Interest-Based Learning

Sometimes unschoolers will describe what they do as “interest-based learning”. It’s a quick, easy to understand phrase that satisfies the casually curious without triggering shock and confusion. It’s not the totality of what makes unschooling…well, unschooling, but it’s accurate that interest-based learning is a key component to the philosophy.

I have learned, though, that while unschooling incorporates interest-based learning, interest-based learning isn’t necessarily unschooling. So don’t be fooled! One can impose all sorts of curricula upon a child while still keeping it “interest-based”. I’ve seen, for instance, lots of homeschoolers reference these things called “unit studies”, where they ingenuously craft all their different subjects of study around a particular topic. This lends fabulously to “interest-based learning” if so desired, for if a parent knows their child is really into outer space, then they can do a “unit study” related to outer space, and learn math, history, science, geography; practice reading, writing, etc. all within that context.

See? Interest-based learning. So cool. But not unschooling.

Unschooling trusts that, if a person’s love of learning has been fostered, tended, and well preserved, they will have no trouble acquiring information when they have need of it. It’s interest-based learning on speed, really. So if you like outer space, you’ll look into those aspects of it that fascinate you. You’ll continue until you lose interest. You might not get to the history. You may never know the ratio of Earth’s distance to the sun versus all the other planets. On the other hand you may become the world expert on super novas. And then one day when you think to yourself, “I wonder how the Earth’s distance to the sun compares to other planets…” you won’t have a moment’s hesitation about looking it up, and then you’ll know.

Anyway, whenever I see the term “interest-based learning”, I always laugh a little to myself because I’m thinking about how E started reading and writing. I believe the first word she spelled, after her name, was “POO”. She quickly also learned “FART”, and her father had great success teaching her “CANDY”. He would leave her messages in the mirror steam after a shower like, “E FARTS CANDY”. It’s what first really hooked her to this whole reading thing; what gave her the confidence that she in fact could figure this stuff out; that it was worth her time. Hashtag interest-based learning.

As a continuation of that, I now take great pleasure in saving my children’s sarcastic, rude, angry pieces of writing as samples for the school facilitator. It’s a fun thing about the regulated homeschooling life in Alberta–I actually do save this stuff for homeschool. This ain’t no stuffy writing assignment! Honestly, it’s proof to me that in this day and age there is not the slightest need for stuffy writing assignments. I assure you, it comes up. 

So today E engaged in some “interest-based learning”. She asked us in the morning whether there was someone you could write to who posed as Santa and would actually write you back. To her absolute delight, we revealed to her that yes, in fact there is! Just address it to Santa, North Pole, HOH OHO, and in due time you will receive a personalized response. Gleefully, she grabbed a pen and paper and got to work. I knew it wasn’t going to be your typical Christmas list when she opened her Calvin and Hobbes comic book and asked for help transcribing Calvin’s letter to Santa. Although she did not wind up using Calvin’s words, he surely inspired her, because this is what she eventually came up with:

Notice the lower case lettering for the first word only.

The reason I even have a photograph of this, is because I said, “Here, hold it up so we can take a picture for homeschool.” Love it.

Another great “save it for the end of year interview” piece she created today was a power point presentation all about her cousin! Replete with personal and stock photographs, it is a wonderful bit of cheeky writing, designing, computer literacy. Actually, she also taught her cousin how to work with power point so they could have matching presentations about each other.

Hashtag interest-based learning. Best.


One thought on “Interest-Based Learning

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  1. I LOVE that aspect of unschooling. I never did home school, simply because I didn’t know what to do and was afraid. But, I saw that is what some of my kids really needed. I wish I had figured it out. But this blog is a great tool to let others know how cool it can be!! Thanks!

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