How to save a child’s love of learning in one easy step

Published by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:51 AM

This is the way that it works — and I ran a school, after-school, and summer learning program for seven years plus I’ve taught numerous homeschool and adult workshops and I have two homeschooled children who have learned this way since they were in preschool and are now in their teens, so this is from life experience, not pie-in-the-sky idealism.

If you give children complete control over SOME PART of their learning, they will not only rise to the occasion and attack their interests with gusto, but they will turn around and approach all of their required learning with a newfound sense of self-confidence and self-determination. They will look for a way to learn that fits their new sense of themselves as people with interests, abilities, and important ideas.

Do you want your children or students to love learning? Don’t say “Here, we know what’s best for you — sit down, be quiet, and listen.” But also don’t just say “Go, do whatever you want.” Do better than that. Support their interests and their self-chosen work fully — with your attention, your time, your space, and your cold hard cash. Invest in their interests. Invest in their talents. Instead of letting them ride in the back seat while you take them on a wonderful adventure, show them how to drive the car. Mentor them to be self-directed learners.

If you do that, they will figure out that learning is how they can do the things they care about — the things they want to do. Once that switch is flipped, they may still be disappointed, frustrated, or disconnected when they’re forced to do dull, meaningless, irrelevant tasks, but at least they won’t call that “learning.”

They may be more demanding, more inquisitive, and they may interrupt more because they have more confidence in their own ideas. But on the whole, wouldn’t you rather have a child whose insistence on being in charge of his own learning disrupts your plan rather than a quiet, bored child who can’t wait to do what’s necessary so he can escape?

Teach children to direct and manage their own learning and they will love learning because they own it, they control it, and they can connect it with everything else they love.

Prioritize this one step and all the others will fall away because they just don’t work anymore.

 

See also: Ten steps to getting started with project-based homeschooling (whether you homeschool or not)

and

“We’re not just making learning less fun, less meaningful, less useful, and less relevant, we’re actually making it less educational.” — Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?

31 comments

Comment by dawn suzette on February 19, 2014 at 09:48 AM

Yes!
We have seen this over and over. They still sometimes struggle with "requirements" but I try to remind myself often that the push against those "required" activities is going to be a great adult quality... Not just accepting what is dished out to them but questioning and looking for how those things will benefit them... Or not!
I was raised in a very authoritarian family and now find it is hard, as the parent, to adjust to thinking this way. But it is totally worth it when it see my kids beam when sharing the knowledge they have gained about whatever topic they are researching. To see them coming to their own conclusions about what they want for their future (at ages 7 & 10!) and see the ownership in that... It is priceless.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 09:57 AM

<3

Comment by sarah pj on February 19, 2014 at 10:25 AM

I'm with Dawn in a lot of ways. I spent my whole life living up to other people's expectations/goals (or quietly disappointing them) and I never learned how to pursue things for myself. It's been hard for me to let go and let my kids take charge, but as I see it work, it gets easier and easier. Trusting them has been the biggest gift I can give to all of us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:48 PM

 

It's been hard for me to let go and let my kids take charge, but as I see it work, it gets easier and easier. Trusting them has been the biggest gift I can give to all of us.

and the more we trust them, the easier it is to trust ourselves, and vice versa.

and the more success we experience, the easier it is to trust the process!

<3 <3 <3

Comment by Felicia on February 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM

It is so good to read this! Now I know it's a good thing when I hear my 5 year old say, "But I don't want to do this, I have my own plan!" :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:46 PM

yes! :)

Comment by Kellye on February 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

