This is the first year that my family and I have ventured into the exciting and uncertain world of "interest-led learning." My oldest son prefers to call it "free-form schooling." And my younger son doesn't even mind throwing around the controversial "unschooling" term. (I refuse to let him use it around our more judgmental friends and family members) My sons are technically in their eighth and tenth "grades", and I'll admit, it took me this long to get to the point where I was relaxed enough to trust my sons' educational instincts.
Like a lot of first-timers, we had a sort of "school-at-home" approach to homeschooling when we started out. We did all the classical kindergarten rituals such as saying the pledge of allegiance to begin our day, setting up "centers" for exploration, and using those crazy sentence strips to teach writing. My kids could have easily made the transition into any traditional classroom in the country without batting an eye.
By the upper elementary years, that approach was getting a little stifling, so we turned more toward a literature-based curriculum, and focused more on a unit-study style of learning. This was definitely more appealing to my boys, as we were getting to explore some wonderful books and we kept very busy with the hands-on activities that were prescribed to supplement our learning. But something still felt a bit "forced" with this approach. We found ourselves doing activities that we had very little interest in...just because they went along with what we were studying.
Because my sons were always drawn toward flashing things with buttons and lights, we made yet another transition in the middle school years. Our educational focus turned toward online learning, where every lesson had an audio/video component to it, and education was fully interactive and engaging. Everything from keyboarding to world history could be accessed via online lessons My sons thrived on the visual and audio support of multimedia lessons and entertaining activities that supported what they were learning. What could be better than an online homeschool curriculum, I wondered?
But as high school approached, that familiar restlessness cropped up again. What could possibly be missing??
We discussed it at length, and our family realized that each of us had really strong interests in very different subjects. Subjects that we wanted to delve into much deeper than most curricula would permit. My oldest son has a passion for programming, and the average homeschool curriculum doesn't offer much help in this area. My younger son is bananas for biology and zoology. While he can definitely get a good base of learning in this subject from a curriculum, in order to really learn all that he wants to learn about the animal kingdom, he actually has to dig deeper for himself. The conclusion we came to was that all of the methods we had used for homeschooling had served a purpose for a particular time, but that now, it was time to trust the boys to create their own learning paths. And that is just what they are doing.
While they are still using online curricula such as Time4Learning™ for their math and language arts studies, the rest of their days is given over to following their own interests. Our oldest son is now busy learning his fourth computer language, and our youngest son is happily compiling data for a project on dog behavior. The truth is that our homeschooling methods have evolved over the last ten years to bring us to this point, and looking back, I feel so blessed to have experienced so many different "ways" to homeschool.
by Kerry Jones
Kerry is a freelance writer and online marketing consultant in North Carolina. She has two sons, and has been homeschooling since 1999. She writes several blogs about homeschooling and educational technology, including her personal blog, Topsy-Techie.