Inspiring Interests in Children

Dear Reader,

At a recent park day, one mom was asking how to get her son interested in things. He is nine years old and she is concerned because he doesn’t seem to have any driving passions. Maybe driving passions is a bit strong. I don’t think she is worried that he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life or anything like that. More that he doesn’t have hobbies and particular interests that he seeks out (other than Pokemon).

Another mom, whose son is just finishing up high school, said that her son used to be the same way but over time he has developed interests. She credited that to the time he has had to be by himself, without electronic distractions. He is a child who attended school for a while and then had to “deschool” for a time. She said when he went to school he would come home exhausted, veg in front of the TV for an hour which was all he had the energy for, do his homework and go to bed. That was all there was time for. Now as a homeschooler he has much more time to call his own in which to explore his own interests. The key thing though to her mind was that he had to go through a period of not knowing what to do, of being bored, in order to find his own interests.

I have been reading through Karen Andreola’s book A Charlotte Mason Companion, and I am struck that this is just what Miss Mason’s educational program seemed to aim at. It is not about learning facts but about forming relationships with people and ideas. I will admit it took me a while to get a sense of what these “relations” meant in Mason-ese. But reading through the book, it seems that the relationships with things are pretty much what this mom at the park was speaking of when she spoke of interests. It is not necessarily the one thing that will be your driving passion in life (not that there ever needs to be one), these interests or relations are just things the child takes up for a time, anything they want to know more about or that particularly strikes their fancy or that somehow gets the wheels of their minds turning.

And that necessary boredom the other mom spoke of? That is mastery inactivity. It is stepping back and allowing your children space, even if they complain for a time that there is nothing to do. So much of us wants to step in and fill the gaps, to provide entertainment and stimulation. And it is so easy to do so these days, especially with electronic devices. But when we give our children such things, we are actually robbing them of the chance to find their own interests.

Personally, I was very pleased to find that my children do readily form relationships with ideas. This concept didn’t click with me before and I am not sure I would have said we were doing it. But now I realize we have been. My two older children in particular have had a number of things that they have been interested in and pursued on their own. Sometimes these things arise out of what we are studying, but often they do not.

This side of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy bears a lot of similarity to unschooling. The two are very different in their view of the child and of the parent’s role. But they both allow for the child to follow their own threads. In unschooling, the child takes whatever they will and when they express an interest, the parent helps them obtain resources to pursue it. In Charlotte Mason style schooling, the parent provides a rich diet of good materials, and the child chooses what they will take in. The parent can then provide more nourishing material if the child has a particular interest. In most schooling, sadly, the parent says what will be taken in, when and how, and little is left to the child. The result? A child who does not want to take anything in, who does not form interests and relationships with things. And all those electronic distractions? They are only empty wood fibers which our bodies can’t digest. They fill up the space that needs to be left open if a real hunger is to develop.


3 responses to this post.

  1. This is a helpful analysis of Charlotte Mason vs unschooling. I got lost in the translation back when I first discovered Charlotte Mason. I am again at a place where I want to change how I homeschool, and she still seems a very attractive option. Do you recommend the Andreola’s interpretation of Charlotte Mason’s method?


    • I do at this point. I am about half way through Andreola’s book, but it is inspiring me to be more true to Miss Mason’s methods next year. I have onlyread little bits of CM’s original writings. They seem dense to me. This book is maybe a slightly more accessible introduction. I also recommend the Simply Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online websites though I don’t use either’s curriculum.


  2. […] presents Inspiring Interests in Children posted at Letters from […]


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