Showing posts with label interest-led learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interest-led learning. Show all posts

March 6, 2010

Reading Teacher's Must-Haves

Here they are, my all-time favorite tools to teach and play with reading:

Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read
This book is genius in its simplicity and creativity. Homemade games from easy-to-find materials, all pedagogically sound, and fun! One game I remember (I'm pretty sure I made it up based on her ideas) was to place paper plates all around the edge of the table. Each plate had a letter or a letter cluster written with a fat marker. And on each plate were a few M&Ms. As the kids skipped around the table, I'd say a letter sound, and the first one to the correct paper plate got the candy.

The Big Book of Books and Activities: An Illustrated Guide for Teacher, Parents, and Anyone Who Works With Kids!
If I had to get rid of all my homeschooling books and keep just one, this would be it. Chock-full of ideas to make your own books, but not just ordinary books--matchbook books, pop-up books, patch word quilts. Use it as a jumping off point to create whatever fits your kids and their interests.

The ideas work great in upper grades too. It's just a fun way to organize what you're learning. Melissa made a vocabulary book for her Spanish class, and in sixth or seventh grade, she made this booklet about deer. Each page flips up for more info:

She had come in from skateboarding one day and asked if she could write a report about an animal. Yes, a teacher's dream child. I gave her a list of things to find out about her animal and off she went to the computer. Then, when she had her facts, I showed her The Big Book of Books and helped her pick out a format to display her knowledge. Motivated learners. Gotta love it.

What reading teacher resources do you find indispensable?

February 15, 2010

Want Passionate Kids?

It's always nice to find nonhomeschooling researchers who agree with me. I just ran across this article at called "Want Passionate Kids? Let them be." The point being to let your kids follow their interests without pressure, and they will find their passions. Nice.

January 14, 2010

Intentional Unschooling

My definition of unschooling, at its heart, is letting a child's interests lead his education. We teachers don't impose a schooling "to do" list that gives the false impression that jumping through hoops makes an educated individual. But I also believe that setting goals and sneaky teaching are the backbone of unschooling.

Here's what I mean. A friend emailed me today, wondering if she could really unschool, worrying about everything her child might be "missing." I ALWAYS worried about that and was constantly monitoring their activities to make sure I thought we were moving in the right direction. I didn't want them to look stupid at a family Thanksgiving meal, not knowing who the Pilgrims were, or something. So I had some "non-negotiables." My kids were going to know their times tables, basic American history facts, and basic grammar (subject/verb) and punctuation. I'd do this through games, field trips, videos, anything that I thought would be fun for them. Now that Meg is a senior in high school, I've stopped being so sneaky, and blatantly drill her on American history dates, just to make sure she'll pass into adulthood with those pegs in her timeline:

1776 Declaration of Independence
1861 Civil War
1914 WW 1
1941 WW 2
1963 Kennedy Assassination
1960's Viet Nam War
1980's Reagan

We also work through a math textbook that she hates, and do little elementary math reviews once in awhile. She's very patient and indulges mom in these teacher-obsessive moments. On her own, she reads and watches videos about psychology, sociology, and art. Plus, she's an accomplished music theater professional (yes, she's been paid), knowing the ins and outs of all the jobs required to put on a show.

When the kids were little, here's how our life flowed:

In the fall, I'd have goals for each child and stacks of books to go with those goals. I'd usually have "formal" school days for about a month to get them used to going through their books, or following a schedule of reading before playing, etc. This was always fun for them because their friends were going back to school, and it made them feel grown up. Meg liked to have a checklist of what she needed to do. The other two were much more free flowing and that was OK with me. Meg would often do her checklists all year, getting through the goals I set out in the beginning. The other two really didn't care about my goals, but I was watching and invisibly steering them when I thought they needed it.

Every couple of months, I'd think through what they might be neglecting, then spend some time on it, trying to make it fun. Anything can be a game, and rewards can work wonders. Whenever Missa would give me trouble about doing 15 minutes of math, I'd say, "How much time do I actually REQUIRE you to do school things? You can sit here for 15 minutes and just do it." She usually would agree.

Karen over at StoneAge Techie reminded me that music is important in the young years. Yes! Give your kids a chance to see if they are musically inclined. The younger they are allowed to develop, the better chance they have to be accomplished musicians. We did piano and violin lessons starting around 6 years old. As Missa showed interest in the drums and guitar, we got her the instruments and lessons. Meg took cello for awhile, and has always had voice lessons, it seems. All this doesn't have to be expensive. Buy or rent used instruments and find teachers at church or at a local college. And if your child really hates it, don't force it. A true musician will be drawn to the right instrument and will love it.

Just remember to keep your goals simple. They will be learning tons of interesting things as they follow their interests, but feel free to stop them once in awhile to do some math, or ask them to pick out the subject of a sentence as you read to them. I am a hopeless grammar nerd, so sticking to simple subject/verb discussions never happened. We always got into more detailed stuff, but I knew when to quit, especially when the eyes started rolling.

So, once again, keep your goals simple: math, English, basic history facts, maybe geography too. If your child isn't grasping those things in the normal course of pursuing their interests, sprinkling it in once in awhile will be quite painless for everyone.

September 18, 2009

Foreign Language Requirements for College

We are still waiting for certain soap supplies to arrive, so our adventures in soap making are on hold at the moment. Today I'm thinking through what college Meg is interested in and what major she is considering. Even though she has been pursuing a pretty arts-heavy curriculum, she is seriously considering Consumer and Family Science. That's a major at our local college that prepares kids for careers in social work, counseling, etc. It sounds like a very good fit for her, and she can still try out for musicals and take theatre as an elective.

Anyway, looking at the admissions requirements, I think she has a pretty good chance at being accepted. Looking at the courses required for graduation, I think she will love it. But they have a foreign language requirement, and I wonder what is going to happen there. She has studied American Sign Language pretty intensively, and I wonder if they will accept that or make her take Spanish or something before she graduates. I know she won't be too thrilled about that.

I did a little online research and found this list of US colleges that accept ASL to fulfill their foreign language requirement. It might be a good idea to include the list with her transcript.

For those of you still early in your homeschooling, keep this in mind. It would be good to have your kids study a foreign language during their high school years so you can put it on their transcripts. You can always hire a tutor or buy a curriculum or let them take it at the public high school. Any recommendations out there? The earlier you start the better because, as we all know, young kids are expert language learners. Do as much as you can before they hit puberty and their high school studying will be so much easier.

