Trust The Children

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Preserving Curiosity - Do or Die


My father used to say, until I was so tired of hearing it, "The hard way IS the easy way." What he meant was that taking shortcuts often led to more rework and more problems. So doing it right, without short cuts the first time, may seem to take a bit longer, but in the end, it usually saves time.

In home schooling, usually, you "get what you pay for." It will take a significant and thoughtful effort, it will be in many cases a change of schedule and priorities, and in that respect, it will seem, well, hard.

However, IF there is a shortcut, or something that is like that for home schooling, it is found in preserving, growing and capitalizing on the natural curiosity of our children. For me, the main reason I consider this a shortcut of sorts, is that when a child is naturally curious, they are MOTIVATED. Motivation is the basis of *learning momentum* in my mind, and perhaps even home schooling momentum.

Private/public classroom learning, can have inherent in the system they must use, to accommodate the masses, many curiosity killers. This conclusion, from personal observation, in my own family and in the lives of other youth. There are other curiosity killers that should be acknowledged and too often they are found in the attitude of parents themselves.

I have told many of the experience I had in one class at a home schooling convention I attended with Cyndy. I can't remember the topic, but when the question and answer session came, one father stood up, and proceeded to berate his son because all he was interested in was baseball cards. As he went on and on, I admit, I became more and more steamed. Steamed, because there we other parents whose questions centered around children for whom no visible evidence of ANY curiosity existed, at least in the minds of the parents. You know, video games and couch potato types the parents exclaimed. Then this father contributes that "all my son is interested in is baseball cards."

I guess I shouldn't have been steamed. Probably a weakness of the moment. I felt at the time, that there were so many things that a boy can learn through baseball cards. Geography, math, record keeping, even statistics. Probably more.

I want to share a few other examples, at the risk of someone saying that this is all too "ideal." This one from Pat Montgomery. At another home schooling convention, I heard her say, "Until age 12-13, the work of a child is play." Don't know all the reasons why, even though she explained them at the time. But it rang so true to me. Here is a story from her right along the same lines of what I am saying:

"Oh, there are so many! The one that comes right off the top of my head is a young fellow up in New York who, when he was eleven or twelve, took up whittling. He whittled a lot of things, but it came to pass that his favorite was miniature furniture. He got so interested in miniature furniture of so many periods, that he would imitate Queen Anne furniture, Victorian furniture, Louis the Fourteenth, Shaker. He put it in time frames! He showed some of his miniature furniture at an art museum. Of course they were very interested, because they have miniature furniture rooms showing each era. They asked him right away if he would consider serving them.
By the time he was thirteen or fourteen, he had his own business. His mother and his father, his father in particular, would be very upset because he was not doing his spelling, he was not doing his math! He’s not doing, he’s not doing! He spends most of his time on that business and with those miniature things. Well, he was doing a display somewhere, at some art show, and a major glass manufacturer approached him. Noticing a couple of his pieces they said, "We would love to be able to do this in glass, but we’d have to have your permission and your guidance."
So there he got yet another aspect to his business. He was making as much as his father made, income-wise, but still his father was unhappy. You’re never going to go to college. What are you doing; you’re not doing your science, you’re not doing your… Well, he certainly did sufficient enough to graduate from the standard high school program. In fact, he wanted to graduate early—on the one hand to get his father off his back, on the other hand to get rid of it and to put more time into his business.
So, we gave him a miniature diploma. That’s why it came right off the top of my head; we had it framed in miniature for a joke as we presented it to him. We also gave him a real one, of course.
Now he’s in his late teens and his business is going well, but he’s getting interested in computers. So his dad, again, was counseling him and saying, "Son, you get up when you feel like getting up; you go to work when you feel like going to work; you put in the hours you feel like putting in… This is not the real world! You are approaching your twenties; it is time you are going to have to learn. I know about your business, but maybe you’re not going to be interested in it forever? You’ve already moved to an interest in computers." Again, he followed his dad’s counsel and it weighed on him until he was offered a job by a computer firm down in Virginia. They liked what he did and asked if he would please move down to Virginia.
About six months ago I got a call from his mother. They’re still in New York and he’s in Virginia. He wrote a letter to his dad and she read it to me. It said: "Dad, they are paying me triple what you bring home to get up when I feel like getting up, to come to come to work when I feel like coming to work, to do work as long as I feel like it and to do what I darn well please."
It is just fantastic! So he satisfied himself completely. He certainly has satisfied his own creative needs and an employer…and I think he’s finally satisfied his dad!
That’s one of the outstanding ones that comes to mind. (

