Camp Creek Blog

The only invitation children need to play is time

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 08:28 AM

I’m seeing posts and pins this week about organizing children’s play around their Halloween costumes. These include suggestions for creating “invitations” for children that match their costumes.

The word “invitation” is being thrown around a lot, as well as the Reggio term “provocation,” and I think it’s worth exploring more deeply.

What is dramatic play? It’s using your imagination and ideas and exploring them through pretending and world-building. It’s building play-acting scenarios about the things that excite you as well as the things you don’t understand. It starts with the child and what fascinates him, what he wonders, what scares or interests or excites him.

I’m sure the people who are doing these very specific and directed “invitations” would quickly say that children can take the play in whatever direction they like, but why build so much of the scenario for them to begin with? If you’re using Halloween costumes as the jumping-off point, isn’t it enough to dress up as doctors or pirates or circus performers (presumably something that interested the child enough to choose the costume) and then do the important child’s work of selecting your own props and building your own scenarios?

Sometimes I think we kill all spontaneity for children because we’re afraid — afraid they won’t have their own ideas, or maybe afraid that their play won’t be significant enough. But that’s a misunderstanding on our part, because children’s play is always significant.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. — Fred Rogers

Piaget called play the work of children and the language of childhood. Both Piaget and Mr. Rogers knew the score: Play is how children learn. And the more you do, the less your child can do.

In order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. — Jean Piaget

When we plan our children’s play, when we step in and initiate their play for them, we are reducing their learning opportunities. Period.

 

The only invitation your children require is some space, some flexible, generic props (cardboard boxes, small plain table, squares of cloth, wooden blocks…), and most important of all, time.

At educational conferences in the nineties, kindergarten teachers continued to defend play, even as they had to allow more and more paperwork to clutter the tables and walls. Some teachers tried to recapture the certainties of the past by collecting antique block sets and doll-corner cribs, ancient dolls, and little wooden cars and trains, resisting anything that came in a catalogue. But we overlooked the real villain in our midst. It turned out to be not so much the “academics” we were adding but the time we subtracted from the children's fantasy play that would begin to make the difference.

 

Having not listened carefully enough to their play, we did not realize how much time was needed by children in order to create the scenery and develop the skills for their ever-changing dramas. We removed the element — time — that enabled play to be effective, then blamed the children when their play skills did not meet our expectations.

Although we feared the influence of television, we were cutting down on the one activity that counteracts the mindlessness of cartoons.

We blamed television for making children restless and distracted, then substituted an academic solution that compounded restlessness and fatigue.

 

The children may have been the only ones capable of making sense of the confusion, and they did so whenever the schedule was cleared so they could play. — Vivian Gussin Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play

We’ve all had that friend who said she’d show us how to use her new yo-yo and then played with it herself for a half an hour while we just sat there wishing we could at least try it once. Don’t be that guy.

All of the ideas on Pinterest for building forts and playing cowboys and knights and astronauts and setting up mud pie kitchens were born in the minds of small children. You aren’t doing your child any favors when you take away the discovery and invention and offer a predigested plate of fun.

Let them do it all. Every single bit of it. Don’t worry — it’s already in there. It’s who they are. It’s what they were born to do. They’ve got this.

 

For more on this subject, check out: Curriculum of Curiosity

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Launching: PBH Tip Sheet

Published by Lori Pickert on October 25, 2013 at 02:41 PM

Once you resolve to make a change and set yourself on a new learning and doing path, you need to build a structure to help you touch base regularly with your goals and intentions. You have to commit (and recommit regularly) — and you have to follow through. This is a little bit of structure we’ve built for you. Check it out.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 28, 2013 at 08:21 AM

This week’s Facebook links (and some bonus finds) are a continuation of last week’s focus on college, learning to learn vs. learning to earn, and that elusive thing called happiness — or maybe we’ll settle for contentment.

I’m going to start with a great quote from Charles D. Hayes:

Millions of Americans have been so jaded by traditional education…they fail to comprehend that learning and quality of life are interdependent.

