A mom recently asked me about the idea of following our kids interests. After reading Why Quit Homeschooling, she wrote, “I ended with the same question that I often do when I read about moms who've 'ditched' the textbook method and are allowing their kids interests to lead in homeschool. My question is "So how do they make sure that the appropriate math and language arts gets learned by the end of the school year?". . .If I let my kids' interests lead our homeschooling, my 12 yr.old son would play with Legos, do science experiments (with no writing involved), and read G.A. Henty history books (and don't ask him to summarize chapters either!).”
These are excellent questions, and I love her obvious hunger to give her kids the best.
So, let's consider her statement about: "moms who've 'ditched' the textbook method and are allowing their kids interests to lead in homeschool".
There is one view of homeschooling that marches down that path without flinching, and it's called "Unschooling." Though there are folks who are devoted to unschooling and its philosophy (pioneered by John Holt), I have never been comfortable with this as an overall approach. The reason? Because I also had kids, who, if left to follow their own interests, would have built Legos full-time and never written a paper!
There is another view of homschooling, however, that has a different foundational philosophy. I call it "Education That's Relational™." Rather than simply following a child's interests throughout the day (and hoping they someday want to know about grammar!), education that's relational seeks to engage your child's interest in the course being learned, in each academic subject they are studying. And it works with every age and every grade.
NOTICE: This second approach requires some initial preparation on your part, but because it helps students to become engaged and self-motivated, it will save you time (and tears) later!
There are three major components:
#1) Be careful to observe. Watch, listen to, and pay attention to your child—to his/her interests, challenges, passions, struggles. Does she LIGHT UP when you pull out a book? Or not? Does he come to life when he gets to go outside? Or not? Does she struggle with the worksheets that her sibling loved? Does he shut down when you ask him to tell someone outside your family what he just learned? All of these things are powerful insights, clues to what makes your child tick.
#2) Become equipped. Learn about Multiple Intelligences and the four Learning Styles. (I've linked to my DVD that describes this for homeschoolers. There are many other resources available!) They will be the key to unlock the door to your child's interest in each subject. So, for instance, if you have a student who is always on the go, always moving, always into things, they have a strong Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. When it is time to learn multiplication tables, instead of making Johnny sit quietly to memorize it (good luck!), instead, invite him to practice jumping jacks as he shouts out each part of the times table: "2 x 2 is 4, YAY!!!" This equipping on your part will make a difference in the ways your children can learn and engage with every subject.
#3) Be flexible. Having a planned schedule is one of the best ways to navigate the demands of both teaching your kids and caring for your family. The key to being relational, though, is to be flexible. For instance, if you have a plan that Suzie will learn the differences between nouns, verbs and prepositions on Friday, but she is really struggling to understand the concepts, then take a few steps back. Set your schedule aside temporarily, and take the time to do some hands-on work with these parts of speech. After a refreshing weekend, you might have Suzie touch the nouns you name (chair, door, shoe), act out the verbs (jump, sit, run), and dance the prepositions (under, over, between). On Tuesday, have her touch the nouns SHE names, act out the verbs SHE says, and dance the prepositions SHE chooses. Though the schedule has to be adjusted, Suzie just engaged with her own learning. And, suddenly, it makes sense!
Being educationally relational in these ways will allow your kids to thrive in their learning experience. And, as an added bonus, your job gets a LOT easier.