Why Interest Matters

Children and adults tend to learn about things that interest them. How does interest work? What can parents and teachers do to foster a child’s interest in a given subject? Should adults seek to foster such interest, and, if so, how and when should they do so? These are some of the important questions addressed in a recent podcast discussion between “Schooled” host and education professor Kevin Currie-Knight (whom I’ve interviewed) and and psychologist K. Ann Renninger.

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Franny K. Stein’s Warning to Overstressed Families

What happens when children and their parents overstress themselves with activities? Grandparents gave us a book that my child loved and that, once my wife explained the story (she’d read the book to our child), I had to read too. The book is from the Franny K. Stein series (which I’d never heard of); the title in question is The Fran with Four Brains (paid link). It’s about one stressed out little girl.

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Dads Homeschool Too

Most parents who take lead on homeschooling their children are moms. That’s fine, but sometimes the dads are overlooked. Although I’ve never met another dad who takes lead on homeschooling, as I do, I know such dads are out there.

Many homeschooling groups on social media are dominated by women, so much so that the presumption sometimes seems to be that only women participate. I regularly run across messages addressed to “Mamas” and invitations to events for “moms.” I’m not complaining. But I would like to gently encourage homeschooling moms to remember that some of us are homeschooling dads—and to encourage the dads to actively participate.

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A Day in the Life of an Independent Learner

The more I witness independent learning in action, the more I am convinced that children can successfully chart their own paths. Yesterday I wrote an essay, “Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works,” on this topic. This is a follow-up to describe my son’s self-directed adventure yesterday.

My wife, who had the day off, again took lead on homeschooling. (So this was not a typical day; usually both of us parents are busier with our own projects.) She started the day by asking our child what he wanted to do during the course of the day. He initially laid out three projects on a chair: a magnet kit, a card-matching game, and a dinosaur 3D wood model kit. Then he added a Lego T-Rex kit and a printed 3D figure set that a friend had given us.

Then it was time for breakfast, and my wife asked our son if he wanted to help make it. He said yes, and together they made pancakes out of a recipe book that a relative had given our son as a gift. (Our child is interested in cooking, so we try to foster that.) To help make the pancakes, my son had to work with measurements and simple math.

Then, all of his own accord, my son played the card-matching game with my wife for half an hour. This is a good memory exercise. Then our son colored a print-out for a 12-sided shape, and my wife helped him cut it out and glue it into the 3D shape. That took around an hour. He spent another hour working with a magnet kit. Then he spent a solid 2.5 hours building the Lego T-Rex. That is extraordinary concentration. (I wrote more about Lego kits elsewhere.)

Then our child obviously was getting tired, so we agreed that he could watch TV. He chose something about mechanized “dinosaurs.” Then, as a family, we watched the original Pete’s Dragon (see my post about films) and discussed aspects of it. Our son closed out the day watching some science videos and then reading with Mom. (He never did get to the wood kit.)

Obviously self-directed learning does not mean learning in a vacuum. We’ve collected lots of materials for possible projects for our son to do based on his interests. We sometimes suggest projects he might be interested in and also help him with his projects. As I’ve written, self-directed learning is compatible with, and I’d even say dependent on, interactive parenting.

In short, this was an extraordinarily productive day in terms of my son’s education. He was basically in charge of crafting his day at every step, and he thoroughly enjoyed his day. Self-directed learning works!

Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works

Kids want and need substantial autonomy. When, as parents, we help our children develop self-responsible control over their lives, we make their lives better and our lives easier. Yet the temptation to default to authority (“because I said so”) can be strong.

A regular sort of post on the homeschooling groups I follow runs something like this: “My child just won’t do the work I’ve assigned. He/she keeps fighting me about it, refuses to do it, and acts bored and listless. Help! This is driving me bonkers and I don’t know what to do!”

But think about this from the child’s perspective, and I think the main problem will quickly become apparent. If, as an adult, someone decided what tasks you would do regardless of your interests and buy-in, forced you to do those tasks every day for a set number of hours, and then continually berated you for not doing the job very well, how would you feel and react? My guess is you’d be grumpy and irritated about it. So why are we surprised when kids react that way?

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Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on Social Media

Although I think the documentary The Social Dilemma is overly alarmist (as I’ve written elsewhere), it raises legitimate concerns about children’s use of social media. In one dramatized scene of the film, a girl posts a photo of herself to social media and someone makes fun of her “big ears,” leading to her crying in the bathroom. Social media use can lead to (or at least exacerbate) bullying, addiction, self-image problems, self-harm, and conspiracy mongering. What can parents do?

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt (who appears in the film) recommends three main steps for parents: Forbid all devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime, forbid social media until high school, and limit total daily device use.

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