“I’m Bored…” Quick Tip!

People write a lot about the benefits of letting kids be bored. And while that may give kids the opportunity to figure things out, I tend to want to help them when they are uncomfortable.

My family was an average suburban middle class family. In the beginning, my kids went to school just like everyone else. But when it didn’t work out as well as I had hoped it would, we explored our options and started homeschooling.  It took us a while to figure out our rhythm and how we wanted to approach learning and life.

But we learned a few things along the way.

When my son first came home from school, he complained of being bored. He had been SOO over-scheduled – if I wasn’t directing him in some way, his teacher was. He got up in the morning, ate the breakfast I had prepared for him, got on the bus that took him to his next 8 hours, then back home again to me. He was offered a snack choice and then we’d be off and running again. But he never really figured out how to manage his own time or make his own way.

One thing we did, and parents could maybe do it for each of their kids: We walked around the entire house with a clipboard and he and I identified fun things he could do if he felt like it.

Every room had several opportunities. We found toys in closets that he had set aside. We set up a few folding tables, so there were more surfaces ready for play. We talked about snacks he could fix without asking for help or even some cooking he could do if he wanted to be adventurous. The backyard, patio and front sidewalk were full of options for building and playing.  Pets needed attention, so that was always an option.  At the time, we had so many books (pre-Pinterest days) full of activities he could do if he wanted to make something.

I recorded all these things for him and when we were done, we taped his, “I’m bored, but I can…” list onto his door. For a while he referred back to it. Then in time, he got more comfortable with finding his own interests.

Sometimes kids say, “I’m bored,” because they need more connection with their parents. But sometimes they just need a little help figuring out what they can do with their time.

Hope this quick tip helps!

My Unschooling Manifesto

unschoolers-manifesto
Sometimes it helps to get really clear what we believe about unschooling. Here’s my list of 25 items that are important in my own personal Unschooler’s Manifesto.

Would you add something to my list?

Would you be interested in creating your own manifesto? 

1.) Stop dividing the world into Educational and Non-educational. Everything is educational!

2.) Nothing is more important than the relationship between you and them – not some worksheet, not a banana peel on the floor, not what time they go to bed, not when they learn to read.

3.) You don’t have to artificially divide the world up into subjects. One thing really does lead to another when learners (children and adults) follow their interests.

4.) Figure out what your family’s rhythm is – and recognize that it may change over time. And! It may not look like someone else’s. But that’s the beauty of truly being able to individualize for your family too!

5.) Be curious about the world yourself. Invite your kids to be curious with you. Support them as they begin to wander with their own curiosities.

6.) Be Interested and Interesting. Unschoolers focus on living a rich, stimulating life with their kids.

7.) Role model critical thinking skills.

8.) Unschoolers recognize that the schoolish ways of lesson plans, curriculum, assignments, quizzes or tests, required memorizing, and grades are totally unnecessary and more about the “teaching” than the “learning.”

9.) Don’t suck the fun out of something by turning it into a “teachable moment.” Take your cues from your kids – a little conversation about it may be fine with them.

10.) Create a support system for yourself – people you can turn to when you’re not sure what you’re doing is working. Best if local, still good if online.

11.) You don’t have to use the term “unschooling” if it bugs you. A lot of options exist. And you may use different terms when you talk to different people – based upon their level of understanding. “Homeschooling” is fine for friends/family who don’t know what the heck you’re doing! Unschooling, at it’s simplest definition, is a homeschooling method. But if you want to call it Whole Life learning, or say, “We’re doing an experiential, individualized approach to learning,” that works too.

12.) Do everything you can to stay focused on TODAY… don’t beat yourself up about screw-ups in the past, and don’t play the “what if” game about all the things that could happen in the future.

13.) Take your cues from the child standing right in front of you. Staying tuned into who they really are (not that imagined story in your head) , will point you toward how to support them to grow and learn.

14.) Deschool yourself as well as your child. Read about how schoolish thoughts creep in, simply because they’re familiar – and because we are inundated with them from society.

15.) Ask yourself Why? And Why Not? Move away from arbitrary reasons. It may not have to go the way your knee-jerk thought wants to take you.  Think about the rationale behind the decision – does this work best for your family today?

16.) Get rid of comparisons. Every person is unique – their interests, their experiences, their internal wiring! The sooner we embrace people for who they are today and not wish for them to be something different – the better!

17.) Recognize that when you are making comparisons or wishing they were different, they’re picking up on your disapproval, your disappointment. If you’re trying for unconditional love – don’t make it conditional.

18.) Observe without judgement. You’re taking in data so you can be the best resource finder or facilitator for them.

19.) Learning is naturally hard-wired into humans. It’s possible that your child has had that negatively affected by schoolish techniques – but it can return if you’re supportive and patient. It’s human nature.

20.) Parents have to have a lot of trust in the process of learning – and in their own children – when external pressures are so strongly pushing for traditional schooling.

21.) Stay flexible and continue to learn about unschooling. What sounded insane in the beginning, may make more sense to you later down the road. That’s ok. What you embrace is entirely up to you. We all evolve as parents and as learners ourselves. Thank heavens, right?

22.) Because unschoolers aren’t following a typical scope and sequence, they will likely have gaps in their learning… at least according to what schools expect. But truthfully, we all have gaps – either we weren’t paying attention, or we transferred schools, or we were out for an illness.  And everyone can easily close up a gap with a quick google search or Siri question! 

23.) 18 is not a magic age – they will learn when they are ready. Sometimes before 18, sometimes after. But the pressure to get It all done by 18 is gone.

24.) Your days will look more like summer vacation – with all the fun, connection, and exploration that can go with it.

25.) Enjoy your life with your children. If this is hard for you, talk with someone to see where your obstacles are.

 

If you’re new to unschooling and wish you had a little extra support, I have a couple of great options for you!
Creating Confidence – A private membership group approach
Stress-Free Start – a 1:1 Coaching plan with a free ebook.

The Myth of Structure

Myth-of-structure

Structure is another one of those words that gets misused. People say that kids need structure – and then take it too far. Kids don’t need their whole lives structured. There’s no room for curiosity or following an interest if you do that. They don’t need their learning structured for exactly that same reason. It’s not conducive to real learning if you say “We do Math at 10, Social Studies at 11, Lunch at noon, etc.” What happens when something wonderful presents itself in the middle of your schedule? Or if they are more interested in watching the Presidential debates? Or wondering why leaves are turning colors in Vermont, but temps are still in the 90s in Texas?

Life brings structure – winding down for bedtimes, making it on time and prepared for soccer practice twice a week, showing up for park days with blankets, chairs, snacks and water bottles, getting to the post office before it closes. But also, identifying priorities, knowing what’s going to happen that day, being clear on expectations… these are forms of structure.

So I don’t say “No structure ever!” That would be silly.

Structure is all around us. We don’t have to create arbitrary structures though. If you’re still thinking that kids thrive with structure, ask yourself why? Some of your own responses will be totally logical. Others may leave you with more questions than answers.

Ask yourself, “Who says?” and “Why?”