Traditional education has duped us into believing, or at least behaving as if we believed, that learning to earn a living is hard and that learning to live well is easy. But the evidence…suggests the reverse: we are good at earning a living, but not good at living a living. — Charles D. Hayes

Child psychologists in the UK have now extended adolescence to age 25:

“The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” Laverne Antrobus, a child psychologist at London’s Tavistock Clinic, told the BBC. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” — Medical Daily

This is interesting, as I’ve just recently finished reading Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. The idea of pushing adolescence to the mid-twenties sounds like what Jay describes as giving kids excuses to put off making serious decisions about their lives, their relationships, and their work. Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, has a lot to say on this subject:

[S]ome underemployment is not a means to an end. Sometimes it is just a way to pretend we’re not working.

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does.

Back it all the way up to preschool and what do we find? Kids who are already afraid to fail:

“‘I asked the children to draw pictures of houses but they wanted me to draw the houses for them." Why? "They didn't want to get them wrong.’

Or: ‘We were talking about what things float and one of the objects was a sieve. I asked if a sieve could float and a child said “no.” And then he looked at me and said, “it could.” Why. He didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Or: ‘The children were drawing and one child asked, “Is this going to be in the grade book?’”

These comments are sadly typical. I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week and a grandmother told of taking her grandson to kindergarten. He was beside himself with excitement to start school. A few weeks later that excitement had waned. She asked him what he was learning in kindergarten. He told her that he was learning to take tests.” — Kids These Days

What are we teaching kids in school if in early childhood they’re already trying to figure out the right answer vs. learning how to think? Already, they’re worrying about how to be good students vs. how to be good learners:

There is a difference between being a good learner and a good student, and in high school, my peers and I learned how to be good students.”

“…I became increasingly aware of the role that my current grades would play in my near future. Doing all of my homework no longer felt realistic. My friends and I realized we didn’t have to do everything assigned to us in order to succeed in high school.”

I hope college is where I can become a good learner.” — My Insane Homework Load Taught Me How to Game the System

We already know what type of education helps kids succeed *and* be happy:

“Dweck discovered two groups of students according to what motivated them.

First group, I’ll call the praise-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly to get high grades, pats on the back, and praise — and then profit post-graduation.

Second group, I’ll call the meaning-makers and mastery-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly by a desire to make meaning, to advance their own knowledge and skill set, and to use knowledge and skills toward a greater goal beyond their own advancement. 

In a longitudinal follow-up, guess which group, ten years later, was more content with work and life?

Yep, group two.” — A Job as Creative Quest

So most kids are afraid to fail and taught to seek praise and good grades — and they’re left unable to think for themselves, take good risks, and be resilient in the face of failure while pursuing important work.

Meg Jay again — on how we get sucked into making choices to please other people (parents, teachers, … and Facebook “friends”):

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Alexis Ohanian, young co-founder of reddit, says doing real, meaningful work matters:

Most schoolwork felt awfully irrelevant when compared to work that was actually affecting real people and giving me leadership opportunities (albeit digital ones), nurturing the community management skills that would come in handy later.

Learning how to learn is going to be the defining skill of this internet-enabled century.” — Alexis Ohanian

“Learning how to learn” is an oft-heard, even trite phrase. But are our kids really learning how to learn? Those preschool and Kindergarten children who are learning to game the system — and the high school students gaming it several years later — did they learn how to learn?

When will they, if that crucial lesson was skipped?

