February 11, 2009

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Soapbox Diva asked a question:

Hi, I'm new to your blog, by way of Pamajama. My children are grown, and while I too read some books as a young mother that changed all of our lives, The Key to Your Child's Heart and others, there was one aspect I regret that I didn't 'get' until they were already grown.

Was it innate or did you read something in particular that turned you on to the 'interest-led learning?' I have come to realize later in my child-rearing years, that it wasn't my job to turn them into 'society-appreciated' adults, but rather to help them listen to their own inner guidance, and become all that they wanted to be.

Since the environment they grew up in was slanted towards conformity, I am interested in exposing myself (as well as my children) to anything that will help them choose a different course with their future children. Thanks!

Hi Soapbox Diva,

Nice to meet you! You're right about our environment being slanted towards conformity. That fact is what pushed me over the edge in deciding to home school. My idea of interest-led learning developed when I was in college. I went to a school that didn't like textbook teaching or busy work for kids. Then combined with my psychology classes, my belief that God created us all uniquely, and my own experience of "jumping through hoops," interest-led learning just made sense. People are motived to do what they enjoy, we are all natural learners, and canned curriculum is to be avoided. I didn't know anyone who was teaching this way, but I would find quotes or books here and there. I especially liked John Holt and his book Learning All the Time. Another book that had a big influence on me was Schoolproof by Mary Pride.

Over the years I would waiver and buy a curriculum, but even then, I could never force my kids to do it. I always tried to find what was fun for them and what would develop their natural talents. And since experiences teach best and are remembered longest, I tried to make real-life activities part of their school days. After all, a trip to the store is really a consumer ed field trip. I sent Meg to buy groceries yesterday (it's so nice to have a driving child) and when she got home she said, "Wow, food is expensive!"(lesson indelibly marked in her brain and emotions). And it's a lot more fun to actually go to Abraham Lincoln's Springfield home than to just read about him. I'm sure there are things around your home that would be interesting for children to visit--even the closest nature preserve has a lot for your child to experience.

As you look toward a new start with grandchildren, my best advice is to let them explore and enjoy their childhood. As they grow, look for what they are good at and capitalize on those things. Use their interests as a springboard into all those "school" areas. You'd be amazed how math works into caring for pets or gardening. Then introduce them to new things in ways that relate to what they are already interested in. But don't be afraid to offer something completely different. Most kids are open to new things. It's the assembly line, forced-feeding of traditional schooling that shuts kids down to learning.

Home schooling this way is a lot of fun. You get to know your child really well, you generally maintain good relationships, and your child has the chance to blossom.

Here are some of my related posts that might interest you:

The Socialization Question

A Look at Interest Led Learning

Thanks for the question!

photo of Meg at Lincoln Log Cabin, photographing spices and vegetables drying from the rafters


EverythingIveGot said...

This is always a difficult time of year for me where I question my homeschooling choice.
LOVED your reiteration of what I *know*

Karen said...

Thanks for this post Jena, I've been getting lots of pressure about our unschooling ways, and I'm going to work 'interest-led' into those conversations from now on!

Traci said...

I met with some unschoolers on Monday. Now I consider what we do to be unschooling even though I do enforce some curriculum and that some work gets done daily. That said, I was talking to another mother and felt this weird need to tell her what we do. Her response was well we unschool. I had mentioned how well Emma is reading and she said her 7 year old was close to wanting to. Here is strictly my opinion: children crave structure, they enjoy doing things that gives them pleasure but eating a bag of candy isn't what is the best idea for them. Therefore, I'm not being a bad unschooling mommy by giving my child assignments for math and spelling or whatever. My girls get exposed to tons of experiences and they get to choose to study things that interest them. I just feel that learning to read and learning to calculate math is important to being a productive human. I don't think I'm imposing on their rights as children.

I got a totally judgemental vibe from this group of so called open and inclusive homeschoolers. Sorry for the rant on your comments section. Just needed to vent.

Jena said...


You bring up a good point.It's funny how this homeschooling continuum works. On one end you have the ultra structured "school at home" crowd who follow the teacher's guide mercilessly. On the other end you have a complete hands-off wild child view of unschooling. Many are purists and cling fiercely to their end of the continuum, but most of us find our place somewhere between the two.

I realize that to MOST of the homeschooling world, if you don't follow a pre-packaged curriculum, you are called an eclectic homeschooler, or a relax homeschooler. The term "interest led" is used by some. I just checked google for "interest led home school" and my blog came up second in the list behind Life Without School. That tells me there must not be much out there about it if I'm number two.

My point is, no one home schools the same way. The best we can do is find what works for our family. I agree that kids like structure (depending on their personalities) and as long as we parents are sensitive to what they enjoy and how they learn, not forcing them through an assembly line but letting them follow their interests, we are on the unschooling end of the continuum--maybe not as close to the end as some would like, but we have a whole lot more in common with unschoolers than we do with the other end of the continuum.

It's hard when someone looks at you cross-eyed, but that's OK. It's especially hard when you're already "bucking the system" by homeschooling, and then double bucking it by not being a traditional home schooler! We all want others to understand and accept us. Believe me, I've been there, and was a closet "unschooler" most of my life, just because I wanted to avoid the misunderstandings. Good for you for opening up! It's good to expand everyone's thinking about how school can be done.

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