Sooner or later, almost every homeschool parent is going to have at least one child who just flat out doesn’t want to do any schoolwork.
The root cause may differ: lack of confidence, newly pulled out of school and associating learning with unpleasantness, an inability to sit in one place for longer than it takes you to switch your eyes to another child, or what my sister in law once memorably referred to as “the Eeyore personality”.
In any of these cases, life is going to be miserable for all of you until you can find a way to educate them that works. In some of these cases, they will make your life a living h-e-double-hockeysticks until you do.
Under a lot of circumstances, the “Suck it up, Buttercup” approach is effective. Some things just have to be done. But when it comes to homeschooling, there’s an easier solution and it won’t leave any of you in tears, unless they’re the secret tears of relief you shed in the bathroom while surreptitiously snarfing chocolate.
Let me introduce you to the concept of interest-led learning.
It exactly what it sounds like: Using the child’s own interests to guide their learning across all of the subjects they need. This can be absolutely any interest. Seriously. It’ll be effective no matter what. And it can tie in with any homeschooling methodology you choose.
Let me give you an example from our own life: My youngest son D,9, is one of those kids who does not want to stay still. He resists any attempt to actually impart knowledge if it’s coming from my lips, and makes his displeasure known in what I’ll refer to here as a dramatic fashion, because it sounds much better than saying that he rants and raves at the top of his lungs while stomping around. He has always, always been this dramatic although he can now control it better with some self-calming techniques.
When he was about 3 or 4, he became obsessed with the television show Gilligan’s Island. We spent the better part of two years learning about coconut trees, taking field trips to see palm trees and coconut trees, tapping coconuts, making string-and-coconut shell telephones, doing experiments to learn about quicksand, looked up Hawaii where the show was filmed, and learned about hurricanes and other tropical storms. He sweet talked his dad into hanging a hammock at the beach and spent a lot of time swinging in it, discussing knots. He watched videos about sound, weather and ham radios.
Fast forward to last year, age 8, when his interests changed abruptly to all things Camelot after discovering the show Merlin on Netflix. He read three different versions of King Arthur’s story, looked up a number of articles about the speculated location of Camelot and found them on the map, explored medieval life and the kind of armor a knight would have worn at that time. He learned how to read the topography of a map and drew his own conclusions about which location was the most likely place for a town and castle.
His sister sewed him a cloak and a sword belt. He visited a blacksmith and watched a farrier in action, asked a million questions at a local store that made chain mail clothing. He took a riding lesson. He learned how heavy armor was and tried moving around at any sort of speed holding that kind of weight. He learned about the balance needed in a good sword. He wrote his own “chapters” of Merlin as if they’d be shown on television, using his older siblings as a scribe. We had an endless daily math story about Merlin and King Arthur that posed new problems each time.
This year, his interest has been laser-focused on our farm animals, so…….you guessed it, we created a Farmschooling curriculum based around all of his learning that has been guided by that interest. I’m not pushing him to learn, there’s no “all right, it’s time to get to work” involved on my part, and he hasn’t thrown a single tantrum over schoolwork, except the day his sister offered to give him a writing idea. That was not well received!
Ok, that’s all well and good, you’re thinking, but how do you make it work with your child?
Well, if they’re into farm animals, you can buy our Farmschooling guide 🙂 But here are some ways to incorporate interest-led learning with your own individual child.
Rule #1: They decide when an interest is picked up and when it’s dropped. It’s so easy to want to help, so you get sucked in and start exploring Pinterest for resources and books about their chosen favorite topic of, say, baseball, which you proudly offer in a stack to the child a week later only to find out that they now want only to learn about the circuits that make a doorbell work.
Let them know that you are available for discussion and consultation, but don’t do the work for them. At most, you could help a younger child navigate the internet, and/or take them to the library (which you probably do anyway on a regular basis). You might offer to put them in touch with an expert if you happen to know one who won’t mind having a student firing questions at them.
Rule #2: No interference from you. What you find interesting about doorbells is almost guaranteed to be something that they find incredibly dull. You can take notes if they’d like you to help them remember ideas for later. That’s it. Your role is that of facilitator, not dictator.
Rule #3: No trying to sneak in some additional education! If you want them to do a daily lesson in math as well, then tell them right up front that it’s expected as part of their learning. Don’t try to slide it casually in there or you’ll be dealing with a major meltdown. Kids know when you’re trying to slide some learning in and you will regret the action. I never pretended that Merlin math was anything other than a daily lesson, and because I was matter-of-fact about his needing to do it, he came up with the daily story concept and we went with it.
If you follow the three rules above, interest-led learning could be the thing that transforms your homeschool from a daily dread to something that you all look forward to. I urge you to try it.
If you enjoyed this post, please share, “like”, or Pin. And don’t forget that you can sign up for email updates in the right sidebar! Thank you.