5 Reasons I Let My Children Play Video Games But Limit Their Television

In our family, it’s no secret that we love video games. We are not screen averse. While we do set aside our electronic gadgets when we’re at the dinner table and in the evenings to spend time together, we do not consider that all screens are created equal.

We distinguish between television and video games, limiting one and not the other.

We firmly believe that the two forms of media could not be more different.

Video games are interactive, television is passive

I dislike television. My children know this. I honestly don’t think it’s enjoyable. Unless I am eating or drinking while watching television, the quality of what I’m watching has to be incredible for me to remain interested. Otherwise, I get bored.

It’s not just me who thinks so. Watching television by its very nature is a passive activity as can be seen in this pattern of brain waves.

Even if what you are watching is a documentary, television seriously limits thinking. It encourages you – no, requires you to passively accept the world of the show to be able to enjoy it. Also, because television is so visual and so realistic it is easy to accept it as a reality. After all, you saw it happen.

As such, we limit television watching. When the kids do watch movies, especially Disney movies (yes, I hate most of them) we make it a point to talk through the themes they beat kids over the head with um, explore.

While this blind acceptance of the creator’s worldview can happen in video games, there are more options to choose from. Clearly, I’m not suggesting you buy Grand Theft Auto for your kids. We certainly do not.

Minecraft, Castle Crashers, Alien Hominid, Terraria all have their own worlds that you can go explore. None of them are realistic in the way television is and the children don’t for one second believe that this world is somehow real. Not even the youngest one.

That is because there is constant thinking involved in playing video games. Both require a willing suspension of disbelief, but television requires an extended period of not thinking.

Video games encourage creativity

Video games can’t possibly be creative, right? What’s creative about a controller and some blips and blops on the screen? Where’s the art form in that? Isn’t creativity something you do with paint and music? Where’s the color, for goodness’ sake? Nah, video games can’t be creative.

Well, actually, they can.

5 Reasons I Let My Children Play Video Games But Limit Their Television

Creativity, in its broadest sense, is the ability to look at problems from different perspectives and try to solve it in a way that gets the desired results. If you only accept the definition of creativity that involves paint and color, you are saying that Picasso was creative, but not Einstein.

Watch kids playing Minecraft or interacting with a new app on the pad. Think of how many different ways they try to make sense of the game and what to do next. Will this work? No. Why not? Maybe this will work. Let’s try that.

What is this if not creativity at its fullest? The mind is stretched beyond its ability in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow” in his book of the same name, which I quoted yesterday. This causes thinking to expand and push the limits of what it’s capable of.

There are valuable skills that can be picked up from video games

Those who sneer at video games and see only violence and problems are probably reading bad propaganda. There is no link between video games and increased violence. Yes, this is regardless of what the APA says.

(One of the reasons I have been hesitant to quote research studies in this article is because it is almost impossible to find studies that don’t begin and end with bias regarding this matter.)

I find that my children have an increased understanding of how the world works through playing video games. The first time my children played Minecraft, I was amazed at the level of cooperation that emerged out of that one game alone.

While they fought over toys in the living room, suddenly when the game came on, they banded together, reading from the Minecraft Secrets book and working together to build and houses and worlds and defeat zombies.

It was breathtaking.

Unlike television where the people and situations are realistic but locked in a highly artificial world, video games feature artificial characters in a relatively open world facing semi-realistic situations.

5 Reasons I Let My Children Play Video Games But Limit Their Television

The player then has to figure out how to manipulate his environment to be able to get where he wants to go. He needs to figure out if he has to cooperate with other players, attack them or go learn some more skills, solve puzzling situations to be able to advance. This requires picking up skills that can transfer to real life situations.

It is a world in which the children have control

When I watch my recently turned four year old love TerrariaI understand why. It’s because in this world, he is not limited by his size. As the youngest in the family, he is left to ask permission and help in almost everything he does. He can barely pour milk into a bowl for cereal from a gallon jug. If clothes are turned inside out, he has trouble wearing them. We are constantly telling him that his shoes are on the wrong feet.

Real life, for him is relatively difficult and full of challenges. He needs assistance in getting through much of his day.

