Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
In the early 1900s when Dr. Maria Montessori proposed an approach to early childhood education starting from the interests of a two-year old, she had an uphill climb to convince the world that she wasn’t proposing anarchy.
Today, although the concept of child-initiated learning still hasn’t made it to most mainstream classes, progressive educators have embraced the philosophy for the way it allows children to build self-confidence, develop a growth mindset, and become life-long learners.
When you empower your children to be partners in their education, it incentivizes them to develop communication skills — so they can make their voice heard loud and clear. (We see this skill build with every cycle our learners complete at Prisma, as they bring more to the table each time we ask them for feedback.) Instead of feeling like learning is an item to cross off the to-do list, children who get involved in their own education understand learning is a mindset that can carry them through their whole life.
In terms of the day-to-day experience, the child-led learning approach can look vastly different based on the child (of course!) but also the level of involvement of the adult facilitator. Project-based learning balances structure and freedom to help a child navigate endless possibilities, while unschooling — when practiced in its purest form — is wholly child-led.
The degree to which you encourage your child to lead their own learning experience will vary with their age and maturity. But you also want to consider your own comfort level, and how much involvement you want to have. (Are you available to drive your child to wherever their interests might lead them?)
Here are some things to consider as you decide how to incorporate child-led learning into your daily routine.
There’s always time for a learning experience to get more specialized. So if you have a child who is already deeply passionate about one specific subject, start by taking a step backwards to see how it could connect to other topics, core skills, and big ideas. If you have a budding paleontologist on your hands or a train conductor in the making, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be spending the next 12 years learning how to spell brachiosaurus or learning about steam engines.
From dinosaurs you can expand to learn about geology, archeology, and the scientific method more generally; you can explore climate change, and evolution, as well as teach literacy, creativity, critical thinking skills, and math. In short, any interest can be a springboard to a full complement of core skills.
Even an interest that might seem non-academic can be an on-ramp to a well-rounded education: We’ve seen students grow a love of writing from the seed of a video game, embrace math from an interest in baking, and translate a love of writing into a newfound interest in programming.
One of the ways to toddler-proof a house is to create different kinds of spaces. In one zone — such as the child’s bedroom — they’re free to touch everything in reach: with everything dangerous or delicate removed, they can do what they please without ever hearing the word ‘no.’ Then, outside of those designated spaces, there might be rooms where the child can only go with adult supervision — as well as rooms full of no-touch objects where they’re never allowed to enter until they get to a certain age. There are different rules for different rooms, but within each room, the expectations for child and caregiver are clear.
Self-directed learning can work according to a similar principle: Set times and learning environments when your child is free to explore everything and anything (with the understanding that they’ll clean up after themselves before moving on). Other parts of their learning journey might be supervised — whether it’s using the stove for a cooking project or diving deep into a reddit forum for research.
Other things might be off-limits, whether for safety reasons or your specific needs as a family. (No playing videogames in the living room while your siblings are finishing their school day, etc.) Consider setting these boundaries as a family — younger children included! — so you get their buy-in.
We find that a kind of structured freedom facilitates the learning process: it helps students manage their day-to-day expectations and allows their creativity to thrive — while allowing parents to work from home without infinite distractions.
Part of learning to direct your own education is knowing when to celebrate and knowing when to troubleshoot, when to keep moving forward and when to change course. This can only happen if the learner is fully invested in their own goals — not just academic, but also social-emotional and personal.
As part of this responsibility, you’ll want to teach them how to set goals — to pick things that are measurable and meaningful, while moving at their own pace. Rather than pick numeric goals that don’t correspond to any specific reality (read x number of pages), encourage goals that demonstrate growth (read 5 minutes every day this week, and 10 minutes every day next week).
One way to provide some guardrails to this process is to set a regular schedule to review and revise goals with you. (We find every six weeks to be a long enough interval that the learner can make meaningful progress but also short enough for them to change tack when needed.)
One of the true rewards of child-led learning is that it invites you to find learning activities in the most surprising places: at home, on your travels, and in everyday experiences in your community. Let your child take you to a museum to give you a tour of the art, walk you through a supermarket to teach you about making healthy food choices, or guide you on a nature walk to point out flora and fauna. You never know where they might lead you.
We’re fans of online learning, but it depends how it’s done. Here’s some pros and cons of different kinds of online homeschooling resources to consider, plus links to a variety of options.