Sometimes, it’s the adults seeking the structure for themselves. It’s about getting a handle on the fear that comes when things are a little more floaty than we’re comfortable with. We quickly want to clamp down and create some order. 😉  Instead, it might be helpful to sit with the discomfort you have with that lack of structure. Just be a watcher. What’s happening? Why do you need the structure? If you’re afraid that a little chaos will definitely lead your family into total bedlam and anarchy, try to get that disaster mindset in check. A little disarray is not the same as a complete pandemonium. Try to stay realistic on what is actually happening in the here and now.

If you have a hard time overcoming those thoughts and you’re still thinking that you’d like to provide more structure, create it for yourself. Start a bullet journal or Evernote system and get your thoughts all organized. Nothing wrong with doing that at all. Just don’t take it that step further and decide that everyone else in your house needs your structure.

When you hear people talk about how “kids need structure,” consider how they might simply be using a cliché to promote the status quo.  Learning doesn’t have to be parceled out to kids under some guise of needing structure.

While some kids need a little more structure based on their temperament or developmental phase, try creating structure individually without sweeping with a broad brush.  And be ready to change it, if the situation doesn’t call for it.

Of course, you have to provide safety – and structure does that. And sometimes kids need help with transitioning from one activity to another. Structure can help with this too. But keep in mind that the less “imposed” structure, the better. A child will be much more likely to learn how to do this for themselves if you can refrain from being heavy-handed in the structure department.

 

 

10 Lessons for a Homeschooling Mom to UNLEARN

Homeschooing-Moms-10-Lessons-to-UnlearnIt’s all about the “learning”, right? We hear that all the time. And it’s true! But it’s also about the UNlearning! And homeschooling moms seem to have the biggest challenges in this regard.

I don’t know whether we’re so conditioned for approval – thank you schools and mainstrem socialization – or really why this is. But over and over these same particular issues crop up for those of us who choose to step into the home education world.

See if any of these ideas are lurking in your head. Let’s clear them up so you can get on to successfully homeschooling your kids!

  1. I’m not smart enough!
    Don’t you think it’s odd when this irrational thought crosses your path? Most likely, you are a product of the school system yourself. And you want to put your child in the same place that didn’t prepare you well enough? That’s not logical.
  2.  Who am I to do this?
    Do you hear that voice, “Who do you think you are, young lady?” Boy do I hear that loud and clear! This kind of talk seems to hone in on our self-doubt, magnifying it and attempting to embarrass us. It’s odd how we can do that to ourselves. But after years of conditioning, it shouldn’t be surprising.This is a spin-off of the idea that we need to always call in The Experts. We can’t possibly know wha to do in any given situation.Does this one plague you?But did you call in a specialist when your child learned to walk or to eat solid foods? Did you have a tutor sitting with you and your baby when he would attempt to talk? Of course not! Maybe you consulted some baby development websites… but otherwise, you left it to nature. You were completely ok with that. But learning – another one of those natural tendencies all humans have – you somehow don’t think you can do the same.

    Not true! You can. Your child is hardwired to learn. Your role is kind of like when they were learning all of those baby skills: You created an environment that was conducive for them developmentally and based upon their interests. You were flexible and continued to offer options as the baby began to figure it all out. The exact same process can happen with learning. And it IS happening with learning all around the country.

  3. “Real learning” has to look like school.
    School really creates a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. But educational research shows that children learn in so many different ways – visually, auditorily, kinesthetically, experientially. There’s no way schools can accommodate all the different ways a classroom full of kids could possibly need. So instead of admitting that, they simply try to make the kids adapt. They declare that their way is The Way, and that’s that. But it’s not true.In fact, when we look back at the things we retain and/or the things we really learned – more often than not those experiences happened outside the classroom.
  4. What will the neighbors/relatives think?
    This can be tough. Peer pressure has such a strong grip on so many of us. Again, all those years of having to fend for yourself for hours at school – you had to learn how to cope with peer pressure! So when we care too much about what a stranger at the park or the clerk at CVS has to say about why our little one isn’t in school, we need to recognize that as truly inconsequential to our day. Because it is! For relatives we only see at holidays or special gatherings, we have some options for dealing with them in   Dealing with Naysayers and Pass the Bean Dip.
  5. My kids are so unmotivated!
    Kids can be unmotivated for a variety of reasons – and now that you’re going to be with them more, you’ll be able to figure out why that is. Usually it’s because they haven’t been allowed to make very many choices for themselves. Either a teacher was telling them what to do, or we as parents were prodding them along from one thing to another. Sure, they may have been unmotivated in the old setting, but that doesn’t have to be the new norm.
  6. Worrying about gaps in their learning? 
    Another thing to remove is this fear that they will have gaps or that we need to “stay on track.” On track to what? Those tracks that you’re worried about really only apply in a school setting. Truth is, we all have gaps – times we weren’t paying attention or weren’t interested and tuned it all out. If it’s something we ended up needing, we can look it up! “Hello, Siri?” And then we are much more likely to remember it.
  7. Children need more structure.
    This is a myth. Structure makes US feel better when life is feeling chaotic. But let’s not kid ourselves – the children aren’t the one who are needing structure. Sure, some prefer to have bit of a routine, or need more lead time when shifting from one activity to another. But no child needs the structure of Math every morning at 10 a.m. or History every afternoon at 1 p.m. Sometimes we have to look at the fact that the adults cling to the idea of structure when they feel life is a bit chaotic.
  8. Compare and despair!
    Comparisons and competition is also a remnant of years in school. It was used to motivate us and even to shame us into complying with the expectations for the class. So it needs to go.As parents, the comparing often looks like, “Her kid is doing xyz or knows qrst and mine doesn’t! Oh no! I’m failing!” We need to remember that comparing is never a good idea – whether it’s kids or even comparing ourselves with other mothers. Kids all develop differently. They have interests and needs that vary from child to child. Homeschooling is your opportunity to create TRULY individualized learning situations. And comparing yourself to other moms? So often we look at a mom who seems really on top of things and we feel sub-par. But we don’t know what her life is like. We don’t know how much longer she’s been at this either! It’s a bad idea to compare your beginning on this homeschooling path, with someone who started years before you. Also, you have no idea what challenges she has regarding her own family – people often only share the highlights on social media.
  9. Everyone’s House is Clean Except Mine
    Let me put this one to rest right away. When people LIVE in a house, it gets messy! Period. Don’t let having a clean house become a stumbling block to learning. Think about when you dove into some project. Didn’t you spread your stuff out? Same for kids and their projects. Create environments where they can explore their curiosity and get creative. There will be plenty of time later on to have a clean house.
  10. If something doesn’t work out, I’m a miserable failure at this.
    I think this is more of that same school conditioning. We stumble a little and we want to throw in the towel. But remember – even if you’re taking two steps forward and one step back – you’re still making progress! Don’t give up!

 

Dear Suburban Mom

 

Suburban MomHey there!!

Whew! You wrapped up another school year and I know some of you are wondering if you’ve really got it in you to do this all over again in a couple of months.

