The 4 Phases of Learning in Leadership Education

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

When I was first began learning about homeschooling, I stumbled across the book Better Late Than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. The authors’ premise is that delayed formal academics often fit better with the growth and development of children than the current early childhood education movement. As a mother of toddlers at that time, this idea resonated with me.

At the heart of the better late than early concept is the idea that children progress through various phases in their learning. Many educational philosophers over the years, including well-known Jean Piaget, have agreed. The educational philosophy known as Leadership Education (or Thomas Jefferson Education) divides this progression into four specific phases.

Though I wouldn’t define our family as Leadership Education purists (Which homeschooling family can fit within the constraints of one single philosophy?!), I do keep the four phases of learning in mind as they pertain to our homeschooling environment.

1. Core Phase (Ages 0-8)

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The core phase child’s main objectives are to learn the lessons of good and bad, true and false, and right and wrong. He does this by spending the majority of his time at home with the family while learning through play. Contributing to the family through learning chores is also an important goal for a child at this age.

Academics are not yet a part of life for a child in core phase. The Leadership Education parent seeks to surround his child with an inspiring environment–good books, music, and an atmosphere of lifelong learning.

This sets the stage for more formal academics in the future.

2. Love of Learning Phase (Ages 8-12)

Around age eight, a child who has had a strong, solid core phase will naturally evolve, according to Leadership Education ideology, to the next phase–Love of Learning. During love of learning, children begin to pursue learning in ways that begin to look more like formal study, but really they’re still playing.

The parent’s job at this stage is to follow up with the child’s inspiration–and to implement the seven keys of great teaching. Children in the love of learning phase are still free to follow their own interests without forced study requirements–therefore they study what excites them.

3. Scholar Phase (Ages 12-16)

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A child who has been raised in a leadership education home until the age of twelve will naturally transition to more scholarly pursuits, eventually having the inner motivation to study eight to twelve hours a day (Um, hello, sign me up for that!).

Parents should lighten the scholar’s other home responsibilities when possible to allow as much time for study as the student needs. The majority of topics studied will still be those of interest to the student, but there will also come a point where they seek to fill in any educational gaps in order to proceed to the final educational phase.

4. Depth Phase (Ages 16-22)

During depth phase the student begins to be mentored extensively by someone other than the parent/teacher. She begins to want to go deeper into a particular area of study and is discovering a sense of personal mission, coming up with ideas for her future.

The bulk of depth phase typically takes place in a college/university setting.

Schooling along with the phases makes a mom’s job easier in many ways. As we keep in mind our children’s maturity levels and natural tendencies to learn, we reduce stress in our home and set everyone up for more educational success.

Further Reading

Does it make sense to you that children progress through a variety of learning phases? Why or why not?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I have been reading quite a bit about Leadership Education lately. I’m working my way through reading A Thomas Jefferson Home Companion right now, actually. I’ll have to go back and read the other article about it from May.

    Thanks for posting about this. 🙂
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  2. I read three of the TJEd books over the summer, including the most helpful Home Companion. It sounded so interesting, so many things I wanted to underline in the borrowed copies (wrote some in my journal instead) … but I feel like it’s the kind of thing that must be much easier to implement if you have a community of like-minded folks (as the DeMilles seem to). It would be great to have local families who were practicing the principles and could get together to bat around ideas, discuss classics, etc. Hmmm. Well, at least maybe I could find some other parents who want to meet once a month to discuss classics!
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  3. I love the Leadership Education Philosophy as much of it mirrors my own (smile). I have you Jamie to thank for introducing me to the phases of learning book last winter!

    I’m so thankful you wrote this nice, concise summary so I can send readers this way when I’m asked about our own philosophy which is a mixed bag of Charlotte Mason, Leadership Ed and a bunch of other pieces.

    And yes, it absolutely makes sense to me that kids go through learning phases. I’ve seen it in our own home before ever reading this book. But to be honest I have a hard time believing my children will go through an intense scholarly phase, nor is that our goal. I can imagine them going through an intense time of creative growth and outdoor pursuits but scholarly study?? Time will tell.

