What Do You Have To Show For Your Child’s Learning?

evidence of learning
Warning: authentic evidence of learning can take over your home

In part 1 of this post I suggested five reasons why we might want to have something to show for our children’s learning:

1. Creating deepens understanding

2. As evidence of learning a process

3. As part of learning to share what we know

4.To set up a learning trail for a specific subject

5. To create a general learning trail

What this doesn’t mean is that if a child has nothing tangible to show for what he’s been doing, he hasn’t learned anything – we’re all inspired more by some ideas than others.

But from time to time I find myself looking around and wondering if my children are producing enough, overall, to meet the five good reasons.

Authentic evidence of learning
Authentic evidence of learning

What if they aren’t producing “enough”?

When I hear people say “I had my son write a report on …” or “I required five paragraphs about …” part of me goes off into a little reverie, imagining how pleasant homeschooling life would be if I could spend my time  designing wonderful projects in the knowledge that my children would cheerfully read and write everything I asked them to.

But this style of homeschooling just wouldn’t work around here. My children have to be inspired – not required – to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, or paint to paper). My role, as I see it, is to create an environment which nurtures the conditions for their creativity to flourish.  I strew resources, I make suggestions, I share what I’m doing, we chat about things over lunch.  Then I step back and give them space for their own authentic self-expression.

This step-back approach produces fewer tangible “products” than if we were using more curricula, or if I “required” assignments. What is produced is more valuable than dozens of neatly bound fill-in-the-gaps “notebook” pages.

But there are times when I wonder if they are creating enough. My knee-jerk response in the past might have been to insist that they make a notebook page for the next history topic we cover or science experiment we do. But these days I try to step back and look at why I’m feeling uneasy about the lack of written work. Then I consider how, as my children’s learning mentor, I can help meet these underlying needs.

If I want to encourage them to deepen their learning

I can ask questions, write down and display their questions (or suggest that they do so) and chat about their projects. Sometimes these conversations lead to things being created, sometimes they don’t. Either way, their learning deepens,  or I satisfy myself that they’ve taken the subject as far as they want to for now.

Do my children need to learn a specific process or skills?

Whatever work our children do as adults, it will involve sharing their knowledge, and they need opportunities to practise ways of doing this.

There are lots of processes and skills I want my children to learn, but I don’t see it as my role to dictate exactly when and how they do so.  Instead, I make sure they know that the skill exists and that there are interesting ways of learning it. I highlight examples of how useful it is to have the skill, and I look for a variety of opportunities for them to practise it.

Then I remind myself to trust their natural learning process. There are so many ways to learn in a lifetime.  

Do I want to create a learning trail for a particular subject?

If I know we’re going to come back to a topic at a later date, I might suggest making a lapbook or notebook page. But if the children are busy with ideas of their own, I don’t insist. I take photos and journal notes, maybe write a blog post. This will help me remind them what they did next time we visit the topic.

Is our general learning trail looking a bit sparse?

If I find myself wondering this, it’s time to step back and get some perspective.  I take stock of what my children have learned over the years. I thumb through our “Adventures in Home Education” photo albums. I look back through my blog and my journal. I remind the children of questions and ideas they’ve had. I do whatever it takes to remind myself to trust the natural learning process.

old-style evidence of learning
Old-style evidence of learning

As I said in part 1, the title of this post is a question because this is an ongoing enquiry for me. I’ve tried to summarise my own current “best practices”, but  I admit to breaking all my own “rules” fairly regularly! (And that’s okay – I’m learning here, too.)

Do you ever wonder if your children should be “producing” more? How do you encourage them (or reassure yourself)?

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12 thoughts on “What Do You Have To Show For Your Child’s Learning?

  1. I think you’re right on here: when it’s about US as parents reassuring ourselves, and if we are honest about that, then we realize immediately that forcing THEM to do something they don’t want to because we need the reassurance is kind of, you know, silly. When I get wiggly, I start writing down like mad everything we do… so ironically, our most “documented” days are the days when I feel we’re doing the least and need to point out to myself that we’re doing something. (If that makes any sense? Still on first cup of coffee in this time zone…)

    1. It makes perfect sense – I do the same!

      “…forcing THEM to do something they don’t want to because we need the reassurance is, you know, silly.”

      Absolutely! For me, examining my motives is key. Luckily – ha ha – my children can spot my anxiety a mile off so I never get the chance to drag them too far off course.

  2. SUCH a good point: The long view matters so much more than the short view, even when you do get that parental moment of “Uh, I don’t have anything to SHOW for this week/month/year/decade.”

    When you step back, there’s more than you realize, and as you mentioned, forcing/assigning doesn’t generally have the long-term result that seeing things come naturally does!

    1. Hi Joan! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      One thing that helps me focus on the long term is reading how other people whose kids who were homeschooled this way have grown up okay. I think I need to bookmark my own post to refer to when I have one of “those moments”!

    1. Thank you, Claire, I appreciate that 🙂 Apart from this type of writing coming less naturally (I keep slipping into (past-life) lawyer-speak!), I can get a bit pre-occupied about offending people who do things differently. Which is silly, because I’m the first to appreciate the wonderful variety among home-educating families, and I love reading what people confident in their views have to say, even if they differ from mine substantially!

  3. This is an excellent post. I share many points that you’ve made here. It’s quite a skill to balance the need to show output, whether to ourselves or to others, with the recognition that the children are in the process of learning something or at a point of consolidating what they have learnt. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, if only we could see into their minds!! Then again, I suppose I quite enjoy watching it all unfold in its own perfect time 🙂

  4. Love this post 🙂 I especially like this paragraph: “But this style of homeschooling just wouldn’t work around here. My children have to be inspired – not required – to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, or paint to paper). My role, as I see it, is to create an environment which nurtures the conditions for their creativity to flourish. I strew resources, I make suggestions, I share what I’m doing, we chat about things over lunch. Then I step back and give them space for their own authentic self-expression.” This describes how we do things too! It has been a HUGE learning process for me as well 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Susan. They are especially appreciated since reading of the lovely things you and your girls do has been such an inspiration to me!

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