Unschooler Karen M. Gibson discusses how to capitalize on your child’s passion by building his/her homeschool experience around those interests. Her son’s passion for basketball led to learning in all subject areas, including geography, reading, writing, math, computer skills, research skills, history, science and personal goals.

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What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work,
is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea
that what has already been said is still not enough.
~ Eugene Delaxcroix

    Capitalizing on Your Child’s Interests
    Karen M. Gibson

    Are you frustrated by your child’s seeming inattentiveness to his lessons? Is he or she only interested in Pokemon, or horses, or ants, or even basketball? How can you get him to leave that interest alone long enough to complete his schoolwork?

    My youngest child, Charles, has one abiding passion – basketball. Perhaps it is because basketball is such a high intensity sport, requiring constant movement. Perhaps it is because Charles discovered early on that he could be good at basketball. Just as likely, he loves basketball because his older cousin Bryce did so – and anything Bryce liked and did, Charles had to also. Whatever the reason, basketball has been “it” for Charles for most of his lifetime. When he received his first basketball for his seventh birthday, he took it everywhere with him, including to bed. And he spends an average of two hours daily, year round, bouncing a ball outside on our deck, shooting hoops. Only extreme heat or extreme cold cause him to turn indoors to the small hoop he has on the back of his bedroom door.

    Instead of continually fighting about the amount of time he devotes to basketball, I decided early on that I needed to capitalize on that interest. I could encourage his learning through basketball. And over the years I have been successful in tying in almost every “subject” area into basketball. I’d like to tell you about a few of the ways, just to give you an idea of what we do. And maybe that will lead you to new ways of approaching your child’s “passion.”

    • Geography – I have two very large laminated maps on our hallway walls – a World map and a United State map. Charles has put stickers on each city in the United States and Canada where there is a NBA team. Ask him where Toronto or Salt Lake City or Houston is and he can quickly point it out on the map. Also, during the 2000 Summer Olympics, Charles researched the represented countries basketball teams and then created mascots and pennants for each team based upon that country’s specific geography, animals, flags or principle product.

    • Reading – I encourage Charles to look up information on the NBA website, including scores of games, statistics on individual teams, player statistics, and time schedules of upcoming televised games. I make it a point to provide books and magazines that pertain to basketball. Since he prefers reading about NBA players, games, and even the history of basketball he is more likely to work harder to read these types of things than he would with others. Charles is a late-reader, still showing very little interest in reading on his own, so I encourage any interest he does exhibit.

    • Writing & Creativity – Charles seems to often have a project going that involves writing and basketball. Either he is making charts, schedules, news write-ups, logos, and/or flags for actual NBA basketball teams, or he is creating such things for made-up teams and leagues. Each year at the end of basketball season he writes a thank you letter to his youth league coach.

    • Math – Sports involves tracking a lot of numbers, including game scores, individual player statistics, team statistics, and win/loss records. Math skills used include addition, subtraction, percentages, and averages. Charles has even learned how to make graphs and charts while tracking his favorite team or his favorite player’s statistics.

    • PhysEd – Charles is a very athletic and competitive person, often striving to best his own previously set goals. Barring inclement weather, he is outside daily working to improve his skills, whether running laps around the track he raked in yard, shooting a certain number of baskets each day, or practicing his dribbling for a specific amount of time, all of which helps keep Charles in good physical conditioning.

    • Computer Skills – Charles has a favorite basketball computer program. Using the software frequently has improved his reading ability, his math ability, his typing skills, and his general computer skills.

    • Life Skills – Through playing basketball and through our reading and/or discussions about basketball, Charles has learned about or experienced many life skills. These include: learning to play as a team member; communication with others; following directions in learning new plays; respecting coaches, other teams and referees; the legal process involved in athletic contracts; and the importance of knowing how your money is managed rather than just blindly trusting your managers.

    • Library Research Skills – Charles has learned to use the online computer library search program in order to find more basketball books and has also learned to locate those books on the library shelves.

    • Science – Sports involve many principles of physics, including motion, gravity, velocity, all of which can be reinforced by studying and experiencing bouncing balls, shooting the basketball, throwing the basketball, making baskets, etc.

    • History – As Charles’ interest in all areas of basketball has expanded, we have turned to books other than “how-to’s” and athlete’s biographies. This has led us to the history of basketball, race relations & civil rights, and the start of women’s basketball.

    • Advertising & Marketing – Through our discussions about basketball, his reading, and watching various televised basketball games and news shows, Charles has learned how sponsorships and advertising works. We have also talked about how marketing is used to get individuals to buy products advertised by athletes.

    • Setting Personal Goals – Each season Charles plays basketball through a local youth league. This past year he set a personal goal of making the most assists for the season on his team.

    These are some examples of learning that has occurred over the past several years. It is very much an ongoing process, with a little bit learned here and a little there. None of these have been organized in any fashion by myself, but instead are activities and discussions that have occurred naturally to Charles in the course of his every day life with basketball. My function is to provide him with the resources he requires in the pursuit of this passion, not to guide or steer the passion. I answer questions (when I know the answers), read aloud books that are beyond his reading level, and provide assistance in developing certain skills he may need at a particular time (such as research skills, learning to figure averages, etc.).

    Above all, even though basketball is not a passion I share with Charles, I try to remain supportive of his interest. I will admit there are days when I am sure I will scream if I hear that basketball bounce on the deck one more time and that there can’t possibly be a basketball player we haven’t read about. And I cringe when someone asks Charles what he “did in school today” and he says “just played basketball.” But by following his passion, Charles has learned far more on his own than he ever would have had I required him to read a textbook or fill out a workbook. And it is truly knowledge that has meaning to his life and therefore knowledge learned for a lifetime.

    Copyright 2001
    Originally published in the March/April 2001 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)

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