Let’s face it, it’s been a rough year. You can’t even count the number of nights you spent wrangling with your kid about homework and trying to spin the idea that, yes, this is all necessary despite their protests. Because truthfully, you have your own doubts. All those “necessary” classes and subjects from your own school days – long forgotten! Besides, no one ever asked you about the Pythagorean Theorem or the date of the Battle of Hastings. Heck, you don’t even use your degree! Neither do I! (Talk about a waste of time and money.) Yet you’ve spent the year deputized by the kids’ school as their “Homework Police.,” making sure they memorize all those same irrelevant facts.  And that was not fun.

But what are you going to do? You used to remind yourself that this is simply what everyone must endure until they’re 18 and graduated. But school these days? It doesn’t look like your school days with so much emphasis on testing, the pressure and the stress. The bullying that happens has really gotten out of hand and the teachers seem incredibly frustrated. I don’t know whether the system got too big or too removed from what really works… I don’t know how it has gone so wrong. But you’re pretty sure your kids are not going to look back on these days with a lot of happy memories.

So as you’re wringing your hands and wondering if there are any viable options at all, you’ve started to notice a few more families deciding to homeschool. They’re not all ultra-religious or crunchy granola types either.

And it has you’re  wondering:
Do regular people like me homeschool their kids?

And as soon as that question slips in, the flood of counter-questions surface!

  • Is homeschooling even legal here? Are their a ton of hoops to jump through?
  • Would I even be qualified to do this?
  • How would they make any friends?
  • How would they learn anything?
  • What if we can’t stand each other?

So I just want to tell you,
Yes. Regular people do homeschool their kids.

I did. I had no plans to homeschool as we were trying to make school work for my little kindergartener. But as first grade rolled around, it became clear that the classroom experience was not a good situation. His enthusiasm for learning was already starting to wane. His curiosity was being squashed. His individualism and self-expression – well, there was no room for that. So I started to investigate the homeschooling option. It was the 1990’s and the landscape looked a lot different! Ha!

But the times have changed. And more and more moms like me (and you!) started leaving the local schools venturing into this learning no-man’s-land. Interestingly, there were plenty of people choosing home education back then and thousands more now. It’s a subculture that exists in every community.

To address the questions that popped up first:

1. Legality. Yes, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. Each state decides it’s own rules for what hoops homeschoolers must jump through to legally homeschool. A quick google search can take you to your local and/or state homeschooling group and they will have an explanation as to how the community is dealing with the compulsory attendance laws. Some states require nothing of homeschooling families. Others want periodic testing, some want an end-of the-year evaluation. Send me an email if you have trouble finding out about your state and I can help you out.

2. Are you qualified? Of course you are! Do you know everything? Of course NOT! No one said you have to know everything. You simply have to be a good resource finder. Being able to tap into the local community (libraries, museums, friends with skills, the Internet, etc.) is all you need to be able to provide a wonderful rich learning environment.

3. Ahhh… socialization! That question always pops up. They make friends the way any of us do that aren’t sitting in a classroom – shared interests and experiences. These are the real friendships anyway. I can remember being “best friends” with someone for a year while we sat beside each other in class. And then the next year, we had no shared classes and that friendship was gone. :::poof::: Homeschooled kids aren’t missing out on anything by skipping those kinds of shallow “friendships.”

Remember earlier I mentioned a subculture you may not be aware of? All over the country, homeschoolers are getting together at parks and homes, libraries and recreation centers. They’re off on “field trips” together, meeting for “game days,” pool parties, and mid-week (gasp!) sleepovers.

4. How will they learn? Life provides SOO many opportunities – many you can’t even plan for! But when you’re open and flexible, you can stop to learn more about whatever is crossing your path. Between the internet, books, movies, conversations with people “in-the-know,” you will be shocked at how much your kids will learn. And, you’ll probably learn a little along the way too! Learning really doesn’t have to be dull drudgery to get through – it can be exciting and fun. That’s what will make your little learners engage! Not a stack of worksheets.

5. What if it’s too much togetherness? If this is really the case – and not just one of those unfortunate social kid-slams people say – then you will have the opportunity to work on it. You’ll be able to create rhythms in your day that work for you and for your kids. You don’t have to be side-by-side 24 hours/day! But when you remove the rushing around and the pressure that happens in those precious hours after they come home from school and before they hit the pillow, you’ll be surprised how much everyone’s attitude improves! And, if it’s a big concern of yours, I have an awesome book reference – Parent-Teen Breakthrough: A Relationship Approach by Mira Kirshenbaum.

So there are my quickie answers to the first five questions that popped up. I’m sure there are more percolating in there. And we have all summer to talk more. I’d love to be able to help you figure this out. There’s nothing worse than feeling you don’t have any options. At least in this case, that’s not true. You do. 🙂

xo,
Sue

P.S. If you already know you want to homeschool, but you’re overwhelmed with what the next steps are, a new 12 week support group is coming soon!
We’ll talk about deschooling, socialization, dealing with unsupportive family, building relationships, and more.
For more info: Chaos to Confidence.

 

 

Chaos to Confidence: For New Homeschoolers

 It’s Time!

Homeschooling helpA Group Mentoring/Support Program starting August 1st, led by Sue Patterson.
If you’re a new homeschooler/unschooler, Chaos to Confidence is perfect for you!

  • Everything a new homeschooler needs to know to be successful
  • Get answers to questions you have and didn’t know where to get them answered
  • Join a community of new homeschoolers exploring this path together
  • Group coaching from me for those critical first 12 weeks!

Don’t miss out!!!
Space is limited, so sign up soon!





From Chaos to Confidence

You can do this – and I can show you how!

If you’re just embarking on this homeschooling journey,
I want to invite you to this mentoring program:

Chaos to Confidence.

Chaos to Confidence is for you if:

~You’ve just removed your kids from school and you’re unsure about your next steps.

~Your kids are now “officially school age,” so you’re ready to commit to homeschooling/unschooling.

~You’re overwhelmed by all the info on the internet – but wondering who to listen to.

~You have plenty of people who think homeschooling is nuts, but something deep down is telling you that this is right.

~You’re wishing you didn’t feel so alone.

I’ve created this group mentoring/support program because I know what it’s like to be so new that you’re not even sure what questions to ask!

In our 12 weeks together, I give you the foundation you need to be successful and take you from chaos to confidence!

I can help you.  Every Day.  Walking beside you.

I’ve been where you are now – I remember it clearly. I was so afraid I was going to screw up my kid, or that they’d hate me when we were all done with this. But I knew that school wasn’t where they needed to be. I had to figure out what the heck was the right thing to do – and fast.

I saw what worked and what didn’t. Over those years while my three kids were homeschooling, people began to come to me looking for support and advice. They’re grown now, in their 20s. They are not screwed up nor do they hate me! (In fact, they’re successful, socially savvy and really happy with their lives!)

But maybe you want to know more about them…

The oldest went to community college, transferred to a university and graduated Magna Cum Laude. He also spent a lot of time doing community service, got his Eagle Scout award, went to Japan as an exchange student at 16, joined the Peace Corps after college and worked in Nicaragua, moved back to Texas, got married and just bought a house.  He is 27.

