Why We Pay Our Kids to Keep Their Room Clean (and Do Other Basic Chores)

Every single time Dave Ramsey (the financial guru who has built his career out of telling people to get out of debt) mentions paying children a commission for work done and not an allowance, the internet loses its mind.

“Some things are done just because they’re part of a family!” is the line repeated most often.

“I do tons of chores around here for which I don’t get paid!” is the second most repeated line.

I get what they’re saying. Indeed, some of my closest friends subscribe to this thinking. However, we still pay our kids for their chores. Let me tell you why.

It ties money to work and value firmly in their minds from a very young age

I think I was 28 when I asked the most important economic question in the world: Where does money come from? And I didn’t mean a mint. When I was a child, I had made the connection between my father going to work and getting paid, but I still thought money was something given for time and not for the value one brought to the economy.

I know what you’re thinking – what child understands value? Well, I would argue that when they are paid according to the chores they can do, we get them started thinking in that direction.

For instance, my daughter who is seven, can do more important chores than my youngest son, who is three and they don’t get paid according to their need but according to the value they bring to the table.

Interpretation is important to a child, not just observation, but setting up opportunities that invite dialogue and discussion are just as precious. That’s what my husband and I aim to do.

It helps them apply their math skills

My children are paid every Friday. Then they get to choose to spend some of it, save some of it and give some of it to our church. We have minimum requirements for saving and giving and they get to buy either candy or a toy with the rest. Of course, we reserve the right to veto any purchase.

Because they spend so much time counting money and considering how much they’re going to be paid and how to spend it, save it and tithe it, basic money calculations become pretty easy for them.

We recently bought a Kumon workbook so they could practice their money counting skills but they had the hardest time. I was wondering why until I noticed that the coins were not to scale. Of course! I thought.

It gives a tangible count of wins and losses

I was listening to a podcast recently by Andrew Pudewa about motivating students and he made a very important point about winning and losing.

Pudewa said that motivation is either intrinsic (something children are naturally interested in), extrinsic (made into a game of sorts) or forced (also called the “or else” motivator.)

I find that paying for chores covers all three of these bases.

Megan McArdle in The Up Side of Down mentions briefly that punishment is most effective when it is consistent and quickly meted out, but more importantly, when recovery from it and rehabilitation is swift. This is easily done with commissions.

When the children don’t do their chores and payment is withheld, (we don’t do this often, but it has been done) they learn that it is not a devastating blow – that there will be another opportunity next week, another chance to win. This is incredibly motivating and teaches them an important life lesson – not to be crushed by failure, to look for the next opportunity; it’s just around the corner.

It gamifies their lives

My children love video games and I whole-heartedly support their passion. Recently, I watched Jane McGonigal talk about gamifying one’s life and how it can help even adults do better at difficult things. I know I perform better with the family budget, for example, if I can turn it into a game.

I love that the children get to experience the same excitement about their chores, that they don’t see work as work but as a fun exercise to create value.

Paying them for their chores gets them thinking in this direction.

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Homeschooling Moms Are Happier

…. and if they aren’t, they haven’t quite figured out that homeschooling is not the same as school at home.

I received a brave but terrified email the other day from a fellow mom who was drawn to homeschooling her children, but wanted to know how such a thing could possibly work for her family because, she said, she is also a writer.

Wouldn’t homeschooling take away from such a pursuit, she wondered. How much time did homeschooling take? When would she find time to write? And how in the world would she explain to her kids why they didn’t go to school?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was facing the same dilemma. It wasn’t that long ago that I was completely disillusioned at the fact that while all the other moms were rejoicing that their kids were (finally, finally!) back in school, it was life as usual for us year round.

It was the oddest thing, I realized, as I wrote back to her: there has been no other time in my entire life that I have been more fulfilled – as a person, as a woman, a wife, a mother, and – yes – as a writer.

Homeschooling gives you what other careers can only dream of – the ability to have fun while you work, the potential to see your hard work pay off right in front of your eyes, to see a specific project to the end, to pour the best of your intellect, creativity and every aspect of your personality into your own children.

