What children want vs. what children need

Published by Lori Pickert on August 29, 2012 at 09:57 AM

There is a common misconception about what happens when you involve children in their own education: namely, that children will only learn what they want to learn.

“My child,” they say sourly, “would just [insert useless activity here] all day.”

Play with LEGO, play video games, watch TV, read comics — however their child chooses to spend their scant free time, they believe that child will fill whatever extra time they’re given with the same activity: usually something they deem mindless entertainment. And if not mindless entertainment, an obsession the adult would secretly like to purge: playing with plastic dinosaurs or wooden trains or cutting out paper fairy dresses. Haven’t they had enough of that yet?

Here is the key thing that is misunderstood: Project-based homeschooling isn’t only about what children want to learn — it is about creating a situation where children *need* to learn. It is about helping children explore their ideas in a deeper, more complex way. It is about helping them state goals and then work to achieve them. It is about awakening their inner self-directed learner — and their interest is the key.

A child with a desire to play video games just needs to be left alone. A child who wants to make his own video game needs reading and writing and math and coding, a library, a mentor, an ally, an audience.

A child who wants to play LEGO just needs everyone to stop complaining about the mess on the floor. A child who wants to build a model of a medieval castle needs books, a museum, internet research, a plan, a pile of sketches, math.

The people who pooh-pooh any type of “child-led” or “interest-led” learning are operating from a deep prejudice against both children and learning. They believe children are lazy and incapable of self-generated complex thought and action. And they believe learning is an inert and lifeless thing that must be delivered like a blow or a benediction. They fail to recognize the power of each and they completely miss the magic that occurs when you bring the two together. The learner and the opportunity to learn: they don’t require that much effort to unite. Mostly we just have to stop getting in their way.

We all start from a place of want. If we’re allowed to pursue our interests — if we’re supported and encouraged — we will quickly get to a place of need. We can hardly go a few steps down the trail before we meet up with the need for knowledge, the need to acquire or hone a skill. We *need* to challenge ourselves in order to do the things we really *want* to do. That’s where learning happens.

18 comments

Comment by Tina Roggenkamp on August 29, 2012 at 10:23 AM

I've found that the obsession with a game, in our case apps on the iPad, don't last forever. For a while TBO was obsessed with "Where's My Water?" or something like that. Then it was some other game. Now it's a bridge-building game. But he doesn't do that all day ;) He takes breaks to build "amusement parks" for the kitten, various things with Superstructs and legos, and the occasional worksheets (his choosing).

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 29, 2012 at 04:24 PM

very true — sometimes a child only seems obsessed to a parent because he hasn’t had enough time to explore it enough to move on. :)

Comment by patricia on August 29, 2012 at 10:44 AM

This line interests me: "The people who pooh-pooh any type of 'child-led' or 'interest-led' learning are operating from a deep prejudice against both children and learning." I agree with you. Funny thing is, many of the sourpuss complainers I come across are very educated, evolved people who really should know better. I feel sorry for both them and their kids that they don't see the kids in a different light.

Your examples about Legos and video games are excellent explanations of what you're writing about, Lori. Even a sourpuss parent should be able to read those examples and have some insight into what you're saying here.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 29, 2012 at 04:25 PM

i think a lot of adults (including teachers) have gone so long without seeing authentic, self-directed learning that they stop believing it exists.

Comment by Lisa Clarke on August 29, 2012 at 03:08 PM

This resonated with me. We don't homeschool, but I observe much of this behavior from my children on their off time: the desire to create their own new worlds, as opposed to playing in worlds that have already been built for them.

I saw the first sparks of this behavior when, as toddlers, they much preferred to draw their own pictures than to color in coloring books. It's just grown from there.

My 12-year-old was inspired this summer to create his own video game. From writing the script, to casting the characters, to recording the voices, to composing a score and performing/editing that, to the actual creation of the game... It's a goal that's kept him busy all summer, learning and experimenting, without any prompting from me.

If anything, I've held him back by insisting he go outside and get some fresh air now and then :-)

I love your blog and your ideas. I finally stopped resisting the lure of your book and just dropped it into my shopping cart already :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 29, 2012 at 03:47 PM

no one should resist the lure! take the lure! ;o)

your son’s summer video game project sounds great. :)

“the desire to create their own new worlds, as opposed to playing in worlds that have already been built for them” — YES. this is why i sometimes wince when i’m looking around pinterest or the kid activity blogs .. kids don’t need everything done for them. they really just need the opportunity to make their *own* worlds. sometimes i think parents are so starved for play themselves, without meaning to they take some of that away from their children.

Comment by amy21 on August 29, 2012 at 07:32 PM

Lori, you are a font of common sense. I agree; there are too many adults who no longer have any faith at all in children. This makes me sad.

Re: the kid activity blogs, I struggled with this. I started a process-oriented art blog and shared what my kids and I were doing, which was not at all product-oriented. We weren't doing anything that could be reproduced exactly; I was blogging about ideas (really, I was writing the blog I'd wished I'd found--I'd wanted ideas on materials and methods with no set end result, just sparking points so we could be creative and try new techniques together). But of course when you're blogging you try to find like-minded people, but I wasn't really comfortable (or successful) in the kid-activity blog world. Part of me wanted to be, because I really wanted to spread the joy of this sort of art activity, especially when done alongside my kids--at a time when I couldn't find time to work on my own creative projects, changing my viewpoint and deciding to make time to be creative as a family probably saved my sanity--but ultimately, that doesn't seem to be what most people are looking for. And some of those kid activity blogs (not all, but some) made me very uncomfortable because it seemed like the kids were just accessories to the parent's blog post. And eventually I stopped blogging about our art activities because the whole thing made me cranky. Or curmudgeonly, as you would say. ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 30, 2012 at 08:11 AM

 

i can see where a process-oriented kid art blog would have a hard time raising its voice above the throng of product- and activity-oriented blogs. i think people are afraid of process without a guaranteed product. they want to know where they’re going and what it’s supposed to look like. unfortunately that leads to kids who also want to just be told what they’re supposed to do and what it’s supposed to look like.

