When a Child Has Only One Interest.

“It’s all very well, letting children follow their own interests, but my daughter only wants to do one thing. She’s not interested in science or maths or writing… All she wants to do is cook and how’s that going to satisfy the educational authorities?” a hypothetical mother asks.

What would I do if one of my girls only wanted to cook, and wouldn’t consider learning anything else? I might try an idea I picked up at the very first homeschool conference I ever attended.

“Let’s pretend your child’s one interest is frogs.” Jane’s words spill out quickly, one after another. She has so much to say and only a couple of hours to say it. She chalks the word, ‘frogs’ on the centre of the blackboard in large letters. “’Frogs’ is just the starting point. Let’s see where that can lead us!” Jane does a little thinking out loud as she bounces about in front of us. Soon she is associating frogs with maths, science, geography, history, writing, personal health and development, creative arts… Her excitement and enthusiasm are contagious. We start offering ideas too. Before long the blackboard is full of words. Jane has drawn a mind map.

“A mother I know,” says Jane, “presented a similar frog mind map as her homeschooling plan for her son’s registration, and it satisfied the Board of Studies. It covered all the key learning areas.”

But back to my hypothetical one-interest child… What if I constructed a ‘cooking’ mind map? I might add such words as these…

maths: fractions, multiplication, division, measuring volumes and masses, temperatures and time, shopping and money…

science: chemical reactions, pasteurisation, freezing, dried foods, plants, fruits, vegetables, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, food chains, food production, farms, organic food, GM foods, genetics, making a vegetable garden, visiting markets, garden centre

history: food associated with different periods in history, eating customs, historical TV series

geography: food of different countries, different cultures, cooking shows set in different countries

personal development: nutrition, digestion, care of teeth, issues such as the low fat industry, sugar, obesity, exercise, hygiene and safe food handling, safety in the kitchen, first aid for burns

foods associated with the liturgical calendar, feast days, saints, family celebrations, cultural celebrations, historical celebrations

creative and practical arts: trying new recipes, famous chefs, cooking shows and filming, presentation and customer service, photographing food, cooking techniques and tools

English: writing, cooking journal or scrapbook, recipe files, cooking words: glossary, reading, demonstrating

Now these ideas are just a start. I’ve only been thinking for a few minutes. I bet there are many more that could be added.

Once my mind map is constructed I wouldn’t use it as a homeschool plan that I’d present to my child. Instead I would use it as a starting point for finding appropriate resources to enrich her environment, to show her some possibilities she might be unaware of. I might find some books…

I’d search Youtube for cooking shows set in different countries such as Jamie’s Great Italian Escape. How about the TV series Supersizers for a look at food in British history, or the series A Taste of History?I could make a list of places to visit. I’d search our library catalogue and also our own bookshelves.

Once I had a few resources on hand I’d start strewing them, tempting my one-interest child to spread her wings and set off in new directions.

But of course, my child might not like any of my strewing ideas. She may very well just want to keep on experimenting in the kitchen in her own way. So will all my work go to waste? No! At the very least, I might discover something I’d like to explore… like all those cooking shows for example, and the great sugar debate too… and maybe I could construct and plant a vegetable garden… and later I could always share what I found out, if anyone is interested in listening.

After Jane tells us how the frog plan satisfied the Board of Studies, she adds, “But by the time the mother was ready to put the plan into action, her son was no longer interested in frogs, so she didn’t actually use it.” She laughs. “The boy had satisfied his curiosity and was ready to move onto new things.”

Maybe some kids just like to concentrate on one thing at a time. They’ll move onto something else when they’re ready. Perhaps having only one current interest isn’t a problem at all. What do you think?

PS I haven’t read all the books or viewed the Youtube videos. They are only suggestions and I am not personally recommending them. They still might be good though.

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  1. Reply

    Sue. This is such an interesting post. It applies to our life right now. I am tossing in my head what to do with brids schooling right now. Her life is dance. Academics just not getting done.
    All my heart says just leave it, and then the schoolie side of me says no she needs more maths more this more that. I wonder what would happen if I just let her stop school as such.

    1. Reply


      It sounds like Brid wants to be a dancer! I have noticed that as my kids get older and they discover their true passions, they tend to hone in on those interests leaving other things behind. Imogen did a lot of music and writing in her last year of homeschooling. She also shared anything interesting that happened to be going on like watching Shakespeare and coming with us on outings, but other things went by the wayside.

      If Brid isn't interested in further academics I suppose she won't learn much anyway despite your efforts. And it is never too late for learning. If in the future she finds she needs to know more, she can always learn it then. Open University offers basic maths courses for example.

      However mothers worry and want their children to be as well prepared for life as possible… it can be a dilemma! When do we stop and say that's enough? But of course learning never really stops. We spend our life learning!

    2. Reply

      Hi Sue,

      This has been on my heart for so long.
      I am just going to back off and see what she does. Her goal and her life is Ballet and dance and everything surrounding it. Maths doesn't really cut the grade here, but she is soldiering on, a lesson a day. This is the area that I would like to just cut out. don't think Dh would be happy

    3. Reply


      We know our children best and what is right for them. Perhaps your heart is telling you what to do. Do you think Brid's maths is sufficient for everyday life? Maybe there isn't must point in her learning advanced maths if she will never use it.

