I Ignore My Children

I have a question for you: as a parent, are you aloof? Do you ignore your children? If someone were to peep into your home at various times through the day, would they see you cuddling your children? Or would they notice how everyone was in different rooms doing different things?

Now, wait. Don’t be too quick to answer. And be slower even to assign guilt. That last one is harder to do than it looks.

I Ignore my Children

I do. They wake up in the morning and make their own breakfast. They clean up, do the dishes while I get ready for the day. Only then do we meet at the dining room table to go over what they have done for their sit down work. Only then do we cover history and science and maybe a readaloud.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Do I love my children? Fiercely so. But do I think that love needs to be expressed in terms of constant supervision and physical proximity? That gets an absolute resounding no.

But then Again…

You see, we say this and we even half believe it. I know you’re agreeing with me right now, but I bet the next bit of parenting advice you read on the internet is going to ask you to cherish your children. And you’re going to be back to blaming yourself for not watching their every move.

Remember the mom who posted on Facebook that her children looked at her and sought her smile and her approval something like 48 times in 15 minutes or something? And she concluded from this “experiment” that if she had been looking at her phone, she would have missed “all that.”

Well, okay, but she would have missed all that if she had been doing the dishes or cooking or cleaning as well.

Here’s the thing: good mothering does not equal constant attention. You cannot tell if someone is being a good mom or not by peeking in their homes and checking to see how many times the children and the mother are in close physical proximity – or, as in this case – the mom is dotingly watching her children play.

Somehow I think I would be hard pressed to find mothers at any time in history as concerned with how much time they are spending staring into their children’s doe eyes.

Huge Ramifications for Homeschooling

The reason I get so riled up about this is because in a lot of ways this kind of thinking can break your homeschooling. If you think that the only way to be a good mother is to be a constantly attentive mother, you will burn out.

Leave them alone for a bit! They might just surprise you. You might have to work with them a little to steer them in the right direction, but this is just like training them to read or do math.

This is the part that my friends who don’t homeschool don’t get. And this – in a nutshell – is the devil in the details. This, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling. And the fact that we leave them alone for a while – to do things on their own, to learn and struggle – is precisely the reason why homeschoolers outperform public schoolers in almost every statistic you can throw at them.

Love your kids, yes, but ignore them sometimes. It’s okay to be aloof. It’s okay to be in the other room, for goodness’ sake! It’s okay to leave a toddler with a few toys and tell him to play by himself for a while. And yes, it’s okay to take a shower! What in the world are we thinking?!

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Curriculum Planning: You Don’t Have to Have It All Figured Out

Ah, summer! Long days, kids running through sprinklers. It’s time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life again – vacations, getting out, camping, fishing and… curriculum planning.

Wait, what? But if you’re a homeschooler, you already know this. Every summer, planning curriculum takes up a lot of room in your head. The question is only this: when should I do this – before the family vacation or after?

I attended a business conference lately where the speaker said there was one thing – one very important thing – that kept people out of trouble when they were first starting a business.

That one thing was this: allowing themselves to be beginners.

The One Thing in Curriculum Planning

Ever heard the phrase “begin with the end in mind?” It’s a good phrase and a good idea in general, but where do you place the end? Are we thinking college? Are we thinking end of the year? Or end of the quarter? Where is the end?

I’d rather think of curriculum planning as driving across a dark highway with my headlights on. I can’t see the destination – I have an idea of it, though – but I can make the journey by seeing a few feet ahead of me.

In other words, I allow myself to be a beginner.

I don’t have it all figured out.

Why This Shouldn’t Worry You

I mentioned in 8 Curriculum Blunders Homeschooling Moms Make that this is the same impulse that drives them to purchase a boxed curriculum. Someone else has already done the research, they say, why try to reinvent the wheel?

Now, please, I’m not against all boxed curricula – there are some really good ones out there – Sonlight, for example, always gives me curriculum envy when I see it. What I’m trying to get at here is that if you’re the kind of homeschooler who blames herself because she isn’t organized enough to create a whole year’s curriculum and schedule, please don’t let that stop you from homeschooling!

It’s okay to be a beginner.

It’s perfectly fine to go slow, to figure it out as you go along.

Think of it the way you would about a read aloud your children particularly love. A chapter a day goes a long way. (Oh hey, that rhymed. Just call me Dr. Seuss!) And you can finish the entire book before you know it. Homeschooling a little bit like that. There’s no reason your curriculum planning can’t!