“some of those kid activity blogs (not all, but some) made me very uncomfortable because it seemed like the kids were just accessories to the parent's blog post” — yeah. there’s a fine line there. i know people *love* their kids and want to have awesome experiences with them and give them wonderful things, but when i look around pinterest i see a lot of adults doing the things that *kids* used to do themselves. i mean, seriously, 50 different fort ideas? the whole fun of building a fort is that you use your own ideas! and you use whatever’s at hand! and you do it because *it was your idea to do it*. having your mom plan your fort and then photograph you lying in it .. blarg. a fort is supposed to be an escape, not a planned activity. curmudgeon, indeed. ;o)

Comment by janet on August 30, 2012 at 03:12 PM

a boy who wants to browse the online lego catalog just needs his parents to stop limiting his "screen" time. a boy who wants to build his own lego game needs to study online heroica tutorials, read about druids, knights, and rangers, sketch battle scenes, understand game rules/maps/dice, teach the game to willing participants, and let dad win every once in a while. : )

and in the end he still needed the *real* lego heroica game, which he saved his allowance to buy. doesn't get much more magical than that.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 30, 2012 at 04:07 PM

:)

Comment by tearri on September 1, 2012 at 10:50 PM

I have used the term child led many of times, when I was referring to things that my children were doing that was not prompted in anyway by me. Have I been using this term wrong, or am I missing the point? I finally finished your book, and I want to thank you for sharing your wisdom. I am learning so much from re reading the book, being a member of your forum and visiting your blog. When I finally get my act together, my children are going to love you. Have a great weekend!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 2, 2012 at 07:43 AM

 

i think people mean different things when they use the term “child-led.” some people are vehemently against it and some are adamantly for it — but they can’t really come to terms on what it means, so it’s hard to have a productive argument. ;o)

sometimes in education it seems you spend 80% of your time just defining terms.

for what it’s worth, i think you were using the term correctly.

you’re very welcome re: the book, and thank you! you’ve made my day. :)

you have a great weekend, too!

Comment by thall on December 9, 2013 at 01:08 PM

I get it now!

I've been scouring this blog looking for the aha! moment to help me implement PBH. For the most part, I've been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of info on the blog, in the book, and in the forum (I get overwhelmed easily. Dont know why.)

My incessant search for a "recipe" (sorry Lori) paid off. These two paragraphs were the key:

>A child with a desire to play video games just needs to be left alone. A child who wants to make his own video game needs reading and writing and math and coding, a library, a mentor, an ally, an audience.

A child who wants to play LEGO just needs everyone to stop complaining about the mess on the floor. A child who wants to build a model of a medieval castle needs books, a museum, internet research, a plan, a pile of sketches, math.<

I get it now! Phew!

Thanks, Lori.

Tracy

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 9, 2013 at 02:06 PM

yay! :)

Comment by Laura Anderson on April 6, 2014 at 02:34 PM

I think just the fact of leaving kids alone doing something they are genuinely interested in is hard for parents these days. If the learning can't be seen and doesn't fit into a traditional school "subject" then it is taken for granted and labeled a waste of time, when in fact a lot of growing and self reflection is going on. Very important stuff that creates space for real learning to exist.
-Laura
Love your book!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 6, 2014 at 09:27 PM

absolutely. and thank you so much! :D

Comment by TamiZS on April 6, 2014 at 07:28 PM

After reading this post and all of the replies I feel more helpless than usual! My 9-year old son plays Minecraft, but has no interest nor desire in coding. He loves to play Legos, but of his own creation, and nothing related to anything that ties into history like you suggest. If I suggest those things or offer to help and provide the resources to help him take his interests a step further he gets angry and frustrated with me and is a giant "no" to any of it. So far as homeschoolers for the first year he has played. I think playing is great, but after reading all of the more "useful" things your kids are learning I feel that I must be doing something wrong. Is it possible that he will only want to ever play and any hope I had of his play turning into deeper investigations, as is suggested as the preferred activity (I think?), is just a pipe dream. What do you do with the child that just wants to play, and play, and play and is not interested nor curious about the so-called deeper investigations. I am jealous that you have children that naturally want to take their learning those steps deeper!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 6, 2014 at 09:32 PM

 

I am jealous that you have children that naturally want to take their learning those steps deeper!

i don’t think it happens in a vacuum. the active mentoring, the thoughtful support, looking for ways to help them extend their play, and so on can play a big part in helping kids take their play further. rather than directly suggesting things that may not interest him, you might have more luck be a bit stealthy and carefully observing his play to see where you might support him to take his own ideas further.

since he’s 9 and this is your first year homeschooling, i’m guessing that your suggestions sound a little too “educational” to him, which may now mean “not fun” and “nothing i want to do.” ;o) (i may be wrong about that!)

feel free to join the forum if you want a little support while you find your way!

Post new comment