Peter has had to take a foreign language in college, but he likes that sort of stuff. He's taking German. So that's the conclusion: if your child does not have at least two years of foreign language study before he gets to college, he'll just have to take it when he gets there. And I hear rumblings of requiring four years of high school foreign language, so who knows what the requirements will be when your kids are ready.

There. My thoughts for today.

August 20, 2009

And so it begins...

Another school year is upon us. Now I realize that unschoolers don't really start school at any particular time because learning never stops or starts and life goes on seamlessly from one season to the next. But, we also live in a culture where SCHOOL STARTS IN AUGUST. It's impossible to miss if you ever leave your house to go shopping. Back to School sales, school buses...etc. So my kids and I began to see August or September as a time of new beginnings. I would usually think through all their interests and needs, and come up with ways to mesh the two. Maybe they needed to sign up for a class here or there, or take lessons, or audition for a play. August has always been a time of reassessment and planning.

Melissa has now started her second year of public high school (they start really early around here) and Meg is facing her last year of homeschool. Peter is in Chicago, waiting for the end of September when his second year of college begins. Melissa is doing great. She's running with the cross country team and taking classes all day. Meg is a little bored. She had a wonderfully busy summer, working at our local theatre, running spotlights and working with costumes. But that just ended, and she's taking one class at the high school (choir) and that's about it!

Well, that's not exactly true. Like I said, it's the season of new beginnings. Meg is my only homeschooled child at the moment, and here is what we have lined up:

*She's working through a consumer math textbook.
*She's watching two DVDs from The Teaching Company. One is an introductory course on psychology, and the other is a guided tour through the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. That last one is turning out to be a survey of world history through art. I imagine having a great senior trip to NYC to visit the museum!
*She'll be reading The Grapes of Wrath (I just gave it to her today after she asked for some literature to read).
*She's in the high school choir and their girls A Capella group that practices twice a week.
*She'll soon be taking dance lessons and preparing for the Spring musical.
*Other things we haven't thought of yet.

So Meg is in transition, and even though she has a lot lined up, not everything has fully started yet. That's OK. It's good to learn how to handle life during the boring times. Things will get busy soon enough.

May 23, 2009

She's Still Got It

I thought I'd wrap this year up in my last post, but Melissa still had a couple weeks of school left, so I should have known there would be more to share.

While I was in Brazil, Melissa reconnected with her love of law enforcement. She and her dad went to a book store where she got a criminology book called The Gift of Fear. She read it every spare moment. One day her teacher said, "Melissa, this is English. Put down the book." The irony is not lost on any of us.

Her math teacher noticed how much she was reading, looked at the book and said, "Are you really a fifteen-year-old girl?"

During P.E., they have been going to a nearby putt-putt golf course, so Melissa would bring her book, but leave it on the picnic table. One day her teacher noticed the book wasn't there because she had forgotten it. "But I was almost done!" Now she's borrowing it so she can read it anytime she wants.

"Whenever I get really interested in something, it's hard to sit in class. It's all I can think about, and I just want to get home." Ah, yes.

She made her bedroom a command center. She now has a police scanner and a map of our city above her desk. And since the police chief's office doesn't have clothes laying all over the floor, her room got cleaned up nicely. As she was going through her desk drawers, she found an FBI pin she had once bought online, all her old police/spy supplies, and some tickets she had issued to family members over the years.

"It's a good thing I was homeschooled. I had time to really focus and do fun stuff." That makes me feel good because it's been a hard year, letting go and letting her go to school. Oh, and by the way, she was the only person in her English class who knew the difference between "to," "two," and "too." Her teacher has stopped calling on her because "I know Melissa knows all this stuff. I want to hear from someone else."

Tonight, as we walked to the car from the grocery store, she noticed the brown paper bags we were carrying. She said, "You now, these bags would make great treasure maps. You could cut them open and draw a map..."

"then crinkle them up..." I add.

"then burn the edges. Yep, I still got it."

pictures: Missa around age seven and going to prom this Spring

April 13, 2009

Quality Control in the Homeschool

Jamie from has been asking me some great questions and I have been so distracted around here that I haven't been answering. But no more! Today I begin on her questions.

Here's the first one:
I wonder if you could address how you handled the issues of Quality Control in your homeschool. So in areas like books, television, and video games for example, how did you make sure that your children were playing, watching, reading, etc good quality materials? Or did you? I have young children, but definitely want to steer them toward well-constructed materials when they are ready to choose their own. Did you let your kids pick out anything from the library, or did you try to direct them? Did you censor their tv watching and the type of video games they had, or was it whatever they wanted?

We don't have cable, but our kids watch DVDs from Netflix that I choose. They don't use the computer at all yet or any video games, and I'm happy to keep it that way for a while (they are only 5, 4, and 3). And I choose the majority of the books we read (although they pick some out from the library as well). I want them to have more freedom as they get older, but also maintain the high quality of materials.

I think you are doing a great job. As parents we try to choose nutritious food, healthy relationships, and a rich educational environment for our kids. That's just natural. And the younger they are, the easier it is to maintain all this. Like you, I tried as long as I could to keep things the way I like it. I wanted to lay a good foundation for them, giving them a taste for the "finer things," so to speak, so that when they got older and were making their own choices, they'd have a point of reference. I let them pick out library books, and I brought home my own picks. We didn't have cable, and their video choices had to be approved. But generally, we stayed in the children's section of the library, so there were hardly any disputes.

If you have cable and your kids are stuck on watching a lot of TV, just try to entice them with interesting things, or have a limit on the daily TV time. We even had a TV free week once in awhile that ended with a big reward. If they're interested in video games, buy them really fun games that you approve of. There are tons of great ones, and if they are getting their fill with the good stuff, they'll be less likely to acquire a taste for the ones you'd rather they avoid.

And don't forget that plain old play is quality education. Your kids don't have to be doing something "educational" all the time. We'd go days without purposeful reading. It's the climate, not the day to day weather that defines your homeschool.

The topic of "censoring" in the unschooling world is an interesting one. Some people think we should let our children choose everything. And I can see their point, but based on what I just said, you can see that I think it's OK to censor, especially in the young years. And now that I have teenagers and one in college, I get to express my opinion, and because my kids respect me and we all want to maintain good relationships, they often don't choose something that will completely freak mom out. For example, during Peter's last Halloween at home, he wanted to be a vampire. OK, I know there are vampires all over the media, but considering Peter has never been anything more daring than a cowboy for Halloween, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. So I said, "How about you save the vampire idea for next year when you're away at college and I won't know about it?" He laughed and decided to be something else.

