For the Love of (Organized) Chaos

Homeschooling and unschooling both work because of the chaos they cause. Children, by nature, tend to be chaotic. As we get older, we begin to like the calm, the regular, the predictable. And into that step our children. This is good although not always fun.

Chaos Can Be Beautiful

Telling someone like me that chaos can be something to look forward to is not easy. I like my organized, scheduled, predictable life. But a book came across my path recently which did exactly that.

In The Chaos Imperative, the authors Brafman and Pollack talk about a term that I have grown to love – organized chaos. Because when I think about it, that’s exactly how our days look: yes, we do have some basic things we do each day. The children are responsible for making breakfast and some chores, but for the most part, they have to choose and figure out how to add meaning to their day.

Throughout the book, the authors call attention to the fact that it is not careful planning that leads to intelligence and creativity but rather some form of confusion or “white space,” as they refer to it. One specific example they mention is Japanese schools and their long recesses. Another is the neurobiology of how we get our ideas when we are being truly creative.

Organization IS important, but…

The caveat of course is that life is not to be one hazard after another. They tell the readers to “organize serendipity” – basically, create environments where people have some structure, but then within those, set time aside for micro white spaces.

That is what I set out to do with our style of classical unschooling. Too much structure brings me down, as do arbitrary rules, even when the children clearly need them. So I give them just enough and let them figure out the rest.

If you want to know more about how I apply organized chaos, read my books here:


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“I Wish I Had Started Sooner!”

Knowing how much I’m enjoying writing my blog, I recently thought: I wish I had started sooner! Along with my Facebook page and my books, my work has helped me connect with so many of you that I would otherwise never have met. It gives me a reason to wake up early and read widely. It gives me something to talk about, something to think deeply about, something to have deep convictions about. The blog helps me focus my energies in a way nothing has ever before.

Why Wait?

I should have started it a long time ago. Why didn’t I? Well, two reasons – one, I didn’t have the technical know-how and two, I was afraid.

These are the most common reasons I think that people delay doing anything. And homeschooling is no exception. But just like with a blog, the two can be dealt with rather effectively.

Technical details:

When it came to my blog, I asked a friend to help me set it up. I was unsure. At the time, my blog was called Unruffled Mothering with the byline “Don’t get your feathers in a bunch.” I didn’t really know it would work and I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. She very generously set it up and enthusiastically encouraged me to go with it.

Fear:

I still sat on it for eight months. Fear held me back. I was afraid – worried of having opinions, putting them out there, taking criticism. I wrote a little here, a little there. Nothing earth-shattering. And then, out of the blue sometime in late December, the idea of writing about our particular (peculiar?) style of homeschooling came to me. I mean, I was already doing it. Why not write about it?

It’s All Trial and Error, Anyway

As soon as that idea hit, it was as if the flood gates were opened. I began writing furiously. I didn’t need to agree with anyone, I realized. And no one needed to agree with me. I didn’t need approval and I didn’t need permission. More than anything else, I knew I was still figuring things out – just like everyone else around me. 

Why do I mention this? Because homeschooling can look at lot like starting a business or a blog. There are technical details that have to be worked out, but after that, the world is pretty much your canvas. You can choose to strike out on your own – knowing that you can fail – or you can choose to follow what others have done as long as you realize that no one has it all figured out completely. Everyone is using trial and error. 

Knowing this is powerful. It leaves you free to explore, free to make mistakes, free to learn.

Don’t seek permission. Figure it out.

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There is Never a Perfect Time

If you’re undertaking a new venture, it helps to know that there is never a perfect time to begin. This is certainly true of homeschooling.

As the weather cools and we enter fall, you might feel left behind if you were considering homeschooling this summer. Something held you back – the logistics, perhaps or you didn’t have enough time to think things through or create a curriculum.

Maybe you wanted to give it more thought.

All of these are (maybe) good reasons to delay the decision – but here’s one that not: it wasn’t the perfect time.

I find myself using this term – now’s not the time, maybe later – and it’s often to my detriment. By half hanging on to the hope of doing something but making no progress toward it, I deny myself the satisfaction of working toward a goal. On the other hand, by not cutting it off completely, I don’t get any closure on the matter. I don’t free up mental space to do other things, pursue other desires.

