How to Get Started with Child-Led Learning

I will be the first person to admit that I am a bit pooh-poohey about home preschool curricula. We know that young kids need to play. A lot. So, for the most part, I don’t have any big plans as N. approaches the age of three. Lots of unstructured time, outdoor play, reading stories and poems, listening to music. I mostly aim to give him an enriching, beautiful environment, and trust that will engage his curiosity.

This much has been relatively clear to me for a while now: that the right environment will go a long way to encourage learning. The question that follows is, ‘How do I interact with my child on a daily basis in terms of his learning?’. I know that there are early child educators out there who do a fantastic job supporting learning in young children. They apply best practices from their field to enable child-led learning. What do they know that I don’t?

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The Adult-Role in Child-Led Learning

I found a lovely example of the adult role in child-led learning in a book on forest school. I’ve sadly forgotten the title. The child had noticed some sort of fuzzy caterpillar and, the teacher taking notice, chatted with the boy at length about what the caterpillar might eat. After the conversation, the teacher made a note on an observation worksheet, ‘I think he may soon ask about the caterpillar’s home. I will bring a pair of secateurs next week so we can build a small shelter for the caterpillar if the child again shows interest’.

This is what child-led learning is all about: observing our child’s interests, anticipating where their curiosity may lead them, and bringing new, relevant materials or activities into their environment that will let them indulge in their desire to learn all they can.

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Making Rainbows: Child-Led Learning in Our Home

This morning over breakfast, N looked out the window behind me and said, ‘There’s a rainbow in the sky, Mommy!’. I turned and looked, and he was absolutely correct. ‘God builded it,’ he told me. That about made my heart melt, and then later he asked me to read the story of Noah before his nap. I do not think that was a coincidence. Rainbows, clearly, were on his mind.

Right before I left him to sleep, he asked me, ‘Can we make rainbows, Mommy?’

This question felt extremely poignant to me. My lively, bright toddler asked me specifically to engage with him in his curiosity, to help him expand his experience and knowledge of this topic.

‘Yes! We can make rainbows after your nap!’ I said, of course. Over lunch I popped ‘how to make rainbows’ into Google and found a couple things to do. When N woke up, I brought down a mirror, filled a glass bowl with water, and we spent over half an hour casting rainbows onto our ceiling with the sun shining in through the window. As clouds passed over the sun, we saw how the rainbows faded and then brightened again. I think he came away with a stronger understanding of how light is needed to make a rainbow. It was a lovely time with my son.

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Learning Every Day

To me, this is the essence of home education and the early years. It’s taking every opportunity to say, ‘Yes!’ to your child’s request to explore, dig deeper, and understand more. It may mean taking the compass with you on a walk to the park, because he wants to know what direction you are going. It will probably include trips to the library to find more books about the bugs she is so interested in. I anticipate a fair amount of mud and mess mixed into it but I expect it will enrich my life as well.

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