Hypotheticals and Homeschooling (Crap Happens)

Here’s a simple truth: Worry is not the same as critical thinking.

As with many things, hypotheticals are not bad in and of themselves. It’s why and how we spend time thinking in the hypothetical.

Brad is playing chess. His opponent can do many possible things. One of those things is to come out with a surprise move and win the game. In order to win, Brad has to spend his time in the hypothetical. If he spends his time worrying that his opponent might win, and moves his pieces with that frame of mind, he won’t win, except if he’s lucky. He’ll also be a nervous wreck during the game.

However, if Brad spends his game critically thinking about the possible moves that his opponent can make, and then plans ahead to either counterattack or manage his opponent’s moves, then he has a much higher chance of winning. It’s still a whole lot of hypothetical, just a matter of how he’s going about it.

Now, I’m not saying that our kids are opponents. Far from it. They are on our team. If we are playing soccer on a team, and we have teammates who spend time worrying about how the other team might kick a ball in their face, or that they might score a goal, is that team member supporting the team? Team players thick critically, and help each other. Even team captains. Team captains who worry, and fret, and second guess their choices have a hard time leading their team. Team captains who are bullheaded also have a hard time leading an effective team.

Here’s another simple truth: We will always miss out. We will always get gipped. So will our kids.

It is practically impossible to do everything. The only thing we can do is fully and completely experience the thing we are doing now. I’m typing this email instead of cleaning the house. Later, I’ll be scampering around town fending off my mother from buying everything my children ask for, instead of sitting at the park while they play. And that’s how it is. If I spend that time wondering if it’s the right choice, or thinking how I maybe something else would be “better”, then not only have I lost the thing I didn’t do, but I lost the thing I’m DOING, as well. Either we are fully here and now, or we are doubly screwing ourselves over.

Here’s another simple truth: Playing video games to escape is different than playing video games because it’s a passion.

The kid we imagine who plays video games in his room all day and never talks to his family, he’s in trouble. He’s not in trouble because he’s playing video games. He’s in trouble because he’s disconnected from his family. Because he’s unhappy, escaping. He doesn’t run downstairs to tell his family about all his adventures. He doesn’t enjoy celebrating at holidays or sharing a family outing. He’s hurting. That’s a child who doesn’t need his video games yanked from him. That is a child who seriously needs help emotionally. The family probably also needs help, because these things don’t happen in isolation.

We can worry about this happening, and make it more likely it will happen. Or we can think critically and know that if this does happen, we are willing to stand up and say, “I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help this family heal, including healing myself.” Even in this very difficult situation, all is not hopeless. Except, when we worry, it does seem hopeless. When we think critically, we realize that every situation is manageable.

On the other hand, a kid who plays a lot of video games, but then comes back to his family and friends on a regular basis, and is happy at family gatherings, and likes to have conversations about his adventures. He reads books, and plans, and all the other things kids do when they are enthusiastic about life, then that’s GOOD. This child is healthy and strong. He is loving life, happy, and enthusiastic. Why mess that up with our own worry and neurosis?

Even if this does become a problem because his obsession is so strong, it takes away from his other life pursuits (say, showering, eating, going outside…), there ARE ways to deal with these things. But not if we worry and stress about them. We HAVE to believe that no matter what happens, we are capable and able parents, and we can deal with it. We are also capable and able enough to recognize when things start getting to be truly unhealthy. Because we are critically thinking, not worrying.

I am a hypothetical preparer. I think ahead, plan, prepare for what-ifs. I’m typically good at strategy games and leading and managing personalities. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen. I expect crap to happen, and I’m ready.

Final simple truth: Crap will happen. It will happen a lot. Get used to it. Then, deal with it.

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The Library Isn’t Just for Books

As you know, homeschoolers love libraries. I have yet to meet a homeschooler that says, “eh, libraries, take them or leave them.” At the library, there is no gatekeeper between the learner and knowledge. At the library, it’s not just about books. There are also movies, magazines, computers, and more. And it’s (almost) all free!

There are at least 27 free things you can get at the library. Does your local library have other free services (or almost free) that you would recommend to others?

Perfect Homeschooling, Curriculum Choice, and Regretting Decisions

A new homeschooling mom on our local list had some questions about tutors, curriculum, and generally freaking out because she can’t figure out the perfect way to get started because she’s afraid of regretting her decisions

I responded to her, and I thought I’d pass this along for those of you who are struggling with fear, regret, perfectionism, or self-doubt. Or, if you are interested in being a stronger, more resilient homeschooler, this post might interest you.

