I recently decided to homeschool my 7 year old DD after having her in a charter school for the past 2.5 years and 1.5 years of preschool prior to that. What I was really striving for is "deschooling" her for the next few months and then choosing a curriculm. Since pulling her out of school I've learned more about unschooling ... and parts of it sound great (if that's possible-to unschool sometimes but not others).
My question is, how do I find out what her interests are? Or how do I expose her to things that might interest her? Since being out of school she brings up things she studied (of course, never math! lol) but she says things like, "Mommy! I know what the sun is made of! GAS!" or (she holds her hands up like a diamond) "Does this look like a huge arrowhead?" or (we live on a farmstead) "Can we bury this dead goat and then dig him up to see his bones?"
So part of me wonders if I shouldn't have taken her out because I might miss exposing her to something she would love (but that feeling doesn't last too long ;)) and then I wonder how I could possibly expose her to many different things.
For now she is happy with being able to go to gymnastics twice a week but when I ask her what she would like to spend time doing, she says hanging out with horses. I get that is her passion ... but we cannot afford a horse. My rule around here-if I can't milk it or eat it we can't afford to feed it !
What's the right path for me to start down? We live close to the city so we have resources. I just don't know where to start.
If her passion are books then maybe she wants to read about them, visit a farm with horses, go to horse ridding lessons, learn what horses eat, how they care about their babies, how people among tears used horses. So many options and learning from only one subject
For my older kids, I do things they don't expect to teach them new things, but also to see if something really interests them. I listen and watch them closely for hints of things they like. Dd has been feeding the birds and talking about them a lot. So, I pulled all our bird books off the shelf, and put them in a basket. I added a pair of binnoculars. Then, I bought a set of realistic flashcards and hung them around the house. The kids use the binnoculars.to see them, and then get the books to identify them. One of our books also has audio of the different bird calls. For her birthday, I am going to get her several birdfeeders to put around the yard.
Yesterday, she had an idea for a complicated camera to attach to her remote control car. We can't make it, but now I am looking for a robotics kit for her.
Your dd asked about goat bones and decomposition. I would make a handful of books and a science kit about archaeology appear on the coffee table while she was in bed. I might even bury a lego city in the yard, or find fake bone kits.
Space composition? Again, books, a model, a few videos. Let her explore NASA's website.
It sounds like you do know her interests, you just need to start helping her go deeper and wider into the things she is already thinking about.
So, don't be afraid to peruse your own interests and passions, and see from there what strikes her fancy.
Trial and error. And, of course, KEEP ASKING HER. That's one of the big joys of homeschooling.
My oldest is 9yo and has been enamored with horses for about 3 years. We also can't afford to own a horse. I found a fabulous riding instructor who lets us share one riding lesson every other week. They learn grooming and tacking and riding and groundwork. Best of all, we learn about the horses we ride. We giggle because Ivy, the Fjord pony, farts a lot. She replaced the other Fjord, Liv, who couldn't stop hightailing it to the grass on the side of the trails and round pen. Susie, an appaloosa with a long show history, has a "granny" canter that she always gets into because she doesn't like trotting. Snowflake is a sweet and patient girl with a bit of an attitude, very carefully tailored to the skill of her rider so she never annoys anyone too much.
At least two state extension 4-H programs have a "Horseless Horse" curriculum that is easy and fun. Last weekend was the Hairy Horse show, and local 4-H horse clubs hold youth rodeos, and of course there are the contests at the county fair to watch.
DD has read the Kingfisher Horse and Pony Encyclopedia (highly recommended) about a hundred times. Learning her horse breeds has brought us back to geography (again), taking care of horses has taught us biology, nutrition, and introduces them to special vocations (instructor, farrier, vet, trainer). The girls helped their instructor calculate wormer dosage for Snowflake based on her weight. I just mention that because we schooled parents are always thinking that way, no matter how deschooled we think we are.
Can I add that this weekend begins the YEAR OF THE HORSE!!! We've done all this *without a horse* and we haven't even begun to take advantage of other opportunities because they are interested in other things as well.
I didn't write about horses because I think that should be your focus, I wrote this so you can see how an "education" can blossom from the love of one subject. You were curious about unschooling. First I will say that there is a broad, diverse spectrum of homeschooling that begins to incorporate child-led learning, that operates mostly on child-led learning, that is entirely child-led learning, and then of course to what I consider to be "true" unschooling where learning and life weave together seamlessly. All are excellent options, so I am not putting them on a hierarchy.
Anyhow, we unschoolers tend to look at cultivating curiosity and self-direction first, and subject matter last. Yes, in some cases that can mean at the expense of some subjects, but that has not been my experience. My girls are interested in most everything. Eager about everything? Not so. But certainly interested. Our family trades exposure-to-everything for a deeper understanding of fewer things.
I am curious and interested about a lot of things and so is my husband, and that creates a general atmosphere of curiosity in the whole house. We share discoveries together, we learn about things together. I used to bring piles of books home from the library that were tangents of interests or just looked like the right format and many of those went nearly straight back, but others became favorites, and I was able to find other patterns of interest. DD2 likes non-fiction science books. DD1 adores mysteries and scary things (but not places where you are stuck, or stories like Jumanji--those really frighten her.)
