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The Independent Learner: Tip No. 2

By Debra Bell | July 25, 2011 | by Debra Bell, The Science of Learning

Build on their interests…

 I want to pick up where I left off last post — If you want to raise an independent learner, then build your program around your child’s interests. Independent learners are intrinsically motivated to learn. And interest is the fuel of that intrinsic motivation. You want to keep that fuel in abundant supply.  If you don’t build on your children’s interests, then they will lose interest; and you will be dragging your kids through the curriculum, instead of greasing the rails of independent learning. 

Here’s an idea for building on interest.  First, make a list of topics your child finds interesting.  Then brain storm ( with your child if he or she is old enough) about all the possible lines of investigation to pursue in each subject area.

Let’s use animals as a common area of interest in many young children. How many places in your daily studies can you leverage that innate curiosity about animals to get your kids engaged?

  • Math – solve problems related to caring for animals, stablizing the animal population or predicting the developmental growth curve for your family dog.
  • Science – bring veterinarian science into your science studies or center your science fair project around a favorite animal.
  • Literature – plenty of quality fiction in each age group that features an animal as a central character.
  • Language arts – let your kids write stories about pets or reports on issues related to animals.
  • Music – listen to Saint-Saëns The Carnival of the Animals and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf for a start.
  • History – investigate the origins and domestication of horses, cats, dogs, etc. Or study the development of zoos or the military history of animals. 

In all these examples, what matters is kids are engaged in learning how to learn.  They are developing their skills in math, science, reading, writing, music and history. The content they are working with to develop those skills is what is very flexible ( in this example, animals).  In skill work, what is important is plenty of practice. And kids are only going to practice repeatedly skills they find meaningful and rewarding — that’s why skills need to be used to satisfy a child’s natural curiosity.  You want to be working with your child’s inner timetable for learning, not against it. ( Unless you like misery.) 

Once you’ve hooked them into the learning moment through their expressed interests, then use that momentum to make connections to other important concepts you need to emphasize.  Because you are drawing your kids into the learning experience through their interests, you will be able to build curiosity for those things they don’t yet know are intriguing. 

Next time I’ll talk about how to promote curiosity and interest where there isn’t any.


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