As kids get older, you really can't censor as much as your mother's heart would like. We can say no (and I do about what I think is truly dangerous), but that won't stop them from doing what they want. So, in the young years, before they are teenagers, do all you can to show them how fun and rewarding learning can be. Give them a taste for good literature, open discussion, and lots of love and acceptance. Communicate your belief that they can do anything they love to do. Give them time to play and discover who they really are. Build that mutual respect and open communication. It's priceless.

Hope that answered your question. I thought of some related posts as I wrote this...

Related Posts

Capturing Your Child's Heart
The Power of Play
When it Looks Like They're Not Learning
Motivating a Child to Learn
Setting Boundaries for Kids
Saying No to Your Kids
The Bare Minimum
Facing Resistance from Your Kids

April 7, 2009

Spring Musical Time

It's Spring Musical time around here. Meg and Missa are both in Willy Wonka, Jr. at our local theatre. Meg is the candyman/narrator, and Melissa is Mrs. Bucket, Charlie's mom. It's been a great show. This week they are doing school shows, which means kids come in for field trips. And since they are during the day, Missa has to miss some of her public schooling. That makes life a little more complicated, but it's working out OK.

Meg and Missa both get to wear wigs in this show.

Yesterday there were no shows to do (today there are two!), so Meg and I got to celebrate our birthday. Yes, 17 years ago I spent my birthday in labor. At first I wasn't too sure I wanted to share my birthday, but as time goes on, I see how special it is. I tell her she's my favorite birthday present, and because of her, I've had a princess birthday party every year! We just figured out that on my 50th, she'll be 21. We'll have to plan something spectacular.

March 30, 2009

I'm Back

I got home late Saturday night, flying into St. Louis from Austin, then a two hour drive home. Peter rode with his dad to come get me. I was glad because I'd missed his entire Spring Break at home. So we talked nonstop, catching up on everything about school and life. I really love talking to Peter. He has such interesting insights into things. We talked about the classes he'll be starting (today!) and the two quarters he's finished. He got straight A's again. He thinks his classes are easy, and I asked him if other kids think that too or if he's just a genius. :) He said, some of his classes seem to be less demanding than other sections, and the stuff he's taking is "right up his alley," meaning lots of reading and analysis. So really, that's the key. If you are doing what you love, you'll naturally be good at it. And the more time you spend at it, the better you get.

For example, Peter loves to read and explore his interests. He's been doing that since the age of six. He thought it was funny that he had checked out 25 books from the library this past quarter and a couple of his friends had only checked out one or two. These were not required reading but books he wanted to read in his "free time." Next quarter he'll be taking a class that focuses on one book and goes into it deeply. That's one complaint he's had about his core freshman classes--they are too general and skim the surface of things.

We also spent a lot of time talking about his fourth grade class (his work-study job is helping out at a local elementary school). That's been a very interesting experience for him. He loves the kids and thinks they are fascinating. He said he'd much rather listen to them and how they think, answering their questions and being a resource than having them listen to him hand out information (spoken like a true unschooler). So he went on and on about how this kid figured this out or what questions come up here and there. And he's amazed at how they struggle with reading and comprehension.

Before I left on my trip to Austin, I had gotten out his fourth grade file because he was curious what he was like as a fourth grader. I have a file folder hanging in a file cabinet for every kid at each grade level. That has been my method of record keeping over the years. We had a lot of fun flipping through that. And I must say, I did a great job that year. I even had a list of books he'd read, authors included! That list took up a few pages, and not all of them were kid books, like Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. He remembered that as being a pretty complicated book and couldn't believe he'd read it in fourth grade. He was helping me plan a garden that year. I asked him what he thought little fourth grade Peter would be like in a public school classroom. He said he probably would have been really bored and gotten into trouble a lot.

This is Peter the day he got home from Spring Break (he has since gotten a haircut). He and Dad spent most of the week playing Puzzle Pirates.

So now I'm home. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Lesley and sent us all well-wishes. She's handling her chemo treatments well so far, and her nine-year-old daughter is very helpful with the littler ones. She also has a very supportive church family. They brought her meals twice while I was there. I'm exhausted, but very grateful for my home and family. What's that about absence making the heart grow fonder? Meg had charted out everyone's chores to get the house in shape before Mom got home, and it looked great. Everyone sure appreciates me a lot more now. :)

March 19, 2009

How do you spell homeschool? Is that one word or two?

My friend Christy called today with a homeschooling question: Spelling. Her 12-year-old would like to be a better speller, but he just can't seem to remember some of those pesky blends like "is it ir or er?" They are working on words he routinely misspells, but she says he just can't get it and is very frustrated.

I told her not to worry too much, since he loves to read and reads all the time, but if he truly wants to work on his spelling, here's an interest-led opportunity! I had some basic suggestions from my bookshelf:

Spelling Power and the accompanying practice notebooks

We have gotten a lot of good out of this book, off and on, over the years. It covers spelling instruction for grades k-12, and is not consumable, so every kid in your family can use it for all 12 years of schooling. Very practical. The child takes a placement test which tells you where to start them in the book (if more than one child is using it at a time, mark their places with different colored post-it notes). They practice a list until they pass it and then move on to the next one. The book offers spelling practice suggestions, so it's easy to assign things or let your child feel the thrill of accomplishment by racing through the lists. But I wouldn't force feed this. Only do it if they like it and it helps.

I like The Natural Spellerby Kathryn L. Stout because it's a bare bones, grade by grade outline of a public school curriculum. Not a lot of lists, like Spelling Power,but it has all the rules and ideas to teach spelling k-12.

Then I thought, with all the things online now, surely you can teach spelling without buying books! So first I went to my techie friend who posts weekly about great learning sites and did a search for spelling. Sure enough, TopsyTechie had a Friday Hardwired Hit all about Spelling. I especially liked her link to Spelling City. Just enter your list and then choose "teach me, "test me," or "play a game." And at Skillswise you can pick a spelling concept to learn more about and practice with online games.

I also found a site called Basic Spelling Rules that has it boiled down to eight rules with online practice tests. And a site with spelling lists. This Internet thing sure comes in handy.

But a word of caution, especially for us methodical types. Sometimes we can make spelling too complicated and kill the joy of learning. I took an English pronunciation class when I was pursuing a masters in Teaching English as a Second Language (but didn't finish). The teacher had a whole system worked out for when to pronounce things a certain way, based on the spelling. It was so intricate, I felt sorry for the nonEnglish speakers who had to learn it!

