Instagram and Interest-led learning

A while ago I wrote about our family's approach to technology use and acquisition, especially as related to the kids' education and learning.

When I published that post, our kids had not yet discovered social media.

How things change.

Last month Damien introduced Laurent to Instagram. Of course the kids know that I post to Instagram because of my frequent "wait, I just want to instagram this," moments of our family life.

We are always looking for ways in which technology can support our children's interests and learning. Technology is a tool. Damien is especially good at this - finding the right tool for the job.

It was Damien's idea for Laurent to start an Instagram account to share his artwork. It's a perfect fit for our visual, extroverted, and artistic boy with an iPad.

Once Laurent had an easy way to share his most recent art he launched a 30 day drawing project - 30 Days of Otters.

I bet you didn't know you can draw otters in 30 ways? Otters happen to be one of Laurent's passions and following through on a 30 day drawing project was perfect to push his boundaries, just a wee bit, on project conception through completion.

And then the delightfully unexpected happened, unexpected for Laurent at least, new as he is to social media. Things got social.

People started following his feed. Some of the names Damien and I recognize, others we don't. Laurent's followers commented on his photos and art. People "liked" his work. Laurent in turn followed, liked, and commented on other people's photos.

Most of Laurent's Instagram followers are parents and other grown ups who share similar interests with Laurent, such as art, animals and the outdoors.

My world, as Laurent's mom (we're a sharing family, "mom, come see this!") now includes ohhing and ahhing at photos of stranger's cute kids, dogs, and restored axes. Yes, axes. Perhaps now's not the time to mention irrational fears of axe murderers stalking your children on the internet.

There's a lot of animal lovers in the world, even in Laurent's very small circle of followers. And within the wide circle of animal lovers there's the proud and devoted pet owners.

When we saw all the photos people share of their pets (wow, I just gotta say, people love their pets!), and considered how Laurent loves to draw animals, we proposed an idea to him.

What about advertising his services to sketch pets?

A brief aside about interest-led learning:

This post illustrates (no pun intended) how we do interest-led learning. But if you need a concrete summary of how we support interest-led, self-directed learning in our home, here it is:

We look at our children's interests, bring in tools and resources to support those interests, and regularly pitch ideas about how to further explore, develop, and share those interests. "Hey, have you thought about... something you might try is... have you checked into..."

If our kids have their own direction for projects and learning, that's great too, but sometimes they get stuck or don't have the life experience to see all the opportunity or even be aware of all the options. In those cases we brainstorm with our kids and throw out angles and ideas they might not have considered.

Finally, we support the projects that come out of those ideas. Offering our assistance but making sure the learning and/or project itself belongs to the learner, that it is directed by them. For more inspiration in this regard I recommend Project Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert or her blog.

Laurent loved the pet sketch idea and ran with it.

"I need to make an ad," he said.

Since this was an Instagram project we replied with, "Let's see if there's an app that can help you do that." (There are apps for everything and we have found them to be very useful tools in our homeschool.)

We found a collage app that Laurent could use to make an ad. We downloaded it. Laurent taught himself to use it. And asked us for help spelling portrait.

Then he advertised on his Instagram. And got commissions. And we supplied the contact e-mail address and paypal account.

Then his Instagram followers did some advertising for him. Thanks Brian!

When he posted the finished commissions he received what he loves most, appreciation for his art. Laurent's not motivated by money, but we are trying to teach him that his work has value and how he might make some money doing it.

In all of this, Laurent has been practicing and growing his reading and writing skills, because there is a very compelling reason for all of it.

You need these skills to communicate with people. And Laurent values communicating with people because he wants to share his art.

We use our kids' natural interests and talents as the springboard to teach the skills they need to know.

Some people wonder, how do interest-led learners learn what they "need to know?" By this, I assume people mean subjects taught in school that many children are forced to endure because it's something they "need to know". Or maybe people are referring to character traits like tenacity and follow-through or maybe people skills like communication and negotiation.

People, including children, learn what they "need to know" by doing things that interest and inspire them. And that's not to say interests can't be born of necessity, as is the case with my French studies.

Either way, in order to see your interests and inspiration through (and not every interest or inspiration becomes a project or area of study) you will have to overcome obstacles and you will learn new skills and knowledge you didn't know before.

You'll have to do hard stuff, and tedious stuff, to reach your goal.

You learn to apply yourself because you have to do the work to make your idea a reality.

That's how interest-led learners learn what they "need to know" - by doing the work that springs from following an interest, a passion, a need, an inspiration.

A last aside about interest-led learning:

I love using that 4-letter word "work" because some people think interest-led learning is a soft and cushy substitute for the "real work" of required and enforced studies. And that by educating children in freedom you raise lazy learners.

I've read many criticisms and "concerned citizen" observations of this kind in the comments of online articles and blog posts. I haven't been criticized myself, just for the record.

What inspires your children? How can you support that? What inspires you? How are you doing the work to make an idea a reality?

And if you want a pet portrait (hardcopy or digital), but aren't on Instagram, you can contact me directly and I'll give you the details you need to know.

