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Rabbit trails and child-led learning


Eagle

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I like the idea of child-led learning for some of our schooling because I see how you could learn so much more by studying something in which you have an interest. But I really don't know where to start.

 

I have the book "Project-Based Homeschooling" but I feel like I am missing a step before we get to that. The book explains that the student needs to pick their own topic to really do it properly. But when I asked ds what he would like to learn about he said he didn't know. So I chose three things he was interested in already and asked him which he would like to learn more about (dinosaurs, mushrooms or birds). He replied that he already knew about them and didn't need to know more.

 

I ordered a new book on dinosaurs and got out our field guides on mushrooms and birds (and got a new bird ipad app) hoping to spark an interest. Having them laying around did not inspire his interest, so I grabbed a camera and we headed outside to take pictures of mushrooms. When we got home he had no interest in having me look them up and reading about them (I tried and he wandered off). He did tell dh very excitedly how we found a lot of mushrooms -- he just didn't care to learn their names or anything about them. The next day we read a section of the dinosaur book together. He was interested until I mentioned looking up more info in another book. This weekend our family went on a hike and we noticed several types of birds. When we got home dh and I looked up the birds and tried to excitedly show them to ds. Again, no interest. These topics are all things in which he has shown a lot of interest during recent months.

 

Questions:

- Is he just too young for this? (He is 5.) He can sit for hours playing lego or independently reading, so I know he is able to spend great lengths of time on his interests. He loves watching documentaries and can retain all sorts of interesting facts. Same with Usborne lift the flap and non-fiction books.

 

- I am trying to encourage his interest in learning. How can I capture that interest and help him to seek new information beyond what he is presented? (I realize he is not going to start writing research papers at 5. I am just trying to get him to understand that there is more information about subjects than one source and he can find out more if he is interested.)

 

- If we do find something of interest where he wants to follow a rabbit trail I'm not even sure how to proceed beyond looking up some info. For instance, if he had shown an interest in the mushrooms we looked up what else could we have done beyond that? Is there a book or resource that helps explain how to follow rabbit trails? The activities that come to mind (colour a mushroom picture, do a mushroom maze or dot to dot or word search) all just seem like busywork and not of much value.

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I used to cheat a bit with child-led-learning.

I'd leave books on a topic (X) on the breakfast table and when eldest dd would beg me could we please do X, I would graciously agree.

 

This dd I'm a bit more blatent, I'll hand her the books and let her go.

It still works.

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Maybe start at the library, there are a stack of good juvenile books that have heaps of activities included, with bite sized info boxes.

Google: topic "+ activities", before hand and see what you can find. You don't have to do too much, the beauty of rabbit trails is being led to things you would not have considered. Therefore, you can't plan them.

Does this make sense?

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Maybe start at the library, there are a stack of good juvenile books that have heaps of activities included, with bite sized info boxes.

Google: topic "+ activities", before hand and see what you can find. You don't have to do too much, the beauty of rabbit trails is being led to things you would not have considered. Therefore, you can't plan them.

Does this make sense?

 

 

It does make sense. It also explains why I am lost; I am a planner!

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Our approach is that I work with the kids to find topics that want to study. My older kids also search for resources (but definitely not my little ones.) However, the daily "what" they do is still controlled by me. So I guess it is child-interest but teacher-led.

 

HTH

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My kiddos still do some interest led. It sparks from anything. Example, while reading Little House on The Prairie Dd12 got interested in rabies (this was when she was 9). So off to the library we went. I bought a nice new journel for her and told her that was for anything she found interesting. Sometimes she writes, draws, or glues pictures in it. Anyway she recorded a bunch of things she learned about rabies but not much came out of it. Then she moved into blood having learned that rabies goes into the bloodstream, a few things here and there but again not much. Well somehow that led into a study on Malaria and that became a big thing. She read everything she could about Malaria and mosquitos then ended up putting together a great power point presentation on it.

