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Interest-Led Learning Is Not Our Style–Or Is It?

Confession: After many years of home schooling, I still am insecure about my teaching.

Which is why I have stuck with curriculum sets that include teacher’s guides and plans. Until this year. This year I’ve ventured out with some unit studies–to the utter delight of my children.

Let me tell you a story as an example of how far I’ve come from my norm this year:

We saw A Dolphin Tale in September. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, so I set aside my teacher’s book for a couple of days to do the unit study that is offered by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium offered to go along with the movie. That was nice; that was enjoyable.

Fast-forward to Christmas break. My sister just happens to live in Florida–near Clearwater, in fact. And we went to visit them for Christmas. And the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is where Winter, the dolphin from the movie, lives. And we got to see her, along with the other rescued animals they have there. And my 5th grader was so completely enthralled, she informed us she is going to be a marine biologist when she gets older.

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At that point, I had a choice. I could have said, “That’s great honey,” and treated it as just so much childhood fantasy, going back to “school as usual” after Christmas break. But (this time) I didn’t. I said, “I think that sounds like a great career choice for you. You love to swim and be in water, you love animals, you’re very compassionate, thorough, detailed, and creative. I think you would do well at being a marine biologist!”

interest led learning

When we resumed our school year after the break, I searched for unit studies that had everything to do with oceans, marine animals, and careers. A huge shout-out to Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett and Hands of a Child for helping me out!

My daughter looks forward to school now. NOW! She’s a 5th grader! It honestly took me that long to figure this out.

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I am in no way, shape, or fashion implying that using a curriculum set is bad or wrong! But, I would like to challenge you (and myself) to not always stick to what makes US, moms and teachers, most comfortable.

We haven’t completely gotten away from curriculum. We still do math, language arts, and geography. But my entire outlook and focus has changed. When one of my girls mentions an interest in a subject, we take some time to dive into that for a while. (I had one who talked about wanting to design roller coasters someday–there’s a unit study for that!) What a joy to see them light up with excitement! I am learning to let go of the “agenda” more often and go where curiosity and delight take us.

Lisa is an Army Chaplain’s wife who eats a lot of dark chocolate, loves winter, enjoys getting to know other home school moms, is learning how to be a godly wife, mother, and teacher, and can most often be found sitting curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She blogs regularly at The Army Chap’s Wife and can be found tweeting at anarmychapswife and on Facebook.

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  1. I am brand new to homeschool and blogging. I feel likeI am flailing in the wind with what I don’t know about homeschooling. So I have taken a very unpractical approach to teaching my 12 yr old 6th grade daughter. I first have to “UN” school her way of thinking about learning. She was focusing more on the grade and what she got wrong rather than what she learned and got right. I am also teaching her around her strengths and likes. Now if she never had to do math again, she’d be happy, but that is a non-neogotiable subject. I am having to find ways to make math fun. I use recipes and cooking as way to learn fractions and percents, I haven’t quite figured out where to go from there, but I’ll cross that bridge when I have to. I’m not looking too far forward, I just have to get through each day as it comes right now.
    My daughter is also an animal lover, a lover of art and a competative Irish Dancer. So I am finding ways to incorporate these things into her curriculum as well. I have been waiting on disability for almost 4 years and was just awarded full disability, but due to my loss of income I haven’t been able to purchase any kind of curriculum, I am utilizing the library and making a lot of it as I go along. I’m hoping to be able to purchase some sort of curriculum in the next month or so.
    We are Catholic, so part of her teaching is Secular. She is learning Novenas, memorizing the long list of Catholic prayers and I am going to begin teaching her the daily Rosary.
    Now is all this enough? Am I doing the right things to improve her learning? I have no idea. I really have decided there is no right or wrong way as long as my daughter is learning and enjoying homeschooling. I think that is the way to go.
    Thank You for sharing.
    P.S. I think being a Marine Biologist would be an awesome job.

    1. It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you should be! With what you’ve described here, I am fairly confident your daughter will continue to learn (and love it!) Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    2. Hi Kim! I’m sorry you are struggling right now! Believe it or not, even those of us who have homeschooled for many years still go through times when we aren’t sure if we’re doing the right things or doing enough things, etc. You might be able to find some inexpensive used curriculum from folks in a local homeschool group. Sometimes people even have curriculum that they will give away. It sure won’t hurt to check! It sounds like you are doing a great job on your own, though! The main advantage to using a set curriculum is that it’s not nearly so time-consuming on your part. And you are absolutely right! If your daughter is learning and is enjoying what she’s doing, that’s an important accomplishment too! Maybe that’s what she needs this year. Then next year you can get a bit more structured if necessary. Blessings to you and your daughter!

  2. Well, you know I am in this boat and on this journey with you. 🙂 I do believe interest led learning is soooo beneficial to our children, and you are a great mom for fostering your daughters’ dreams and goals. I will keep it up if you will, too! 🙂

  3. Great article!! We love unit studies, just because I can spend a lot of time on stuff that keeps my 5 year old interested. It makes learning not seem so much like school.

  4. Thank you so very much for this post. I am going to homeschool all three of my children next year and am looking to do some of my own “stuff”, along with purchased curriculum. Thank you for making me look at my kids’ interests and make sure I tailor things to how God gifted them. Blessings!

  5. Lisa – great post 🙂 we are more interest led schooling right now as well – and so far it’s working for us. Not sure what will happen next year {or next month!} but I love the thought of just taking it unit by unit 🙂

  6. Interest-led-learning…can be a challenge without a pencil. It’s been hard to go down that road…because I always feel like I have to ‘plan’ and if the plan isn’t accomplished…OY….but, ever since I began reading the Thomas Jefferson Education books and Educating the Wholehearted Child…it’s become much easier. Now, I have overall goals….and then…the planner is created with a pencil….generally based on the goals and filled in as we accomplish our tasks each day. We’ve taken some fun roads…off roads…and gotten muddy a few times, but my children mentioned the other day…MOM, we’re doing less, but learning more…and they were smiling. Me, it’s growing me more than them…taking the road less traveled!!! GREAT post, Lisa!

  7. Lisa thanks for sharing. I love hearing about it. We started home schooling 2 years ago and I have tried to go by books, worksheets, software and we just now this year had a similar thing happen this year. Because I have tried to figure out what I was doing wrong or felt I was doing wrong. They love being home schooled but would get bored easily. So last week we went an picked up Dolphin Tale and they asked me to do stuff on Dolphins. So I got on the computer and found Home school Movie Club and printed the Dolphin Tale one off and found so much at home and online about Dolphins that we will be working on it for awhile. Then my other daughter will pick something she wants to work on next. Thanks again for sharing.

  8. Hi, I just decided to homeschool my 3 boys this year(ages10, 8 and 5). And know I want to do interest learning with them but have no clue where to start. There is so much information out there and I have no Idea where to get the curriculum. My oldest is at grade level with math but is at a 1st-2nd grade level at reading and I feel like the school is just pushing him through. Anyways if there is any other sites that you can suggest for good curriculum for interest learning without breaking the bank. I love the one site you give us. Thank you

  9. I’m struggling with switching to interest led unit studies with my son right now. He’s in 7th and I’m not sure that it’s the right way to go since we are close to high school. He enjoys doing them so much more, but I can’t wrap my head around that they are enough. Thanks for sharing your experience – definitely gives me some more food for thought.

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