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Following Your Child's Lead

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

If you’re engaged in virtual learning or new to homeschooling, in response to the question, “How should I go about teaching or helping my learner?” you have no doubt been encouraged to “follow your child’s lead.” What does this mean? What could it look like? For starters, what’s the opposite of following a child’s lead? Following the teacher’s lead? The curriculum’s lead? Yes and yes.

Following your child’s lead has to do with the extent to which the content focus AND decision making is driven by the child’s voice, strengths, needs and interests NOT the adult’s. Like most things it exists on a continuum, you can do it a little or you can do it a lot. It can vary by content matter or it can vary by time of day. Additionally, being student-centered or child-led takes into consideration the mindset of the adult. To what extent does the adult believe and demonstrate a belief in the child’s capacity to direct their learning? To what extent is the adult encouraging a child’s sense of agency?

A couple weeks ago my family, COVID-tested, masked up, and socially distant, visited Philadelphia and took some time to check out the Liberty Bell.

It was after hours so we didn’t go inside the museum, rather peeked at the Liberty Bell through the glass. As I was reading the museum label detailing some key facts about the Liberty Bell to my children, my oldest child started fidgeting, having looked at the Bell for all of five seconds, and then started to move out of the alcove to explore other parts of the grounds. I was still reading to myself when I heard, “Mom, you’ve got to see this!” “Ah, she’s found something else historical to grab her attention. That’s cool,” I thought to myself. Except, when I stepped around the corner, I saw her staring at a wall. Nothing historical about that. Stepping closer I see an insect climbing up the bricks and Naomi was fascinated. She asked what the insect was, and I didn’t know so we snapped a picture. Using Google Lens, we learned what we were looking at was a Spotted Lanternfly. As I read aloud what Wikipedia had to say about the insect, we discovered that this planthopper is indigenous to parts of Southern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Standing in the shadow of Independence Hall, my family was engaged in a rich conversation about China, invasive species, how we think an insect from China may have gotten all the way to Philly, and what we should do- seeing an insect that is harming the local ecosystem. It was a good talk, the kind of conversation we’re still thinking about a week later.