What is Interest-Based Learning & Why Use It in Teaching Children

Encouraging interest-based learning (IBL) is important for growing lifelong scholars who not only remember what they’ve been taught but are excited to discover more if the need arises. If we go to all the trouble of educating our children, we want them to remember the things we spent 12 years showing them. And this is why incorporating interest in education matters so much.

Contents of this article:
  • What is Interest-Based Learning?
  • Benefits of IBL
  • Interest-Based Learning in Early Childhood and High School
  • The IBL Learning Theory
  • So, Why Does Interest in Education Matter?

Let’s dive in and get started!

If your child is interested in their studies, they tend to retain so much more of what they've learned. That's why the interest-based-learning model is superior to many others. Learn how to employ it in your homeschool here. #interestbasedlearning #interestbasedlearningmodel #homeschooling #learningmethods


What is Interest-Based Learning?

Interest-based learning is using a child’s interests as the basis for making decisions about what you’re going to teach and for how long. This means teachers will always be reacting to what the students find interesting and hence the child’s education will be much more tailored and absorbing for them.

When you’re thinking about IBL, you need to be asking, ‘What are the children’s interests?’ This is, of course, much more easily accomplished in a homeschooling education as there is lower student to teacher ratios. Homeschooling also allows students to move at their own pace and slow down so they make sure they’re not missing something.

If they’re learning the material quickly, they can move on to new material so they’re not spending too long on work they already know. This means there will be far less frustration for students who are gifted or progress faster on ordinary material.


Benefits of Interest-Based Learning

Some benefits of interest-based learning are:

  • teachers can combine a child’s interest in a topic with a standard subject, thereby making learning more enjoyable for the student
  • the child is less bored with a topic
  • because a child is less bored, they retain more information
  • children struggle less with schoolwork motivation
  • if they desire, students can spend longer on the project instead of moving onto another subject
  • they can focus more on things they don’t know and less on things they’ve already learned (such as busywork)
  • interest-based learning will engender children with a lifelong love of learning

Planning activities based on children’s preferences clearly offers many benefits for learning and promoting a sustainable educational model.


Interest-Based Learning in Early Childhood and High School

Implementing interest-based learning certainly takes more effort on the part of the educator, and so it is more easily carried out in educational settings with low student to teacher ratios such as early childhood centers (see Montessori and Waldorf methods) and homeschools.

Using this method early is useful as children will learn to be more invested in their education and interested in topics (a common reason parents also choose to homeschool in the first place). As such, parents and teachers will be developing their student’s love of learning.
Unfortunately, most traditional educational models don’t value interest-based education. They favor shoveling information into children that makes students good for testing but not great at retaining information.
Interest-based learning in high school is increasingly ignored as teenagers study with a focus on the end-of-school-year exams. Most wade through an uninteresting mire of textbooks before they can finish their secondary education and move onto more stimulating material they enjoy.
But, it doesn’t have to be like this; many homeschools who employ the Charlotte Mason method of education have a great mix between getting work done (that needs to be done) and studying material that interests students. I encourage people to follow the link above to learn a little more about this method.
What is Interest-Based Learning & Why Interest in Education Matters. #interestbasedlearning #interestineducation

Finding Out What Interests Your Child

  • spending undistracted ‘floor-time’ with them observing their activities (no phones or anything else to distract you)
  • getting down on their level and letting them direct the play for a portion of the day (unschoolers, Waldorf and Montessori educationalists are keen on this concept)
  • helping your child with the activities they want to do and
  • asking them what they find the most interesting.

Make sure you’ve got time to do this and time to be patient with them. You don’t want to rush them. Rather, you want to let them do things at their own pace. (This can also be great bonding time!)

By doing this every day, you can easily find the areas where your child has the most amount of interest in learning.



What Happens When Interests Aren’t Discovered?

I read the following recently and it made me reflect on what might happen if we don’t care about finding out our children’s’ interests:

Listening to and validating what the child is interested in pays huge dividends throughout the child’s life.  If the child is made aware that  his/her interests are important, the child then can more clearly identify genuine likes and dislikes, leading more readily to choices of career, spouse, and so on.  It is a sad occurrence, but not infrequent, to have patients at 30 or 40 or 50 years old say they do not know what they want to do or what they are interested in.  They did not have the opportunity early in life to learn that what really counted was what they were interested in. [Paul C Holinger (MD) from Psychology Today]

Not only will finding our children’s interests make learning more fun for children, but it will help them make bigger decisions further down the track.


Interest-Based Learning Activities

In terms of interest-based learning examples, I read one recently that inspired me. In it, a teacher noticed a student was struggling with biology; at the same time, she noticed the student loved doing craft. So, she made this girl make a craft model of a human cell. The child thrived as she made the cell and labeled all the parts on it. After the lesson, the student, who didn’t usually enjoy biology was well versed in this particular lesson.

In essence, an interest-based learning activity will be any project that a child is interested in.

(For this reason, it can be unwise to give you a list of activities to do with children because that’s the whole point – it’s the children who decide – not the parents or teachers.)


Choosing an Interest-Based Learning Activity

Choose activities by asking yourself these questions about your children:

  • what holds my child’s attention and makes them laugh or smile?
  • what is their favorite activity they choose most often?
  • which activity keeps them most absorbed?
The best activities will happen when you have plenty of time to sit down with your child and work through a project at their own pace. As they get older, they will do this themselves.

Interest-Based Learning Theory

The theory behind this type of learning is very interesting. Brocks Academy had this to say about it:

Research has shown that a student will develop a higher level of mastery of a subject if they are interested and engaged. Students’ affective states contribute to their achievement. To be successful, students must find instruction motivating and meaningful (Caine & Caine, 1991; Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995; Tomlinson, 1998).

The interest-based motivation theory confirms the obvious. Children (and adults) learn better when they are interested in the material presented or sought out.

If your child is interested in their studies, they tend to retain so much more of what they've learned. That's why the interest-based-learning model is superior to many others. Learn how to employ it in your homeschool here. #interestbasedlearning #interestbasedlearningmodel #homeschooling #learningmethods

Why Interest in Education Matter?

A student’s lack of interest in learning often stems from having no interest in the concepts or material presented to them. Sometimes the way the curriculum is presented also turns students off education.

Interest in education matters because it helps students to easily motivate themselves to learn. In a lot of cases, very little motivation is needed as children are itching to discover the things that fascinate them.

Furthermore, the benefits of creating self-motivated learners will impact positively on their college education, future employment, marriage and family life.



In this article, we’ve seen how the power of interest-based-learning can drive a useful education. IBL is not only is helpful for motivating students, but it also assists them better retain the things they’ve learned. This is born out of a love of learning that is fostered by the constant interest they have in the subjects they’re learning.

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Rebecca Devitt
Most adults don't particularly want to relive their schooling experience on a daily basis. They would gladly move on to a new life devoid of homework and teachers. Very, very few adults will passionately blog about their schooling some 15 years after graduating. This makes Rebecca Devitt somewhat unique. As it happens, she was homeschooled. And she loved it. Still does. And she wishes every kid could get a taste of homeschooling at its very best. Her website How Do I Homeschool, is a springboard for parents to see what a life of homeschooling could be for both them & their children. When she's not blogging Rebecca is still homeschooling her-adult-self by learning Latin, growing weird vegetables and most importantly looking after her two children Luke & Penny. She has a husband Tristan and is a participant at Wollongong Baptist Church. She's also written a book about why parents should homeschool called 'Why on Earth Homeschool'.
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