July 14, 2013

The Parent's Role in Interest-Led Learning

I like to call our years of homeschooling "interest-led" because the curriculum was driven by what interested the kids. We didn't replicate a classroom in our living room, we just lived a life full of outings, books, and projects. If someone wanted to learn more or become an expert, we encouraged it! We provided the materials and resources to go as deeply as that child desired. Of course, there was the time Meg really wanted a pony, but our city backyard and tiny budget said no. These things happen.

Our homeschool was child-centered, but not Lord of the Flies. Mom and Dad ran the house, made sure the necessities of life were fulfilled (finish your to-do list) and provided the opportunities to discover interests. We loved to watch our kids in a new experience. Did they love it or hate it? Did they show aptitude or frustration?

I'll never forget Meg at the age of 10 with a paintbrush in hand, painting delicate roses, saying dreamily, "I feel like I'm in another world." I knew this was something she was born to do and that meant doing what we could to help her excel. Drawing kept her sane during her nine months in India, and this fall she starts classes for an art therapy major in college.

As we provided opportunities, we also did a little nudging. I kept a copy of The Core Knowledge Sequence to remind myself of topics to explore. I'd find colorful books at the library and stage them around the house, sort of like baiting the hook to see if they'd bite. At other times I was much more direct and held "classes," which they loved, because you see, being in class was novel, something they didn't do every day. I remember doing a unit on world explorers, working through a library book a little at a time everyday for a couple weeks.

I also read to them everyday, usually at bedtime. My favorite tactic was to read historical fiction. Not only were they getting a good story, they were learning about famous people and time periods that would stick in their minds. I even attached a long strip of computer paper around the room to place people and events on a timeline.

During junior high and high school, I suggested we volunteer at a local historical site, complete with costumes and training in period skills. To them it was a fun family activity, a chance to dress up and pretend, but I knew they were learning how to be self-sufficient, how to cook over an open fire, and how to relate to an important time in American history. Eventually, Peter decided he really didn't like it, so he stopped. Missa was a little too young to participate on her own, but Meg loved it. She continued long after the rest of us lost interest.

That's the key. Provide the opportunity and let them stop and move on when they are ready, or let them dive in deeply. 

Children learn best when they are motivated from the inside, but unless we provide the experiences and the subject matter, they might never know what they love! And from that foundation of internal motivation, they can learn all they need to succeed.

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The idea for this post came from a reader's question, so please send me questions! My email is yarnsoftheheart[at!]gmail.com.

14 comments:

Anne said...

Love this! Thank you for sharing!

Penny said...

This was just what I needed to hear! What wise words to read in July, just when a person could be tempted to really go crazy planning/buying/micromanaging. Or maybe has and is diheartened by her overzealousness. ahem.

I'm so glad you are adding your voice to the homeschool community again. Thank you!

thetysonfamily said...

Such PERFECT timing!!! We are gathering up our last chunk of materials and thinking heavily through the next few years as we prepare to go overseas...Jena, thank you for the confirmation. God truly used this in our lives today and for our children today!!

Patricia said...

I love your style, and I, too, am happy you are writing again. I've following your blog for awhile so it's good to hear what you have to say. Thanks so much!!

Traci DeSheles said...

I love this way of learning. There is always a new way to go! But always a parent handy to guide and direct. I have an artist at my house. There is always a mess on the dining room table from crafty projects!

Momma in Progress said...

Love reading about interest-led learning from someone whose kids are grown. We pretty much do this around here, but ours are 7, 5, and 2, and so we're fewer than 3 years into this homeschooling gig. Found you via Simple Homeschool.

kim said...

Jenna, thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I saw your post on simplehomeschool and just had to "drop by" to say thanks. We have been homeschooling our kids (9,7,4) but are on the fence regarding continuing. In fact a decision has to be made this week! My problem is mainly the bickering, teasing, and fighting. The boys are only 21 months apart and there is just too much testosterone in this house! If they wouldn't fight, I'd feel like I could keep going. I have tried everything. Any suggestions? I'm all ears!

Jena said...

Hi Kim,

Yes, this is serious, especially if you have to decide this week. If these were my kids, this is what I would do (but I am not you and your kids are not my kids, but maybe this will help). I would separate them as much as possible, taking this one to that friend a couple hours a day, and put one in an afterschool club or 4H or find a mentor (retired person) to teach one of them something on a regular basis. It seems like they need to develop their own relationships, activities and interests to relieve the stress between them.

Putting them in school will bring on a whole slew of new issues and problems that will influence their adult lives. I see this as a transitional time for your family before your kids really develop their interests. I'm sure you are teaching them how to behave, but they don't want to because they aren't happy in other areas of their lives. It will take time and work, but once you get them going, find them the hobby, the people and/or the activities they love, things will be much smoother and you will be glad you kept them home.

kim said...

Thanks so much Jenna!

Amber said...

Jenna, I had a long comment to you on your last post and it disappeared when I tried to post it and with two littles I'm just now getting to repost! I wanted to suggest that you offer one on one Homeshool support/counciling. I know I would love, LOVE to be able to pick your brain and have some of your years of knowledge to pull from! I feel all over the place and would just love to talk through with someone some of my fears, frustrations and ideas. I do have some homeschooling friends but I think it's hard to say to them, "am I doing the right thing?" Anyway just an idea for you. If you want to test it out on someone I'm available! :)

my year without Facebook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It's really nice to get input from a homeschooling veteran. I wondered if you have any advice for working with a child who has a really negative attitude toward school and just work in general. One of my biggest goals for this school year is to turn that child's attitude around toward learning.

Hannah

Jena said...

Hi Hannah,

Have you tried letting your child follow his interests? What does he want to do/learn about? Let him do that and become an expert. It just might turn things around for you.

Adriana Zoder said...

Thank you for the buttons. I am using a couple on my site. I have been blessed by visiting here.

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