Class Dismissed! 5 Ways to Support Interest-Led Learning
What does it mean to be educated?
In the context of the 21st century, the idea of being ‘educated’ is becoming less rigid and increasingly broad as more and more parents look beyond the walls of the classroom to find a meaningful education for their children.
This is a question that Jeremy Stuart has been asking himself for a number of years, which he decided to answer in an unexpected way: through film.
Jeremy Stuart is a film industry veteran who has worked with companies like Pixar, GoPro, Disney, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and more. After forming his own production company 3StoryFilms in 2015, Jeremy directed, co-produced, and edited his first feature-length documentary called Class Dismissed.
Jeremy joined us for a recent inspirEd by Galileo event for a discussion around his experience as both a filmmaker and parent exploring the world of alternative, self-directed education and what it truly means to be educated.
Exploring the Wonderland of Children's Interests
Many people have the perception that homeschooling is dated, out of touch, and does not prepare children for the 'real world'.
However, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Interest-led learning is an approach to homeschooling that centers around a child's interest and natural curiosities, rather than a pre-set curriculum. Jeremy shares:
"Kids just love learning - we're all hardwired to learn. It's impossible not to learn, actually. We're always learning something, even as adults."
Interest-led learning is also called delight-directed learning, self-directed learning, passion-oriented learning, or rabbit trailing (...like following rabbit trails down a rabbit hole).
In this approach, a child can explore any topics, concepts, or interests with a number of different resources. Jeremy says:
"That's what's so fantastic about self-directed education. It's allowing children to enter that autonomous space as early as possible. They understand that they are in control of their lives and that they're free to learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it, for however long they want to learn it for. "
The idea is that parents can integrate their children's interests into the homeschool rhythm to make it more fun, engaging, and interesting.
For example, maybe your child loves all things sport. Incorporate math by exploring how probability is used to predict match outcomes. Do you want them to practice their writing? Get them to write an article that covers the latest match that was played or the history of their favorite team. Why not use it to study to science of the human body, the science of movement, or the science of aerodynamics?
Down The Rabbit Hole of Interest-Led Homeschooling
When deciding how to approach his own daughter’s education, Jeremy was curious to explore all of his options. Jeremy and his wife were interested in exploring alternative education options, however, like many parents, they had a bunch of questions and concerns.
“We're so conditioned as a society to think that the only place that you can get an education is in an institutionalized school setting and that, somehow, learning only happens there. The idea of stepping outside of that is a very scary thing.”
Jeremy and his wife decided to attend a homeschooling conference in California in order to learn more about what alternative education could actually offer their family. At the conference, they were able to connect with families who were all at different stages of their homeschooling journeys.
This was their first introduction to the world of interest-led learning, where learning and education were structured around children's interests.
Jeremy recalls being shocked (in a good way) by the children he met.
He spoke to young children of seven or eight who were mature, well-spoken, confident in conversation. He thought, if this is the product of homeschooling, then this must be the way to go.
“We were just totally blown away by the kids that we met. They're just really remarkable people. We were struck by how independent they were and how confident they were. Young children would come up to me and talk to me and look me right in the eye. There was just something kind of different about these kids that I'd never experienced before with other children.”
It's all about finding the right resources and understanding how your child's interests can connect with various subjects.
Film For Thought
After deciding to embark on his own homeschooling journey, Jemery spent his time researching everything about alternative education and various alternative learning methodologies. However, he was unable to find any documentaries that focused on these topics.
As a filmmaker, Jeremy wondered why there were not more films that dived into the topic of homeschooling.
“I did all this research and couldn't come up with anything other than some short little things on YouTube. So, a lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought maybe I should make a documentary about homeschooling.”
Jeremy's first documentary is called 'Class Dismissed'.
"Class Dismissed" interrogates the issues that are rife in many conventional schooling systems and dives into alternative ways of learning outside of the traditional classroom.
Film For Thought...Again
After the release of 'Class Dismissed', Jeremy traveled around the US doing screenings and Q&A sessions.
What he learned was that most people had the exact same questions and concerns when it came to alternative education and following their children's interests.
"One of the questions that kept coming up a lot was, 'this homeschooling thing sounds great when they're young, but what about when they're teenagers or when they're ready to go to college? Or go out in the world and get a job? how are they? How are they going to manage if they've never been to a traditional school or have certain prior knowledge?"
Jeremy realized that there was a need for something more.
He needed to tell the stories of those that had been through an education focused on interest-led learning, and how this had impacted their lives.
So, a few years later, Jeremy made his second documentary called 'Self Taught'.
In'Self Taught', Jeremy followed six remarkable young adults who had all experienced non-traditional educations. For some, they had never been at a traditional school before, and for others, they had dabbled in both.
"I interviewed them and talked to them about their lives, what they're doing now, and how self-directed education had helped or hindered them in becoming who they were today."
5 Lessons For Following a Child's Interests
So what has Jeremy learned along the way? After interviewing a large number of experts, parents, students, and more, he's picked up a thing or two.
1. Push Past the Fear
As a parent, it can feel terrifying to leave traditional schools behind in order to homeschool. When you're following your children's interests, there's no curriculum to follow, no teachers to guide you, and no subjects to check off a list.
There's pressure around whether students will learn enough about the traditional subjects like science, math, history, or a foreign language.
This is exactly what Jeremy wanted to debunk with 'Self Taught'. It's been proven time and time again that students learn best when learning about something they love. This doesn't mean they won't cover things like math and science, but they'll just do it in their own way and own time.
2. Think About Your Motivation
We need a better understanding of what actually motivates students to learn. When you're in school, students learn through extrinsic motivation. Students learn and study because the teacher says so, or because there's a grade. According to Jeremy, it's 'like a carrot on a stick'.
"It doesn't work. Because, deep down, most people don't like to be told what to do. We all want a sense of freedom and choice, but school doesn't allow that. Watch a child learn - students learn best when they're intrinsically motivated."
3. Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself
Jeremy recalls times on his personal journey where he's questioned what he's doing and whether he's making the right choice with his kids' education. He shares:
"It's a constantly evolving process, it's not a stagnant thing. That's one of the things I love most about unschooling or self-directed learning. It's a very alive and engaged process. If you find what works for your family, as soon as it stops working, throw it out, try something else, evolve it, change it, right, and you have the power to do that."
5. Learn to Love Learning
There's this strange notion in our culture that all learning stops when you leave school. Jeremy says:
"You go to school to learn because that's the only place you can learn, right? Because there are teachers, and that's the system. Then once you leave school the learning part of your life is supposedly over, and now you're in the working part of your life. And that's just complete nonsense."
Pursue An Education That Celebrates Your Child's Interests
Are you looking for something different for your family?
At Galileo, we believe that each child is completely unique, and therefore all students learn in different ways. We make sure that each child's learning process is completely tailored to their strengths, needs, and growing interests. Additionally, we make sure they have the resources and teaching to support their interests.
We allow learners to curate their own interest-led learning journeys while supporting them every step of the way.
Our community is a wonderful way to connect with other families and helps with finding resources to unlock the potential of your child.
If you are interested in keeping up with everything from homeschool and educational psychology, to new ideas in the world of tech and education, then check out some of our upcoming events here.