The secret behind developing an educational program tailored to meet the needs of each individual child is simply getting to know the child! And part of knowing the child is respecting him for who he is and developing his talents and interests. In the midst of academic basics, scopes and sequences, record keeping, and chores, how you do you create an environment that allows your children the time and freedom to pursue their interests?
1. Schedule “Productive Free Time.”
Productive free time is that time of the day when children are free to pursue their own interests — as long as they are in some way productive. No passive activities such as watching TV or playing computer games qualify. This may take some encouragement at first if your children are not used to productively managing their time, but the payoffs are wonderful!
To get your children started, make a list of those areas in which your child expresses an interest — rockhounding, gardening, cake decorating, birdwatching, writing, building something, chasing insects, etc. He can always add new interests to the list as they arise. Help him gather any materials he might need — special paper or tools or books from the library.
2. Avoid over-scheduling.
Organized activities have their place, but we home educators have a tendency to be over-organized!
Over-scheduling prevents our children from having time to explore on their own, to find their own interests, to pursue those things that may one day lead them into their life’s work.
3. Expose your child to many different potential areas of interest.
Some will fall by the wayside, but some will ignite a spark.
One of the easiest, most cost-free, and most reliable ways to do this is simply to give your child a book about a subject. Pretty soon you’ll notice one book follows your child around the house. That’s when you know your child has a new interest!
4. Employ the “coffee-table strategy.”
In our home the gathering place is usually the living room. Perhaps Dad will sit down to relax for a few minutes enjoying a much-neglected book while dinner is being prepared. The next thing you know children will occupy the other sitting areas. Maybe they will bring something of their own to read. But often they will choose a book from the coffee table, strategically placed by yours truly. There are usually several titles to choose from. Most of the books are selected from a variety of book lists and previewed. They might cover astronomy, or fishing, or woodworking, or Queen Victoria.
Books placed in strategic places always spark a conversation. Frequently, they spark a new interest!
5. Share your interests.
Children love to do what their parents do — at least initially.
Bring them alongside you as you enjoy your own hobbies and interests. They may pick up yours, or they may take off in a tangential direction. In any case, you’ll be building wonderful memories!
6. Let your older children help you plan their next year.
The upper-level years have plenty of room for “electives.”
We have a unique opportunity to provide our children with more than a generic education. We can take advantage of the blessing of a one-on-one tutoring environment to help our children develop talents, gifts, and interests that they already have.
Yes, this requires time and investment. But what higher calling do we have as parents?
Want to really get to know your children? Respect them for who they are and were created to be. Discover their learning styles, explore their interests, and fuel the fire!