Homeschooling is also the only career in the world that gives you the freedom to use the raw material of your experience however you would like and not a few writers have made it the springboard for their books, their small businesses and their side jobs.

There is a myth – partially created by the teaching community and partially by older homeschooling moms (who followed school curricula because they taught their children at home at a time when they couldn’t buy curricula unless they were a traditional school), I think – that teaching is hard.

It’s not.

What’s hard about opening a book and reading it to your child? What’s hard about following written instructions? Children are curious, they ask lots of questions, they learn some stuff along the way. That’s not hard. What’s hard is discipline.

What’s hard is trying to keep everyone in lock-step with their public schooled peers.

Conformity is hard, not homeschooling.

The real concern I had when I began, the concern my friend who wrote to me now has, the real concern of all homeschooling moms when they begin – whether they realize it or not – is conformity. It’s all those little what-ifs that constantly claw at us. What if I fail my child? What if he’s old enough to go to college and can’t add 2 + 2? What if she has no friends? What if he turns out, you know, weird?

But if you’re a writer, aren’t you already a non-conformist to some degree? You see things others don’t. Take heart, fellow mom. You’re on the right track.

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Difficulty for Difficulty’s Sake is a Terrible Teaching Guide

Just because something is difficult, it does not follow that is good or even desirable as a goal. Just because a story, a book or a poem is hard to read, a game tough to play, a skill particularly hard to acquire, it does not then mean that it should be on a teaching curriculum.

There seems to be a bias in learning. The more difficult a challenge is, the more it finds its way into school planners.

In graduate school the hardest books are the ones with the most bragging rights. Finnegan’s Wake, anyone? The harder it is, the more it entices us.

Why this preference for what is arduous, for what constantly calls on us to reach inside for Herculean strength?

The things that make people successful on a daily basis are not onerous.

In fact, everyday life – at least modern life – is easy if incredibly tedious. Answering emails, fixing broken things, solving problems, paying bills, sweeping, doing dishes, even homeschooling. This is not hard.

Showing up is half the battle. Following through is the other half. Somewhere in the middle, the magic happens – work gets done. A life is lived, the day is won.

Knowing this then why do we say to our kids that they should constantly be doing what is demanding? Why the preference for the most challenging curriculum? Why the bias against what they can enjoy as they learn? Why shun graphic novels? Why not work to their strengths instead of constantly probe their weaknesses?

Why, oh why, does everything have to be a challenge?

Do we live like that? I can tell you that the hardest thing I do lately is read all I can about running a website and history – two of my favorite subjects. I’m not jumping over hurdles to read books about math – a subject that I appreciate, but not one that interests me as something I would like to pursue.

Sure, the occasional challenges are good.

I make time to work out because I know it’s important, but exercise gets relegated into the realm of habit. I do it quickly enough to avoid it becoming a real trial. I try to make it as pleasant as possible, as easy to get done as I can. I listen to podcasts that I find interesting or music to keep me going.

Why then when it comes to the children do we place innumerable rules on them, most of which are designed to do nothing but challenge them at every turn? The marshmallow challenge anyone?

What are we hoping to prove? That they can rise to every difficulty life will throw their way? That the world is cruel and they had better learn now how to constantly tell themselves no?

Willpower is like a muscle. It’s not a bad idea to train it, but when every task – academic or otherwise – is chosen only for its difficulty factor, we can hardly blame children for giving up and hating to learn. This post explains quite well the options we have when it comes to training and educating children as well as ourselves.

Simple things motivate us, if only for their simplicity. Habits guide us, automating behavior. Occasional challenges are fun, even desirable, but we’re not – by any means – raising Spartans.

Toughness is overrated.

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Conversations = Education

The kids are fighting about who gets in the van first. Scrambling, pushing and shoving ensues. Someone gets hurt. "What…

Posted by The Classical Unschooler on Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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The Uses of Memorization

I just finished listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss about memorization with Ed Cooke, Grandmaster of Memory. You can find it here if you’re interested in listening to it.

I have written about memorization work in the past on this blog.

My children love memorizing and I have found that I often  have to provide no incentive for them to do so. They just like it in itself.