The second spent most of her teen years doing community theatre, taking acting, dance and vocal lessons. She took community college classes and went to an acting conservatory in New York City. She finished her conservatory classes in Los Angeles and ended up with an associate degree in fine arts.  She lives and works as an actress in Los Angeles now. She is 25.

My youngest loved people and all the pop culture type of things. After only unschooling, she went to the local high school for a year and half, made the dance team, did fine in school, but decided it wasn’t worth it. She left to go to cosmetology school and now works in an upscale salon in Austin, Texas. She married a local firefighter, bought a house and had a baby in 2015. (Adorable, I might add!) She is 22.

I’m not saying your kids’ paths will look like my kids’ paths. I shared this for you to see how different they each were and yet we were able to support them in ways that were totally individualized – not the cookie cutter one-size-fits-all (even though it’s called an IEP) ways schools have to use.

I can show you how you can focus on YOUR kids’ strengths and help them unfold into the person they’re meant to be. I focus a lot on helping you, the parent, undo the fear and the assumptions that the school way is the only way. It’s not. My kids are living proof of that.

If your kids have been miserable in school, I want you to know that a better way DOES exist! And I’m so happy we’ve found each other because I want to show you how to make this work!

Sometimes families made the leap to homeschooling but got distracted by curriculum and headed off on the wrong path. They ended up feeling isolated, frustrated, and disappointed in their homeschooling experience. Many ended up putting their kids back in school. They wished they had had someone who could have been a guide or a mentor to them – just someone to help them start off on the right foot or guide them along the way if they get stuck.

So that’s 2 types of families that Chaos to Confidence is built for:

The Brand New Homeschooler who is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t want to waste time going in the wrong direction.

The New-ish Homeschooler who started probably last year and ended up unhappy with their approach.

Here’s My Plan…

INFORMATION & KNOWLEDGE

You need practical information. Operating in the dark is scary and the info that you’ll get in this program will wipe out a lot of your fears. We will start with the basics – getting legal, thinking about what “learning” really means, finding reliable resources.

CONNECTION & SUPPORT

Sometimes homeschooling/unschooling moms can feel really isolated. They really need to feel connected to other parents on this path. So, I’m creating a private Facebook group for you and the other new homeschoolers in the 2016 Chaos to Confidence program. Over these 12 weeks, we’ll be able to get to know each other and give support. Members can pop into the group to share success stories as well as fears that show up. Learn where to find support locally, in your state, regionally, globally, and online.

REASSURANCE & INSPIRATION

Chaos to Confidence is the reassurance you’ve been looking for! I want to share everything I know with you so you have success and confidence when you feel like you’re swimming against the tide. As you work your way through the program, you’ll find yourself on steadier and steadier ground. Your anxiety and fear will begin to evaporate. Your kids will be happier and more engaged. You’ll see changes in the way the entire family gets along. You’ll be able to see learning in a way that might be different from what you’re used to – richer, exciting, much more enjoyable. And I’ll be with you every step of the way!

Here’s what we’ll do each week!

(I’m soooo excited!!!!)

Homeschool Coaching

And here’s the framework for the entire course!

homeschool coaching

Sounds great, right?

Sometimes we just need a little hand-holding to get started.

I’ve made the price super affordable – just $90 total for 3 months of reassuring support and boatloads of information.  That’s group coaching from me on our private FB group for a $1/day!

But I want to keep the size of a group manageable, so don’t delay.

And now, it’s time to sign up!





Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

A Wonderful Coach + All That Knowledge = EXCELLENCE!
~Tracy M., Kentucky

Before working with Sue I had tried every method I could think of to make my son’s traditional schooling work for him. I was feeling confused, defeated by all the bad advice I was getting, and very alone in my decision to teach my son at home. Sue helped me to realize that other options existed that were actually better for my son and his situation. I now feel confident and excited about his learning experience. He is now thriving and enjoying this unschooling experience in ways he could never have done in the traditional environment. It has been an amazing transformative experience!
~ Becky M., Michigan

“Am I Doing Enough?”

UnschoolingWhen people begin to homeschool in a less-traditional way, they often worry if they are doing enough, providing enough, educating enough. Good parents worry about that all the time – in non-academic ways too: Are we connecting enough?

Let’s face it, it would be a lot easier to follow a curriculum or just do what the teacher told you to do. But now you’re aspiring for more than that kind of mindless following. While you recognize that the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for you, that does put a significant amount of responsibility on your shoulders.

And that often leads to feeling pressure.

It’s not unusual for parents to ask whether they’re doing enough.
And I have a few different answers for you.

I don’t know, are you?

While this might seem somewhat vague or avoiding the question (no one likes answering a question with a question!), but it’s worth exploring. When we question something happening, we need to dive deeper to look around. Maybe you need to tune in with the kids more to see if their interests have shifted. What intrigued them last month may be old news now. Are there cool happenings in your community this time of year, that you might like to all trek off to see? Festivals, day-trips, etc. Maybe it’s time to talk more about what’s happening in the news or within their circles of friends.

And, as kids get older, they’ve learned how to find lots of their own resources. They’re not needing their parents to do all the legwork for them when they’re curious about something.

Unschooling is far from “hands-off.” The best unschooling moms are those who walk that delicate line of being involved yet not controlling, staying available while leaving room for their child’s autonomy. If you prioritize this way of parenting, you’ll stay tuned in.

And you get better with practice. 😉

Is it just worry and fear?

Does this come from not having deschooled enough?

Deschooling is a funny thing. When we first start on our home educating path, we look around to see where it’s hiding… in our thoughts, in our actions, in our expectations. We look for the schoolish ways that have inserted themselves into our lives and reevaluate if those stories are true. Or was it just conditioned responses from all of those years of complying?

So, when we’ve cleaned that all up, we think, “Whew! That’s done! Let’s go!”

And just like I was telling my son-in-law this morning who told me he had a good handle on how his 14 month old was behaving, I smiled and thought, “Yeah, this week.” We all know the one thing kids do is grow, develop, and change. What works now, probably won’t be a permanent thing.  Parenting is tough!

It’s the same thing with deschooling. You may have removed all the arbitrary schooly notions at the start, but kids continue to grow and take on new developmental changes. Maybe they’re influenced by the neighborhood kids who go to middle school, or the other girls in dance class that are starting high school. Maybe they have some doubts about their abilities, because developmentally they are starting to make some comparisons that they didn’t make before. Or maybe you are doing this. It’s ok, it’s human. Just recognize it for what it is. And know that different phases of childhood may carry emotional baggage for you that you had long forgotten about… and yet something has stirred that cobwebby memory, and now you need to examine it… and deschool again.

Do you have your own issues about learning that you haven’t untangled?

Do you still think that learning can’t possibly be this easy and fun?

After years and years of “schooling,” lots of parents find it hard to break away from some of these ideas:

  • Learning is not fun
  • Learning has to be hard.
  • Enjoying your day (all day) is being lazy.
  • They’ll never be able to overcome an obstacle if they always opt for what’s easy/fun.

Do any of these sound familiar?  It’s not surprising if they do, because this is what our culture tells us all the time and what our own school experience probably solidified.  If something seems easy, we feel like we’re “getting away with something.” Right??

