March 31, 2010

Interest Led Learning in Real Life

I really enjoyed all the questions you had for Peter. You brought up interesting points that remind me how out-of-the box we tend to be. One thought keeps tugging at me, and I want to address it here.

Interest-led learning is not interest-led living.

Some people may have the idea that interest-led homeschoolers (or unschoolers) are 21st Century hobos who drift through life with no purpose and never brush their teeth. (OK, well, we've had our teeth-brushing battles). But Interest-led learning, in my opinion, is simply an educational philosophy. 

Imagine a school that has one teacher for every three kids and a classroom for every interest. The child could decide what he wanted to learn, then go into that room to find an expert and all the materials he or she needed to pursue that passion. Then, at the end of the day, he goes home to a balanced meal with napkins and silverware, where his parents might require chores before he goes to bed.

That's interest-led learning with normal living built around it. The only difference is we have the school in our house.

I've heard of one out-of-the-house school that comes close to my dream, and that's Sudbury Valley. I wish there were more. Do you know of any other schools that focus on the child's interests and freedom to explore as motivation for learning?


renee @ FIMBY said...

I think this is an important distinction. I believe strongly in interest led learning and I also believe in contributing to the household, obeying your parents, following rules etc.. If my kids aren't interested in eating veggies, too bad. Not being interested in obeying it's an option in our house either. But we allow them the freedom to follow their interests in terms of what and how they learn (with a bit of parental guidance and a few requirements along the way).

Jena said...

Hi Renee,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, parenting styles differ, and I have my opinions on how to handle kids, but I think some people assume interest led learning leads to hands off parenting, and I want to say that's not necessarily so.

I realize this post will speak to us all differently, but my main point is that I am most interested in promoting interest-led learning as an educational alternative, and try to help people see that even more structured households can do it.

~beautyandjoy~ said...

I think this is a super helpful distinction. As always I learn a lot here. Thank you...

Ms. Anita said...

I'm sorry, Jena, that I've not been "by" your blog (and left a comment) in so long. You continue to inspire me to seek this kind of learning/education for my own children.

Thank you.

Monique said...

Jena, I think this is a great post and helps people see that interest led learning does not mean hands-off parenting. Kids still contribute to the responsibilities around the home, whether they are overly interested in doing this or not. There are creative ways in even this I have thanking and showing appreciation toward my kids for their contributions, letting them know how helpful their work is to me.

Interest led learning as an educational alternative may not look like learning initially. By and large, I think, due to the hierarchal structure of most curriculums (math, science, etc.), we dismiss 'less structured' or programmed activities as learning. I have children 11, 13, 25 and 28 who have all learned in various ways, not all at home. My 13 year old reads historical fiction and other literature 3 hours a day. Some years ago I would not have allowed that b/c I would not have seen it as 'structured enough'. My mind set has changed over the years and I see the fruit. She still has to get up in the morning, take a shower, help out around the house, walk and not always get rides to appts. etc.

I rarely come right out and tell people that we do 'interest-led' learning b/c it is followed by 'the look' and I am not always up for explaining. Thank you for your blog Jena, it has been very helpful for me.

Hannah said...

Thanks for making this distinction. I've heard unschooling referred to as "unparenting" and I confess even in my mind, as I struggle with finding the right balance for us, I'm not always sure where the line is, since some of the unschoolers I know also seem to be loathe to guide their children's behavior. Your post makes a lot of sense, and I'll look forward to more thoughts on the subject -- especially practical examples of how you made it work!

Rana said...

Great post Jena. Even though we unschool we still ALL have responsiblities in the home and everyone contributes. We learn through living, but we still show our children through our actions how we want them to treat themselves and others. We are very active in our faith and a lot of how we learn comes from our bible based training.

Erin J said...

Excellent distinction. We're a Christian Unschooling family too and I have struggled to define this to curious friends as well, although it's not a struggle to actually implement in our household. I love reading your blog too because I see how the years to come might look in our family. Right now the kids are small and unschooling works beautifully. I have every hope that it will continue to work beautifully in the later years as well, though I've had plenty of people (usually homeschooling friends) tell me I'll have to cave at some point and do structured schooling. Why?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jena.

I know someone who went to this school, until her parents got cold feet and put her into the public school system.

P.S. your description of unschoolers as hobos made me laugh! We may drift sometimes, but we haven't spent the night on a bench in the train station yet!

kendra said...

my friend's children go to this school where we live (portland,or):

i spent some time training as a waldorf teacher and like the idea ofhome/unschooling, but we're not sure! luckily our son is still 2!

Lori said...

What if my kids don't know what they are interested in because they have not really thought about that? How do you get them started on the process of interest led education?

Jena said...

Hi Lori, great question! Offer suggestions and opportunities. I used the Core Curriculum guide to give me ideas of what topics to introduce. You can download that guide here:

I'd get books at the library, find videos, come up with field trips. Eventually they'll latch onto something.

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