Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Once I understood that joy and adventure were the best motivation for learning, I had to change the way I shopped. Prepared curriculum packages had become a slippery slope. I was feeling my way into new terrain. I tried a number of research methods.

At one point, I gave some curriculum catalogs and brightly colored markers to my boys and told them to circle whatever they liked. They nearly always picked things that looked dangerous or looked like birthday presents. One son held an ongoing campaign to purchase books that would teach him how to survive on whatever he could forage from the backyard and surrounding neighborhood. He also wanted to collect preserved specimens. I didn't even know that some of these creatures existed, much less that they could be preserved for posterity. My other son wanted to build every kind of robot and gadget the catalogs offered. He dreamed of filling the house with machines. Let me tell you, if you want to build things, you can find some weird stuff for sale.   

Still, the information was priceless. It gave me a window into what brought them joy. 

Slowly, by trial and error, I designed a selection process that worked well year after year. Over the next few days, we'll be talking about that here.

The first step in this process to ask them what they want and review what they have enjoyed over the past year. 

Try asking your kids what they would like for school. If they can't think of anything, hand them a curriculum catalog or let them look online. Let them pick anything that looks interesting. Tell them there are no right answers. Explain that you are just getting feedback. 

Insider's Tip: Don't worry about getting "correct" answers. Most kids won't show any interest in textbooks. It's highly likely that they will pick something that seems completely inappropriate -- equipment for a hobby, something silly, or even something that looks like it's designed to annoy you. It's still helpful feedback. Keep a record of it. 

Those of you with older students should still be doing this. In high school, there's lot of pressure to meet expectations. In those years, I had to fight the temptation to dictate what must get done and the worry about being legitimate. The problem is, we do have to worry about that -- we need to learn to translate our courses into terms and a format that make sense to accreditation agencies and colleges. We need to be sure that our courses are generally equivalent to high school courses. Nevertheless, it still holds true that our best work is done where there is joy. Allowing our kids to follow their own interests and passions is the smartest investment we can make in their education. They will develop into adults who are gifted and have found something they do with excellence. So, go ahead. Ask. Don't say it can't be done. Do some research. Nearly anything is possible. We can talk about how to make it work as a course for credit. For the next few days, I will tell you a couple of stories about how passion led to long-term studies and eventually to higher level courses.

Email me or comment if you have questions. The Apple Pie address is in the side bar. 

I'd enjoy hearing about what your kids like. 

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