Child-led learning is when a child is offered the opportunity to choose their own learning activity, whether that’s building with blocks, playing in the sandpit, or painting, for example. The idea is to observe how that child approaches the activity and how they adapt the task to their own direction. For example, as adults, we may view certain activities with a different intent, so when a child plays in the sandpit, we might expect them to build a sandcastle – but the child may decide to take a toy car and create a race track. This wasn’t the intent of adult, as the child has now changed the purpose of the task. They’ve created a new adventure for themselves without instruction from an adult or teacher.
Once the child is engrossed in that activity, teachers can look at bringing in other aspects to the task. Children will be more receptive to these new ideas because they’ve chosen the activity initially and are more invested in it.
Although children may choose a task that they know they can complete, teachers can encourage children to take a different approach to the task, or add another element that may make the activity more complex, advancing their learning. For example, if a child chooses the paint station as their activity every time, this may be because they feel comfortable in that task, knowing what they can achieve but teachers are there to encourage students to approach it differently.
Child-led learning also encourages children to think critically. If they’re deciding on their own activity to participate in, they are the ones creating the plan, finding their next steps, deciding what to do next. If they’ve chosen to do this activity with another child or a group of children, they need to effectively build relationships and work through problems they encounter together. Learning how to read and write is something than can be taught over time and children will eventually learn at their own pace. Skills such as conflict resolution, finding solutions and building friendships are not easily taught and need to be led by the child.
Social skills improve drastically through child-led learning. As the child chooses what activities they participate in, they’re also choosing whether to do that alone or with others. Asking others if they can join in, asking others to join in as well as requesting help from teachers, are all skills which can be developed through child-led learning. This also helps with self-confidence. As children are more likely to choose activities they’re already good at - they are more likely to succeed and as their confidence grows, they feel happier taking on bigger challenges.
More schools across the world are now embracing child-led learning as it allows children to participate in their own learning, which is incredibly beneficial for their future success in education. With child-led learning, there’s far more flexibility in the way children learn, massively benefitting those who may not respond as well to traditional, adult-instructed activities. Children are naturally curious when discovering and learning about different things; there’s also far less resistance to learning when led by the child, as opposed to being told what to do by the teacher.
Independence is something that we continuously learn and adapt to, even throughout adulthood. Promoting independence from a very early age is crucial for successful independence later in life. Child-led learning allows them to make their own decisions, as well as being encouraged to make those decisions.
Documenting a child’s successes through child-led learning via an online learning journal is a great way to measure their achievements. It’s can also help educators show children their progress, so they have active involvement in their learning and education.