    My husband and I are not exactly model TJEd parents (never our intention) so we’ll see how it all evolves. I do anticipate them going deep into study that interests them and applying themselves to learning outside of their comfort zone as they find their mission and life path. Maybe that counts for scholarly study?? I’m very excited for the future of their education and their young adult years.

  4. Very interesting!
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  5. One thing I like about this philosophy is that the teacher (mom) should be studying, too!
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  6. I know very little about homeschooling. So I appreciate your blog and I appreciate this post in particular. I really love the idea of encouraging life long learning and allowing children to lead the way in terms of their education (while of course filling in the gaps). As a playful person I also enjoy the idea of play being part of learning. It keeps things fresh. And children get to be children, so when they are finally adults they will know what to do! — er at least have an idea 😀
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  7. What I love about this post is the reassurance that the intuition most mom’s feel about their child’s development is supported by developmental theorists like Piaget, Steiner and Erickson. Although they so not match perfectly, they are generally the same with stages of growth. (mom’s growth too…) Here is my post on seven year cycles:
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  8. I love Leadership Education and blog about it three times a week! What I love about it seems to fit with the Simple Homeschool tagline in two ways. 1. Don’t let schooling interrupt your education and 2. It’s very simple. Notice I didn’t say easy!
    Leadership Education is honestly all about relationships. Historically, public education was there for the masses so that the calibur of society would be raised through literacy and the ability to get a job. However, this doesn’t perpetuate freedom. It merely enhances it.
    Knowing how to think and be a producer are just two of the things that Leadership Education fosters.
    Curriculum in its broadest spectrum, is never going to foster relationships. It’s seeking and aiming towards the masses for results.
    When it is possible to build relationships, you have the ability to mentor someone towards their natural “bents” and “abilities.” The challenge comes in the fact that most parents have been “conveyor belt” educated; and we default to what we know. This is the part that isn’t “easy.” We are peer driven much of the time, wanting to know what others are doing and seek their affirmation.
    Having a TJEd community is helpful, but not entirely necessary. People that support your vision and goals with positive affirmation are just as valuable.
    I agree with Kim, in that so much of this educational philosophy confirms what moms already know and feel.
    Thanks for letting me share!
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  9. a BIG p.s. I have had the joy and personal experience of watching “scholar age youth” study for copious amounts of time that would normally be unheard of. However… please consider this…
    “Studying” isn’t always in book form! Hands on, doing, participating…while perpetuating those thoughts, ideas and concepts is HUGE.
    And when you are following your passions and desires, it isn’t difficult to do something for a very long period of time. You understand the “why” and have a reason for doing it; which makes all of the difference in the world! ;0)
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  10. This was a wonderful, thought-provoking post. This makes so much sense to me. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned; I’m off to track down the book you mentioned!
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  11. I just visited the website and blog you recommended and just wanted you to know how inspiring that was to me!!!! Thank you, thank you for such great posts!

  12. Yes! These phases are very similar to the Waldorf 7 year cycles as taught by Rudolf Steiner.

  13. i found this quite interesting and I am looking forward to learning more about this. Thanks for sharing this Jamie!
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  14. I’ve always been interested in TJ Education. I am not so sure about the phases though. In our experience children 12-15 (especially boys) need much more physical ativity. More so than even 6 hours in the classroom affords them. 8 to 12 hours studying? I cannot imagine! My husband has always thought we might substantially decrease formal studies for our teens and go with more house and farm chores and hands on learning ie. mechanics, woodworking, sewing, etc.

  15. I love Leadership education!! It has been great to watch my children go through it and now they are using it for their children. The tool The closet is wonderful and can really help children LOVE learning in this remarkable way.
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  16. I like the approach outlined above. However I’m not sure about cutting back on home chores so they can focus almost exclusively on study. I’ll have to look into that idea a little more.

