The Messy Side of Interest-Led Learning

by ChristinaPilkington on January 16, 2013 · 7 comments

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*Today I have a guest post by Amy Dingmann. I recently read Amy’s new book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick. It’s a short read (I finished in two days) that’s overflowing with great advice, practical ideas and lots of encouragement. I asked her to share some of her wisdom with you, and I’m very honored she agreed.

If you visit my house, don’t be surprised if you find a mess. My oldest son wants to be some sort of chef and takes pure delight in taking all the ingredients out of the cabinets, mixing them together and making the next world’s greatest sauce to brush over grilled chicken breasts.

He’s creating. He’s learning what tastes go together and which ones don’t.

He’s also making a huge mess. But it’s just a mess. And messes are easy to clean up.

My youngest son suddenly comes up with an idea for a costume he’d like to sew. And regardless of the fact he has his own giant tote of fabric, somehow my totes of fabric are open and strewn about the entire basement. And even though he’s been told a hundred thousand times to put back what he gets out, he gets lost in the land of creating and forgets what should have been put away.

He’s creating. He’s learning about colors and patterns and how to make this sleeve and that seam.

He’s also making a huge mess. But it’s just a mess. And messes are easy to clean up.

Messes happen in learning. It’s part of the process. Hopefully we can learn to see the mess and know that for our children, learning is happening.

But do you know that their learning is messy for us, too?

Whether a family tiptoes or jumps wholeheartedly into interest-led learning, they step into a bit of a mess. A sticky puddle of goo that jumbles up our head. Because when following interests, learning is no longer neatly organized in our brain. It does not progress in the order we’ve been programmed to believe is right.  It’s not fluid. We can’t necessarily predict what’s going to come next…and we sometimes sound brainless when trying to explain the what and how of our path to others.

That’s a mess.

We second guess our kids. We second guess the journey. We start to wonder about ourselves and our place along the path. We can spend nights awake stressing about whether the kids are learning the right thing right now, and if we should really let them spend so much time immersed in that project our public school teaching aunt said was worthless and a complete waste of time.

A mess, if I ever saw one.

Interest-led learning comes in many forms and happens in many different degrees, which might tempt us to beat our heads back and forth over it’s too much and it’s not enough. Or, as is sometimes the case, we get stuck on a train of thought that says interest-led has to be all this way and none of that.

We’re making a huge mess. But you know what?

It’s only a mess.

And messes are easily cleaned up.

You can clean up this mess by taking a step back. Looking at the big picture. Focusing on the long term.

You can clean up this mess by learning to trust in the why and how of the path your family is on. Byremembering why you chose to do this one way and not the other.

This mess can be cleaned up by keeping perspective. By staying open-minded. By realizing that many times wonderful things take place because we’ve helped them along, but just as often, wonderful things come to be because we took our hands off…and let the mess happen.

 Messes are part of life and part of learning, both for our kids and for us.

 Don’t be afraid to let those messes happen, because we can clean them up.

Amy Dingmann is currently wading through the messes of her sixth year of homeschooling two boys. She is also the author of the recently released book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick, available on both Kindle and in paperback.  She frequently blogs at The Hmmmschooling Mom, A Farmish Kind of Life, and her author site. Amy lives on a farm in central MN where she enjoys photography, bluegrass music, and attempting to write in her hayloft without falling asleep.

Photo Credit:mrsdkrebs

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  • Susan

    I LOVE this post, Amy! It’s fantastic :) I am a huge lover of order, but I have grown to understand that messy is totally OK. I especially like the part at the end when you spoke about the mess that we make of our own heads/thoughts with the second-guessing…so true!

    • Amy Stevenson Dingmann

      Sometimes I think the messes we make in our own heads are a bigger deal than the ones the kids make throughout the house! Thank goodness BOTH can be cleaned up. :) Thanks for reading!

  • Katphife

    As I finished reading this I began chastising myself in my head for being such a neat freak. I hate…I mean REALLY hate messiness. Order calms me. Mess discombobulates me. So as I digested this piece, I lean over and my hand lands in a big puddle of applesauce on the counter left behind by my not so careful nine year old. I chuckled at the irony. Then I I type this, with Mac and cheese boiling behind me, the same 9 year old comes in and thinking it will overflow she blows hard at it and noodle water is all over my flat top stove. Mess is everywhere. Thank you for reminding me that it okay!!!!

    • Amy Stevenson Dingmann

      Sometimes there is mess that is so ever present, we forget that it is there. :) I love order…but I have had to learn that sometimes there are things learned outside of that order that are just as important. Thanks for reading!

  • tereza crump

    This is such a timely post. Just now I was telling my DH about what a mess our house is! My kids are really high energy children and love to run and play. Due to the rain that hasn’t stopped in the last 4 days, we have been coupe up in the house. there are pom poms, paper, legos, toys, pipe cleaners, scissors, horses, barbies and straws ALL OVER the house. My DH said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We can clean it up!”

    So yes, I am letting the kids create. Today we made 3D geometric shapes with pipe cleaners and straws. Yesterday we made our own peanut butter cups and snowflakes. There has been a lot of dancing and horsing around too. :) It’s a crazy life with 4 kids 24/7. But I love it!!! (when I am not pulling my hair out!! hahaha)

    • Amy Stevenson Dingmann

      It IS a crazy life…but it sounds like your house is so fun! I sometimes have to remember that my kids aren’t going to remember the mess, they will remember what we DID within the mess…so that’s what I’m trying to focus on. :) Thanks for reading!

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