Dear “Alysa”,
I have been reading this thread with interest. After your last email, I thought of some things that might relate to your situation:

1) There is no way to make everything perfect. Letting go of that expectation now will go a long way in making life as a homeschooler, and as a parent, less stressful. Also, expecting things to be perfect is a great excuse for not taking any risks and avoiding responsibility. Own your decisions by knowing that every choice has a risk. Even choosing public school.

2) I understand about the idea about not wanting to regret your choices. The best way to not regret your choices is to understand two things: 1) That you ALWAYS have the option to change course. When you make a bad choice (and you will eventually, we all do), it’s not about the result of that choice that makes us who we are, but whether or not we have the resilience to stand up, dust off the dirt, learn from what we did, and move forward. If you know that you can recover from any choice, then making choices is easier, and more empowering. You’re also more likely to make good choices, because they will be made based on your integrity and love of life, not from fear. 2) You can’t possibly know whether a choice is going to be a good one or not until you’ve made it. Doing research is important. And listening to others’ with experience is also important. But in the end, the choice you make is yours to own. Even if other people might wag their finger at you and say “I told you so,” sometimes we have to make certain choices to really understand where to go next. Listen, absorb, then make a choice, and know that you have lots of other options available for you if that choice doesn’t pan out.

3) Tutors and curriculum: It’s obvious you are very very new to homeschooling. I say that because once you get involved in the homeschooling support groups, go to a couple conferences, subscribe to a few magazines, read a few books, and generally get some experience in the HSing world, you’re going to look around and say, “OMG, how can I possibly choose from everything there is to do???” and you’ll probably look back and laugh at yourself that you didn’t know how to get started with tutors/curriculum. Remember, there is NO rush to get started with these things except in your own mind. Wanting to have a handle on exactly who to follow, who to pay, and what path to take is like trying to hold on to the sand on the beach so as not to get swept away by the tide. It’s better to stand up and let the sand be there to make a sandcastle, not to save you. Tutors and curriculum are FINE. Use them, do them, but don’t let them be your master. Don’t rely on them to show you the way or to make you feel less panicky. They won’t. They will only be a baindaid for that fear. The fear doesn’t come from not having these things. Figure out where the fear is REALLY coming from, and the tutors/curriculum/classes and other concrete learning tools will be there for your enjoyment.

It’s totally normal to be hyper when you’re starting out something SO new, an interesting, and BIG, and fun, and scary, and all that. So, enjoy it. Sign up for everything, get really going. Then, when you feel yourself burning out, back out, do less stuff, and relax. Whether you start by relaxing or start by going into overdrive, you’re still doing a great job and learning about your role as a homeschooling parent.

In the end, there are only 3 things that matter for a child in today’s world of technology and global culture:

1) Relationships, relationships, relationships. This trumps everything. All the tutors and curriculum in the world cannot make up for relationship issues in the family. So, when making decisions, always choose to favor strengthening the relationship you have with your child.
2) Love and curiosity about the world. If a child has this, it doesn’t matter how much or what a child learns. A child who is in love with the world, and curious about it will succeed.
3) Knowing where information is. It’s not what you know, but who, where and when you know. If you know where to get info, that is a much more important skill than actually knowing things. In fact, knowing too many facts can give us the false impression that we don’t need to know any more. (This is part of why kids in school often don’t do a lot to study above and beyond what’s taught to them.) It’s important for people to know they don’t know everything, and that it’s not a life requirement to know it all. Having a strong grasp of available resources allows us to let go of feeling like we aren’t good enough because we don’t have all the president’s names and dates memorized like our cousin Sam does.

Good luck to you and enjoy your child. I hope you’ll come to the HSC conference. There you’ll find out more than you ever want or need to know about curriculum, tutors, and other things you can teach with. Until then, relax and enjoy your new life of freedom.

Cameron’s New Desk

775220_classroom.jpgWe bought Cameron a new desk. Doesn’t that sound so “home-schooly?” Well, this desk is different.

