How Do You Use Kids’ Interests?

Every year around this time, I ask my kids about what they’d like to study next year. The answers have varied a great deal but they’ve always made our studies more interesting for both the kids and me, and I know they learn more when they are fully engaged in what we’re studying. It can take a bit of creativity and work to figure out how to include their interests, but the rewards have been great.

For example, one year my son who was about ten years old at the time, asked if he could study Star Wars. My initial response was, “No, we can’t study Star Wars. I meant something academic,” but then I thought about it and changed my mind. After all, why couldn’t we include Star Wars? He’d excelled in reading when he’d found books on the Star Wars movies. How else could we use them to promote learning? As I thought about it, I realized that since they were science fiction, we could study science fiction as a genre in literature, but we could also look at the science presented in them and analyze which bits of Star Wars’ science were real, which could be real with some more advances in our technology, and which were fictional. By searching the internet, I quickly came up with several sources to help develop lessons, including a lot of arts and crafts ideas, too. I even found a book of Star Wars crafts at a local bookstore. My husband pointed out that a lot of the background story seemed to be a retelling of various historical periods and so some history lessons were thrown in, too. We ended up making these into monthly Star Wars Club meetings for our homeschool support group, so he could enjoy these lessons with friends who were also Star Wars’ fans. Was this our entire science program that year? No, but it fleshed out what we did. (Note: I know schools never finish their curricula–if they do 3/4 of a book, they’re doing well. I always figure that if I add stuff to what we’re learning, it’s okay to accomplish even less in the textbooks as it all averages out in the end.)

This past year, my son, then a ninth grader, asked to study archery. Perhaps this was a result of our reading through Ivanhoe with its stories of Robin Hood. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t sure how to proceed with this until I saw our local 4-H advertising a training program for the archery program they hoped to build. He signed up as a senior youth and I, and a few other moms from our local homeschool support group, signed up as adults. The all-day training was followed up with homework assignments to be turned in for full certification. Since then, we’ve started a 4-H Club with about 20 students in it (all homeschooled since we meet during the school day) working on archery. Not only does this count as part of his P.E. program, but he’s learning leadership skills.

Or how about a few years ago when my son wanted to study Legos? I found books at our library about the history of Lego bricks as well as ones demonstrating amazing creations that could be made. I found websites with fascinating information and turned it into a Lego Club in which the kids kids learned proper terminology for various Lego pieces, studied science ideas such as friction and inertia with cars designed from Lego bricks that we raced down ramps or using Lego creations to study simple (and complex) machines, allowed creativity to flourish with building contests, challenged students to build something from a limited number of pieces and then talk a buddy into duplicating it without seeing it as we developed communication skills, and more. Again, this club met monthly, but it added pizzazz to our studies and fun with friends.

When my daughter wanted to improve her art, and in particular her drawing skills, we worked together to find some books that might help. I bought her a sketchbook and got some 4-H curriculum and she found YouTube videos on particular techniques that she wanted to master. She put many, many hours into improving her technique and filling the sketchbook. She learned to make digital art, too, and put together an Art Club where she shared what she’d learned with other homeschoolers in our homeschool support group. She displayed artwork at the fair with 4-H and won some awards. She was involved in the process of deciding what topics to cover and how to cover them and learned much more than she would have if I’d just chosen an art curriculum and had her go through it.

Of course, there are less involved ways of using their interests, too. For example, when choosing books that we’ll read together, I often (but not always) take into account what I know they’d like to read. I sometimes change the wording of word problems to include their interests–dropping their names in or the names of their friends can be a simple way to liven up a boring math problem, especially when the kids are young. I’ve made writing assignments revolve around things I know they’d like, too. And we’ve gone on field trips to places that I believe will appeal to them.

And sometimes, I create entire classes based on what I know their goals are. Want to become a doctor or nurse? Okay, I’ll get curriculum on learning medical terminology and anatomy and physiology to help with that goal. Want to go into the military? Maybe we’ll study military history and strategy. Want to start a business? There are materials on entrepreneurship that could be used in our homeschool.

Some might take interest-based learning to the extreme of total unschooling, making it the basis of all their learning, but we’re eclectic homeschoolers. We do a variety of learning. We do use some textbooks. Not all of our learning is interest-based, but I try to do enough of it to keep my children fully engaged and learning as much as possible. Besides, if learning is enjoyable, we’ll have fewer battles over doing lessons. At least that’s my theory.

Cheryl

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