364 | Interest Led vs. Need Based; a Homeschool Balancing Act (Jennifer Cabrera)

364 | Interest Led vs. Need Based; a Homeschool Balancing Act (Jennifer Cabrera)

Show Notes:

Interests can lead to learning, but kids don't always follow them past fun and convenience. Career dreams can only become reality through work and meeting requirements. Requirements only parents may fully understand and need to push behind the interests. But what if they have no interests? There's a spark for learning in all kids that we want to kindle but not put out. But how do we find the perfect balance?


Jennifer Cabrera, the Hifalutin Homeschooler, is the writer of homeschool truth, humor, and inspiration. Jennifer lives in Salado, Texas with her husband and three brilliant boys. She is a licensed Physician Assistant/MPH, but set aside that career for her ultimate life's work. She is also the author of Socialize Like a Homeschooler: A Humorous Homeschool Handbook and Revolting Writing, a hilarious writing, vocabulary, and illustration journal for reluctant writers. She is a featured speaker with Great Homeschool Conventions and her memes and witty insights are widely shared on social media.


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Show Transcript:

Jennifer Cabrera:

Hello and welcome to another Hifalutin Homeschooler episode of The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jennifer Cabrera and I am one of many hosts here on the podcast. Each week, we bring you an encouraging conversation, inspiration, tips, tricks, and or humor from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home.

Now, while the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we do not pretend to have the answer to every question related to homeschooling, but we do hope to keep it real through lessons we've learned and urge you toward Jesus Christ and prayer with him as the greatest parent-teacher conference available.

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Okay. Feeding their interests, but balancing it with their needs. Maybe not the needs that they perceive. It's really more of like a teeter-totter or a seesaw where you're trying to balance it in the middle. But sometimes we end up doing more interest led learning and allowing our kids to maybe run rough shot over us a little bit and put things that we find necessary on the back burner.

And then sometimes we're just gung-ho and forcing the grammar and making them write the sentences and show all your work in math. I'm not really sure that anybody ever perfectly balances this out. I know that there are unschoolers who seriously just let life happen. And when a need rises, they teach their kids based on whatever event is happening in that day or interest or something that came on the news and they go with it down the rabbit hole.

And that works for some. Others of us may be a little more type A and controlling. And we just can't get rid of that. It may not really be based off of our own public school education or the need for a syllabus in strict order because we never really get the strict order anyway. I don't really personally care for writing syllabuses at all on anything or reading anyone else's for that matter after finishing college.

However, we do see a certain need to push things that our kids don't. And so finding that balance for us is a little difficult. So that's what I want to talk about today. But first, I want to start with saying that as many of you know, I pulled my kids from public school to homeschool. We weren't those people that just knew that we were going to homeschool.

My husband and I were not homeschooled. But what we did see, especially in our third Guinea pig, I mean child after beginning to homeschool, the first two, that children are just sponges, which is cliche and you've probably heard before, but they really are inquisitive and ready to learn. And not everything has to be turned into a classroom setting that every child is born with this little pilot light that flickers inside them.

So there's a pilot light of curiosity inside every child, but we noticed, especially with our oldest two in public school, that school activities and school requirements and assignments often snuff out that pilot light, whereas homeschooling can keep it lit and fueled with truth and love and purpose. We want to kindle it to a lifelong flame of knowledge, right? That's the goal. One of my now seniors, when he was in the second grade just before we decided to start homeschooling, he would come home and tell me all of these facts and cool stories and all these things that he was learning during the day.

And I was like, "Wow, they're really getting to some stuff in this second grade class." I thought, "Okay. He's really learning. He is having a great time." He was so excited to tell me everything. But what turned out to be is that he had finished his lessons and work with a class and he had to be quiet, so he loved to read and he would turn to all the little books that the teacher would have on her shelf in the room, and he was reading every single one of them every day.