None of these ideas are true.

The research is showing that more play, more fun, more engagement in whatever interests our kids (or any of us, for that matter) IS the best way to learn. Playing provides the opportunities to persevere, to maintain their attention to the task, and to control emotions. All of these are incredibly important life skills and the very things we hope children will take with them into adulthood.  Check out the articles below to read more.

When children aren’t having their entire day scheduled for them – or rushing around in those precious after-school but before-bed hours – they have the time to live at a more leisurely pace. The pressure is gone about learning.

Maybe it’s time to pry the reins away from your fears and look at what’s REALLY happening in your child’s day. Learning happens all the time, so you might do well to list out all the different ways it shows up.  Here are few ideas I’ve seen get brushed aside when a parent is panicking about “what about the learning?” And yet, it ALL counts as learning.

  • Creating things at home or online
  • Painting, drawing, writing (even scribbling)
  • Reading books, comics, etc. (by child or to child)
  • Watching interesting videos or TV shows
  • Asking questions and getting answers
  • Playing outside, with siblings/friends
  • Making up games or playing make-believe
  • Helping out at home
  • Conversations in the car about what they’re seeing or hearing
  • Sports, classes at the Rec Center, museums, nature centers, etc.
  • Venturing out into your community and talking about what you find

Lastly…

It’s not about finding a sneaky way to get some teaching in there. It’s about looking at life differently – your life and your kids’ lives.

So when people ask, “are they happy?” – that really is the key. If your home is lacking joy – that’s where you need to focus. What would make life happier? The learning will be a byproduct of a full and rich life!

 

 

Need more to read?

Let The Kids Learn Through Play
David Kohn | New York Times
“As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?”

Play as Preparation for Learning and Life:
An Interview with Peter Gray

The Journal of Play
“Children are designed to educate themselves through their self-directed exploration and play, but to do so well they need certain environmental conditions. They need plenty of free time to play and explore. They need access to the tools of the culture and permission to play with those tools, in their own chosen ways. They need to be able to associate with whom they please, in an age-mixed environment, so younger children can learn skills from older ones and older children can learn to care for and nurture younger ones. They also need access to a variety of adult experts, to whom they can look for help and guidance when they want it. And, perhaps most of all, they need to be immersed in a moral community, where they have a voice in the rules and how the rules are enforced, so they grow up feeling responsible for others as well as themselves. … None of this happens in our standard schools.” (p.281)

Play Well
JJ Ross | The Homeschooler Post
“So looking back at how I made my own connections between play and learning, teaching myself to not teach my children wasn’t work and it wasn’t school. More by happy accident than design I had kept myself busy long enough working through scholarly stuff on play, that it (mostly) kept me from inflicting scholarly stuff on the kids. In the process, I collected bins full of colorful connections to play well with, just like Legos themselves. Could we say that in the end, I taught myself to let go and Lego?”

Why Go to A Conference?

Here’s a look at the adorable cabin where I spent my weekend and wrote this post! I was at the Texas Unschoolers’ Conference in the beautiful Hill Country – surrounded by families who wanted to invest their time and money in creating connections with the community, learning more about home education, and having a good time together as a family!  I was so excited to encourage you all to find a good conference to go to.

Quite a few conferences exist out there, but they’re not all created equally. Some are all about their vendor hall – they have tons of curricula to feed any interest (or fear) you might have. Some aren’t really kid-friendly and their sessions primarily focus on the moms.  Some moms have even left a couple of these conferences feeling inadequate and incapable of doing what the speakers suggested. To me, that’s the total opposite of why a person should go! They should come away inspired and loaded with all kinds of ideas and enthusiasm. 

That’s why I want to go out on a limb here and encourage you to go to an unschooling conference or an unschooling-friendly conference – even if you don’t consider yourself an unschooler. 

Here’s why:

Come One, Come All!

You’ll find all kinds of people at an unschooling conference. Sure, plenty of unschoolers, but also relaxed homeschoolers and even those who are just considering homeschooling. Everyone feels welcome!  Lots of unschoolers struggle to find other more open-minded homeschoolers in their local community. Conferences help them see that there are a lot of families out there creating paths that look nothing like school – yet are filled with learning opportunities and adventures.

Stretching Comfort Zones

Some people adore conferences and they seem to go to as many as possible! Others – maybe the introverts among us? – drag their feet a bit. But I’m here to tell you – push yourself past the initial discomfort. Before you know it, that mom or dad sitting next to you in that workshop will be sharing resources, tips or even helping you connect with someone or something locally.

More Inspiration

One of the hallmarks of the unschooly conferences are that their speakers talk a lot about parenting and opening our minds to different ways of learning. If you find yourself stuck in the deschooling phase – you’re still thinking about learning the way school attempts to deliver it – these conferences will be filled with people who can help you break free from that. Often, they’ll have speakers who have grown unschoolers – and if you’re lucky, some of those grown unschoolers will be there too! 

Unschooling conferences tend to be full of people who are much more tolerant of seeing life from many different perspectives – instead of One.Right.Way. This way, we can gain clarity on our own ideas and make adjustments as needed. I learned so much – even now! – at this conference in Texas. And this happens to me every time! They’re all so inspiring and enlightening.

Family-Friendly Activities

Most of the unschooling-friendly conferences I’ve been to, create activities for the whole family to do together: Talent shows, family cookouts, fashion shows, to name a few that come to mind. 

Unschooling conferences tend to have a lot of fun sessions for kids and teens. Some that I’ve seen include crafts, cooking, nerf gun wars, face-painting, games (yes, online games too). There are dances, pizza-parties, CPR classes, letterboxing, scavenger hunts, cosplaying – and so much more. 

Making Connections

For those of us online a lot, it’s so fun to put faces with names. Conferences give us the opportunity to actually meet the writers of those blogposts or Facebook comments we’ve read throughout the year. Dads aren’t left out.There’s usually a time-slot in there for them to share what’s troubling them or what’s working out – in a session solely for men. 

The connections that you’ll see the kids making will really warm your heart. When they meet each other through all their shared interests – or maybe just out at the swimming pool – don’t be surprised to find them Skyping with conference friends long after they’ve gotten home. 

Walk Down Memory Lane with me…

For those who don’t consider themselves unschoolers, per se, I want to tell you about a friend I had when we lived in Alaska. We were all part of a group that was really diverse – from radical unschoolers to traditional school-at-home homeschoolers. She was what’s considered “a Relaxed Homeschooler.” By the time we met her, we were embracing a lot more unschooling concepts. 

She told me that she loved having friends who were unschoolers because they always seemed to have a cheerful curiosity about the world around them – including what was happening with their friends. She found unschooling moms to be resourceful, creative, and willing to make schedule changes if something interesting presented itself. 

She had invited us to come celebrate the Greeks with her family that day. They had just finished a pretty intensive study on the subject, but wanted to create something festive for the end. We were happy to join them eating Greek food, listening to Greek music, wearing togas, and imitating some Olympic style games. 

So look and see how you might be able to add some more excitement into your lives. Look around for a conference!

