(by Michell Huang. Original post in Chinese: 他的興趣會維持多久？)
My child is unschooled. This means that he learns about the things he is interested in, as well as learning from daily life. One of the most common questions about unschooling is, “How long will his interests last?”
When my child was four years old, he suddenly fell in love with the Russian language. In Hong Kong, Russian is not a very widely spoken language. Also, will a 4-year-old really want to learn Russian seriously? How long will his interests last?
I don’t have the answers, but still, I arranged a Russian lesson with a native Russian teacher for him. He gets to choose his teacher, to decide together with the teacher how long a lesson should be, and more importantly, he can decide to stop learning Russian whenever he loses interest.
Every week before the lesson, my son would prepare the questions that he planned to ask. And every time, he would be so excited about class that he got ready on time and stood at the door waiting to go to class.
He was so passionate that even when he was sick, he would insist on going to that lesson. And even if his friend called him out to play, he would insist on finishing the lesson first before meeting his friend.
During the lesson, my son was always very attentive and focused. One time after class, the teacher left quickly because of an urgent appointment. My son was disappointed that the class had finished because there was still more that he wanted to learn. I consoled him by explaining that he could learn about it in the next lesson. He then burst into tears, “But I want to learn it NOW! I haven’t done with what I wanted to learn…. “
That scenario reminded me of the Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in the US, where students take the initiative to learn about whatever they are interested in. They follow their own needs and decide with the teacher how long the lesson should be. They are proactive and focused. When I saw my son’s passion towards the Russian language, I felt it was very similar to the students at SVS!
I also realized that my son’s frustration of “not having enough time to learn” is exactly the same as “not having enough time to play”. I believe one thing that SVS students and my son have in common is that they don’t quite know how to separate “playing” and “learning”. In their eyes, life is simply about doing what you are passionate about, which naturally includes a lot of learning.
In fact, my son’s interests do not always last. Sometimes he loses interest quickly, sometimes his interests will last for years. Other times, after a long obsession, his passion would just fade away. I can’t predict how long his interest for the Russian language will last, neither can i predict whether it will be useful to him in the future. The only thing that I want to do is to support him in following his passions and inner drive.
When I was a kindergarten teacher, every year, there would be parents worrying about their kids’ obsessions, such as cars, dinosaurs, bugs, etc… They worried that they were not exposed to a great variety of knowledge. It seems that whenever kids are passionate about something, parents either worry their interest won’t last, or they worry that they are too obsessed with it…
In fact, when kids follow their inner drive to learn, regardless of how long that interest lasts, all their experiences are important to them because this is their way to learn about themselves, as well as the world. In order to discover ones passion and mission in life, one needs to constantly follow his or her inner drive.
Furthermore, who knows which parts of their experiences will link together someday, and have an impact to their lives?
Perhaps in a couple of years my son won’t even remember a single Russian word. But I’m sure that what will stay with him is the bliss of listening to his inner drive, and the fulfilled feeling of following his passions. At least, he will know that following his life passion will be supported.
That day, when he cried about how he didn’t want the Russian class to end, after I consoled him, I thanked him for choosing me to be his mom. Through him, I witness the power of self-directed learning. And through him, I trust kids more and I have more respect for their own pace in development.
(Special thanks to Oliver for editing the English version)