The desks in school do not resemble any other kind of desk or workspace that we encounter in “real life”. These kinds of desks are also the least conducive to learning and working as a group. The way desks are set up in a school room, indicates very clearly that these children are not part of a group, but they are individuals who are expected to go along with what the rest of the group is doing, without actually interacting or thinking with them. It’s not allowed to cross the desk line and chat with your neighbor, work together (unless specifically OK’d by the teacher), or communicate in any way, including passing notes or texting. Once a child is sitting in that school desk, he is in is own isolated place, where the only looking out is directed and controlled.

When I see a picture of a school desk in a homeschool house, this is what I think of – a child who is sitting in his own world, ready to be directed and told what to do, surrounded by invisible walls.

Granted, not all homeschooling families treat a school desk as such. But if this isn’t how we are going to use a school desk, why get one at all? Why use our space so inefficiently?

The kinds of desks adults, and people who feel free, choose, are desks with drawers, space, plugs, and places to put up pictures. The desks we work at represent the kind of thinking we are doing. Working at our desk should feel like it’s setting us free, not like an invisible prison, no matter how comfortable or “normal” it seems.

My husband and I chose not to get our kids desks. They work on the floor, the various tables in the house, and on the couch. Their projects can be anywhere, and they are free to decide where.

My husband and I also work in these spaces, on our own projects. The space is available, free, open. But we also have our desks where we have our “stuff”. These desks are our sanctuary, and we choose sometimes to work there. (In fact, I’m working at my desk as we speak, after having worked on the couch for a half-hour or so.)

Modeling, as we know, is the most impressionable teacher. Our 9-year-old son, Cameron, proved this to us by deciding last week that he, too, needed his own space to do projects. In particular, he needed a space where he could leave his projects 1/2 done, and nobody would bother them. He decided he needed a desk.

img_1655.jpgTo me, this is what a desk should be. This is the kind of workspace that encourages learning and exploration. It leaves the possibilities open. It requires no permission or dicta of what to do there.

Cameron still works on the floor, and on the general spaces. It’s his choice, and he knows it. There are limitations of what he can do in the shared space, and there are limitation of what he can do on his desk, but these are limitations set by practical experience: using water on his desk will ruin his books, leaving out a domino project on the living room table will end in dominoes everywhere at the hands of a curious 4-year-old sister.

When Cameron asked for a desk, I waffled, because I thought the idea of sitting at a desk and working was such a homeschool cliché, it almost hurt. Then I realized, that him having a desk like mine, is freeing, not confining. So, we ended up buying him the same exact desk I have, and put it in his room. It has lots of space, he sits at it when he wants, and it can be used for many different things – not just hunching over workbooks and taking notes.

In my opinion, school desks should be outlawed, and replaced by tables. I can see how teachers would want children to use desks so they don’t socialized during class and “mess around.” But using desks is a very primitive way of making sure kids are paying attention and interested in the task at hand. If that’s what it takes, then the problem is bigger than desks.

I realize that many schools do use tables instead of desks. I think that’s great, and these schools are a good example of one small way that they can give power to choose their own learning back to the kids. Let’s give our kids tables and open space, not a chair with a little piece of wood to write one. Give them space to learn, and they will learn bigger.

Fearless Homeschooling in Times of Stress

929117_curious.jpg“We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.” – Epictetus, 1st century Greek philosopher.

When we think of fearlessness, we often think of daredevils like Evil Knievel or Derek Hersey; people who regularly, and intentionally, put themselves into dangerous situations either for fun or profit.

There are indeed people who like the thrill of danger, but that is not what everyday life fearlessness is about. The kind of fearlessness that we can have in homeschooling and in life, is an acceptance that life is naturally a series of events, some of them “good”, some “bad’, and that we are capable of dealing with the bad things that happen. With this kind of view of life and of homeschooling, we aren’t afraid of events because we are confident in ourselves to take effective and sensible views on these events. Fearlessness is a state of being comfortable with uncertainty, and a knowledge that nothing, no matter how horrible, can destroy us. And if it does destroy us, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it right now, except live the best we can.

It’s OK to be afraid once in a while. But what we are truly afraid of is not that bad things will happen. We KNOW bad things will happen. It’s the way the universe works. The pendulum between good and bad swings back and forth, and also changes as our views of the world changes. What we might consider “good” one day, will turn to be “bad” the next, simply because of changes in our own minds.

No, when we are afraid, we are not afraid of the events. We are afraid of our own lack of personal power to deal with those events. We are afraid of ourselves.

