How Interest-Led Learning is like Master Chef

by ChristinaPilkington on February 11, 2012 · 10 comments

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I’m not a big cook. I like cooking and trying out new recipes, but I wouldn’t say I have a passion for making food.

But I really like to watch cooking shows….a lot. In fact, I think I like to watch people cooking more than I like cooking myself!

One of my favorite cooking shows is Master Chef. The premise of the show is a bunch of amateur chefs get together, are put through a variety of cooking challenges, and the chef who makes it through to the end is crowned Master Chef and awarded a bunch of money.

The Mystery Box Challenge

My favorite challenge in the show is where each contestant is given a big basket of food and has to come up with an original recipe using only the ingredients in that basket. They don’t have to use all the ingredients; they can pick and choose those items that will work best for what they want to make. They also don’t know ahead of time which types of ingredients they will get, so they need to be prepared for anything.  

Even though each contestant is given the exact same ingredients, I’m always amazed at how different their final dishes turn out. Some chefs will make desserts, some breakfast foods, and others a gourmet entrée….all from the same basket.

It’s easy to tell the difference between the mediocre chefs and the creative geniuses. The truly great ones go out of their way to combine foods in unusual ways. They take great risks and step totally outside the box. They take what they are given and turn it into something amazing.

They also have to do some intense problem-solving and improvisation. When a main component of their dish falls on the floor, they have to quickly decide how to turn their remaining ingredients into a new dish. When they add too much spice into a dish and it tastes awful, they need to make a fast decision on how to make it great again.

A few days ago, I ran across this great statement on Sara McGrath’s Facebook Page called The Unschooler’s Emporium

“Unschooling isn’t a recipe.”

Exactly. It’s more like Master Chef.

Just like Master Chef, parents of interest-led learners share the same basic “ingredients” or beliefs about how children learn best. We believe that children learn best when they follow their own interests and passions. We believe in lots of real world experiences, hands-on learning, and living a full, rich life. We also believe in respecting each child’s individual timetables for acquiring skills and do not use coercive tactics to “make” them learn. 

We each have community resources we can utilize, libraries we can frequent, and activities we can be involved with.

But the way we combine those resources, they way we mix and match them together, will be different for each unschooling family. We may start off with shared beliefs and tools we can use, but each family, and even each child in each family, will create its own beautiful, deliciously wonderful flavor of learning.

Being prepared for anything

As parents we don’t know exactly what our kids will be interested in or need for the future. We can’t tell if their new interest in astronomy or dogs or architecture will last for a few weeks or a lifetime. We don’t know exactly what type of skills they might need to be successful in their chosen field when they’re 5, 10 or even 15.

We can gather together a few “core ingredients”, like surrounding our children with lots of opportunities to read, play with numbers, learn more about the world, and by giving them lots of opportunities to take on responsibilities. But beyond that, we need to be flexible and willing to change. Just like the Master Chefs, if something is not working, we need to quickly do a course-correction and figure out with our kids how to make that change.

Approaching Learning in New and Unusual Ways

As interest-led learning parents, we’re not interested in pursuing a traditional educational path. We’re bucking the mainstream; we’re taking risks. We’re approaching our lives with creativity and passion.

And that takes a lot of hard work, dedication and originality – just like the Master Chefs.

But I think the payoff is worth it in the end, don’t you?

 Photo Credit: Dinner Series

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