Monday, September 20, 2010

Parenting Thoughts: Child-Led Learning

I first came across the term 'child-led learning' in 2005 when I was reading up voraciously on early childhood pedagogies and exploring the different preschool options for my first-born. 

I was intrigued by all the advantages and arguments put forth by its advocates, though I was not fully convinced.

Over the years, as I see this term being mentioned liberally in so many parenting blogs, especially those that pay particular attention to the education of the young minds, one thing struck me - there is probably a gross misunderstanding of what this term means! 

Some people believe that by changing their coaching style to one that supports "child-led learning", they have the answer to "cure" an unmotivated child. 

To some, child-led learning means the learning process should be totally dictated by a child's interest in topics. The term is often viewed as synonymous to fun-learning and hence, effective learning. It is easy to see why many would think so. If a child has expressed desires on the topic, he is probably going to be more interested when shown content related to the topic and is hence easier to teach. 

This camp feels strongly that parents should take the child's cues and not attempt to influence or control what, how, how much and when to teach. If parents do, they are exerting unnecessary pressure on the little ones, stifling their creativity and not letting them learn in the best ways that they know. 

Should it really be a case of "let the child suggest what he is keen to learn and when and if he rejects an activity, chuck it!"

I beg to differ. Not entirely, but to a large extent actually. And here's why. 

While I think that a child's pace of learning should determine how much or little time is spent on a topic before moving on to the next, a child is not necessarily the best person nor should he be the only person choosing the topics to learn or be taught. 

Especially for a young child who doesn't know much about the world. Their interests are most likely going to be skewed towards the few topics that they have been exposed to. She is unlikely to ask questions about a topic that she isn't even aware of its existence in the first place! 

Needless to say, older kids who have the fortune and opportunities to accumulate a wide variety of experiences and are read to widely to or able to read on their own, will be in a better position to influence the themes and subject matters that they may wish to explore further. Their experience, curiosity and abilities will also be the main drivers to decide the extent to which each topic is learnt. 

But leaving this "responsibility" with a younger and inexperienced child maybe somewhat irresponsible.

How and what we introduce to them is KEY to opening their minds. 

I have met boys who are interested in nothing except animals and others who can only be excited by robots and vehicles. Left to their own devices, most girls who love princesses and all things girly will not be stretching their imagination beyond the fairy tales.  

If their teachers and parents were to take their cues and prepare learning activities and read only books that are related to their interests and nothing else, aren't these kids being shortchanged? Can't we do better than that?

Take my experience with my boys. 

When M was a wee toddler, all that he was interested in was 'everything with wheels'. That interest widened slightly over the years to encompass those modes of transport that fly and sail. I took his cues and introduced loads to feed his curiosity and interest. 

But I didn't just stop there. Nor did I just wait for his cues. I exposed him to a wide range of experiences and themes and some were met with varying degrees of resistance (especially when he was younger). 

It has been an ongoing process. These days, he devours materials with intricate drawings and designs on airplanes and submarines etc. But he is also happy to read up independently on whatever materials that he finds lying around. 

I am always mindful in ensuring that I am not just there to teach him, but facilitating his learning. The child must feel empowered in the learning process for the effect to be long-lasting.

E and I are firm believers of the merits of a strong base of general knowledge and that learning should not be limited to only topics that we like or have interest in. So we constantly expose both boys to topics that they may not be aware of or have expressed interests in. 

And in the last few years, I pulled it together with a more organized approach of employing the trans-disciplinary thematic method which is combined with lapbooking, as I have done in my Bright Minds Lapbookers classes.

I choose the literature and determine the themes, depth and breath of each theme to cover for each age group. When a child is with the lapbooking programme for a few lapbooks at least, he will be exposed to the trans-disciplinary thematic method for sufficient time to 'open his mind' up. That is important to cultivate an interest in the world around him, hence creating a hunger to learn. 

And I am proud to recognise that after a few years of doing so, both my boys have an extensive knowledge, appreciation and understanding for a wide range of topics that are beyond their initial interests. Definitely beyond what most kids their ages are exposed to. 

In all likelihood, there must be kids out there, of their ages, who know more than them. But so what?! It is not a competition of raising kids who know the most

It is about raising kids who have heightened awareness of and interests in the world they live in, are inquisitive and self-motivated and confident of their own abilities. 

Just like how E and I always tell our boys - it is not important to be THE BEST (unless we are competing in sports), but we should always give our best to ensure that we are GOOD at what we do. It helps to bear in mind that nothing is impossible. 


koinonia said...

totally agree.

guess those people who got the skewed view were influenced by child-led weaning etc.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Koinonia, haha. I never thought of it this way. You are probably right there that if one believes in child-led weaning, they will buy the theory of child-led learning.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Brenda

I suspect many people misunderstood the aspect of child-led learning mentioned in the Montessori approach. It does not mean giving a child free rein in choosing what he likes to learn. There are choices involved but it is within limits. In a proper Montessori environment, a child is given a set of activities to complete in a day or week. They may choose the sequence to which to work on, but it doesn't mean that they can choose NOT to work on them.

As parents, we should recognize that children LACK the maturity to persevere on activities that are tedious or unpleasant in the short-term, even if these are beneficial to them in the long-term.

It is like their diet. Do we let our kids put aside the nutritious food that they don't like and eat only the ice-cream and cakes? Of course we don't. We may take their preferences into consideration but we still want to make sure they eat fairly balanced meals.

Shouldn't it be the same with education of the minds?

(following comment came via email)

Hi DG, I have always thought that one of the important aspects of montessori approach is child-led learning.

I have observed and read in many other blogs that lead me (and I guess many others) to think that child-led learning is beneficial to kids. Now your post is making me think twice.....


Malina said...

You are right,Shirley :it should be a blend of both.Like when they observe or explore something and ask questions,it is a great opportunity to make them understand the world a bit better but we should also plan activities which will develop their early literacy.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Malina, totally! :>

Anonymous said...

Thanks DG. Much appreciated.

The way you have put it really places it all in good perspective. For me it gets confusing sometimes as to how much to push and how much free rein to give to our kids. Thanks for the tips. I find myself learning all the time. Haha. By the way, I have heard a lot of good feedback from a friend of mine whose child is in one of your classes. keep up the good work! God bless you and your lovely kids!



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