Another short one, also from Pat Montgomery:

A young woman (she’s sixteen) put in some time volunteering at a travel center and her volunteer task was to put stamps on envelopes and stamp the name of the travel center on the pamphlets that were produced by a larger entity. She got the idea to create a trip abroad for X number of people who would be interested in architecture and she had two things they would focus upon, because these were her interests. They would focus on different kinds of architecture and a particular aspect of the environment. She put together a trip that was lick-your-fingers good and actually succeeded in getting people to subscribe. She got the center she worked for to give her all the advice and guidance that she needed, then they chartered a plane and took the trip. That was her Walkabout and she was in charge of everything—ordering the tickets, collecting the money, setting the itinerary, being sure of this, being sure of that. Imagine!

Next week, Cyndy counsels me, I should share some similar experiences from our own family. But are you getting the picture? If we keep our eyes open, and watch our children without automatically pre-judging, we might see a spark of curiosity. And if just a spark, we as parents need to be the ones to "carefully, oh so carefully" fan it into a bright and enduring flame, Again, as always, we are happy for your comments and contributions on this topic.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Socialization (Part 3)


So what is the root premise of the concern that some parents have when they express their doubts about a child being "normal" socially, if they don't use the public-Private / classroom-playground option of instruction?

I probably don't altogether understand it, because I rejected it so easily in our own case. Even so, I mostly felt they were suggesting that a person needs to "practice" getting along with others, and that the only place that could happen was where there were a lot of children. Having to negotiate relationships with all these different people also attending the public/private system they seem to believe, is the optimum environment for the development of social skills.

In his book, Playground Politics, Stanley I. Greespan. M.D. writes:


As children move through their seventh and eighth years [age not school class], their horizons expand and their world grows. Children begin to move from the family-oriented stage of development out into the rough-and-tumble world of peer relationships. They move away from the intrigues of triangular relationships at home and enter the world of their peers, immersing themselves in the politics of the playground.
Children now define themselves a little less in terms of the way their parents treat them and more by how they fit in with the peer group at school.Their self-image now begins to be defined by the group, by the pecking order that prevails on the playground- instead of being determined solely by their parents or by their inner convictions
In everything from athletic ability to popularity to looks, brains and clothes, children rank themselves against others.
(Pages 9-10)

I don't know about you, but if this description is even close to correct, it raises all kinds of red flags for me.
1. Substituting other children's values for parent's values in value maintenance.
2. Rough and tumble
3. Children defining themselves by their peers instead of family, God or inner convictions.
4. Fitting themselves into a pecking order
5. Constantly ranking themselves against others breeding a judgmental nature, pride, envy etc.

What I always heard from my coaches was NOT practice makes perfect, but PERFECT practice makes perfect. If you want your children to respond to life's situations in a productive and meaning way, there has to be something better and more useful than going to school and the playground and getting your brain, ego and self esteem exposed constantly to attack.

Our children have to eventually go into the battle of life, but WHEN they go is largely the choice of the parents. Sending them out into the world without being prepared is like sending soldiers into battle with no helmet and wearing only fatigues.

I felt early on that I would choose the moment in time when they were prepared for battle. And that would be when I felt that that they would have a better than even chance of coming off the victor.

I know some parents never send their children into the "real world". The kids grow up weak, and as young adults find themselves handicapped. Wrong choice to never send. Normally a selfish choice really. Parents trying to shield themselves from the pain of their childrens "adventures" and unfortunate events" However, there is nothing wrong at all with biding your time and giving them the advantage of some maturity and true self confidence, while measuring their readiness.

What signs do you look for in your children that tell you they are more ready than before to venture out into the world and succeed?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Socialization? (Part 2)

I am not a social scientist, nor a family therapist (we probably need one of those) but we do observe our children and the children of other home schooling families. Of course, with every family and every child, mileage varies no matter what approach you take.

