How To Homeschool: What Is Child-Led Learning?

Welcome to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

When you were in school did you ever wish you could skip the “boring” parts and get to what you love? To pursue what you felt the most passionate about? Or at the very least be granted some say into what you studied? This is the basis of child-led learning.

The thing I love most about homeschooling is the freedom we have to choose our own path of study. While a more structured course of study might work for some, just as unschooling might work for others, we fall somewhere in the middle. Our school at home tends to be {mostly} child-led learning and we create much of our “curriculum” by following our current obsessions.  

To be clear, I do not advocate bypassing all parts of your child’s education they don’t jump for joy over. Face it, there will be aspects of one’s schooling that seem bland, unnecessary, or downright aggravating.

However, in most cases it is possible to take their interests into account when planning your homeschool year and teach in a way that works with their strengths.

Our school at home tends to be {mostly} child-led learning and we create much of our "curriculum" by following our current obsessions.  Click To Tweet
Open book with center pages in shape of a heart. Text reads: How to homeschool, what is child-led learning?

What Does Child-Led Learning Look Like In Practice?

In our secular homeschool, we have always taken a cooperative approach to learning. This has looked different over the years, but essentially it means the Agents have been involved in the planning process each step of the way.

Of course I have a general idea of the kinds of things I would like to introduce to the Agents. However, much of what we study each year is heavily influenced by their enthusiasm for potential topics.

When you plan your homeschool within a framework of child-led learning, it does not mean you necessarily need to hand over full rein to your students. Instead, it establishes a sense of cooperation from the beginning and encourages discussion before making any set plans.

How This Works for Different Ages

When you have younger students {say, kindergarten through about 3rd grade} much of what you cover past the basics is going to focus on exposure over mastery anyway, so you might as well be considering topics your students seem excited about. 

At this point, do not worry too much if the subjects they choose seem random or disjointed. Trust me, it is all learning and it will all work out.

As your students grow, you will likely find that they naturally narrow their interests. Some subjects will be hits and others misses. Remember there is no pressure and no critical timeline.

I realize our culture’s general “school” mentality has made us believe that if kids don’t do x by a certain age or grade, so they can do y by the next age or grade, failure is imminent.

Let me assure you: This is not true.

If you didn’t learn how to do something in school, does that mean you never will? If you didn’t take the “right” classes in high school and lack a college prerequisite, does that mean you are doomed to never attend any institute of higher education? Suppose you wanted to learn a new skill today. Would you be able to without formal instruction?

Child-led learning, which could also be called interest-led learning, is what we all do automatically as we age. We spend more time investigating things that interest us, and less time on things that don’t.

We quickly realize this may mean doing things we don’t particularly enjoy in order to reach our ultimate goal. For example, meeting a math credit requirement even if you plan to major in English.

However, because we have the freedom to pursue what really excites us, we generally accept this as necessary and it does not dampen our enjoyment.

Young girl sits by a tree near a body of water reading a book. Text reads: Is child-led learning right for my homeschool?

How Do I Know We Are Doing Enough?

One thing many folks early in their homeschooling journey often stress over is covering “everything.” Do you really think that a public or private school education covers literally “everything” a child needs to know? How would this even be possible, and what would this look like?

So how do I know we are doing “enough”? 

The truth is: I don’t.

While there will undoubtedly be certain knowledge gaps that will be discovered, it is impossible to predict in advance specifically what these might be. Of course, it’s always a good idea to cover the generalities: basic math, grammar and writing, reading comprehension, general science, history, etc.

However, as you continue along your path with child-led learning you will begin to notice that the “gaps” will begin to close on their own. Also, contrary to popular belief, it does not get more difficult to adhere to a child-led learning schedule as your homeschooler enters high school.

A popular question frequently asked of me back when we first started was, are you going to homeschool through high school? {Which, by the way, is a very bizarre and slightly intimidating query of a mother to a kindergartener, toddler, and baby. So maybe don’t?}

As if once a child reaches a certain arbitrary age this crazy experiment must end and I would need to step back and let them get a “real” education in a “real” school environment. Certainly this whole study-what-interests-you thing has to end at some point?

I hope you understand now that is not the case. We can continue to nurture our children’s interests {and our own} for the rest of our lives.

How does child-led learning look in your homeschool? What interests are you and your students currently following on your homeschooling journey? I invite you to share any comments you have, and I encourage you to check out the other posts in the How To Homeschool series as well.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is how I would like to homeschool but it never seems to work. We’ve homeschooled for so long that it’s become routine but I definitely wish my kids were more interested in taking a hand in their own education.

    1. Valerie

      I don’t remember how old your kids are, Rebecca, but I will say that this whole process of involving my kids in their learning plans has worked out better with time and age. I mean, it was still fun when they were little {the planning} but not that I have a soon-to-be high schooler, it’s definitely a different game now.

  2. Avatar

    You are such an amazing resource for homeschooling! I love the idea on focusing on the kid’s interests, which then makes it easier for them to retain information 🙂

    1. Valerie

      Aw, thank you so much! Yes, they definitely retain more when the subjects are meaningful to them. 😘

  3. Avatar

    Well said! I wish I could highlight the child-led and ‘exposure over mastery’ part and shout it out to all parents trying to do online learning right now!

    1. Valerie

      Same. I learned how to pass tests. I never had the opportunity to really become “interested” in anything, because I was always worried about how I would perform for the exam. I love that my kids just “enjoy” science and history and other subjects. Yes, they could answer “test” questions if asked, but that is not their primary motivation. Thanks so much for stopping by today, Erin. ❤

  4. Avatar

    I always try to find things my son is interested in to try and keep him more focused. He loves when he finds out new things about something he is excited about.

    1. Valerie

      It really is fun to watch them learn something new because it interests them so much. Thank you for stopping by, Candice. ❤

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