Reader Questions: How Do I Turn His Interests Into Lessons?

Hi, I was looking up self directed learning and came across your page. Although I have asked in a few Facebook groups about self directed learning, I have some unanswered questions and thought possibly you could answer for me. My son will be 13 in 2 weeks. I have homeschooled him for the past 3 years. We just started year round last year. He is still behind in most subjects and I feel that it’s mostly because he has no interest in what he’s learning so gives very little effort. I would like to see if self directed learning would spark his interest in learning more. My questions are how do we turn his interests into “lessons”? I understand we can start with reading what he is interested in and write about it and research it further, but what else can we do? I need as much info as possible as far as creating subjects.

There are as many ways to answer these questions and concerns as there are homeschoolers out there.  The very first thing that I encourage you to do is to figure out what you believe about education.  I have a blog post that should help you figure out whether or not self-directed homeschooling is going to work for your family (click here to access it).  If that resonates with you, then check this link for further clarification.  It’s really, really important for you to have congruence between what you believe about education, what you believe about your child, and then the methods and resources you choose to use or make available to your child for his education.  If what you actually believe and what you do aren’t in alignment, you’ll end up doing nothing but causing frustration and confusion.

Assuming self-directed homeschooling resonates with you, the next thing you need to do is release the ideas of being “behind” and of “subjects”.  The only place not being “behind” matters is in school.  And the only reason it matters there is for crowd control and the convenience of the teachers and administrators as children are herded together from one grade to the next.  The only place that “subjects” matter is in school, too.  In the real world, life isn’t carved up into subjects.  You learn what you need to learn, when you need to learn it, in order to do what you want or need to do.

At that point, the most basic answer to your question about how we turn his interests into “lessons” is that you don’t – unless that’s what he’s asking for. Now, I’ll take flak for that from some members of the unschooling community, who seem to believe that anything that looks or seems schooly must be avoided at all costs, but I’m all right with that.  To me, the crux of self-directed homeschooling is simple: you allow your child to learn the same way adults learn.  That means that once he recognizes a need or a desire to learn or do something, (if asked) you help him or you let him locate the resources or materials he’ll need in order to learn or do it. With those resources or materials in hand, you turn him loose to study or practice or go off on wild chases down all sorts of rabbit holes until he’s satisfied that his original need or desire has been met.  And then he moves onto the next thing.  

Life has an uncanny way of throwing obstacles up between people and what they want to be, have, know, or do.  Those obstacles are usually gaps in knowledge or skill, and encountering them while they’re pursuing a personally meaningful goal is how people learn.  Those obstacles tend to appear at the perfect time for someone to learn the information needed, which means you don’t spend years teaching someone something they aren’t ready to learn or don’t see a purpose for learning.  If the goal is personally meaningful enough, people – even children – will do difficult or unpleasant tasks to bridge those gaps and plow through those obstacles.  So you see, you don’t need to create “lessons”.  Life will do that for you.

If he’s asking you for stuff that looks like school, it is my opinion that you work together to create that and then you turn over responsibility for doing it to him.  My 14 year old is asking for the same thing right now.  The feedback I’ve seen from some radical unschoolers suggests that I should be working with her to uncover why she feels like she needs that schooly stuff and somehow re-educate her so that she no longer believes that she needs it.  I reject that advice as soundly as I reject the notion that I should be the one making choices about what she learns.  If my child is asking to learn something, I darn well am going to do whatever I can to help her learn it.  Period.  Erica and I worked together to piece together a scope and sequence of study for US History that would play to her strengths as a learner and give her the information she’s looking for.  Then, we sat down with a calendar and started scheduling time to get it done.  She prefers that I be engaged in the process with her, so as much as possible, I will accommodate that.  However, I will not nag her or fight with her to get it done; if it’s important to her, she’ll do it.

Hope that helps!  And feel free to ask clarifying questions or questions about anything else…If anyone else has other advice for this mom or a different take all together, feel free to start or participate in the discussion in the comments thread.  Just keep it respectful, folks.

About the Author Becky

I’m a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.

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