Intense interests as gateways

Published by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 05:08 PM

Like the story about the teachers who missed the potential of their block builders, some parents think their job is to smooth things out — e.g., if a child already likes art, then we need to gently push them into other areas.

Both at home and at school, we tend to focus on deficits. We concentrate on smoothing, balancing, trying to make things even.

We miss the opportunity to use that intense interest as a gateway.

Everything is connected.

That intense interest is so valuable — it shouldn’t be tossed away. It should be exploited.

The block area can be the hub — the thing that connects the child to the rest of the classroom.

In the same way, a child’s intense interest in one particular activity or topic can connect them to everything else you want them to experience.

We are so concerned about controlling children and bending them to our will that we overlook the fact that we can use their own interest to move them effortlessly in the direction we want them to go.

We are so fixated on making them do it our way that we lose sight of what we wanted to accomplish in the first place: helping them be the best learners they can be.


See also: Limits can be so … limiting


Comment by tara on December 31, 2008 at 01:57 PM

I agree. A child's interests should be nurtured, cultivated and expanded to encompass other, often less interesting topics. Now the challenge for me at least, is flexing my creative muscles to make that happen!

Comment by sarah on December 31, 2008 at 02:09 PM

thank you lori for this blog. your posts make me stop and examine my life. truly. i can get so focused on getting things done and pressing through that i forget the reasoning behind it all.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2008 at 03:10 PM

tara, i don't think it's that other topics are less interesting in general, either -- just less interesting *at that moment*. and so often, the adults are looking for balance .. x minutes of each subject per day/week, etc., instead of realizing that if we back up and take a longer view, the other topics will be reached through meaningful connection.

i think the kids provide the creativity; we need to provide the flexibility!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2008 at 03:21 PM

sarah, thank you! :^) me, too, of course -- this blog is my way of reminding myself of what is important to me, for my children, so i can keep gently drawing myself back to what really matters.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on December 31, 2008 at 04:26 PM

love this! I think I'll just save it for when I need it to help me explain why we've decided to start homeschooling. This is it exactly. She needs a place to explore that intense interest and see where it takes her.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2008 at 04:47 PM

thank you, sarah. ;^)

Comment by Dawn on December 31, 2008 at 08:30 PM

My daughter told me the other day.... "Mom, I am just a nature girl. I don't want to do all of those worksheets Ms. W has us do."
Five years old and such insight...

Our decision to homeschool has been greatly influenced by her strong passion for the natural world. At school there was no mention of the first day of fall, the curtains were closed on the day of the first snow (lets not distract those kids from what's really important), and the children were not allowed to play in the wonderful forest that surrounded the school - not even taken into the forest for lessons. It was starting to drive my little California nature girl crazy... she wants to bad to explore this new natural world.

I think I have a pretty good idea about how projects will cover all of the bases... reading, writing, numbers, etc... I do trust the process but but do you have any tips on how I can help the relatives in our life understand how it all works. I have explained the general idea but still get comments about her doing assignments and "homework" We are just starting this whole adventure. I hope that with time the process will speak for itself.
Thanks for all of the good thoughts!

Comment by Theresa on January 1, 2009 at 01:21 AM

You are definitely sight on about this.
I think sometimes we adults tend to forget that the world is a fascinating place.
I mean science, history, math, literature...all of these things are inherently fascinating. Why do we adults think we need to be cheerleaders for these subjects to make them attractive to our children? Let the subjects speak for themselves and they will call to our children.
The world is full of amazing things to explore. Our children know this instinctively. And they are so multi-dimensional that if we respect their choices and let them follow their obsessions, they will eventually get around to many of the things we have "planned" for them anyway.
Sure, we can introduce them to new things when their own passions run a dry spell, but I have found that my kids' totally independent choices have been surprisingly varied. They may have a one-track-mind for a while, but eventually, once they have satiated that particular interest, they do move on to other things. Our job then, rather than steering them around from subject to subject, becomes one of helping them expand their interests a bit by adding dimensions they might not have otherwise considered. By "provoking" them to ask questions they may not have asked, supporting their passions, and being inspirational role models for lifelong learning.
I have been homeschooling for a long time. And it has taken me many years of trial and error to finally reach this place where I realize that my children are indeed their own best teachers and, as cliche as it sounds, the world really is their classroom.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 02:34 AM

dawn, aw .. she’s a nature girl! :^) denying five-year-olds the first snow .. sigh.

re: projects .. just remember that the project won’t necessarily cover everything -- but if there is something you feel is necessary for your child to learn that isn’t covered naturally during the project work, it can easily be taught separately. every parent determines what falls under the umbrella of “necessary” for their family.