I think that the answer for identifying interests seems like a no-brainer to most parents who have homeschooled all along and whose style is at least moderately child-led. You listen, you watch, you talk, you share, and most of the time interests become obvious, and the way they prefer to engage with their interests becomes obvious. It's something parents knew how to do when their children were tots at home-- the toddler who loved everything about water or bugs, or climbing and jumping, or who found the dirt at every opportunity or was obsessed with the cars that drove by, who reveled in paint from head to toe, or was always very dainty and watched a painting emerge, slowly but surely.
This gets more intricate as they age, but the idea is still the same.
Watch her. Listen to her. Share with her. Explore with her. Work with her. A year from now, I think that this question will be answered for you.
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"Let me see you stripped down to the bone. Let me hear you speaking just for me."
I am possibly missing something, but why is it you need to find out what her interests are? She sounds like she is enthused and learning a lot. Its a rare 7 year old who wants to formally learn maths, but its also a rare 7 year old who will turn down the chance to handle money or bake.
I probably could not tell you all my kids interests. They are constantly surprising me with what they are interested in, what they know. I don't think I need to know their interests either. I see my job as to help them learn how to find information on interests. But their interests-well, they belong to them . I don't really know what my interests are. They change. I am always discovering new interests .
I really would not worry about what her interests are. I would step back and leave it up to her. Model ways to find answers to questions, and ways to find more information. But I wouldn't worry about her finding her interests. My experience with my own kids is that they do find strong interests without any support or encouragement.
While I think things can be a bit different in the deschooling phase, I think there's a lot of truth in what Fillyjonk is saying. Children's interests don't need to be discovered, defined and then utilized by the parent as a Homeschooling Unit Study, or even supported and facilitated and nurtured so that they become proper Big-I "Interests." Kids who are really interested in things will pursue them just fine driven by their own motivation because they find them interesting. And they stop exactly when they stop being interested.
If your child wants to go to the raptor exhibit at the zoo with her cousin, and comes home and never mentions owls and hawks again, that's not a failure of parental facilitation of an interest: that's a lack of interest and it's no big deal. If I tried to "support and nurture" an interest in raptors with my child in that situation it would likely be a big buzz-kill. She'd look at me while rolling her eyes and saying "I just wanted to hang out with Carly and her dad -- it's not like I'm in love with birds of prey, okay? Can we just drop the craft about eagles?" If she had truly had her interest piqued by the raptor exhibit, she would have got busy feeding her curiosity. Maybe by asking questions, and moaning about not having her own falcon, and drawing owls on everything, and begging to go back to the zoo.
FisherFamily's suggestion to be interesting is a good one, but my kids would have sniffed out ulterior motives and turned up their noses if they figured out that I was Having An Interest in order to attract them to learning about something. The best reason to be an interesting person is that it's fun, and it takes your focus off managing your child's every moment. Being curious, trying new things, keeping busy, challenging yourself ... that's all worth doing in its own right. It happens to be excellent modelling for children, but I don't think the main reason for doing something yourself should be to attract your child's interest and provoke some particular sort of learning. If you're thinking about growing a hydroponic window garden, do it if it's something that appeals to you. If your child gets interested, that's a bonus. If not, you're still having fun and feeling successful. Be an interesting person, but be authentic about it.
There are certainly times when parental support and facilitation of a child's interest is helpful. But I think that the longer (within reason!) that it takes you to recognize those situations and jump in with resources, opportunities and suggestions, the more opportunity there is for your child to develop a sense of ownership over her interest and a strong self-motivated engagement with it.
In short, I'd suggest being patient and observing. What she's interested in and what you ought to do about it will become obvious. In the meantime, be an interesting person living an interesting life and include her in that as much as she'd like.
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups
I have to say I think there's a lot of truth in what Moominmamma says re having your own interests and being authentic. I don't want to judge people as successful vs not success homeschoolers. But circular as this sounds, I think a family will not usually continue to homeschool in a way that isn't working. and so when I think about which families have found their groove in unschooling, whose kids seem happy and thriving in it, I would certainly say its those families I know where the parents have strong interests that are accessible to the kids in some way. By that I don't even mean interests that the kids can join in with. I'm a chemistry student and most of my "work" atm involves computer modelling. Now my kids might like to play on foldit occasionally or even build and rotate a few virtual molecules but what I'm doing is totally over their heads really. But my observation is that the fact that I have strong interests and I've modeled pursuing them, making time for them, getting up early to make time to study, etc, has been way more important than what I've actually studied.
And of course it works the other way. I am confident my kids will find absorbing, encompassing interests because I have them, and so does their dad. And that's been proven right, so far, certainly in my older kids (10 and 8).
But, I don't force the issue at all, nor do I turn it into a unit study. That would kill all the joy of it!
As far as being interesting, I also abhor the idea of doing it.for the purpose of enticing my children to learn something. Sorry if I came across that way. I meant to convey how.easy it is to do all kinds of things in the course of regular life, and as mm and fj explain, to simply show how to pursue an interest, to normalize it.
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