Some people believe a solution can be found in the maker movement:

“Based on 16 years of hearing pitches about the next great thing in education, what jumps out is that demand from young people — not the education industry's desire to supply something — is driving the maker movement. …

When schools do teach science, too often they are ‘telling students about science’ — and drilling for memorization — instead of engaging them. …

One way to activate student learning, as professor Sugata Mitra has shown through his famous Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, is to give kids the right resources and some motivating content and then get out of the way.” — Teach Kids to Make Things

I have a few bones to pick with the maker movement as adults have organized it for kids — there will be an upcoming post about that. Nutshell: Kids still don’t have enough control — and therefore they aren’t getting the full learning benefit. Until they set their own goals, determine their own deadlines, and measure their own progress, the maker movement isn’t giving kids what they could get on their own, building their learning from scratch. It’s Little League vs. corner-lot ball — the kids are along for the ride, but the adults are still calling too many of the shots.

And is the education system ever going to just hand over resources and content and then get out of the way? Not if they remain focused on test results.

Put these articles and results together and it’s clear that we’re not just choosing a less-beneficial education for kids, we’re putting them on a path that is going to affect their ability to be independent, self-directed learners who can find and do meaningful work as adults:

Thriving workers are 46% more satisfied than their peers.

 

They are 125% less likely to burn out than their non-thriving peers.

 

What’s characteristic of thrivers?

 

They have passion mixed with mastery. They love what they do, but they actively pursue more knowledge and skills.

 

A sub-title on the a Harvard Business Review cover sums it up: How Passion & Purpose Drive Profits. It does not read, ‘How Profits Drive Passion & Purpose.’” — A Job as Creative Quest

I’ll end by referring back to a quote from last week’s round-up:

What makes people successful,’ [Prof. Wadhwa] said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.

 

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. — Finding Your Element

Kids need to be doing real work that matters now — so they’re prepared to make a life as well as a living.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

It’s been awhile but I’m going to get back into doing a Friday link round-up — these are mostly comprised of thinks [Freudian slip — keeping it] I’ve shared on Facebook (along with added commentary) plus bonus things I’ve run across in reading and research.

Lately I’ve shared several excerpts around a loose topic of where happiness fits in with education and work.

We start with Alan Watts:

[I]t’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending time doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.

See, what we’re doing is, we’re bringing up children, educating them, to live the same sort of lives that we’re living in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same things…

And so therefore it’s so important to consider this question — what do I desire?” — How to do what you love

Does it matter what we desire? Or should skills trump passion?

Is it irresponsible to tell our children to pursue their big (possibly unrealistic) dreams, even if chances for making a successful living seem slim?

…It still seems to be the smartest, most glorious way to do anything: You do it. People who want to be writers say, what should I do? And you say, write! [Laughs] And they’ll say, then what? And you say, well, finish things! And they say, well, then what? Well, write something else. That’s how you do it. If you do it over and over, sooner or later you’re going to be writing stuff that’s publishable. And if you keep doing it, you’ll probably get fairly good. You have, you know, a million lousy words inside you, and you’ve got to get them out. I think there’s something very real and very true in that. How do you do it? You do it. Look at other people. Learn everything you can from everywhere. The most important thing is to do it.” — Neil Gaiman

Should we recommend they go to college and get a degree so they can get a good job?

“[I]f we are to have a really objective and productive debate about education policy, it’s important to base it on reality not wishful thinking. And the reality is that when measured in terms of absolute growth (not percentage change) in job openings between 2010 and 2020, none of the top fastest growing occupations even require a bachelor’s degree, and six of them don't even require a high school degree.

The focus on everyone getting a college degree clearly is wrong. … Whether or not to go to college is largely a choice based on how lucky one feels that they can beat the odds of being able to find a job that requires a college degree.” — What Emerging Knowledge Economy?

Are we advising our kids to acquire crushing debt for jobs that won’t be available to pay back the loans?

“[I]t turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale — whose only excuse for existing — is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

Mostly, we’re doing the best we can. … But our way of doing the best we can is to keep doing what we’ve always done, modifying it a bit with stuff we make up as we go along. Just like most people inside most institutions. Some years that works out fine, but we haven’t had so many of those years recently.

