Self-Directed Learning When Homeschooling

My homeschooler has begun her high school senior year this month. We have started by beginning to envision what we want to happen this year. She will be beginning her last year of community college courses which begin tomorrow. She has declared that college application prep and her plant life be at the forefront of what we do this year.

The plant thing has been her thing for years now.The photo above is from when we were returning to homeschooling for her 5th and 6th grade years. She had been in public school for 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade and we had pretty much had enough. Then, she had declared she wanted to start growing plants.

In the photo you see her tending to some plants that I believe died immediately within that month. But, she kept at it since then. Teaching herself about propagation, and the different types of soils and lighting necessary to care for plants has been an interest I never had to encourage. I have had nothing to do with this except help financially with buying stuff when necessary.

She and her dad typically are the ones sharing tips with each other and maintaining the dozens of plants throughout our house now. The pictures below are of plants are all in her room except the ones taken outside on our porch and one from our living room. My point in sharing this is to give an example of what self-directed learning looks like in practice. You may call it unschooling. What it is is a child demonstrating an interest and they direct their learning to build a skill in that interest.

Your role as a parent is one of support and co- facilitation if necessary, but, the child’s interest leads the learning. Her dad and I have taken her to seminars around planting, she has worked at a nursery and she has access to the internet and computers to research and develop her knowledge on different plants and how to care for them. This is an area she demonstrated interest in from age 9 that had continued to current age of 16 (she turns 17 on sept. 18).

Some parents may not see the intrinsic value of allowing a child to learn in this manner. It may not seem to translate well when creating their transcripts or when creating a portfolio to be reviewed by the state to ensure you are homeschooling “correctly”. But, that is where your parental knowing comes in. For example, I know that studying how to propagate a plant is an aspect of horticulture and botany, as is all of the things you must know in order to choose correct soil, food, temperature and lighting for your plants. The outcomes that you use to determine how well the child flourishes with this subject is based on the vitality of the plants they care for, their ability to make recommendations to others on plant care, and the various projects they have implemented and maintained on their own or in partnership related to plant care.

There are numerous examples of how this is valuable, but, for me, the value was seeing an interest of hers manifest into a practice. As you can see, within her very teenager cluttered room lives plants she has tended to and cared for on her own for years now. There is a picture of a storm-drenched collection of herbal plants that are mine. She is helping me maintain them and we use them in recipes as they thrive thanks to her guidance. In closing, find out what your kids care about and want to learn more about. Don’t feel obligated to control everything and fill their time with your interests and priorities only. Relax and get to know who your children are. Sometimes this is best done when watching them play, explore and interact with one another. The coolest thing is experiencing their growth and development as they are teaching you.

Dr. Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is the content manager of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA) and the co-founder of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars (BFHES). She has homeschooled her daughter off and on throughout her P-12 schooling journey. Learn more at

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