Memorization, I have noticed, might be the one thing that divides the classical homeschoolers from the unschoolers more than their politics. (And I say this knowing this to be an election year.) If you speak to a classical homeschooling mom, chances are her children are memorizing everything from Latin words that make no sense to them to American Presidents. They are also quite well versed in uses of mnemonics and can recite a breathtaking array of poetry complete with actions and articulations that make you think you are watching a play on Broadway.

Unschoolers, on the other hand, typically shun memorization. This was incidentally the breaking point for me when I mentioned to a friend and fellow homeschooler that I was having the children memorize poetry. She claimed that no self-respecting unschooler would do such a thing.

So while listening to the above post, I began to wonder if there was any use to memorizing at all or was I interested in watching people like Ed Cooke simply because he was an oddity in the way people read about the amazing feats of, say Guiness World Record holders?

Was there any intrinsic benefit to memorizing information, I wondered, beyond just being able to regurgitate it on to your tests?

It is an important question. Anyone, given time and practice can get better at memorizing with some techniques, some of which are discussed in this Ted Talk. But the question is, as effective as these techniques are, what is the point? What are we going to do with all this information? 

More importantly, in an age where information is available to us with simple voice commands, where encyclopedia are soon going to be as ubiquitous as putting on a pair of Google glasses, should we even be memorizing?

Doesn’t the opportunity cost almost beg us to use our time elsewhere? Memorizing takes a fair amount of time and effort; aren’t we better off using that time elsewhere?

Thankfully for me, the question was asked. And answered.

And I am happy to say that I believe memorization still has a place in a person’s life.

As a classical unschooler, I am more interested in giving my children the tools of learning (and making sure they use them often) than in covering any given curriculum. And I’m beginning to think that memorization is one of those most important tools. Yes, even with Google and Siri and whats-her-name.

Memorizing something, even a deck of cards, or a random list of numbers, according to Cooke, forces one to learn different ways of looking at things.

It forces you to categorize things differently in your brain. For instance, it makes you think of cards as people or of numbers as letters. This drawing together of disparate objects and putting them together in a different category than you would usually has a very practical application, even a personal one.

I think it is one I use almost instinctually and one that I usually get into trouble for. Maybe you do it, too.

Have you ever been doing something highly technical and then turned then inanimate thing you are working with into an anthropomorphous being in your head, maybe even someone you know? What did you do the next minute? You probably removed it from your mind! But that is exactly the kind of learning (because that really was a form of learning) you need to memorize and to have a rich inner life.

For that dear blog reader is where all this memorization work is taking you and your children.

Memorization isn’t just about growing your brain, although it does that, it isn’t about keeping your brain active into its older years, although it does that as well, memorization really is about making life more enjoyable, about making you more fun to yourself, a better person, a bigger person in your own being. Isn’t that what we all want anyway?

Because memorization forces you to learn to categorize, organize and remember information by changing its form, those skills can then be applied to things that are personal. How would you like to remember – in vivid detail a Christmas dinner you had with your first daughter from years ago? And wouldn’t you like to have the perfect memory of your first date with your husband? Taking the kids to Disneyland? Memorization can do that for you. This isn’t about history timelines or dead presidents.

This is about learning skills and tools that can then be used to give yourself and your children a richer life, no matter what they do. Tools that Google Glasses cannot ever hope to provide.

It’s something worth working toward.

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Reading Challenges For 2016 From Around the Web

One of the better things I have started doing toward the tail end of this year is keeping a journal.

It’s been a habit I’ve been quite enjoying and it’s a habit that helps me. It bookends my day and makes it easier for me to stay focused on what’s important as well as what I should be grateful for. It keeps my goals for the day, the week and the year in front of my eyes at all times.

My favorite goal (we can have favorites, right?) is to read 100 books this year.

In 2015 I read about 60 and in 2014 I read 51.

But lately everywhere I go online it seems reading challenges are popping up. So here’s a post about the various challenges. Pick one and get to reading! Join your local library. It’s free.

The Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge

Arguably my favorite and least fussy challenge. It asks you to pick a number of books and log them as you read them, mark them as done and review them for your friends. It doesn’t tell you what genre or what length. I like Goodreads as a place to log what I’m reading and get recommendations based on what I like. Plus, if I want to get really nerdy, there are discussion groups of every kind.