That being said, we do have the advantage of 20+ years of observation. And from those observations, conclusions are inevitable. This may be a bit round about as it relates to socialization, but hang in there for a few minutes.

One premise of the public form of education is often a "Liberal Arts" approach. The idea here is exposure for exposures sake really. Expose our children to all kinds of topics, ideas, and approaches so that they become "well rounded". On the surface this sounds like a good idea. With a little bit of knowlege about a lot of things, you see the world more clearly and fairly is the idea. But what is it about this approach that they don't tell you?

In John Talyor Gatto's book "Dumbing Us Down" he describes this approach in these words, speaking tongue in cheek as a professional educator, "The third lesson I teach is indifference... When I am at my best, I plan lessons very carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the bell rings, I insist they drop whatever it is we have been doing and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch... Indeed the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do. ". (DUMBING US DOWN, The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto) (Note: It is reality that formal classroom education has it's pluses and minuses. No one can dispute this. Pretending that the minues don't exist because it is the only option available to some, is NOT reality however.)

So now some observations:


Trees are more stable, when they have a deep taproot. An root system that drives deep into the soil for moisture and nutrients. In the Northwest where we live, and where water is often plentiful, we often observe trees, large trees, who didn't have to go deep for moisture, that have blown over in a wind. What you see is a root system that is large in diameter, but very shallow in the earth. Faced with the rigours of survival, even large trees topple quite easily.Of course the best of both worlds in the tree business, is to have both, a broad base and a deep tap root.

Our public system is largely based on a strategy of "liberal arts" education. Curriculums are designed to provide broad exposure to what public school administrations determine are the key topics that any reasonable person should know. My observation is that this system produces "Jack". You know Jack well. Jack is the "Jack of all trades and the master of none" guy. To me Jack is like the Douglas Fir Tree with roots "broad and shallow", not often durable in the test of survival provided by the times we and our children live in.

It hit me like a ton of bricks that the purpose of broad exposure is NOT just exposure for exposure sake (the broad and shallow root system) , but to FIND something. Taking a nibble of lots of things is great, as long as you remember that the purpose of tasting is to enjoy AND to find your favorites, the ones you want to return to again and again.

Having the freedom of returning again and again to something, your favorite thing, over time, is what gives our children the taproot of confidence, at least in that area. Returning again and again to your favorite thing, is something the public system cannot in most cases provide. And we have found that a child with confidence that is deep in at least one area, often negotiates the world of his or her peers more confortably than the child who knows a little bit about everything. Of course, this idea, isolated from any social contact isn't going to work either. The taproot idea has to be part of a list of bricks in a foundation. But we have found it to be an important brick in the foundation of each of our children.

If the socialization "naysayers" in your circle of friends, family and acquantances, contend that the goal of getting along with others comfortably is a reason not to do home schooling, what they haven't considered in many cases is, that there may be better ways to achieve comfortable socialization skills, other than the often brutal experiences found in the public/private classroom system. Mastering mud wrestling is no guarantee of increased social skills even though contact is long and intense.

In our case, it helps immensely that we have a large family. We are our very own social experiment "up close and personal" you might say. Smaller families might want to use the freedom of homeschooling to do weekly "field trips" with other families, again something those in the public/private classroom system can't do easily or comfortably, to provide this social contact. This approach gives you as parents more control of the experience and more fun by far than walking the noisy halls of your local public or even private institution.

Becoming active in your local church can help, where a good youth program provides another source of social contact in a mostly positive environment.

We have found Boy Scouts for our boys to be an awesome source of positive social contact. Visit several troops in operation until you find one that is boy led, functioning well and has a decent committee that supports the boys.

Sports teams, sans the parent component, can also be an excellent source of life experience and social contact.

4H was part of my youth experience and we did all kinds of projects together. There are others as well.

So you see, there are tons of options to provide contact besides public or private schooling. Add all of these options and more together, and combine it with the freedom you have as a home schooler to allow your children to drive their interests deep, and I believe you will see, as we have, children whose curiosity is intact, whose faces are bright and whose disposition is happy and positive.

What other social contact options have you found to be helpful for your children?