5 ways to encourage self-directed learning in young children

Manisha Snoyer (www.modulo.app)
5 min readMar 25, 2017

By Jenni Mahnaz
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Self direction is one of the most powerful skills anyone can develop. Learning to identify what intrigues us, digging deep, and coming out on the other end with more knowledge than we had going in is essential to a meaningful human experience. In today’s world of high stakes testing and educational pressure, how can we encourage a development of self-direction in learning? Is it even possible to be a self-directed learner, free of interference in today’s world? It’s not always easy but there are some simple steps any adult can take.

1. Stop interrupting them. It’s easy to feel like we need to “do something” to make sure our kids are learning. We ask them questions about the color, shape, and feel of toys they play with. We ask them how many letter ‘A’s’ they see as they flip through a board book. When we do this, we are micromanaging their play and we are distracting them from their own goals and work. You may be asking about the letter ‘A’ but your child may be making connections between images on opposing pages. He may parrot back colors to you but what he’s really trying to figure out is why his blue ball bounces higher than his yellow ball. Deep exploration and meaningful connections do not happen in adult-scheduled 15 minute “free time” sessions and they don’t happen if a child is constantly interrupted. Play is the work of children. Let them work without interruption as a means of communicating that you value their choices and interests.

2. Trust them. Children are capable beings. Their obsession with the color red, fire trucks, or sticks may be a mask for a much deeper question they are grappling with. Give them space and trust them to know what they need to be focused on and when. By doing this, you are telling them that the things they are drawn to are meaningful and that taking time to explore interests is ok.

3. Engage them in meaningful conversation. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. When they ask you questions, answer them honestly or work along side them to find an answer you don’t have readily available. Ask them their feelings on big stuff and never pretend that what they bring you is little…