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

A friend introduced me to this one. It has a list with 24 tasks and a completed list qualifies you for a discount at the Book Riot store that sells some pretty great stuff for readers. I like it because it forces me to read books I wouldn’t usually read.

The Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge

If you’re more theologically minded and interested in a reading challenge, this one fits the bill. It gives you four different levels of commitment. You can pick between light, avid, committed and obsessed. Head on over and download the list!

The Redeemed Reader’s Reading Challenge for Kids

Loosely based on Tim Challies’ reading challenge, The Redeemed Reader has put together a challenge for the children. Find the list (in Google Docs format) here.

Hey, wait a minute… is there only ONE for kids? Unfortunately so. There are various local ones put together by public libraries, so be sure to check with your own. Summer seems to be the time when these challenges are presented to children because the majority of people still believe that children are too busy during the year to read.

So you know what? I made one.

The Classical Unschooler’s 2016 Reading Challenge for Kids of All Ages

Save the list, print it and stick it up on your fridge – one for each person who is participating. The next time you’re wondering what to read next, pick a category that looks good, find a book that fits and read it!

When you finish, check off the task and write the title of the book and its author in the blank. Finish the 12 tasks and email me the completed list!

Now, go read a good book!

 

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The Classical Unschooler’s 2016 Reading Challenge for Kids of All Ages

 

I don’t know what it is about 2016 but it seems like the internet has unanimously decided that we need a reading challenge. I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I have mentioned elsewhere that my personal challenge is 100 books read cover to cover in 2016. But, but, but… wait! In all these challenges, did we forget something?

Um, hello. What about the kids?

What are they doing all year? Don’t they need a challenge, too?

So, dear reader, I did it. I made a reading challenge for kids… well, of all ages.

Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

The Basics

We start on January 1st, 2016 but feel free to jump in any time throughout 2016!

You can find the challenge here. It’s a simple Google Doc with 12 categories, one for each month if that’s how you choose to do it.

Save the list, print it and stick it up on your fridge – one for each person who is participating. The next time you’re wondering what to read next, pick a category that looks good, find a book that fits and read it!

When you finish, check off the task and write the title of the book and its author in the blank. Finish the 12 tasks and email me the completed list for each person before 10 a.m. (Pacific time) on December 31, 2016.

Endlessly Adaptable

The challenge has intentionally been labeled as “for kid of all ages.” The tasks are endlessly adaptable. Feel free to scale the selections down to the level of 6 and 7 year olds and up to the adult level.

As long as the book fits each individual characteristic, the age of the reader does not matter. And yes, of course you may read the books to your children if they can’t yet read for themselves.

The Prize

Of course there’s a prize. You didn’t think there could be a challenge without a prize, did you?

There isn’t just one prize. There are two!

Send me your completed lists (email is on the Google doc) and I will draw two winners to receive a $50 Regal Cinema movie gift pass each! Ta-dah!

So what are you waiting for? Get your kids on board and get them reading this year!

Questions? Comment below.

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Why You’re Failing – Three Quizzes to Make You a Better Mom and Homeschooler

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for quizzes. I guess that gives me away as a homeschooler, huh?

I even like those silly Facebook ones. (No, no, not the ones that tell you what your name means. Come on, people. Have you never heard of Google?) I recently took one that told me I liked quiet Christmases at home after I had caught a horrible cold and turned down three invitations. That made me feel cozy. Also, it told me I was like hot chocolate, which made me hungry too, but I digress.

Silly ones aside, a well designed quiz can give you a perspective on your personality that you haven’t had before.

We all know how our thoughts sound on the inside – we don’t need any help there. A well designed quiz though can help you see your own weaknesses and strengths in a slightly more objective light. A quiz that does what it says can solidify nagging doubts you might have had about yourself and help you navigate daily life with more information and generally can enhance your own chance of success – whether as a homeschooler or a mom or just as a person in general.

A well-designed quiz can remind us of and remedy the fact that sometimes failure is just lack of self-knowledge.

Here are my three favorites – handpicked to give you a greater chance of success at homeschooling and life in general. Go, mom!

