This article ties in with the previous one, “Letting Go and Letting Be,” where I encouraged parents to consider what expectations or assumptions they are holding onto for their children. Once we let go of how we think our child should learn, and what they enjoy doing, then we can move forward with an open mind, allowing our child to direct their own learning process.
Albert Einstein said, “I never teach my students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” The conditions your child needs in which they can learn, might look different than what mine needs. Each of your children might also require something slightly different, but you have great ability as the parent to learn these differences and create a powerful learning environment.
So, what does this look like? A student-directed program simply means that learning is happening at the student’s pace, through independent experiences, on topics of interest to them. There is a time and place for teacher centered learning, where the you (the teacher) presents new information, introduces a new concept, etc. but beyond that the student is enabled to explore, experiment, discover, and work in their own way.
One of the easiest places to start is where your child’s interests lie. If you read my article on goal setting, you will know that I basically separate the eleven core subjects into content-based and skill-based categories. Start with your content-based subjects (history, social studies, science, language, health, art and music appreciation) and figure out what your child is most interested in learning about. Through the elementary grades, there are no specific topics in each subject that you must teach. Therefore, within each of the required subjects, you have complete control over the specific areas you study. Does your child love horses? Beautiful Feet Publishers has a program on the history of the horse. Maybe your child is obsessed with a sport or sports team. They can research the history of the sport, how it has evolved; the health regimen and workout routine of the players for health; health and science be can covered in studying effects of injuries, or drugs on players.
There are an infinite number of possible studies that can be done. Once you have settled on your topic together, figure out how the information will be learned. The more control a student has over their study method, the more effective it will be. Knowing your child’s learning style will help tremendously in this area. Provide access to the materials they need, equip them with the skills they need to utilize them, and then turn them loose to develop their own ideas, experiments; to try things out, take risks (and even fail!). Typically, students who are given this freedom will pursue learning with a passion and dedication. Students should also be able to evaluate their own learning, and identify what the next step is, and where they need to improve. You are there to support, ask guiding questions, and provide encouragement. Sometimes a student will get stuck, or frustrated and in this case you step in to provide some suggestions and assistance, but leave the options open for the student to decide the direction.
Play, creativity, and time are critical components of effective student-directed learning. If students feel hurried, they may not feel safe trying something new. It’s good put deadlines on an assignment, but if your student genuinely needs more time to increase their learning, homeschooling provides that! Not every subject lends itself to this sort of creativity and flexibility, so choosing a curriculum with your child gives them some input and will increase their willingness to work.
Also, learning how to integrate subjects will help ease the burden of teaching each subject individually. Since student-directed learning is very much a continuum between totally teacher directed and totally student directed, with practice you will find the right balance for each subject as you approach it with an open-mind and in collaboration with your child.