Have you heard conflicting information about self-directed education? I created a list of five general misconceptions along with a rebuttal to each one.
Hope this clears things up!
All children, no matter their temperament or perceived “work ethic” can prosper under self-directed education for the simple reason that approaching the world emerges from self. When given the foundational support and access to resources, children flourish.
We are each drawn to activities and interests for a variety of reasons. Some children are born with particular talents, some find their spark early in life, while others try on many hats before deciding where they want to place their energy. The keyword here is “self”, which means coming from within, not being directed or forced by another. Basically, an individual’s ideas, interests, and goals are respected and honored.
Kids labeled as unmotivated or lazy might appear this way in the context of school, where children are told what to learn, read, and study. However, these same children may prove to be highly motivated and energetic learners if they are involved in their education and surrounded by people who support their interests and goals.
The word “self” in self-directed education does not strictly mean alone or without others. Learning definitely looks different if you compare self-directed kids to kids you see in schools. Just because one is self-directed does not mean they learn alone. The main difference between traditional education and self-directed education is agency.
What I mean by agency is that the learner has a choice over what to do with his time versus an adult, school, or institution imposing or forcing information that he may have zero interest in. Self-directed education encompasses all of one’s life experiences so this could mean working alone on a project or it could mean group classes, workshops, and seminars.
The bottom line? If the activity is self-chosen because the individual finds it beneficial to his educational pursuits, then bring it on!
Based on my personal experience as an unschooling parent and from what I have seen for close to two decades in the homeschooling world, parents who support unschooling/self-directed education are highly involved.
An important distinction is that they are not “helicopter parenting”, but more of the “I’m here to support, guide and create space, opportunities, and experiences for you based on your unique interests” kind of way. Instead of planning or dictating what and when their kids will learn, these parents view education much more broadly than what a state or national curriculum says a child “must” learn.
Children have more space and freedom to explore their interests and develop personally than some may be comfortable with, but that in no way indicates parents ignoring or leaving their children to fend for themselves. Instead, these parents tend to be great observers of their children’s interests and talents. They respect the flexibility that is necessary to meet their kids’ needs at various developmental stages. Rigidity and attachment to any particular curriculum are replaced with learning that is a result of living and being immersed in the world.
If anything, it takes more effort and much deeper involvement in a child’s life by going this route. Instead of children being turned over to others for hours a day, parents take on the full responsibility of their child’s education, as daunting as that may be.
I can see how people are more comfortable with young children living and learning through play and exploration but become more uptight when children get older. The standard school model has been around for a long time. The thought of children going from Kindergarten to 12th grade without attending a school or following a state or national curriculum can seem reckless and irresponsible to some. However, if one is looking at learning through the schooling model then it is easy to misunderstand self-directed education.
Schooling and education are not one and the same. You can go to school, be schooled, but still flounder in the world. Attending school does not automatically equate to being educated. No matter a child’s age, gathering knowledge happens through living and working with adults who understand the critical importance of creating an environment and opportunities that support one’s goals.
I get it. I could relate to this line of thinking at one point in my life. As a trained teacher I admittedly took offense to parents who did not send their children to school:
Who are they to reject an institution that was created to educate children?
Why do they feel they are more capable of passing on knowledge to their children than the trained professionals who have spent years studying education?
I can barely type these sentences without simultaneously laughing and cringing. But I offer an atonement: As a former educator turned unschooling advocate, I can comfortably say that having a degree in education is absolutely NOT a prerequisite for homeschooling your children or for embracing self-directed education.
Did my studies offer me insights about child development, academic skills lists, and direct instruction? Absolutely. It is also true that I was inclined to learn about child development and education in general because they have been two areas of interest for a long time.
However, when it comes to children and learning, I was not taught how to support children’s natural curiosities. I was taught how to teach in the context of school. This meant I learned more about behavior modification and strategies to get children to stay on task than I did about aligning activities with brain development.
In all fairness, it has been a long time since I was in college so I can not speak to the curriculum currently being taught. Regardless, if you are a curious, involved, and motivated parent, you can support your child’s natural love of learning. It doesn’t take degrees and years of training. It does take a willingness to observe, be patient, and trust your child. You get to facilitate their learning by creating a life filled with experiences, opportunities, and exploration.
There are an endless amount of resources at your fingertips. Local libraries, for starters, offer a ton of resources. Plus, there is no shortage of online courses, support groups, videos, and tutorials. You can explore your neighborhood, local parks, take day trips, visit museums, and create outings with other families. If your child likes a particular topic, but you aren’t well-versed, reach out to colleges, businesses, or individuals who may be willing to mentor your child. You can also create gatherings around various topics and invite other homeschooling families to join in.
Something a veteran homeschooling mother told me when we first got started that proved true time and time again:
“If you plan it, they will come.”
I am inspired to see families working hard to get the most out of their time together! It is powerful to shed old paradigms that are not serving us well and to choose to live in trust, joy, and adventure with our kids. If you want to talk more about how to support your children’s love of learning or ways to increase connection and joy through unschooling, please schedule a consult with me here.
If you have general questions or something to share about your journey, I’d love to hear from Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out through social media.