Instead, I’m teaching myself to remember that there is never a perfect time. Convictions matter more than timelines. If you are convinced that homeschooling is the path for you, explore it and take the leap no matter where in the school year you find yourself.

The legal aspects of this are important, of course, so be sure to consult the HSLDA website and file when necessary but it is my understanding that when you begin homeschooling in states that require an affidavit, you may file at at time.

Convictions take time to grow, but it is up to us to give them to raw material to do so. I’m talking about a good night or three having trouble sleeping. These are good things. These are what spur us on to do things we want.

There is never a perfect time, but there is a perfect conviction. Think and read until you develop one and when you have, don’t wait for anything else.

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Basic Economics: A Fish Story

If you’re looking for an excellent book on basic economics, look no further. Peter Schiff’s How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is an excellent addition to any respectable economics curriculum.

As I have written before, I was in my twenties before I asked the question, “What is money?” Today, I know it’s a question some people never ask.

I am a case of better late than never, I suppose.

The problem I came across was this: there are millions of bad books on economics and only a handful of good ones.

When you go looking, you can get everything from books on economic theory for the college student to books full of graphs and figures that set out to explain every acronym economists use.

Or you get a dumbed down version – for children, I suppose. (Please note: I am not here referring to The Tuttle Twins series, of which I have heard only good things. I intend to review those soon.)

And then of course, there are the ones that are just bad. And wrong. Libraries seem to love stocking them, though.

How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is none of the above.

Written as a tale about an island where the first three inhabitants set about catching fish daily with their hands, it quickly grows to include and explain bigger concepts like productivity, capitalism, entrepreneurship, lending and, yes, even the GDP, which the economists like to prattle on about.

Basic Economics

Replete with comic pictures, it is a serious book that will give you (and your children!) a basic understanding of how money works, especially in the United States.

It also delves into issues like the trade deficit, relations with China, the housing boom and bust, the role of the Federal Reserve and what we need to do to move forward well.

Even though it is a little dated, (it was written in 2010) the book is priceless for understanding economics.

I intend to add this to my children’s economics curriculum in a few years. While the child’s maturity definitely matters, I wouldn’t have them read it before they are well into the logic stage.

A great addition to your home library!

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A Little Pressure Isn’t a Bad Thing

I recently shared that my daughter cries during math. In case you’re wondering, we’re talking low level, basic elementary math. If you’ve read my book The Classical Unschooleryou already know that we do not use a curriculum. We simple learn basic math functions and drill math facts with flash cards.

I know this is the point at which some people lose me. In fact, I’ve been spoken to more than once about the matter – my friends who follow the classical model do not understand or respect unschooling and those of you whom I know to be unschoolers don’t like the drills or memorization. Both camps are entirely convinced that their side is right and education should be done their way.

However, I insist that you’re both right if that is what works for your family

Here’s what works for us: mostly interest driven reading and activities and some rote learning that can be recalled at ease. That’s classical unschooling.

In the Middle

Sometimes, I feel like the middle child in all these education debates. The older sibling roars and the younger one cries and the middle one has to get along with both. Or as a friend once succinctly put it, “We in the middle get shot from both sides.”

There are those homeschoolers who think that anything that offends their children must be removed from the curriculum. Anything that makes them cry isn’t good – they should not be pushed to do anything they don’t want to do. So the idea of crying – at flashcards, of all things – seems preposterous. Why in the world would I choose that?

And then there are those homeschoolers who like rigor. They like schedules. They want their children at the table, pencils sharpened, hair and teeth brushed at nine a.m. sharp. They finish the curriculum before they take a break and they never, ever veer off their time tables.

The second group insists that discipline is paramount and life isn’t walk through a park, so the kids might as well get used to it. The first group insists that actually, life should be a walk through the park and why bother memorizing so much and torturing yourself when it’s all on the internet anyway?

Because…

Because a little pressure isn’t a bad thing. It gives us opportunities to grow not just our knowledge but those rudimentary skills by which we acquire it.

Because it forces our brains to make connections and use them in other situations.

Because when I’m teaching math, I’m not just teaching math facts. I’m teaching my children how to deal with challenges.

Because we like to share worlds together and talk about things like current affairs and history and we can’t have good conversations without them knowing something about it.