You don’t have to see the end of the road. Just far enough ahead to know you’re making progress.

Allow yourself to be a beginner.

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Must Read: Grit by Angela Duckworth

I had a chance to read Grit by Angela Duckworth the other day. If you remember, it was one I was looking forward to for a while.

It did not disappoint.

A must read for homeschoolers and unschoolers alike

It is a book I think every home educator ought to read. There is much talk today about grit and instilling grit in children and how to do so. In some cases, teachers are even grading children on grit.

But what does grit mean to a homeschooler and what can we learn from this book?

I think the best takeaway for me from this book was simply her reminder that before we can require the work of grit comes play. Grit is not something that can be taught in a vacuum. Indeed, before grit develops, there must be some level of interest. The best way to cultivate that interest is to expose children to a variety of activities that might turn into something in the future.

Before those who’ve yet to fix on a passion are ready to spend hours a day diligently honing skills, they must goof around triggering and retriggering interest. […] Novices aren’t obsessed with getting better. They’re not thinking years and years into the future. They’re having fun. In other words, even the most accomplished of experts start out as unserious beginners.

Duckworth mentions two more things about grit worth mentioning – one that it grows as you get older, something all of us reading will agree with, I imagine; and that the best style of parenting for developing grit is both demanding and supportive. This, she refers to as authoritative parenting. Not authoritarian, which it is often confused with.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I found it a fascinating read. And one that I believe belongs in every parent’s library.

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Choose Conversation – Not Curriculum

The best thing about homeschooling is not being around my children all day, although that’s one of the very good things. The best thing about homeschooling is the conversation – the unique perspective I get from them and what I’m able to give them.

Homeschooling is nothing if not conversations.

A Random Important Conversation

Consider this. We were riding along one day headed to the grocery store when my son piped up from the back of our minivan:

“Mom, money comes from the President.”

“No, that’s not true,” I replied. “Can you think of how money is created?”

“In the mint?”

We had a fairly long conversation about money and value and how it’s created after that. After all, one of the things we try to do often is to connect money, value and work for the children from a very young age.

I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Inviting Conversation

We leave room in our planning for conversation. Part of our car schooling strategy is to get out of the house once a week. When we are in the car, all we do is memorize. And leave a blank slate for conversations.

The most interesting questions come up.

“If the President changes, do all the laws change?”

“What are taxes?”

“How much money do we have?”

“What is a budget?”

“If we make something and sell it, the cheaper we make it, the more people buy it, right? That’s the way to make a lot of money.”

Start early

Of course economics, politics and civics are not the only conversations we have in the car but I am surprised by how often they do think about such things. These are the very things we seem to relegate to a much later age for teaching and I’ve often wondered why.

While I’m not a fan of preschool and early education, I absolutely think that even elementary aged kids can and should be taught basic economics, history and civics.

You don’t need a curriculum; all you need is conversation.

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Book Suggestion – Logic / Rhetoric Stage

I recently finished reading – no, devoured – Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire 

It is an account of the early life of Winston Churchill and a favor you must do yourself. I read it in two sittings and would have finished it in one if it wasn’t for the need for sleep.

A book of history for the Logic stage

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleryou know that I follow the classical system of grammar, logic and rhetoric rather than grade levels in our homeschool.

Hero of the Empire is everything I love about history and an excellent addition to the logic stage. Especially if your child is (or you are!) into war history. It follows the trajectory of the Boer wars and Churchill’s role in it and is chock full of various connections in otherwise discrete (but important!) names.

We meet, within the length of this book, Churchill as a boy and later as a young man, Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling and also Arthur Conan Doyle. We also learn a little bit about the Burberry coat and how it was made especially for the African weather. Yes, that same Burberry that is now ridiculously expensive.

Isn’t this fascinating?

Not Hero Worship

As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I sincerely hate about books of history is hero worship. I also do not like books that attempt to make up facts based on limited information. Thankfully, this book does not have those two problems.

It makes no attempt to hide Churchill’s arrogance, his father’s badly timed reports about the Boers or his mother’s affairs. But we still come away entranced by the events that followed because of the central character. This is the stuff of the best literature and here it is – all true!

Assign it to your children in the logic or rhetoric stage – or better yet – read it yourself. Your world will be richer for it.

