Many parents who home school use an autonomous approach to their children’s learning. It can be quite hard to understand how this could possibly work if you’re used to school, where children have no choice in the activities set to ‘educate’ them, because there’s a common misconception that autonomously educated kids just please themselves all the time without confronting things they don’t want to do or tackling challenges.

But through an autonomous approach children end up setting their own challenges as they see the relevance and pleasure of striving towards particular goals. Thus they are more driven to achieve.

Autonomous learning

A typical example of this approach is where children choose an activity; maybe playing with Lego, making up stories with other toys around them, using computer games, going on outings to museums, galleries and interesting other sites, interacting with others, even household things like baking a cake, cleaning out the pets, gardening, etc. Parents offer guidance or suggestion when necessary. Then through these activities the children’s knowledge, skills, understanding and intelligence develop naturally. Parents introduce new concepts when it’s relevant – for example baking a cake involves learning about quantities and gardening introduces natural science. These are extended through conversation, questioning and discussion which also develop vital thinking skills.

All activities educate to a certain degree. So, busy, active, engaged, stimulated children will be learning.

Through experiencing life, children learn about life. They learn from emulating the adults around them, from seeing adult lives, adult jobs, adult activities and adult goals. They see adults doing things they want to do and having things they want, so engaging with adults helps children understand how to reach those goals for themselves. Something they don’t have the chance at in a school setting.

This autonomous learning experience creates an important side effect; self-motivation.

The learning approach used in school where kids have little real choice and are required to passively ‘receive’ the education others push upon them has a destructive effect on self-motivation. It also presupposes the idea that kids will not want to become educated.

This isn’t in fact true – it’s just that they don’t want to be ‘schooled’.

When children see attractive adult lives and activities, they want to aim for those lives themselves and learning how to do that is as an important part of their education as anything else. And it is all the self-motivation they need.

But if they see education as a boring repetitive slog at academic exercises that appear irrelevant to them this can turn them off.

Through an autonomous approach their desire to learn is maintained and when they reach the point of realising that they might need to undertake some less appealing academic exercises to reach certain goals they’re inspired to push themselves. (There’s a good example of an autonomously educated youngster in my post ‘How a school phobic ended up with a First’).

The autonomous approach to children’s learning works so well because it involves many of the elements required for effective learning; first hand experience, maintained interest, decision making, contrast, choice, practical and physical activity.

It is a widely different approach to the school one, but it develops extremely intelligent and motivated young people because of the opportunity it gives for varied learning-life experience and personal independence.

In a future post there’ll be a case study which illustrates how this approach works for real.




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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.