To be fearless, we have to be in a state where we trust ourselves, and we know that if we are presented with stressful events, we can deal with them. We don’t have to convince ourselves that everything will be OK, or that we can even fix anything. It’s a confidence of our own mind, that we have the mental capacity to let go when we need to, and act when we need to. As the saying goes, the only fear is of fear itself.

Becoming fearless is an internal process of self-understanding. It’s an internal process of self-like and self-appreciation. It’s also a process of losing our attachment to thinking that things outside ourselves define who we are.

Accept that:

– things will happen. It’s inevitable. And we won’t like some of those things. We will deal with it when it happens. We will make reasonable precautions to avoid certain kinds of things we don’t want, but sometimes, those precautions won’t work, and that’s just how it is. Having emotions and reactions to things that haven’t happened yet is detrimental to current lives.
– we are capable and smart individuals. Everything we need is inside us.
– we have friends and family who will support us. A huge step in becoming fearless is to create a strong structure of support.
– fear is a natural emotion. If we feel it, get comfortable with it. Accept it. Embrace it. Get to know it. We’re getting to know ourselves when we accept fear along with all the other emotions we have.
– we can’t handle everything. Most things aren’t our responsibility to deal with. If we feel like we are spinning our wheels, we probably are, and it’s time to get off the bike.
– if we mess up, it’s a learning experience, not the end. It’s only the end if we decide it is. It’s only “bad” if we look at failure that way.
– we have internal truths that only we have access to, and can never really be expressed. Other people’s judgments of us never change that. Other people can only distract us from those truths, and only if we let them.

Being fearless requires that we know ourselves, face ourselves, and most importantly, trust ourselves. When we are fearless, we accept fear, we accept that things fall apart, and we move ahead anyway. The more often we do this, the more often we fail and recover, fail and recover, the more we learn how to be successful. It’s when we fail, and then lose ourself in that failure that we get stuck in fear, and it becomes our master.

In Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling, I talk some about these concepts in relation to the ins and out of daily homeschooling life. But these precepts are also true about life in general. Once we are fearless in homeschooling, it starts to trickle out into everything else.

Pema Chodron has two books on fearlessness that changed the way I think about myself and about dealing with difficult emotions and events: When Things Fall Apart and The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. I invite you to seek these out. They might even be at your local library.

What are you afraid of? What is keeping you from being a fearless homeschooler, a fearless parent, and a fearless person? If you consider yourself fairly fearless, was it always like that?

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The Search for Homeschool Curriculum

913588_books_and_pages.jpgLittle do people know that when they are on the search for homeschool curriculum, what they are looking for isn’t the best book or superior materials — they are searching for themselves. When they find that perfect curriculum, and that perfect set of activities, projects, approaches to education, they have found what was already inside them. They have found themselves, and they have found their children.

When we know ourselves, and we know our kids, the search for curriculum stops, and it becomes a process of endless discovery.

When we search outside of ourselves for the answer, we will look forever, until we find the thing that mirrors back onto ourselves. When we get that mirror, we can give the outside thing the credit, or we can admit that, in fact, that thing is what we are looking for because it showed us who we are. Everything we need is inside us already. It just sometimes takes things on the outside to show that to us. Then the question is, can we be honest about it?

Searching for the right curriculum for our kids at home is a worthy search, so long as we realize it’s a search for discovering our children, not a search for a way to make our children be the ideal person we want them to be. If we have an ideal of who our children are supposed to be, we’ll be searching for the right curriculum until our children leave home.

I propose that we change our search for curriculum into a frame of mind of discovery. When we see it as a window into our children’s world, and into our own hearts, it will become an entirely different process. And the best thing? It creates less grief. Because instead of being frustrated that a curriculum doesn’t work, instead, we can be glad because it has taught us something about ourselves and our children. Every trial and error we make adds to the equation, and no effort is worthless, no time is wasted, and probably the most important, no money is wasted.

Curriculum is not the enemy. It’s not any more an enemy as the proverbial hammer is to a new carpenter. How and why we use any kind of non-experiential curriculum (i.e. workbooks and textbooks) is far more important than whether or not we are using it in the first place.

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Homeschool Teacher Training

95633_math_teacher.jpgRecently, I was in a conversation where a homeschooling mom wanted to start a homeschool teacher training program. (Scroll down to see a sample.)

When I first heard her intention, my immediate reaction was to think, “You’re barking up the wrong tree.” But then I realized, I lot of people would probably sign up for something like this. In fact, many of the new homeschooler’s I’ve talked to have asked questions about homeschooling that a homeschooling class would promise to answer.