More Resources

For a list of really great conferences
Which conferences Sue will be speaking at in 2016

 

12 Tips about Learning & Unschooling

Whether you’re just starting out, unsure about your homeschooling “method,” or struggling along the path, these 12 tips may be just what you need to help you focus on what really matters. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years about learning and unschooling.

1. Learning Is Unpredictable.
Learning happens when the learner is ready – not just because a bell rings or a parent says to turn to page 37. Instead, it’s when learners are engaged… and usually that’s when they’re playing. 

2. It’s Not a Race or a Competition
Ditch the notion of class rankings or bell curves. Go as quickly or as slowly as you desire.

3. 18 is Not a Magic Number
A switch does not flip and suddenly a teen has arrived in the land of maturity. Don’t let an arbitrary age determine anyone’s readiness for anything. Don’t feel rushed to “be finished.” See #2, there’s no finish line.

4. Relationships Are Different
Without “schoolwork,” kids have time to spend with people and get to know their interests. No one has to be rushing around (I’m sensing a theme here, aren’t you?) The locker mate, the desk proximity, or the first letter of a person’s last name does not choose who their friends are that year. 

5. Let Go of Familiarity
Sucess at learning is directly related to how quickly one can get out of that school-think rut.

6. Examples Pop Up – Don’t miss them!
The more you watch, the more you will see your child learning – in so many unexpected ways. This will help you trust the process more.

7. Resist the Influence of Society
Middle of the night (or day) panic attacks can happen because most of society want to remind you that the process/your child/YOU cannot be trusted to know what’s best to do next.

8. Ahhhh….sleep!
Adjusting sleep schedules can totally change attitudes. Body clocks change over the years. Stay flexible and tuned in. Read up on how teens need sleep in a a different way than when they were younger kids. 

9. “Punished by Rewards”
Alfie Kohn’s book with this title is still relevant today. Arbitrarily creating rewards and punishments for getting a child to comply can often do more harm than good.

10. The Artificial – and Unnecessary – Use of Subjects
Dividing the world into separate subjects that must be worked through systematically does not help a child transition to adulthood. Real Life weaves all sorts of “subjects” in and out and back again.

11. The Perfect Plan
Oh, Perfectionists! You’re going to struggle here. Looking for a curriculum can be a way to procrastinate simply getting started. You have all you need – your child standing in front of you, is full of verbal and nonverbal clues as to the next steps in your path. Watch. Listen.

12. Cheerfulness and Curiosity
Try to approach life as a cheerful adventure. Stay curious about your world, your child’s world – whatever is crossing your paths. Your attitude will have a direct influence on how the journey will go. Have fun, hold on, and enjoy the ride!

 Sign up for my free weekly tips, resources and inspiration! 

What is Unschooling?

The term, Unschooling, often bothers people. They make the incorrect assumption that unschooling means anti-learning or anti-education. Far from it! It simply means that “the learning” may not look may not resemble the familiar ways we learned in a school. 

 I’ll have more here for you. But in the meantime, here’s an overview of what unschooling is all about.
If this is a new term, feel free to ask questions in the comments. And if it’s a term that you’d like to discuss, we can do that too! 

What Really Matters

I don’t mind the term at all anymore. I used to avoid it, because I wasn’t completely sure we’d stick with such a different way of approaching learning.  Maybe I wanted to give myself room to back out, if we needed to. 

When my kids were younger and we were “in the thick of it,” I didn’t really care about whether we were considered unschoolers or not.  We were part of pretty eclectic group of homeschoolers and people referred to us as one of The Unschoolers.   At the time, only one or two books about unschooling existed and, of course, we read them. But they didn’t govern our lives. unschooling

Back then, the label didn’t have all the cool groovy connotations it has now.  Actually, people wrote about how unschoolers were going to be the unraveling of the homeschooling movement.  Terms like “educational neglect,” were tossed around.

While we noticed their comments, we didn’t really react much. We just lived. We wrote about how much fun our families were having learning together.  We dove in, connected with our kids and got creative.  The kids continued to grow and blossom naturally.  

And, yes, they learned – every single day.

Today, unschooling seems a little different. People want to BE unschoolers before they even understand it. They’ve read about it.  Unschooling sounds intriguing, so they latch onto it.  They want to leave the school system and quickly find a place to fit in.  We’ve been conditioned to need a group or a tribe to function.  

But when people care more about the label of unschooling than actually unschooling their children, a problem exists. The cart is before the horse.  The bowl is hotter than the soup. And lots of people want to take advantage of those fears. People declare themselves unschooling gurus and want to show you how to “do it right.”  Many of these gurus don’t even have grown children yet. They’re not even done! How could they possibly advise someone else?  

All too many people are eager to sit and listen/read along.  People desperately want instructions!

The only real instructions are this:

    1. Get to know your child. What makes them tick? What inspires them? Do those things.
    2. Explore with them. Discover new places. Read maps. Go places.
    3. Build a beautiful nest. Create a home environment full of interesting art and music and games and food. Let the home be the place where everyone feels nurtured.
    4. Individualization. Remember that your children are not extensions of you. They have a their own path and their own choices to make. Your job is just to clear away some of the undergrowth that’s trying to get in their way. Stay tuned into what THEY want to do or to be. Help them with that.
    5. Get Your Priorities Straight. Your relationship with them is all that matters. Learning a particular thing at a particular age, but sacrificing your relationship with them? Please don’t.

Realize that it’s years of programming happening in YOUR head saying things have to be a certain way. That’s not true at all. I would caution anyone new to unschooling to worry less about if you’re unschooling the right way and pay more attention to your own kids. Notice if you have a tendency to stay on the computer to read “just a little bit more,” and if all these fabulous tools are a distraction or a way to procrastinate from plunging in.  Sometimes when we’re so focused on getting it right (which is translated into we’re afraid we’re screwing up royally!) we don’t get around to starting.  Or we don’t dive in and give it all we can. Of course, there are all kinds of psychological reasons for this, and everyone will have to identify their own obstacles.

My dad used to say,”Too much analysis leads to paralysis.” It can. 

And as someone who OFTEN chooses to procrastinate, it’s a great tool for continuing to intellectualize all the nuances instead of simply starting. So with school just beginning for many American kids, dive in with your own.  

Create some new “Back to School” traditions.

Remember that those blogs, email lists, websites and catalogs are just tools for YOU to use. Not vice versa. Don’t let any of it distract you from the fact that your kids are standing right there in front of you.  And you have this glorious adventure awaiting you WITH them!  Seize the day!

Your kids.  
Their learning.  
Your relationship with them.
Those are the only things that matter.

 

 

More like this…
If I Knew Then, What I know now…
Don’t Do It

 

 

 

 

 

unschooling

Boys and Writing

frustrationWhy are those two words never paired together? I’ve been reading about families who try to create environments that might coax their sons to write more. So I think it’s time to share how we dealt with writing, when my son was growing up.

I never really paid a lot of attention to Michael’s penmanship or his writing skills when he was in school. Maybe because he was only there for Kindergarten and First Grade!

