Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Complexity is your friend

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Complexity is your friend

A few months back, I interacted with a friend who is childless and has never been married. She’s a wonderful person with a number of gifts, not the least of which is her career in banking where she is a skilled, talented, responsible manager of a branch (many people report to her and she does her job quite well). She is smart, a good leader, and a financial wizard. She is also a wonderful auntie and loyal friend.

We got to talking about our families of origin with a couple of my other friends (who had been married or were still, and who had homeschooled their kids). When an issue came up, this unmarried friend gave advice based on her experience of being an auntie and a daughter (both valid sources of information about family relationships, to be sure).

Sometimes her advice felt helpful but sometimes it felt out of tune. I was trying to put my finger on why.

Then she made a remarkable statement: “It always amazes me when someone says that they have changed their ideas about important issues—like how to parent or what they think of marriage or social and political issues. I’ve held the same views for as long as I can remember and I don’t imagine them ever changing. It seems like people would be much happier if they just stopped re-evaluating their beliefs all the time.”

And that’s when it hit me. Untested theories about life can remain peacefully in tact. If you aren’t married, it’s easy to have rules about what would end a relationship… until you are in a relationship with children at stake, intertwined incomes, and shared meaningful history. Suddenly your sense of what is a “deal breaker” can, and often does, change.

If you don’t have children of your own, enforcing a set of rules for etiquette, bedtimes, and schoolwork seems so reasonable, so easy to implement. Adults mis-remember their own childhoods all the time—they pretend to themselves that they liked their parents’ harsh rules or that they were made better people by the discipline of a school principle, or at the least, that whatever befell them wouldn’t have, had the adult authorities in their lives been more stringent or more involved or more kind or whatever.

Complexity quote 1Likewise, it’s not difficult to continue with the same set of basic beliefs about how the world should work, if you haven’t had to face the unforeseen consequences of some of those beliefs, nor had them tested personally.

I say all this for a reason. This is not you. You do not have the luxury of a simple, satisfying worldview.

You are in the murkiest, most-life-testing context of life. When you sign up to be married and to have children, you are volunteering for a mental and emotional overhaul of all you thought you knew to be true. Your theories will now be tested. You will explore ideas and practices you didn’t believe in back when you knew everything.

Your need to “do it right” so nothing bad will happen to you or the people you love, will morph over time as hair-raising circumstances challenge you to reconsider. You’ll discover that “happily ever after” doesn’t exist for you (or anyone).

The competing needs for attention, affection, nutrition, and sleep between people sharing a household is of Olympic scale! Everyone goes all in, and there are clear winners and losers in each category every day. You’ll be pushed to your limits, which will then force you to figure out how to help everyone take better care of themselves a little bit at a time (including that spouse of yours, and yourself – the last one you usually manage to help).

It’s incredible, really, that anyone sharing a home for years on end keeps at it. Really. Truly. Does anyone sync up perfectly in terms of their needs? Married couples can hardly get on the same page about sex and finances—add a couple of kids with high energy, sleep disorders, bed wetting, learning disabilities, and allergies—well, the capacity to match up and have peace is out the window right there.

The Magical Silver Lining

But here’s the magical silver lining to the whole absurd “Get Everyone On the Same Page” project: you all grow. You grow and you grow and you grow. You have to. It’s the requirement of non-monastic life!

You figure out sleep—by sharing and caring and swapping who stays up late and who gets up tomorrow night and how you sleep (co-sleep or using cribs or putting a mattress on the floor in your bedroom for the one scared child who needs you every night). You stop shaming the bed wetter, you take more naps, you require days off, you start exercising and drinking chamomile tea. You keep at it until you get sleep. It might take years, but you work on it every day.

You figure out food—little snack trays, or low shelves with easy to open food stuffs, or six weeks of dinners made and frozen in a freezer, or crock pots, or take out Chinese every Friday night. You handle allergies and learn to cook. You read more books about food than you ever imagined needing to.

You figure out romance—the date night or the one candle that tells the spouse: Yep, I’m open to sexual contact tonight. You swap babysitting with the best friend to have the house alone once in a blue moon, or you read to your honey-bear every night before you sleep. You trade flirty texts throughout the day or you take a few months off postpartum so you don’t have to negotiate “Do you want to?” every night.

