View Full Version : Implementing a learner-led learning without going crazy?

05-14-2013, 01:31 AM
My daughter has been in a learner-centered preschool for the past two years -- the teachers guided the curriculum around the interests of the kids. My daughter's really responded well to this and I'm wondering how to implement this at home... without going completely insane.

She is five and insanely curious as kids her age should be. But keeping up with her interests is crazy making for me. Her window of opportunity is very short -- one day it's dinosaurs, the next day it's birds. Like last week, she wanted to learn all about space so we learned about the planets of the solar system, etc. So we read books in our library, watched videos, did a few projects, etc. Two days later, she wanted nothing else to do with space. Now she's onto birds and while that's great, I know that tomorrow she can easily be onto something else.

She absorbs an amazing amount of information in a very short amount of time -- and retains it, spitting out random facts back at me weeks, months later, with no prompting -- but keeping up with her is sort of a whirlwind. Meanwhile we're doing lot of interesting subjects and exploring but she balks at what she recognizes as reading/writing, even when I work it in to her "theme". ("How about we write down the number of planets in the solar system here in our book?" "No!")

Is this more a less a situation where I just need to learn to roll with it? Sit down, shut up and hold on for the ride? I've tried to nudge her in various directions by strewing items -- books, art projects -- and steering her toward cartoons that I thought would bring up certain subjects but she's good at making things go in the very opposite of where I was figuring. I let her do it but I'm a planner by nature and sometimes feel very unable to keep up.

05-14-2013, 02:28 AM
Hmmm...at 5yo I think I'd put aside plans for formal reading, writing and math until she shows interest. As you've found out she can sense it coming a mile away and she's letting you know she's just not ready or interested yet!

As to the frantic and diverse subjects...on the one hand this is normal as is the near didactic memory at this age (helps when there is less pollution in there, haha). On the other hand, I think this could be a good place to start working on readiness. Kindergarten is not about academics but about learning to maintain focus and learning the give-and-take and TBH conforming required (in a good sense). Kids are usually ready for this somewhere between 4 and 8yo, probably with an average around 6-7.

What you might try is two things. First, she sounds like she needs some rhythm and routine to her day. You didn't mention if you had one with her. It doesn't have to be a set "schedule", but posting some sort of color coded or pictures of activities or even magnets of activities that she can move from a "to do" to a "done" board can be helpful.

Second, you might try to sit down one morning a week and discuss what things she wants to learn about that week. Then go to the library and get the books for that topic. THen stick to those topics for the week. Maybe limit it to 2-3 things, eventually down to one thing. It can be broad topics like "dogs" or "space". I guess what I am saying is consider that being "learner-led" doesn't mean that you have to let a 5yo run your house. Maybe it's ok to encourage them to develop longer attention spans and delve deeper. I also would be a little concerned that she will begin to think that she's the boss, rather than she's the learner and you are facilitating her learning. You still need to facilitate and make sure she is maturing as a learner, developing good habits, increasing her attention span, and that your interactions are moving towards where they need to be (whatever that is).

Anyway, it sounds like you are at a crossroads in your style and need to determine whether you want to go radical unschooling or chid-led but structured or something else. There isn't a "right" answer. You just have to be honest about what your expectations coming into this were/are, your personality, and your child's personality/needs. Where those things intersect you will find a style that fits.

05-14-2013, 08:01 AM
I dunno...I think asking a five-year-old to pick a week's topic for learning might be a little confining (for some 5's). I'm more of the opinion to go along for the ride, provide her with lots of different resources (including some she can use on her own) for learning/research, and see what happens. I love that age, because everything's always changing, and you never know where you're going to end up :)

Also, if the preschool's working really well - maybe ask the teachers how they structure their day and copy that until you get a feel for what works best at home?

05-14-2013, 09:22 AM
Yes, I think if that's your goals, I'd try to just go along for the ride.

05-14-2013, 11:42 AM
That would be tough... my girls will pick an obsession for a few weeks, then we don't have any interests for a while and we just play until something strikes a chord. We did Russia for about 3 weeks, then that dwindled. Now I think we are close to diving into the solar system. We saw an AMAZING shooting star this weekend and so it goes... Good luck!

05-14-2013, 12:37 PM
I really like CatInTheSun's answer. I have an almost 6 and almost 4 year old. I don't follow a strict interest/child-led learning style, but I do make effort to explore something if they express interest in it. We read and work on math regularly, science is more interest-led, and I have a rough sequence for history that we loosely follow. So, we are studying Ancient Greece right now. I get a ton of books from the library and start to follow a general outline I have of what I want to cover. But they each get interested in certain aspects, so then we veer off into those directions and focus there. I am not concerned with them covering everything about the subject or even retaining it at this age; I am just presenting it and the discussing it, and then going more in-depth with what they like. My son really liked sculptures and wanted to get out clay and try to make some. I have the idea to make some helmets out of papier mache since he was really into the various helmets soldiers wore.

So, somewhat interest-led, but like CITS said above, I am not totally child-controlled. We will read, and write a bit, and we will stay on the subject for awhile. But they know this, so they don't get upset about it. Once they seem 'done' with a topic though, even if it is before we covered all I wanted, if it has been like two-three weeks anyway (and those books are due back at the library ;) ), I move on. I like some structure, and believe that it is somewhat necessary for society to function. The kids like to have a general idea of a schedule, even though we are by no means strict about any of it. I do have a daily schedule posted with pics, but there are no times and the kids know we rarely follow it closely. I guess I am trying to show how you can teach in an learner-led way and allow your children to follow their interests, but still meet the goals that you have and have some structure if you want. I think it is the best of both worlds, myself :)

05-14-2013, 10:11 PM
I second a type of daily schedule or flow. Always makes our days feel more put together.