My son and I sat down this morning, as we do at the beginning of every semester, to discuss the topics of study for the coming several months. My son presents his choices, in priority order, then I present my ideas (if they are different than his) and we reach agreement on what we’ll study.
Then my job starts. I gather materials and resources and develop a plan for the best way to learn the things he wants to learn, incorporating all of the content areas. Sometimes it’s easy, like it is if he wants to learn about the history of something because social studies is easily covered in that situation. Sometimes, though, it’s not easy at all. For example, my son really doesn’t like math. He would probably use stronger words to express that sentiment, but I think you get the picture. Because our goal is for him to be learning what he wants to learn, I can’t just pick up a math textbook or copy some worksheets. I need to carefully and gently (“gently” is his word) integrate mathematics topics into the study areas where they fit and use examples and practice that fit with the topic. Yes, it’s a challenge, but when it’s done this way, he doesn’t hate math; he sees it as part of the larger topic, which it truly is.
So, here are the topics for this year, in priority order:
(FYI – My son is 10. Fifth grade)
- History of Video Games 2 – There’s a 2 after the title because this will be the second year of studying that topic. Before you start rolling your eyes about the History of Video Games, I have to tell you that it is a deep and complex topic. He’s already an expert, but we can always go further. This year he wants to interview early pioneers in the field and some developers on the cutting edge of the field today.
- History of Russia from 1900 to Today – He’s particularly interested in Soviet Russia and the Cold War. Why? We played a video game that included a lot of content relevant to Russia during the Cold Way and Communism and he realized he didn’t know anything about it, so he wants to learn more.
- Pirates and Privateers – This one proves he’s a normal kid. Don’t all boys want to learn about pirates?
- Greek Mythology 2 – He already knows an amazing amount on this topic because he studied it for a year, but he loves it and there’s always more detail to digest. This year we’ll be reading the Iliad (we read The Odyssey last year) and integrating a lot of math and art into our studies.
- History of England – Why does he want to learn this? He watched a YouTube video by accident one day about all the British monarchs and now he wants to learn more.
- Basic coding/Java – We have already started this, but it wasn’t a focused effort. He wants to be able to learn it well enough to program some games by the end of the year.
Now for my list:
- Study of the Human Body – all systems and organs, and including health and fitness. He readily agreed.
- Bible Study – He knew this was coming because it’s something we do anyway. He had no problem with it.
- Focused math instruction including a pre-Algebra online course. – He nixed this one completely, which I knew he would. I put it on my list so he would counter with the integration approach I described above and feel like he won the day. I know. It’s sneaky, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do, right?
There it is. The list. Reading, writing, grammar, math, science, social science, art, music, and physical education will all be covered through these topics.
The day the topics are chosen is a big one for us. It affirms for my son that he really is at the center of our plans and that we really do intend to focus his learning on things he wants to learn.
Can topics be added mid-term? Of course! If he gets really excited about learning something, I’m not going to say, “Sorry. You’ll have to wait until we choose the topics for the next term.” I’m going to enthusiastically park whatever we were working on and ride the wave of his excitement and energy as far as we can.
Can topics be dropped? We have never dropped a topic. What we do is “park” the topic to consider later. We usually end up coming right back to topics we parked within a month or two. If his interest doesn’t return to a topic at all during the year, we’d just leave it parked through to the next year.
The first time I asked him what he would like to learn when we first started homeschooling, his list was very short (2 things) and uninspired. After a few years in a public school, he was accustomed to being told what he would study and how he would study it. He had never been asked what he wanted to learn or know. The first few months were a discovery process. Soon, he started thinking about what he wanted to know and his curiosity muscles started working again. Now, even though we have our list, over half the things we work on or learn about arise out of teachable moments about something he saw or heard or read.
That is magical.
Image credit: Denise Krebs through Flickr, used via Creative Commons License.
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