The only place this is not true is when he is playing his favorite game. Then he is in control of his environment.

He can lift things and move them around; he is happy; he can play with his friends and his siblings. For a little while, he is not the youngest, not the weakest in the bunch. He is a team player and one of them. He belongs.

Even as adults, we are satisfied when we have more control over our environment. (In fact, research says that adults playing video games had reduced stress levels and even reduced pain.) Our stress levels go down. We feel better. We can then tackle more difficult tasks.

Why would we want to keep this same enjoyment, the same feeling of accomplishment from out children?

Television on the other hand does not reduce stress. In fact, people do it as a purely passive activity and even report high levels of depression while watching television. Watching television also contracts time, according to Claudia Hammond in Time Warped, leaving you with nothing to show at the end of the day.

Video games teach kids that failure isn’t forever or devastating

Megan McArdle in The Up Side of Down mentions how failure is a good thing to learn early in life. If we have been shown that failure is not something to fear, if we can recover from failure, we are that much more likely to be successful.

5 Reasons I Let My Children Play Video Games But Limit Their Television

If we keep pushing it into the future, failure can have the power to devastate us. That is why punishment is necessary while children are growing up to train them.

I find this to be incredibly empowering when the children play video games. They have unlimited lives. Doing the wrong thing hurts, but does not destroy them. There’s always another chance.

My daughter, who used to behave like she was physically hurt by making mistakes, picks herself up, shakes off the dust and moves on. No blame, no shame. She’s not trying to find someone to complain to. It’s almost as if she’s – gasp! – taking responsibility and moving on to try it one more time.

Television does not offer this kind of recovery from failure, no matter how many times children’s movies tell them to follow their dreams.

So no, you can not lump all screen time together and call it digital heroin. There are differences and those differences are huge.

Now excuse me while I go storm a castle.

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Your Homeschool Needs a Finish Line

Starting lines are important, but so is a strong finish line.

Last week was the first time my children heard about summer break.

“Really?” my seven year old exclaimed when told that public schools closed for almost three months in the summer.

That was the beginning of their dissatisfaction. But it wasn’t just that. We have various camping trips planned this summer and they weren’t coming soon enough. We’ve done all the book learning and memorization we wanted to for now. We need a break.

My planning has missed the mark a bit – we lost the last sticker chart and I didn’t time our camping / fishing vacations well enough.

Do you Need a Break or a Finish Line?

Classical unschoolers, homeschoolers – call us what you want – learn everywhere all the time. Most of our learning occurs through conversations anyway. We accept that we don’t need a classroom to learn in.

Learning is fluid and we are always “on.” There is tons to learn and it’s all very interesting. But we are also human and we get tired.

No matter how much we tell ourselves that there is no reason to stop, at some point, we need a break to recover if only to catch our breath.

No External Rewards?

However, most unschoolers I know don’t like sticker charts and other external motivators. Traditional homeschoolers also tend to shun them because they believe learning (and all virtue) should be its own reward. That’s another reason they do not pay their children for chores.

But that’s awfully Stoic of them. And much as I’ve enjoyed reading Meditations, that Roman philosophy is not for me.

Everyone is motivated by rewards. So are you, if you think about it. We do not learn in a vacuum. We learn something because it has value to us. Either it interests us or it helps us move forward in the pursuit of some other goal. The only discipline that matters is one is pursuit of a larger end.

As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to create various finish lines for our children. They don’t have to be sticker charts and they don’t have to based on the public school calendar, but they do need to give them goals and a sense of accomplishment and closure.

So do your end of the year / summer school pictures or take a great vacation. By all means, motivate your children with sticker charts, goals and video games, if need be. Or take those sticker charts and put them toward a bigger reward you’ve chosen.

Don’t accept a finish line just because it’s handed to you. Establish some great finish lines – on your schedule and motivated by your needs. And walk through them with your family.

A finish line can be a huge motivator. Don’t dismiss the idea just because you homeschool.

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Don’t Judge Homeschooling By Summer Break

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is here.

As of now, if you’re a public school parent, you are looking forward to spending more time with your children, finishing up the last of the work for the school year and packing for or planning getaways.