You figure out life—how to survive the overwhelming crushing disappointments that come from failed ideals (friends who betray you; religious communities that stumble; the marriage that can’t and shouldn’t make it; the illness you didn’t plan that robbed you for three years straight; the miscarriages; the house fire; the hurricane; the lost job, lost income, and home repossession; the embarrassment of gaining all that weight due to diabetes, after you had been a dancer in college; the heartache at having hurt your own child; the alcoholism or drug addiction that are destroying someone you love).

Complexity quote 2In the same ways, you figure out education—one idea at a time, one child at a time, one input at a time. You keep revising your ideas, and then you find new ones that really click. But you know what works and doesn’t because you lived each one sincerely. You know your children—you keep letting them teach you about who they are, and that changes how you understand yourself, in addition to them.

Slowly you expand how you operate to accommodate other personality types than your own. You give up notions of phony perfection between parent and child. There is no tactic that ensures a child will match a parent’s fantasy of who he or she should be by 18. There is only love and trying, over and over and over again—until the child knows he or she is loved, and the parent knows that the child is irrefutably a unique worthy person wholly separate from either parent.

Creating a family is the most exasperating, philosophy-destroying, crash-course in love I know about.

No two families will get there the same way—but the end goal is a shared one (and a worthy one): to like each other as much as we love each other.

It takes a lifetime.

Complexity is your friend. It will make you into a humble, generous, open-minded, caring, attentive human being, if you let it.


Images: Circuit board by Derek Gavey and family of four by Rebecca L (cc cropped, text added)

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“You had ONE job.”

Monday, January 19th, 2015


It feels like you have dozens of jobs and that you might not be doing any of them well enough. But the truth is: you have one job. If you’re doing this one job well, everything else will fall into place.

Pinkie promise swear.

Engage the brain.

That’s it. Your task, as a home educator, isn’t to cram a bunch of information into your kids’ heads. It isn’t to get them to master detailed facts, formulae, or figures. You don’t have to have read the entire western canon by the time they turn 18.

The Internet has changed everything—schools are not doing their jobs if all they offer our kids is a plethora of facts and methods that are easily located online.

At home, we have an opportunity to solve the education crisis, one family (one child!) at a time. You know what is causing educators to wring their hands? How to update education to the current technologically drenched world we’re in now!

Learning needs to be about fostering thinkers.

A thinker is marked by these characteristics:

  • curious
  • able to pose meaningful questions
  • correlates information from one discipline with another
  • involves personal experience in academic contexts
  • willing to take risks
  • collaborative
  • postulates “what if…?”
  • generates multiple possible solutions (not one right answer)
  • observes and narrates own process during investigation
  • knows how to approach research
  • can identify credible versus not credible sources
  • open to creative solutions
  • expands the utility of the information into other arenas
  • interdisciplinary approach to any subject
  • skillful in current technologies

You can use any old content to work on these from rocks and geologic formations to Mr. Bingley and vintage dance! The content is no longer the primary goal of education.

THINKING—risky, exploratory, curious, probing thought—is!

Rubiks cubeImage by Doug Aghassi (cc)

What does this look like?

What if instead of opening the math book and teaching your child how to divide fractions based on the three sentence instructions on the colorful page, you put out a variety of objects with knives and scissors and asked your kids to do some dividing?

Perhaps you hand them a pie and tell them you need one-sixth of it on a plate.

Ask them how to go about it. Use the language: one-sixth. Examine the term. Ask them what they think one-sixth means or might be. Ask them for clues in the words themselves. We have the word “one” and we have a version of the word “six.” What might that mean? What is our experience of pie? How many ways are there to cut pieces? Should we always make skinny triangles? Are there other ways to cut it up? Are there other situations that called for dividing things into smaller pieces? Can we apply what we know about pizza?

Keep going. Let them make mistakes. Let them solve the problem incorrectly. Have several pies ready to go.

Before you swoop in with the right answers for how to create fractional parts, let them get the feel of the problem. Let them articulate the problem. Let them explore solutions.

You can even solve problems that are quite mundane: “Toothbrushes are all over the bathroom sink and on the floor. I need problem solvers! Let’s figure out the solution.”

Get out the white board and go to work. Or put the kids in the bathroom (one or two) and let them discuss how they will handle it.

Same thing can be done with any subject. Let’s look at a historical event: the Civil Rights era. It seems incomprehensible that there was ever a time when black Americans were not equal to white Americans.