If your child wants to learn spelling rules, let him, but being exposed to correct spelling through plain old reading will do the same thing in the long run.

What online spelling resources do your kids enjoy?

March 18, 2009

Reflections of an Unschooler in a 4th Grade Classroom

Peter is about to finish his second quarter at the University of Chicago. This is finals week for him, but it isn't too stressful, he says. One class required a final project, another a paper, then there is a Calculus exam, and he might be getting out of his German final. I forgot to ask him about that. So he's hanging around the dorms until Friday when he takes the train home.

He called yesterday, and we talked about his job. This quarter he's been helping in a fourth grade classroom for work-study. We were both excited about this because he's never been in public school (except for taking choir two years in high school). He has his own opinions about education, so it has been a good experience to expose his theories to real life. He sees the struggle teachers have to maintain control and he sees how kids, even at this age, have given up. Their ability to think on their own is practically nonexistent. Yesterday he had a small group to himself, filling out a comprehension sheet on one of his favorite books (he read it over and over again at that age, with no book reports or comprehension sheets, I might add). The kids had no clue what the answers were, and they wanted him to give them the exact sentences to put down on their worksheet, as if there was only one right answer.

So I asked Peter what he thought the answer is to providing a great education to kids. He said smaller classrooms, for sure. But that would mean more teachers and bigger buildings (and more money). Then the kids need to be able to follow their interests with less stress, like a Sudbury Valley model. Another idea would be to just let the kids stay home--it would be better than what's happening now. At least they wouldn't learn to hate learning. Next we tried to imagine a world where everyone unschooled and realized that's impractical because so many parents have to work. Then we thought maybe all the money spent on education could be used to pay a parent to stay home and unschool their kids!

Dream on.

another post about Peter in this classroom

Here's a picture of Peter when he was 4th grade age, from the pre-digital era (at least at our house). I had to hunt through my boxes and scan it in. Melissa looked at all my pictures filed chronologically and she said, "So this is what you had to do before digital cameras?" Yes, dear. This is parenting in the Stone Age.

March 7, 2009

Bring College into Your Home School

Interest led learning and homeschoolingIf you are home schooling high school (or an advanced child), you should know about MIT OpenCourseWare, especially their website designed for high schoolers. They have video and written material to help explain science and math concepts. I even found papers by MIT students on stage technology (sets, lighting, etc).

Being the interest-led type of teacher that I am, I would set my kids loose on this site and let them explore. If you want to check it out first and give some initial guidance, that might help. I circled my favorite places on their sidebar.

The AP resources are designed to help your child study for the AP exams held every May (sign up by March 1 to take the test). If they get a high enough score, they can earn college credit, just by taking the test. You can prepare for AP exams with study booksand these videos, and then count that study time as a high school class with a chance at college credit. Peter did this for Literature and World History with study books, other resources, and lectures from The Teaching Company, but then opted out of the tests. We still counted the study time as a class for his transcript.

You can also design a high school course around their free course materials. Choose a topic and look at the syllabus, required readings, lecture notes, and assignments. Going through all the content of one of these classes would definitely be worthy of high school credit. Keep in mind that a one-semester college class is generally equivalent to a two-semester high school class.

Peter especially loves podcasts from UC Berkley. You can listen to classroom lectures for free. They also have a YouTube channel. Peter spent a lot of his senior year in high school listening to Berkley lectures and doing the readings. Those classes also ended up on his transcript.

I am amazed at the amount of high quality, free resources we have to home school high school. Youtube even has a channel dedicated to free college classes on video. If you know of other sources, let us know in the comments. Thanks!

news article about Youtube's college course channel

Related Posts:

Should I Home School High School?

Preparing for College

Home Schooling and College Scholarships

You'll Never Guess What Peter Did This Weekend

February 26, 2009

Is it Unschooling or Not?

TopsyTechie is talking about taking the plunge into unschooling next year, calling it a semester-long experiment. I always enjoy hearing about people who are willing to try something new for their kids, and since I'm partial to the whole unschooling world, I'm excited for them!

And it reminds me that I use the term "interest-led learning" to describe my version of schooling. So is it unschooling or not? In the comment section of one of my posts last week, Traci and I got into a little discussion about this:
It's funny how this homeschooling continuum works. On one end you have the ultra structured "school-at-home" crowd who follows the teacher's guide mercilessly. On the other end you have a complete hands-off, wild child view of unschooling. Many are purists and cling fiercely to their end of the continuum, but most of us find our place somewhere between the two.

I realize that to most of the homeschooling world, if you don't follow a pre-packaged curriculum, you are called an eclectic home schooler, or a relax home schooler, with the assumption that you have books and subjects that you cover most every day. The term "interest led" is used by some. I just checked google for "interest led home school" and my blog came up second on the list behind Life Without School. So there must not be too much out there if I'm number two.

My point is, no one home schools the same way. The best we can do is find what works for our family. I agree that kids like structure (depending on their personalities) and as long as we parents are sensitive to what they enjoy and how they learn, not forcing them through an assembly line but letting them follow their interests, we are on the unschooling end of the continuum--maybe not as close to the end as some would like, but we have a whole lot more in common with unschoolers than we do with those on the other end.
So we "unschoolers" are double misfits. First, we buck the system by keeping our kids home, then we turn our backs on A Beka and Bob Jones. Does anyone understand us?

If you choose this path, be prepared to either calmly and joyfully explain your schooling choice or just keep it under wraps. I've done both.

Some Related Posts:

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Homeschooling and College Scholarships (how I communicated Peter's unschooling)

Answering a Few Questions

A Look at Interest-Led Learning

Day to Day

Three Kids, Three Learning Styles

My Education Philosophy

About Me

February 11, 2009

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Soapbox Diva asked a question:

Hi, I'm new to your blog, by way of Pamajama. My children are grown, and while I too read some books as a young mother that changed all of our lives, The Key to Your Child's Heart and others, there was one aspect I regret that I didn't 'get' until they were already grown.

Was it innate or did you read something in particular that turned you on to the 'interest-led learning?' I have come to realize later in my child-rearing years, that it wasn't my job to turn them into 'society-appreciated' adults, but rather to help them listen to their own inner guidance, and become all that they wanted to be.

Since the environment they grew up in was slanted towards conformity, I am interested in exposing myself (as well as my children) to anything that will help them choose a different course with their future children. Thanks!