Do homeschoolers need training? What are the benefits and the disadvantages to offering a class like this?

One of the first problems I see with a homeschool teacher training is how easy it would be to reinforce school-parent ideas in the home education setting. School teachers, or those with “a lot of experience teaching many kids” can offer such a class, and provide lots of solid, experienced-based advice…for the classroom. This kind of class can easily perpetrate the idea that homeschooling is, and should be, school at home.

Now, what if this class were taught in a completely different way? What if it was a more open-ended, self-discovery sort of course? Instead of being told what to think, the teacher helps the parents see how much freedom and flexibility they have in teaching their kids at home. In essence, it would be a class in deschooling. Is that an oxy-moron? Would it be possible to teach without teaching in a classroom setting?

The other problem with offering a teacher training course to new homeschoolers is that it just might catch on. I could see how easily it would become the de-facto expectation of all homeschoolers to take such a course. If that’s the case, isn’t that, again, buying into the very system that we left?

A teacher training course for new homeschoolers is a neat idea – to teachers. I say this, having been a teacher, that it does appeal to me in that, “I want to help people,” sort of way. But it’s not helping people to offer a homeschool teacher training course. It’s actually encouraging people to hang on to the apron strings and pull the school mentality of top-down education right into their own living rooms.

I’m not saying that school-at-home is bad, or that people who choose to use that method are not effective educators. (They are. I’ve seen it.) What I’m saying is that learning how to be a homeschooler is not taught. It’s not something we can take a class on. We can only become better educators to our children with experience and self-motivation. (This is also true of classroom educators, BTW.)

And here’s the truth – if we want to be better homeschoolers, everything we need to know is already easily available to us. There are no longer any gatekeepers to knowledge.

This is the biggest truth that new homeschoolers must learn – that our culture creates the illusion that we must be allowed into the grand library of information by a certified key-holder. By offering classes that “train” homeschoolers, we are perpetuating that myth. New homeschoolers have to go through their own growing pains to discover, on their own, that everything they could possibly want to know about how to be a better homeschooler is already available to them. Everything they want to know about motivation, management, school subjects, being successful, or anything else, is right there waiting to be discovered. No key required.

That said, here’s a free sample of my own version of homeschool teacher training. Feel free to add anything in the comments.

1. As your homeschool teacher training facilitator, I encourage you to question everything I say. Question every person who tells you how to homeschool. But also listen carefully, and let new ideas bounce around in your head. In the end it’s up to you to decide on what’s right, but you can’t make a wise choice on what’s right unless you are willing to listen to what people are saying. And you can’t make a wise choice if you take what the experts say as truth without question. (And, anyone who is insulted or angered by your questioning or doubt, take a big step back and find another source for information.)

2. Theory is important, but practice is more important. The best source of information on how to make decisions in your family are the members of your family. What might sound good in a book, or what might sound good coming from an experienced homeschooler, may or may not work for you. It’s not about what “should” work, but what “does” work.

3. Have a clear grasp of what’s important to you and your family. If you know what’s important to you, then all other decisions come a lot easier.

4. It’s not what you know, but who/where you know. Make it a priority to get informed on who knows the haps around town, and know where to get all kinds of information. Become your own door to the universal library of knowledge.

5. Relationships trump all. If I had to pick one thing that makes the biggest difference in homeschooling success, it would be the strength of our family relationships. If you got that, you’re set.

6. Check your ego at the door. When you’re homeschooling, it ain’t about you, folks. It’s about the kids. Deal with your own issues, come to terms with your own educational experiences, then move on. Don’t get confused between what’s best for the kids and your own educational or life hang-ups.

7. Find at least 10 different sources on how to teach children at home, and read them all. I can’t make you understand the importance of getting a diverse set of opinions on homeschooling. You can only see it once you do your own research.

8. Teach your children like this is your last day on earth. Or, teach them like it’s your first. Either way, it’s better than wasting our precious time because we’re obsessed with the future, or than teaching our kids as if we (parents/adults) have nothing left in this world to discover.

9. In the immortal words of Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway, I’m gonna ride it, all night long….” Live life with your kids. Enjoy your time with them. Be in the “now”, and keep your head high as you gather more and more life experiences. You’re making memories with them.

What’s your number 10 to add to the unofficial, homeschool un-teacher untraining?