So let’s explore that—are there groups of people in our world today that make us nervous? (It takes some real courage to have this kind of conversation, but there are possible answers—for women, it could be encountering men at night alone, for kids it could be bullies who leave you out of games in the neighborhood, it could be the people one perceives as “stealing” the right to homeschool…)

Ask questions about history—have there been other times in the past where groups have discriminated against other groups? Why might they?

What in any of us wants to be exclusive? How did skin color make civil rights an especially thorny problem?

And so on.

The goal here is not to run through information and then to master it, but to create space for exploration of the mind’s capacities!

If you’re engaging the brain regularly, you’re on the right track. Information can be found anywhere and offers you plenty of chances to engage the brain. Information alone is no longer enough.
The goal
Image at the top of the post by Gundars (cc cropped and text added)

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You can only do what you can do

Monday, January 12th, 2015


I’ve had a flurry of phone calls this week. One common thread is that January seduces parents into believing they can fly. There’s something about the start of a new year—the blank slate, the brand new, the no-mistakes-made-yet, the intoxicating elixir of “this year will be different.”

Whatever failed in fall is now up for re-evaluation and redoubling of effort. The urgency to “get something done” for year end evaluations, or to satisfy a skeptical spouse, or to appease your own fantasy of what “should” be happening in your homeschool is surging. The temptation is great: to completely change gears or programs, or to load up on one particular subject area, or to revamp your schedule so that the one neglected child who was happily playing Minecraft all day is now required to sit at the kitchen table for two hours straight every morning (to prove to you that he IS being homeschooled).

My caution: Slow down, Bessie.

You can’t change who you are with the snap of your fingers or all the alarms and whistles of your smart phone. No one new curriculum piece will transform your personal style of being or your natural family rhythm. Worse: if you do the “big overhaul” right now, you may upend all that lovely “settling in” that would naturally happen in January, mid-year.

Huge shifts quoteHuge shifts in philosophy or practice midyear feel like whiplash to kids. They sense that the changes mean whatever came before was “not good enough.” (And what if they were reasonably happy doing whatever before? What if they were just getting the hang of the math book or copywork or the system you use to study history?)

It’s hard to commit to an experiment, too. Your children aren’t reading the home education discussion lists and they aren’t necessarily worried about their educations. You worry (that’s your job).

So what should you do if you are dissatisfied with the program or the schedule or the feel of your homeschool midyear?

Pause. Take notes.

Let yourself consider the good of what IS going on in your homeschool before you assume it is all wrong or messed up. I remember one year when I thought we weren’t doing enough dictation (I had some fantasy that we’d do it a couple times per week per child).

Midyear, I pulled out our notebooks where I collected their work. Page after page of dictation. It wound up being that each child (the three who were writing) had practiced dictation 2-3 times per month and by January, that meant they had done dictation practice 8-10 times. These dictations, in the shiny clear page protectors, showed remarkable effort and growth. Did they need more dictation than that?

No. The answer turned out to be no.

But the temptation to revamp the schedule was so strong, I almost did it without that backwards glance. It was a fluke that led me to examine the notebooks and to recognize that with my personality and our busy lives, getting to some form of dictation 2-3 times a month was not only pretty good, it was getting the job done!

This is what I want you to consider. It may actually be true that the practices in place from fall are enough and are a true reflection of who you are, already. It’s good to pause, to look through workbooks, to flip through photos, to remind yourself of all the ways you explored learning and the world in the fall.

To make an adjustment, follow this plan to help you and your kids make authentic reasonable changes.

Change one egregious subject only.

Don’t get swept up into the “change it all” plan. Save that for summer, when you have time to really think through how the new philosophy will work. If the subject getting you down is your awful co-op composition class for 5th grade, drop it. If your daughter despises the Wordly Wise workbook, shred it. If the math text is confusing even to you, a full grown adult, replace it. Overhaul the one truly awful component in your homeschool.

Make logistical changes first.

Practice context quote 2Rather than throw in the towel on dictation, try new tools or a new environment to see if those recast the practice. You might move dictation to a new time of day, or add candles, or add brownies, or use a digital recorder and let the child do dictation alone in his bedroom, or try typing dictation rather than handwriting, or let the child select her own passage, or have the children pair up to do dictation of jokes with each other, or use gel pens and black lined paper. The point is that sometimes the practice is fine, but the context is tedious or unhelpful.

Re-evaluate pace.