16 Personalities

This test is based on Katharine Cook Briggs’ test, the Myer’s Brigg’s Type Indicator who in turn based her work on Carl Jung’s psychological types.

The test assumes that every person prefers a certain cognitive function over others and finds it easier to rely on it in everyday situations. This test measures introversion/extraversion, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving and intuition/sensing.

I’ll share my own experience with the test. I always showed up as an INFJ until recently when I showed up as an ISTJ. That was huge! I went from a quiet, inspiring idealist to a practical, reliable person. Eeek! Was there some mistake, I wondered. It was late at night, so I took the test again the next morning. Same answer.

Interesting! I thought. Maybe something about homeschooling changed me.

It sure would make sense because some of my friends tell me I’m nothing like an unschooler now, even though I cling doggedly to my claim on that title.

What Kind of a Homeschooler Are You?

Of course, while we are on the topic of homeschooling, I have to mention this one.

I have written about it in the past and one mom I look up to mentioned to me that she showed up as an unschooler and she would have never thought of herself as one. I love this quiz, however, and it gives you a pretty good idea of where your strengths lie.

Do not, for instance, buy desks and a chalkboard if you score low on traditional schooling. Just a thought.

The Four Tendencies

This one was created by Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite non-fiction writers. If you haven’t read her books, you should immediately find a copy of The Happiness Project and read it today. I love that when I read her writing, I feel like I’m having coffee with a friend I haven’t met in years and in the time she has been away, she has learned some amazing things she is now sharing with me.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing.

My experience with this quiz was that it settled something in my mind. I’ve always wondered why – when it came to some social groups (not all) – I wanted desperately to belong but too much intimacy made me feel, in fact, distant. If someone told me to do something, I was less likely to do it unless I was completely convinced this was the best thing to do and was committed heart and soul to doing it.

This quiz showed me that there was a reason I tend to behave like this. My dominant tendency is that of a Rebel.

It was as if a light had been turned on in my head. Of course! I thought. It was a relief. And it explained much of my annoying behavior. (Yes, Rebel personalities annoy themselves because they don’t want to listen to themselves, either.)

All this to say…

Try the quizzes. You will be most successful as a homeschooler or a mom if you play to your strengths.

If you’re a Rebel personality and score high on the traditional school, hey, maybe homeschooling is not for you. Then again, if you’re an Upholder and score high on unschooling, you might want to find an unschooling group to support you (or start one to lead!) and you might find fulfillment in that endeavor that lasts well beyond your homeschooling years.

If you’re a mom, the same rules apply. If you’re an introvert, don’t sign up to direct a show. Play to your strengths. This is only going to reveal information about yourself to you. Put it to good use!

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5 Reasons Facebook Makes You Miserable

We recently had a wonderful visit with family from out of state and one of the more interesting discussions centered around everyone’s frenemy Facebook.

Some refused to use it, some deleted their accounts and others were in favor of limiting their use, even removing them from their phones to do so.

I too in the past have been one of those people who deleted my account. I decided I would never come back to Facebook, that I would be happier (not to mention, productive!) without it. Clearly, I came back. (Follow me here!)

So what is it about this social media site that makes everyone love to hate it? I have a few guesses, five to be precise.

#1 It “Shoulds” All Over You

You really should put down your phone, you know, you should observe and watch your kids because, God forbid they ever look up at you for approval and you’re reading/checking your screen, or, you know, doing dishes or cooking. How dare you, mom? You should be watching them all day long with adoring eyes. (I hope the sarcasm is coming through. I’ll stop. I will, I promise.)

But the “shoulding” unfortunately doesn’t end with making you feel guilty about your screen time. There are other forms of shoulds so common on social media, we almost don’t even notice them.

You should be more loving, you should be eating ice-cream, no, wait, that’s not healthy. You should be eating healthier, you should be working out. It’s your birthday? It doesn’t matter that you want to stay home and read. You should be out having fun.

It’s not that anyone comes out and says it to you per se, of course. It’s just that social media in its highly selective (all your friends) and yet universal (all your friends from everywhere you’ve ever been) creates an environment that fools you into believing that all those opinions matter.

It shoulds all over you.