I love this philosophy, have read the book and every single post on your blog and forum, bought all kinds of stuff that should peak their interests and excite them, but still nothing is happening. They still want to be done as fast as possible so that they can (sadly) be done, even when it is the things that interest them. I don't know how to practically put this into practice today, right now! Is it because we are mid-year and have curriculum to finish due to co-op obligations? Will next year from the start yield better results? I see where you say that they still will have the obligatory subjects to complete, but that they will be excited about other things. I cannot seem to bridge that gap here. My girls are so smart and do have genuine interests, but I just can't seem to fit that missing puzzle piece in. For example, today I have declared it "Science Day" and have a list of about 10 things for them to choose from that include all sorts of things from researching to movies to art to worksheets and have told them that they can do as many as they would like as long as certain ones are complete for our co-op class tomorrow. The first question was "How many do we have to do?" The thing that gets me is that they will tell me they loved researching the options I have assigned i.e. researching sea creatures that are least known to man and making the model of the ocean floor, but it seems that they just aren't interested enough to do it unless I assign it. What am I doing wrong yall?? My girls are 13 and 11!! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!

Comment by sarah pj on February 19, 2014 at 02:41 PM

A couple of questions for you, first, before I spout off with advice. And are you in the forum? This is a great forum conversation. I have an 11 year old and a 15 year old, so we're in a similar place. If you're just looking for advice from Lori then I'll keep quiet, but I'm getting the impression that you're wanting more of a group conversation.

1. What do they do with their time once you're "done" for the day with curriculum and planned activities?
2. What do they do that is their own? They plan it, they drive the bus. Not you.
3. How much open space do they get to explore their interests? What does that time look like? Do they have a dedicated project time that is devoted to something they are pursuing on their own?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:46 PM

 

i agree with sarah; this is a great forum discussion. please join! :)

For example, today I have declared it "Science Day" and have a list of about 10 things for them to choose from that include all sorts of things from researching to movies to art to worksheets and have told them that they can do as many as they would like as long as certain ones are complete for our co-op class tomorrow. The first question was "How many do we have to do?"

i think the thing you’re missing is ownership. you’re in control and doing all the planning and even if you choose things you’re sure they’ll find fun and interesting, it’s just not the same as pursuing their own deep interests and making their own ideas happen.

if you dedicate some time to helping them do whatever it is that THEY want to do, you should be able to tap into their self-motivation and drive.

“In project-based homeschooling, you zero in on what interests your child and stay there as long as she is interested. She’s not on her own; you’re there with materials, support, feedback, interest. With the same enthusiasm and passion that you might transfer a beloved skill (breadmaking, woodworking, tennis), you help your child acquire the skills to think, learn, make, and do.

 

The importance of a child’s authentic interest cannot be overemphasized. Without it, learning is like pushing a boulder uphill. With it, we're pushing the boulder downhill. Note: Learning occurs in both directions.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

 

Comment by Shelly on February 19, 2014 at 11:12 AM

After homeschooling for five years, I've recently transitioned to unschooling. What a difference! I love to see my kids get excited by learning, and the best part is that it doesn't seem like a chore anymore.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:39 PM

yay! :)

Comment by kimwulfy on February 19, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Any time I stray from the path I come back to you, Laurie. I'm currently coming round the bend once again. You are such a valuable resource. So full of truth and help and clarity. I am so grateful for a connection to this type of learning and life experience. In my own distanced, blog fan way, I so love you and what you are doing with your life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:38 PM

thank you so, so much, kim — what a great message to find today! <3 <3 <3

Comment by ananemone on February 19, 2014 at 02:24 PM

I don't know that you have to choose between a quiet, bored child and one who is excessively demanding or otherwise ill-behaved. Adults who are in charge of their own businesses, for instance (which is similar to being in charge of your own learning, I suppose), generally don't interrupt their business partners or mentors or behave rudely just because they are excited about/in control of their work.

Or take members of a family participating in routine household work/maintenance - a lot of this is learning too, and some of it necessary learning, both on the part of adults and children. Just because learning to do the dishes properly is more boring than learning to build a fire (or playing minecraft) doesn't mean we'll let our children whine or demand their way our of learning to do the dishes.

Enthusiasm for learning is cool, and I have seen that it goes hand in hand with projects initiated and pursued willingly by my oldest daughter, but I see no reason to resign myself to accepting poor behavior as a trade off for engagement - surely one can encourage both?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:38 PM

 

I don't know that you have to choose between a quiet, bored child and one who is excessively demanding or otherwise ill-behaved.

