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

Why Social Media, Mailing Lists and a New Email Address May Help You Homeschool Better

I’m sure you’ve heard that the only constant is change. Well, it’s true. And, change has totally taken over our world in a matter of months since the introduction of COVID-19 into our lives. For those who are embarking on their homeschooling journey now as a response to COVID-19, the world around you requires you to embrace change and your homeschooling practice certainly requires it. As you think of what your homeschooling goals are by possibly creating a mission statement, or scrambling to find ideal curricula or homeschool co-op options, what your child(ren) will really benefit from is a conscious effort to build your well of patience and commit to building your own skills in certain areas while preparing to curate your child’s learning experience. Here are some skill areas that will best benefit you if you work towards building them as you homeschool:


  1. Optimize Your Internet and Social Media Skills

Are you someone who has sworn off Facebook, have no clue what Snapchat is and occasionally may post something on Instagram? Many adults who grew up before the internet became a thing may not have integrated their life so easily with social media use as millenials and younger folks have. Some of us have not had jobs and associations that have required us to maintain an online presence. But, here is the thing, as our world has gone virtual as of late out of health necessity, a lot of the in-person opportunities that abounded pre-COVID have gone online.

The online resources that have grown online have broadened exponentially. Museums have virtual tours and online lesson plans, libraries have daily online programs, YouTube offerings abound and Zoom courses are now normalized fare. Many of these things are not only advertised and shared through platforms like Facebook, but, many of the events themselves are held on Facebook using features like Facebook Groups, Facebook Rooms, and Facebook Live. I recently co-produced an event for homeschooling families using Facebook as the meeting space for the event that had over 200 registered participants. Parents who swear off social media and online platforms lose out on numerous opportunities to find resources and become part of community. If this is your struggle, my advice is become acclimated to online spaces slowly at first by joining a group or two and getting a feel for the space. Try out an online course on a platform you haven’t used before. Search for YouTube videos that can offer a tutorial on how use Zoom or navigate through a Facebook group. I can’t emphasize how important it is to not only get onto sites, but, learn how to use these sites efficiently. My advice is to learn a platform well before you sign up for a class, workshop or conference that uses the platform. The organizers of an event will not have the time to show you how to get up to speed with learning the new interface. It is your responsibility to be able to find materials and navigate the space. Your ease and comfort online can familiarize you with resources you never considered before.


2. Sign Up for Mailing Lists

Now that you have decided to homeschool, you want to expend as little energy as possible with having to search for resources. One way to save energy that could be devoted to engaging with your children is signing up for mailing lists of companies and institutions that offer free services, affordable classes and workshops, discounted learning materials, etc. Some of the recommended places to start are: Libraries, Museums, Homeschool Co-ops that offer virutal classes, Educational Supply Retailers, Online Course Sites like Udemy, Outschool and Teachable, Indie Children’s Book Authors, Organizations that serve homeschoolers, etc. Have you joined a Facebook group and want to ask a question in the group so you can start meeting folks and get a sense of who they are? Post a question like, “Hey everyone, I’m looking to join the mailing lists of museums and places that offer curricula and cool free resources. Any recommendations?” You will immediately see how helpful homeschool moms are and also get recommendations that you probably wouldn’t have considered before. Go ahead and join those mailing lists!


3. Create A New Email Address Devoted to Your Homeschool Life

And, lastly, before you join those mailing list, start a new email address that you will devote entirely to your homeschool life. This is especially helpful for those of you with an already packed email account that you use for work, general communication and the spam you didn’t ask for. An email address devoted to your homeschool resources and correspondence will help you stay organized and help you stay abreast of what’s available to you. For me, this email is also attached to my Facebook account and allows me to get updates if folks are responding to me which I prefer instead of having notifications coming noisily to my phone. They just go to my email or stay within the Facebook app.

In short, the homeschooling journey is as much about you building skills as it is about your curating your child’s learning experience. So much is online now. Don’t stay tethered to outdated modes of information-sharing. Get with the times. Be determined to grow and learn and embody the mindset of the eternal student. Embracing change will only make you more empowered!

Dr. Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman started So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA) in 2006. She is a cultural critic, educator and homeschooling mom. Join the mailing list of Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars at

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