The Case For Reading Children’s Books

I will never understand people who like to argue on Goodreads with me about how much I loved or hated a recently read book. See, reading is an intensely personal experience. It’s a bit like saying, “I didn’t sleep well last night.” Jumping in to say, “But I heard you snore!” just doesn’t help matters.

With that said, however, I will admit to feeling a bit snarky lately. And not just annoyed in general, but positively in a rut.

April is the Cruelest Month

This happens every year without fail come spring. Some say it has something to do with the fact that Daylight Savings Time kicks in, allergies are at an all time high which can lead to seasonal depression and it’s tax filing time.

Add to all this the fact that we are so close to summer, we can taste it and yet, it’s not here. Talk about a perfect storm.

Looking for an Escape

So I find myself then constantly looking for an escape, a distraction, something to change it up a bit. Unfortunately, I also homeschool and children if nothing else are creatures of habit.

Most days, we follow a good template. I like our lives, I really do. We stay on track, we get done what we need to and we have lots of fun along the way.

And yet there are stretches of time like lately when there is a distinct sense of feeling overwhelmed that no amount of dreaming, planning or otherwise checking things off my list can overcome.

Enter Children’s Books

When did life get so serious anyway? When did books become about more about wanting to learn something and less about just having fun? Perhaps it’s just me, I told myself. And promised to make reading a throwback to “how it used to be when I was just reading for pure enjoyment.”

It was hard to say what quality I was looking for in a book, really, but if I had to pin it down I would have to say I was going for something akin to what my four year old feels when he opens a book.

I was trying to find a children’s book that I could read that would evoke in me an emotion that would be a cross between Gruffalo and The Tale of Custard the Dragon

I wanted something whimsical and fun, but also something that would hold my interest and just be fun to read.

I’m Not Alone

I’m certainly not alone in reading children’s books. Gretchen Rubin has mentioned in her books that she actually belongs to a book club that reads children’s books. She realized it made her happier.

C.S. Lewis famously states at the beginning of The Chronicles of Narnia that “someday [one] will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Indeed, there are countless writers out there whose work can only be described as something between children’s and adult writing or both. Neil Gaiman comes immediately to mind.

Dreaming With Eyes Open

One thing I think children’s books do very well is keep things simple. Without plots that are too complicated, including characters with not too much nuance and with just a basic understanding of the world, they create situations that can be not just entertaining but also interesting.

They help me dream with my eyes open.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate is that they often tell the story from the perspective of someone who truly notices things as a child. As a mom – and a homeschooling mom in particular – I find this perspective invaluable.

We say we want to teach as our children will learn. We say we want to learn right along with our children. I say to do so there’s no better introduction to their world than through children’s books.
And no better time to begin reading one than now.

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The Latest Victim of Sound Bites is Parenting

My daughter recently bought a necklace with two broken hearts that fit together – you know the kind. One person wears one side of the heart and the other wears the other. The words “BEST FRIENDS” were written on it.

She wore her half and started going through her list of friends wondering whom she could give the other half to.

Suddenly a pang of – what, jealousy? Love? Motherhood? – overtook me. If anyone was going to be best friends with my daughter, I wanted that person to be me.

“I’ll wear it,” I ventured. “If you want.”

“YES!!!” she screamed. “I was going to give it to you but I didn’t know if you’d like it because you have your style of dressing.”

I’ve been wearing it proudly around my neck. Our two little pieces of hearts that come together and fit.

But consider this line: “I’m your mother, not your friend. You don’t have to like me.”

Say you’re a friend to your children is now akin to saying you’re a bad parent.

Remember this meme that gets shared so often on social media? “I am not your friend!” it blares. “I am your parent. I will stalk you, I will flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, hunt you down when needed. Because I love you.”

Really? Is that what we really want to be? Our child’s worst nightmare? But, but… it makes a great soundbite.

We can’t talk about parenting any more. We certainly can’t talk about it in any meaningful way, especially on social media. Opinions are already formed and all nuance scrubbed clean out of them.

Consider the news story about the physician, who also happens to be a writer, scolding parents, “You’re doing it wrong.” It’s not a question, it’s a sentence is the overwhelming tone of the story, giving overbearing parents everywhere permission to demand perfect obedience.

But that’s not what he’s saying, you argue.

No he isn’t, but every person who comments under the story on Facebook every time it is shared is. Later, these commenters will give themselves permission to be brusque and brash and issue “sentences, not questions” at their children in an attempt at better parenting.

And they will look critically at others who don’t.