Hi Soapbox Diva,

Nice to meet you! You're right about our environment being slanted towards conformity. That fact is what pushed me over the edge in deciding to home school. My idea of interest-led learning developed when I was in college. I went to a school that didn't like textbook teaching or busy work for kids. Then combined with my psychology classes, my belief that God created us all uniquely, and my own experience of "jumping through hoops," interest-led learning just made sense. People are motived to do what they enjoy, we are all natural learners, and canned curriculum is to be avoided. I didn't know anyone who was teaching this way, but I would find quotes or books here and there. I especially liked John Holt and his book Learning All the Time. Another book that had a big influence on me was Schoolproof by Mary Pride.

Over the years I would waiver and buy a curriculum, but even then, I could never force my kids to do it. I always tried to find what was fun for them and what would develop their natural talents. And since experiences teach best and are remembered longest, I tried to make real-life activities part of their school days. After all, a trip to the store is really a consumer ed field trip. I sent Meg to buy groceries yesterday (it's so nice to have a driving child) and when she got home she said, "Wow, food is expensive!"(lesson indelibly marked in her brain and emotions). And it's a lot more fun to actually go to Abraham Lincoln's Springfield home than to just read about him. I'm sure there are things around your home that would be interesting for children to visit--even the closest nature preserve has a lot for your child to experience.

As you look toward a new start with grandchildren, my best advice is to let them explore and enjoy their childhood. As they grow, look for what they are good at and capitalize on those things. Use their interests as a springboard into all those "school" areas. You'd be amazed how math works into caring for pets or gardening. Then introduce them to new things in ways that relate to what they are already interested in. But don't be afraid to offer something completely different. Most kids are open to new things. It's the assembly line, forced-feeding of traditional schooling that shuts kids down to learning.

Home schooling this way is a lot of fun. You get to know your child really well, you generally maintain good relationships, and your child has the chance to blossom.

Here are some of my related posts that might interest you:

The Socialization Question

A Look at Interest Led Learning

Thanks for the question!

photo of Meg at Lincoln Log Cabin, photographing spices and vegetables drying from the rafters

January 27, 2009

Answering a Few Questions

I want to get back to the questions. I asked for questions a few posts back and here are some of them:

How much writing did your kids do in the early elementary grades? I have a hard time judging since I taught first and second grade. The kids I taught wrote tons. My kid not so much.
First of all, try not to compare. The kids in school have to fill up a lot of time, so teachers give them things to do, and most of the time it's more classroom management than education. I never made writing an "assignment" because I love to write and I didn't want my kids to learn to hate it. Writing was portrayed as a fun way to save your ideas and your made-up stories, or a way to communicate with your friends. If you never require writing but model its usefulness (journaling, writing lists, email), they will catch on and begin to write to meet their own goals and desires. If they have good models from the books they are reading and if you have a grammar book around for reference, they'll be fine.

Traci also asked about balancing running around doing extra curricular stuff vs. home time. There are seasons of running around, and in those times, being in the car together is "home time." We listened to tapes and talked. Often the kids had books in the car they were reading. Just go with the flow and make sure everyone has the opportunity to follow their interests, and sometimes that means a hectic schedule. If your child is bugging you about wanting to be in ten different things, this might be a good opportunity to learn how to choose the best two, or whatever you feel you have the money and time to give.
Anonymous said...
Hey! Just curious if your extended family (grandparents etc...) were supportive about your decision to homeschool/unschool. What about your friends?
Since I have an elementary education degree, nobody hassled me. I did get some funny looks and some side comments I wasn't supposed to hear, and those hurt, but overall, since I knew it was best for my kids, I wasn't discouraged. Some of my friends who chose to send their kids to school felt uncomfortable around me and acted like they were defending their choices all the time. But I generally act with grace, no matter what a person's decisions are, so over time, they lightened up and we're still friends. After all, I do believe that homeschooling is not for every family.
Christy said...
I know it was a long time ago for you, but I was just wondering what you said to people in front of others so your kiddos didn't feel like they were "missing out" by "just homeschooling"?
"We let our child's interests direct his schooling. For example, Peter loves to read, so he has all the time in the world to read any book he wants. We go to the library a lot--you should see our stacks of books!" or "My daughter loves horses, so we have plenty of time to spend at the stable to let her ..." Answers like these shows the adult that you really are learning and it sounds fun too. You can also highlight all the social interaction your child gets at church or club or the park district classes. If you keep your cool and act mature, positive, and intelligent, you'll be less of a target.
Cathy said...
any doubts you had along the journey?
About once a month. That's when I'd think through my kids' interests and the school subjects and decide if they needed any more materials or opportunities to grow. Let's face it, it's just plain hard being a parent and a teacher. We care so much and we don't want to make mistakes. But what is most important is that we love and value our kids and let them become who they were born to be. If you focus on that, you'll be a success.
Keep the questions coming!

January 22, 2009

Day to Day

I've gotten a few questions about the nitty-gritty day-to-day routine around here. That's a hard one because not following a structured school routine makes for, well, little routine! But here's an overview:

In the preschool years it was just a continuation of the baby days--make sure everyone's fed and clean, and do fun things when possible. To give mom a break, the kids watched PBS and videos. Peter and Meg must have watched Mary Poppins 50 times when we moved in 1993. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. My husband was great about taking the kids to the park or to the city pool several times a week to give me a quiet house. Sometimes he'd even take the kids for a whole day. I'm an introverted person, so constant noise and continual conversation can drive me crazy. To compensate, I'd find things that were good for the kids but still allowed me time to write in my journal (pre-blog days!) or just take a nap. A little bit more about my husband--he's done most of the grocery shopping since Peter was born, and he even cooks, does laundry, and vacuums. He knows how hard it is to be a full time parent and teacher. I am very blessed to have him.

As the kids got into the early elementary days, I had periods of more structure, but those lasted about a month at a time. I like checklists, so often the kids had charts on the wall of things I wanted them to accomplish each day. They would love it for about a week, and then I'd start loosening up on things. It was good to set a course and define a goal, and when we needed that structure, it was there. But we were very flexible and open to invitations to do other things on the spur of the moment.

We never had a "rise and shine" time because we had no schedule to keep and the longer they slept, the more time I had to do other things. Besides, young children don't linger in bed--that's a teenager thing. I figured they'd get up when they were rested. We had morning devotions for years. That would be after breakfast and before I sent them off to do something "educational." They could do things on their checklist or from a stack of books I usually gathered at the beginning of the school year. But like I said, I was never very structured, so if something more interesting came along, we'd do that instead. And if one of the kids just didn't like that grammar book I bought, I wouldn't make them do it. If I really wanted them to learn a concept, I'd present it in a quick, lively way, and move on, sort of like a hit and run. They'd learn something before they had a chance to object. :) Songs are great for that. We had grammar songs, geography songs, science songs, history songs, Bible songs, foreign language songs. The younger they are, the better, because they don't mind the cheesy lyrics and campy melodies. We usually listened to songs every car ride. And they can still sing some of those songs today.

