Great grades without years of schooling? Yes! Here is the recipe.

In all truth, I wouldn’t have 100% believed that years ago but the answer is a definite yes, a child can get their grades without years of schooling!

Our 17 year old daughters were not homeschoolers but solid self directed learners for 8 years, from the age of about 8 through to 16. Nor was our son homeschooling. He was also self directed aged 5 through till, well he is still doing it. Prior to that they had a few years in school and a few years of me not really knowing what I was doing but effectively homeschooling them.

Now the girls have just just completed a GCSE fast track course in 9, well 6 months due to Covid. They have passed all their exams with very high grades. They are not geniuses and they and not super kids. They are autonomous learners who sent themselves back to formal education aged 16 and they LOVED it!

So What Happened?

Firstly putting our kids through the system did not seem to be working out for anyone. The curiousity was draining from their eyes and the levels of tensions were rising. There was a huge demand for them to learn so much information. It all seemed very stressful, like too much water pouring in to a small jug, they weren’t ready for the massive wave of learning that was rushing at them. Our son was also not coping and we wanted to do something different. So we did, we exited the formal schooling system and travelled, I write all about this here. We changed everything. We met them where they were at.


Play is the Key!

One of the main things we learnt amongst many things, that are all in our book (shameless plug there) was this, let your kid PLAY. It is so very important.
As they grew up I realised, there is no divide between learning and playing, it’s the same thing. This is contrary to everything I was ever taught so this was a big penny to drop. This may be hard to hear if you are homeschooling and following a curriculum and trying to get them to keep up.

With self directed learners there is no keeping up, there are no grades to keep up with, no tests, no specific time to be reading, it is an organic learning process and it is so liberating for everyone. It maybe like ice skating for the first time when you start but once you get it, it is so very easy and it makes perfect sense.

One of the first thing I had to learn was to let them play, not to interrupt their fun, to make THAT the top priority always. Even if you scripted self nags at you to sit them down and make them learn. Playing is learning. By doing that you give them their autonomy to figure out what they love and what makes them tick. This took me a while to learn.

I have been through the system so I had to desystemise myself, it was work. You can read about that here. When it comes to unschooling the parents, I include myself in that, is the toughest part.

Here is the key to self directed learning

Where you can positively show up is by offering choice for them and when I say offering, I mean alternatives. Not text books and worksheets but ideas, people with experience, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, the world is your oyster. If you see they love dancing and want to pursue that, then take them to dance classes. If that is out of your budget and it is not happening due to Covid, then online dance classes. Immerse them in shows, see who there is out there that can inspire them.

I have come to learn that people are friendlier and more open and responsive than you think and often like to impart knowledge and share their experiences. If you see a huge interest in history or science support that. Any subject, I have just heard of a self directed learner that is now taking a masters in forensic criminology. That child was following a passion. I think what happens is that children get to figure out exactly what they want to do and they go for it with gusto, as it is their choice.

They are not being told what they should do. They are driving towards their own passions. Isn’t that an empowering thought? 

Another thing I have learnt is that the internet is your friend. Whilst I agree there is nothing like seeing someone in person to inspire you but for now, due to coronavirus, we are all doing what we can. It is mostly online but thankfully there are a lot of resources out there. 

Also something that I have noticed especially for shy children who don’t integrate brilliantly well, the internet is amazing. It seems to be a place where they can safely, from their own room grow their confidence. This is for the ‘coddlers’ I will write another blog about them. The ones that put their hoodies up and game for years…trust them, think caterpiller and then butterfly. It is hard to see it when they are in that stage but it happens, I have seen it time and time again.

So back to those shy ones, they can learn to thrive. If you think about it it makes sense, as if they are not physically in a group, they are less intimidated. It is their choice to choose to duck out if they want to. Self directed autonomous learners cultivate self efficacy.

Whilst I think it is important to be able to be in a group and to be able to intergrate socially there are times when ‘coddling’ and learning how to socially be, from home, is just perfect. This is a different perspective on the closed down teenager, they are going through a process, I will write about this in another blog!

How you support your child with learning?

For me the thing is to remember that learning is a bit like a butterfly on your finger, if you move to fast it will fly off. Don’t rush in and go all ‘over enthusiastic teacher’ on the child. I have been guilty of that and seen my child eyeroll at me as I tended to turn things in to a lesson.

Relax. Try stuff out, do things yourself, buy the art materials, look up the science experiments. Ask the curious questions. Your child will see this and most likely join in, or not or do it later.

For me the cultiviating of the garden was the important bit, leaving things around, watching the interesting films, having the supplies, or simply just being there.
Listen to what they are talking about and remember that this process can be slow. Also let them lead the way, let them reveal to you who they are. Like I said before, meet the child where they are at.


Lessons I have Learned

I once heard a beautiful Maori example, it was this, learning is like an underground river. It is constantly flowing and is always there although you can’t see it. It comes up out of the ground as a spring every now and then, trust that it’s there.

You can find the example on this wonderful blog by Carol Black called  ‘A Thousand Rivers’ and you can also listen to this great talk about learning by Mereana Taki on that blog or you can find it here, she is an indigenous Maori. In this video she shares the Maori views of learning, intelligence, spirituality and child development. She talks beautifully and it is worth having a listen, she has very wise and gentle words.

I love that river analogy. I became aware that years ago I was constantly looking for the spring to emerge and unsure of the river under the ground.

I learnt to trust. Now I see that the spring and river in our family has been emerging and flowing with our girls. They flew through years of studying in 6 to 9 months. These self directed learners are on their way to A Levels. For me it is not about the grades at all, it is about their path, their journey and who they want to be and what they want to learn.

It is the same for our son, who isn’t interested in history, or really handwriting but is in the room next door with his sister learning about philosophy. He is not a genius either, he just loves the difficult philosophical questions. He has decided after years of seemingly non stop gaming that he wants to take deep dives in to learning, so that is what he does and we support him.

The river is there, trust it and do your best not to let the societal historical patterns stop its flow. Your adult children will thank you for believing in them and for being the wind behind their wings.

Other self directed learners, how do you learn, I would love to hear your thoughts on this, you can comment below or comment on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I love keeping up this conversation about education!

You can read more of Lehla’s writing here in our book ‘Jump, Fall, Fly from schooling to homeschooling to unschooling’


Thank you to Stanley Morales from Pexels for the main photo




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