*i* don’t think it’s rude or poor behavior to demand (a strong word, i know — but for me, it fits with project-oriented kids who are used to managing their own learning) some authentic input.

unfortunately i do think a lot of teachers see that sort of student in a negative light. then there are the teachers who see them in a positive light and are sad because they simply don’t have enough time to incorporate their ideas.

Comment by ananemone on February 19, 2014 at 11:20 PM

For sure, it might just be the word "demand," which may be acceptable in different families at different levels. I guess what I'm saying is that there's no need for project-based learning, or freedom-based learning, to necessitate undesirable behavior, whatever one considers undesirable behavior to be. You can have obedient, relatively quiet, respectful children as easily with pbh as you can with more traditional schooling (in fact, I suspect it's even easier, or at least has been in my experience).

In actual schools, with lots of kids, it's probably a lot harder to negotiate the balance between managing behavior and allowing children some input in their learning. I tried teaching in a public school once and found classroom management just about impossible, and that was with everyone doing the same thing! I would have seen a child who demanded to have some freedom/control of their learning in a negative light as well - not morally, as in "that is a bad kid," but functionally, as in "I've got no time for this! We have to achieve x standard by a week from now and only 4 kids in the class have mastered it!" I can't even imagine having the level of managed chaos project-based learning would require in a classroom of 35 kids. Makes homeschooling seem like a breeze :)

Comment by quirkyfae on February 19, 2014 at 02:25 PM

I guess I'm lucky that although I went through the school system and was regularly bored by it, at home I was encouraged to follow my interests and enjoy learning. Now home schooling my own children (only just as they are three years and one year old!), I am trying to avoid any of the boring stuff. We only do what they are interested in, and it is amazing how a passion can flourish. My three year old has recently discovered volcanoes, and the questions and thirst for knowledge is constant and insistent. He needs me to read to him, show him, answer him, explain to him, listen to him, watch him from the moment he gets up to the time he sleeps. Its exhausting, but I wouldn't want it any other way.
In a similar vein, I just finished reading 'The Spark' by Kristine Barnett. It is principally about her son and how they work with his autism, but a lot of her ethos struck a chord with what I read here. She points out that when you pay attention to a child's passion and help them to follow their interests, the rest of their learning falls into place on its own. I am really seeing this in action with my son.
Thanks for your blog, Lori. Your words resonate with me, things I didn't realise I knew, and things that I needed to learn. x

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:52 PM

yes re: “the spark”!

one thing that surprises a lot of parents (and teachers) is that by simply digging deeply into *one* interest you can end up ranging so far and wide and touching on so many connected areas of knowledge.

thank you SO much for your kind words. they mean a tremendous amount. <3 <3 <3

Comment by ananemone on February 19, 2014 at 02:36 PM

Kellye, what do they do on their own time, when they are done with school?

Also, it depends on what kind of kids they are - I have one who is (for whatever reason, maybe competitiveness?) always super inspired by what other kids have done. She reads the Guiness Book of World Records to seek out other children's accomplishments (such as they are) or looks through a drawing book, exclaiming over the drawings - "Mom! Can you believe a 7 year old did this?" etc.

This seems to inspire her, and she starts a project - it might just be a sense of possibility that other kids' work represents? At any rate, it works with her, and she seeks out that communal connection.

Comment by Michellereflects on February 19, 2014 at 09:26 PM

Lori, I have spent a good deal of time at the forum reading some wonderful threads! One in particular helped a lot about balancing assigned work with self-chosen work.

In another blog post you wrote, you talked about choosing a topic and alluded to the fact that we can choose a topic of interest (that we know interests them) and from there the kids decide what they want to do with it. Did I understand that correctly?

If so, perhaps this would be a good starting point for both the teacher and the students when none of us have done project-based homeschooling before?