So I began to notice that there was a lot of time wasted, but there was this child who just wanted to learn and he couldn't wait to come home and tell me all of these things that he was reading, which I loved that he was actually turning to a book and not just causing the problems in the class or twiddling his thumbs or tearing up his shoelaces or whatever he think to do.

He was actually wanting to learn. But then I also noticed all of the wasted time where he was getting to just sit there and was trying to learn, but he only had so much that he could reach for. And so that was what started us thinking about homeschooling. And then there was a whole train wreck from there that there's a whole other podcast episode. But suffice it to say that spark almost died by the end of that second grade year, but it was a spark that he had had since birth.

Even at home, when he was three and four years old, we were learning things together and he started reading before he even went to kindergarten. So we missed that spark and then we handed over to the school and we let them spit on it basically. So when we bring them home to homeschool, we want to rekindle that spark or keep it going if you've always homeschooled. And we're looking for ways to do that.

And then we start worrying about what everyone else thinks. Are we checking all the boxes? Are we doing all the things? Will they be smart enough? Will they get into college? We start reforming that cage around them at home that we tried to keep them away from. And maybe we're taking care of their spiritual and emotional needs at home more so than the school would. But then what are we doing with their interests? Are we handing them a workbook to try to tie it all into it? Are we showing them enough YouTube videos to bore the interest right out of them? Or are we telling them set that aside because you have to learn A, B, C, all of these things first before you can get to the part where you want to start preparing for your future. Because right now we have to just prepare. We have to just prepare.

So I recently came across this meme and I really don't know who wrote it, so I can't give them credit for it, but it really woke me up even as some odd year old adult, and it really got me thinking, and I shared it with my readers and everything, but we were so excited to pull them out of school and do all those things that we weren't allowed to do because we were following someone else's schedule. We wanted to be outside more and with our kids more. But then I've started worrying about what all the things we needed to learn and that I wanted them to keep up with those peers that they still had back in school.

I didn't want them to be the dumb kids that looked and acted homeschooled or didn't know how to use any modern devices, that kind of thing. So we started accidentally maybe doing too much school at home instead of homeschooling that first year. Now, not to say that we didn't do the homeschooling perks as well because we did. We were just doing everything which was too much and then I was burning them out because I was letting them do their interests.

But you also have to do these three workbooks and we have to spend this many hours at this subject and also stand up. We're going to do the pledge. It was nuts. But along the way, I calmed down and I learned to make the most of our homeschooling days and not make it school, but I had certain requirements and I did do the teeter-totter balancing act off and on. We're finishing up their senior year now. I'm trying to help them enjoy these last moments of true childhood and homeschooling, but we're being inundated with emails and tasks for registration at college and expectations from outside of, "Oh, we got to do all of these activities and get all of these things in because it's the end. It's the end."

Senior pictures, get the transcript ready, apply for all the scholarships. We got to start buying stuff for the dorm rooms. We have to pay deposits. It's overwhelming again, kind of like that first year homeschooling only I was doing it to myself then. Now, I feel like I want to get all these last fun homeschool moments in, but we're also trying to balance moving on into the next chapter.

So I found this meme and I wanted to share it here with you guys, and I had shared it on social media recently, and it really hit me in the face as an adult of some odd undisclosed amount of years. But it said this, "We are very good at preparing to live but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice 10 years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house and so on, but we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment. The only moment there is for us to be alive."

And whoa, that was a blow to the face when I read that over coffee at 7:00 AM the other day. But it's true, and especially when we're homeschooling, we're really good at planning and we have all these ideas of what we hope we are achieving and then we can't take our eyes off of that to enjoy, here we are right now. And so then there's all these other memes that you've probably read that says, "The dishes can wait. Be with your kids. Do things now." Which is the extreme opposite of preparing for the future.

And so where's the balance, right? Well, my idea is a different kind of balance. Sometimes we get so caught up in the planning and the making them do all of the things we think are expected of them maybe in public school and then sometimes people get caught up in doing nothing they make them do in public school out of spite or vengeance, or laziness. I don't know. But maybe the balance is somewhere between the two extremes, the extremes of waiting for things to just happen when the child is ready for it to happen.