Last year, when a gorilla had to be put down because a child fell into the pit at the zoo, the video from one news page alone was shared 164,394 times, viewed 22 million times, with 54,000 comments all pointing their finger at the mother, unilaterally deciding that she must have had her head stuck in her phone.

“Turn off your phones and pay attention to your kids!” became the drumbeat.

The world has taken on proportions of one big witchhunt out for the blood of parents.

Here’s another example. Did you hear how consistently both politicians referred to my children and yours as “our children” this last election cycle? Whose children? Excuse me, but I don’t remember voting that into law. Did you?

The Pew Research Center recently discovered that 75% – that’s 3 out of 4 parents – got parenting advice and support from their friends and other news stories from social media. 3 out of 4!

That’s 3 out of 4 parents being told day in and day out that they’re doing it wrong, that their children are just plain rude, that the children don’t really belong to them, it takes a village and a government and oh, by the way, they should get their heads out of their phones and start paying attention to the kids.

Forget Elf on the Shelf, we’re turning into a nation of Krampuses.

Everyone has an opinion – an extreme one – and it’s shared. This is not support; this is bullying. Over and over and over again, until it’s a sound bite in a mother’s tired, befuddled head.

Is it any wonder people don’t want to have children?

Is it possible that in this age of entertainment and information, parenting has become just another option for infotainment? Has it become the new way to bond?

Stop it. Just stop. Stop telling us how to raise our kids. If you get on Facebook, talk about the weather or take a picture of your food. If it takes a village to raise a child today, please, just leave my kids out of it.

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Juggling Well

I recently came across some fantastic time management advice in Michael Gelb’s book More Balls Than Hands that I thought I’d share with you. Even though it refers to juggling (and he’s not kidding – there’s an actual section at the end about how to learn real juggling) the author has some great advice for homeschoolers.

In fact, this advice can be applied to your life no matter what you do and especially if you’re a busy mom.

Read this.

James Clawson says that there are two types of people in their work styles: Project Finishers and Time Allocaters. Project Finishers can only handle one ball at a time. They’re good doers, but bad managers. Time Allocaters don’t organize their work by projects but by allotments of time spread across a wise variety of tasks.

The Time Allocation approach to work seems very much like juggling. How does one keep multiple balls in the air? And how do we discover the optimum number that can be successfully managed? If there are too many balls, they all fall. If there are too few, not much gets done. The principles of juggling seem to help. Develop a stable, reliable process for handling one project or item and then apply that process to other projects…

Develop a rhythm, an inner sense of how much time it takes to keep a project from falling to the floor. Handle projects lightly but firmly and with a familiar repetition.

Now I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot like homeschooling. It also sounds very similar to advice I have given about developing a side income while homeschooling as well as advice I have received about the real schedules of real homeschooling families and how they make it all work.

If you’re a homeschooling mom, you’re a manager. And if you have any interest in juggling well, you ought to read this book.

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Rhymes and Songs for Disciplining

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I tend to be more of an unschooler with classical tendencies (or a homeschooler with unschooling tendencies, depending on how you see it.) I have written before of how it took us a long time to get to where my daughter began to enjoy read aloud time. We spent most of our early preschool days on doing craft activities and some math because she seemed to like that. My son did not mind being read to but they have both had a desire to be taught to read for themselves. 

My youngest is nothing like that. He is my first child that loves being read to. Seriously, people, what a joy it is when a child wants to be read to and will sit while you read and at the end of the book, say, “Again! Read again. One more time.” Oh, my heart. (And my voice, but that’s another matter. Haha!)

To get back to the point I’m trying to make though… I’ve discovered that it doesn’t hurt to wait. Now my daughter – yes, that same one who wanted nothing to do with being read to – has not only read every fairy tale, easy reader and short chapter book I can get her for herself, but insists on me reading to her as well. She loves good audio books. We’ve read countless read alouds. And we memorize. What do we memorize, you ask? Poetry, songs, history timelines, hymns, church creeds, you name it.

Putting what I know now about my children together, I recently hit upon a way to get my children involved in disciplining themselves. It went something like this: I got tired of repeating the same instructions which they seemed to forget, so I thought they should spend some time repeating them, not me.

Repetition, I thought. Repetition… aha! That’s what we did every single day when we memorized. That was the answer!

So  I made some rhymes that I’m posting here. Feel free to use them with your own children. People, these work! When the kids start acting up now at the grocery store or before bed, I ask them to sing the song I taught them. And they do so. And in saying it, they repeat my instructions without me having to say them. This is like some serious magic. 

Here are the two rhymes I’ve made so far. (And I know there are more coming. Because, well, kids.)