 

So all that to say that sometimes you really just have to let them go. If he likes Legos why not start there. He may be more mecahnically inclined than into the life sciences. Or maybe let him get a tadpole and see if that sparks. I think the hardest part of interest led studies is turning loose of the notion that they have to learn certain things at certain times. Just have fun with it.

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If you're doing it and they tag along, it works out better. Trying to teach stuff after the event is sort of artificial. If you want to look it up for yourself, do so. And if it excites you and he catches that, all the better. We used guides quite a bit at that age, but it was that *I* used them and they got to peak and tag along. She started using guides for herself later, say in 2nd or 3rd. When they're younger, it's the mom doing it and the kid catching the bug. And if the name isn't catching his attention, try getting excited over something ELSE in the guide that would, like the coloring or the way it eats or how it migrates. Names are verbal/linguistic and more of a girl thing. There are plenty of other facets for him to find interesting. (Is it male or female? How do we know? Was it bright red or dull? etc. etc.) Most fieldguides will give you juicy tidbits like that. Comstock has stuff like that too. For instance I remember one time dd and I spent quite a while examining a toad through the terrarium trying to figure out if it was male or female, hehe. So don't limit yourself to names. Get it in the moment, something *you* find interesting, and get in fast with your guide and wow moment. Then date the guide, shut it, and put it away.

 

If you want *him* to be interested, it will probably work out better to use resources that are age-appropriate. For instance, if you go to your library and find where they keep usborne, Magic School Bus, Let's Read and Find Out, and other simple non-fiction series books, you can simply ask him if there are any he'd like to bring home. He can't chose in a vacuum; he actually needs to see something in front of him to entice him.

 

Just because you're open to rabbit trails and following interests doesn't mean you can't have *structure* or routine. Some people get really confused about that. Some kids REALLY NEED structure. Structure or routine means clear expectations, a plan, knowing what is coming or what is expected. It doesn't mean you have to write down every single book. It just means you know how your day flows and what your goals are for the day. (read aloud time, hands-on time, craft time, quiet time, however you order your lives) Then you offer choices within that. Maybe you don't want to do it that way, don't know. I'm just saying if you have a dc who prefers or does better with structure, you don't have to throw that away to follow his interests. You just merge that routine with giving him more choice and flexibility. When a dc says "I don't know," sometimes that's your sign that you moved him beyond his comfort zone, that maybe he needs more structure. (btdt)

 

Pudewa (of IEW) has a really interesting talk you can download from his website about Teaching Boys Who Would Rather Be Out Making Forts... You should get it. He talks about gender differences, verbal vs. action people, etc. You might find a lot of your ideas are aimed at words, names, etc., and maybe he's more drawn to the kinesthetic, the action, etc.

 

You know this has been good for me to think about. I know my ds is a kinesthetic learner, but I hadn't thought about it, till I paused to reflect, how very VERBAL my approach is to things with him. Like you, I pulled out dinosaurs and instantly thought we should be doing names. Awesome speech therapy exercise, so we did, yes. But really we needed to move on and do more that was kinesthetic, moving beyond just the verbal. There are so many more facets to interest him. How do they reproduce, what was their history, do they migrate, how (mechanically) do they eat? What is their preferred habitat? And you can do that right in the moment. You're watching the garter snake and you talk about those things.

 

BTW, there are really cool games and puzzles for approaching science. A nice general spine is a good way to springboard interest in things too. It's a lot easier to be interested in something when you've already had exposure. So you can *blend* what you like of WTM (say SOTW or CHOW or a nice survey of american) and let him rabbit trail off that. You're feeding him and his interests naturally develop.

 

Have fun. Five is such a sweet age, or at least I thought so with my dd. With my ds it's a bit different. He's SO capable on the inside (like tonight I was reading him The Hobbit), and on the outside you just don't always realize it. Just a very different experience. I think it's important to create lots of seeds of exposure, broad exposure.

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- I am trying to encourage his interest in learning. How can I capture that interest and help him to seek new information beyond what he is presented? (I realize he is not going to start writing research papers at 5. I am just trying to get him to understand that there is more information about subjects than one source and he can find out more if he is interested.)