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  • Lori

    Lori on Sept. 11, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

    “I love using that 4-letter word "work" because some people think interest-led learning is a soft and cushy substitute for the "real work" of required and enforced studies. And that by educating children in freedom you raise lazy learners.

    I've read many criticisms and "concerned citizen" observations of this kind in the comments of online articles and blog posts. I haven't been criticized myself, just for the record.”

    Interesting! I use the word “work” because that’s what I see — kids working hard. And in my experience, kids work hardest at the things they care about most. But some people seem to identify “work” with “things I don’t want to do” — as in, “How will they learn what real work is?! How will they learn to buckle down and work?!” That’s just a misconception of what work is — made, I suppose, by people who have never worked hard at something they enjoyed.


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 11, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

      We view work in a positive sense also, and working hard is a good thing. 

      It's very hard for me to write about interest-led learning in a succient manner. Because I feel like I need to redefine all the terms before I even start. The problem is that everyone has different assumptions and definitions of things based on personal experience and understanding. Work being one of those very loaded words.

      Work can mean what we do to earn a living. It can mean "the stuff we don't want to do".  It could mean a place we go to toil for someone else. It's such a loaded word.

      A lot of people refer to work as the stuff you don't want to do. And if you spend your time moving forward your ideas and interests, self-determining your days and your future, well, when are you working exactly? (if work is defined as the stuff you don't want to do). And is that even allowed? 

      You're absolutely correct though, work is what I see when my kids are pursuing their interests, they work at it, hard. When they are little this looks like concentrated play. When they are older it can also look like play. My favorite work often looks like play also.

      Play or not, working on our own projects (family and individual) and directing our own days is something everyone in our family enjoys, obviously. Even when it's hard "work" (which a life well lived always is!).

      As a side, but related note, we don't use the word leisure or free time in our home all that much. Even those activities like hiking (which is a "recreational" pursuit) involve work, so does cooking, leveling up in your video game, etc. Ok, I'll stop now.


  • Kelsi Turner Tjernagel

    Kelsi Turner Tjernagel on Sept. 11, 2013, 9:35 p.m.

    I love seeing Laurent's art work. How beautiful.

    Forgive me if this is not the place to ask this...but this post made me realize that I need to take action. Full confession: I have no ipod, ipad, ianything, but I think it's time for me to test the waters. I am conerned about getting information about what my options are from a corporation that just wants to make money from me. I don't want to be "sold" on anything. I want to make an educated choice. Can you reccomend a site where I could learn more about different techonology and devices? If you can't, please just say so. I don't want this to be a burden in any way. Thank you!


  • Cat

    Cat on Sept. 11, 2013, 11:54 p.m.

    Wow! The kids were so excited to see Mia as a puppy. Please tell Laurent I think he is sooooo talented:)


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 12, 2013, 12:03 a.m.

      Laurent used a photo I took of Mia to practice his skills and to help advertise his skills. Would you like the original? We planned to send it to you!


  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 12, 2013, 12:28 a.m.

    Love it! The real thing...does he do snakes?

    thanks for sharing your approach to this project area for him. Simple and meaningful...the best!

    And Lori I totally agree! The folks who want to know when kids will learn to really work probably are counting down to retirement.


  • jacinda

    jacinda on Sept. 12, 2013, 10:11 a.m.

    Great story of "mentoring a self-directed learner" (ooh, i love that subtitle of Lori's) and it sounds like he is also on the road to being a self-directed earner too ;-). Don't get me going on how our culture devalues children's work, as if we adults have a monopoly on it. Just tonight I told my youngest to stop "working on her noses" ( she has a focus on drawing faces right now) and let herself have some rest in bed with a read aloud. What happened? You got it...she went on working, drawing noses (different angles, various types) in her journal while I read to her. 


  • Nicole

    Nicole on Sept. 12, 2013, 12:36 p.m.

    Oh my Gosh, I think we need a portrait of our weimaraner, Ava, to put down at our store.  Ava is usually always at the store with Jeff, and therefore the main store greeter, and people love her.  I will have to find or take a photo of one for Laurent.  Plus, I need him to draw another couple icons for our website.  I'll be in touch about this soon, as I'm thinking the drawing of Ava could be a great gift for me to give to Jeff for Christmas!  


  • Marianne

    Marianne on Sept. 12, 2013, 2:57 p.m.

    Our 9yr old, Michael,  also loves to draw so I showed him Laurent's otter drawings.   He was fascinated and wanted to see more of his work.  Michael draws quite well for his age although not at Laurent's level.   He received a large blank book for his birthday in January and made a decision that he would draw in it every single day until all 732 pages were done.  He hasn't missed a day yet.   Each page has a single word to jump start the process.   This week the words have been: scar, echo, silence, canopy.    It's very interesting to see his interpretations in doing this and it urges him to draw things he might not normally consider.   I've also noticed he is adding comments about his day in the corner of the pages.  Somewhat like a journal.  For the 'scar' picture he drew a bull shark attacking someones legs.   A bit violent for Mamma but I held my tongue. He's interested in sharks and pulled out a shark book to read about different types to determine which he wanted to draw.  His notes gave some facts about bull sharks and noted that although there was not a scar drawn there "will be".  : )

     I will have to think of pet portraits for some friends for Christmas gifts.