Bed times? Well, since we didn't have to be anywhere in the morning, we didn't feel the need. There are a lot of opinions out there about bedtimes, but for us, it just flowed with life. We co-slept for YEARS because I wanted the kids to feel safe and it was just more convenient. It started with breastfeeding. I could not see any sense in getting up in the middle of the night to get a crying baby out of a crib down the hall. It was much easier to have that child right next to me and to respond before waking anyone else up. After you get used to that, it's hard to force a child into their own bedroom. BUT if that child WANTED his/her own bedroom, that's a different story. I found that falling asleep in the same room as my children gave me insight into their thinking. They would tell me how they really felt and I'd have the opportunity to talk about deep, important things without the distractions of the day. And we giggled a lot. My husband, on the other hand, liked his own space. Over the years, it has all worked out. Now everyone has their own room and I miss those late night talks with my kids.

When Peter got to 8th grade, I decided it was time to give him a real school experience because high school was coming up and I was thinking of enrolling him in a private school. And the girls were really bugging me about wanting to go to a "real" school. I also wanted to put more hours in at the ministry where my husband worked, so we did something really different. I put the girls in a school that did School of Tomorrow Paces, and Peter stayed home, but also did Paces. The girls' school career lasted all of six weeks. I could not believe how...well...let's just say I do not recommend this curriculum. So they came home, everyone was happy, and we resumed our unstructured learning. But Peter faithfully finished all his Paces by the end of the school year because he wanted to.

Because Peter went to a private school in 9th grade, he and I had to get up early and he was gone most of the day, but for Meg and Missa, unstructured school just rolled along. They'd have a pile of books and some expectations to complete before they could say they "got their school done," but most days I didn't ask and they just played happily. Sometimes I wouldn't let them go to a friend's house until they got this or that finished, and that system worked pretty well. But in all honesty, their school work would only take an hour if I actually insisted they do it.

Peter went one year to that private school because we moved away. His last three years of high school were at home. There's more on that in my post Should I Homeschool High School?

Today, this is what happened:

8 am Everyone is up and getting ready for the day. Missa goes to the high school, my husband teaches a couple classes at the local college, and Meg sits in on my husband's aural training class. They all leave together because my husband drops Melissa off on his way.

9am Everyone is gone so I get a shower, some breakfast, and check my email.

9:30 I pick up Meg at the college and take her to the high school for choir. I popped into the guidance counselor's office to hand in Melissa's request for classes next year. Yes, it looks like we're doing this again. On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store.

10:30 Meg returns from choir (another home schooled girl drives her home). She's very excited because she just got a text from a friend saying she got a great part in the musical she auditioned for last weekend. She's going to be the narrator/candyman in Willy Wonka Jr.

She's also in a play that opens tomorrow, and her director encouraged the cast to do something special for themselves, so she has decided to get a massage. After an Internet search, she found a spa in town, called and made an appointment. She also made an appointment to get her hair done. After that, we talked about her desire to study directing in college, so we got online and researched some possible schools. Then I walked away to do dishes, and she came into the kitchen asking for some math problems. I pulled out a math book and we did a 15 minute review of basic math and algebra. Then she sat down by the fireplace and read a science book.

11:45 Meg decides she needs some chocolate, so she goes to Walmart and picks Missa up for lunch on the way home. While she's gone, I clean some vegetables and think through what we could have for lunch.

12:15 Missa and my hubby are both home for lunch. Meg tells her that she also got a great part in Willy Wonka. They'll be going to rehearsals together every Saturday and Sunday afternoons until mid April.

12:45 Meg takes Melissa back to school.

1:00 I get serious about cleaning and doing laundry because Peter is coming home tomorrow for the weekend, and he's bringing his girlfriend with him. But because I don't like to do housework very much, I get distracted with my email, and then Peter calls and we talk through his arrival time. I also learn that his girlfriend has gone vegetarian, so we talk about what food we should have. Peter, on the other hand, is a self-described "meatasaurus." When I hang up with Peter, Meg wants to talk about her Life Cycle Development reading (she's auditing another college class). This chapter is about childbirth and a baby's first year, so she had lots of questions about details. You know how moms like to tell birth stories!

3:15 I go to the high school to pick up Melissa and take her straight to her piano lesson. Meg has a voice lesson at 4:00, but she gets there on her own. I do some kitchen clean up before returning to get Melissa.

4:15 Melissa is back home and frantically eating some supper and gathering her basketball stuff because the bus leaves at 4:45 for an out-of-town game.

5:00 I'm home alone because Meg went straight to her play practice after her voice lesson, my husband is working on something at his office, and Melissa is at basketball (we usually go to her games, but because she has a cold, she is going to sit on the bench). I resign myself to the fact that I have to get the laundry room in shape, so I start a load and take a bunch of clothes upstairs. After about an hour of earnest housework, I heat up a bowl of spaghetti and sit down to watch some Reba on (we don't have regular TV).

6:30 A friend calls. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday. They are going for a second opinion soon. They have four small children and live so far away; I wish I could be there to help with the kids.

7:00 I give up on housework and start this post.

8:30 My husband calls and wants me to come get him at the college. When I get there, he wants to show me the computer lab, so here we are. He's working on something while I finish my post!
I'm waiting for Melissa to call for me to pick her up at the high school after the basketball game. Meg will be home when her play practice ends. Then we'll all watch another episode of Reba and go to bed.

This has been a rather typical day.

January 21, 2009

Facing Resistance from Your Kids

Meg around age 2
I've gotten some great questions after my last post. Thanks so much for fueling my blog! Keep them coming!

A couple people asked about dealing with resistance from kids. We all face it, and it's not fun. Dealing with a bad attitude or a straight out "NO!" is really a relationship issue. What do you expect from your kids and how much do you respect their opinions? How much do they respect your guidance? What are your non-negotiables and are they necessary, reasonable, and understood? I wrote a post called "Setting Boundaries for Kids" that talks more about this.

