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Interest-Led Learning

The purpose of interest-led learning is to allow homeschoolers to follow an interest; valuing the interest as a school-worthy subject. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a region of the world, fossils, board games, a maths formula, an area of science, a genre of music or book or film – whatever their interest, there’s a way to allow home learners to explore it in a way that makes it school.

Take chess. Chess is a game, right? It’s a hobby not school. But…to play chess requires learning the pieces and the rules; it requires players to think logically and to plan and apply strategies. Thinking academically, playing chess asks learners to apply memorisation, to commit to practicing, to think long-term, focus on pattern recognition and chess games, especially when learning, teach the meaning of sportsmanship. Chess is a game, yes; but it’s a game that can teach a lot. Asking home learners to write and read articles about chess, to delve into the biographies of chess Grandmasters, to plan strategies and memorise openings might not be teaching them actual ‘academics’, but the skills required of them to complete the tasks will benefit all other school subjects.

Interest-led, or child-led learning, improves a child’s confidence in their own ability to learn as they watch their knowledge grow, which makes this more organic learning style a great option for home educators who have children who are reluctant to learning in a traditional school style way

Mr 10 loves birds. He loves watching them and reading about their habitats, he mimics bird calls and carries binoculars everywhere so obviously, he is completing an open-ended project titled ‘Birds’.

So far he has:

  • Learnt the spelling for bird species common to the UK and Europe,
  • Learnt how to group birds correctly,
  • Explored the different habitats of different species of birds,
  • Completed mini-projects specific to his favourite birds,
  • Drawn diagrams of flight paths and depicted birds’ forms in various art mediums,
  • Looked at migration patterns, food chains and reproduction.
  • Watched lectures via The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Academy and used the website resources to further his scientific knowledge of birds.

While completing this project he has analysed data, read copious amounts of text, experimented with art styles and learnt to nature watch – a major skill, to be silent and still, for a hyperactive ten-year-old. Turning his interest into a project has ignited his interest in it. He not only enjoys the experience of studying birds and so has academically benefited from the project (happy students are learning students), but also feels as though the time, energy and effort he puts into learning about birds is worthy of being called ‘school’. He’s learning that pursuing his interest is valuable and that we, as parents and teachers, appreciate and value his interest and that in itself is as important as the academic side of the schoolwork.

In essence, his ‘Bird’ project is an open-ended unit study, integrating skill practice for a variety of subjects.

Mr 11 has little interest in birds, apart from appreciating that his brother likes them and agreeing that using a torch to track the flight path of owls is quite a fun activity at dusk: Mr 11 loves music. Playing it, listening to it, making it, discovering it – if it has a beat, he’ll hear it. So while his brother’s learning about the colour of eggshells, he’s studying composers and instruments. He’s looking up lyrics, reading tabs and classical music score and studying musical theory.

He’s taken courses, made tutorials and is gearing up to take exams. His folder is less bulky with paper than Mr 10’s, but his knowledge is equally sound. This though doesn’t count as a project: To make the study of music into a project he would need to quantify this knowledge, as he did with a project on guitars – starting from the history of string instruments and ending with futuristic designs for a super-tech advanced instrument. The project included diagrams of different guitar frames, a study of music genres and the different types of guitar, plenty of art and a performance in place of a summary.

It can be daunting to try and take an interest and turn it into a school-worthy project but just as anything can be a lesson if you look at it in a certain way, any interest can be turned into a study.

A Video Game Project

Ask the student to:

  • Choose a video game.
  • Research the history of the video game / the console brand
  • Ask them to describe the graphics of the game – write the description in the style of a game reviewer / an art critic
  • Ask them to write a letter to a friend telling them about the game – talk about the different styles of language used in the written exercises.
  • Research how many copies of the game have been sold

Add in a maths lesson: How much money has the game made? How many people did it take to make the game (read the credits); what is the average salary for a (job role from the credits); can you estimate how much did it might have cost to make the game? aside from wages what other costs need to be factored in to make a video game? (Assign reading to help them find the information to answer the questions: for example)

  • Set themselves a challenge to complete a section of the video game within a time frame

Talk about how important it is to manage screen time safely – help them plan a timetable that will help them achieve the goal of the challenge within the time frame, factoring in regular screen-time breaks.

  • Ask home learners to think about an extension to the game – can they plan it/ code it/ draw it?

When putting together a project folder for the study of a video game, paper and pen might not be the best medium to quantify their knowledge: Could they make a video collation of all of the above tasks? Record a presentation explaining everything they’ve learnt about the game? Present it as an art piece/comic book mimicking the art style of the game?

Project-based learning is a great tool to encourage learners to experiment with how they express themselves.