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3 Steps to Change Your Approach to Learning

Transitioning to self-directed learning takes time for self-reflection and being willing to take a look at your mindsets and assumptions about learning. I still shake my head at the time and energy we wasted when we began homeschooling.

We  didn’t realize we were stuck in a school mindset that often separates learning from life. We still operated as though we needed a plan determined by an outside authority.  And we had this naïve and limiting idea that there was one right path to follow to the end. We needed to deschool—especially me, the former school teacher.

Silly us. No matter how much our whole family wanted a better way for our son to learn, we couldn’t just snap our fingers, and voila, our approach to learning radically changed.

It took us awhile to get good at what I call the Ask-Try-Do framework that serves as the foundation for LifeSPARKS self-directed, heart-centered, lifelong learning.

“Ask-Try-Do” involves a commitment to three interrelated processes:

  1. Ask hard questions

2. Try new things

3. Do what matters

Three simple steps for a powerful process.

Hah! Simple and powerful, like a revolution.

Shifting our mindsets helped us reclaim learning as a joyful though uncertain process.

We moved from the frustration of dealing with “education done to us” to the love of creating an education that worked for our family.

The power of homeschooling and unschooling is not schooling at home. The power lies in finding the courage to support parents and children to fully develop their interests, well being, sense of self and purpose with self-directed, heart-centered, connected learning.

When we first used the Ask-Try-Do process to move from public school to homeschooling, we didn’t really ask enough hard questions or investigate the many ways to homeschool. We didn’t look deeply enough into what wasn’t working and so at first we ended up taking the school model home with us. OOPS!

My son and I discussed subjects he wanted to study, selected a curriculum for each topic, and set a daily schedule based on his preferences. 

On our “first day of homeschooling” we enthusiastically powered through our schedule of subjects and recesses from 8 am-noon. By the time we called halt, we were both glassy-eyed.

What happened when we asked hard questions?

We discovered that ASK-TRY-DO, like all self-directed learning, is a continuous, reflective process.

When using the Ask-Try-Do framework we learned that we had to be willing to:

  • get out of our comfort zone in order to grow.
  • challenge ourselves to dig deeper and be really honest.
  • look beyond the most familiar and convenient options for learning.
  • trust the process we were just beginning to understand.


Setting the school-based curriculum aside, we asked:

  • What do you want to learn? Why?
  • How do you want to learn that? Why?
  • Do you want to learn alone or with others? Why?

He wanted to:

  • enjoy learning by doing; work on projects that are useful and challenging
  • take lots of field trips, especially “behinds the scenes” type tours
  • find other people to learn with and make new friends

This sounded great for my child, but I knew that my husband and I had some work to do in letting go of old “shoulds” and figuring out the hows and whys of these learning desires.

We discovered that answering the why questions isn’t always easy.  Figuring out those answers can lead to self-awareness and clues to which new things might be best to try first. We wanted our child to learn more about himself, to learn how to generate solutions, and to take ownership of his learning.

It was hard to avoid  jumping into parent fix-it mode.  Even though we have good intentions, when we do all the work of problem-solving we miss the opportunity to let our kids learn to solve problems for themselves. Continuing to keep ask questions and listen was so much more important than having a carefully planned and choreographed program.


What could we change? We discussed as a family and decided to:

  • Allow time to deschool and actively rekindle curiosity
  • Ask more questions about our long-term goals and what really mattered to us
  • Broaden our perspective on what learning looks like and research how many different ways there were to learn a topic or pursue an interest
  • Value learning life skills as much as academic skills
  • Dedicate time to involve our child in researching* and finding resources. He became an active participant in the planning rather than an unwilling recipient of activities or choices I had made.

*Research involves more than reading and the internet. Many of the A-Z strategies detailed in LifeSparks help you find resources we Asked, Discussed, Networked and looked for opportunities to Explore and eXperience.


We made a variety of changes requiring me to listen more and talk less, give up control of all knowing in advance what the outcomes of learning might be, and spend more time being a chauffeur and facilitator instead of a teacher. It wasn’t always easy, but it was so worth it!

For starters, we:

  • Threw out most of the curriculum and schedule we started with
  • Agreed to each keep a daily journal to reflect on and log what we were doing, learning, thinking about.
  • Dedicated weekly time to discuss feelings, evaluate his progress, our schedule, and figure out next steps.
  • Committed to weekly homeschool park day and monthly field trip. Joined local homeschool groups and the Bay Area Field Trip email list that Dale found when looking online.

Reclaiming learning as a lifelong and joyful process to do with and beside our kids

Asking hard questions, trying new things, and doing what matters certainly resulted in some uncomfortable realizations about our own mindsets and behaviors as would-be learning mentors.  

We had a lot of growth and learning to do ourselves as we modeled a process for how our son could direct his own learning. Using a wholistic process that supports our interconnected body-brain systems helped reignite the love of learning for our whole family.

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