How to get your interest-led learners back on track

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Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins.

Some seasons, our interest-led learners are interested in everything. They read, they ask questions, they conduct experiments and plan projects.

But what do you during those other times, the times when inspiration has left the building? What do you do when no one seems interested in much of anything? What if it turns into all pajamas, all Legos, all day? You know what I’m talking about.

Well, first, you don’t panic. You remember that just like a field needs seasons to grow and seasons to rest, so do our kids. So do we all.

Maybe they’re just in a healthy resting period, or maybe they’re learning something through the pajama-and-Lego routine.

Or maybe our days need adjusting. In that case, I try to step back and spend some time in observation mode. I don’t try to change things right away, I just take note of what is actually happening throughout the day.

What are the kids choosing to spend their time on? What are they not choosing? Are they open to other suggestions? Are they engaged in their work or play, or are they bored and grouchy?

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I ask myself lots of questions. Why am I uncomfortable with our routine right now? What do I wish was different about this situation? What’s keeping us from that ideal?

Mostly I’m trying to figure out: Are we learning in nontraditional ways right now, or are we stuck in a rut? Is this a phase that will pass on its own, or do I need to shake things up?

And I try to be clear about why I want things to be different, because the WHY is what keeps us moving in the right direction.

Is it because I want everyone to practice active engagement with the world around them?

Is it because I want the kids to practice finding new things to learn?

Is it because I want my kids to practice persevering when something is hard, instead of skipping the tough stuff in favor of activities where they’re already comfortable?

Is it because I want us all to be producing more and consuming less?

Is it because the weather is great, and I want us to be soaking up fresh air and sunshine instead of hanging out indoors?

Is it because our family culture hasn’t been reflecting the truth and beauty and curiosity that is important to us?

Is it something else? You get to decide for your homeschool.

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Once I’ve figured out what needs changing and why, I think about how I can switch things up in our environment or our routine to encourage us back toward our ideals.

  • If the kids have been uninterested in skill-building activities lately, I might try setting out a learning invitation each day after breakfast.
  • If our family culture needs a change, I might refresh one of our family habits. Maybe I need to reintroduce (or be more consistent about) afternoon tea time, or reading aloud, or taking a daily walk.

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  • I might change our routine. This helps when the kids find themselves doing the same things over and over, but in a cranky, I-can’t-think-of-anything-else-to-do way, not in a focused-learning way. In that case, maybe I’ll suggest a week of writer’s workshop, where we all dive deeply into writing for awhile. Maybe I’ll suggest a pajamas-and-reading day, without any screens or toys. Maybe we need a family game day with popcorn. Maybe I’ll pull out craft things and have a week of maker’s workshop.
  • I might change the environment, to spark creative possibility. Maybe we need to reorganize our supplies, or create a new workspace. Maybe we need to rearrange furniture. Maybe we’ll turn our backyard into a clay studio for the weekend.
  • I might request a bunch of new library books, or invest in a new tool, or investigate new lessons or classes. Online classes are great for this, since they’re available anytime.
  • I might get to work on a project of my own, to inspire by example.
  • And with older kids, I talk about what’s going on, what their goals are, and if their daily choices are moving them toward their goals or away from their goals.

Or I might figure it’s just the end of winter, the weather is still dreary, and we’ll get back to more active modes of learning as we thaw out.

Sometimes it really will pass all on its own.

What do you do when you need to get back on track?

About Melissa Camara Wilkins

Melissa Camara Wilkins is a homeschooling mom of six in Southern California. She writes about being who you were made to be and letting go of the rest.

Comments

  1. This is so helpful no matter how you to teach or even if you don’t homeschool! I love the idea of stepping back and observing before acting. This was such a nice article to read at the end of March in the coldest winter on record for our town-seriously my kids couldn’t go outside this week because windchills were down below -10. I’m trying to just maintain patience at this point 🙂

    • -10: I shudder to think! (See what I did there?) 😉

      I always have to remind myself to observe first, act later–but things do turn out so much better when I can manage it. 🙂

      I hope spring starts thawing things out for you soon, Lacey!
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: How to be free

  2. This was so good to think about, even though I haven’t started homeschooling yet. We’ll be starting in July. I am completely sure that we’ll fall into ruts like you’ve described – ok, maybe we already do! You’ve given great ideas that I am going to put in my Mom Binder for future reference. Thanks!
    Heather’s latest post: Living the Farm Life

  3. Excellent, excellent article, particularly the questions to ask yourself. I’m leaning more and more toward full-on interest-led schooling and this is info I will refer to often. Thanks!

  4. This is such a good post right now for me….at this time of year our motivation and enthusiasm for learning starts to wane. As Spring weather comes I find it gets a little easier, but until then, we are stuck in a rut of not doing much. Thanks for the boost and encouragement!

  5. Thanks for this great article. Just yesterday I had declared a book day and I’m trying to reinforce our daily walks again. It’s so easy to get in a rut and it can be hard to get back out!

    • Thanks, Amy.

      A daily walk is such a refreshing habit, and it’s one I drop soooooo easily. (Missing shoes! Someone has no pants again! Where are my sunglasses? Is it nap time already? Ahem.) Thanks for the reminder to start that back up!
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: How to be free

  6. This has been something I have been mulling over myself these past few years. Around here ( San Diego) as soon as January hits my girls want to do nothing but run, climb and play till about May. I have been realizing that its the same every year. Our weather is perfection during those months, not too hot yet. But about June-December they are always so motivated and excited about learning new things. I can barely keep up!
    I decided to embrace this rhythm and enjoy the fact that we are not bound to a specific school calendar. It has made me so much more relaxed, knowing we can enjoy this season and that soon enough my days will be busy with all their new interests.

    • Yes! Embracing the rhythm of the seasons gives me a ton more peace. I used to get a little nervous when the kids would spend all day every day outdoors, never picking up a book–but then I realized it would swing back in the winter, when they’d be all about the books and the handwork until the weather shifted again. It’s not really a rut if they’re engaged in SOMETHING (in my book, anyway). We tend to do a lot of one thing for awhile, then a lot of something else. It all evens out over the long term.
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: How to be free

  7. Observing my kids, not jumping to conclusions and making hasty educational decisions for them, is something of which I need to be reminded over and over–even after nine years of homeschooling! Thanks for this.
    Hannah’s latest post: Sehnsucht

  8. Loved this. We can get into All Legos, All Day Long and it’s hard to ascertain if this is a rut or if something is percolating and needs space. It’s great to ask yourself these helpful questions rather than reacting from fear and discomfort.
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: The evidence is in

  9. I really appreciate this post, especially this week. We are in the midst of the winter doldrums. Too much sickness, not enough outside time, and we feel very off track. I need to sit back, take it all in, and figure out our new rhythm. Thank you!
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: On Motherhood

    • Thanks, Cait! The end-of-winter doldrums get us every year, too. Maybe I should just schedule a week of observation mode into my calendar preemptively. 😀 But what a lovely time for new rhythm, with the whole word waking up around us.
      Melissa Camara Wilkins’s latest post: How to be free

  10. Fresh air always refreshes me; for the kids, it’s like, “Give me an inch and I’ll take a mile.” But observing them outdoors, I’m reminded at how much they are learning through experimentation and exploration and observation, and I remind myself it’ll all equal out in the end.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this! It really puts things in correct perspective, and gives me specific questions to ask myself to determine the right thing for my family at the time.

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