… and, of course, those two books reminded me of homeschooling.
Let me explain. Both the books mentioned dealt with something that has not come into existence yet. Both books argued not just for possibilities but against the loss of that elusive opportunity cost.
How often – the two books argued – do we spend time thinking “what if?” How many times do we consider possibilities?
As regards homeschooling, how often do we plan curricula, play dates, reading material, field trips? So often it boggles the mind! I mean, homeschooling sometimes seems like nothing if not an endless succession of planning.
And yet, how many times do we stop to think about opportunity cost?
How often do we stop and consider the possibilities we might be giving up if we don’t (or do!) follow this specific path, go on this field trip, pick this curriculum, this class, this way of teaching?
In Economics in One Lesson, Hazlitt says that people only see what’s in front of their eyes. Bad monetary policies are implemented because people see the immediate effects of said implementation. What is much harder to gauge are the ripple effects of these laws. What is even harder to perceive is the possibility that same money would have had if it had not been funneled in a certain direction. The effect of an entire community getting poorer is not always obvious.
“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” – Hazlitt
Why Haven’t You Read This Bookalso takes the reader on a similar trajectory when it comes to considering possibilities. The book has multiple authors who have argued “Why not?” and written their experiences with conquering that question. Why not travel the world? one asks. Why not audition for American Idol? asks another. And why not drop out of school?
The opportunities we are presented with when homeschooling are our biggest strengths. But we have to be willing to look at them critically in the light of all they represent.
When we shift to auto-pilot, we lose the freedom we so desperately craved before we became homeschoolers.
We have to be willing to trace the consequences of what we undertake, see the opportunity costs and the possibilities as well as what’s staring us in the face.
We have to be willing to ask ourselves, “Why not?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If there is one debate that rages more than all others among parents – and homeschoolers are no exception – it’s that of discipline. I bear the brunt of it sometimes on this blog as well. For instance, just last week, I got this non sequitur on my Facebook page:
The job world isnt (sic) so kind and forgiving, and they can’t just get up whenever they want, do the job when it suits them, etc.
Besides the blatant disregard the author employed for punctuation and logic, I want to point out the emphasis on discipline. It’s an age-old argument. It’s one I hear often.
“How are homeschoolers ever going to learn discipline?” I’m asked.
Even among homeschoolers this concern with discipline is particularly divisive. I can’t tell you how many times homeschoolers shun the word “unschooler” or straight up laugh at the idea of unschooling because “how will they ever learn to read?”
When it comes to discipline, people love to invoke one of two things – firstly, the “world,” as in, the job world, the grown up world, where they claim everything is drudgery.
It’s a world where they wake up every morning – supposedly, talk sternly to themselves about how they must get so-and-so done, proceed to whip themselves as they get dressed and head out – mangled and bloody – to apply themselves diligently to their job.
Second, they love to talk about self control for its own sake. They say discipline must be taught, it has to be learned and not just that – it can be taught for its own sake.
Neither of the above is true.
Yes, I exaggerated the first one. But only slightly. Are you seriously telling me that as an adult you hate every moment of your job? That you get no reward at all? No break except that blessed hour when you get to eat with a plastic fork?
Are you saying that you have to raise your hand to use the restroom, that you have no freedom in your day, that you spend it constantly accompanied, not allowed to chat or talk, looked at suspiciously, made to walk in a straight line with your hands behind your back and under the eye of someone who is supposedly doing it all to make you a better person?
If the answer is yes, you might want to check if you’re wearing orange. Because what I just described is the life of a prisoner. Oh, they’re “disciplined,” though. I’ll give you that.
The Only Discipline that Matters…
…is the kind that is employed for a bigger reason. In the words of T.K. Coleman, “The willingness to do something difficult is only meaningful if it’s exercised within the context of a worthy goal.”
Discipline shouldn’t and cannot be taught in a vacuum. Not true discipline anyway.
I am often told, for instance, that, as an Abstainer (one who prefers not to have something at all, rather than moderate the thing I want – for example, sweets) I don’t have enough self control to simply eat one piece only.
It is easier for me to just avoid cookies completely, for instance, rather than tell myself to eat only one. But no, Moderators have to lord it over me that their system of moderating is better than mine, that somehow they are inherently more disciplined than I am. But wait, doesn’t it take discipline to avoid the cookies completely?
“I teach it to my kids, too!” one mom proudly tells me. “I teach them to moderate their intake.”