Just being together and going with the flow. And then the opposite extreme of too much planning and not enough actually doing. Too much preparing for tomorrow. I feel like there's a balance in between there like that teeter totter that I was speaking of earlier. And to put it in homeschool terms, I guess I would say you're not the only homeschool family that's not learning Len or you're not the only homeschool family that's not diagramming sentences.

You're also not the only homeschool family that makes their kid finish their math assignment every day before they're allowed to get on the computer and research pygmy goats. Are pygmy goats even a thing? That just popped into my head. But it sounds educational to let your kids surf the web for all things pygmy goats because that's what they're interested in today or that's what they're telling you they're interested in today anyway, but no pygmy goats until they've at least attempted some long division because at the same time they're interested in pygmy goats you know that your child has also said they're interested in becoming a nurse, or maybe a computer programmer or a chef or any number of things that might require a college education.

And though that may not be where they end up, it's not their only option after you complete homeschooling. You want that opportunity to be there, but there's more than one way to skin a cat and you don't have to diagram sentences to do so. I know that just made tons of sense, but hear me out. It is totally helpful to diagram sentences or learn Latin. There are a number of other things that some homeschoolers push and others don't, and that's okay as long as we're pushing something because there's a whole wide world and beyond full of things to learn and we're never going to get to it all ever.

So time spent on other studies and skills will be more beneficial to some than diagramming sentences or Latin for those that are on a different road. Right? So there's so much stuff to learn out there. You don't have to diagram sentences to be successful. Your kid doesn't have to go on to calculus to be successful. Past eighth grade math, I'm not really sure I've used anything that I had after that, but I know that my two that are graduating wanted to go to college, one to be a commercial airline pilot and the other to be computer engineer.

And that math was going to be a big part of both of their lives. And so we went down that road even before they could see the need, which they of course do now. I pushed the need. So sometimes interest-led learning is knowing what your kid is interested in and then showing them what you really need to have under your belt in the long run if you are truly interested in such a thing. Because it's all... I wanted to be an astronaut one time. It never occurred to me that calculus was part of that deal.

Now, that's not why I'm not an astronaut. There may be a few other reasons. However, the point is there's so much to learn. So don't stop learning when your child is interested in something, find what they need to get there. If your child is not interested in something, well then you probably are.

Try other things. Try to get them interested in something, but don't just give up and wait for them to be interested in something. There's so much to learn. You can learn to knit. You can learn astronomy, sign language. You can learn about raising chickens, carpentry. You can learn about starting a nonprofit business, identifying animal scat or a gummy, computer coding, pet grooming, memorizing the names and dates of all the Civil War battles. Maybe they'll get a job at a museum. Who knows?

Square dancing acts, throwing electronic soldering, theater, gardening, mastering the cello. Teach them about the proper way to date. Cave exploration, watercolors. Memorize large chunks of the Bible. Learn about spreadsheets and statistics. Small business finance, personal finance, large animal veterinary science, appliance repair, photography. Just work on some logic skills, canning, first aid, driving large vehicles and big horse trailers, baking souffle to perfection, analyzing small things under the microscope, home maintenance and on and on.

Do you see how insignificant diagramming sentences is? Now, I've gone all over the board on this podcast thus far, but we talked about that spark of learning at the beginning and then we talked about how we know how to snuff it out when we've seen the schools snuff it out, and we want to keep it alive. But alive in each child is different. So we want to find their interests and we want to hone those interests, but we also want to provide them with life skills and the skills they don't think they need yet to get to the interest or the career path that they're hoping to achieve at some point or think they might want to achieve.

We don't want to limit anything by letting the child decide at this moment in time, "Hey, what do I want to learn?" Maybe point out what they need to learn, kind of spark the interest that direction. If organized public schooling and institutions are about preparing to live, homeschooling is about, "Hey, we're living now." Now is the time of your life. There was this song when I was a senior in high school and I really thought it should have been our class song, but I was like the only nerd that had ever heard it, and it was called The Time of Your Life. The lyrics were like this is the time of your life. What are you going to do with it?

