Planning for Child-Led Learning

Example of unschooling (home-based, interesed-...

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Everyone homeschools for different reasons. Everyone homeschools differently. I think the biggest difference is in unschoolers-not only do they differ greatly from every other method, but I think they have the biggest difference among their selves.

What is unschooling? Unschooling goes by many names, child-led, delight-directed, organic learning, natural learning, delight-driven.

John Holt, often referred to as the father of unschooling said:

Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.

Unschooling is focused on teaching a child how to learn rather than what to learn. It’s instilling a love of learning rather than filling with facts about a particular subject.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret….no matter what educational approach they use, most homeschoolers unschool, whether they know it or not. Homeschooling is much more than just school-at-home, for most families, it becomes a way of life. The learning lifestyle overtakes you before you know it. You start to see the educational value in everything, not just textbooks and workbooks. Unschoolers just see these educational opportunities as sufficient without having to supplement them.

So, how does one plan for the year when doing child-led learning? Very loosely! You have to be open to change. I often say we ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants’ in regards to homeschooling.

Now some unschoolers don’t use any textbooks or workbooks and are vehemently against them. Others, such as me, will use a textbook or workbook or two in various areas. Some require their children to learn the 3 R’s and unschool for everything else, others require just math and unschool for everything else, and some unschool for all subjects.

Unschooling is legal in all 50 states. Some states have stricter requirements than others, so be sure to check your state laws. You may have to use some fancy educationalese to document your ‘school work’ but it can be done.

Playing ‘Red Rover’ can be PE, cooking can be counted as math (measurements), home ec and reading (recipe) and with some things, science (baking-what makes it rise, carmalization of onions, etc…), grocery shopping can include home ec, life skills, health/nutrition, reading and math, we do lots of documentaries for science,   blogging or emailing can be language arts and computer or typing class,  scrapbooking can be art, math (measuring), and family history, Scouts count as PE and various other things at times, field trips can be very educational, even board or card games can count for school (money, counting, etc)!

We use mostly free curriculum and used or on sale items I pick up for $5 or less. I do this not only cause it’s what fits our unemployment budget right now, but also, it gives me the freedom to chunk anything that isn’t working for us, without feeling guilty cause I paid $XXX for it.

One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.”
Maria Montessori

I did pay quite a bit (in regards to how much we spent on everything else) for Apologia Zoology 1 book and notebook for my 1st grader. I did this because this is his biggest area of interest. He has always had a great interest in science, and especially anything dealing with bugs or animals. So this is the area where we chose to go with an expensive, formal, mastery approach textbook.

To be honest, I don’t plan too far in advance. I don’t plan too in detail. I also know my plans are not set in stone. They are almost always open to change. Child-led learning, in our house at least, is more about documenting what happened after it happened rather than planning for it ahead of time.

A huge factor in our choice to homeschool was how one year of public school kindergarten  killed our son’s natural inquisitive nature and love of learning. So when I set out to plan our year, I started researching different educational methods. I found what many of them were saying was that academics before age 8 or so were strongly discouraged. And, more importantly, that not all kids are ready to learn to tell time or read at age 5. In fact, it is completely in the natural range for kids to learn to read as early as 4 or as late as 12! Being that reading and writing were a huge struggle for my young son, I knew the traditional textbook or school-at-home method was not for us.

The more I read about unschooling or child-led learning, the more it made sense and appealed to me. Child-led learning just feels more natural and gives us more freedom. Over the past few months, following this approach, my son has regained his love of learning again, his natural curiosity has returned.

We are studying birds, bats and bugs for science this semester, but when he came to me with a question on frogs, I didn’t dismiss him because it wasn’t part of the plan. We went to our computer and googled his question. We learned about all the frogs in our area and listened to each of their calls. We sat in our big comfy chair and snuggled close together as we listened to each frog. We identified two frogs we found near our pond and another one we found on our sliding glass door. One we thought was a baby frog, but it turned out to be a full grown frog that gets no bigger than ½ inch long. Had I written my son’s question off and ignored his request to seek knowledge just because it wasn’t part of the plan, we wouldn’t have enjoyed that time together. I had no worksheets printed out, no textbook to look to, no craft planned, no test to give to make sure he understood and retained it all, but he learned a great deal that day. He was open and receptive to learning about frogs. He eagerly soaked up the information I presented to him, he asked questions and enjoyed his time spent acquiring new knowledge. That day, we did more than learn about frogs, it was another step in instilling a love of learning in my child that will last him a lifetime.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”
-William Butler Yeats

Unschooling links

great record keeper for unschooling

Home Education Magazine

The Natrual Child Project

List of Christian Unschooler Blogs

Unschooling Books

Books by John Holt

Christian Unschooling

This blog post also appears on The Lesson Pathway Blog

One blogger likes this post.

12 Responses to Planning for Child-Led Learning

  1. God bless you for this post. Very inspirational. I think we might try to incorporate a little more unschooling into our homeschool. I love the Maria Montessori quote.

  2. Pingback: Planning for Child-Led Learning « GA Peach Homeschool Blog | Pros Homeschooling

  3. Sonita, We are taking a similar approach to the approach you have defined in this post, and we also don’t plan too much into the future, providing opportunities for spur-of-the-moment investigations that always crop up. Thanks for sharing your story. is currently looking to highlight stories about homeschoolers like yourselves. Here is the link if you’d like to submit your story:

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  7. Great post! We don’t unschool, but I believe there is huge value in taking advantage of their interests. If they don’t learn how to find out information for themselves, they aren’t learning at all but being stuffed with information. Information doesn’t equal education. :)
    Thanks for the visit & comment on my blog!

  8. exactly! we unschooled before we knew it was called that. now we’re on the road, so we roadschool. :) found you on the homeschool hop!

  9. Hey fellow Georgian! Totally jive with your approach. Following you via the Hip Homeschool Hop. See ya around!


  10. oops… actually meant to say that I grabbed your button! ;-)

  11. Thank you for this post. It, along with the rest of your blog, has given me the confidance to be more relaxed. This is our first year as well and I have been very busy trying to figure everything out. Your posts are inspiring. I’m following you now.

  12. We’re very child led too. I love this post. So many homeschoolers shun us for not being more structured :( it’s sad, all homeschoolers should be for freedom in education and support one another no matter what method they choose to use. It’s the reason I don’t have a homeschool blog. Good for you for being brave enough to blog about it.

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