That won’t be the case in another two to three weeks.

First you will groan about how the kids want to play on their electronic devices all day. Then there will be attempts to get around that. Then there will be some complaining on social media that the kids are bored. Then, that you are tired. Finally, there will be an all out countdown to the beginning of the school year.

And based on this, there will that inevitable question voiced thus:

How in the world do you homeschool and have your kids at home ALL DAY EVERY DAY? I was ready for them to go back to school in less than a month! I could NEVER homeschool my kids!” 

But, but, wait… hold your horses! Homeschooling is nothing – nothing at all – like summer break.

Let me explain why you shouldn’t judge your ability to homeschool based on your summer break or the way your child behaves during this time.  

Summer Break is not Representative

Here’s the thing to remember most: summer break is artificial. It is an interruption. Whether it began as a time for people to be able to work on their farms or as a reason for people to leave town is immaterial to today’s world. Today, it is mainly a pause, a time to relax, have some downtime, recover and get ready to get back to school.

Many homeschoolers do not take summers off. They take breaks around their schedule, when they take vacations, when they get sick, or when they need to. But we do not have a designated twelve weeks off because, frankly, that’s too long.

Twelve weeks are too long to learn nothing, do nothing and think you’re going to be sane. I don’t care how hard you’ve worked or how much you think you need a vacation – human beings are simply not made to be idle for so long.

So instead of summer breaks, homeschoolers tend to incorporate learning year round. As a result our learning is much more relaxed throughout. There is no need to rush and get it all done in nine months when there are twelve in the calendar year.

Too Much, Too Much

There is far too much going on in the summers. Think about it. You have a vacation planned, there are probably cousins coming from somewhere. There are weddings planned and camping trips and swimming lessons and dance classes and oh-goodness-knows-what-else.

With a packed calendar, there is hardly any time to relax! Add to that the fact that everyone is clearly expected to be having fun, fun, fun all the time. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Homeschoolers often insist that children be bored sometimes. Entertainment need not be offered; it can be created. But organic play of the sort I’m talking about does not come about by packing calendars full. It comes from being left alone. This sort of “boredom” is inevitable when homeschooling is done right.

Yes, Our Kids Annoy Us Too

Children are annoying. Yes, they’re difficult. They can make you want to tear your hair out even when you love them and would lay down your life for them. Homeschoolers are not saints, in the common use of the term.

We get tired, too. We get angry. But here’s the thing: we recognize that the solution is not packing them off to a place where there is no autonomy for them and no authority for us.

Instead, homeschooling allows us to find ways to remain parents and find ways to give our children the tools to become adults at their pace in an environment that supports both without being overwhelming. We consider our flaws, our strengths, their flaws and strengths and work together.

Are there hiccups? Sure. Do we fail? Of course.

But without an entire bloated administrative system watching our every move, confusing matters with unnecessary studies and tests and failed ideologies, our failures are small and quick and can be worked through swiftly.

Homeschooling, in other words, is the complete antithesis of summer break.

So if you’re considering homeschooling this coming year, don’t just “try it out” this summer break and keep all other things equal. Truly consider forging your own path. Do your research – here’s an entire summer’s worth of reading for you, spend time deschooling yourself and your children, talk to other homeschoolers, browse this blog.

And above all, remember that summer break tells you absolutely nothing about what homeschooling is really like.

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Here’s Why a Kindle Might Be the Best Gift For Your Homeschool

Our family of five owns five Kindles. One Fire for each of the children and 2 readers for me – the plain-no-frills-attached reader and the Paperwhite.

We are certainly no strangers to technology. We love it and embrace it fully. But in this post, I want to point out how the Kindle in particular has been an excellent addition to our homeschool.

So let’s get into it.

Kindle Fire

As mentioned above, each of my three children own a Kindle Fire. We love it. I can’t believe we homeschooled without one for years. I have written another blog post about some of my favorite apps, but I have to mention some here as well.

My middle child sees himself as a bit of a polyglot and is currently learning Spanish and Italian on Duolingo a FREE app. My daughter sticks with Spanish.