 

You don't capture that interest. You don't necessarily help him seek new information. When he's this young, you gently--g.e.n.t.l.y.--lead, as long as he's interested. He might only have been interested for that minute, and not enough to do more research. And you give it to him in dribbles, not in big bursts. Like a dripping faucet, not like a fire hose. :-)

 

- If we do find something of interest where he wants to follow a rabbit trail I'm not even sure how to proceed beyond looking up some info. For instance, if he had shown an interest in the mushrooms we looked up what else could we have done beyond that? Is there a book or resource that helps explain how to follow rabbit trails? The activities that come to mind (colour a mushroom picture, do a mushroom maze or dot to dot or word search) all just seem like busywork and not of much value.

 

Well, what do you think you should do? What could you have done *at that moment*? Carefully pick the mushroom? Take it apart to see what it looks like inside? Draw a picture of it? (Ok, it could be a toadstool and not a mushroom, so it could be poisonous, which is something you could have talked about.) If he still shows interest, you could go to the library and find out how mushrooms propagate, what fairy rings are, if there are old wives' tales about mushrooms...You're right that mushroom mazes and dot-to-dots are busywork. Those are things that classroom teachers come up with to keep their students busy all day learning about things they're not interested in and trying to make it fun.

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- If we do find something of interest where he wants to follow a rabbit trail I'm not even sure how to proceed beyond looking up some info. For instance, if he had shown an interest in the mushrooms we looked up what else could we have done beyond that? Is there a book or resource that helps explain how to follow rabbit trails? The activities that come to mind (colour a mushroom picture, do a mushroom maze or dot to dot or word search) all just seem like busywork and not of much value.

 

I've also been reading Project-Based Homeschooling, and from what I gather, once you identify an interest, you would have him think of everything he already knows about the topic and then help him come up with some questions about it, things he wants to find out. Then he can talk to family members and ask them questions, too. You help him think about places he might be able to find answers to his questions (professionals, museums, books, magazines, websites, etc), and then help him explore those things, all the while taking notes for him and jotting down additional questions. Help him document things he sees that catch his interest (diagrams from books, sketches of museum exhibits, photos from the Internet).

 

I don't know what comes next. That's as far as I've read! :D

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OP, I haven't read all of Project Based Learning, but in my family we're experts at rabbit-trail learning. If I were you, I'd let go and watch. If he likes Legos, tell yourself that THAT is his project. Ask him casually if there's anything you can do to help, or any stuff he needs to make his Lego playing better or more fun. I might strew a book like this one, and see if it piques his interest. Otherwise, provide only the help that he's requested and then step back and trust the process. This isn't your thing, this is his thing. Step back and be patient.

 

Another thing to remember is that the topics won't necessarily be "schooly" topics, and that's okay. My kids' current projects: 8 yo DD is *obsessed* with making films starring her dolls. 9 yo DD's projects are nail art and learning to cook.

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When mine was that age I would take him to the library. He would spend hours looking we would read tons. There was always something he would want MORE of. We'd take out every book on the subject, watch tons to videos, reread his favorites. This was my FAVORITE way to teach him. He learned so much and enjoyed it! 5 is young let him find his interest. He will. Enjoy your time with him.

This approach is how my son learns best I recently resolved to return to these roots.

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When mine was that age, I had lots of materials out within her reach...math manipulatives, craft supplies, children's books, papers, etc.... I also found books, videos, popped music into the CD player, etc...that I thought she might enjoy. I sat on the floor and played with her, took walks with her, observed creatures in ponds, visited museums, etc... When you really participate in what they are interested in, you "know" them as a person and it becomes easier to engage them in other topics and figure out how to expand on topics in a way that might be interesting to him.

 

If your ds likes Legos, sit on the floor and play Legos with him. Let him lead the way and make up the game.

 

We still follow rabbit trails but in a slightly different way. I tend to bring up main topics by following the WTM 4 year cycles and we follow her interests within those topics. I also discuss with her what she might be interested in and we add those as extra subjects...right now sewing and music history are her extras. I also still keep her supplied with craft items and she spends lots of time looking up videos on how to make things and making up her own things.

