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What is Child-Led Learning?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 23, 2024
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As its name implies, child-led learning is a type of education that a child leads. This is typically accomplished in a homeschool environment, though it is possible to put it to use in a more traditional setting as well. With this style of learning, a child is allowed to determine what to learn and when to learn it. He or she may even be allowed to choose his or her materials for learning, such as books, education supplements, human resources, or the natural world at large.

Though child-led learning is categorized as homeschooling, it fits better under the heading of unschooling. Unschooling seeks to get away from the traditional methods of teaching and learning, allowing children to learn from everyday things. This style hones in on the child’s interests and preferences in selecting subjects to learn and methods for learning. In such learning environments, children are not forced or coerced into learning. Instead, parents work to follow the lead of their children, providing support, resources, and instruction, in keeping with their children’s wishes.

The premise is that children learn best and rise to their full potential when they are allowed to lead the way and explore subjects when they feel ready. Proponents often state that traditional education may actually dull a child’s interest in the world around him, encouraging him to learn simply to pass tests. Once testing is over, they assert, children forget much of what they learned because they were not interested in the first place.

Opponents question whether or not children will learn the things they need to know when left to their own devices. They assert that children in child-led learning environments may miss out on certain things simply because they are not interested in them. Furthermore, opponents often argue that children in such environments don’t learn how to interact with peers and function in a structured environment.

It is important to note that most families who practice this learning style do work hard to create educationally rich environments for their children. Some parents choose to provide little structure, while others work to provide organization while maintaining the child-led environment. They typically provide an abundance of books and resources for learning, and many select games that are both fun and educational, making sure that their children always have something educational at hand. Homeschooling families often restrict the use of television or avoid it altogether, believing their children will explore more if they are not absorbed in television viewing.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a Language & Humanities writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon303160 — On Nov 13, 2012

How do you keep children educated when all they want to do is play dress-up princess and pretend to be a waitress? No thank you. Child-led education is too liberal. Children thrive on structure. Letting your child explore and learn is one thing, but letting them just roam around until they ask to learn about something is lazy.

By anon186609 — On Jun 15, 2011

I have been an educator for 12 years in early childhood education, and for your information, you are always teaching your children, whether it is directly or indirectly. You can and should let them explore what they are interested in.

My son is 18 months and loves books. We sing the ABCs when we read his ABC book, that he chooses. And guess what? Now, every time he chooses that book he says A B C and then hums. Did he choose that? Yes! Did I teach him that the cover of that book and the contents were the ABCs? Yes! What a great team we are.

I think that it is all about balance.

Parenting is so different for everyone and everyone knows how to do it "the right way". If you are consistent, loving and balanced you are going to do a great job. don't stress so much! Enjoy the moments of learning, however they come.

By Shannon Bonafede — On May 26, 2010

My two year is learning his ABCs mostly from his older sister, who sings the song over and over. He likes to do it so I help him along when he is interested.

All three of my children learn at their own pace. We use what they choose to use at a relaxed pace, which, if they decide to do more is great, but not enforced, nor do I really encourage it. Education should be savored -- not gobbled.

By bigmetal — On Feb 08, 2008

dear concerned mother,

please don't worry! i wasn't referring to him reading or writing his ABCs at 2, but simply being interested in singing them and getting acquainted with them. believe me, he had a couple friends his age who had their ABCs memorized around 2 (the song!, not reading/writing them). i was trying to express my desire to figure out his pace and learning style and reconcile that with what i should be teaching him at what age. i would be the last person to push my child beyond his limits. i am in no way a flash card mother, i just wanted to be sure that i was preparing him adequately. he will be starting kindergarten next year, and has attended a wonderful preschool that has lots of child led learning activities. i feel very confident that he is well prepared, and most importantly LOVES learning. i think what i meant was that our children will tell us when they're ready to do something, despite our own fears and concerns about how well WE are teaching them as parents. additionally, the reality is that we as parents have a responsibility to teach our children, not to just rely on the school system. that's wonderful that your children were reading and writing before kindergarten, but i'm sure that you did indeed "teach" (why is that suddenly a bad word?) them something -- even gifted children can't learn to read and write themselves!

By anon8111 — On Feb 07, 2008

Dear Bigmetal,

I'm sure you mean the best for your child, but... are you out of your mind??? There is a time for every new development, and 2 year old is too young for ABCs. A 2 year old shouldn't be forced to learn letters, not even gently. I have 4 extremely gifted children (150+ IQs) who could read and write before they went to kindergarten. But they were allowed to explore everything at their own pace. I have never 'taught' them anything. A child is naturally curious and will copy the older people in it's environment.

Enjoy your child's company and let him follow you during the day. Tell him what you are doing and name the objects you see and touch. Let him play with pots and spoons in the kitchen. He is still in the phase of feeling and tasting.

A concerned mother.

By bigmetal — On Feb 06, 2008

just from experience with my children, i've learned that you can't push too hard with learning. it will inevitably backfire on you. i know that i was stressed that my son didn't know his ABCs when he was 2. well, i stepped it up and i think that it stressed him out a little to be honest. so i backed off, and within a couple of months, his attitude completely changed. within a few months, he knew his ABCs, and how to write his name! when he was ready, he picked it up much easier and we actually had fun with it!

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a Language & Humanities writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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