I have various games downloaded onto it. Two which make their way onto the kids’ schedule are Stack the States and Stack the Countries.

There are other excellent games and apps for all grade levels, making the Kindle Fire great for homeschooling. It is also chock full of parental controls. For instance, it allows you to share only what you want with your children from your Kindle account. You can set times and schedules and add or remove features of the device itself. I have, for instance, disabled the camera on all the Kindle Fires because I find it annoying. I also find that the children do less with the games when they have the camera, so we have not used it.

Amazon Prime

If you have Prime, you know it’s worth it. My toddler accidentally signed us up for it, no joke! But we’ve been so happy with it that we kept it. Besides the free shipping option, there are various other perks associated with Prime membership you can include into your homeschool.

Here are a few:

Prime Music – You can save, like or dislike songs and poetry from various stations and stream them directly to your Kindle and / or phone.

Prime Video – Movies and documentaries – many of which are not available on Netflix are found here. I have found some excellent additions to our homeschool curricula here.

Audible Channels – If you like listening to audiobooks and podcasts, you will find a decent helping here of books, podcasts and other channels. You might discover a new favorite.

Prime Reading – Perhaps my favorite perk. I love borrowing books from Prime Reading. Currently, the limit is ten books at a time. I can share these with my children by allowing them access to them on their Fire tablets. Nothing beats being able to check out books – for free – without leaving the house.

… and others. Here’s the entire list of Prime benefits.

Kindle Unlimited

If Prime Reading doesn’t give you enough books to keep you happy, there’s Kindle Unlimited! Kindle Unlimited is an online library which lets you borrow even more books from a huge selection for $9.99 a month.

My current favorites out of my very limited look at all the Kindle Unlimited e-books (there are tons – there’s no way I’ve taken a thorough look) are the ones published by Charles River Editors. Their short books have been indispensable for giving me a quick insight into various periods and peoples of history.

Kindle Rapids and Audible

While I have not delved into this, if you have a child who loves to be read to and reading aloud is not something you enjoy, Kindle Rapids might be for you. For $2.99 a month, you can have original stories read to your children. These tend to be short.

A better way I have found to use reading aloud is to add Audible narration to a Kindle book you already own. This avoids the subscription fee of Audible and still allows you to listen to the book and / or follow along in your Kindle. The variety in this case in much larger and you can add Audible narration for about $1.99 – $2.99 in most cases.

Kindle Readers

As I mentioned before, I do not own a Fire. Yet. Although I have been know to swipe my children’s Kindle Fires borrow my children’s tablets to play games on them, I do love my Kindle Paperwhite.

I remember when the Kindle first came out. My husband bought me the huge one – with the keyboard at the bottom. It was great, but a tad heavy to hold and read. So I traded it in and bought a regular, smaller one. The only problem? It was dim and I didn’t like reading on it.

And then *insert angels singing* I discovered the Kindle Paperwhite. It has the perfect amount of backlight made with LED lights that do not strain your eyes. It is NOT like reading on a screen at all. Instead, it is like reading black letters on white paper – you know, like a real book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

But I am nothing if not frugal. And if you’re going to spend $120 on a reader, you should know that it comes with a ton of free books. Here’s how you can get them:

Overdrive – This is just one of the apps available to your local libraries to be able to loan out books directly to your Kindle. Check with your specific library. Many are now offering a good selection of e-books you can download to your Kindle for a specific period for free.

Free books – The one advantage Kindle has over Nook (that other e-reader we will not mention every again!) is that there are many, many more open domain (read: FREE) e-books online.

Add all this to the variety mentioned above and you can pretty much create a homeschooling curriculum with just your Kindle!

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Teaching Children to Think

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleror if you simply follow the classical system, you know about the logic stage.

The Logic Stage

The logic stage typically comes after the grammar stage. We spend much time in the grammar stage. We memorize facts and details, partially because my kids love to do so. They ask lots of questions and they love learning what I would call trivia.

In the grammar stage, they set about learning a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but there is no coherent whole. They are not putting their world together yet. For the unschoolers here, strewing as a strategy works extremely well in the grammar stage.