For all our good will, college in the U.S. has gotten worse for nearly everyone who relies on us. For some students — millions of them — the institutions in which they enroll are more reliable producers of debt than education. This has happened on our watch.” — Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken

Kind of a whole other topic, but isn’t it interesting that we have kids in public school for 13 years and when they graduate with good grades they still aren’t able to understand the terms of a loan document? Or, for that matter, make good choices about how much money to invest in high education based on the availability of the jobs that interest them.

Should we be questioning whether the point of education is just to get a high-paying job?

[T]here’s something deeply disturbing about regarding children mostly as future employees and reducing education to an attempt to increase the profitability of corporations — or, worse, the probability that “our” corporations will defeat “theirs.”  Some of the least inspiring approaches to schooling, and the least meaningful ways of assessing its success, follow logically from thinking of education not in terms of its intrinsic worth, or its contribution to a truly democratic society, but in the context of the “21st-century global economy.” — Alfie Kohn, Five Bad Education Assumptions the Media Keeps Recycling

In response to Kohn, Annie Murphy Paul wrote:

Schools, like all of society’s institutions, serve a multitude of purposes (at least, they do when they’re working well — but that’s another issue). They open up worlds of literature and history and science. They cultivate the habits of clear thinking and balanced judgment so important to the functioning of a democracy. And yes, they prepare students for their lives after graduation, much of which will be spent in the workplace. — Is the Point of Schooling to Make More Money?

Well, my quibble here would be whether schools really serve a multitude of purposes. Evidently they do “when they’re working well” — I guess I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of those schools. I would even quibble about whether they prepare students for lives after graduation, but let’s not go there.

We seem to be in a transitional period between paying a huge amount of money for job-acquisition credentials (and thinking going into debt for a degree is the cost of doing business in America) and possibly a more freelance- and entrepreneurial-based future economy. Whose kids will be the last ones to pay big bucks for a four-year degree that no longer means anything?

This writer tries to argue that education still matters even if you put credentials aside:

“If this trend continues, the future of higher education — at least in the U.S. — is clear. It will be training in various disciplines that lead to a professional credential and a secure job. … The world somehow expects that by age eighteen, people will know enough about their talents and interests to walk confidently into the right silo and come out the other end to occupy a place in the professional class.

…In my view, higher education should be equipping students to answer these four questions:

What is worth knowing?
What is worth doing?
What makes for a good human life?
What are my responsibilities to other people?

College is not the only place in which answers to these questions can develop, but it is an important place. And siloed, specialized training in a discipline — any discipline — will answer none of them.” — What Higher Education Should Be For

Those are great questions. But does anyone really think paying a private university $200,000 for the privilege of exploring those four questions for four years is a good financial decision? Couldn’t you explore those deep questions a lot more cheaply outside a university?

So should you advise your children to put aside their interests and pursue whatever the media is predicting to be the best careers in the next decade?

“Professor Wadhwa concluded that there is no link between what you study in college and how successful or otherwise you are later in your life.

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. …

The saddest thing to me,’ says Dr. Brooks, “is seeing someone take the job because it pays well and then spend all that money on toys to cheer themselves up for being so miserable in their jobs. The people who are doing what they love hardly feel they’re working at all, just living.’” — Sir Ken Robinson, “Finding Your Element”

So back to happiness vs. employability — how do we weigh that balance? What does it mean to live a good life, and how important is salary in that equation?

“A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

“[I]n schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to ‘keep things on track.’ I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.”

The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.” — The Case for Working with Your Hands

Can you only be happy and fulfilled with a high-paying job? Research says no:

“[E]mployees have one of three ‘work orientations,’ or mindsets about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling.

People with a ‘job’ see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. …

[P]eople who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed. …

[For people with a calling,] their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people whoa re generally more likely to get ahead.” — The Happiness Advantage

“Wrzesniewski’s most interesting finding is not just that people see their work in one of these three ways, but that it fundamentally doesn’t matter what type of work one has. She found that there are doctors who see their work only as a job, and janitors who see their work as a calling. In fact, in one study of 24 administrative assistants, each orientation was represented in nearly equal thirds, even though their objective situations (job descriptions, salary, and level of education) were nearly identical.” — The Happiness Advantage

So Sir Ken Robinson quoted Prof. Wadhwa as saying

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

Are these skills you learned at school? If not, how can we help our kids acquire these skills which are essential for success in life — and probably happiness as well?