    The core tenets of this approach makes a lot of sense.
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  17. While I agree in theory, I haven’t found it to be this cut and dried or idealistic. My 12 y/o loves to learn and was in that phase pretty much from birth but she still would like to spend most of her time on her own passions — such photography, reading, chatting online and art — rather than 8-12 hours a day on studying! My younger kids also skipped around those stages but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll want to dedicate the majority of their waking hours to academics. Nor would I want them to. 🙂

    And if the idea is that the in depth studying applies to anything that children immerse themselves into, then I’d say that happens at any age too.

    It’s still an interesting way of categorizing the ages though! And I do agree that young children should be learning through play, life and exploration.
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  18. As a family, we have discussed the idea of TJ Ed quite a bit. Our issue is with the ages. What if the child initiates the learning really early? Our son taught himself to read at 3 with no prompting, decided a desire to learn Spanish at 4 again with no prompting, and regularly seeks out physics games on the computer. At 6 he loves workbooks and considers playing to be learning the 50 states and systems of the body and meticulously documenting observations in a nature journal. He complains about imaginative play amongst his peers and wants to do something “more constructive” (his words). He has completely skipped the Core Phase. While both his father and I are educators and can provide him with as much learning material as he wants, he is flying above grade level quite significantly and removing himself from peer groups.

    While he definitely has a love of learning we are wondering, is this all too fast?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
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    • I definitely don’t consider myself an expert on TJEd, but what I would say from my understanding is that if the child initiates all this, it’s fine. In other words, for a child of this age, his pursuits would be play–his version of it.

      Don’t push the academics, but nurture his love for whatever it is wherever it takes him. You may find that he does this for short bursts then takes a break for a while, and so on. Don’t stress about it!

  19. Hi, I’ve been trying and trying to wrap my mind around Thomas Jefferson Education and I just can”t seem to do it. I mean how do you know which classics are appropriate for your child’s age and what defines a classic? I’ve been homeschooling for 16 years , I’m pretty smart but just cant understand this. Please help with advice..

  20. I started reading the Homeschooling Compass posts, which then led me here. I am feeling a bit discouraged, as I have leaned more toward requiring, rather than inspiring, though not intentionally. I wish I had come across this information sooner in our homeschooling journey. (My kids are 11, 9, 8, and 7).

    How does a mom shift gears after she’s already bought all her curriculum for the year? How does a mom shift gears when it feels like it might be too late? Help!
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  21. I am new to TJEd this year. The biggest change I have made is that I used to wait to get to reading time and the fun projects until after all the schoolwork was done. And sometimes we didn’t get to them! Now I feel confident enough to realize family reading time IS the curriculum. Really, if you do nothing else but read the classics to your kids, they would have a good foundation! Add to that lots if fun hands on project based learning. Some writing. Lots of time outdoors. Family work, doing chores together, protecting your family time. Your own continued study. Those are my ingredients. Oh, and the def. of a classic is a work of art or literature that you would want to come back to over and over again because you learn something more each time from it. There are classics in all fields including math, science, art, music, computer programming, etc.

  22. This really makes a lot of sense to me. My daughter has never been to formal school except a short (8-9 month) period at daycare when she was 3. Since she was officially of “school-age”, we’ve sorta flip-flopped a bit between unschooling and more structured learning. It doesn’t seem to matter how or what we try when it comes to formal, scheduled learning, it just never seems to work for us for one reason or another. My intuition tells me to just keep on doing what we’re doing… Letting her explore our world, answer questions, work together to find the answers that I cannot provide from my own knowledge, etc… But then once in a while that “social pressure” and fear creeps up on me and I think “what am I doing?!”… I grew up in the public school system and a relatively mainstream lifestyle of the 90’s… So I’ve been working on deprogramming and deschooling myself so that I can continue to raise my child in the way that feels intuitively natural to me.

    These phases of learning make so much sense, and it eases my mind a bit for the times when I’ve felt like I maybe haven’t done enough academically.

  23. When I have childs I will homeschool too. Thanks for this 4 phases. It’s a good framework.

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