The logic stage is reached when the children are ready to put things together and their questions increasingly revolve around why or how instead of what. (I should note that this can happen at different times in different areas and reaching the logic stage in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for it in another as is usually done in grade schools.)

The Frustration with the Logic Stage

Sometimes, I get frustrated while I wait for the logic stage. Isn’t there a way I can speed things along, I ask myself. Well, no, unfortunately. However, there are things I can do to make my time waiting for them to get to it more productive.

Here are three easy to do, practical suggestions:

If-then thinking

If-then thinking is an excellent way to hone thinking skills in general. We use this technique quite a bit with my middle son. Of the three children, my middle one is the most distractable. He learns easily and is math-minded, if you will, but he is prone to dropping a lot of things and generally making bigger messes than the other children.

My daughter – just a year older than him is the tidy one. Because she is so eager to please, her mind seems naturally bent to if-then thinking, even if the ultimate aim of it might not be what we want to encourage.

However, we have started to ask the middle kid to think through his actions. They can be simple like, “What would happen if I place the glass of milk here near my elbow as opposed to over there?”

It can take a while, but if-then thinking is a good place to start.

Humor

Laughing at a joke that is not slapstick requires much brain activity and it does require the putting together of two disparate things, seeing what does not logically follow and then laughing at it. It is a higher order of thinking.

So while you might find those knock-knock jokes annoying, there is a good reason to let your kids read them and share them. Riddles do the same thing. We have many books of riddles in the car for reading and sharing during drives. The kids love them.

Reading aloud

It is quite well known that reading aloud is great for language development so we tend to fixate on books with good language. Many even exclude modern books and pick up classics. And while there’s clearly nothing wrong with this approach, we tend to miss out on one thing: logic.

If you pick a book with great plot lines, it is fascinating to sit back back and watch the children put them together. It’s like being able to get a glimpse of their neurons firing in their brains. We have been reading the Harry Potter series and J.K.Rowling is a master plotter. It has been a lot of fun following the various threads being pulled together in the books. And I love it when the children see something coming that I don’t.

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Book Suggestion – The School Revolution

If you are homeschooling and want a boost to your motivation, pick up a copy of Ron Paul’s The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System

The 200 odd page book is an excellent read.

Short, to the point and making its case quite convincingly, it makes a great evening’s reading. It is also endlessly quotable, as my poor husband found out. I kept interrupting him to read bits and parts, subjecting him to the book’s infectious argument that not only is it possible to homeschool your children, it is often less expensive and far, far better. (He doesn’t have to be sold on it – I just couldn’t help myself!)

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“The whole system of education from kindergarten through graduate school ought to be geared to equipping students to take greater personal responsibility for their actions. This is the meaning of adulthood, and education is meant to prepare people for precisely that. But the modern welfare state is premised on the view that individuals are not fully responsible for their actions, and therefore they do not deserve extensive liberty.”

And this one:

“The most meaningful way to improve the world is to free up the creativity of individuals.”

Also, this one, which will at some point find its way to my Facebook page:

“There has been no widely adopted system of public school reform suggested by parents. Every call for reform has come from inside the public school establishment issued from the top down.”

There are more, but I’m afraid I would have to copy the entire book here.

If you are considering homeschooling or are currently homeschooling, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Educational System is a book you must pick up.

In it, Ron Paul lays out the following:

  • what the goal of education is and how to achieve it
  • how homeschooling is now easier and cheaper
  • how parents can retain control over their child’s education and why it is important
  • why sending your child to public school and / or college might be the biggest mistake you make
  • the major areas to focus on while homeschooling

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The 3 Biggest Myths of Homeschooling

There are some homeschooling myths out there that won’t go away no matter how many times they are refuted. These myths are not, mind you, as simple as the socialization myth. Much has already been said and written about that one already – perhaps enough to make naysayers think at least a little before mentioning it.

No, these more subtle, insidious myths have more to do with the parents than the children. They are about the burden, the difficulty, rather, the impracticality of educating one’s own children.

These three myths speak to the fear, if you will, of “striking out on one’s own” as an homeschooler.

The Myth of Being Driven

I have mentioned before that when I tell someone we’re homeschooling, I receive either incredulity or outright admiration.

