Is Child Led Learning Realistic?

September 17th, 2012 by Dionna | 8 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, Preschoolers

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Today I am happy to host a guest post written by Sarah South of Consider Eden. Please read more about Sarah at the end of today’s post.

I am what many people would characterize as an unschooler, though I’m personally not a huge fan of the term. This is because it seems to imply that going to “school” is the norm, similar to how the word “uncircumsized” implies that Routine Infant Circumcision is somehow a legitimate practice. The only time that the term unschool actually applies is when someone has been previously “schooled” and is now working to UN-school themselves or their family.

It is, however, the concept that matters, not the terminology. I believe in my heart that children have an instinctual desire to learn and absorb everything around them. This is easily proven as infants learn to move around, make sounds, and smile at familiar faces. Children have an amazing thirst for knowledge, but for some reason this seems to dwindle as kids approach middle school age. Why is this?

I believe that a large percentage of our kids are having their innate desire to acquire new information squashed by our culture. Our society in America has such a lack of respect for our young people that it’s no wonder our kids aren’t interested in “education.” We make being educated seem like such a daunting task. School life is filled with worksheets, rote memorization, and a lack of physical and mental stimulation. These children are cooped up with a group of peers who are all the same age and are expected to perform at the same level as everyone else. Gifted in math but struggle with English? Tough luck. Find a tutor or get stuck in the lower grade, thus becoming a mockery to your classmates. We are treating these kids as if they are machines that simply need facts uploaded to their hard drives. This is absurd and goes completely against human nature.

Humans want to have freedom. We crave new experiences and loving relationships. We desire to indulge ourselves in the world around us. These instincts don’t suddenly come upon us as we age; they exist from the very beginning of our existence. That is why it is so crucial to allow our offspring as much of this freedom as possible, while still protecting them, as is our duty and privilege.

As it is with many aspects of life, though, this “letting go” process is much easier said than done. In my heart I believe in trusting my child to follow his passions and accomplish what he needs to accomplish. But how can I know for sure? How do I ensure that I am giving him as many opportunities as he needs to explore?

There is no way to answer these questions as parents, but what we can do is judge ourselves just a little bit less. We have to educate our children, or allow them to educate themselves, in a way that the entire family can be satisfied with. I cannot swear off all other educational “philosophies” in favor of achieving radical unschooler status.

I, as my son’s primary caretaker, need structure to a certain extent, and I am slowly learning to accept that that’s okay. As a mother of merely three years, I need some tangibility; something to prove to myself that I am a truly giving my child the things he needs and deserves.

I will no longer be afraid to plan activities for us to do, fearful that I may somehow interrupt his natural pull towards his interests. I will formulate unit study ideas to fit with things that he is already drawn to, and we will go from there. I will write learning objectives down for “me” to occasionally check off. But I will not force my child to learn. That is not my job. In fact, it’s not even possible.

My son loves trains. He loves trucks. He loves letters. So I’ve created a list of learning objectives related to those topics. Is this necessary? For my son, likely not, but for me, yes. I have spent three years without structure, and have frequently felt like I wasn’t giving enough. To see a list right in front of me that PROVES I was engaging and learning with my son makes me feel truly satisfied, and it relieves some of the mommy guilt I so often struggle with.

I think that in due time, I will relax a lot more. The feeling of inadequacy will slowly subside, and I will learn to trust my children and myself. For now, I simply grant myself permission to create silly little lists of “learning” activities for us to accomplish along the way, because, as we all know, learning doesn’t come naturally (*wink wink*).


Sarah South is a proud wife and the mother of a sweet little boy named Axel. She writes on her Consider Eden blog where she discusses all things Natural Parenting related. She is also collaborating with her husband on their very first children’s book.

For more great reading from Sarah, check out her sweet post on the Reasons To Cosleep or the realities of Elimination Communication Potty Training Issues.

photo credit 1: Mwesigwa via photo pin cc

photo credit 2: goldberg via photo pin cc

8 Responses to:
"Is Child Led Learning Realistic?"

  1. As another “life learning” family, I understand that feeling. I used to feel it quite often. For me, I found that during those times when I questioned whether our approach was right for us, jotting down what they were learning really helped. As my children grow older (almost 10, almost 8, 5 and 2), I find I have those times of doubt much less frequently. I now keep a list (obviously not all inclusive) of things the kids are learning about as we go through our days in my day planner, which I always have with me. It keeps a record for me to have if we ever need it in regard to state laws, but it also reminds me every day that they are learning so much from life. Good luck in your journey!

    • Sarah South   considereden

      That is a wonderful idea to keep a journal with you wherever you go. I may start doing something similar. Thank you so much for the encouragement. It is wonderful to hear from families who have been living in this manner for longer than I have- and who are still happy and satisfied! Thank you. :)

  2. Wendy Priesnitz   WendyPriesnitz

    Pat Farenga, who carries on the work of John Holt (the author who coined the term “unschooling”) has defined it as giving children as much freedom as their parents are comfortable with. ;-) It is definitely a journey, and wherever we are is the right place to be.

    • Sarah South   considereden

      Thank you so much for leaving this comment. My heart is just so filled with love when other mother’s encourage me and accept where I am NOW, not where I “perhaps” should be. (In my own mind, at least!)

  3. Sheila   agiftuniverse

    I think I’m going to try doing this when my son gets a little older. I’m very comfortable with lots of freedom; what I worry about is not giving him enough opportunities. I can be kind of lazy. So far, at two, he plays happily by himself most of the day, and I don’t notice he’s bored until he starts destroying things! I want to give him lots of new things to try, and making sure to take him places instead of staying home all the time (which is easier for me).

    • Sarah South   considereden

      I am right there with you! My son is very content playing on his own, but I am actually learning that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as I am also letting him know that I am right there available for him at any time.

      It can be a slippery slope, though, as it is easy to just “let them play” on their own for long periods of time. What I have noticed is that when I engage my son in an activity, he is almost always more happy to have me with him than he was by himself.

      Learning to enjoy one’s own company is very important, however, and something we should all be able to do happily. Good luck, and just keep loving your baby!

  4. Chase Miller |Debt free teen   according2chase

    I’m 18. My parents did a combination of homeschooling and letting me follow my interests. I can see a huge difference when i compare myself with my peers. They are mostly sick of school and learning. I am going to college and taking 18 units. I am self motivated and love learning new things.

    • Sarah South   considereden

      That’s wonderful to hear!

      And you are absolutely right. Most teenagers I know are completely dissatisfied with their educational experience. It’s very unfortunate. I hope that more parents will give their children a chance to follow their interests, and that more teens and adults will have their love of learning rekindled!

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