Does the child need to work every single math problem if she already understands the concept? Can you skip the odds or a full chapter? Perhaps you’ve been over-doing it on freewriting. Time to take a break and only have experiences, read books, and play with poetry before freewriting again. If you are trapped in Ancient Greece in history (kids are into it and you are sick of it), consider ways to re-hook your interest to accommodate theirs. You don’t HAVE to follow the four year history cycle just because a book tells you to.

Add or take away one regular out of the house trip.

For some families, if you just stayed home one more afternoon or day, you’d find that everything works beautifully. You’d have enough time and space for everything without rushing or hurrying or interrupting the flow. But there are some families who are home so much, the kids are utterly bored of the four walls and need an exit! Add one exciting outing a week (even going to the mall, the park, a coffee shop, the zoo, McDonald’s play land, a friend’s house, the library) to change the vibe of family life, to have something to look forward to!

You can’t fly. You can only do what you do a little better than you are doing it now, until it stops feeling better…and you tweak it again. Be patient, trust the process, and go do something AMAZING that enlivens YOU (take on a big goal like traveling for a weekend away with girlfriends to see the Chicago Art Institute, or running a half marathon, or going to cooking class, or signing up to get your Master’s degree online).

You’re already doing a better job than you realize. I know because I know.

Consider the good

Image © Michael Spring |

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A tough season

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Red tent

An email dialogue with a Brave Writer mom:


I feel bad emailing you like this. I know you’re so busy with all of your Brave Writer things and your actual life. I just know that I find so much comfort in your wisdom. I’ve heard you at conferences and chatted with you and I love your book, A Gracious Space. You’re just so encouraging, and your words always make me feel like everything is going to be okay. So right now, when I feel like I want to cry about all of this—kids, homeschooling, mothering, LIFE—I find myself wanting to cry to a complete stranger via email.

Aw. So glad you reached out!

I have four kids—7, 4, 2, and 7 months. My husband works long hours and has a long commute. He travels overseas frequently and our families live on the other side of the country. Basically, I’m on full-fledged duty around the clock, which is fine. I mostly do just fine with making it through the day. But I feel like I’m not giving my kids what they need. For example, my oldest wants to sew ornaments and sell them to make money. She’s a good little sewer, and I want to be able to help her accomplish her goals. But it’s not something she can do entirely on her own (she needs me to thread the needle and fix little knots and other mishaps). That’s no big deal, except that my 4-year-old has things he’s interested in, too. He’s really bright and curious and wants to learn to read, among other things. My 2-year-old is the real trouble. She’s so stinking cute, but she’s a little tornado that doesn’t quit. Ever.

This is a tough, tough season in your life. There are no easy answers because EVERYONE who has children the ages of your kids finds it impossible to come up with any system that actually works. You are in a kind of “happy-survival” mode and must make peace with the fact that the primary way you will overcome this stage is to wait it out (your kids will get older). Two year olds and three year olds have a way of undermining the space because who they are is in this enormous developmental Hurrah! They want what they want and they don’t have the tools yet to do for themselves. So you are all caught in the vortex of the two year old quite legitimately.

She WILL quit eventually but right now it seems like forever.

Confession: I hate reading to my kids. And it’s because when I do, I feel like I’m always yelling over someone (usually the 2-year-old). She wants on my lap, she wants off my lap, back and forth. She doesn’t nap much anymore, and when she does, she ends up staying awake in her room (coming out frequently, of course) until 9:00-10:00 at night, which is a problem on several other levels. The 7-month-old is…well, a baby. She’s super sweet, but she needs a lot from me, too. On top of it all, there’s the house and the laundry and the meals.

Try audio books. They saved my life when I had babies who nursed and hated hearing me read at the same time. You can even ONLY listen in the car when you are driving somewhere and then you don’t even have to read or calm anyone. They will be trapped in the car!

I just feel like there are so many things that I want to do to help my kids grow, but I can’t do any of them, because I’m so busy just keeping our house (barely) functioning. There are so many books I want to read to my older kids, but I only read a teeny tiny fraction of them, because of everything else. We manage to get the absolutely critical things done almost every day (math, copy work, independent reading),

WOW! Good for you. This is exceptional. Be proud of this.

but beyond that, it’s all about survival. My kids love poetry tea time, but we hardly ever do it. We don’t do free writes. We do history sporadically. I long ago decided that lots of outside play and watching Wild Kratts would have to suffice for science.

