An Inteview with an Interest-Led Learning Dad

by ChristinaPilkington on November 23, 2011 · 4 comments

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I knew before my kids were born that I didn’t want them to attend school. While I was pregnant I worked in a public school, and I had been reading books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I could see with the 12 and 13 year-olds I worked with that when their interest was high, they were very engaged and happy with what we were doing (which rarely happened!).

 But most of the time they weren’t. I wanted my kids to love learning, get out into the community and wider world, and learn those things that interested them without being interrupted every 45 minutes.

But my husband wasn’t happy with the idea of homeschooling. He was even less happy with the idea of unschooling. But as they kids grew older and he saw the incredible amounts of learning they were doing through play and following their interests and how close we were as a family, he’s become as passionate about our decision as I was.

So, I decided to interview him this weekend and post excerpts from it here on the blog.


What were your thoughts when I first mentioned the idea of homeschooling?

I was worried about how homeschooling might affect the kids because the only homeschoolers I had known were a little awkward and didn’t seem as well adjusted socially. So I was a little concerned. But then after a while when you showed me more information about homeschooling and unschooling I felt good about it, and now I’m glad we’re doing it.  It’s nice that they can play and still be kids, and yet they’re learning a lot at home.

How did you become comfortable with the idea of interest-led learning – not having lesson plans and having a “school” schedule?

I liked that we were still going to introduce things to our kids. Some of the first examples I read of unschooling families – some of those families said they’d never teach their kids things at all, which seems absurd to me. We should want to pass down to our kids the knowledge we have.

We introduce things to our kids, answer any questions they have, and take what they show an interest in and expand upon that.

Do you have any concerns at all about our kids’ futures?

Maybe when they’re teenagers with some of the subjects where you need to have more than just a working knowledge to teach it, like physics. If that ever happened, where they’d want to know more about a subject in depth, they could probably take a class at a high school or a community college for something like that.

 [I’ll add that we live in Illinois and homeschooled teens are allowed to take as many or as little classes that they want to at the local high school. I knew of a girl who went took theater and choir at her local high school and learned everything else she wanted to at home. It’s a great system that I wish more states used.]

What do you see as your role as an interest-led learning dad?

With me only being home at night and on the weekends, I’m not going to have as big of a role as you will have. But I’ll be there to help them with anything they have questions about when I’m at home. Of course, I’ll also be there on weekends and at night when things just come up.

What are the three top reasons you’re glad you’re kids won’t be going to school?

They’ll be able to learn at a faster pace because it will be more efficient- there won’t be all this time doing administrative stuff like there is in a classroom or trying to keep control. So they’ll have a better quality education – they’ll just be the two kids and you.

I’m glad that if they need to run around, they can do that when they need to, or if they want to sit and concentrate for three hours, they can do that, too.

I just see that there’s a lot of indoctrination that they try to push through at public schools that has nothing to do with education, but it’s some politician or some group’s idea that they want placed in the curriculum, and they somehow call that education. Our kids won’t have to worry about any of that. They’ll just be focus on what education should be and that’s learning.

What are the main benefits you’ve seen to have an interest-led learning philosophy verses a more traditional school approach?

In the traditional approach, you just study a subject when it’s planned whether anyone is interested in it or not. But with interest-led learning, if someone’s interested in the topic or subject, you can study it for as long as you want without having to switch subjects after 45 minutes.  And then you can also branch off into other connected areas and then follow ideas wherever they take you. But at the same time you’re also introducing other things, so they’re learning a variety of topics and not just studying one area.

You’ll spend a long period of time doing a certain thing because they’re interested in it at the moment. There’s a benefit in getting to concentrate on something especially when you’re interested in it and not having to be taken away to work on something else.

If you’re are an interest-led learning family and your children don’t attend school, I’d love to hear comments about what role dad plays in your family, and his thoughts and feeling about interest-led learning.

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  • Susan

    Great interview! It’s so important to have supportive homeschool/unschool Dads. My husband had his doubts before we began our homeschool journey, but he has been nothing but supportive and is now is 100% on board!

    • Anonymous


      I think when Dads can see first-hand how much learning takes place from having a rich life and following intererests, that can make a huge difference in how supportive they can be. I’m so glad to hear your family is in total agreement about how your family will approach learning.

  • Angie VanDijk

    You have to assume that a co-parenting home may not beon the same page about home and/or unschooling, so I appreciate reading about your husband’s perspective and about how he maybe “came around” to the idea of interest-led learning. Thanks for sharing! Angie with Simply Defined (

    • Anonymous

      I know several people who want to homeschool or unschool and their husbands are noton board with it. I really feel for people in that situation. In my case, it was simply my husband seeing how much the kids learn and grow using this approach. By the time they were kindergarten age, it was clear they neither of my children would “fit in” well in that classroom. They were so used to a lifestyle of freedom of choice and being able to concentrate on projects for hours that they wouldn’t have done well at all in that environment.

      It does help when both parents feel the same way. I think it’s more imporant for that to happen and have harmony in the home, than to keep pushing for something and having didsharmony.

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