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Self Control & Discipline: Don’t Listen to Your Friends

If there is one debate that rages more than all others among parents – and homeschoolers are no exception – it’s that of discipline. I bear the brunt of it sometimes on this blog as well. For instance, just last week, I got this non sequitur on my Facebook page:

The job world isnt (sic) so kind and forgiving, and they can’t just get up whenever they want, do the job when it suits them, etc.

Besides the blatant disregard the author employed for punctuation and logic, I want to point out the emphasis on discipline. It’s an age-old argument. It’s one I hear often.

“How are homeschoolers ever going to learn discipline?” I’m asked.

Even among homeschoolers this concern with discipline is particularly divisive. I can’t tell you how many times homeschoolers shun the word “unschooler” or straight up laugh at the idea of unschooling because “how will they ever learn to read?”

About Discipline

When it comes to discipline, people love to invoke one of two things – firstly, the “world,” as in, the job world, the grown up world, where they claim everything is drudgery.

It’s a world where they wake up every morning – supposedly, talk sternly to themselves about how they must get so-and-so done, proceed to whip themselves as they get dressed and head out – mangled and bloody – to apply themselves diligently to their job.

Second, they love to talk about self control for its own sake. They say discipline must be taught, it has to be learned and not just that – it can be taught for its own sake.

Neither of the above is true.

Yes, I exaggerated the first one. But only slightly. Are you seriously telling me that as an adult you hate every moment of your job? That you get no reward at all? No break except that blessed hour when you get to eat with a plastic fork?

Are you saying that you have to raise your hand to use the restroom, that you have no freedom in your day, that you spend it constantly accompanied, not allowed to chat or talk, looked at suspiciously, made to walk in a straight line with your hands behind your back and under the eye of someone who is supposedly doing it all to make you a better person?

If the answer is yes, you might want to check if you’re wearing orange. Because what I just described is the life of a prisoner. Oh, they’re “disciplined,” though. I’ll give you that.

The Only Discipline that Matters…

…is the kind that is employed for a bigger reason. In the words of T.K. Coleman, “The willingness to do something difficult is only meaningful if it’s exercised within the context of a worthy goal.”

Discipline shouldn’t and cannot be taught in a vacuum. Not true discipline anyway.

I am often told, for instance, that, as an Abstainer (one who prefers not to have something at all, rather than moderate the thing I want – for example, sweets) I don’t have enough self control to simply eat one piece only.

It is easier for me to just avoid cookies completely, for instance, rather than tell myself to eat only one. But no, Moderators have to lord it over me that their system of moderating is better than mine, that somehow they are inherently more disciplined than I am. But wait, doesn’t it take discipline to avoid the cookies completely?

“I teach it to my kids, too!” one mom proudly tells me. “I teach them to moderate their intake.”

We give ourselves pats on the back because sometimes our children are just like us. Their inherent personalities match ours, but here’s the thing: did we gloss over the fact that both this mom and I both did something in pursuit of a bigger goal and the discipline wasn’t achieved in a vacuum but was merely a system that worked? 

Discipline in context

So pay attention to the system, not the supposed virtue for virtue’s sake. No one but an ascetic makes discipline for discipline’s sake a goal and even there I would say the idea is questionable. Everyone but everyone uses self control to achieve an end result.

But it is in the nature of people – yes, even your friends and mine – to elevate one system above the other and make themselves out to be superior. And that’s okay. We all need to toot our own horns sometimes.

Just be sure you don’t fall for it. Don’t begin to question a system if it works for you and your children.

Don’t let offhand comments derail what you’re doing.

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Teaching Art at Home: 3 Resources for the Budding Artist

My daughter is a bit of a natural artist. While I like to write for entertainment, she likes to paint. The nice thing about homeschooling is that we have plenty of time to devote to honing such a craft.

If you have an artist at home, here are some resources to help him or her.


Okay, so this one is pretty obvious. But what you may not have realized is how much YouTube has to offer. A cursory check on it reveals videos that teach cartooning as well as more advanced training for someone who might be interested in comics.

My daughter will sometimes just browse and search for various cat cartoons and draw them. Hey, whatever inspires her!

I urge you to go search through the millions of videos on YouTube for whatever would inspire your child. Create a “playlist” and use it as an art curriculum.

Anna Nilsen

If you want to introduce your children to great works of art and teach them to develop an eye for them, do not miss Anna Nilsen’s books. Art Fraud Detective is a fun introduction to the great works.

