By Kirsty James
Unless the family situation is unusual, the HEN support team usually suggests interest based learning, which some people interpret to mean natural learning or unschooling (which is by definition interest based). However, interest based learning is relevant to every philosophy, and also to those who are new to home education and have not identified any particular style that appeals to them.
There are a number of advantages for both child and parent. For the child, it’s a way to ensure that schoolwork is relevant, engaging and varied. For the parent, it minimises workload by working with a student’s strengths, ensuring time is spent in ways that are most likely to be productive and reducing complaints and arguments.
Newer home educators often feel that putting together an interest based program will be harder than purchasing an off the shelf product which covers all KLAs. That’s not necessarily true, there are any number of options available which are tailored to particular learning styles and interests, and which require little active teaching – allowing parents to fulfil the facilitator role which most find more comfortable.
Interest based learning avoids:
- Set reading books that are not of interest
- Creating work where a student’s hobbies or self directed study already cover a KLA well
- Pointless ‘busywork’
- A focus on theory over action – such as reading about experiments rather than doing them
It also allows for greater variety, which ensures that learning does not become stale. Using the products of one company for each area inevitably means that the style will be similar, and therefore more likely to become boring or repetitive. Additionally the best Science, History or Maths resources are created by people who are passionate and knowledgeable about that subject. Resources created by those who have home educated themselves (and are not hung up on grade levels) are likely to be more interesting, employ a variety of methods, and probably serve multiple children within the family – further decreasing parental workload.
So how would you start to put together such a program?
Consider your child’s needs now and in the future. Only those who intend to do an English rich university degree will need advanced essay writing skills and the ability to identify a compound predicate, whereas all adults need to be able to write reports and express themselves clearly and concisely. Some careers require advanced mathematics, most don’t. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling you have to remain ‘at grade’ or ‘keep up’ – each grade level includes a lot of repetition of skills and it’s possible to advance rapidly through material when motivated, and if it proves necessary.
Consider your child’s learning style. Are they visual, auditory of kinaesthetic learners? Will they learn best through hands-on skills, crafts, game play, reading, watching documentaries or listening to podcasts?
Consider your child’s talents. Create a program which uses their talents and builds their confidence.
A child who can express themselves verbally, but struggles to write will benefit not only from targeted writing support, but also from being able to use their preferred method of communication as much as possible. A child who is creative may enjoy open-ended challenges that encourage lateral thinking over more traditional question-based learning.
Consider your child’s interests. Not every interest needs to be turned into ‘school’, but it makes sense to use the child’s natural interest in bugs, the weather or physiology to cover science, rather than insisting that they study someone else’s choice of topic. For children with narrow interests, this can reduce conflict enormously. The world needs specialists as much as generalists, so there’s a good argument for supporting your child to become an expert on moths, engines or Romans. If your child is covering a KLA by themselves, there’s no need to formalise it by adding in worksheets, however your child might appreciate being informed that there’s an upcoming online session on the topic, or that you found a great book at the op shop.
Once you have identified the type of product or opportunity which would meet your child’s needs, it’s time to research. The ability to research is essential for a home educating parent, and there are a number of sites which are particularly helpful for home educators and save us reinventing the wheel.
The HEN Resource Directory lists many of the products most popular with Australian home educators https://home-ed.vic.edu.au/resources-2/
To find out more about individual products you can visit the related website and also look up products at https://cathyduffyreviews.com/ This site has reviews of many popular education products, and the advanced search feature allows you to specify (amongst other things) religious perspective, educational approach and the amount of parental involvement.
Pinterest is a fantastic resource for those who find images more helpful than text. Searching for a topic plus unit, game, resource, craft etc can lead you to a huge range of options (many of which will be inexpensive or free). HEN has a Pinterest board which is a great place to start, but no one board could cover every topic or possibility – https:// www.pinterest.com.au/ HomeEducationNetworkAustralia/
Teachers Pay Teachers is a good option for inexpensive materials https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/ The search function allows you to find forensics activities for 9th grade, or fraction games for 4th grade.
Your local community and the wider home ed community. A student who is interested in woodwork might join a local woodturning guild, your neighbourhood house may have a yoga class, or your child might like to join a home ed Auslan class or chess club.
Once you have done your basic research, Facebook groups can also be helpful. If you liked the look of a particular option but would prefer an Australian version, if you are struggling to find resources to support your child’s interest in moths, or if you are keen to add in a science podcast but overwhelmed by the choice, ask.
Remember that the school curriculum is designed to prioritise the skills that will allow mass instruction to be as smooth as possible, meaning that it’s more important for primary school kids to be able to identify and adjective and write copious amounts than it is to observe nature or develop an interest in Greek mythology. School exists to provide opportunities for all, which means that a substantial portion of the curriculum is irrelevant for many children. The child who will one day study quantum physics has very different needs to a child who will become a graphic artist. The chances are that those children would have very different interests at every stage of their school career, yet until the last few years of high school they will both study the same thing – then simply discard what is not useful to them. Interest based learning allows one child to learn everything they can about science and mathematics, whilst the other can focus on creativity and communication, time that will be relevant, meaningful and well spent.
Otherways 172 (May 2022)Last updated on