Being a child's parent AND teacher puts a lot of pressure on us. We panic when we think our kids have to be doing as much as those kids in traditional schools, so we start to get demanding and that relationship thing falls apart, and for what? Here's one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom, without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness if it were possible with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.
But that doesn't mean we parents just let our kids go and do whatever. In the quote above, Einstein admits that curiosity needs "stimulation," and he lists "seeing and searching" as a description of learning. Give your kids lots of opportunity and time to do just that. Keep the goal in mind and guide without them even realizing it.

If you value the model Jesus gives in the New Testament, it's interesting to note that he was always down on the Pharisees--leaders who continually laid heavy burdens on the people. After all, there are only ten commandments, and even God is not coercive. We may suffer the consequences of poor choices, but he never forces us to obey. One of my favorite verses is "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people," (Romans 10:21). As we disobey, God is continually holding out his arms to us like the father of the Prodigal Son. One of my guiding principles has been to parent my children like God parents me.

But some of the most popular parenting advisers (especially in the Evangelical Christian world) tell us to insure immediate and cheerful obedience all the time or we are shirking our responsibility as parents. Now that's a heavy burden. I say choose your few rules and make sure they are really necessary (see "Setting Boundaries for Kids").

But what about school things like reading, writing and math? A lot of us fear that if we don't force our kids to do school work, they'll never make it in life. Here's my advice: Between the ages of zero and twelve, teach your child to read when he is ready and wants to do it, then do "school" stuff when he shows interest. That gives you a lot of time to relax and watch your child. What is he interested in? What is his learning style? What motivates him? What de-motivates him?

Sure, you can dangle the carrot, like make brownies and talk about fractions as you cut him a piece. Or you can choose games that naturally introduce math because you have to keep score and count money. Or you can check out colorful and interesting books from the library. You can even start a contest with other home schoolers to see how many books each child can read in a month (we did Pizza Hut's Book It). As far as writing goes, you can make greeting cards as a craft project together, or you can buy her a beautiful journal and matching pen. The computer is great for encouraging writing--open a MySpace, create a blog, or simply leave comments on blogs. I have more about these practical things in the post "My Education Philosophy."

My point is, notice your child's interests and build on those. Practically everything in life requires reading, writing, and math, so you just have to encourage those activities in the context of her interests. When you face resistance to "school" things, back off. Ask yourself why she doesn't like to do that and you might learn a lot about how she learns and what motivates her.

Then, when your child hits 12 or so, take stock of his skills and abilities as they relate to the future. If public or private high school is the plan, what do those schools require? But in the meantime, you and your child can relax and together experience the joy of childhood and the joy of learning.

Hope that helps, and keep the questions coming!

January 8, 2009

Back to Our Arts High School

What a great Christmas break! And I took quite a break from my blog. But now it's January and time to get down to business. January means auditions and applications to summer programs. I learned this last year when I tried to get Meg into things but was too late. So right around New Years I started searching and taking notes on deadlines. I discovered that our state has a theater festival for public and private schools, but the festival is this weekend, so of course, I'm too late again. BUT, she has one more year of high school, so I plan to stay on top of things and get her in next year. She'll be a senior and they'll have college auditions. Perfect.

I also found a state-wide professional audition that takes place in early February. We were days away from that deadline, so I contacted a photographer friend of mine and she came over and took some great shots. We got one printed, a resume glued on back (I later realized we could just print it on sticker paper), and mailed it off. She got an audition time (!) and now we have to print 50 head shots and resumes for all the reps at the audition. She is thrilled!

The area children's theater is also gearing up for it's spring musical, so that audition is in a couple weeks. Drama and voice lessons start again, and we need to decide about summer programs, but I think we should wait until the big audition is over to see if she gets any summer jobs.

Besides dance, drama, and voice, she's back to regular "school" things like reading literature (Wuthering Heights--perfect for the dramatic teenager) and reviewing math and science. Those Nova programs Peter watched over break are really wonderful, so she's been watching those too. Oh, and she's in a play that performs in a few weeks. Life is pretty full in our Arts High School right now.

Here's a link to an incredible drawing book from 1913.

December 11, 2008

How to Teach Writing in the Home School is all you need to know:

WRITING IS NOT HARD. Writing is communicating. If you can think, you can write.

So why do home schoolers spend so much money on writing curriculum, give writing assignments starting in first grade, and worry that their kids don't write enough? Probably because the home schooling parent went to traditional school and that's what they went through, or because that expensive curriculum I just bought says we have to, that's why.

It's hard to imagine a world where eight-year-olds are not asked to find the topic sentence of a paragraph or where 12 year-olds are not asked to write book reports. What would become of our youth?

Abraham Lincoln lived in that kind of world. He only spent a few months in a traditional school setting. The rest of his childhood was spent in search of time to read, and no one asked him to write anything. In fact, he didn't have paper. He would write in the dirt or scratch on wood. As a farmer, he had time to think about his readings as he plowed fields or chopped wood, but he never wrote a summary or an analysis of his readings. He didn't even take notes.

When he moved away from home, Lincoln became a store clerk and had plenty of time to read behind the counter. When a family moving West had to lighten their load, he bought a barrel full of their belongings. "I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries. I began to read those famous works, and I had plenty of time; for during the long summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few and far between. The more I read, the more intensely interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them.” source

That's how Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer. He read, studied what interested him, and passed the bar exam. Without traditional education he became one of the most eloquent, influential communicators in American history. He never took a speech-writing class, yet the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address are among the best speeches ever delivered (and yes, he wrote his own speeches).

But could he write a five paragraph essay? Argh! I'll have more on that topic in a future post.

Here are some specifics for today's student:

1. Let them read.
2. Let them think and express opinions about what they read.
3. Respect their opinions and insights so they will feel the freedom to talk honestly with you.
4. Share your own insights and wonder at a writer's ability to communicate.
5. Don't kill the fun of writing by pointing out spelling or grammar mistakes all the time.

Here's what we did.

At the age of six or seven, Peter began reading the Boxcar Children Series over and over again. I had to remind myself that even if these weren't Dickens, he was at least being exposed to correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. At one point he told me that on the second or third reading he started to notice how the writer was laying out the story, foreshadowing, and creating suspense. This is a good thing to remember: On the first read you are engrossed in the story; on subsequent readings you can be more detached and notice the craft. He even noticed how quotations were organized so that each new speaker had his own line--pretty sophisticated stuff for a young reader to discover on his own. If you think your child isn't picking up on these things, you could casually point them out, especially if you are reading out loud to him. But keep comments minimally invasive or you'll kill the joy of reading.

