Usually, the first glance at self-directed education leads to excitement about the possibilities and opportunities. Your mind races with all the things your student could do with ample free time, unencumbered by worksheets, mindless homework, and studying for tests. Oh, the topics they could explore!

The second and third glances are often related to hesitation and worries; what if they want to play video games all day, or what if they only want to watch Tiktok and YouTube? Will they actually learn math and reading on their own? You start to wonder if maybe you should throw in a bit of curriculum, just a tad of reading, maybe math and science, and then some history, to keep them from falling "behind." You don't want your student to fall "behind," what if self-directed education doesn't work out and they go back to traditional school.

We can say with certainty that the mindset shift into self-directed education is challenging and ongoing! Throughout the journey, you will question whether this was the right choice, especially if you have had to defend the decision to family and friends countless times.

The first step is to challenge the notion of being "behind." What definition are you comparing your student to? Common core standards? Statewide testing? What you think their potential is? There is no ahead or behind in self-directed education as each student learns at their own pace and when they are ready. Some students naturally pick up reading and math while others decide they want to delve into those topics one day and pick-up primary level mathematics in a few weeks on Khan Academy (yes, they can learn it quickly when motivated!).

The second step is to challenge the definition of what constitutes learning. Yes, there may be some days where your student does watch videos all day, but are they watching videos to help them beat a challenging level in a video game they want to beat with their friends, or are they watching music videos on TikTok to learn a piece of music they want to play on the guitar? Or maybe your student just needs some time to relax, reset their frame of mind? Don't adults need the same thing? Learning can appear in many different ways and places. We encourage you to talk to your student about what and why they are watching the videos they choose; their answer may surprise you!

The third step, another equally difficult one for some, is to trust the process. There is no instant gratification for any of the world's school methods, you still have to wait until adulthood to see your student “succeed”. The biggest difference between self-directed and traditional schooling is the lack of milestones to "establish" forward progress. A traditional student gets grades that supposedly tell you if they learned something or not, then the student graduates to the next grade each year; that shows you they are making progress, right? Self-directed education does not have obvious benchmarks, which can make it feel like you aren't seeing progress.

The freedom to learn according to a student’s interests does not imply that the parent has a completely hands-off approach, however. Just as in parenting, there exists a scale, a spectrum, of how much control the child is allowed to have. And while the end goal may be to allow the child complete control of their life and learning, this does not have to happen overnight. The benefit of parental involvement in the form of being a “consultant” is extremely valuable, and children always benefit from the caring attention of their adults. This can take the form of setting screen time limits, requiring outdoor exercise time, quiet time reading something of their choice each day, etc. Self-directed education is meant to inspire personal responsibility, and most of us, children included, benefit from a scaffolding approach toward greater independence.

Self-directed education requires a bit of a leap of faith, but it is worth it, in the end, to see your student thrive and succeed, and most of all find their own happiness. Your student will be alright and Galileo is here to help your student stay on track with their goals! **

To learn more about mindset shifts, we recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn.

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