For Unschooling Voices blog carnival, the question of the month is: What do you do, as an unschooling parent, when your child expresses an interest in a particular topic and you don't know how to help them in a way that doesn't involve lesson plans and curriculum?
I guess this is a hard question for me to answer, since we have always unschooled. We just do whatever it takes to learn something. We've never used lesson plans or structured curriculum, but I'm not averse to cracking open a book (even one that looks distinctly schoolish) if that's what it takes to help my kids learn something they want to. For instance, I picked up a copy of Cliffs Quick Review (by the makers of Cliff Notes) Basic Math & Pre-Algebra at one time. It has come in useful whenever we've had to do something mathematical that I can't quite remember the formula for - like calculating the median vs. the mean or deciphering statistical mumbo-jumbo. My first reaction to a question from my kids isn't typically to reach for a curriculum, but neither is my reaction to avoid any kind of formal teaching. I think if a kid is interested in something, there are many paths to take to approach that thing and no one path is necessarily better or worse.
When my son was interested in robotics for instance, we bought him the Lego Mindstorms robotics set, and checked out some books from the library to learn about building and programming different robots with the set. Then an opportunity came up for him to take a class from an actual robotics engineer at our local homeschooling resource center. That sounded like a great opportunity, so he went for it. As it turned out, the woman teaching the class knew a great deal about robots, but very little about passing on that knowledge to kids. So while he enjoyed some aspects of the class, it wasn't really what he was looking for. That summer, we heard that a mom who was coaching a FIRST Lego League robotics team was going to hold a small summer day camp with a robotics theme. Both of my kids decided to go to that, and from there ended up being on her FLL robotics team that fall (a year and a half ago). They had an excellent experience working with their team to compete in the FLL tournament. That coach moved away last year and I promised the kids that I would try my hand at coaching the team. As you can see from updates on this blog, it has been an amazing experience for all of us (as well as their teammates).
So in the case of robotics, as with so many other interests, we came at it from many angles - trying our hand at it, reading about it, looking for other resources in the community, people who are sharing their knowledge, etc. I think if you keep an open mind and really put your intention to learn something out there, you will always be amazed by the resources available to you. If not in your own community, the vast experience of the WWW is also at your fingertips. If we had lived somewhere with no robotics experiences open to us in real life, we could've joined forums and online communities and expanded our knowledge that way.