A common question I hear is this one:
Is delight-directed learning the same as unschooling or child-led learning?
The short answer to that question is . . . no. I often say that we are a hair’s breath away from unschooling. But really, what we are is delight-directed. You can read more about what it means to be delight-directed here, but basically, with this method of homeschooling, we are following along with the interests and passions of my student.
This does not mean that we don’t use curriculum or have no organization in our homeschool. But it does mean that we rarely follow curriculum the way it is designed. We primarily use curriculum as a resource. For example, if my son wants to learn about anatomy and physiology, we might pull Apologia’s Anatomy and Physiology book off the shelf, along with other resources for him to use. However, it’s more likely he would read from the book, choose a few activities, and then move on to other helps, rather than doing every lesson and lab. And when he’s learned all he wants to know, we move on to the next topic.
To understand the difference between delight-directed learning and unschooling, it is important to understand the true definition of unschooling, and then compare that to the definition of delight-directed learning. According to JohnHoltGWS.com:
This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else—a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.
I know it sounds a lot like delight-directed learning when you read that. I believe the main difference is that most homeschoolers who follow a delight-directed path do use some curriculum — especially for the 3Rs. The other big difference is that delight-directed learning can be one part of homeschooling. It’s something you can do once a week, a week at a time, or just during summer months. You can use delight-directed learning for one just one subject or all subjects. Delight-directed learning is a method of homeschooling. Unschooling is not really considered homeschooling at all. It is the opposite of “schooling.” If you unschool, you do it all the time, every day. Not just when you need a break from the regular routine or to indulge a high school elective. It’s more “self-directed” than “delight-directed.”
Also, although I don’t believe this was John Holt’s intention, unschooling has become a lifestyle choice for many, where:
. . . children are supported to pursue, or self direct, the myriad of things that are of interest to them, eat foods they enjoy and in quantities that are satisfying, sleep and rest according to their individual needs, choose friends of all ages or none at all, engage in the world in unique and powerful and self directed ways. Source
My observation is that unschoolers rarely have a plan for school, or much in the way of rules or structure at all. While our homeschool is not led by a giant lesson planner or a strict schedule, we do set aside time each day that is considered our “school” time. Lessons are completed, if only in math and writing.
The term “child-led” is fairly new on the scene and has often been used interchangeably with both unschooling and delight-directed learning, depending on who you talk to. Both unschooling and delight-directed learning use a “child-led” approach, thus increasing the confusion even further. I believe that child-led can mean either, according to what your own definition is. I see it as more a descriptor of both unschooling and delight-directed learning, rather than a method itself. Both are child-led approaches, though, as we’ve seen, how child-led they are can be very different.
If you want to learn all you need to know about unschooling, I highly recommend the book, The Unschooling Handbook. I’ve read it, taken bits and pieces from it that I love, and left the rest. Pretty much the same as I have most books and curriculum on educating at home.