Would that still be considered child-led at that point?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 09:54 PM

 

In another blog post you wrote, you talked about choosing a topic and alluded to the fact that we can choose a topic of interest (that we know interests them) and from there the kids decide what they want to do with it. Did I understand that correctly?

If so, perhaps this would be a good starting point for both the teacher and the students when none of us have done project-based homeschooling before?

Would that still be considered child-led at that point?

i’m guessing that was in a discussion about doing PBH with groups — in co-ops or classrooms. if you wanted to do a shared project, you would observe the children and try to pick out a strong interest that was held by at least a few of the children — then let their enthusiasm draw in the others. it’s child-led IF you don’t make participation mandatory (children can choose to participate or not — you make sure they have other good options, and they are ALWAYS allowed to work on whatever they like, whether it’s project-related or not) and if the children get to choose freely what aspect of the project interests them. for example, if you say “we are studying cars and we are doing these activities and you can choose which one you want to do” — wah wah wahhhh that is not child-led. if, however, all of the children can decide to work on whatever they like and they share their work with one another and they start copying and extending one another’s ideas — that is child-led.

are you planning to use pbh in a group setting? are you familiar with these resources on the site?

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/how-to-start-a-project-group

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/introverts-guide-...

Comment by Michellereflects on February 20, 2014 at 08:04 AM

You did mention in the post about group settings but then transitioned into a homeschool one. I think I got confused when this was said:

At home, I do one or two projects at a time with each boy. I find two projects on very different subjects tend to cover all the subject areas even better than one, and I'm not overtaxed in helping the boys find materials and get what they need because, after all, there are only two of them and they can only work at a certain pace.

It was in this article here:

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/project-based-hom...

Even if you meant something different by it, do you think it is good or okay to suggest or have them choose from some topics that you know would already be interesting to them and let them take it from there? Especially if they really have no idea what kind of project they want to work on?

And should it translate into something creative and artsy if the child has no interest in art? What kind of other forms could a project take if not artsy or hands-on that won't boil down to a research paper or report?

These are my two biggest roadblocks right now, but I am very eager to get past these and start helping them begin!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2014 at 08:14 AM

 

You did mention in the post about group settings but then transitioned into a homeschool one. I think I got confused when this was said:

“At home, I do one or two projects at a time with each boy. I find two projects on very different subjects tend to cover all the subject areas even better than one, and I'm not overtaxed in helping the boys find materials and get what they need because, after all, there are only two of them and they can only work at a certain pace.”

It was in this article here:

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/project-based-hom...

Even if you meant something different by it, do you think it is good or okay to suggest or have them choose from some topics that you know would already be interesting to them and let them take it from there? Especially if they really have no idea what kind of project they want to work on?

um, no. :)

those topics were always things they had chosen themselves. they were their strongest interests at the time. when children are very small and have many different interests, you can choose *which* of those interests to support — but it really only works if you choose authentic deep interests. non-deep interests peter out quickly!

in the context of pbh, we are focused on mentoring children to be self-directed learners. it is all about helping them direct and manage their own learning — and that starts with a strong, authentic interest.

no matter how much effort you put into choosing something you think they will enjoy, that is still YOU choosing, so that has nothing to do with self-directed learning. it’s still directed by you. and in pbh, we don’t focus on the topic — we focus on the learner and the learning.

they WILL learn — they will acquire knowledge and skills — and you can check some things off your “must learn” list. and then you can teach the rest of that list directly. but all project work should be self-chosen and self-managed.

usually when parents start out, i advise they try focusing on one project per child until they get their sea legs and feel confident — then they can support two projects per child. and of course children will always continue to learn about whatever they want, whenever they want. you never prevent them from working on whatever they choose. you just work on your ability as a mentor to support them to dig deeply into what they care about most.

