A Student’s View of Self-Education

Here is a copy of an article my daughter, Lauren, wrote for Homeschool Enrichment Mag last year. I thought you may enjoy a different view of self-teaching! ~joanne~

                           The Self-Teaching Method of Homeschooling

             From a Student’s Point of View

My name is Lauren Lindsay Calderwood. I am 17 years old, a senior in high school, the second oldest of eight siblings, and an aspiring author, avid reader, and entrepreneur. My mom, Joanne Calderwood, is a popular speaker at homeschool conferences across the country, where she addresses the topic of self-teaching.


I often come along on these trips, during which I am usually asked the same set of questions by quite a number of people wondering just how self-teaching differs from “traditional” homeschooling, and what my personal views on this subject are.


Even those who have listened to Mom’s workshops often come by our booth to get a student’s take on this method. I have gathered the questions most often asked, and I present them here along with my answers.


Q. First off, what exactly is self-teaching?



Well, strangely enough, it means I teach myself! My mom gives me the books- for example, my current textbook on psychology. I take the book, read it, follow the instructions and do all the coursework necessary to learn the material. I proceed at my own pace until I have finished the book. That’s pretty much it!



My parents know I am perfectly capable of doing this without their constant supervision; I can learn things on my own, without mom needing to look over my shoulder or, say, read my chemistry text aloud to me to make sure I understand it.



If I have any questions, or if there’s anything I don’t understand, I am free to research the issue on my own. While I know I can always go to my parents for help, I can usually find the answers myself using various resources. (My good friend, Google, almost always helps me out.) 



This approach to learning usually gets quite a reaction from the public-school crowd. After all, it’s “bad” enough to let the parent take the teacher’s place, but now we have the student taking the parent’s place in the teacher’s place…well, it’s unthinkable!    

 What on earth is this poor girl to do without anyone telling her how to learn from her    books, without anyone standing over her and making her learn from her books? Surely she shouldn’t be trusted to read them on her own!” 


But that’s the beauty of self-teaching; I can learn on my own, and it’s a much more efficient and motivating way to learn.


I tend to get more work done in a day when I assign the workload than when Mom assigns it to me. No one is telling me how much or how little to do or how quickly or slowly to do it. I’m learning at my own pace, and this motivates me to do my very best.



Surprisingly, I find myself able to go at a much faster pace when I do it voluntarily. Being forced to do two math lessons in a day isn’t fun; deciding to do an extra lesson because you want to finish your book sooner makes that second lesson a lot easier to stand. It’s a strange but true principle of the human mind, or of my mind, at least


Q. How long have you been self-teaching? 


I have been self-teaching since about the fourth grade when my mom was so busy trying to teach and care for our rapidly growing family that she just didn’t have time to constantly supervise all of our schoolwork. Consequently, she focused her attention on the younger children, allowing the older ones to start doing more and more work on their own.  


She soon realized we were not only capable but also enthusiastic to make this transition. The youngest students still need supervision, of course; it’s rather hard to learn to read without someone teaching you.


My sisters Lydia, age 7, and Adrienne, age 9, bring their work either to Mom or to me if they have questions before starting it, but if it is something they know how to do, they just do it. Lilienne, age 5, does all of her work under Mom’s supervision. On the other hand, Olivia, age 11, is completely self-teaching. 


Q. Do you prefer self-teaching vs. your mom acting as your teacher?


My answer to this question is always a very definite yes! I learn more in less time, and I have a real freedom with my own work schedule.


Mom and I sit down at the beginning of each year to plan which courses I need to complete, which subjects I need to study, and which extracurricular activities I should get involved in.


I set goals for myself, for example, “Get to Lesson X in Physics by the end of 1st Semester.” Then, when I know what I need to get done in a year, I write out weekly work schedules and pace myself appropriately. I often find I exceed my set goals.


The driving force behind this method of education is my own desire to learn and succeed rather than the desire that a parent or teacher has for me to learn and succeed.



I believe that this motivation is helped greatly by the fact that I am learning on my own, doing things on my own without someone constantly looking over my shoulder. I am challenging myself, and that’s an exciting way to learn!


Q. Do you check your own work? If so, how do your parents know you’re really learning the material?


Yes, I check my own work. My parents know my desire to do well, and they trust me to be honest. I’m not adrift by myself in a vast homeschooling ocean, either; my mom checks up on me at regular intervals, and after each quarter we go over all the work I’ve accomplished in the last nine weeks.