So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures.

A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success.

Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.” — New York Times

[S]tudy after study shows that happiness *precedes* important outcomes and indicators of thriving.” — Sonja Lyubomirsky

And so we’ve completed the circle. Happiness does matter. Personal interests do matter. The only question is, how are you going to tap into the power of your child’s authentic interests — and your own?

We see countless examples of people who graduate from college more confused than when they began. They are often terribly disappointed to discover they don’t seem at all suited for a career in their major area of study. They’ve allowed themselves to be molded into a shape that doesn’t fit them because they haven’t learned to think for themselves.”

When we fail to take charge of our education, we fail to take charge of our lives. The result is that we give away our power by letting others decide our fate.

“We have grossly misunderstood the objective of education, allowing our institutions to focus on credentialing instead of the fundamental need for learning that can … enable people to live their lives to the fullest.”

As long as external motivation obliterates the desire to discover what we really care about … we learn how to do, but not how to be. We lose sight of how to find purpose and meaning in the context of our daily lives.” — Charles Hayes

Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?

Published by Lori Pickert on September 9, 2013 at 08:26 AM

Last week I tweeted a series of thoughts…

I had run across the umpteenth request by a parent for suggestions for resources for a child’s deep interest — and the child in question was a teenager.

What does it mean if we have teenagers who still aren’t capable of building their own curriculum — even if it’s something they’re really interested in?

These days, children might enter school at age 3 and not leave again until their mid-20s. It’s possible to make it all the way to adulthood without ever becoming a self-directed learner — without anyone in charge of your education saying, “Oh, and I guess I should probably show you how to drive this car as well as ride in it.”

You can sit back and let someone else provide the learning agenda, rustle up the resources, plan the “fun” activities, organize the classes, then arrange to assess whether or not you successfully absorbed the knowledge and skills they think you need.

 

If your child is four or six and really wants to learn about, say, space shuttles, then he or she would be much better served by doing all the work of figuring out where to find out more about space shuttles, going to the library and looking through all the books and films available and choosing the ones that seem most promising, looking for websites and places to visit and so on. All of that learning is truncated when a parent does it for them. Boom! Here you go, kid — a stack of books, fun Pinterest activities, and we’re going to the planetarium tomorrow. With any luck, we’ll burn through this by Monday!

When adults do all the work of making learning happen, children lose out.

They say that cutting wood warms you twice: once when you split it with your axe and again when you bask by your fire. In the same way, project-based homeschooling is twice the learning. You learn about your project and along the way you learn how to learn. Instead of dumping it out of a box, you have to go out and build it from scratch. It warms you twice. - Project-based homeschooling curriculum

I’ve seen parents mention how fun it was to pull together books and activities for their child’s interest — totally oblivious to the fact that their child could have had that fun.

Project-based homeschooling — self-directed learning — offers three levels of learning:

- Primary: learning about our topic.

- Secondary: Acquiring the skills we need to do the things we want to do.

- Tertiary: Learning about learning, making, doing, and sharing (meta-learning).

When adults keep cutting the learning meat for their kids until they’re adults, they never get the chance to experience all of these levels. We’re not just making learning less fun, less meaningful, less useful, and less relevant, we’re actually making it less educational.

This weekend I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review:

Before Karen was promoted to vice president, her annual evaluations had included detailed comments that guided her professional growth. This year, she was determined to elicit specific feedback, especially since she had just endured a stressful year leading a major project that defined the company's future.

But when she pressed for more specifics, the president simply said, “I trust you to continue doing what you do so well, and I expect you’ll ask for my help if you need it.