At the time I was a senior in high school, I'm like, "It's almost there. My life is almost started." But now as a homeschool mom, I'm like, "This is their life. This is where we are now." So we're planning for all these great things next year when they actually go off to college and we're doing all these senior moments, but here we are now. So we're still going to read together and what else are you still interested in and what else can we learn?

I don't want you to stop. That's not the end after graduation in May. That doesn't mean that now you don't have to participate in mom's book versus the movie nights because when they come home to visit me on weekends and holidays, there will be a book versus the movie party at least once or twice a year. That's all I'm saying. But there's so much out there to teach your kids and so many life skills, academics, art, hobbies. Don't go idle. Don't wait around for them to tell you what they want to learn or show you what they need to learn. Look for things. You might actually produce the spark and then they can take it from there.

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So what started with this internal battle of mine between unschooling and completing entire textbooks and then and checking all the boxes and maybe printing up my own trophies for myself for getting through it all, each year, we have the loose end of the grip on all of the things and tried not to lose sight of this is their life now and what do they need to know and what are we going to learn now? What are we going to enjoy together now?

I regret nothing that I forced upon them as far as math, writing, reading, and science, but I do regret some of the processes of regurgitation and proof of learning that I might have forced when we first started homeschooling.

In hindsight, I would go back and not only never put them in public school, but I would redo our first year of homeschooling as far as how I planned for them to show me they were actually learning because we did tons of stuff. We went and we did all the things, the hands-on and too much cutting and pasting and too much school, not just learning because let's just face it, school is not where the learning happens. But now that we've been through the college application acceptance and scholarship process, I will say this in all honesty.

If you are planning to try to get your child into college with scholarships, what I have noticed from the six schools that my two have applied to and accepted... Not each of them six, but each of them three. Anyway, you get the idea. But the ACT or SAT score and their GPA are the things that the college actually looks at first and weighs the most on, whether they get accepted and what scholarships they might be able to apply for, whether or not they can get accepted into the honors college or a number of start options when they do matriculate once accepted.

Those sadly really are what are looked at most at least from our experience. What they want to know first from a homeschooler is what's your SAT or AC score? A lot of schools are not requiring those of public school applicants, but they are requiring them from homeschooling. Some of them don't require them from homeschooling, but then they look at the transcript. What I was shocked about is that my homeschool transcript was taken without question.

I did not have to provide a description for any of the courses that were listed. Mainly, I think probably because I listed them as the same titles of courses that we would've had in a public school. We took biology. We didn't take the end trails of the Komodo dragon or whatever creative names some homeschoolers might come up with. So keep that in mind. But the test score and the GPA. And then of course they asked for the resumes and wanted to know about the activities they were involved in as far as sports, clubs, any leadership roles and volunteer roles.

I think that that does play along when you actually get accepted and then you're applying to institutional scholarships or outside scholarships. That's important. But it all boils down to not how we learned, but if we learned certain things as far as math, science, writing, reading. And on that ACT or SAT, it's important to keep in mind that these are multiple choice tests.

The answer is either right or it's wrong. It's not how you did the math work. It's not how fast or how slow you read it, the comprehension question points or what curriculum that you used, it's can you apply the knowledge that you have to the test? I think that's why overall homeschoolers probably do better because at home we're not really worried about the method or how you wrote it down or did you get it within this many margins and this much word counted?

It's did you understand what we did? We have more one-on-one in discussion, so I think that is why sometimes the homeschool scores are a little bit higher. So if you're hoping or your child is hoping to go to college at some point, just keep in mind that there are certain expectations and we should have to live up to them just like anyone else. We have the ability to live up to them and exceed them at home by working one-on-one with our kids to meet the needs of the interests and hopes that they have for themselves.