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Also, resist the urge to overwhelm him with resources, materials and information. If he seems interested in x, maybe pick up one book or dvd or activity on x and if he enjoys that try another. I know that at first if my children showed an interest in something, I would find all sorts of books and activities and such, thinking this was helpful in identifying lots of resources and opportunities. To my kids it was just overwhelming, and they would usually shut down and not want to pursue the topic any more.

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I'm the same way. A few weeks ago my DD8 came up to me and said "I want to learn more about red foxes." So we got some books, looked up some information online.....and that was it. I didn't know where else to go from there. I mean....it's not like I can go out and find a red fox for her LOL.

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Thank you everyone for your replies. I have gained so much insight from your answers.

 

Just because you're open to rabbit trails and following interests doesn't mean you can't have *structure* or routine. Some people get really confused about that. Some kids REALLY NEED structure. Structure or routine means clear expectations, a plan, knowing what is coming or what is expected. It doesn't mean you have to write down every single book. It just means you know how your day flows and what your goals are for the day. (read aloud time, hands-on time, craft time, quiet time, however you order your lives) Then you offer choices within that. Maybe you don't want to do it that way, don't know. I'm just saying if you have a dc who prefers or does better with structure, you don't have to throw that away to follow his interests. You just merge that routine with giving him more choice and flexibility. When a dc says "I don't know," sometimes that's your sign that you moved him beyond his comfort zone, that maybe he needs more structure. (btdt)

 

Pudewa (of IEW) has a really interesting talk you can download from his website about Teaching Boys Who Would Rather Be Out Making Forts... You should get it. He talks about gender differences, verbal vs. action people, etc. You might find a lot of your ideas are aimed at words, names, etc., and maybe he's more drawn to the kinesthetic, the action, etc.

 

 

Apparently you have met my ds. He likes to know exactly what is planned, in what order and at what time. Surprises are not fun AT ALL for him and cause him to not enjoy fun, spontaneous activities. Do you have any tips for this type of personality based on experience with your ds?

 

Your verbal vs kinesthetic discussion completely stunned me. I am a kinesthetic learner! In fact, I have a difficult time remembering names of things, although I can tell you all sorts of info about what I observed about the item. The memory of first hand experience is important to me -- the name is not. So why am I trying to teach in a way that causes me to feel lost? Because that is how I imagined I was supposed to do it. But stepping back for a minute I can see that ds learns in similar ways to me. I have been adding a "learning like school" atmosphere to our life rather than finding the fun in the learning that was already happening.

 

This is going to take a lot more reflection so I can absorb this and really figure out a more natural teaching style that works better for both of us. Thank you so much for your post; your words have really made a big impact.

 

Well, what do you think you should do? What could you have done *at that moment*? Carefully pick the mushroom? Take it apart to see what it looks like inside? Draw a picture of it? (Ok, it could be a toadstool and not a mushroom, so it could be poisonous, which is something you could have talked about.) If he still shows interest, you could go to the library and find out how mushrooms propagate, what fairy rings are, if there are old wives' tales about mushrooms...You're right that mushroom mazes and dot-to-dots are busywork. Those are things that classroom teachers come up with to keep their students busy all day learning about things they're not interested in and trying to make it fun.

 

 

My first thought upon reading your question was that I should have used the mushroom photos we took to make a poster so we could see all the different mushrooms together. Then add to it when we find new ones. He would think that is really fun. He also likes to categorize things (thank you BFSU) and would like sorting the photos by colour, shape, etc. After further thinking, I think I should have asked more "I wonder why's" in the moment. I wonder why this one grows on trees? I wonder why this one doesn't have gills? If he was interested in those questions he would likely have asked again later when we were inside, at which point I could look it up and he would want to know the answer.