      I was watching a fascinating video a while back about dance and maths… all those angles and circles! Maths turns up in so many unexpected places!

      I hope you come to a decision that you all feel happy about.

      God bless!

  2. Reply

    This is great, Sue – so many good ideas. We love learning geography through travel DVDs but I hadn't thought of anything like an Italian cooking show before. I'm looking forward to following some of your links – aren't we lucky to have the Internet? I watched a YouTube program on the history of food, yesterday – it was called The Men Who Made Us Fat. It was quite interesting and a bit of an eye-opener. The other link I sent you discussed the science and this one traced the history and politics. Yes, I think you're right – a curriculum could be based around a single interest, with a bit of thinking.

    Thank you for sharing all of this, Sue. I'm going to follow up on it for Bethany – she'll love having more time to cook.:-)

    1. Reply


      Yes, I agree with you: What did we ever do before we had the Internet? It really is a wonderful resource.

      I guess this idea could work two ways. It could produce the basis for a planned curriculum, for those who like a more organised approach to homeschooling. Or it could just be used to brainstorm some ideas for strewing resources. I would use it in the last manner but there's no reason it couldn't be used for a proper plan.

      I am sure Bethany has far more than one interest but I'd be interested to hear where her cooking adventures lead!

  3. I love the way you've presented this, Sue. You always manage to inspire me with a fresh angle – thank you! (You've also inspired me to want to go and watch Jamie's Great Italian Escape!)

    1. Reply


      Fresh angles… It seems funny that the homeschooling conference I mentioned in the post happened about 20 years ago. I only thought about it again the other day, probably because you were telling me about your own conference. It doesn't matter how long ago an experience was, it can still be used again, and often in a way never imagined. Years ago, when I was sitting listening to Jane and feeling as excited as she appeared to be, I never thought I'd be blogging about unschooling one day!

      There's some great free stuff, like Jamie Oliver, on Youtube. We have a large download allowance each month, but still, we may need to increase it further!

  4. Reply

    Fantastic post! My eldest's intense interest is basketball – and has been she was 8. There have been those moments where I've been unsure where that interest was going to take her. What could she "do" with that when she got older? Would it be "enough"?

    Where it has taken her, now at almost 15, is that what she really wants to do is have the opportunity to play basketball at the college level. Lately she has been interested in and looking into the different sports management and nutrition programs out there and requirements for college admission. She's figuring out what she needs to do in order to follow that interest and meet her goals.

    An intense interest, *any* intense interest, will take you where you need to go…given the time and encouragement. 🙂

    1. Reply


      I don't really know anything about college sports. Will your daughter study something like sports management while playing basketball? Or could she study something unrelated to sport?

      Maybe we just need to let our kids pursue their passions, and trust it's the right thing for them to do. Sometimes exciting unimaginable opportunities happen!

      "An intense interest, *any* intense interest, will take you where you need to go…given the time and encouragement." I like that. It sounds like something that should be written on a button and shared on Facebook, to get everyone thinking!

  5. Reply

    What a great post. I love how you incorporated your daughter's passion for cooking into so many different subjects. I don't think I could do that.
    We use an online curriculum, Time4Learning, which we love. But it's also fun when my kids find something they want to learn more about and we dive deep into a subject or interest.

    I feel a little more apprehensive about credit requirements and preparing transcripts for high school. It was a relief to find out that Time4Learning is adding high school to their program this year. While I want my kids to pursue their passions like soccer, music and horseback riding, I also find peace in knowing that they're getting the required courses they need. And I must admit it'll be nice to have the record-keeping done for me.
    Thanks for this post, though. It has certainly given me some ideas for when we do want to explore a new interest. We usually use the internet, but we need to get better use of our library and Netflix. 🙂

    1. Reply


      It sounds like you are very happy with Time4learning. It's great when we find something that works for us. If it's a lot of work preparing transcripts and fulfilling credit requirements, I can see why you'd use a system which does most of the work for you. Yes, peace of mind.

      We have a different system here in Australia. I find it's possible to satisfy the educational authorities while letting my children follow their interests. It helps that my girls have a wide range of interests. The child in this post was only imaginary, created to illustrate a point!

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for stopping to comment!

    • Nita
    • August 7, 2013

    That's a good sneaky way to add in learning math. However, I personally believe in life we can't always have it our way, so the thought of following my kid's interest completely is way foreign for me. But this is a nice way to show a medium.

    1. Reply


      You are so right: no one can always have it her own way. This extends to all areas of our lives. I think though that my kids get plenty of opportunities to put aside their self-centered tendencies. We all have to live together as a large family and everyone makes compromises.

      Letting a child follow her interests does sound frightening, doesn't it? It took me a while to get used to that idea! What if they don't want to learn what I consider essential? I learnt to let go and discovered it works well. Also, I have found that my children are very open to any learning suggestions I make. Maybe it's all to do with trust.

      Thank you for reading my post and stopping to comment. I appreciate it!

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