We give ourselves pats on the back because sometimes our children are just like us. Their inherent personalities match ours, but here’s the thing: did we gloss over the fact that both this mom and I both did something in pursuit of a bigger goal and the discipline wasn’t achieved in a vacuum but was merely a system that worked?
Discipline in context
So pay attention to the system, not the supposed virtue for virtue’s sake. No one but an ascetic makes discipline for discipline’s sake a goal and even there I would say the idea is questionable. Everyone but everyone uses self control to achieve an end result.
But it is in the nature of people – yes, even your friends and mine – to elevate one system above the other and make themselves out to be superior. And that’s okay. We all need to toot our own horns sometimes.
Just be sure you don’t fall for it. Don’t begin to question a system if it works for you and your children.
Don’t let offhand comments derail what you’re doing.
There is some truth, after all, to the Platonic idea that you can’t create something unless you have conceived it in your mind first. Jim Rohn in The Art of Exceptional Living says that if you’re laying bricks and someone asks you what you’re building and you say, “Well, I don’t know yet. Guess we’ll see what comes of it!” people will assume you’re crazy.
There must be a plan with some structure to build something worthwhile. But there cannot be a plan without imagination.
I like the tension between those. I tend to believe that all the greatness of the world is contained in that tension.
Why Should You Care?
I have written much about planning a good homeschooling day. My new book is in fact about crafting your own curriculum in a way that fits with your family and your individual personality.
You should care about this tenuous relationship between imagination and planning – the almost oxymoronic nature of it – because it’s central to your homeschooling. How you think of this can make the difference between thoroughly enjoying educating your children and hating the routine and rigidity of teaching them from a boxed curriculum.
Plan well, but then leave something to the imagination.
If you have read my past posts about read alouds, you know we take them seriously in our homeschool. Some days, that’s all we get done. And that’s okay because read alouds are that important.
I want to focus today on why I’m so crazy about reading to my children. It took us a long time to get around to where we are now, but this is a good place.
So without further ado, here are the two biggest lessons of read alouds.
It doesn’t have to all make sense
“But it makes no sense!” How many times had I said that when I first started homeschooling? I wanted my children to get it and get it all. I wanted them not just to repeat and memorize but truly understand.
The problem is, that’s not how it works. No one gets it all, not at first anyway. And that’s okay.
As the “classical” part of my classical unschooling style developed, I began to see that it didn’t all need to make sense right away. I began to understand that what we call learning came by degrees – at first the connections necessary for learning did not happen, that much time had to spent in the grammar stage before logic developed.
This was as true in reading aloud as it was in other subjects. I did not have to painstakingly explain every idiom and turn of the plot as I read. It was okay if the children focused on one thing in the story and I enjoyed another – deeper – level of understanding. They didn’t have to get everything I got from it.
The varied experiences serve to deepen our enjoyment of the read aloud; they do not take away from it.
A little bit everyday goes a long way
This is perhaps my favorite thing about reading aloud. Instead of teaching my children discipline, instead of telling them that a little bit everyday goes a long way toward getting something done, a read aloud actually shows them that fact.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. – T. S. Eliot
It’s that time of year again. Everything is springing flowers, days are getting longer and we’re all eager to get outside and enjoy the weather. Homeschooling should finally get easier than it was in the winter, right?
When I wrote this post, it seemed to resonate with many of you. I wrote it in February, the most dreary month of the year. But, believe it or not, spring can sometimes be harder on you than winter.
Spring is Hard
While you may not be clinically depressed, I think there is something worth paying attention to at play here. Psychologists have found links between allergy season and depression. It seems the cytokines in pollen cause inflammation in your body and the result looks very similar to depression.
Of course it doesn’t help that everywhere around you people are more active. Chances are also good that your social life is picking up as well after the winter doldrums.
If you follow the school year model, you’re also perhaps thinking the end of the year is so close you can touch it, but not quite yet. Besides, you may be rushing to get done with the curriculum.
April sure can be cruel.
What’s the Solution?
The solution is the same as it always was and always will be. Have a plan, stick with it and above all, know yourself. Of course, this can be hard when you’re first starting out, but after the first year seeing some repetition in patterns certainly helps.
Another thing that might help is establishing your goals differently from that of public schools. For us, with all children born later in the year, we begin our new year in January. It makes zero sense for me to begin in August or September, especially in the younger years when they are just not developmentally ready and then feeling like I have to hurry them along.