 

I brought this up to dh and his response was that we could help ds make a field guide for our backyard. Print out the mushroom photos, laminate them, hole punch and attach to a ring. Then he could take his photos outside with him to look at while he is viewing the real thing. He could play "can I find them all?" and get excited when he found a new one that we needed to add to the collection. If this really sparked his interest it could be expanded to trees, bugs, birds or whatever he wanted to include in his guide.

 

I thought this was PERFECT for our son and am excited to try it out. It made me realize I should be asking dh for ideas way more often.

 

Also, resist the urge to overwhelm him with resources, materials and information. If he seems interested in x, maybe pick up one book or dvd or activity on x and if he enjoys that try another. I know that at first if my children showed an interest in something, I would find all sorts of books and activities and such, thinking this was helpful in identifying lots of resources and opportunities. To my kids it was just overwhelming, and they would usually shut down and not want to pursue the topic any more.

 

 

I am completely guilty of this. I think it is because I feel the need to compensate for us not going to the library very often. Ds is extremely allergic to some very common foods (like wheat, which is in everything) and I am fearful that he will have a reaction from books we borrow. I always picture a kid munching goldfish crackers while holding a library book, and it sends me into a panic. So library trips are rare. Ds likes to look at catalogues (or the lists of "similar books" in the back of books he likes) and pick out things he likes. Our library is just getting started on ebooks and we have perused those lists together as well, but they are pretty short. So I am definitely an Amazon addict and probably do overwhelm him with more than he needs before his interest reaches a matching level.

 

Thank you again to everyone for your replies. I have so much to think about! Another question that comes to mind is how do I help with learning in the moment if I don't know the answers? When we are outside and he is interested in more information I don't have the answers and feel like a learning opportunity is lost. Same with being inside but it is a topic we don't have a resource for (although my trusty ipad is never far away and can usually find answers -- just not always at his level). By the time we order and receive a book we are no longer in that moment and his interest may have moved on.

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Children can learn so much by following rabbit trails, and it doesn't have to look like school. It sounds to me like you are pushing the "learning" a little too much, though. He's only 5. There is plenty of time to research his interests. At this point, I would suggest exposing him to lots of interesting things and having more fun. For example, maybe for now, he can put out a bird feeder and a bird bath and see how many birds come to visit. Maybe make a chart and keep track of how many he sees each day. For now, perhaps you could just tell him what kind of birds they are - in the future, he may see something new and want to identify it himself. Eventually, he might keep a "life list" of all the birds he sees - but that's for the future. Is there an aviary or nature center nearby that you could visit? Again, for now, just enjoy the beauty of what you see without turning everything into a lesson.

 

I'll never forget my oldest, when she was in kindergarten, getting up one morning and exclaiming, "There's just so much to see, I don't know what to look at first!" (we had an aquarium with baby fish that had just appeared one day, she had planted some scarlet runner beans in cups, named them, and was seeing who would grow the fastest, etc.) We would go hiking and enjoy nature, maybe collect some leaves, look at birds, and so on. She started a life list when she got older, raised a flock of racing pigeons, hand-raised baby lovebirds, worked at an animal hospital, majored in biology, and went to medical school. But not when she was 5.

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At 5yo, most children do not have enough experience in the world to know what they are interested in. You have to expose them to all sorts of experiences and topics and see when they get excited. I found out my dd7 loved history when we listened to Schoolhouse Rock songs at 3yo. My ds5 doesn't care so much for history, but I can see his eyes light up when we are talking about battles. Recently, I talked to them about the meteor landing in Russia, and suddenly ds wanted to be an astronaut, but dd7 couldn't have cared less. You just have to talk to them and read to them about everything and see what lights the spark.

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Baby steps. If he's only five & you haven't done this with him before just do a little at a time. My DD would have wandered off after looking up one mushroom. However...the next she day would undoubtedly ask; "What kind of mushroom was that reddish one near the pine trees?" or something similar. THAT is the moment to pick up the ball & run with it.

Have fun.

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Another question that comes to mind is how do I help with learning in the moment if I don't know the answers? When we are outside and he is interested in more information I don't have the answers and feel like a learning opportunity is lost. Same with being inside but it is a topic we don't have a resource for (although my trusty ipad is never far away and can usually find answers -- just not always at his level). By the time we order and receive a book we are no longer in that moment and his interest may have moved on.