So finding a balance is hard. It's kind of like dieting. You first start dieting and you're like, "I'm going to lose 10 pounds. I'm going to cut out all things bread." And then maybe you're successful and you lose the 10 pounds and you're ready to stop dieting, but you don't know how to maintain the weight that you've lost, but yet add just a little bit of bread back in. It's like this all or nothing thing where you're like halfway trying to give up bread. What's like half a bread? Or maybe it should just be whole wheat bread.

Only we're trying to not snuff out the will and love to learn, but also we don't want to convenience our way into a basement dwelling zombie-eyed computer crazed bum because it's easier to just let sleeping dogs lie than rouse them to algebra or baking chocolate lava cake and visiting an active volcano. Both of which are highly educational and moving forward with learning.

Remember, there's a whole wide world of things to teach your kids out there like journaling, how to master that little golf tee game at the Cracker Barrel. Reading all of the Jules Fern or Lemony Snicket novels, aquarium upkeep, the lost art of letter writing, doing laundry, oil changes, doomsday prep, rock collecting, secret rock redistribution back into the yard, card shuffling and dealing, architectural design, pest control, the art of conversation, how to brew coffee effectively, bird watching, channel surfing, automotive repair, quilting, whatever you can think of that I haven't even touched on or mentioned.

Look, I may be joking about this slightly, but in all seriousness, we get so worried about what the Joneses are doing next door and what the Smiths across the street think about what we're doing. But the truth is, homeschool skills greatly improve when parents are more concerned about how their kids learn than what other people think about it. Just make sure they're learning. Don't get idle, be fun. Do all the projects, all the field trips, but don't drop the ball on things that are just too much trouble to shove your kid into doing.

Hopefully later they'll thank you for making them diagram that sentence if you choose to or making you learn the Latin, because, wow, Spanish was so easy to pick up and they got this number one career that they wanted and they got it because they're bilingual. Or that day that everybody was just too tired of being inside after the big freeze melted and dad went outside and taught everyone how to change the tire and that came in really handy as opposed to making sure that everyone memorized at least three poems a week like that other homeschool family that you're trying to keep up with.

Because nothing teaches us how to homeschool our kids better than listening to their needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses. And their recoil at the mention of writing is as strong a signal of a need to learn how to write as their knack for numbers or love of music is a hint at where God may lead them.

So I wish I had some magic formula to teach you how to balance your homeschooling. We didn't really balance our homeschooling so much as we're like a ping pong ball back and forth as the needs were shown or the interest led, or mom decided, yes, you need to learn this and overrode whatever plans they may have had. Or Mom just really didn't feel like pulling out the math books today, so we all researched pygmy goats, which is actually nothing that we have ever researched, and I'm still not sure that a pygmy goat is actually a thing.

So if someone knows, maybe send me an email and let me know. But find that balance with your kids. Live for today, plan for tomorrow, and balance the two the best that you can. And remember that life is what happens when you're busy doing the 52 other things listed in the back of the curriculum. Choose wisely, and until next time, stay weird and homeschool on.

Thank you for joining me here on the Homeschool Solutions Show again. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share for healthcare you can trust. To learn more about why over 400,000 Christians have chosen Medi-share, go to greathomeschoolconventions.com/medishare.

Now, if you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast, and while you are there, leave us a review. Tell us what you love about the show, and this will help other homeschooling parents like you get connected with our community. Also, you can find us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom and on Facebook at Homeschooling.mom. So let us know what you thought of today's episode. Leave us a comment. Let us know what you think.

Lastly, have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling event of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit hall in the United States. Find out more at greathomeschoolconventions.com. I hope to see you in Texas.

Also, if you'd like to connect with me, you can find me at Facebook at Hifalutin Homeschooler and on Instagram @hifalutinhomeschooler. That's H-I-F-A-L-U-T-I-N Homeschooler. Also, you can email me directly with any questions, concerns, anecdotes. I love to hear stories from other homeschoolers. That's [email protected]. Until next time, stay weird and homeschool on.

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