There you go! Rather than think you “rarely” do freewriting. Think: Yay! We got to freewriting twice this year! Yay! We had one poetry teatime! Yay! We took one field trip! Change your expectations and celebrate your tiny triumphs. Over a childhood, these will grow and repeat and become meaningful in new ways. Right now it seems you will never do any of these big activities with any regularity. But you will… eventually.

What were your days like when your kids were really little? You seem to have done this parenting/homeschooling thing really well—you seem to have enjoyed it, your kids seem to be successful, and you all seem to really like each other, which is what I’m going for over here, so I kind of look to you as my homeschool beacon.

Because they are full grown. I remember so many “squandered” days where all I could do was survive. I have five kids, all two years apart. I was pregnant or nursing for 12 years. Absolutely know your feelings. There were years where we hardly did dictation (for instance). But when I look at the notebooks from those years, we actually got it done 10 times. Ten is a lot! It’s more than I realized at the time, thinking I should have done it every other week for the whole year.

I realized that some years we were more into history than others. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled.

We had weeks where washing diapers and shopping at the store and laundering clothes and cleaning up toys felt like the only things we did. Yet when I looked back I could see that we built with Legos or I helped one learn to knit or I did manage to get to the library or we learned all the words to the songs on the Rafi album or we enjoyed watching Arthur on TV every night before dinner.

Remember that you are also on a learning curve about what works for you. Be good to yourself and trust that all of it will work together to create a vivid happy family life where learning also occurs.

For the older one who needs special help, help her. Keep her up after the baby goes to bed, or get her up extra early before the baby wakes, or promise her the next time the baby naps you’ll help her. You might consider hiring a mother’s helper (since your husband is gone a lot). She could be another homeschool girl or boy who comes for two hours to the house to play with the little ones so you can focus on the older one. This worked for me when I was working freelance as a ghost-writer. I just worked while the helper was downstairs. If they really needed me, I was available. But I didn’t have to supervise so closely.

Thanks for your time,

P.S. Because I feel like a bit of a mooch, emailing you directly for advice, I have to tell you that I am a paying member of the Homeschool Alliance. I don’t go there much, because I don’t have a lot of time, but I aspire to. Anyway, I’ve always thought you were amazing for being so available to so many people, so I’m happy to pay for my access to you. It’s worth it.

You are quite all right writing to me and I’m so glad you are in the Homeschool Alliance. Keep reading there. It will help you! Keep your chin up. You’re doing far more right than you realize.



Email is shared with permission

Image © Tetyana Kochneva |

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Vehicle or destination?

Monday, January 5th, 2015

The kids and the jeep

Don’t confuse the educational vehicle with the academic destination. In other words, it is less important whether you unschool or classically educate—neither of these is inherently superior to the other. They are vehicles that get you to the end goal on the map—an educated, self-reliant adult.

If you become overly enamored with the sleek lines of the Jaguar when you really need an off-road Suzuki Samurai to get to where you’re going, you’ll be enormously frustrated as it gets all banged up and scratched.

Figure out where you want to go first (perhaps even just a trailhead with lots of options spinning from it). Then pick a vehicle (or vehicles!) that get you there. There are no moral absolutes about how, only that you make progress toward the destination in a way that doesn’t damage your child, damage your relationship to the child, or that doesn’t prevent your child from getting where he or she wants to go.

Sometimes we are so attached to “the ride,” we disqualify perfectly good educational vehicles because of pride, a quest for ideological purity, or a vague sense that “this is how I wished I had learned” rather than focusing on what our specific child needs in this specific situation with these goals!

Image by Ron Kroetz (cc cropped)

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14 in 2014!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014


Don’t miss any of these 14 popular 2014 blog posts!

It really does go by quickly
The misunderstood child led learning model
The little unspoken homeschool secret
You have time
Your children will not work harder than you will
Children’s poetry celebration: Cinquain Poems
Top ten myths about writing
Don’t trust the schedule
You want to do a good job of parenting
You’ve got a passel of kids
You are not a teacher
The goal of education
The four principles of a healthy homeschool
Take a risk

Happy reading!

Image © Shannon Fagan |

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Boredom is not the enemy

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014


The most common advice given to parents when faced with a bored child is to load up that kid with chores. The thinking goes that the child will never utter the words again to avoid mopping, vacuuming, and laundering.

Other advice:

Leave the child in it and eventually he or she will come out of it.