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 12, 2013, 3:28 p.m.

      I love that story of your son's commitment to drawing, and all the learning that comes out of that. Letting Laurent draw more graphic and violent things has been a "hold my tongue" thing also. Laurent is a gentle soul (the most nurturing of all my kids towards animals and babies) and doesn't even kill insects and yet he loves warfare drawing. He also can't watch very suspenseful or scary movies but then can draw skeletal remains and bloody swords. Go figure. Our daughters have never expressed a similar interest in "violent" art.


  • Marianne

    Marianne on Sept. 12, 2013, 3:43 p.m.

    Oh, our boys sound like two peas in a pod.  Heaven forbid I squash an ant inside our house.   "But it's a living thing!" is an oft heard refrain in our house and I am secretly quite proud of this characteristic.  But warfare a la Lord of the Rings in quite common here.


  • kyndale

    kyndale on Sept. 12, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

    My gosh, his art is amazing!  It's gotten to a whole new level since I first started reading your blog.  I will definitlely follow him on instagram so I can keep up to date with his work!  ♥


  • Tonya

    Tonya on Sept. 12, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    I read this post to both Mike and Abby - so great what Laurent is doing and just a perfect example of what we want to instill in our children - being able to earn money (which unfortunately is necessary) doing what they enjoy (which usually involves using their gifts if they enjoy it).



  • Jennifer Ott

    Jennifer Ott on Sept. 12, 2013, 7:50 p.m.

    I would love to commission a few portraits!  Can you email the info. to me?  Thanks!  What a great way to encourage your son's talents towards usefulness and beauty.  I was just thinking today how God made us to work and be creative (I assume creation was not effortless)!


  • Kimberly Marcus

    Kimberly Marcus on Sept. 12, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

    Wow, such talented family...I would also love to have a few portraits done, can you email me the info.  Would make wonderful christmas gifts.




  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Sept. 13, 2013, 2:38 a.m.

    This is awesome! I am so excited for Laurent! What a great model of interest-led learning! Laurent is really lucky to have such an incredible family that support him in his talent and passion! Very inspiring!


  • Z is for Zen

    Z is for Zen on Sept. 14, 2013, 4:33 p.m.

    Renee it was so nice to read such a great example of project based learning in your home. We too are supporters of that concept but are just infants in actually getting off the ground. 


  • Corina

    Corina on Sept. 16, 2013, 10:19 p.m.

    Ohhhh, I loved reading this post!  As a homeschooling mother who is questioning my methods a lot right now, it feels so inspiring to read about how you guys "do" homeschooling.  It's so similar to our approach. I am constantly amazed how the kids learn things when they are interested in them.  For example, my oldest son (10yrs old) wanted to learn to play the fiddle.  We found a friend who's teaching him (for free), and only a year later, my son will play his first debut at our local farmer's market next week!


    Good job, Laurent!


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 16, 2013, 10:25 p.m.

      Yay Corina that's awesome. Kids know what they want to know (and sometimes they don't and we let them play a lot through that). I am writing a post right now I think you will appreciate, about our homeschool methods in particular. 


      • Corina

        Corina on Sept. 17, 2013, 12:37 a.m.

        Oh, great, Renee, I am excited for your new post.  I need some inspiration right now, since I am kind of freaking out about doing the "right" thing.  We live so far away from "civilization", and I am worried about depriving my kids of... what?  Opportunitites?  Friends?  I don't know.  I'm definitely in a freaky PMS or possibly even pre-menopausal questioning state, so your blog entries always are a blessing!


        • renee

          renee on Sept. 17, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

          Corina, I totally hear you and I'm not certain that my methods post will address your specific concern (smile) But I will say that those of us with "marginal" lifestyles, on the fringes so to speak regularly freak out about "doing this right". I think all parents are concerned about doing it right. And those of us with different lifestyle choices make it harder on ourselves than necessary by thinking our lifestyle choices single us out, when it's really parenthood that makes us crazy - not our non-conformist (or whatever) lifestyle. Or so I say...

          But I will say this (you know me, never at a loss for words): people raise children all over the world in so many varied situations... and now there's the internet (smile). And having internet access to connect with teens all over the world has meant so much to Celine. It's been our saving grace and her lifeline. She feels connected to a group of kids like her - geeky (with good connotations) homeschooled teens with share similar interests to her. 

          I hear you. I could talk a lot about this (not with a whole bunch of answers but relate and share what I've found to be true for our family and the places I struggle) so someday we should chat...


  • Melissa R

    Melissa R on Sept. 18, 2013, 9:20 p.m.

    A show, coming up on PBS in the US is about otters... don't know if you have access to the show but here's the info:

    NATURE “Saving Otter 501” This is the story of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 501st attempt to save a stranded orphan otter. Follow Otter 501 from her discovery as a newborn pup through her rehabilitation in roof tanks atop the aquarium and her struggle to learn how to dive, hunt, eat and fend for herself in an artificial environment meant to mimic the “real world.” It is a tale of mysterious threats, persistent failures and small victories, where survival is a long shot at best. Wednesday, October 16, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET


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