Something curious happened to me at our local library the other day. The kids and I often go there once a week to check out a mountain of books. We usually each collect our books and stack them together on a table before checking them out.
This time, a little girl wandered over to our stack and wanted to take a book my daughter had chosen. She asked me if she could have it.
“No,” I told her. “That’s ours. We’re checking it out.”
The child wandered away. I thought all was as it should be and started looking for picture books for my four year old. But it wasn’t. In telling her daughter that she could not have something, I might as well have walked into a bear cave.
“Talk to me, not my daughter!” her mother bellowed.
I tried, as best I could, to explain to the steamrolling woman that I had no problem with that, that I hadn’t in fact gone and sought her daughter out. I mentioned though that I had to stop her when she was reaching into what was set aside as for me.
“Don’t tell my daughter no!” she yelled at me, nonetheless. “Now you’ve hurt her feelings.”
I was so flabbergasted, I couldn’t think of anything else to say except, “You can’t be serious.”
But she was.
I’m happy to say that the scene ended without anyone (er, me!) getting physically assaulted, but every time I think about it, I still can’t believe what she said. Clearly, it was such a deeply held belief in her mind that she was willing to confront a complete stranger over a situation in which she was clearly, ridiculously wrong. And why? All because of a little word: No.
How often do you say no?
We might not share that mama bear’s idea about raising our children without ever saying no or them ever having to hear a negative word from any other adult, but I would bet all of us say “yes” more often than we should.
I have written before about how saying no can be useful in saving time, but in this post, I want to explore how an unequivocal no can be useful not just in saving time but actually creating an atmosphere of trust, creativity and freedom – yes, freedom – for your children as well as you.
Think about a random incident. Say you’ve been asked to do something you would rather not – drop off a book you highly recommended to a friend, for instance. Or attend an event you know you won’t enjoy. What’s been asked isn’t necessarily a big deal. It’s just one of those pesky things that gets dropped into your lap somehow. It’s one of those would-you-mind favors we know all too well.
And sure, there are times when we don’t mind doing them. But, practically speaking, none of us has unlimited time. And I have a sneaking suspicion that we say yes way more often than we should. In fact, sometimes we get into such a habit of saying yes that we do it just to avoid saying no.
“Yes,” I sometimes see myself saying. “I’ll be there,” when every thought inside me is screaming, “No! Say no!”
Why do we do this?
I have a theory that we do this to be liked. Liked by who? Liked by whoever is it we’re talking to, of course! It could be the neighbor, our friends, even our children. Saying yes, feeling that we can meet the small demand in front of us gives us a temporary feeling of elation. And it’s not that big of a deal after all, we tell ourselves.
The problem is if we say yes too often, we actually end up saying No to what matters.
Stephen Covey mentions this when he emphasizes the distinction between the urgent and the important. He says what is urgent often takes over what is important. He gives the example of a ringing phone, but you can just as easily substitute the ringing phone with the small favors.
The link between an unequivocal “no” and failure
The other more important reason to say “no” and an unequivocal no to more things than we say yes to rests in the link between that no and failure. When we say no, we give ourselves and our children the freedom to fail. And that’s a good thing.
Let me explain.
Say you’re picking a curriculum. But you’re indecisive. So you dabble in this and that. You pick up a smattering of this and a little of that. You don’t ever put it into a coherent whole because you don’t want to choose. In other words, you don’t want to say no. After all, you don’t want to lose out on what can become a good curriculum in the future, one that has been highly touted by your homeschooling friends.
So you hang on.
Wouldn’t you be better off just picking one? What is the act of picking one anyway? Isn’t it saying “no” to all other options except that one?
And by doing that, wouldn’t you be free to decide in a few weeks (or a few months at most) that it’s working or it’s time to move on? Why would you steal yourself of that conviction, the joy of that assurance by merely hanging on to something that may or may not work?
I felt bad for the woman at the library, really, I did. She left soon after to take her daughter and her hurt feelings to be assuaged with fast food, as she declared too loudly not to be overheard. Not being given the option to fail can get time-consuming and downright expensive.
What would failure have looked like for her daughter that day? There were thousands of books at the library. A simple, firm directive to go look at those books could hardly be considered a punishment.
Give yourself the freedom to fail. Give your children the freedom to fail. It is only after failing that we find what we really want to give our time to. Small failures teach rather than bury. They liberate.
An unequivocal no has more power than a dithering yes. Use it.