Interest-led learning can get complicated when you have children with varying interests. Here’s how we make it work!
One morning last week, my oldest son yelled and asked me to come into his room.
“I’m with your brother. Give me a minute!” I yelled back because I am super serene and classy like that.
I turned back to my youngest and told him he had a few more minutes with me and then I would need to check in on his brother. I am not even sure he heard me as he picked up where he left off, telling me about the differences between a red-tailed boa and a rainbow boa.
Five minutes passed and he was still going strong. I turned on a YouTube video about red tails and went in to see his big brother.
“We need to talk about my tank, Momma. I want to buy a specialized nitration kit. The tank is doing so well, I can’t get the smallest levels of measurement that I’m looking for.” I thought about asking if the tank was doing so well with our current kit, why it was necessary to get the most minute level of measurement, but I knew better. This is part of this interest for him.
Just as he pulled up the kit he wanted to order online, his little brother burst into the room. “I think I want an iguana next. We can build an enclosure for him from scratch.”
“I think I need another cup of coffee,” I thought and continued conversations with each child.
This is a real life, every single day, snapshot of what interest-led learning looks like in our home. Both of my children have intense special interests that serve a purpose far beyond hobbies and fun. Recognizing this element of their diagnoses and brain functions has helped my boys immensely in learning academically, socially and emotionally.
And, sometimes, it is really, really difficult to manage interest-led learning with two boys that have very different interests.
Interest-Led Learning: When Your Kids Have Totally Different Interests
I have finally embraced (surrendered to?) this approach in our homeschool. It has taken me some time to figure out how to do it in such a way that I don’t feel like a ping-pong ball being smacked back and forth between computers and snakes all day long.
Here are some of my top tips for making interest-led learning sustainable for all of us:
Plan To Take Turns With Mom
One of the easiest ways to incorporate time for my boys to pursue their interests with me as a helper, is to plan specific times for them both. This is a little easier now that my oldest takes classes half-time. While he is in school, I spend time with his little brother, devoted to all the research and projects he can handle in the three hours we have alone.
My oldest and I spend time together each morning, as soon as he wakes up, to help him map out his day. This is also when he shows me all the things related to computer builds and aquarium maintenance.
These devoted time frames help ease the feeling of them fighting for my attention. It also helps me to not totally lose my mind.
Teach Each Other
This is, by far, the greatest benefit of having two brilliant kids with very different interests. Every single day, I encourage them to share with one another what they’ve learned or to show each other what they’re working on. Because they both have a professorial quality to their communication, they love telling each other and anyone else about their special interests.
Not only does this allow me a chance to breathe, but they genuinely learn from each other.
Practice Social Reciprocity
In order to manage the chaos that sometimes ensues when special interests collide around here, we have a lot of explicit talks about social reciprocity.
“Your brother doesn’t want to hear about the chameleon right now. See how he is busy with his own learning? Let’s talk to him later about it.”
“Why don’t you listen to his research about the amazon river basin reptiles first, and then you can tell him about the discus tank?”
“Mommy has interests too. You love reptiles. Your brother loves computers. I love
coffee and yoga pants going to the library by myself sometimes just to browse the book stacks.”
This type of conversation not only helps to limit arguments between my children and help me balance everyone’s needs, it also serves as a form of social skills practice.
I have found that interest-led learning is definitely not always easy, but it is worth it.
For a glimpse of the benefits I see from incorporating special interests into our learning, please join me over at Autism Homeschool Mama today.