#2 It Creates a Community of Sufferers Suffering Together

How many times have you been so angry you had to go to your Facebook page to vent and later regretted it?

You’re not alone.

Unfortunately so.

Angry vents make up quite a bit of my personal newsfeed and I imagine yours as well. What does that do to your emotional state and how you respond to your world? After all, remember this experiment conducted by Facebook?

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.

Perhaps the worst thing that does is justifies your bad mood by commiseration. Now think about what would happen if you didn’t share that experience. You would probably brush it off. You would maybe even forget about it.

But now that you have five hundred of your closest friends commenting on it and discussing it days after it happened, you’ve prolonged your indignation.

#3 It Interrupts Your Day

Which leads to the next reason for my frenemiship with social media: interruptions.

I noticed that ever since I downgraded from a Samsung Note to a Motorola, (thanks to Republic Wireless for bringing down my phone bill to $10 a month!) my Facebook notifications are hit-or-miss. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier!

Turning off notifications meant I wasn’t interrupted throughout my day. As I have written in another blog post, I already deal with interruptions through my day and they have a way of draining me and leaving me with a feeling of not having accomplished anything through my day.

Social media notifications add one more interruption to the mix. It’s hard to ignore the flashing light when the children are doing their math drills or writing practice for the day. It’s easy to pay attention to the urgent and ignore the important.

Thankfully, this one is easily fixed. Turn off notifications.

#4 It Forces You To Think In Snap Decisions

If you’ve ever read historical letters, you would likely be struck by how well-argued they were. These were times when people sat down and thought through their theses, took pen (or quill!) to paper and – most importantly – formed a coherent opinion.

We all know about the “type Amen” or “Pass it on – God is watching” posts and, rightfully so, ignore them. But how many of us repost or hit the thumbs up “like” on things in a hurry in our newsfeed just because they agree with our knee-jerk response?

Worse, how many of us are found forced to form opinions in the midst of cooking dinner – or teaching reading – about big things like guns, life, death and the next Presidential Election and then trying to write about them on a small screen letter by painstaking letter?

We can only be passionate about a handful of things at a time and they’re probably all related. But they show up on our newsfeeds as a constant barrage. Write a book or a letter; avoid sharing them on social media. Just a thought.

#5 It Offers the Perfect Life

We all know about this one. We’ve all read the post about why yuppies are unhappy and how it relates to social media.

Of course no one puts pictures of sad things and things going wrong on Facebook and I would argue that doing so –  far from giving you a sense of balance – would seem equally glorifying of the lazy, ugly and unruly side we all possess.

Just the fact that something is on a screen and being watched gives it value in our minds. Just like putting something in a book gives it a certain respect. No matter what. (I don’t know if it’s years of media exposure or what, but changing what we put on the screen to reflect reality just does not work. Because ultimately in choosing one or the other, we edit, opine and otherwise stitch things together to present to an audience.)

And, honestly, I find it takes much less time to clean up a room than to take pictures of it and post it to show how “real” I’m keeping it.

Final Thoughts

All this to say, I still love Facebook and see it as an integral part of my day. But I try to remember that nothing is perfect and trying to keep the above five things in perspective helps me distance myself from much of what would otherwise be a small annoyance or probably just ruin my day completely.

How do you keep your sanity on Facebook? I’d love to hear!

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What Crossfit, Paleo and a Bicyclist Taught Me About Homeschooling

People who know me know my second love after homeschooling is lifting and that I love listening to podcasts while swinging a kettlebell around on my back patio in the mornings.

This morning, I was listening to one such podcast (The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf) when two things struck me very clearly. Call it an endorphin rush if you will, but it was almost as if there was crystal clarity in my head about two very important things (that had nothing to do with paleo eating, by the way – sorry, Robb!) in that moment. It all just seemed to fit – and I pretty much wrote this entire blog post in my head.

Also, after yesterday’s epic rant about the classroom model, I felt like I had to elaborate so as to not lose those five followers I have in the blogosphere.

All right, so here goes. It all makes sense in the end – bear with me.