Another way Mom and Dad know that I’m keeping up to speed and really learning is through my performance on standardized tests like the PSAT, SAT and ACT.



Self-teaching helps with these tests, too; through this method of education, you learn to think for yourself, to analyze test questions and to answer them more easily because you are used to working on your own.




The exams require a student to reason independently. Self-teaching has helped my older brother, Nick, and I [the only ones in our family to have taken these tests so far], to score in the 98th [me] and 99th [him] percentile on these tests.

Q. Would you recommend the self-teaching method to other students? 



If students truly desire to excel in their work and are willing to exercise sufficient diligence and self-discipline then yes, definitely. I love self-teaching because it allows me the freedom to learn independently.



Everyone learns differently; when you teach yourself, you can utilize your learning style to better gain and retain information. For example, when I was doing chemistry, I memorized the table of the elements by making up a very short story that mentioned the name of each element.



All right, so it was a ridiculous story that would never reach the bestseller list, but it helped me learn the elements and pass the tests in my book. I do a lot of things like that, the sort of voluntary assignments I would never do if I learned in a classroom or was taught by anyone but myself.



Self-teaching motivates me to push myself further than I probably would if I had set assignments each day. I don’t always love my schoolwork, but I enjoy the feeling I get when it’s finished for the day. I also enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I master a difficult math concept [trigonometry…shudder…] or finish a workbook ahead of schedule.

Q. Do you think self-teaching has helped you prepare for college?


Yes, I do. The ability to think on your own, without having to be spoon-fed knowledge by a parent or teacher, is an invaluable skill useful in high school and in all levels of education beyond that point.

Teaching myself has done more than merely enable me to pass high school exams; it has shown me that if I apply myself, I can learn how to do just about anything I want.

There’s a world of information out there, and how much of it ends up in my brain is directly dependent on my effort to get it there. 

Q. Are there any disadvantages to self-teaching, do you think?


Well, the only disadvantage may be the fact that self-teaching requires slightly more effort on the student’s part. Maybe it is easier to let your parents arrange your workload and check your work and explain things to you instead of thinking them through by yourself.


Maybe it requires less of you as a student to have knowledge tossed at you rather than to pursue it on your own, but in the end, the more “difficult” road almost always produces the better result. You get what you pay for, so to speak.


I am convinced that the results of self-teaching are more than worth the effort. I also enjoy learning much more when I’m the one making myself learn. My mom appreciates the load self-teaching takes off her shoulders, and I appreciate the freedom to excel which this method of schooling promotes.


                    ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~


In closing, the ability to teach myself has allowed me to do far more than learn math and English skills. For example, I taught myself business skills- I have an online store selling gemstone beads and jewelry-making supplies, which has been successful enough that I quit my fast-food job to work from home, making more money in fewer hours per week.


Self-teaching is a principle that carries over from schoolwork into every aspect of my life, giving me a thirst for knowledge, a drive to succeed, and a passion to learn.

In this life, you won’t always have a teacher to sit you down and explain everything to you. It’s nice to know you’re able to figure things out for yourself.  

~ Lauren Calderwood ~











































4 Responses to A Student’s View of Self-Education

  1. Dawn says:

    I have a 16 year old young man who would like to go to college. He will be studying Chemistry this year, beginning his study of Latin, and continuing through his most challenging subject, math, of course. He is taking a government class and studying health from a Chrsitian perspective as well. So much to learn. What I’m wondering is what to give him so that he will be able to do the kind of writing required as a college student and adult. Is there such a tool or resource available?

    • urthemom says:

      Hi Dawn! The road to writing on a college level is reading, to begin with. The more an individual reads, the more language he absorbs. With my kids, I do not put them through any formal program. I do, however, have them read five hours per week, write me mini-essays using vocab words. This is what I call “background” writing. I don’t check it for errors. I read it for FUN!! I actually just put together a program called Virtual Language Alive that I am offering to parents and students that is in itself an SAT Prep course. It features personal tutoring. For more info, you can go to http://www.joannecalderwood.com and click on the tab at the top for Virtual Language Alive (VLA). Hugs to you! joanne

  2. I have been looking for how best to relinquish the teaching to my children. Thank you so much for all of your efforts and for this essay!

  3. Peter Zach says:

    Hah! This essay reminds me of myself, since at the moment I am a seventeen-year-old who was largely self-taught. Great points on self-teaching, though I would like to add that it is not for everyone; it works better with students who want to learn, school or no.

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