sure that you enter some awesome giveaways from our sponsors!!
- Birch Court Books Giveaway – Enter to win a bundle of books from Birch Court Books! Homeschooling materials for children of various ages, how-to books for homeschooling parents, and a game just for fun.
- Practice Monkeys Giveaway – Enter to win 3 months worth of live Suzuki Violin Lessons from Practice Monkeys! Practice Monkeys is LIVE, online, Suzuki violin lessons at a low monthly price for the whole family.
- Wings to Soar Online Giveaway – Enter to win a Personalized Learning Online Package from Wings to Soar Online!
- Carole P Roman Giveaway – Enter to win a bundle of books from Carole P Roman!There is a vast array of diverse series of books ranges from pirates to space fight to princesses and our great world of culture and history.
- Dover Books Giveaway – Enter to win $100 worth of books from Dover!! Improve skills of reading and problem solving and make friends along the way in fun-filled settings.
- Parenting Made Practical Giveaway – Enter to with the Parenting Made Practical Book!