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Delight-Directed Learning, Part 1: Pitfalls

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Years ago I heard about Greg Harris’s idea of ‘delight directed learning’.  You may know that Greg Harris is the father of Josh Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Brett and Alex Harris (Do Hard Things and The Rebelution youth movement).  Obviously something worked for his kids, and it just may be related to how they were educated. Many others have since adopted his idea because it makes so much sense.

So, what is ‘delight-directed learning’?  As we have practiced it for years, delight-directed learning is watching your children, discovering what their interests are, and encouraging them.  It’s buying equipment, allowing time for nature walks, and providing relevant books and craft supplies.  It’s finding sports opportunities, relevant outings, and volunteer positions. It’s allowing short term explorations (like the making of the pie, above) and long, involved time commitments.

However, I’ve discovered that delight-directed learning has some common pitfalls for parents.  I’ve been guilty of each one of these.  However, once you know what they are, it is much easier to avoid them:

  1. We provide too much encouragement and so many resources that the child feels overwhelmed.  There’s a fine line between being encouraging and being pushy, and it’s different for different kids at different times.
  2. We ignore an interest because we don’t like it or understand its validity (that’s the way I feel about video games and Garfield comics)—and sometimes we are right but sometimes we are wrong.  Some interests should, obviously, not be encouraged.   Other times we do not understand that a talent can and should be developed.  However, if it’s a deep interest, children will recover from our discouragement or re-channel their focus, so it’s not a life or death decision and I tend to err on the side of caution.
  3. We let our children completely ignore their structured learning and allow them to only follow their own interests.
  4. We place their interests above other family members’ goals.  While this may be necessary occasionally, for the child’s sake it should not happen often.
  5. We provide so much structured learning that the child has no time to explore his own interests.
  6. We allow ourselves to be convinced that we’re overdoing the structured learning when the real problem is a child’s time management skills.
  7. We often forget that after exploring one interest, a child will most likely move on to another one, leaving all our considerable investments (in both time and money) behind.   Remembering this helps us to avoid frustration and overspending.  See also point 1.

Despite these parental pitfalls, kids thrive when they are allowed to explore and learn skills and ideas that bring smiles to their faces.   And parents thrive, too, when they encourage their children wisely.

This was meant to be the first post in a series about delight-directed learning, but the other articles were never completed.  Perhaps someday I will write about challenges and successes of delight-directed learning.


  1. Nelleke says:

    Excellent post, and wise advice on the pitfalls we can fall into. I’m looking forward to your next post on this!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thanks, Nelleke!

      I was planning to post the next installment yesterday, but life happened. It should be up next Monday.

  2. Kathleen says:

    This list articulated where I am at and #2 and 3 resonated with me, in particular. It is often hard to reconcile my teenaged son’s interests with what I think he should be learning/doing/reading… etc. If delight-directed learning was left to its own devices in this house, there would be a lot of electric guitar and Calvin and Hobbes. A fairly rigid “skeleton schedule” has kept us from wandering too far most days.

    Great post.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Love that about a ‘skeleton schedule’. I try to apply that idea, but this year I’m still trying to adapt our many outside activities into our schedule. At best, it’s a work in progress. Sigh!

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