7 Ways to Identify Real Learning

7 Ways to Identify Real Learning
7 Ways to Identify Real Learning

One thing that keeps homeschool moms from breaking out of the conventional way of doing things is a lack of confidence that our children will actually learn something. We hope that the promises offered by a traditional system — whether from the curriculum we choose, the schedule we use, or state requirements — will produce the desired result. It takes considerable faith to believe that doing the same thing that has repeatedly failed to produce results will somehow end in a more fruitful result this time.

Look around you. Watch what your children are doing.  Learn alongside them. Journal and keep track of what you see. Is real learning taking place?

Here are a few identifying characteristics of real learning to look for:

A Lifelong 24/7 Adventure

With the exception of sleep, we are constantly learning something. Every minute of every hour of every day we are incorporating input, exchanging patterns of thoughts, and developing habits. You understand the importance of quality input!

When you increase the quality of your lifestyle activities, you open the door for learning opportunities to come into your home. The fuller your lifestyle becomes with real life and worthwhile activity, the easier homeschooling becomes. In time, learning as a lifestyle will become your whole life.

Marilyn Howshall

A learning lifestyle provides an environment conducive to real 24/7 learning. Real learning will not cease simply because a document of completion says so.

(As a side note, there are probably those of us who do learn in our sleep!)

Accomplished by the Student

Learning is not something that is done to you. You have to do it for yourself.

One thing at any rate we know with certainty, that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality.

Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6 — Toward a Philosophy of Learning

Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it.

Charles Spurgeon

Look for ways that your children are making knowledge their own — by acting upon it (acting out a story) or absorbing it (retelling a new fact). If you are using a literature-based method, provide opportunities for your children to interact with the literature they read.

Not Confined to Pages of a Workbook

There is an entire world to discover! Interacting with nature, building projects, learning to sew, playing an instrument, experimenting, reading — these are all examples of real learning.

Upon the knowledge of these great matters — history, literature, nature, science, art — the Mind feeds and grows. It assimilates such knowledge as the body assimilates food, and the person becomes what is called magnanimous, that is a person of great mind, wide interests, incapable of occupying himself much about petty, personal matters. What a pity to lose sight of such a possibility for the sake of miserable scraps of information about persons and things that have little connection with one another and little connection with ourselves!

Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4 — Ourselves

Not Occupied with Filling the Mind with Facts

Memorization-regurgitation-repeat does not equal real learning. If you have really learned something, you won’t forget it the next day!

Real learning will, of course, include the learning of facts, but as part of the broader picture rather than as the focus. This is easiest to convey when we consider history. I learn more historical facts by reading a biography than by memorizing dates to pass a test. But more importantly, I also understand how those facts fit together.

Educates the Entire Individual

One of the tenets of classical education is the return to educating the whole person rather than focusing exclusively on the academic aspects of education. There are other aspects of learning that are just as important and just as real as academic progress — if not as easily measured:

  • Physical training.
  • The ability to think.
  • Learning to learn.
  • Appreciating and exploring nature.
  • Cultivating an appreciation for art and music.
  • Developing the individual skills we have been given.
  • Finding our life’s work.
  • Learning to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8).

It has only been in recent history that we’ve neglected the whole child, beginning when God was removed from the education most of us received. There is a moral side to education — a purpose. Any education that claims none isn’t true. And to make education relevant to students who know something is amiss, educators have tried to fill the gap with values clarification, or cultural literacy, or a revival of Greek education. As a Christian, I seek to educate the whole child. I want each child to grow in wisdom and stature with their hearts reflecting our Lord for His glory. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Without God, education falls apart.

The Goal of Education


Homeschooling functions best when it becomes simply another facet of our daily lives.We can tear down the wall between “education” and “home life” by creating a rich learning environment.


When our children are young students, we are pretty sure we need flashcards, manipulatives, several text books, colorful workbooks, a chalkboard, timers, worksheets, videos, games, and scripted teacher’s manuals — and that just to teach addition facts!

How do we learn as adults?  Typically, by reading or observing.

Tips for Encouraging Real Learning

Become your child’s mentor. Focus on each child’s needs. Start where he is and bring him forward. Teach him how to learn without the bells and whistles.

He will be less likely to confuse entertainment with real education.