Remind kids that life isn’t always interesting; that we all have to do things we don’t like.

Less punitive advice:

Send bored children outdoors.
Post a list of possible activities and hand it to the child.
Remind the child of all the toys and supplies at hand.

For me, these responses to the “I’m bored” cry feel inadequate. I know when I express a feeling, I want someone to “get it” at minimum. I want my feeling recognized as legitimate or valid—at least, understandable given my circumstances. Offering me solutions or punishments for being bored, frustrated, lonely, tired, cranky, or sad feels dismissive.

On the other hand, being confronted by a bored gaggle of kids when they have a house overflowing with toys, books, play equipment, video games, movies, and siblings can be utterly exasperating!

Here’s a down and dirty guide to boredom and kids

(feel free to use, edit, disregard as suits you and your family)

1. Agree with equal amount of emotion in your voice. Like this:

“Mom, I’m bored.”

“You’re BORED!? Oh man I HATE that feeling.”
“I remember feeling bored when I was a kid. Drove me NUTS!”
“Boredom is SOOOO BORING! Ugh. Yuck. I get it.”
“Don’t you hate how you can be bored even though you have cool toys and games to play? I get that way sometimes.”

Let that stand. You don’t have to solve it. Sometimes just getting it is enough.

2. Resist the temptation to solve the boredom with practical activities. Instead, offer support in “handling” it, like this:

“How have you solved being bored before? Can you remember? What usually works for you?”

“Sometimes when I’m bored I have to sit for a little bit to think about how I might get to the other side. Want to pull up a chair while I’m in the kitchen and sit here with me while you think about it?”

“I remember the last time you were bored, you took the dog for a walk and you came back with a new idea of what to do. Do you think that would work this time? Or do you have another idea for what to do when you are bored?”

Or ask the question: “Do you mind being bored? Sometimes I like doing nothing—as a change of pace, just sitting around doing absolutely nothing at all. Do you ever like that?”

3. Invite the bored child (the one who is really struggling to find anything to do) to hang out with you until the child has a new idea of what to do.

“I hate being bored. I wish I had time to play a game with you. I’m washing dishes and I would love it if you would create a musical playlist for me to listen to while I do them. Would you mind doing that until you figure out what you want to do instead?”

“I was about to fold laundry. I know that probably doesn’t sound like fun, but until you know what you want to do, I’d love you to come talk to me to keep me company while I fold clothes. Would you mind doing that?”

“I’m on the computer right now. Come here! Look at these photos (story, pinterest images, facebook feed). Sometimes when I’m bored I just scroll through these news feeds endlessly. Not very productive, eh? Want to show me something online that I haven’t seen today?”

The goal here is to recognize that boredom is a condition of experience, but it doesn’t have to be overcome. Companionship is often one way to “heal” it for the moment allowing new ideas to come forward.

4. Suggest (after you may have tried the three ideas above) a project that is messy, that the child has wanted to do but you have put off, that is involving.

The key to overcoming boredom is “surprise.” Boredom is about relentless predictability. All of us get tired of that. Our toys bore us because they are familiar. Our books bore us because the newness has worn off. Our siblings bore us because they are always there. Our parents bore us because they are such adults all the time.

To rise above boredom means upsetting the stability and predictability of routine and familiarity. If your child is truly at the chronically bored place, it’s time to involve new experiences and those usually require time, companionship, and big messes.

  • Painting
  • Brand new board games
  • Hammers and nails
  • Taking apart old radios, bicycles, furniture, computers
  • Modeling clay
  • Baking
  • Sewing
  • Video games
  • A six part movie series
  • Having friends over
  • Planning a party

In other words—boredom may mean that life has become a bit dull, a bit of a drudgery, a bit repetitive.

Even in the academics, this happens. If you have been using the same set of workbooks for the entire fall, it may be time to put them away for a week and do all hands-on activities for math, language arts, and science. Just change the tone and energy of the home.

Alternatively, use them in a new setting: at the local Starbucks, go to the library, hang out at a park, “do school” at a homeschool friend’s house where you all study together for a day.

