Most kids have special, specific interests that they enjoy exploring or working into their day.
My daughter loves libraries and books, meteorology, microbiology, and crafts, and my son is all about Minecraft and board games. We've been able to work those topics into our homeschooling in the areas of science, art, history, spatial relations, geography, strategy, and many other subjects.
Chances are, the kids in your life have particular interests that they are passionate about, topics that really get them engaged with an activity. Once you have figured out what those are, use them in your schooling.
Here is what you can do to make that happen:
Break Down Your Child’s Interests
Start by getting a better understanding of what your child is interested in. You can do this by having a conversation about what makes her passionate or observing what she spends her free time doing. Think about what learning units your child has been most interested in, or if there are any classes or clubs your child has been asking to join.
Use that knowledge as a starting point to find ways to turn interests into more structured learning. Begin by searching the Internet and the local library to learn more about the interests so you can operate from a position of knowledge. Have other people in your family do the same.
The following are resources you can explore:
Search your local area for related attractions and activities, like zoos, museums, expert talks at the library, Lego clubs, science fairs, workshops for kids, and so on.
Depending on your child’s interest(s), you may be able to find an expert in your area who can talk to her about the topic, or even allow her to volunteer in the field. You may already be friends with some people who can help. Possibilities include getting involved with the Humane Society, the local library, a nature center, and a political headquarters.
Watch movies and documentaries on your child’s interests as a family. This will show her how much you are invested in sharing in her passion.
By exploring your kids' special interests while you homeschool, you'll not only allow your child to be more involved in her education, you'll show her that you're paying attention to her and to her needs.
Once you’ve researched what your child’s interests have to offer in terms of content, make goals about what you want her to learn. For instance, for a child who is really interested in cooking, food shopping, converting recipes, and working in the kitchen all offer excellent opportunities for learning. With food shopping, kids can learn about budgeting and basic math; with converting recipes, kids can better understand fractions and ratios; and with working in the kitchen, kids can learn more about the chemistry of certain ingredients or the culinary culture of different countries.
Make a list of skills that you want your child to develop by delving into her special interest. This will allow you to keep track of what she learns through the lessons you create. If your state requires homeschooling families to meet certain requirements with their content, try to find intersections between what your child is interested in, and the skills she is required to know by the end of the year. If you are having a difficult time finding commonalities between your child’s interests and the state’s requirements, you can fulfill these separately instead of combining them.
To learn more about your state’s requirements, visit the Home School Legal Defense Association. You can also see what state supports are available to homeschooling families.
If your child is a bit older, you can involve her in setting her own goals for what she wants to learn about a certain topic. This is a great way to ensure that your child is even more invested in her education.
Consider Your Child’s Learning Style
After setting the academic goals you want your child to work toward, think about the kind of setting in which she learns best.
Is she an independent learner who prefers working through material on her own? Then perhaps finding literature or movies that teach her about the topic at hand is a good way for her to reach the goals you set.
Does your child respond well to having someone else guide her learning? Then maybe working with an expert in the community, or having her work on a project with siblings or other homeschooling families could be a good fit.
Find Lessons in Everything
With the academic goals and your child’s learning style in mind, it’s time for the fun to begin! Start planning out lessons that engage your child’s interests and cultivate important skills. Remember that there are dozens of teaching opportunities around you.
Let's say your daughter loves clouds. She wants to know what they are all called and how they form, and you’ve decided that this will be a great way to teach some of the science requirements she must fulfill this year. You can get cloud hunting books and go on cloud searching expeditions. You'll learn about science and meteorology, and get exercise in the meantime.
You can also branch out and include other topics in this lesson. For example, while you're out, search for birds and other wildlife, perhaps sketch in a nature journal. Teach hiking safety, making sure everyone there has a bag with water, snacks, a hat, and sunscreen. Include a photography lesson — have her take photos of the clouds and wildlife. Your child will discover that learning can happen anywhere at any time. It's just a matter of paying attention, and choosing to learn from what she experiences.
For more ideas, check out the Noodle series on how to sneak learning into everyday life.
You can also use travel plans as a great way to incorporate lessons into a trip, or you can plan a special excursion that revolves around your child’s interests. You can take a road trip to the South to learn about the Civil War, or visit the country’s top art museums to learn about the evolution of art history. There are dozens of educational road trips your family can take to learn.
Also, including kids in the travel plans is a great opportunity to learn important skills. Explore the journey on maps, figure out distances and routes, and learn geography while deciding where to go. Foreign trips can be wonderful opportunities for learning about other cultures, too, including their language, geography, and ways of life. For all trips, share the budgeting responsibilities with your older children, who can help decide how much money is available for each part of the trip. It will also teach them to value travel, since it's rarely cheap.
Go “Off Book”
As long as you leave enough time for your children to learn the content that is required by your state, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to include unrelated, yet important and exciting lessons.
Everyone learns better when they are interested in and engaged with the lesson topic. They invest in their own learning, and often take charge of it. They get energized and inspired, and always end up learning more and doing more than with topics that aren't of much interest.
For example, for a child interested in fashion, you can explore the history of fashion design, from ancient times to the present. Have her design their own clothes, beginning with colorful sketches, and ending with sewing finished pieces. This is an opportunity for your child to learn about art, color, measurement, and math.
Throughout your child’s engagement with her interests, formally and informally, you may want to assess their learning. Look back to the goals that you set out and conceptualize some ways to get a better understanding of what your child has learned.
Create a capstone project.
One way to assess your child’s learning is to create a capstone project that illustrates what she has learned. This can be a portfolio of the work she’s done along the way, an essay about the most engaging lesson she had, or a presentation to family members or friends about the topic.
Evaluate your child’s goal list.
If your child made a list of goals that she wanted to accomplish, discuss them together and analyze whether or not she met them. Ask questions about why certain goals were or were not met, what was done well, and what could be improved next time. Revisit these goals periodically and see how well your kids have made progress toward them. If they are measurable goals, you can use a chart to measure progress, otherwise just talk to your child.
Find a rubric online.
There are many educational materials that you can buy and implement at home. If there is a certain skillset you want to be sure your child has, you can use one of these assessments to evaluate what she learned.
Whether you are homeschooling your child or looking to supplement what she is covering at school, incorporating lessons about her interests will make her passionate about learning.