I hadn’t read a lot about homeschooling before we started, but we dove in after Michael completed first grade. I didn’t know about unschooling yet, so we purchased what was called, “School in a Box” by Calvert from Baltimore, Maryland. Purchasing this prepackaged curriculum made me feel like I could tackle this homeschooling thing. I’d just spice it up and make it fun!

Handwriting

Instead of evaluating all of Calvert’s materials, I really want to talk about the writing component. It was all about handwriting. One day a week, or maybe it was every other week, they’d focus on creative writing. But handwriting – that was daily! I didn’t really understand why Michael writhed so when I asked him to pick up that Number 2 pencil. I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to artistically shape the letters the way they had them in the book. I had been awarded the oh-so-prestigious Handwriting Award in the 5th grade – clearly we were not on similar paths. So I wrote to the teacher (yes, my confidence was so low that I felt we should have an expert guiding us for that first year!) I asked her if he could write his own stories and we’d turn in those paragraphs.

Quick answer: Nope! Certain letter formations were being addressed, and, why wasn’t he happy writing about the little red car all week long? We may have continued with it for a 1-2 weeks – bribing, begging, scolding, demanding.

I was not happy with the way either of us were acting. So I declared a truce.

I decided right then and there that I was going to be on Michael’s side. I knew that if we continued on this path, we would simply be duplicating the schoolish ways I was trying to help my son avoid!  If we kept it up, I could make him absolutely HATE writing. As a writer myself, this was simply unacceptable!  I told him we weren’t going to do the writing part anymore. He was relieved.  We would go ahead and turn in whatever he wanted to write about, and we’d take whatever grade she wanted to give. No biggie.

But it was a biggie. On multiple levels. The teacher was unhappy that we weren’t complying. Michael was unhappy because he still had to write. It was never about the little red car at all. He simply wasn’t developmentally ready to do the physical work of writing. He gripped tightly, when he should loosen. His fingers worked down toward the lead. His frustration with all of it increased. He started to cry.

Usually, I would get mad that he wasn’t cooperating. I had two younger kids that were quite a handful, and he was my oldest. In retrospect, I’m saddened to think of the pressure I put on him to “be a big boy,” when he was still a very little boy.  I know I was just trying to manage, but sometimes our parenting techniques aren’t that great when we’re in the thick of it. But on this day, something changed. I looked out the window of his room. The snow was falling and collecting on the tree branches. Our Alaskan home felt very far from Calvert in Baltimore.

pencil snapped

It was at that moment, I felt the shackles of school fall away.

We weren’t going to turn in writing, hoping to squeak by with her approval and a passing grade. We weren’t going to turn in any writing at all!   Michael looked at me and grinned. I picked up the pencil and snapped it in two. Done!

Instead, we picked up a book and started reading together. He reminded me of the “book reports” he did in school. The teacher mimeographed (it was the 90’s!) a piece of paper. They had to write in the title, the author, check boxes about liking or disliking it. Maybe they had to write one sentence. It was, after all, first grade.  He was playing with his Fimo clay while we were talking and reading. He asked if he could make something representational out of clay for every book he read. And that’s what he did. We had a bunch of classics that had been adult literacy books on sale at the bookstore. He loved that he could read those books – and every other page had a picture! He made a bowl of porridge for Oliver Twist, a spear for Moby Dick, a small boat for Kidnapped  – all out of clay. He set them on his shelf and could easily see how many books he was reading.

Creative Writing

Then we decided to try something new. Michael was full of imaginary stories he wanted to create!  But the mechanics of handwriting made it impossible to get any of it down on paper. So we decided to do dictation. I chose an italicized font that looked most like handwriting from the computer, in hopes that that would help him be able read the cursive writing in letters from Grandma and others. Then we began creating stories. He would start telling me about the main character and I’d begin typing. When he started to slow, I’d ask him to describe the character – what was he wearing, how did he feel, what made him do that?  I told him that sometimes when we write, we have to really describe the characters and the environment, so the reader can feel like they’re there. And that’s what he did. I tried hard to let him just enjoy the flow of creating the story, with very little interference from me. In retrospect, I think I would have interjected even less.  We did this for a while, and still have some of those early stories.

Later On…

Life got busy, with three kids, and volunteer work.  After a while, Michael preferred to play video games or hang out with friends instead of our dictation time. Truthfully, I probably wasn’t making time for it much anymore. He was off having fun.

Years passed. Michael continued to read, but I never asked him to write. Occasionally, I’d plunge my hands into dish water and ask him to start a grocery list for me.  He wrote thank you notes to Grandma for Christmas and birthday gifts. At first, we used a program called Start Write. I could write out what he dictated, and then print it with dotted lines that he could trace. If you use a felt tipped marker or a sharpie, no one would even know he had traced the letters!  It looked just like a perfect little thank-you note!  As Michael got older, his writing improved. He could clearly form the letters and didn’t have nearly the frustrating time with writing any more.  His letters didn’t look that great, but in looking at the other boys in his scout troop or in 4H, he wasn’t the only one with so-so handwriting. He could type quickly on the computer, and it became clear that his generation might never have great handwriting.  I was well aware that handwriting is just a tool to communicate. And if he could communicate his thoughts through typing, then the goal was achieved.

Time passed for me too. I read more about unschooling, and the pitfalls of coerced learning. It all resonated with me.  We went on about our lives and writing simply didn’t make the cut for how we wanted to spend our time.

I will share with you that when my friends who had girls that were creatively journaling, I was jealous. Why didn’t my kids want to do that? I’d buy notebooks and pens, but projects out in the community would win out for Michael. He simply wasn’t interested in sitting down to journal.  And, of course, comparison is never a good thing. One kid excels in one area while another is busy learning a different skill. It’s school that brainwashes us to try to compete for that top spot. Learning, has very little to do with any of that.

Going to College

At about age 17, Michael decided he wanted to go to community college.  The entrance exam was divided into reading, math and writing. We knew he’d be fine with the Reading. He did some extra work on the computer to prepare for the Math. And, to be honest, I don’t remember doing much prep work for the Writing component, other than a little grammar labeling and whatever the college gave us as the practice test. He was still pretty resistant to writing.

The time came and he went in to take the exam.  He did fine with the grammar aspect, but the essay was all about Texas’ law, “No Pass, No Play.” Strangely, all of the community college topics for the essays pertain to a particular school “issue.”  He was familiar with what “No Pass, No Play” meant, because we had a habit of discussing the local news or we’d talk about the latest Time or Newsweek magazines. The essay was to be a persuasive paper, and he could choose whichever side he wanted.

I hadn’t really prepared him for that. So he simply started writing about the topic. He wrote about seeing both sides to the argument. But in the end, he ranted somewhat about “what if the only thing that kid is good at is football – how can you take that from him?” and “why do schools want to make everyone the same?” You get the idea.

While it might have been an interesting paper to an unschooler who wouldn’t mind a little rambling, it didn’t please the community college administration, and he failed.

This time, he was more inclined to listen to my input about how to write a persuasive paper that would pass.  I showed him the 5 part paragraph – Intro, 3 supporting paragraphs, and Closing. Minimum of three sentences to a paragraph.This was what they were looking for. Stick with one side, and present that in your three arguments. And, throwing in a fancy adverb or two like “incidentally” or “additionally” would increase his points when they were grading.