Boredom is real. It’s not the enemy. It doesn’t mean your child is misbehaving or willful. Boredom is not a sign of lack of gratitude or ingenuity. Boredom simply is—it’s another feeling that human beings have that deserves respect, support, and love. Like all of our feelings.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by greg westfall (cc cropped and text added)

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It all counts

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Today’s thought: It all counts

The dish washing,
the foot rubbing,
the tub bathing,
the skip counting in the car,
the singing at the tops of your lungs together off key,
the carefully copied passage,
the shopping for groceries,
the spontaneous walk in the neighborhood,
the sorting the laundry into the right colored piles,
the charging of the dead phone,
the pause to text your sick mother-in-law,
the five minutes you take to regroup,
the gentle way you overlooked your child’s Big Mess,
the fifth book read after lunch when you usually only read three,
the naps (oh yes, the naps count!),
the petting of the dog,
the recitation of a few historical facts,
the listening carefully when your child explains how to beat level five,
the eye contact,
the cuddles,
the enthusiastic cheer for small successes and big ones,
the science experiment you finally got through with all the right ingredients,
the trampoline jumping,
the needed and taken break…

This stuff also counts:

The short word,
the worry,
the rushing,
the aimlessness that takes over when exhausted,
the bickering,
the harsh tone when a child is simply being a child,
the endless pages of material a child already knows,
the push, push, push to work harder on what a child isn’t ready for,
the conversations with a spouse overheard by the child,
the missed opportunities to play,
the loss of contact with a teen,
the blankness that sets in when sick of homeschooling,
the lost moment when a child was excited but you were distracted,
the anxiety that something’s wrong,
the blues,
the bad math book that you spent too much on,
the co-op where a bully mistreats your one child,
the not-taken, much-needed break…

You get to choose what will count in your homeschool.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Martin Novak |

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Two ways to grow teens

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Rolling thunder!

Teens present a challenge to parents who are used to the cozy snuggly younger years of wide-eyed curiosity about lady bugs. Teens can become bored by the wonder of the world around them as they navigate the far-more-interesting-to-them inner world of their thoughts, emotions, and yearnings.

That first teen—how I pity her or him! Parents don’t want to be awakened from the dreamland of their perfect, precious child. They want to prolong innocence and enchantment.

Teens want risk and adventure. They want to prove to themselves that one day, they will in fact be competent adults who live in the world outside the living room walls. They can’t know that they will be successful in that world until they get their hands on it—until they are out in it!

How do we—the anxious parents of these gawky, voice-changing, hair-growing, newly curvy bodies—give them what they need without panic and anxiety?

There are two critical pathways to the expansion of self:

1. Witness
2. Encounter


One way to grow is to increase your exposure to a world that is different from your familiar one. We adults do that every day by reading the news, or watching television, or listening to radio. We “witness” the events from around the globe via film or satellite, we read interesting discussions about those events, we listen to interviews with people who live in the midst of those events, and we receive stories through movies, memoirs, and novels of people who live very differently from us. This “witness” to the experiences of others expands our worldview and rearranges what we understand as normative or important. We discover our values differently when they are held up next to the values of others (whether those others live down the street or across an ocean).

For teens—they “witness” a larger world in much the same ways, if they are given the chance! They have the Internet—which offers them Twitter, Facebook, bulletin boards for affinity-related discussion, news organizations, blogs like Tumblr, and more. It’s easy to want to limit the use of the Internet, but it’s almost impossible to do so successfully (teens can work around just about any limit you set). It’s even better to create conversation around what they learn there and to be a willing conversation partner for the cognitive growth that is happening at breakneck speed in that space.

They also witness the larger world through novels and films. These two vehicles help teens to absorb the motivations and complexities of being human in unfamiliar (or very familiar!) contexts. They can read, take time off, read more, and process it all safely at home with you.

Witness provides teens with a chance to explore unfamiliar territory at arm’s length. The experience is under their control. They can shut down the computer, they can turn off the television, they can close the book. They are free to sample or deep dive, to agree or disagree without consequence to their life’s situation.


Encounter is the more challenging, more impacting way to grow. Encounter is not at arm’s length. Encounter means being overwhelmed (all five senses) with the experience so that you can’t escape it nor package and manage it. For instance, you might “witness” what life is like in Iran by reading a book like Reading Lolita in Tehran. But to encounter life in Tehran, one would have to go and stay there! Travel is one level of encounter (visiting a place for a short stay). An extended stay working in a foreign country is another level of encounter. Moving to live in a foreign country is the most intense form of encounter.

