The secret behind developing an educational program tailored to meet the needs of each individual student is simply getting to know the student! And part of getting to know the student involves respecting him for who he is and developing his talents and interests — planning studies around his interests. Here are 14 ways to help you incorporate essential skills, while appreciating individual needs:
1. Be Flexible
While it is good to create a schedule and develop a plan to move forward, it is also wise to hold it loosely. This is particularly important when using a child’s interests as a springboard to learning. We tend to get stuck in standardization.
We cannot anticipate the opportunities that God will provide to address immediate needs; opportunities too rich to pass up simply because our schedules say, “today is the day we work on multiplication, study the Roman empire, and dissect a frog.” Sometimes the best academic lessons are those that happen serendipitously. And sometimes the best homeschooling days are those that veered seriously off the beaten path.
Keep your time frame open-ended — it takes time to feed an interest.
If you believe that there is no basis of knowledge that all must learn — that a child will learn best when something is most relevant to him — then you can take advantage of this quickening in his curiosity by using it as a vehicle for practicing his skills. Yes, we can always provide a wide array of subject content, but do spelling lists, for example, really need to be generated from a generic workbook?
So, plan to feed the interest, make connections, rearrange the schedule, and take advantage of learning opportunities too rich to pass up!
2. Think Out of the Box
Don’t force connections in the name of getting all of the subjects covered. Remember that subjects are a convenience to those who must teach a large number of children, keep those students all on the same page, and cover a certain amount of material each year. Again, if we are providing a wide array of content, the “subjects” will be covered.
But do use those areas of interest that the topic naturally provides.
3. Explore What is Already Available
No need to reinvent the wheel. Has someone else created a unit on the topic? You may not be interested in the entire unit, but you can glean ideas from others. You can also pull out those ideas that you know will most benefit your child.
4. Start with Books
5. Develop Skills
We like to think of our unit studies as open-ended investigations — encouraging our children to research and learn on their own. The one who does the work is the one who is learning. So if we as teachers and mentors are the ones pulling the information together, we will learn quite a bit! But how about our students?
As much as he is able, allow your child to do his own research. Provide him with access to information and the necessary tools and skills so that he will be able to learn anything on his own.
Skills to develop include:
6. Apply Language Arts Skills to the Subject Matter
Literature provides one of the most natural ways to practice language arts skills.
- Your child can copy his favorite passages from the books he is reading on the topic.
- He can narrate back to you what he has read.
- You can pull some passages from the book he is working through and dictate them to him, practicing spelling and grammar.
7. Think History
Is there a history-related component to the topic? (There almost always is.) Taking advantage of history opportunities can include:
- Keeping a timeline.
- Reading historical biographies that provide the flavor of the time period.
- Enjoying a few quality and relevant interactives.
8. Incorporate Geography
Use a map to find locations where appropriate. Learn more about those areas.
Incorporate an experiment and have your child practice the scientific method. Perhaps a science kit will illustrate important principles.
10. Find Real Math Applications
While we strongly recommend working systematically through a math textbook that develops skills upon skills, there are always opportunities to tie the math our students are learning to the topics they are studying.
Real math opportunities are invaluable for helping students understand why they need to know how math works in the first place.
11. Find Art and/or Music Applications
12. Sprinkle Lightly With Apps
Don’t go overboard on the entertainment. Similarly, go lightly on the multimedia options. One or two interactive games or a short video will suffice.
13. Investigate Liberally
Take time to follow the bunny trails when appropriate. Following an interest through to its exhaustive conclusion is a satisfying way to learn. Keep supplying your child with what he needs to pursue that interest. (It goes without saying — he will not need to spend an inordinate amount of time investigating skateboards.)
14. Document Everything
Have your child keep a notebook. Not only will this document all that he has learned, it will become a valuable reference.
10 Ways to Use Notebooking
Complete series with lots of ideas for getting more out of an interest-based study along with resources to make it happen!
Bloom’s & Critical Thinking
Examples using the natural interested-based learning model to develop thinking skills.
6 Ways to Encourage Your Children to Pursue Their Interests
What to do if your child doesn’t have a particular interest.