The concept of ‘interest led’ or ‘passion driven’ learning is so counterculture to how education is run in public schools, many people don’t understand what it realistically looks like as a form of educating. So, I thought I would share what it looks like in our house, and what a powerful tool it is in our unschooling life.
Here’s a small example:
When Naturalist and I went to NYC, we visited the Museum of Natural History.
Museums, which should be a Disneyland for learning, too often are despised by kids and thought of as ‘boring’. I’ve learned (the hard way) how to visit museums with my kids….but here’s how it goes (and here’s the first and best step to finding out an interest or passion in kids!). I give them a museum map and highlighter, and have them highlight all the places and rooms they want to visit while there. We do not go to every nook and cranny, and skip entire exibits altogether.
Naturalist highlighted her interests, and then I let her lead me around to each of them (btw, map reading and following is a big chunk of curriculum in any grade…). She played tour guide as we went along, hour by hour. First hour, second hour, by the third hour I noticed a theme…birds. Everywhere we went it was all about birds. Birds of North America. Birds of South America. Ancient Birds. Birds of Antarctica. Birds of the rainforests….birds birds birds.
I wasn’t big into all the bird stuff, so spent my time trying to fit in with the locals.
At the end of the 4th hour, I finally spoke up.
“Hey, do you know there’s a term for nerdy bird love like this?” I asked.
“No, what is it?” she wondered.
“It’s a field of study called ‘Ornithology’, you might look into it!”
She could have stayed there another 4 hours, but I was getting bored, hungry, and cranky, so we started for the exit. We made a quick detour into the huuuuuge gift shop, where Naturalist headed straight for this:
The ornithology section.
Since then, I rarely see her without a bird book near by. She checks out bird bibles at the library so she can cross reference birds with their habitats, flight patterns, and range of migration.
Her dyslexia still makes reading difficult, but nothing is going to stop her from learning what she’s passionate about. She’s set a goal to learn a new bird every other day, complete with it’s scientific name and other relevant facts. She’s also looking in to volunteering in the bird departments at the Zoo and Science Museum in Denver.
In school, this study into Ornithology wouldn’t be encouraged because nothing about it prepares her for the state testing or the SAT. There are few things she’s learning now that will help her pass a standardized test. I find it so shortsighted that so much of our public education is geared towards test taking and not geared enough towards life learning.
As my boyfriend, John Muir, says, “Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” Her interest and passion for birds has so far taught her about geography, ecology, latin, research, reading, and a thousand other things that I can’t quantify.
It works this way for each of the kids: Sassy is obsessed with outer space. Golfer is obsessed with military aircraft and US Presidents. While their interests are specific, the deeper they delve into them, the more they learn about everything else. It’s a fun process to be a part of!