A little pressure isn’t a bad thing because our homeschool is about equal amounts of curriculum and character.

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Everything is Not a Commentary (How Not to Read a Book)

I’ve been thinking about perceptions lately. It takes me back to my literature classes in college. I remember being enamored by the idea of metaphor, by the idea that I was seeing something of the writer’s mind – something that wasn’t quite there on the paper, but something the author was perhaps hinting at.

It ruined me as a reader.

How Not to Read a Book

My husband and I are re-watching the series Vikings lately. It’s been quite the experience. For one, I am struck by how much more on the second viewing, I am beginning to see the characters as just themselves – fictional, with maybe some historical setting, but fictional – and less as representations of something else.

I think the reason many people get in arms about books lately is because they’ve been taught that everything represents something else. Everyone is a symbol, we’re told. What is the author really trying to say here?

Sorry, Freud, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Everything is Not a Symbol or a Commentary

I think it’s important I teach my children this as they read. Sometimes a story can just be a story.

I can be frustrated with Athelstan (fictional, remember) as a character in Vikings, for instance, as a mealy-mouthed priest caught in the crosshairs of his crisis of dual faith, worshiping both Odin and Christ. I can even be irritated at the fictional representation of King Ecbert (fictional – don’t forget!) for being enamored by pagan customs without making the leap into anger at the people who wrote the story to show Christianity as weak and powerless. (By the way, I write this as a Christian, in case anyone is wondering.)

That’s just an example off the top of my head, but there are countless others. Just consider this list of books banned worldwide. Consider that we are now scrubbing all politically incorrect messages out of literature. Consider that Sweden is now burning copies of Pippi Longstocking because she “broke too many rules.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Why?

Why all the uproar? Is it because we believe we think too much and therefore see deeper into the text and others see too little? As homeschoolers, at least, we should be above this. After all, the homeschoolers I know and respect are the ones least afraid of conversations with their children.

Stop shunning books because you’re afraid of the symbolism in them or what they represent. Instead, hate them or love them for what they are. 

Everything is not a metaphor.

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Two Books for Homeschooling Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I take motivation and inspiration like I drink coffee. Not only do I need it, I want lots of it throughout the day.

I’m always looking for good books to inspire me.

I find that, as someone who hopes to instill inspiration and creativity in my children through homeschooling, my own supply should never run dry. So I’m always scouring book stores and libraries, hoping for a new perspective.

In that, the two books Peaks and Valleys and Ego is the Enemy did not disappoint.

In Peaks and Valleys, the author tells a story of a man who lived in a valley and wanted to live on a peak. He travels to the peak and meets another man who does live there and learns invaluable lessons from him.

It’s a simple premise, but its very mundane nature makes it a great metaphor for everything in life, including homeschooling.

Consider this quote as an example:

Avoid believing things are better than they are when you are on a peak,

Or worse than they are when you are in the valley.

Make reality your friend.

How many times in my day do I make things worse because I can’t put it into perspective? Long form division, anyone? Reading?

Interestingly enough, making reality your friend is reiterated in Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy as well.

Influenced by Stoic writers but drawing inspiration from Classical writers and current day characters, Holiday makes a great case for the proper perspective.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. Feast on it, adjust for it. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

Sounds like homeschooling to me.

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Gaming is for…. Moms?

I recently came across a fascinating book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is BrokenIf you haven’t read it or have qualms about video games and their ability to help us, I urge you to read at least the first 100 pages of the book.

In the book, McGonigal discusses why video games have such a wide appeal and why – instead of shunning or fearing their impact – we should embrace them. She explores how we can use them to even give incentives to people to do chores, be kinder, crowdsource new inventions and even better medical technology.

But all that aside, what caught my eye most was her assertion that it is housewives (and by extension, I would add stay at home moms) that need games the most. By games here, she is not referring to video games per se, although those could be part of it if explicitly chosen.

It reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about the real reason moms don’t manage their time well. It made perfect sense.

Reality can be repetitive and frankly boring. But if we were to turn it into a game somehow, could we achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to as “flow”: a state in which people are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience,” he said, they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”

He noted that it was especially important for children and housewives.