 

 

You'll never know all the answers, admit that to him.

You are showing him that learning is life-long, no-one has all the answers and trying to find them can be fun and leads on to more and more questions (rabbit trails).

Have fun finding questions, not just answering some.

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Apparently you have met my ds. He likes to know exactly what is planned, in what order and at what time. Surprises are not fun AT ALL for him and cause him to not enjoy fun, spontaneous activities. Do you have any tips for this type of personality based on experience with your ds?

 

Your verbal vs kinesthetic discussion completely stunned me. I am a kinesthetic learner! In fact, I have a difficult time remembering names of things, although I can tell you all sorts of info about what I observed about the item. The memory of first hand experience is important to me -- the name is not. So why am I trying to teach in a way that causes me to feel lost? Because that is how I imagined I was supposed to do it. But stepping back for a minute I can see that ds learns in similar ways to me. I have been adding a "learning like school" atmosphere to our life rather than finding the fun in the learning that was already happening.

 

This is going to take a lot more reflection so I can absorb this and really figure out a more natural teaching style that works better for both of us. Thank you so much for your post; your words have really made a big impact.

 

 

 

My first thought upon reading your question was that I should have used the mushroom photos we took to make a poster so we could see all the different mushrooms together. Then add to it when we find new ones. He would think that is really fun. He also likes to categorize things (thank you BFSU) and would like sorting the photos by colour, shape, etc. After further thinking, I think I should have asked more "I wonder why's" in the moment. I wonder why this one grows on trees? I wonder why this one doesn't have gills? If he was interested in those questions he would likely have asked again later when we were inside, at which point I could look it up and he would want to know the answer.

 

I brought this up to dh and his response was that we could help ds make a field guide for our backyard. Print out the mushroom photos, laminate them, hole punch and attach to a ring. Then he could take his photos outside with him to look at while he is viewing the real thing. He could play "can I find them all?" and get excited when he found a new one that we needed to add to the collection. If this really sparked his interest it could be expanded to trees, bugs, birds or whatever he wanted to include in his guide.

 

I thought this was PERFECT for our son and am excited to try it out. It made me realize I should be asking dh for ideas way more often.

 

 

 

I am completely guilty of this. I think it is because I feel the need to compensate for us not going to the library very often. Ds is extremely allergic to some very common foods (like wheat, which is in everything) and I am fearful that he will have a reaction from books we borrow. I always picture a kid munching goldfish crackers while holding a library book, and it sends me into a panic. So library trips are rare. Ds likes to look at catalogues (or the lists of "similar books" in the back of books he likes) and pick out things he likes. Our library is just getting started on ebooks and we have perused those lists together as well, but they are pretty short. So I am definitely an Amazon addict and probably do overwhelm him with more than he needs before his interest reaches a matching level.

 

Thank you again to everyone for your replies. I have so much to think about! Another question that comes to mind is how do I help with learning in the moment if I don't know the answers? When we are outside and he is interested in more information I don't have the answers and feel like a learning opportunity is lost. Same with being inside but it is a topic we don't have a resource for (although my trusty ipad is never far away and can usually find answers -- just not always at his level). By the time we order and receive a book we are no longer in that moment and his interest may have moved on.

 

Ok, on the book thing. I had a lot of health problems myself when we started homeschooling, and I didn't use the library for years and years, just bought everything. If *you* go to the library and spend some time perusing the shelves, *you* will learn what types of books you're looking for. For instance I mentioned Magic School Bus and the Let's Read and Find Out series. Both those are fabulous for this age, and both are very affordable to buy. You just don't realize you want them till you see them at the library, kwim? So I suggest *you* go spend some time at the library. Start in a section and work through it, seeing what's cool, what might interest him.

 

Next, get some good catalogs like from Veritas Press. Their taste in books is incomparable, and it will give you a good sense of what might be interesting to a bright, precocious little boy.

