by Nicola Dellard-Lyle
“Mummy, what happened when there was nothing on the earth, no people or anything?
How did the first person come onto the earth? How did everything arrive here?”
6am – the youngest person in our family bed stirs and instantly the most inquisitive mind in the
household is switched on.
“Good morning” I say, bleary-eyed and blearier-minded.
“Hmm before any people, or the things we see here now? How might creatures or things have been made? I wonder, what
else might there have been?”
This is a frequent routine in our house at the moment with a wild and wilful, totally engaged
and inquisitive 4 year old in our midst. Questions and ponderings, desires to know and
discover. Daily, not always at the crack of dawn, we are met with interest, intrigue and
inquiries – whether it be about the beginning of the universe, or the ingredients of today’s
pasta sauce, no stone goes unturned in the eyes of an inquisitive child. What a magical place
to be! Within a safe surround that invites all questions, big or small and responds with
integrity, inspiring more creativity and thought where passion is due.
And to think, if we were on another path, this adventurous fun-loving kid would be in a
Reception class at a local primary school as I’m writing this.
We always knew the mainstream education system was not going to fit in with our values,
our journey or our lifestyle. Thankfully so far our 4 year old son Caleb is quite naturally in
line with that path and over the last few years we have focused strongly (worked hard on so
many levels!) to create and nurture a space to facilitate such a person. As Caleb developed
through babyhood and early childhood we began to more consciously approach
parenthood as a role of nurturing curiosity and providing him with the space and love he
needed to be. To grow on all levels, at his own pace, in his own time.
Space and freedom to be incorporates being heard and seen – in other words being
For us, that meant giving as much autonomy as possible from birth. Choices at
Caleb’s fingertips from day one included holding and feeding on his cues, and we soon
learnt more about the multiple levels of importance verbal communication has for an infant.
We put no emphasis on speaking mother-ease, but focused on connecting at a human level
which, although more commonplace these days, doesn’t seem to be widely practiced. We
learnt to talk about the steps of nappy changes/ baths/ car journeys ahead of time and
always asked Caleb before actions or interferences – just as we would when speaking with
another adult. The knock-on effects on language development, social comfort and
emotional awareness quickly became apparent and still continue to be prominent as we
follow this consciously respectful approach to parenting.
A space to live autonomously on all levels is:
Free of blame and shame
Building on all this we provided plenty of space for independent movement and tactile
discovery – specifically with nature, music and books. The youngest of children can be
content and flourish when given beautiful slots of time in their days to be independent.
Believe me, I do not refer to leaving any child of any age alone to ‘learn to play by
themselves’ all the time – the biggest joy is watching our children make a new discovery,
right?! Besides, playing with a trusted adult and other children are vitally important to
development on many levels too. Still, from early on we have relished watching Caleb
approach obstacles and challenges, truly needing no input from any adoring onlooker. With
reassurance that we are by his side to encourage, remind, or catch the foot that slips on a
wet log, he now displays perseverance, precision, creativity and inventiveness like never
before – and what a sense of achievement he feels! Whether his goals are met or not.
If it isn’t a philosophical question about humanity’s elusive past, it’s the desire to put into
action something that has been observed for days, weeks or even months. As parents we
oversee the cog-turning – trusting that our child is just waiting for the right time to have the
alignment of: desire – confidence – support. A classic example was the early morning
decision: “I want to put the pedals on my bike”, which moved swiftly towards a 10am
independent cycle around the local park with a big grin (and a proud mamma sprinting on
behind, desperately trying to keep up).
We find all of this is reflected in the way Caleb plays and interacts with his friends, especially
with families who are on a similar path to us. When with young friends, they are all able to
meet each other with a wonderful level of gentle respect, honesty, openness, fun and
adventure that is quite remarkable to observe. Not to mention the strong relationships
Caleb forms with people of all ages – we think due to his open and questioning nature as
well as his comfort in speaking about all things in detail and at great length; from how a hot
air balloon functions, to the ins and outs of natural childbirth.
We like to call this life learning. We hold space to allow education to take place naturally.
We encourage decisions when they are made. We offer support and guidance. We respect
the process however long or short. We enjoy the beauty of success and we honour the
lessons of failing, without shame, blame or any essence of lack.
Life learning means encouraging:
The search for resources
A questioning nature
An inquisitive nature
Trusting in a child’s path of discovery
As we continue to discover our own path of self-directed learning as a family, there’s a lot to
be said for de-schooling ourselves as adults too. When we became parents this journey
went to another level! Resisting the urge to jump in and interrupt the perfect moment of
play to explain how a toy works or how to hold a crayon. Relearning for ourselves that there is no ‘correct’ way to build a train track, draw a kangaroo, choose a poking stick, make mud
porridge, etc! I’m now realising more and more that assessing those habits, the urges to
step in, allowed the freedom for our child to jump in! We play together, of course, and we
guide when needed through discussion and questions. We also hold a high level of trust in
Caleb – some would say the most important factor when it comes to self-directed learning.
Letting them lead their adventures, their discoveries, their decisions about play choices,
creativity and their body – it opens the doors from the very beginning for independent and
That is life learning for us. That is child-led learning. That is setting the scene.
Nicola lives with her partner and son in Bristol, UK. Their holistic lifestyle encompasses conscious parenting, intentional living and healthy balance within family dynamics. Nicola writes poetry and prose on the wilds of motherhood and womanhood, focusing on presence and awareness. Her passions are set deep in nature and the cycles on earth and beyond.
You can find Nicola over on instagram @threadpressed