What is Child Led Learning & How to Do it At Home

How to Use Child Led Learning with Homeschooling

Child led learning is when your child “leads the way” in their learning by choosing their own activity, and how to implement it.

This is different from structured learning where you as the parent or teacher might have an activity set up with clear instructions on how the activity is to be done.

With child led learning the child is able to choose not just the activity itself but also how they want to implement it. For example, there could be a puzzle set up for them to do and instead of putting the puzzle together they actually play with the pieces instead.

There are a lot of benefits to child led learning, and it’s a great strategy to use at home with children of any age, but especially for homeschool preschool.

Let’s look at the benefits of child led learning for homeschooling and how you can implement it.

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The Benefits of Child Led Learning for Homeschool

Taking a child led learning approach to homeschool can be a great benefit to you and your child. Here are the top 4 benefits.

1. Children can learn at their pace

When your child directs the learning it means they are able to go at their own pace. They are in control without any pressure to do things a certain way or to reach a particular goal.

2. Creates deeper learning than most structured activities

If a child is left to direct their own learning they can go to very deep and complex levels of learning that you wouldn’t find with a structured activity. The freedom to explore during their play unlocks new concepts.

3. Child led learning does not require purchased materials

Structured activities often have a list of materials needed for the activity, whereas child led learning leans more on open ended materials and using anything available in the environment. Your child’s imagination can take control, and you’ll be amazed at how creative they can be.

4. Learning feels natural and becomes a life long event

When children enjoy learning it is very easy for them to seek it out at all times. This means even when it’s not school time they might still enjoy picking up a book to learn more about a topic that interests them. This love for learning can follow them into adulthood as well, which is a huge asset as an adult. Taking the pressure and structure off of learning gives children a better chance to enjoy the process, rather than just trying to “get it over with” so they can go play.

How to Implement Child Led Learning at Home

Clearly child led learning has it’s benefits. Many child care facilities and schools already rely on child led learning because they know how important it is for a child’s overall learning.

If you want to see your child take charge with their learning and develop a lifelong love of learning here is how you can implement it at home.

1. Let them play

Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” Play is incredibly important and valuable and should not be dismissed as what children do when they’re “not learning.” In fact, children learn greatly through play, rather than being sat down and taught a lesson. 

If you want to see your child engaged in self led learning then it is important to understand the true value of play and allow them to do it. If you’d like to know more about the importance of play you can read this article which says, 

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.4–6 It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.”

2. Offer access of open ended materials

For children to really use their imagination they need access to play with open ended materials. Open-ended materials means anything they can use as a toy that doesn’t have a specific purpose. 

For example, a toy dump truck can be used in a lot of ways creatively, but it is not an open ended material, whereas a tin can in the hands of a child could be a dump truck, a phone, a spaceship, etc. The tin can is an open ended material with endless possibilities, whereas the toy dump truck is not.

3. Ditch the goals for their learning

In structured learning the adult usually has a goal in mind for the child, for example they might set up an activity with the goal in mind that afterwards the child will understand the difference between “sink” and “float.”

With child led learning you can intentionally use language with them while they play, for example saying, “Oh look, that boat floats but your block sank.” Using language like this is important to bring new concepts into your child’s play.

You will not have a goal in mind though for what they must learn or understand. If they decide to move on to something else and don’t get more curious and start asking questions about sinking and floating that’s ok because they are in charge of their learning. 

If you try to push your goals onto the child’s learning then it quickly becomes structured learning, not child led learning.

4. Display and celebrate their work

If your child creates something during their self directed learning you can find ways to display and celebrate what they’ve accomplished. Artwork can be hung on the wall, LEGO creations displayed on the counter, or you can give them the chance to do a “show and tell” for their siblings, you or their other parent. 

By displaying and celebrating what they’ve done it shows them that you value their play and that it’s important.

5. Hands off but be available

Overall, you want to remain fairly hands off while child led learning takes place because it can be very tempting to start to direct the learning yourself.

It is good though to remain available for any questions your curious child might have, to contribute new language to their vocabulary, or to pique their interest about something if they are struggling to figure out what to do. 

If your child struggles to direct their own learning with open ended materials you can start playing with it yourself to get them curious, but resist telling them how they must do it. You could say, “Maybe we can do this? I like making the clay really long like a snake.” Once they’ve seen how you’re doing it it can give them their own ideas of how to play, without you taking charge and showing them how they have to do it.

How Does Child Led Learning Work With Homeschooling?

You do not need to use strictly child led learning when you homeschool (that’s often referred to as “unschooling”).

Curriculum can still be used with your child while also having a big emphasis on child led learning. Many kindergarten classes already rely on a mixture of child led learning and structured learning anyways.

You might want to sit down with your child and have some lessons about phonics or numbers, but it’s important for them to also have plenty of time to initiate their own learning. 

Children will often take what has been discussed during the structured learning and work it out deeper during their open ended play. You might find them playing with the learning materials you used during a lesson, which helps the concepts lock deeper into their minds.

Child Led Learning is a Great Approach

Most early childhood educators (myself included) are taught from day one the importance of child led learning through play. It’s incredibly important for children to have the opportunity to lead in their own learning, which means we have to give them the space and opportunity to do so.

Try to relax and worry less about your child learning certain things on a deadline and instead embrace the magic of self directed learning for kids.

Posts Related to Child Led Learning

The Best Curriculum for Your Child: A Look into the Emergent Curriculum for Preschool Homeschools

Pros and Cons of Homeschool Preschool

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The Benefits of Using Child Led Learning at Home

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