In terms of raising teens, encounter can look a few ways. It is meeting someone who embodies whatever life experience and values are his or hers (that differ from your own). It is befriending someone who comes from a different background. It is visiting the sites where other views take place (for instance, going to a temple for a visit when you are studying about that religion, especially when it is not your religion; another example—visiting a plantation in the South when you grew up in the North hating plantations as representations of slavery).

Encounter is eating the food, hearing/speaking the language, wearing the clothing, adopting the customs.

Encounter is deliberately putting yourself in the uncomfortable position of being with someone different from yourself and allowing that experience to impact you.

We help our teens grow when we give them both opportunities. They love risk and adventure! When you allow them to develop affinities, to explore their curiosities, and to meet/know people who are different from them, you help their brains! They will experience the kind of cognitive growth critical to being critical thinkers and healthy adults!

Cater to their natural inclination to take “thought-risks” and put them in contact with material and people who challenge their assumptions. Celebrate the results (whatever they may be!). Remember: no teen retains the values developed at 14 and 17. Are you today the same person you were at 15? I doubt it.

Everyone adopts positions to try on like shoes when they are teens. So let them adopt away! If you create space for a teen to imagine herself into a viewpoint, she will also have space to move through and out of it too, if she gets more and new information from witnessing or encountering!

It’s an exciting time to parent, if not a little nerve-wracking at times. Try not to grip too tightly, and enjoy the ride.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Lin Pernille Photography LLC (cc text added)

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Be more interested in the thinking than the thoughts

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

When someone shares a strong opinion—even when unsubstantiated by facts and data—it’s easy to feel that it is your obligation to enlighten said person with the “truth” —the truth that has eluded them until they happened upon your smarter, more capable mind.

A child is necessarily younger and less experienced with the world than you are, so their opinions will come from a different (more limited) space. But those conclusions and thoughts are no less logical to the child, no less important, no less “true” in his or her own mind’s eye.

I don’t know anyone who has kept every opinion formed at age ten throughout the rest of life. Kids, teens, young adults, heck OLD adults, routinely revise their notions of what is true, right, and good all the time, as they add experiences, information, and relationships to their lives. Our job as parents isn’t to “safeguard” a particular set of ideas or beliefs (no matter how much we may hope that our kids will adopt a particular set).

Our job is to value cognitive processes that show our kids are learning to reflect on their thinking. We don’t do this to manipulate our kids or anyone else to adopt our way of thinking. We do it to enhance the powers of thought that our kids are exhibiting.


When Johannah first became interested in animal rights, she wanted to find a way to make a difference. For her, that meant adopting veganism as her lifestyle. It would have been easy to forbid it (since I had to cook for six other meat-lovers in the family and her choice would be inconvenient) or to combat it with my experiences (I grew up vegetarian and I “knew” that she wouldn’t want to be one forever) or to rebut it with my own set of facts about health.

But what I could see in her commitment wasn’t an opinion about animal rights nearly as much as it was an expression of how she “took in” impacting information and then applied it to her life. She was showing me that when she took something seriously, she would make a corresponding choice to back it with her actions! What an amazing development in a young person—to not just rant about ideas, but to put into practice a highly inconvenient lifestyle choice to back up her convictions!

As a result, our family accommodated this choice. In fact, two more kids chose to become vegans as a result of watching this commitment lived out. We had lots of discussions about how we make commitments and to what causes. It was not easy for my three vegans to understand my choice to not be vegan, for instance. Just my own lifestyle provided them with a chance to learn how to peacefully co-exist with difference—different experiences, thoughts, choices, facts.

Today, only one of the three is still vegan. They have their new reasons for why they live differently now. These new choices show growth in how they nuance commitments and what they believe. As I suspected, their ideas morphed and grew just like mine have over a lifetime.

When our kids become passionate about a belief, or when they are exploring ideas that may even seem uncomfortable to us, this is a chance to be supportive of the cognitive development happening right before our eyes! It’s a wonderful thing to see a mind choose to think independently of the family culture—to branch out to find information, ideas, and commitments all their own. It doesn’t mean our kids will even land or stay with these ideas for good. Lord knows most of us shift identities and beliefs again and again throughout our lives.

Rather, our children, teens, young adults are doing the hard work of becoming—becoming people who know how to think for themselves, using the resources, experiences, and reasoning skills available at that stage in the journey.

All we have to do is buy soy milk, hummus, and Earth Balance margarine, while listening intently to the passionate plea to end violence against animals.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Jess Yu |

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