Interest-Driven Learning



Welcome to week 2 of a 10-day series sponsored by Prufrock Press and iHomeschool Network. 40 bloggers, more than 350 posts, and some great giveaways {including my newest book!} in the “Pin to Win” contest, all over the course of two weeks.


I want to start this week off by thanking you all for being so supportive of this series, and for the wonderful comments, emails, tweets, and Facebook conversations you’ve shared. I’m behind in responding, and apologize, because everyone’s been so under the weather here. The girls both have croup, I have the same virus, and am coughing my way through it, and Trevor’s battling something similar. So far, Brian only feels a bit run-down, so he may be able to escape it. I am working my way to getting back to everyone and will soon.

I learned, when teaching gifted kids, that parents liked to talk to me—someone who “got” their kid. I never fully understood why until I had gifted kids of my own. These kids are different. Some are very different and difficult. And I think that’s why we’ve had such great conversations this week – conversations I hope to continue with at least a weekly post on homeschooling gifted kids when this series ends.

There are lots of people who just don’t understand what you’re talking about when you share stories of your children. And then you feel alone. Throw homeschooling into the mix, analyze to find out your kiddo’s learning style, and take into account his or her asynchrony, and you’re really “out there.” It’s so comforting to know that there are others dealing with your same struggles. And that you {and your child} are not off.

So how do you teach these kids, now that you’ve figured out how they learn and at what levels they are in each subject? I propose you start with their interests. What do your kids love? What fascinates them? What are they constantly fiddling with, reading about, questioning, or investigating? Start there.

If you Google “interest-led learning” or some other form of the term, you’ll find lots of posts, articles, and links to blogs and books about unschooling. It seems that the terms interest-led and unschooling are often used interchangeably. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you’ll know that I don’t unschool my kids. We structure our days, I put their independent tasks into workboxes so they know what they need to accomplish, and we use different curriculums from different publishers. I’m too, well, controlling to give everything up to the kids totally. Add in the fact that I taught for ten years, write curriculum on a freelance basis, and am married to a first-grade teacher, I just need to have some say over what the kids are learning each day.

That being said, I do try to tap into their interests as much as I can and center our learning around those things which motivate them. I know that once kids learn to read, they just need practice and conversation to get better and better at it. So, while I am using specific programs to help Molly, and eventually Logan, become an independent reader, I’m throwing books at Trevor to make him a lifelong reader. There’s a difference between learning to read and reading to learn and enjoy. For Trevor, I pull books or help him find books on topics he’s interested in, most recently it’s sharks.

He reads books on varying levels about sharks and tells me about new facts he’s picked up, completes minibooks that will eventually make it into a lapbook, keeps track on his reading log of the books he’s read and how he’s enjoyed them, and then looks up more information on the computer. Usually we hear about his interests for weeks. To get him to read for pleasure {which he’s never initiated on his own until this year} I find books that are usually below his reading level – I’m helping him build fluency, confidence, and endurance at this point – and put them in his path. That might be on his seat in the van, a workbox, or his seat at breakfast. Whatever. I just give them to him and say I thought he might be interested in it.

Tapping into interests makes it easy to pull things to cover all subject, though sometimes math is tough to include. I usually pick and choose from things we have, and keep math the same as usual. So, going with the shark example as it’s current, here’s how I used his interests to pull a motivating curriculum for him:

  • I asked Brian to bring some books home from his elementary school library about sharks because when we started our schedule was jammed and I didn’t think we’d have time to get to the public library.
  • Googling “free shark lapbook,” I poked around a bit and was led to a wonderful & complete lapbook kit on the Homeschool Share website. I printed the pages.
  • I searched for the keyword “sharks” on both Amazon {where I am I prime member & get lots of free videos to stream} and Discovery Education Streaming {which I subscribe to each year}. I queued a few videos there.
  • Looking through my own shelves, I found a Magic School Bus chapter book on sharks to throw into Trevor’s workbox.

The lapbook kit had some great science information to research that Trevor didn’t know yet, so that replaced science for the time he’s been delving into the topic. It also had some math and natural history, but we kept up with his regular math lessons, along with our bible studies and history. He’s still reading and talking about the Magic School Bus book and all of the shark books, so that along with the research he’s had to extrapolate out of the books, has taken over his reading and writing. He works on his normal spelling and I do grammar here and there with him right now through a conversation journal we have going.

His interest in sharks is winding down, and the lapbook is almost complete, so I’ll be chatting with him this week about new interests he has. We may jump into one of those, or we may go back to some of the other things I think he’ll be interested in once he gets exposed to them. I’m not sure.

Our interest-driven learning is kind of an eclectic conglomeration of lapbooking, unit studies, curriculum, and teacher-driven. It’s also flexible, something we’ll talk about tomorrow. I think the biggest mistake parents of gifted kids, especially homeschooling parents of gifted kids, can make is getting too comfortable. These are emotionally intense kiddos whose ideas and interests can sometimes change within the hour, let alone day to day. It’s best to keep an open mind, be willing to abandon things {within reason} and go with what’s interesting and is working at the time.

It’s a challenge – especially if you’re like me and need. things. spelled. out. and. scheduled. for. goodness. sake! But your kids are worth it, aren’t they?

Remember, I’m a little behind in my responses, but I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments or questions. Send a message through the contact page, Twitter, or Facebook. I’ll answer as soon as I can.

Take care on this Monday. I hope you have a blessed week.

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Also check out the 39 other fabulous bloggers who are participating in this 10-day Hopscotch sponsored by the iHomeschool Network and Prufrock Press.


Enjoy your day,