The Grocery Store Song

(Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells)

When we are in the store
We walk and do not run.

We will not climb or fight,
We’ll play when we are done.

We will stay with the cart,
We will help find things,

We will not block the aisles,
We’ll act like human beings.

Time For Bed

(Sung to the tune of Hot Cross Buns)

Time for bed, time for bed,

Half past seven, almost eight, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Brush my teeth, change my clothes, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Get some books, what’s in my head, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

One last pee and a prayer, time for bed!

So there you have it. I love that these little rhymes work like a checklist, give the children something to memorize and develop habits without me having to nag them. It makes the day that much smoother.

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Two Words Your Children Should Learn to Say

“You’re right.”

I can remember the first time someone said those two words to me. I was 23, halfway around the world, young, wanting to learn, not trusting myself to be all I wanted so desperately to be. The person saying those words to me was my then to-be husband, but I remember thinking to myself, No one has ever said that to me before. 

I find that hard to believe, but I must. If I trust my memory, no one had ever said to me before these two simple words.

You’re right.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t ever right. There were plenty of occasions when I knew I was and certainly, if we’re talking about school, I was pretty close to a straight A student. So it’s pretty clear to me that I had been “right” at least on occasions that mattered.

But in an argument? When my opinion was asked in general? When something I had predicted came to pass, I never heard the verbal acknowledgment.

There are cultural issues here, of course, that cannot be ignored. People from India, in general, at least in the area I come from, are not given to open praise, so I’m not blaming my parents. And I’m certainly not saying that my life was ruined because of it. My parents did their best and I know it.

But I must admit that there is much power in words. And in these two words, there is more than meets the eye. Each and every time I have told my daughter that she was right, there has come over her the most curious look – a look I can only describe as self-worth.

Then one day, I heard her say to me, “You were right, mom.” And then another day, she told her brother, “You’re right.” And then my husband.

Apparently, we were doing a lot right and she was on a rampage to tell us so.

With those 2 words, something between us shifted. There was an acknowledgement of the awareness of another’s wisdom – no small feat in a world where everyone wants to be right but no one wants to listen to anyone else’s point of view. It changed my perception of her.

With those two words, she grew up a little and was no longer my baby.

Then I heard it among the children – that same quiet reminder of the other’s wisdom, an awareness of it, even in the midst of strife, a camaraderie that could come from nowhere else.

And I thought about my husband and the first time he had said those words to me and I thought, “Look what you started.”

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A Homeschooling Mom’s Burnout Journal

I have been defeated, beaten by the clock.

I have been to bed the past few days out of exhaustion. Sleep has been quick and almost dreamless. The night passes like a flash and then the alarm sounds its four notes. My phone buzzes, the smell of coffee is filling the house. It’s time to be awake again.

It’s time to do the same things I did yesterday, in pretty much the same way and not get them all done. Again.

Who said “insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?” Because, you know what, on some days, I actually like the results I get. Some days, my schedule is just perfect. Things hum along, check marks abound on my little notepad where the to-do list sits.

It’s those in-between days that have the power to devastate me.

It’s those days when I forget to set out the meat to thaw in the morning as I had hoped to do, those days when my child seems to have forgotten her math tables and we have to go over them one more time for review; it’s the days I burn dinner, the days when no matter what I do, the toddler refuses to obey and it feels like all day long I’ve done nothing but correct and discipline and does that count as school?

Those days.

Those are the days I have run into lately. And I am exhausted.

Now please don’t get me wrong. We’ve have a wonderful January. I certainly do not need advice. We are actually doing really well in our homeschool. The children are learning far more than I ever teach, they are independent, self-assured learners, they are curious, creative creatures, everything I want them to be at this stage. So, no, we are not struggling homeschoolers.

It’s just this small string of days we’ve had with no sun, heavy gray clouds oppressing the horizon. They too shall pass but for now they’re here.

Do not jump in with advice.

The worst thing you can do right now is give me offhand advice. Because I know, I know – in my bones – that this is temporary, that it doesn’t require an overhaul of my time budget and it certainly doesn’t need to call my teaching or mothering skills into question. 

The best thing you can say is this: “Sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.”

Because you know it’s true. And I know you’ve been where I am.

It’s a truth every homeschooling mom has to admit at some point in her life. She’s not failing and neither is she asking for sympathy. She has just hit a rough spot. It will be different a week, a month from today. 

Ask her to see farther down the road; don’t ask her to pull over and check her map. Don’t tell her to put her kid in public school. She’s on the right track. Remind her that she’s working hard enough. That sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.

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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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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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