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Child-Led Learning. At first glance, it seems like a wonderfully simple way to educate your child – find out what they are interested in, and teach them that! Easy peasy, right?
But… when many families begin to implement this type of learning, they often become quickly frustrated:
“My child’s interests change all the time! How am I supposed to plan for anything?”
“How in the world can I come up with enough exciting activities to keep my child engaged if they stay interested in the same topic for a long time?”
“I feel like we’re doing the same thing every day.”
These are EXACT snippets of conversations I have had with families who really want to follow their child’s interests with learning, but feel overwhelmed by the actual implementation of it.
So, I’m here to tell you:
CHILD-LED LEARNING CAN BE EASY, FUN, AND DONE WITH A PLAN.
And in this post, I’m going to teach you the 5 essential elements to having a successful child-led learning experience!
1- Engaging Learning Space
It is always best to start with your environment. You want to make sure that you have set up a learning space where your child can be focused, engaged, and excited to learn and interact with what is around them. Take special care to avoid overwhelming your child with too many “things” or activities all at once. Think about it this way: if you were going to make a meal but your kitchen counters were cluttered with dishes, and your recipe books were strewn all over the place, and none of your ingredients were in the right spots – would you be able to focus and enjoy preparing that meal? Probably not. The same is true for you child and their learning space. Keep it simple and provide them with multiple opportunities to engage and explore at their own pace.
2- Know Your Child’s True Interests
This takes a bit of detective work. It isn’t just asking your child, “Hey Jimmy, what do you want to learn about today?” and then flying by the seat of your pants with it. Nope – not at all. You need to observe your child’s play, listen to their conversations with friends and siblings, watch for trends in the questions they ask you, see which types of books or videos they’re most interested in, etc. What trends or themes do you notice your child consistently bringing up and questioning? Spend a few days really honing in on your child’s play and conversations. Basically – once you start to pay close attention, you’ll be able to pretty quickly identify the topics that your child is genuinely showing an interest in, as opposed to what they just need a quick answer to in order to satisfy their curious minds.
3- Background Knowledge
Equally as important as understanding your child’s current interest is understanding their background knowledge about the topic. It isn’t really enough to just know the particular topic that you want to focus on with your child’s learning, but in order to have a very personal and child-led learning experience you want to make sure you’re starting in the right place. Your child’s background knowledge is everything they already know (or think they know) about a particular topic. So, once you’ve narrowed down the interest your child has a desire to learn about, you want to begin asking your child some questions about that topic to determine what they already know and what their current misconceptions about the topic are. Then when you make your plans, you can start with addressing the misconceptions to lay a solid foundation for discovering more about this topic; and by understanding what your child already knows about the topic, you are better able to start at the level where your child is ready to learn from.
4- Focused Activities
Once you have determined your child’s interests and their background knowledge, it is time for you to put your plans together for open-ended activities that are focused on your child’s unique learning style, preference for showing you how they learn, and individual needs. Is your child a more physical learner who enjoys learning through movement? Plan outdoor activities that allow them to act things out and discover in hands-on ways. Have a visual learner who prefers to express themselves creatively? Make sure to provide access to art supplies and multiple opportunities to express their knowledge. By knowing your child’s learning preferences, along with their interests and background knowledge, you have all of the tools that you need to come up with a plan for an incredible child-led learning experience!
You thought you were done, huh? Nope… not yet! 😛 A super important piece of the puzzle that many parents and teachers often forget is the observation period during and after the activities. This is such a rich time for discovering what is going on in your child’s head, and (super important!) learning where you should take the experience next. You see, when your child is learning something that they are really, genuinely interested in, something so beautiful is going to happen…. this excitement and passion for the topic is going to grow and transform into something new. And as long as you are following along and observing your child’s discussions, creations, and observations, you will be able to stay one step ahead and knowing exactly what to plan for next. This step, though often overlooked, is actually the most important part of a truly successful child-led learning experience! Don’t skip it!
And there you have it! Follow those 5 steps and you will have loads of fun and enjoyment creating a learning plan that is based solely on your child’s unique interests and learning needs. How incredible is that?