The objective is to identify the real paintings and distinguish them from the fake ones. Throughout the book, art history is introduced along with the paintings.

If you love Art Fraud Detective, you can also check out The Great Art Scandal and Art Auction Mystery also by Anna Nilsen.

Museums & Others

While exposing your budding artist to great works of art in books, graphic novels and YouTube, make the time to attend workshops and other art fun organized by local museums as well.

I believe quite strongly that to get better at art, all you really need to do is create lots of it, but I also think that some outside inspiration can be the impetus to get going. So be sure to visit some free or inexpensive art classes and lessons organized by local museums every once in a while.

Have fun teaching art!

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Leave Something to the Imagination

It is with anticipation that I step into the shower every morning.

I have found it is my favorite time to think. It is the time when the best ideas come to me: ideas about this blog or books I am writing.

The shower is an excellent time, I have found, to plan my day or just listen to podcasts which give me motivation, infuse strength and a certain creativity into my life.

The Link Between Imagination & Planning

I like my days well-planned. In fact, I have three planners I use regularly – a blog planner, a to-d0 list and a journal. The routine etched out in these keep my days from moving forward smoothly. I wake up at the same time everyday and go to bed at approximately the same time.

I work with templates.

There is some truth, after all, to the Platonic idea that you can’t create something unless you have conceived it in your mind first. Jim Rohn in The Art of Exceptional Living says that if you’re laying bricks and someone asks you what you’re building and you say, “Well, I don’t know yet. Guess we’ll see what comes of it!” people will assume you’re crazy.

There must be a plan with some structure to build something worthwhile. But there cannot be a plan without imagination.

I like the tension between those. I tend to believe that all the greatness of the world is contained in that tension.

Why Should You Care?

I have written much about planning a good homeschooling day. My new book is in fact about crafting your own curriculum in a way that fits with your family and your individual personality.

You should care about this tenuous relationship between imagination and planning – the almost oxymoronic nature of it – because it’s central to your homeschooling. How you think of this can make the difference between thoroughly enjoying educating your children and hating the routine and rigidity of teaching them from a boxed curriculum.

Plan well, but then leave something to the imagination.
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Survey Time!

Happy Friday, homeschoolers!

I have created a quick survey for you fill out. Since the classical homeschooling community seems to be growing, I figured it would be a good idea to do one. I’m curious what you like, what you would like to see more of and what common interests we share.

It’s short and sweet – just three questions.

(Well… and a fourth option to add anything I haven’t covered.)

Help a lady out! Take the survey!

Create your own user feedback survey

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Books for Budding Architects

As I’ve mentioned before, I love looking through my children’s books. Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed at the book store or at the library, I will steal away into the children’s section. I always come away with renewed joy.

These books make me especially happy. If you have a budding architect in the family, I highly recommend them. You don’t have to hand them out or add them to the curriculum. Just strew them.

Iggy Peck, Architect

This is a fun story with great illustrations for the youngest. Little Iggy Peck just can’t stop building. You’ll love reading it aloud: it rhymes and the book is just a joy. And who can forget the tower of diapers?

For the Artist Architects

If your child likes to draw buildings, The Future Architect’s Handbook and Draw 50 Buildings and Other Structures: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Castles and Cathedrals, Skyscrapers and Bridges, and So Much More… are excellent book choices.

Both focus on drawing buildings in a step by step fashion that children ages 9 and beyond will find helpful and fun.

The LEGO Architect

If your child likes building but prefers to use LEGO for it, this is an excellent accompaniment to grow his talents. The LEGO Architect will give him inspiration for different styles and then use LEGO to build the structures.

Connecting history & architecture / for the fact fiend

If you have a trivia or history buff like my child, (he adores the Guinness Book of World Records) The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond is a don’t miss! It is a narrative history of various buildings with some fascinating details and lovely illustrations.

Also, Houses and Homes (from the See Through History series) is another excellent addition to your little architect’s library. Chock full of illustrations and trivia, it includes details about places like a Mayan home, an Assyrian palace and a French chateau.

Everything by David Macaulay

Okay, so not everything-everything, as my daughter likes to clarify, but all he has written about buildings. Macaulay is my favorite writer for architecture. His books are just beautiful – even the simple black and white ones. And imagine my thrill when I recently discovered they are now in color and revised! You must check him out.

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