In that moment, she realized something profound: He was telling her that she was free. She was in charge of her own considerable domain — and her own life. Somehow, amid the pressures to meet operational goals and balance budgets, she had failed to notice the full implications of that shift.

She wanted to make sure she understood correctly. “You mean to say that I can push the envelope as far as I want, as long as I believe it is in the best interest of the company, and you'll tell me when I’ve gone too far?”

He nodded his agreement. She was buoyed by the possibilities that her newfound freedom presented, and at the same time, she felt the weight of the responsibility this change implied. Before she even made it to the door, Karen started thinking about how she could take ownership — and advantage — of this situation. — Claim your freedom at work

Here is an adult who apparently has made it through college and the early part of her career being successful by following orders — someone who is floored to realize they are now being handed the reins and given responsibility for being in charge.

Self-directed learning — or working — is not mandatory in America today. You can just be quiet, follow instructions, and get all the way through college and halfway into a career without ever being self-directed.

Someone else can set the agenda, lay out the expectations, and deliver the rubric — all you have to do is connect the dots.

A major reason Karen hadn’t recognized, until her moment of truth, how much freedom she had was that she had never received formal leadership training. She is not alone. … [T]he qualities that made them exceptional individual contributors didn’t prepare them for the challenges they later faced leading teams or projects.

Along with the freedom that comes with being the boss is the obligation to know what you don’t know and secure the resources you need to excel in your role. — ibid.

Why do we need to make sure self-directed learning is part of our children’s education? Because without it, you don’t know what you don’t know — and you don’t know how to find the resources you need to be successful at what YOU want to do.

If you never transition from being a passive recipient of knowledge and skills to being an engaged, self-directed, self-motivated learner, you never learn how to find resources and experts, how to weigh the relevance of research materials, how to set goals and break them down into tasks, how to build and use community, how to find places where you can get the skills you need to make your ideas happen.

And if you only ever learn how to connect someone else’s dots, you end up with whatever picture they plotted out for you.

If we want our kids to take control of their lives, first we have to help them take control of their learning.

Here’s how the standard line goes:

Kids need to be bored! They’re over-scheduled! When we’re not shuttling them from activity to activity, their screens are standing by to entertain them 24/7! Boredom is the answer!

Here’s the thing, though. I’m never bored. Like, never ever. And before I wrote about this, I checked in with both of my kids.

Me: Are you ever bored?

Son: [Thoughtful pause.] No.

Me: Ever?

Son: No.

I asked the other son and his answer was the same. We talked it over and agreed: There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things we want to do. And we’re not talking about the kind of time most people have — just a couple of hours after work, after school, after dance/swim/soccer, after homework, and so on. We are people who have giant swaths of free time. Our schedule is as wide open as the Montana sky. We are the least harried family on the planet.

We still don’t have enough time to do all the things we want to do.

Space + time + materials + experiences + skills = interests that spill over the edges of every day. My kids get up every day excited to do the things they want to do and they never run out of things they want to do. And we don’t do any activities. And we schedule nothing.

 

So, sorry, but here it is:

 

Boredom is a really crappy, cheapskate answer to helping your kids develop creativity and authentic interests.

 

Boredom? That’s what you’re offering? You funnel immense resources into your child’s education and planned activities. You pay for class fees, sports equipment, uniforms. You drive hither and yon. You spend all the really nice fall Saturdays sitting in a camping chair on an athletic field wearing a hat and sunglasses and clutching a large cup of coffee. You cheer from the stands. You pack the duffel bag. You buy everything on the supplies list.

 

But when it comes to that part of your child’s life where they develop their own authentic interests, explore their unique talents, develop creativity, and learn to be self-directed — your contribution is a chunk of empty time and boredom. Huzzah!

 

No. Not huzzah.

 

Children need unscheduled time! Yes, they do. Unscheduled by someone other than themselves, that is. My thirteen-year-old just came to me a week ago and asked me to sit down and help him hammer out a schedule. He had so many projects he was juggling, he was starting to feel like he wasn’t going to meet all of his goals. He wanted help building a schedule and he wanted me to buy him an alarm clock. The kid who doesn’t have to get up and go to school wants an alarm clock so he can get up earlier so he can work on his own projects.