And should it translate into something creative and artsy if the child has no interest in art? What kind of other forms could a project take if not artsy or hands-on that won't boil down to a research paper or report?

try reading this post:

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/abilities-vs-acti...

all making is creative, and making includes every kind of creative act, not just something you would think of as “art.” (there are many, many examples given in the book.) programming, building, designing, writing, storytelling, dramatic play — too many types of making to mention here.

Comment by Michellereflects on February 20, 2014 at 09:40 AM

This: "we don’t focus on the topic — we focus on the learner and the learning."

I agree! I was just wondering how to best stir an interest in doing a project on their own-especially if they are older and have fallen into the "getting school done" mentality.

Perhaps instead of having them choose from a list of topics, I could just offer suggestions and examples based upon their interests, letting them know they are just ideas that they don't have to follow.

Would that be counter-productive as well?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2014 at 10:45 AM

 

I agree! I was just wondering how to best stir an interest in doing a project on their own-especially if they are older and have fallen into the "getting school done" mentality.

in general, you want to look very closely at where they are spending their own time and figure out how to support their interests. if they choose to do it in their free time, if they spend money on it, etc., then that’s something they actually care about.

Perhaps instead of having them choose from a list of topics, I could just offer suggestions and examples based upon their interests, letting them know they are just ideas that they don't have to follow.

Would that be counter-productive as well?

rather than offering suggestions and examples, i would suggest either sitting them down and saying “we want to invest some time, money, and effort in helping you pursue whatever you want to pursue” OR stealthily observing to try to identify an interest and then quietly beginning to support it without comment.

if you are offering suggestions and examples, you’re still controlling the process. you need to flip the script and start helping them direct and manage their own learning.

Comment by Michellereflects on February 20, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Thank you, Lori. This definitely clarifies the particulars for me!

I am so grateful for the commitment and time you invest here on your blog and have been amazed at how quickly and thoroughly you respond to your readers!
I also look forward to reading your companion guide when it comes out. (Which is SOON, right?!:P) no pressure:)

I will be quietly assimilating everything I've been taking in over here as well as doing another re-read of your book. Thank you again!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2014 at 01:00 PM

at this point the blog and forum are the companion guide. :)

and i’ve published several stand-alone chunks like the guide to starting communities, the guide to starting a project group, and so on. :)

i have two new books coming out this year and then i have a whole slew of ebooks that i hope to publish next!

Comment by Kellye on February 19, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Thank you everyone for your replies!! I am going to move my question to the forum as suggested!! Your replies did give me some things to think about, and I have already begun to see some changes I can implement. Thank yall so much again!! I hope to see yall in the forum!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 20, 2014 at 07:02 AM

you will. :)

Comment by Amesserer on February 25, 2014 at 07:50 AM

Like Kellye, I have read as much as I can and have been attempting to implement PBH since last fall. One child has always followed his interests. My other two show no interest or initiative in doing this. When it comes to project time, they are at a loss. I do weekly assigned projects with them, hoping to spark something that they will follow on their own (and I make sure it lines up with something that seems to interest them). Nothing. What does it look like, really, to trust them to take charge of their own learning? It mystifies me. I so want this for my kids, but don't understand how to lead them along this path that they really seem to not want to be on.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 25, 2014 at 09:49 AM

 

please put a post in the forum; we would love to help you get on this path. :)

One child has always followed his interests. My other two show no interest or initiative in doing this. When it comes to project time, they are at a loss.

What does it look like, really, to trust them to take charge of their own learning? It mystifies me.

have you observed and documented to try to uncover what your other two children’s interests are? how do they spend their free time? what do they play? talk about? spend money on?

rather than just trusting them to take charge of their own learning, pbh is a system for *helping* them take chare of their own learning — actively mentoring them to do more with an interest, supporting them, investing in them, and so on.

the first step is to figure out what their authentic interests are. then, creating a supportive environment, dedicating time, offering your own support — this is how we get there. basically, the 10 steps to getting started:

http://project-based-homeschooling.com/10-steps-to-getting-started-with-...

now that you’ve joined the forum, perhaps some community support may be the ingredient you’ve been missing. :)

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