Interest-based learning is a way of teaching subjects open-endedly, allowing students to follow their interests, practice academic and non academic skill sets, and encourages students to develop independent-study and research skills.

Interest-based learning allows pupils to take a subject /topic of interest and run with it – no lesson bells, no restrictions on resources, and no specific format (of learning or recording) to follow.

Projects can be suggested by you (the teacher) or the project topic can be suggested by pupils as a way of allowing home-ed learners to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.

Project-based learning works especially well for history, geography and science – subjects where cumulative knowledge is important.

Using Interest-Led Learning in Home Education

  • Think about what interests your learners. Write a list. It doesn’t matter how far away from academics the interest seems, there will be a way to make it ‘school’.
  • Think about the skill set needed to pursue the interests you’ve listed.

If your child likes books, the skill set is obviously reading.. but what about gaming? Is there a skill set there?

Of course there is! Gaming requires strategy and concentration, teamwork and quick thinking; playing video games requires development of hand-eye co-ordination and spatial awareness, and as gamers often communicate with others online, typing skills are constantly in use.

Even if your child’s hobby doesn’t look a lot like learning, dig a little deeper and you’ll probably see there’s more to the activity than meets the eye.

  • Once you’ve broken down the skill set, think about tasks that can be set to help them improve on and develop those.

E.g: Helping your child improve their type speed is going to make playing their games easier is great for speed-writing ‘school’ essays.

If they enjoy the challenge of gaming, set them a typing task aiming to up their type-speed or improve their accuracy. If it’s strategy they like, how about tasking them to design a board game?

Could they write the story of the game they most love to play? Present it in comic book form? Create their own interpretation of the characters in art or animations?

You see where I’m going with this: Take something they like and encourage them to explore it further.

  • Add History and Geography

For each and every hobby or interest, there is a history to it – explore it! Look at the origins, the development; discover where in the world the interest was first documented; how it’s evolved.

If your child likes archery and uses a modern bow, try making an original bow from sticks or researching the many ways archery has been used, from hunter-gathering to military usage. Look at how laser technology has enabled greater accuracy and debate whether the sport of archery is better or worse for the developments. Is laser-targeting cheating?

If cooking is their passion, where do the ingredients come from? How are they processed? How far around the world does vanilla have to travel to reach your table? How much is consumed each year, per region? Ask whether in the face of climate change it’s ethical to cook with ingredients that travel so far to reach us and whether substitutes could be used instead.

  • Always include written content somewhere

Whether it’s asking your student to write summaries of a TV show they like, or writing a poem to describe a favourite artwork, including written tasks in their project work is a subtle way to encourage them to practice writing skills. Writing in any form is beneficial and if the pressure’s off – it’s not a ‘writing lesson’ remember – there will be less resistance even from the most pen-averse pupil.

  • Include data anaylsis where possible

While working on a bird project, T has sourced and mapped flight path data, worked out the speed different species of birds could reach depending on varying wind speed/strength; he’s created bar graphs and pie charts to explain habitats and migration routes, and compiles his own data on birds he spots out and about. Maths is intrinsically linked to his project and he hasn’t got a clue he’s studying or practicing this core subject because he’s simply learning about the birds he loves.

Whether it’s using graphs and charts, looking at stats in the Guinness Book of Records, blind counting the tempo beats of new pieces of music or researching how many books an author has sold, and how that breaks down to earnings when compared with the time taken to write the book, maths can be integrated into almost every topic of interest.

  • Learn with them!

Showing an interest in what interests them is key to valuing a child’s interest and it’s as important when you’re their teacher as when you’re your pupils’ parent. Watching documentaries or films around the topic, reading aloud books that tie in somehow, completing related art tasks together (even if it’s just colouring in pictures together); showing them you’re interested too validates both their interest and the journey of learning they’re on.

It helps to give expectations as to what should be included in a project to ensure the student knows what’s needed from them. Even if the project is open-ended, any school time dedicated to project-based learning should be accountable. The guidelines we use for project expectations are here.

Interest-led, project-based learning is a regular feature on our home-ed timetable. It’s a lesson formula we use for afternoon school; time in the homeschool day when core subjects have been covered, classroom lessons complete and our homeschooler’s are ‘timetabled’ to be spending time productively…in between an after school club and a hobby type activity. Because the topic of the project is led by them, and what exactly that project entails is up to them, they’re always happy to be scheduled this class. Interest-led, open-led unit studies are a great use of the extra free time perk of home education.