We did a practice run-through on what they suggested at their website and off he went the following week. His topic was School Uniforms – Pro or Con?  He followed the formula and passed the test. Not flying colors, but good enough to be able to take any of the classes he wanted there.

Michael's Graduation

Fast forward a bit more, and Michael transferred from the community college to a four year university. He decided that he wanted to continue to travel and needed a job that could help pay for him to go off and see the world. That’s when he thought about becoming a travel journalist.  He still loved storytelling and especially loved interviewing people. He landed a job at the University Star, the campus newspaper, and enjoyed writing up articles about local events or personalities in his college town.

At 21, Michael graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Journalism, and a minor in Archaeology/Anthropology. He primarily types his stories these days. And you can read more from him in his blog In the Nica Time.

In Retrospect

I feel really good about not pushing Michael with handwriting. I wish I had carved out more down time, so we could have done more dictating. We both loved that. And, today, with blogging, how cool would it have been to start a blog of the stories they create? Their imaginations are so fabulous!

We ended up developing his fine motor skills completely separate from holding a pencil.  He was busy forming clay figures, building Playmobile structures and playing with Legos. These activities fueled his imaginative stories, and he’d play with them for hours on end.

I’m so glad we didn’t stick with the handwriting exercises. All that would have done is create an adversarial relationship between us as well as additional obstacles to the idea of any writing whatsoever.

For those of you still concerned, I can only advise you to relax. Writing will work itself out – just like other educational pursuits do. If your child is already stressed about it, do what you can to eliminate that downward spiral. Shift gears. Continue with helping them find fun ways to build their fine muscle strength, or try our story writing technique! Give them time to develop a little more and then present some other opportunity down the road.

Reinventing the “What If Game”

When I was little, especially late at night, I could get myself into a tailspin. I’d worry about all kinds of things.  And, because I was a chatty little kid (surprise, surprise!), I’d go to my mom.

“What if things don’t work out?”

“What if they don’t like me?”

“What if there’s a car wreck?”

“What if.. what if… what IF??”

After a couple of these questions, my mom would shush me and say, “You’re playing the What If Game.”  What that meant at our house was that you’re borrowing trouble, worrying about things that may or may not happen. I spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes, it helped me figure out scenarios and what to do if something bad DID happen. But mainly, it just wasted my time.  I heard a saying once,

Worrying is like a Rocking Chair… lots of action, but going nowhere.

In my case, telling me I was playing the What If? Game was meant to help me. But it was also meant to get my mom a little peace and quiet.  Unfortunately, it ended up minimizing what I was thinking about. It made me be even more critical of myself, thinking,

“Why am I so negative?”

“Why do I bother people with my crazy thoughts?”

“What’s MY problem??”

I don’t think that was ever my mom’s intention, to make me feel worse. But I didn’t really have the power to shut it off, just because she slapped a label on it and implied I should knock it off. I just didn’t have the tools.

In parenting, we do that sometimes, consciously or not. We either step in to solve the problem, or we dismiss our kids’ concerns as not important.  Solving the problem for them prevents them from figuring it out, and then ultimately trusting themselves that they CAN figure out problems. It keeps them dependent on others for solutions – always waiting to be rescued by someone smarter, stronger, more resourceful. See the problem with this route?

And if we gloss over their worries, they’ll learn to take them somewhere else. They certainly will learn that they can’t share them with you! And you’re supposed to be the one helping them figure out the tough lessons in Life. If you take this option, you miss a huge opportunity to not only help your child, but also to reinforce your relationship with them.

So let’s rewrite the rules for

The What If? Game

Because, now I have tools.  I know these things:

  • Your mind can only think about one thing at a time.
    This is just a simple fact. We often think we’re multitasking, but it’s never really simultaneously. It’s a constant shifting. So, try to control your mind to the point of, “OK, I need to think about this instead right now.”
  • Attaching yourself to a particular outcome is where the suffering starts.
    We don’t know everything and we really can’t see around the proverbial corner. How many times can you look back and see that something really seemingly catastrophic turned out to either make you stronger for something else or yourself, allowed you to relate to someone in a different way, or opened you up to some unforeseen opportunity. So thinking, “I don’t get it – right now. But maybe I will down the road,” might be a helpful approach.
  • Is the bad thing happening now? Ok, then. Breathe.
    This is all about living in The Present moment. I’m not saying to live in La-di-da Land, look at what’s happening now. Is it where you want to be TODAY? Is it what needs to be happening NOW? If you can look at the situation more calmly, you’ll be able to assess the situation more accurately than if you’re full of anxiety. You’ll have time to panic when/if it does show up.
  • Visualizing GOOD things happening can be just as powerful as visualizing the worst case scenario – so do that!
    Getting in the habit of doing visualizations can start at any age. When you’re putting your child to sleep, help them to visualize some peaceful happy setting. Remind them that they can go back there in their mind at any time.  We spend so much time panicking about that imaginary horrible scenario – what would happen if we spent that much time visualizing great stuff?
    So how about taking it even to another level?  What if your visualization was about conquering that fear you’re worrying about? What if you think about succeeding in that situation that is distracting you from the Present?  What if you totally flip it and it turns out to wonderful – beyond your wildest dreams?  Run a few of those scenarios in your head and see how that feels.
  • Which story you decide to tell yourself is TOTALLY up to you!
    Neither are based in facts, so why not be kinder to yourself? Physically, this will help you as well. A body that is constantly anxious and tense will act a completely different way from one that is content or even happy. So choosing a happier story is kinder to your physical body as well as your mind.
  • Have a handy list of your strengths or of things you have accomplished.
    This may seem odd at first, because we’re taught that focusing on our good points is conceited, egotistical – definitely not a good thing.  But when you think about it, how could being ACCURATE about yourself be a bad thing? Sure, you may not want to regale everyone at Park Day with all your wonderful accomplishments, but tell yourself the truth. Make a list of the things you feel good about accomplishing, things you are genuinely thankful for… this list will boost your self-esteem and help you when you’re at a low point.
  • Generosity beats Stinginess. 
    It’s as if you are looking through two different lens: one of Scarcity and one of Abundance.  And it all boils down to your personal perception. If you feel full of whatever you’re wanting, you are much more at peace than if you are worried there simply isn’t enough to go around. When we’re afraid we’re not getting our fair share, we resent those who we think are getting more than us. It’s not a pretty picture – but it is incredibly common.  Unfortunately, this has a huge impact on our day-to-day attitude, on so many levels. It keeps us unhappy and negative. But using the other lens, think of yourself as having so much that you can share and be generous with others.  Society often throws us into unnecessary competition.    But think about when you helped someone else – with no gain for yourself. You felt happy and positive about the world. Why not try to do that more often? Help someone else. It doesn’t do anything to diminish your own light. Take a break from your own melodrama for a while and find someone less fortunate than you. Help them…and you will end up helping yourself.

That’s probably a pretty good start at my list. Incorporating these kinds of ideas into your child’s world – or even more firmly in your own world – will really help us all reinvent that dang What If? Game.