re: curious, hopefully well-meaning family members and friends ;^) try reminding them that school does things a certain way *because* they have responsibility for teaching a large number of children. for example, children must be tested. but children who are homeschooled don’t need to be tested or graded -- they can always work to mastery. homework .. lol. i’m sure you’ll be find a gentle way to let them know just how enjoyable life without homework is. :^)

thank *you*! and happy new year! :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 02:45 AM

oh, theresa, i agree with you 100%.

so often, things are couched in a way that suggests the adults involved -- teachers or parents -- think that learning is a bitter pill that needs to be masked with a dollop of peanut butter. like children can’t be fascinated by something unless it’s dolled up like a Disney extravaganza or put in the form of a chaotic cartoon + coloring book. ugh.

this reminds me of something i know i’ve mentioned here before -- jessica seinfeld’s book (and the one she was accused of plagiarizing) that tells parents how to *hide* vegetables inside other dishes so children get a healthy diet without knowing it. as though they accomplishes something .. since children hold onto their idea that vegetables are yucky.

it also reminds me of something that i have a secret loathing for .. reading programs. when children get rewarded for reading books. they always make me itch. i mean .. reading?! this is something that we need to bribe kids to do? argh. it always seems to me they send a message that “we know you won’t read unless there’s a pizza or a prize in it, so...”

re: one-track mind .. going back to what i was writing in this post, adults seem to always want to divert children from having these intense interests. “one-track mind” has a negative connotation. it’s like we want to say “whoa .. whoa. how about you spend a little time doing something else?” instead of getting the *clear* message that the child has discovered something they want to investigate *deeply*. they aren’t done yet -- how clear do they need to be? and we’re back to one of my pet peeves of all time .. adults who talk about children and their “short attention spans”. ;^)

happy new year, theresa! hope it’s wonderful for you & your family. :^)

Comment by Sam on January 1, 2009 at 02:12 PM

My children have a couple of intense interests that have been occupying them for months. I am happy to stand back and let them explore deeply, but I would like to feel that I can use their interest as the hub leading to other areas. At the moment, that is where I feel lost.
That's why your posts, and all the comments are so helpful. They create clarity in my mind, and I look at the boys work/play with fresh understanding.

And I also hate the idea of "sweetening" or "hiding" something. If I always hid the vegetables in the sauce, all we'd be able to eat is pasta with "red" sauce, and I wouldn't know that my youngest son LOVES chunky, homemade soup!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 02:48 PM

thank you, sam -- clarity and understanding is what we’re reaching for! :^)

if you want to brainstorm about pulling in other areas, feel free to start a thread in the forum or come back for open thread -- i think i’ll run it over friday/saturday this week so everyone has an opportunity to join in. :^)

happy new year!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on January 1, 2009 at 05:18 PM

I just wanted to say that Dawn's comment about being a nature girl totally resonated here. Annika is talking about what she wants to investigate and all of it is about the natural world. She's so excited to start learning on her own. I was talking with her older brother yesterday about why she's going to homeschool (he's staying in school) and we talked about being able to explore your own interests. He just about broke my heart. He said "I used to get frustrated because I wanted time to really learn about things but then I gave up and got used to it. School just isn't that way." I asked him if he thought it should be that way, and he said no, but that's the way it is. Ouch.

Comment by Tracy (Tiny Mantras) on January 1, 2009 at 05:32 PM

I'm glad to have this affirmation. I don't know how many times I've seen worry cross the face of people over my son's intense interest in space, down to the esoteric details. We've tried to just look at it (having started before he was two) as our own opportunity to learn, and space has been the gateway to many other things - be it getting him to to try and write or paint (he's a little perfectionist and easily frustrated by some of these things) or to ground his growing understanding of numbers and math (he is three = Earth), he'll be Mars in the spring. It's also a great landscape for him to imagine his own stories. Now he's engaged in anatomy in the same way, I think because cells and atoms and things seem so infinite inside of us. He's an awesome teacher.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 05:35 PM

sarah, ouch indeed. :(

re: nature girls .. well, check back here later today for an announcement. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 06:06 PM

tracy, funny how grown-ups have this odd prejudice against intense interests. we think everyone should move from the general to the specific, over time, in the common and acceptable fashion. it’s okay to be a 45-year-old astronaut with an intense interest in space, but if you’re five, or seven, or 13, then we frown and think perhaps you should get out more. ;^)

“he’s an awesome teacher” -- what a beautiful sentiment to start the new year! :^)

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