 

Third, don't forget audiobooks. Kids who are busy with other things (like building with legos for hours) should have audiobooks going in the background.

 

Now how did I know all this? Hehe, btdt. :) Seriously, I think it's important as a newbie homeschooler NOT to latch onto a method. If you latch onto a method and stop watching your dc, you're GOING to mess up. Some kids are sort of intellectual lemmings, and they can do any method, any subject, and they don't really care. They just go with the flow. Some kids are NOT go with the flow kind of kids. So reading about lots of methods can *help* you because you get insight into why your dc might be doing what he's doing and get new ideas to try on him. But once you boil it down to whether you're doing a good job, whether you're doing enough, etc., you REALLY need to LOOK AT YOUR DC. That's it.

 

If he can READ and he can do basic MATH, everything that is left is GRAVY. For the next 6 years, all this stuff you're stressing over is GRAVY. And since it's gravy, you can do it ANY WAY YOU WANT and not mess it up. You CANNOT mess up gravy. He's the cornstarch that makes it gel. You just add good liquid and get it all hot and bubbling. :)

 

BTW, I would agree with the others that you're probably seeing insights into his soul and his interests now, if you just get brave enough to pursue it. It's ok to embrace that and let it sort of slant your coverage. With my dd what it meant was that I *structured* the thing she was less likely to accomplish on her own and used the PILE method on things she would pursue by herself with just a bit of facilitation. So for science I actually planned out things. For history though, I'd hand her a pile of books at the beginning of the week and walk away. I didn't need to teach her history, but I did need to provide structure for science. I could see the difference, and her bent even in 1st grade made that clear.

 

I have to go, but I'll be back. Mainly just watch him. Take what you do now that works and do more of it. Don't get too tied to somebody's method. The only thing that matters is when you see it working with him.

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For that age, I wouldn't worry too much about books unless he is interested himself in looking things up. I would say something like "I wonder what this mushroom is called" and see if he wanted to pursue it. But if he didn't, that is okay.

 

I would try getting him interested in a physical project - maybe set out a bunch of different kinds of magnets and let him discover how they interact. Or build a simple pulley system yourself and play around with it. He will probably want to try it too. Then ask open-ended questions about it to yourself (like "I wonder if a penny would stick to this magnet") and see if he is inspired to try it. Slowly move yourself out of the picture so he can take ownership of the project.

 

This is reminding me to do more of this myself! :)

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Some kids seem to have a built in 'schoolwork alert' where they instantly lose interest as soon as any well meaning adult tries to teach them something they didn't ask for.

At the age of 5, he is certainly able to sustain interest and learn a lot about a subject, but maybe looking lots of stuff up and doing projects isn't always the way to go about it.

I would suggest that you try to extend him mainly via conversation and active learning. I've found a lot of great discussion can come from just scaffolding and building on the child's observations, or even asking him to answer his own questions sometimes. Kids that age are often into anything that involves noises, actions or building something. As far as the reading goes, my strategy with books is just borrow heaps and heaps from the library and some of them will be of interest. Also, since kids love to emulate adults, being interested yourself can be very effective. If you remark to another adult "Hey, do you know why the blue footed booby has blue feet?" it's more than likely that your little bird enthusiast will want to chime in.

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Thanks everyone for your wisdom and for sharing your experiences. I think I've been rushing too fast into trying to cram knowledge into ds rather than enjoy our time together more naturally. I'm definitely going to approach our time differently once "school time" is done for the day.

 

Yesterday ds said he wanted to do a craft. Rather than pull out a project I thought he may like, I asked if he had something in mind already for his craft. He did! He went through the house gathering his supplies and then set to work. When he was done he had a shoebox with gashes cut into it and a lot of different materials glued to it. He proudly informed me that it was a tree that woodpeckers had drilled holes into while looking for bugs and that all the bits were mushrooms growing on the tree. And there was a bird nest inside.

 

Did it look realistic? No.... But he had a wonderful time and it shows (I hope) that I didn't manage to completely kill off his interest in mushrooms and nature. Ha ha!

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