As your child is reading books that interest him, allow him to respond naturally. He may want to talk about it, write about it, act it out, find more information, who knows! Then he will find more books and websites and have more responses. This can go on for years.

Encourage creative writing by suggesting your child write his own book. Or if he likes to create imaginary worlds, give him a little journal to chronicle his adventures. Melissa had dog stories going on for awhile. She liked to type them into the computer and work on them with friends. At one point, she created a newspaper that reported on happenings around the house, including an advice column and comics.

Meg was a late reader, but she loved to listen to books, and we did a lot of that (Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, The Borrowers, etc). Around the age of 10, she started reading on her own, and with very little instruction, her spelling and grammar are up to grade level just from the exposure she gets from her books.

In 8th grade, take stock of your child's knowledge of grammar, especially if you have not been taking standardized tests all along.*
How do you assess your kids in the area of mechanics? Check out She has a great grammar basics section and links to other sites, including a free assessment with online lessons. To check your child's knowledge in the least threatening way, just read over the basics page together, or do the assessment together and see what areas are weak. I also like the Online Writing Lab from Purdue University. They are concise and have a nice list of topics to choose from. has free worksheets on various grammar topics if your child wants to try those. And my all-time favorite book on English mechanics is Woe is I by Patricia T. O'Connor.

For high school, encourage your child to continue reading great books and allow plenty of opportunity to research whatever interests him. If your child needs some help finding things to read, I highly recommend Invitation to the Classics. It gives short background information on the most respected authors through time, discussion of some of their most important works, along with some questions for thought. Your child could start reading through this book until she comes upon a piece of literature that sounds interesting, then find it at the library. Or you and he could be reading the same thing so you can have the fun of discussing it. This is a great guide to help you find wonderful things to read.

You could give writing assignments, but I wouldn't unless the child really wants one. Melissa used to do this to me. In junior high she'd ask me to give her a research assignment. She tended to do reports about animals. I'd tell her what types of things she might want to find and she'd come up with her own way to present it, complete with pictures she found on the Internet.

One year during high school, Peter and I met with another home schooled student and tried to do a more formal type of literature class. It was fun to have a time set aside once a week to do that, but it really helped the other girl more than Peter. He found the writing assignments easy because he likes to read and talk about what he reads. And after all, that's what makes a good writer--someone who can think and communicate logically. I spent most of my time trying to help the other child who'd been very traditionally schooled at home all her life.

The first semester of his senior year, Peter took a composition class at our local community college. We decided to do that so he could prove to himself and colleges that he could write. Unfortunately, it was mostly a waste of money. They had him writing essays (yes, the old five paragraph essay) on different topics. He got A's on all of them and I hear now his essays are used as examples in the class. Now he's completing his first quarter at the University of Chicago. He gets A's on his papers and at least one teacher used his paper as an example for the rest of the class. His friends wonder how he can be such a good writer when he's been homeschooled--meaning he was never subjected to hours of writing instruction and practice. Maybe that's the key. (edit: Peter won the University of Chicago's Crerar Writing Prize in May of 2010)
If your child will take the SAT or the ACT, you need to teach them about the five paragraph essay. I will have a thorough discussion of that coming soon. But instead of teaching that topic ad nauseam for years, start about four weeks before the test to allow time to practice a few.

Home School Meets Public School in English Class

A few weeks ago they started learning how to write the five paragraph essay. If you haven't noticed by now, I have strong opinions about this traditional way to teach writing, and I can't wait to get some time to dive into it. But even worse than the fact that high school freshman are learning how to write the five paragraph essay, the teacher told them they wouldn't be writing a persuasive essay until next year because they just "aren't mature enough yet." Excuse me? How many eight-year-olds can present persuasive arguments, especially now, around Christmas time?

For the first time in her life, Melissa is taking notes on a book she's reading. She has discovered that the purpose of the note cards is to prove they are actually reading the books. At various points in the unit, each child has to stand in front of the class and talk about the notes they are taking. Melissa did hers yesterday. I asked her how she did. "Fine. I always get full credit for things."

"How did the other kids do?" I asked.

"Terrible! It's amazing how no one can talk. The teacher has to pull things out of them and they just mumble."

But wait, these kids have been in a classroom since they were five years old, becoming magically socialized and learning such wonderful things! And here the child who spent her elementary years "in the wild" can actually talk and write about things she's learning.

Be assured, the freedom to read and think and follow his interests will make your child a natural, effective communicator.


The Five Paragraph Essay

1000 good books--the ultimate reading list

Newberry Medal and Honor Books

*If you live in an area where standardized tests are required, find out what exactly they are looking for and be sure your kids can do those things at a passing level. Scores on standardized tests in the elementary grades mean nothing to colleges. If, however, you plan to send them to a private high school, it might be a good idea to check ahead of time if those schools will use your elementary scores to determine admission or scholarships. Even if you have to "teach to the tests," you can probably cover what they need to know in just a few days if the rest of the time has been rich in reading and discovery.

November 14, 2008

What is Success?

A friend recently read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell (Readers Digest 2008) about his new book Outliers: The Story of Success. She said, "In his new book, he looks at the personalities and circumstances of successful people. He said something that made me think of interest-led learning and your blog."

Here's the Question: "How does a kid become the next Bill Gates or Tiger Woods?"

Gladwell: "Both of these men had parents who allowed their children to focus almost exclusively on what brought them joy and what they were good at. And both of them were able, as children, to invest an extraordinary amount of time in pursuing that particular passion. Again, not just a little time. The magic number for them, for Mozart, and for so many outliers, as I call them, appears to be 10,000 hours."

She thought the 10,000 hours was a little hokey, and I do too. As humans we are always looking for the magic formula. But that number does communicate A LOT of time, and that's the point, I think.

She went on to tell me that she's had time in her adult life to pursue "a number of interests, but nothing passionately. Why do some people have passions and others don't? Genetics, environment, energy level? I still have an entrepreneurial bug, but the cost of having a successful business is too high." Being a mom of two active preschoolers, she chooses to give attention to her kids instead of building a business.

Sometimes following your passion doesn't mean success in a Bill Gates kind of way. Instead of "success" maybe we should think of it as "happiness or fulfillment." A person who is plugged into what they are good at (or gifted at) is generally happy and well adjusted and has a positive influence on people around them. I think that's what's important. So some gifting leads to big bucks and some gifting doesn't. Right now my friend is passionate about being a stay-at-home mom and she should follow that dream! Who knows, she may be raising the next billionaire or the next great artist.

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