How did you grow up learning? Did you spend a lot of time with textbooks? Did you have to complete endless workbooks? How many projects or assignments came out of your own curiosity and how many were assigned because a teacher thought you needed to learn it because you were now 12 years old?
I used to be a public and private school teacher. I started out assigning questions to answer, papers to write and projects to complete the same way I had to do when I was younger. It really was all I knew at that point.
Then gradually I grew to hate the horrid monotony of that learning ? even though I wasn't doing the actual assignments myself! So, I started bringing in more games and asking the kids what projects they wanted to do. Little by little I came to realize that when the kids brought in their own questions and their own ideas, my days were calmer and I really enjoyed what I was doing.
When I had my own kids, I knew I wanted their days to be centered on exploring their own questions and learning more about the world in interesting ways. I didn't want the pre-planned lessons, the textbooks or anything that didn't make learning come alive or wasn't relevant to their everyday life.
It's a scary thing to throw out strict lesson plans, to not follow a pre-planned curriculum, and to follow your child's lead. But when you see it working, when you see the joy and connections that come from living life to the fullest, from immersing your family in your community and the wider world as much as possible, it?s such an amazing, wonderfully natural way to live and learn.
You might be saying, "Well, that sounds nice, but I need something a little more practical. Can you give me some specific things I can do to make that work?
Sure! Here are five ways that you can create an interest-led learning environment in your house.
1. Develop a deep curiosity and imagination of your own.
We?re all born intensely curious about our world. We have to be otherwise we?d never survive, right? But it seems like for many people, after about the age of 6 or so, that curiosity often disappears or at least loses most of its intensity.
But it doesn?t have to be that way. If you?re able to stay home and learn with your children, you?ve been given a huge blessing. Not only do you get to spend a lot of time bonding with your kids and learning with them, but you get to learn the things you?ve always been curious about but never had time to explore before, too!
The next time you find yourself wondering about something, look it up. Read about it, watch DVDs about it, and find ways to do it. Show your kids how many questions you have. Show them how many things you?re interested in, too. I share as much as I can with my kids about the things that excite me. Most of the time, they want to jump right in and explore those same things with me, too.
2. Observe your kids closely to see what excites them, what they're passionate about and what keeps them asking questions.
This seems like an easy thing to do, but when our lives are really busy, we often forget those things that we wanted to remember if we don?t write them down.
I?m a writer so I?m used to keeping a notepad (now on my iPhone) where I write down ideas. So now I?ve trained myself to write down the questions my kids bring up (usually the ones where they ask about the same topic over and over again), the things they get excited about when we?re out on a trip, and the things that they want to do a lot.
It?s fun to look at that list every so often and see if you can find a pattern in their interests. What seems like a hodge-podge of interests at first usually have an underlying theme or skill set somewhere.
3. Respect your child's individual timetable for learning new skills and knowledge.
This is so important. The biggest thing in non-coercion learning is not pushing your kids to do something they really don?t want to do.
If they are reluctant to read, they might not be ready for it, or they might not have found things to read that really excite them. If your child doesn?t want to learn to read yet, just surround him with lots of books and print. Read a lot, listen to a lot of audio books, and occasionally, and gently, ask him if he wants to sit down and try to read with you. Find as many books about the subjects that interest your kids. If they don?t want to read them, ask them if they?d like you to read them out loud instead.
If your child really doesn?t like to do math, get to the heart of the reason why. Do they not like doing a lot of writing? Would they like playing games and doing lots of mental math instead? Does the math you?re introducing have any relevance to their lives? How can you introduce some math concepts that involve projects, activities or goal they already have going on? Do they love the computer? Are there any really great computer games that they would like to play?
Introduce skills and topics in a gentle way. If there?s resistance, then either find another way to approach the same skill or topic, or simply drop it for now. Just because they?re not interested now doesn?t mean they never will be.
Also, always ask, is this really essential for them to know to be successful as an adult in no matter what profession they choose? If it isn?t, is it that important that they do it in the first place?
4. Dedicate time to introducing as much of the world as you can to your kids.
For me, interest-led learning doesn?t mean I wait until my kids ask to learn something new before I introduce it to them. How are our kids going to ask questions about World War II if they?ve never heard anyone talk about World War II before? How will they know they have a natural gift for sailing if they?ve never been on a boat before?
Obviously, you can?t introduce all there is that?s interesting and good in the world to your kids. Even if they had a dozen lives to live, they?d never come close to discovering all this world has to offer.
But you can always keep your eyes open for the new and different. Look for things that interest you, too. Look for things you know your kids haven?t been introduced to yet.
Don?t necessarily discount the list of things that public school children are required to learn either. You might want to scan through the standards of your state as a way to get ideas of topics you might not have thought of otherwise. Don?t use them as your curriculum ? instead show the topics and skills to your kids and find out which ones they find interesting.
5. Be open to seeing the learning that happens in everything.
For one day, write down all of the different activities you kids did that day- even those that are routine. Then look at each activity and challenge yourself to find at least 5 ways they were learning through that activity. This might be easy to do if they are sitting on the couch reading The Giver, but what if they are watching an episode of Scooby-Doo, or taking a bath, or dropping off a letter at the mailbox with you?
I honestly believe there is learning in everything we do. You can learn just as much as watching something on TV as you can by practicing a math problem.
I think the problem comes when we get stuck in a rut and just do the same things over and over again. Reading for days on end can be just as unhealthy as watching TV for days on end.
See the learning that happens in everything your children are doing. Look for ways to extend and connect the things they are learning to other things they are learning and to new things you come across.
Christina lives a life of passion, adventures and connections with her husband and 5 year old boy/girl twins. She has written an e-book called A Thrift Store Curriculum which you can get for free when you sign up for her newsletter. You can also connect with her at Twitter and Facebook.
*Image courtesy cogdogblog