Today in our Podcast, Don and I discuss child-led learning.

I wrote this post in 2016 for my Child-led Learning Blog.

Are children blank slates when they are born?

Do they arrive in this world brand new like a new computer and we have to input software?

Do we, their parents or guardians, shape our children into who they will become as adults?

I am sure there can be reasonable arguments on both  sides for these questions. Yet, let’s set aside the idea of it is either this way or that way.  Most things really are not that black and white.  A combination of nature and nurture is how most modern people in the field of child development look at things.

Are our children blank slates?

I think most of us who have had a child can see how our children are born with certain personality traits or aspects.  It doesn’t matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs or views.  If you have a child who has come to you as a baby, it is very obvious that children have differences.  Twins growing up in the same household with identical genetic make up have different personalities.

What does any of this have to do with child-led learning?

If we are able to look back to when children are babies.  I would even look further back.  We conceive a child and carry it for about 9 months and under most normal circumstances without complications, babies are born when they are ready to be born.  Unfortunately, we have moved away from allowing children to be born when they are ready. Doctors no longer are trained on how to deliver breach births or how to turn a baby and do necessary procedures before resorting to surgery. This is a discussion for a different debate. I share this only to point out how as a society, we interfere with children’s natural time tables and we are doing so at younger and younger ages and in many ways.

Children are all unique.

They have different eye color, hair color, amount of hair, skin color, size and shape.  

Don’t you just hate the question, “Is he a good baby?”  Are there really babies who are  “bad”?  All babies are good, they all just have different temperaments and we as their parents have different temperaments and when our temperaments clash with our babies, that is when we have the biggest issues.  Or maybe sometimes we are too much like our babies and thus become stressed out parents.    Wouldn’t it be better if we asked each other. “Are you a good parent?”  And the next phrase would be, “Do you meet your babies needs?”

Where am I going with all this talk about birth and babies?

When did you baby first roll over?

When did your baby learn to sit up and crawl?

How old was your baby when he walked?

Did you take your baby to rolling over classes?  Did you purchase a how to crawl curriculum? Did you hire a tutor to help you baby learn to walk?

Maybe you attended mom and baby gym classes and you likely read parenting books even ones on child development.  And sure you encouraged him to do these things.

Would she have learned to do them had you not gone to the mom and baby gym class?

Would he not have learned to walk if you were not encouraging him to do so and helping him along?

Children in very poor circumstances with absent or neglectful  parents do learn to walk and talk.   Sure they have other challenges because of those circumstances.  But is your baby better off because you attended mom and baby gym class?  Did you attend this kind of class with your mother?  Is your baby a better walker or better at gross motor skills because she attended this class with you?

I would say, sure your baby is better off because he attended the class because you engaged with her and spent time with her and gave her your full attention during the class.  I see that as the biggest benefit of these classes.  Sure kids need physical activity to develop but they can get this in many ways.  For people of my generation, generation X and those born before, we spent much time outdoors with other kids in the neighborhood and during recess often before school as well as during school.   Are athletes born in the 1990s better than athletes born before 1970 because they have access to equipment at younger ages?  I am not an athlete and have no intentions to debate this very question, yet, my point is, no, they are not better off.

Back to our topic at hand, child-led learning.

We trust our children to learn to walk and talk when they are ready to do so.  Yes, there are exceptions and children with special needs but that is not what I am talking about today.  Many children have difficulty pronouncing certain letters until they get older. For some children, it takes longer to master proper pronunciation of all sounds.   Again, children born prematurely or with development delay issues do benefit from therapy to address those area.  The average kid, born without complications and without issues will in time, learn to walk as well as learn to speak clearly and pronounce all the sounds of our language.

The range of “normal” for walking is between 8 months of age and 17 months. A very wide range!  And the range of normal talking is and even bigger span of time.  There can be challenges at both ends of the spectrum yet as long as our child falls within these ranges, health professionals are not alarmed and do not feel the child needs any special intervention.

This is what I mean by child-led learning.


Yes, this is exactly what I mean.  We trust that our children will learn to walk. And we trust that our children will learn to talk merely by imitation and being around us and other people who are talking.  The English language is very complex and one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet our children somehow learn to talk and pronounce words and even speak in sentences without any formal instruction.

Children can learn to read and write this way as well.

Children are born learning.  They watch us in everything that we do.  I remember my third child as a small infant.  She was a few months old and I would talk to her as I changed her diaper and it appeared to me that she was copying my mouth movements.  I was actually quite surprised by this but in talking with a friend who had worked in early child development, she said she was not surprised.  And so maybe I was just not paying as close attention to this with my other two children.

Following your child’s lead  with learning is merely a continuation of continuing to nurture their development.

I first wrote about this topic when my children were young and now at this time (2016), my oldest child has graduated home/ Unschooling.  I always laugh when I say that because as an unschooler, his life is just continuing with the path he has been on.  Even he says the only change in his life is that some of his friends will be going away to college.   He is continuing community college, something he started in “high school” but now we have to pay for classes!  My middle child, my 14 year old daughter has been spending regular time, almost monthly, with her aunt working in her dog training business.  And my youngest is 7 and has discovered a love for Tae Kwon Do.

It is now April of 2023 and I am reflecting on what I have previously written.

Even if your children are in school and no matter their age, we can always stop and think about our choices and how they spend their time.

Do they have enough time to just be bored?

Time to make their own choices about how they spend their time?

Do you take time to have a break and not just a structured vacation, but a real break from routines.

We all need time to rest and rejuvenate and reconnect. And our children’s brains are still growing and developing into their late 20s and need opportunities to make mistakes and make new choices.

I will leave you with this one last thought.

How do you learn something new? Is there a hobby you have taken on as an adult?

How did you go about learning this new skill? What resources did you use?

How do you learn best?

Do you watch a video or ask a friend to show you how to knit or crochet?

Do you attend classes or read information about what you want to learn?

Are you hands on and just dive in to the project and make mistakes, learning along the way?

Step back and think about your own style of learning and how you have learned new things.

Allow your children the opportunity to explore how they learn best and what methods are most helpful to them.


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