I am not a huge fan of homeschooling labels. Maybe it’s the fear of being pinned down to one way of home educating or getting caught up in dogma or maybe I just don’t have the attention span.
Early on in our homeschooling journey, we tried many methods and styles of homeschooling. We dabbled in classical (for a hot minute), Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, and others. When my kids were younger, we worked together as much as possible. I still tweaked activities and subjects for them and allowed plenty of time for their interests.
As my kids got older, I had to step back and evaluate what type of learning environment I wanted to create in our home. I had one vision, and it included all of us still sitting around doing as much together as possible because it was easier for me and because I thought that I had to do that in order to be ticking off the boxes for homeschooling the right way. However, my kids had other ideas. And, because it’s their education, I really needed to listen.
This felt good and scary. We have very minimal homeschool requirements in our state and sometimes that makes it hard for me. I tend to get decision fatigue. Sometimes, I just want someone to tell me what to do and when. Hello, rules-follower people-pleaser. Sigh.
Our full-time interest-led homeschooling started with my oldest when he was in middle school. He’s only 22 months older than our boy/girl twins but fiercely independent, knows what he wants to do in life and what his interests are. He will also tell you (and me) all about them. All the time. You get the picture.
After I finished sobbing in the corner when he asked to work on all his subjects separately, I realized this was actually a good thing. My kid wanted to take ownership of his learning. He wasn’t going to just settle for what I put in front of him or what I said he had to do.
Did I mention this was a bit scary?
What interest-led learning looks like in our homeschool
Interest-led learning can look like many different things to different people. It will depend on your child’s age, your homeschooling goals, your season of life, etc. I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong way to be interest-led but I will tell you that it must be partnership-based. Flexibility helps, as does the willingness to throw in the towel, start over, change topics (and, yes, follow their interests, even if you don’t quite jive with them).
My three teens are all very different. They learn differently, process information differently, and have varying energy levels. One thing they do have in common is strong opinions (Hmm, I wonder where they get that from).
Because there’s one of me and three of them, I had to set up some boundaries because I cannot bop from kid to kid teaching every subject all day long. Nope. Between homeschooling, activities, working (me and my husband), there are only so many hours in the day and I only have so much energy.
I have two “non-negotiable” subjects they do nearly every day: math and grammar. Math is taught by my mother-in-law, a former high school math teacher. This has lifted a huge burden off of me and my kids.
She teaches them individually via Zoom 4-5 days a week. She manages the assignments and grading. She connects with them, answers their questions, and I don’t have to be the bad guy anymore.
For grammar, we use a combination of workbooks, games, and Khan Academy lessons. That’s it.
Three Teens, Many Interests
My oldest enjoys in-person classes and interacting with people. He is currently in an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) cadet program. It’s a year-long program that will be classroom intensive (he’s working on classes from home right now) and he will be getting real-life experience as well. His goal is to be an EMT.
He found online games and programs to design his own ambulances and that led to an interest in graphic design, digital art, and more. He is constantly watching YouTube videos of EMTs from around the world to see how different countries handle medical emergencies.
He is researching college programs. We are working together to plan out the next few years of homeschool high school to meet requirements set up by me and his dad and to encourage his interests.
As a writer, I really want my kids to learn to write well. The biggest issue? I stink at teaching writing. Scratch that. I don’t have the capacity to teach it well and still be a mom.
My son and I were going around and around with writing expectations. He took it upon himself to find an online writing class based on a topic he loves: law and arguing. It was perfect for him. He really connected with his teacher, did all the readings, quizzes, and papers on his own (with her feedback) and learned so much. He plans on taking another class with her in the fall.
My twins are like night and day. When our school year started last fall, I still had planned to homeschool them together for everything. Just like always. Well, between crazy schedules, different interests, and hormones (#thepuberties are no joke, friends), we had to shake things up.
I sat down with both of them explaining that I would be available to answer questions and help find resources, sign them up for classes, etc., but they would responsible for completing their work in a timely fashion. Next, I met with each twin one-on-one to discuss topics, subjects, and resources.
My daughter likes what I call “traditional” school work. She and I went to our local homeschool store and she picked out workbooks for each subject. She made herself a schedule and she works on her own in her room most mornings until lunch.
Basketball, a passion of hers, takes up lots of her free time. She practices, exercises, watches game film, and works with my husband to improve her game. She loves to write and fills up journals faster than I can buy them. She has become interested in teeth and orthodontics after getting her braces on as well. She has researched how braces work, what a dental hygienist does, and has fashioned her own set of teeth WITH braces. Interest-led learning for the win!
Her twin brother is, well, my biggest challenge. He even tells me this daily. His brain works faster than mine and his ability to dive deep into a topic is admirable and sometimes exhausting. But, I love it.
He doesn’t have a set schedule each day, except for his math. He is currently on a podcast kick. He reads books about podcasting, watches videos, has taken several online classes, drafted and edited several scripts, and is hoping for a microphone for his birthday. I love his passion.
He is completely self-directed and I just help pay for resources and read his scripts (when he lets me). Watching him thrive in this type of environment is awesome. He has done this with other topics such as graphic design, the Civil War, baseball, football, comics, entrepreneurship, and more. While he doesn’t follow a typical school subject schedule, he is learning all the time.
He is a voracious reader as well and recently blew me away playing a history game. He knew dates to historic events that we’ve never discussed during “homeschool” time. Turns out, he had memorized the dates on the game cards in his free time.
A recent painting kick produced 10 beautiful canvases that now adorn our front hallway. He found the videos and set up his supplies and painted every day for nearly two weeks. He even got his twin sister in on the act and it was wonderful to watch them sit together and paint and talk.
Lean In to Interest-Led Learning
Sometimes it is helpful to see what is working in another family’s homeschool, and I hope this look into our interest-led homeschool can encourage you to breathe a bit—to see the good stuff that your kids are doing, even if their interests don’t look like Latin or writing papers or solving 28 math problems. We definitely still have struggles (because TEENS), but finding a balance between what my husband and I would like to cover academically and giving them lots of room to explore their interests is paying off.