Teaching creatively with delight-directed learning

One of the ghosts that insistently haunts homeschoolers is the specter of learning gaps, and this phantom is often why parents are afraid to try any approach other than the traditional textbook/workbook- such as “delight-directed” learning. “What if we miss something important?” they ask. “How do we make sure they don’t develop learning gaps?”

Learning gaps- sounds like a job for an orthodontist.

However, when I ask for an example of ‘something important’, no one has ever come up with a particular fact or concept that would be crippling if missed. This usually leads them to realize that there were huge gaps in their own education that were filled when the need arose.

We simply cannot anticipate all the possibilities that exist in our child’s future, so what we focus on instead are critical skills instead of memorizing mountains of facts. As our students mature and begin pursuing their interests, as well as the process of deciding on a vocation, they will encounter any gaps that require bridging, and acquire the necessary knowledge and skills at that time.

Once you exorcise the Ghost of Learning Gaps, you are free to find an educational method that liberates your child, not only to learn, but to love learning.

We express our education liberation in “delight-directed” learning.

Delight-directed learning does not mean that kids are free to study anything they want at any time they choose. However, following a child’s interests does require taking these things into account, and allowing their curiosity to provide the direction and methods used to study different topics.

In the simplest terms, delight-directed learning is watching your children closely for glimmers of interest, for natural talents and gifts, for the spark of curiosity, and fanning these into a roaring fire of enthusiasm for learning.

The foundation for delight-directed learning is constructed of core skills in math, reading, and writing. But even as these skills are being introduced and practiced, learning can still be pleasurable and even exciting by including the topics and ideas the child delights in, and finding materials that will capture their attention and inspire them to continue.

OK, so it sounds great on paper, but what does this really look like with children of different ages, genders, and interests? If everyone can go off in their own direction, how is a parent supposed to keep it all together? If you’ve already purchased curricula, how do you incorporate delight-directed learning into your homeschool?

As with many other aspects of homeschooling, this will look different for each family, for a variety of reasons. Young children are still building their foundation of core skills, and need more parental interaction and direction, while older children can be more self-motivated.

Here’s an example of delight-directed learning from our homeschool in literature.

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During their elementary years, we focus on  reading and writing with competency. We also read books out loud as a family, many that we have chosen together, and I start introducing vocabulary and concepts that will help them learn to understand and deconstruct stories:

  • Describe the setting, and how it contributes to the story.
  • What does the protagonist  need or want, and who or what is keeping him from it?
  • What does the protagonist learn about the world or himself?
  • Did you connect with a character or event in the story?
  • Was there a theme?
  • Did you detect any symbols or metaphors?

At this level, I do not require much in the way of 'book reports'. I’d rather they be excited about reading, and write their own poems and stories. I try to remain in the background, so to speak, continuing to encourage and guide them in their choices.

At the high school level, we step it up a notch. Every August, we compile a list of books to be read by June, when we typically take our summer break. There are only a few requirements:

  • Books must be age appropriate.
  • For every four printed books on their list, they can choose one as an audiobook. 
  • They must choose at least one ‘classic’.
  • A summary of some kind is to be submitted when they are finished with the book. This can be, among other things, a character sketch, a book review, a research paper on a related topic, or a short biography of the author.
  • They must schedule reading time every day so that they can meet their reading goals.

Their reports or papers are presented orally to the family, which gives them a chance to practice their speaking skills, and all of us a chance to discuss the book and ask questions about character and plot development, themes, and symbols or metaphors. Because their lists of books are very different, each of us gains some knowledge of works and authors with which we might otherwise have never become familiar. I have found that a child might not be interested in a book or topic themselves, but they are  drawn in by listening to someone else who is excited about their choices. This, to some degree, addresses the issue of learning gaps and 'rounds out' their education.

If they choose a book that is more challenging, I will find a study guide for them to use to while they are reading. Emma is going to be using the Progeny Press study guide for Beowulf, which we are also reviewing for the  Schoolhouse Review Crew.

The threads that weave all through our delight-directed approach are togetherness and choice. As much as possible, we 1) read and discuss content and concepts in every subject together 2) the kids are able to choose topics of interest and books that explore those ideas.

Do you have any questions about how you could introduce delight-directed learning into your homeschool? Submit your questions in the comment section below.