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