Unit studies blend multiple subjects together to create real-world, interest-driven learning experiences. Steal the approach our curriculum experts use to create themes with a free downloadable unit study planner.
“The curriculum at Prisma allows learners to learn about their strengths and use their passions in an organic and interdisciplinary way. The kids have the freedom to choose by having differentiated projects, quests, enrichments, and clubs.”
You might be hearing from friends, extended family, and random strangers in the doctor’s office “there’s no way your kid will be able to get into a good college as a homeschooler.” Impolite, yes. True? Let’s figure it out.
“The amount of support and check-ins our learners have at Prisma is unparalleled compared to anywhere else I’ve ever worked.”
Each of the most popular homeschool styles has existed for a long time, and each has diehard evangelizers and fervent critics. From classical to unit studies to unschooling, this guide will help you find the form best suited to your family.
“What most drew me to Prisma was the chance to work with a fully project-based curriculum custom-designed for middle schoolers who are hungry for academic engagement.”
The best online school for your family is a question of priorities: More support or lower tuition costs? Traditional or project-based academics? Asynchronous or lots of interaction? We break it down in this post.
David Waitzer is the Founding Learning Coach for our first cohort in East Asia & Oceania. In this post, he describes how his background teaching and leading for innovative international education companies will help him accelerate the growth of Prisma learners.
Prisma has hundreds of learners across the Western Hemisphere. Along the way, we've gotten requests to launch cohorts in new time zones from families around the world who want to be part of what we’re building. Next up is East Asia & Oceania!
Middle School Curriculum Designer Lizzie uses her diverse experiences: studying Literature at Harvard, leading outdoor adventure expeditions, and teaching high school English, to help Prisma learners find their voices.
The pandemic has made homeschooling easier than ever before with a boom of online options from curriculum, to part-time programs, to full-time schools. But which is best for your family?
Prisma High School’s Launchpad Program will prepare learners to tackle their next phase, be it college, training, or an exciting career. Trevor Baker, our LaunchPad program designer, describes how he sets learners up for success.
You might have to jump in at first. But eventually, with the right modeling and practice, kids can develop the skills to make thoughtful decisions.
Middle School Curriculum Designer Gabe, an expert in interdisciplinary learning with a PhD from the University of Michigan, explains how he designs themes that blend together STEM and literacy.
One of the most fun parts of being a homeschooling parent is creating fun learning experiences for your kiddos! In this post, we share our favorite at-home activities and online resources.
Our Head of Middle School Curriculum explains how her team blends core subjects and real-world topics to design “hard fun” cycle themes.
One of the reasons our team wanted to develop a new kind of school was because we felt traditional schooling doesn’t put enough emphasis on developing emotionally intelligent kids. But what is emotional intelligence and how do you develop it?
"Carolyn is a miracle worker in math. Piper's attitude towards math has improved so much this year. It's never been her favorite subject but Carolyn's patience and encouragement has made such a positive impact." -Alexia A., Prisma parent
Media literacy is touted as one of the most important “21st century skills” for kids to master, in line with creativity, communication, and grit. Thinking through the amount of time most of us spend interacting with some form of media each day makes a good case for this.
“Lauren is fantastic and has struck a nice balance of connecting with Cooper and keeping him on task. I'm impressed to see real growth in Cooper around self awareness, reflecting on his “glows and grows,” and goal setting.” -Kym J., Prisma parent
“I've seen growth in my kids, and most importantly a solid relationship between them and their coaches. We feel so grateful for these amazing humans that have entered our kids' lives. My kids' words exactly: ‘These teachers actually want to be here. They really care!’ ” -Katie M., Parent in Kimberly’s Cohort
By introducing these concepts at home, you're setting your child up to be more financially responsible and savvy, giving them the tools to navigate an increasingly complex financial world.
“I’m so happy to have an opportunity to call out Javi. As a math educator myself I am really impressed with how he presents math concepts, differentiates for and challenges learners as needed. From a social-emotional perspective he is so kind, patient and invested in the kids as a whole. I am so happy he is Brynn’s math coach.” -Chandra S., Prisma parent
The ability to tolerate frustration is not merely about weathering the storm of the moment, but about instilling the persistence, adaptability, and resilience that set your child up for future success.