No Matter How Right / Good / Experienced You Are, Someone Will Question and / or Laugh at You

The first thing that struck me pretty early on was when Robb was talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which – as I understand it – is something like mixed martial arts and he said that the bouts lasted five to ten minutes. Now, as someone married to a guy who used to do this kind of thing, I know how long five minutes can seem in a bout. Also, if you’ve ever even punched and kicked a bag for two minute rounds, you know the clock pretty much stops dead. (And the bag isn’t even punching back!) Anyway, trust me – five minutes is looooong and ten minutes is an eternity.

What made me almost choke with laughter was that during this exchange, the guest, who is in own right is a pretty well renowned bicyclist, laughed and said,

“But it only lasts five minutes.”

And that made me think about the reality of life in general and homeschooling in particular for a few minutes. Because it’s often like that.

People who have no clue what the other person is doing or how hard it is or how technical it is will often pipe up and say things like that. People who recommend homeschool advice, people who ask stay at home moms what they do all day, people who assume unschoolers are lazy, we really have no clue.

We have no clue. It’s all hard and it’s all different and just because you’re proficient at one thing doesn’t make you proficient, educated or experienced enough in everything else to have an opinion about it. This goes for the soccer mom and it goes for the school-at-home mom.

The next time I want to give advice to a mom who does not want to teach without textbooks, I’m going to think of this bicyclist saying, “It only lasts five minutes.”

And then, I’ll shut up. Well, I’ll try.

But the point is, it will happen. It will happen often enough that you will shake your head and wonder why such a stupid thing came out of the mouth of someone who is otherwise so smart. And the answer will be, well, because. Because he’s a person and people can be incredibly well-meaning and insanely intelligent but also amazingly silly.

And as a homeschooler, you have to be able to let it go. If you take every piece of advice, comment, awkward dialogue personally, if you begin to believe it, you will fail before you even start. You almost have to have the reaction the podcaster had in this case, which was to say, “Yeah,” and move right along to the next thing.

Competition Isn’t The Best Way

Now, now, before you start to roll your eyes, I’m not talking about this as an economic policy. Also, I’m not a fan of banning keeping score at a sports game and giving everyone a consolation prize. I’m referring here to the knee-jerk idea of using competition to teach a skill, a character trait, a new concept or even basic information.

Why do we think that lining children up and asking them to say the right answer and giving them a prize is the way to make them learn something?

Well, because it works. And therein lies the rub. Yes, it works. The caveat is that it works for some. The even bigger caveat is that it works some of the time. 

Certain people have personalities that are driven by competition. As Robb Wolf put it, “men will die for points.” He gave the example of Crossfit gyms that put people’s names on the board that have timed bests – most reps in five minutes, most deadlifts, burpees, whatever. And he found that these gyms attracted that kind of personality.

On the face of it, that sounds like a good thing, right? What’s the harm in getting better, faster, stronger? However, there is a flip side.

And the flip side was that these very same people interested in elite athletic training, these same people driven by competition were not as interested in learning proper form, were not concerned with preventing injuries, indeed were not interested in anything but the focused attention on winning, almost to the detriment of their health.

Additionally, gyms that catered to this personality not only LOST the majority of people who were interested in being healthy and increase mobility and could be helped without resorting to competition, but they also eventually went under. And this was because in Robb Wolf’s own words,

“At some point I don’t care how tough you are, how wired up you are for suffering. At some point you decide that you’ve had enough of that and you leave which is a real shame for these gyms because that’s usually somebody that’s been in a gym 2, 3, 4 years and then they end up peeling out and that’s a huge shame.”

He would know. He helped to co-found the very first and fourth Crossfit gyms in the world.

To bring this back to homeschooling, however, is it possible that at some point, our children could simply want out of the so-called competition? When there’s no one to impress? When there are no stickers, no candy, no prizes, will they still remember what they learned? I’m all for tests, but they are not the be all and end all of everything.

Does this seem too far-fetched? Am I stretching the analogy too much? I don’t think so.

Competition might work for short amounts of time, but getting students to learn based on competition alone increases class participation but does little else for learning. If we accept that children are unique, it’s time to dump the competition model and find something better.

(If you’re interested in listening to the podcast I have been referring to in this blog post, you can listen to it here.)

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