I’ve asked this question many a times. What does this idea look like in action? I have also been asked this question a time or two. I certainly don’t consider myself to be a master, but I do feel like what we have done has been pretty effective. We don’t use standard curriculum, and no two days look alike, so I’m going to make an attempt to explain the big picture here over a series of posts.
I would say that we have 3 levels of education going on right now: high school (15 years old), middle school (10 and 12 year olds), and elementary (8 years old). I’ll start with high school.
By the time a child has reached high school, some individual bend is definitely showing. For my daughter, literature, music, theater, and dance are her passions. Sometimes it is hard for her to get moving on an idea, so she spends days at a time taking in good books, music, Youtube videos, and the like. My job, as I see it, is to encourage her to find inspiration and then to help her gather resources to be able to pursue it. I will share a few examples of delight directed learning that have taken place recently and some ways we work with the not so delightful stuff.
One day a few months ago, she told me she wanted to learn to play violin. She showed me a video of Lindsey Stirling, a violinist and dancer. I always wanted a violin in the house 😉 We bought her one. She loved it for about a week. Then she didn’t. Was it a waste? No, I don’t think so. She or one of the 3 other children might want to play someday and it will be here waiting for them. She had a guitar in her room for probably two or three years before she decided to learn, and now she loves it. One of my goals is to make things available to the kids. They should always have around the house good books, musical instruments (Dad is a musician), art supplies, animals to care for, a place to display their art or writing samples or list of books read or whatever, science experiment supplies like microscopes, slides, scales, dyes, etc.
A few nights ago, she wrote a one page intro to a fantasy story featuring a grown Alice of Wonderland and her daughter. It was a good piece, so her dad and I encouraged her to try her hand at developing it into a novella. Look for it in a bit, because I believe she will finish it. She has been reading books about writing good stories and about the 1880’s, the time in which her story will take place. She has set word count per day goals and has planned most of the story line. She is a talented writer. She may have inherited that from her dad. All I’ve done is help her develop a love for books.
This is not the first time she’s gone crazy over a set of literature. She is a huge fan of Jane Austen and all things Victorian era. She’s learned a great deal of social history from movies and novels set in this time period. Prior to that fascination, she was obsessed with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. King Arthur and Shakespeare were some of her favorites. We use these books and a lot of movies for history, and then she joins the middle school history (Story of the World) reading times. Is it enough? I believe it is enough for exposure, and then I have to trust that she will dig into times and events that are important to her reading, writing, dancing, etcetera.
Math is something that she was always quick to learn, but not something she was passionate about by any means. She uses math in everyday situations with great efficiency, and has proven that she knows how to look up how to figure something out if she needs it. However, higher maths (beyond Algebra 1) will be the one area we have to push learning. I don’t believe that higher maths are necessary if they don’t apply to one’s field of study, but I do believe that since there is a chance she will go to college, she needs enough math to do well on the ACT, the one critical measuring stick she will have to do well on in order to go to college. Algebra 1 was easy and fun for her. Geometry? Not so much. But I talked to her today about trying a new book I found called Girls Get Curves. This book takes teenage girl issues and relates them to geometry. Fun, huh? First, we will wait a month or so until she finishes her writing project. She is driven and I am not going to get in the way of that.
The tricky thing about delight directed learning for the parents is that we have to be involved and aware and at the same time trust that it is happening. I will be honest and tell you that I have doubted many a times the relaxed way that we have schooled, but it was what our hearts drove us to do. I always remember the conversation my husband and I had when we decided to bring our 6 year old daughter home midway through kindergarten. We wanted to educate her by bringing her to the zoo, getting her hands on big maps, doing art projects, building solar systems, playing games, reading great books. There have been small chunks of time when I have lost my confidence and reverted back to textbook driven education, but we’ve never enjoyed nor stayed there. When my daughter finished what would be her 9th grade year, we had her take a practice ACT test to see what she needed to work on and where she was doing well. She would have scored a 29 in English, a 31 in reading comprehension, a 25 in science reasoning, and a 9 in math. Math needs work, but it looks to me like the rest of the subjects are going just fine by letting her go with what delights her. The rest of her day can be spent hanging out with the family, cooking, decorating her room, playing her guitar, practicing hairstyles and makeup. It’s natural, and it’s pleasant. It works for us.