“You must be incredibly driven! And organized!” I’ve heard more than once as I’m propped up on a pedestal. I will admit to being more organized than most, but that is not a prerequisite for homeschooling.

However, I am not incredibly driven. I do not wake up every morning and repeat affirmations about memory work in front of my mirror. I am not determined to raise rock stars of math, spelling and grammar. There are days when I get bored, days that are frustrating, days that we literally dump the books. There are as many tears as there are smiles.

But you know what? That’s the nature of life!

I cook dinner every night, too. If I burn it one night, I don’t go running into the arms of the state to give my family food. We make do. It’s the same with homeschooling as it is with the rest of life – you do what you can with what you have where you are. And that’s it.

The Myth of Being a Recluse

People like to believe that homeschooling students are this little odd group that stays home and memorizes Bible verses everyday.

And the homeschooling mom, oh, don’t get me started on the mom. She must be this larger than life figure that has it all under control, right? The Homeschooling Mom attends homeschooling conventions, puts together a curriculum, makes her list, checks it twice, ensures the kids are doing the work they’re supposed to every single day, keeps the home running smoothly at all times.

She must have two heads, right? And ten arms? Or, at the very least, she must be waking up at 4 in the morning and going to bed past midnight. She must be burnt out.

Um, wait a sec. You just described Elon Musk. (Without the two heads and ten arms part. As far as I know.) And none of the homeschooling moms I know – not one – fits this description.

As far as me? I spend one – count it – one hour ensuring my children are doing what I’ve asked them to do. I do put together our own curriculum but that’s because I enjoy it. It’s not work for me, it’s play. There’s no rule in the world that says you have to do it this way. In fact, the best thing about homeschooling (or unschooling) today is that you can make up your own rules as you go!

Homeschoolers truly are not alone. The majority are not reclusive.

While I firmly believe families should be left alone to make decisions for themselves, this does not bar them from getting together with other families who believe what they do in order to get a fuller, richer experience. This includes forming co-ops, homeschool associations, meet up groups, play groups, various classes, the list goes on. So while you make the decision alone – as you should – you do not take the journey alone.

The idea that you have to choose between being reclusive or associating with an agent of the state who will wrest control from your hands from over your own children is ludicrous enough to be laughable.

The Myth of Having to Know it All to Teach

Also, here’s another news flash, which is not news to most homeschoolers, I assure you. Your children are learning anyway. It is in their very nature to learn. How they learn is not as important as what they learn.

You do not need to imitate public schools, not in their nature, their teaching methods, their times, their agendas or even their curriculum. Oh, and you don’t need their help. You don’t need them to give you a time table on which you can proceed to “let” your child grow.

Are you really that concerned with when exactly the child needs to learn about the continents and the second law of thermodynamics and figure out what x and y stand for that you’re willing to be dictated to by an agent of the state in your own home? Really?

Because, you know what, my four year old can put all fifty states in their proper places on a map of the United States. He can’t name them all perfectly, but he knows where they go. How is this? He learned it with an app! My seven year old knows the laws of thermodynamics. He perhaps can’t apply them yet, because he’s still in the grammar stage of learning, but he knows them. How is this possible when the state isn’t supervising our every move telling us when to do what? How? Is it possible that *gasp* children learn and thrive under that one word we seem to have forgotten – freedom? 

Children need a guide, not a funnel.

You do not need to become the repository of all knowledge. You do not need to have any esoteric understanding of how it is all put together.

Let me be the first to break it to you: there is no grand plan that public schools work toward.

There is nothing esoteric about what they do, nothing you are missing out on, nothing, in fact, that they can help you with. The moment you ask them for “help” in educating your children, you put yourself on an unequal footing. They have far more power in the relationship, even if they wield it behind a smiling face. And before anyone accuses me of fear, let me say that this isn’t about fear – it is about a healthy caution.

Clearly, I need another blog post about state agencies, but for now, to wrap it up, I’m just going to say this: if you’re considering homeschooling, think long and hard about what you believe about it, be brutal in tearing down any myths you might have inadvertently bought into and be assured that you – yes, you – can do this.

You can do this.

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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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