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  • Writer's pictureJenny Markus

What is child-led learning?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

The difference between learning how to do school and learning how to do life.


Child-led or self-directed learning is a philosophy of learning that takes as its starting point the child’s interest. Adults (or learning guides) then provide learning opportunities and resources to support that initial spark. It is fundamentally different from direct, teacher-led instruction, the approach taken in most mainstream schools today where adults decide what is being taught, how, when and with whom.


Contrary to popular belief, child-led, rather than instructor-led, learning is the way kids (as well as adults!) have been getting educated for civilizations.


It is grounded in time-tested philosophies from Socrates to Maria Montessori, from John Dewey to the Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools. There has now accumulated decades worth of research in educational psychology, motivation theory and child development supporting the efficacy and power of self-directed approaches to learning.


What makes child-led learning the superior approach today?


Child-led instruction allows the child’s curiosity to determine how and what they will study. By following their internal motivation, children cultivate their natural desire to get to know their world. Over time, instead of dulling their curiosity, learning to answer test questions and please adults, they build their internal capacity to ask questions, seek challenges and learn to overcome them. (And yes, your child will learn to read, write and do math!)


And what makes a better problem solving, critically thinking fulfilled 21st century adult than someone who can pursue challenges head on with excitement and vigor rather than fear and lack of confidence?


Moreover, advancements in technology, low-cost, high-quality online content delivery platforms, gaming, and augmented and virtual reality are making uniquely personal education plans possible at increasingly lower costs.


With the growth of quality, in-person, learning experiences, there is no longer any reason to coop up a young, curious mind inside one building following one highly rigid system for six hours a day, ten months a year, for 13+ years. Instead of spending hours memorizing facts, the self-directed learner pursues the things that matters to them.


By pairing learning experiences they are inherently curious about with accountability practices like coaches, peer groups and real world experts and professionals, the self-directed learner gets to own their education for life.


Learn more about self-directed education:



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