One of the many great benefits of homeschooling is that our kids have the time and space to dive deeply into their interests. Interest-led learning is an awesome way to approach homeschooling, right? Yes—if mom and dad tread carefully. Here are four surefire ways to kill your child’s love of learning by misusing their interests. (Don't do these, okay?)
1. Make Your Child's Homeschool Experience Revolve Around the Interest
Your child might be interested in dinosaurs or go-carts or astronomy or jazz musicians. While it’s good to celebrate and explore these topics, there also comes a point where you can go overboard.
For example, my sons are fascinated by computers and gaming, but—oddly enough—they are very much opposed to computer-based curriculum. They would rather do most of their school work via physical books than log in to an online portal. One day, I joked with my sons that they could probably learn anything from a certain video game they were obsessed with at the time. One of my sons responded with, “Yeah, but we’re not going to do that because it would ruin the game.”
Turning fun into school can ruin the fun factor of an interest.
Our kids have many things they are interested in or that they like to do. But taking that passion and revolving their entire education around it equates to taking something they really love and turning it into something they, well...don’t love anymore. Interests are awesome and should be explored. But if we only ever study what we are interested in, how will we learn about all the other fascinating topics that are out there?
2. Go Overboard with Interest-inspired Unit Studies
If your child is interested in dolphins, that does not mean that every day for a month your lessons in math, spelling, reading, art, music, history, science, PE, home economics, and every other possible subject revolve around dolphins. Just because your child is interested in playing guitar doesn’t mean he wants
- to learn about the history of guitars
- to learn how guitars are made
- to research who the top five guitar players are in each genre of music
- to bake a cake in the shape of a guitar
- to learn to spell guitar related vocabulary
- to make a guitar out of a cardboard box and rubber bands
- to do a science experiment based on the different types of wood used to build a guitar
- to work math problems, figuring sales tax on guitars they would like to buy
It’s possible your child just wants to play the guitar. And that’s okay.
That’s not to say a unit study based on your child’s interests isn’t a good idea. Unit studies are great! But know when it’s time to call it quits and give their interests space to breathe.
3. Assume the Interest Will be a Career
My oldest is very interested in the history of war. He reads books and watches documentaries about wars; he studies strategies regarding them.
This led me to ask him one day if he was thinking of joining the military.
He looked at me blankly. “No,” he said. “Why would you think that?”
I explained that I’d seen how interested he was in the topic of war and military strategy.
“Mom, it’s interesting to me,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean I’m headed for the military. I just think it’s interesting.”
It’s completely okay for your kids to be interested in something merely because it fascinates them. It doesn’t necessarily have to go any further than that. Think of all the things you were interested in as a kid. Consider the things you’re interested in now. How many of them—if any—became your career or even continued into adulthood at all?
4. Fail to Read Cues When Interests Change
As homeschooling parents, we want our kids to have fun with what they’re learning. It seems the easiest way to do that is to take our child’s current passion—be it Pokemon, graphic design, organic gardening, or archery—and run with it to the ends of the earth. However, this can backfire if we start to equate our child's indentity with that one passion.
For example, when we think of our kid, we think of skiing. And when we think of skiing, we think of our kid. Which is fine until our kid doesn’t care much for skiing anymore.
We need to make sure that we give our children the opportunity to change their mind and pursue new interests. If we’re so tied up in running whole hog into the future with what they’re interested in right now, we may miss the cues our kids give to let us know their favorite thing isn’t exciting anymore.
Kids are often more engaged in learning when the topic is of interest to them. For that reason, interest led learning is a fabulous way to make the most of homeschooling! Just be careful that as their fearless leader, you don’t take their interest led activities to that overwhelming, buzz-killing place. Homeschooling can be fun without integrating hobbies and interests into it.
About the Author
Amy Dingmann lives in Minnesota with her husband where they have been homeschooling their two sons since 2007. Her hobbies include filling up her sons’ bottomless pits, drinking a lot of strong coffee, and smiling. Her least favorite subject is math. Her favorite subjects are everything else. She likes talking to other homeschooling parents and assuring them that even though they worry they’re totally screwing things up, they actually totally and completely rock. Amy blogs at The Hmmmschooling Mom, and works as an author/speaker on homeschooling and parenting/family topics.