Alienated children in the suburbs and bored housewives need to experience flow. If they cannot get it, they will find substitutes in the form of escape. – Csikszentmihalyi

Unfortunately, he said this in 1975 and no one was paying attention. And today, we have Facebook, which I love but find sometimes depressing and frustrating. Definitely not flow inducing.

And so begins my hunt for a game for me – as a mom, as a homeschooler, as someone who is home with the kids all day. I’ll keep you updated.

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More on The Four Tendencies

This is part 2 of 2 in the series about The Four Tendencies. You can find part 1 here.

I’ve been reading The Republic and I’m beginning to think Socrates was a Questioner. And it gives me some insight into why he was finally given the option to be banished or executed.

Questioners are difficult creatures to live with.

I say the above a little tongue in cheek. Because so are Rebels. And Upholders – and don’t forget the Obligers.

In my last blog post about the four tendencies, I mentioned that I realized I was a Rebel. Knowing this one small detail has made my life easier than I ever imagined.

Your Child Has a Dominant Tendency and So Do You

Knowing my children’s dominant personality has helped us resolve conflicts that were otherwise springing up seemingly out of nowhere.

For instance, my daughter who is an Upholder tends to remember every small thing I said and hold me accountable for it.

Since she tends to meet outer and inner expectations herself, I have no problems with her getting her schoolwork done on time. She’s an A student all the way.

What I have trouble with is getting her to do something different. 

As a Rebel, her desire for Upholder stability bothers me incessantly. I imagine my constant Rebel desire to change it up annoys her as well.

I have learned therefore that the same things that make up her strengths also create her weaknesses. It’s just her dominant tendency. It’s best to work with it.

My son is a Questioner. I can’t just give him work and expect it to get done.

My husband and I were constantly struck by his seeming apathy. Except it wasn’t that. He just didn’t see the reason to do something.

So for him our strategy has to do with giving him clear motivation and reinforcement. Without a clear reward or punishment, he has no reason to act.

It’s not all bad, though. Being a Questioner makes him more likely to be self motivated when he wants to learn something. And because he is curious, he gets obsessed with things and finds out about them on his own.

Managing a Rebel Tendency

In my last post, I mentioned how motivations that worked for others had the opposite effect on me. The very things that others used as tools to get things done actually demotivated me.

Signing up in advance for 5K runs, getting a gym buddy, getting a trainer… these were driven by accountability and others’ expectations that would work for Obligers, but not for a Rebel.

For me to do something and to have the continued energy and motivation to do something, I had to believe I was going against the grain. Spontaneous workouts, runs while the children played in the park and weights like kettlebells and dumbells on our back patio worked much better.

Also, I had to believe I was eating right with a steady stream of research because lack of results made me abandon ventures. Eventually, I got it right.

Rebel tendencies have some great strengths, if they’re used right. I finally figured out how to work with myself and ended much of my frustration.

So, knowing this, what is your dominant tendency? And how do you work with it?

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Competition, Public School and Boys

Many who homeschool today will readily admit that they do so because they know public school is not an option for their family. It is not an option because they have mostly boys.

There are myriad reasons why this is so. To include a few of them would be to go over articles about canceling recess, making children sit still and the increased prescription of ADHD drugs.

But another reason public school is harder on boys has to do with competition and its effect on boys.

The Nature of Competition

According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of Top Dog, the hypercompetitiveness present in public schools is especially harmful to boys.

Girls do not react in the same way.

Most competitions are held over a defined period of time – 60 minutes of football. When the contest is over, competitors can relax, leave it behind and separate themselves from how well they did in the game. In schools this isn’t the case. The competition for good grades is endless, the comparisons never cease. It’s not just a game – it’s their life, with real outcomes. To lose in a game is something men can rebound from. But to be losing in life, day in and day out, gets to them. They can’t escape it.

The authors – who also wrote Nurture Shock – spend much time explaining the difference between how girls and boys react to the competition in schools. And while they are referring to elite schools in this specific chapter, the same goes for classrooms in general. According to Bronson and Merryman, females in general tend to do better in what they call “infinite games” and males in “finite games.”

Finite games have a beginning, and end, and the goal of winning. Between games, there is recuperation and restoration. Infinite games, by definition, can never end, and, since no winner is ever declared, the goal instead is to just stay ahead. With infinite games, there is no rest – only a waxing and waning of competitive intensity.

A worthy read.

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