Set Your Homeschool Child Free with an Interest-Led Education

I mapped out an amazing line-up of unit studies for my son’s first-grade year. He was enjoying school; we were reading fantastic books. All was well.

But one day, my six-year-old became fascinated with bald eagles. One day he announced, “Mom, I’d like to make a bald eagle lapbook.” And our journey into interest-led education began.

Set Your Homeschool Child Free with an Interest-Led Education

The Start of Interest-Led Learning

I decided to ditch my plan for a bit. I watched my son devour book after book about bald eagles and birds of prey, including one of the animal encyclopedias we had on the shelf. It was tough reading for a six-year-old, but he was determined to absorb every fact about our national raptor.

He strengthened his reading skills. He began to understand research basics. He became a fountain of bald eagle information who was willing to share with anyone willing to listen.

And none of this—none of it—was inspired, planned, or artificially created by me. The only thing I did was provide him with rich resources. My son was learning – really learning based on his own interest.

I studied my glorious first-grade year plan, and I started to wonder if he would learn as much with my plan as he would if I let him free to pursue his own.

It took time for me to open my hands, let go, and embrace an interest-led homeschool.

An Evolution of Interest-Led Learning

So my second kiddo came along, and by the time he began first grade, my mindset has more than shifted–it has transformed. I do have my non-negotiables, but he controls the rest of his day.

He has spent the last 18 months immersed in wild edible plants. How did this appetite begin? It began by playing outside; he was simply playing the day he discovered wild onions. He picked a few, brought his treasure inside, asked if it was edible, and asked me to buy him an identification guide.

Experts have decided what topics are included in the 5th grade standards of learning. You won’t find my son’s passion on the list. But I have watched him devour Peterson’s field guide. He is thriving, and I know it is right for him to be free to pursue his own interests.

So many homeschool moms I talk with are scared to let their kids free. I get it; it did not happen overnight for me. We want the best. We want them to succeed. We believe experts have made the best decisions for our kids. We block out the nagging feeling that maybe there is something more–that maybe our kids could be successful by studying what they want. Because they can.

Freedom has empowered my son to discover so much more than a few plants he can eat. Some of the opportunities my son has had in the past year include the following:

  • Creating a PowerPoint presentation for a family program at one of our state parks
  • Teaching peers at a day camp
  • Creating a fall survival plants program for two homeschool co-op classes
  • Volunteering at a garden (because wild edibles sparked a love for botany)
  • Volunteering at our state parks, working with interpretive naturalists, and seriously considering this for his future occupation
  • Encouraging our family to hike more
  • Preparing and selling jewel-weed salve
  • Meeting an amazing mentor who happens to be Miami Indian, learning her tribe’s history as well as harvesting various wild edibles
  • Identifying a dangerous plant growing in our city park and notifying the park management
  • Harvesting a heap of pawpaws from the woods for our family to enjoy
  • Picking wild black raspberries and cooking jam

Freedom has helped him gain skills in reading, research, and speech. He has studied health, history, cooking, business, and science. He has completed career exploration and physical education.

I didn’t create any of this. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t do anything except look for resources and opportunities to spur him on. I went hiking when he asked. I held books while he tried to identify plants. I tasted garlic mustard and used plantain for a bee sting when he told me to.

Give it a try. Set your students free to study with an interest-led homeschool, and you will be free, too.

Ami Brainerd

About the author

God’s grace runs wild through Ami's life, and she asks daily for more grace as she walks by the way with her two boys.  She makes sure her kids read oodles of living books, get-out-and-get-the-stink-off with frequent field trips, and have plenty of time to explore their interests–keeping them exceptionally curious. She chronicles her homeschooling adventures {and disasters} at Walking by the Way; she also manages the free curriculum-sharing site, Homeschool Share.

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  1. I went through a phase around the age of 10-12 when I was super interested in edible plants, too. I was also homeschooled and my mother let me go to town with that interest… I checked out every book the library had on the topic. I still remember some of the things I learned, even today. I’m so thankful my mother let me pursue that interest–and so many others, too!

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