 

We sat down and worked out a schedule — a schedule that includes things like swimming, playing Xbox with his dad and brother, walking the dog, and playing badminton with me after dinner. There was even time to watch TV. “I didn’t think I’d ever be able to watch TV again,” he marveled.

 

So how do you get a kid like this? A kid who has all the free time in the world and is still thinking he won’t have time to watch TV because he is so interested in pursuing his own projects?

 

We need a complete sea change in how we think about helping kids balance their scheduled time. It’s not about teaching them to deal with boredom. It’s about helping them connect with their own interests and ideas.

 

We pour all of our money, time, and energy into supporting kids’ scheduled activities, but we don’t invest anything in their “free time.”

 

We want them to choose intellectual, creative activities — in general, we want them to choose higher-value ways to spend their time. But how do we support that?

 

Parents bemoan the fact that all their kid wants to do is watch TV and play Xbox. Yet the heart of their home is set up to look like a shrine devoted to exactly those two things. There’s a TV the size of a twin bed and every chair in the room — the most comfortable chairs in the house, by the way — are arrayed around it in rapt devotion. The Xbox is nestled alongside.

 

When you compare that shrine to screen-based entertainment to the area of the house devoted to their child’s other interests… Oh, wait. There is no area like that.

 

We invest time, attention, and resources in our kids‘ organized activities. Those, we go at with the energy of Henry VIII attacking a turkey leg. But when it comes to our kids’ “free time” they’re “free” to be bored out of their skulls until they are hit with an epiphany and realize they want to learn how to build and program their own robot.

 

In absolutely zero places in adult life do we take a group of intelligent people we want to encourage toward meaningful, worthwhile activities and say, “The key, ladies and gentlemen, is to get them really bored first.”

 

It’s only kids who are expected to be put in at the absolutely bare, gravelly bottom of the well and MacGyver themselves somewhere good. It’s only kids who we cut loose like an untethered astronaut in deep space to “make their own fun.”

 

Think about how often you wish you had some time to yourself. Now imagine that you get an entire afternoon next weekend to yourself, but you have to spend it in a hotel room where the TV and the Wi-Fi are broken and your phone has been confiscated. How do you feel now? Energized and excited about filling your time? If you get bored, maybe you could “weed the garden,” “write a poem about your favorite pet,” or “invent your own board game.” Fear not —boredom is the gateway to innovation — necessity will lead you to fill that time and enjoy yourself!

 

Why do we think dance and soccer and tae kwon do need to be scheduled and organized, but creative play should happen all on its own?

 

Because it’s not enough for children to develop interests outside of simple entertainment — TV, Xbox, Minecraft. We want more than that. We want them to really work for it. Like soldiers dropped in the middle of the jungle without a map or canteen to find their way back to base, they need to be given nothing and somehow make their way to an authentic, deep interest and onward to challenging, meaningful work.

 

Good luck, kids!

 

The whole “kids need to be bored” strategy is doomed from the start because it’s a whiplash-inducing 180 from the way the kids spend the rest of their time — you can’t flip the script from “totally scheduled” to “totally on your own” and not hear the scream of resisting gears.

 

To keep a child entertained and scheduled 95% of the time and then leave them naked and resourceless and expect them to use that time well (after going through the requisite period of boredom) is not the optimal way to teach a child to manage and fill their own time.

 

Boredom, rather than being an on-ramp to creative play and invention, is just as likely to be the on-ramp to passive consumption and a fear of empty time.

 

There’s another way. It’s cheating, I know, but we could actually invest in our kids’ interests and abilities. We could maybe scale back from the twin-size TV to the crib-size and put that money into materials and tools. We could create a studio space for our kids — not a cobwebby basement or attic space that no one ever goes to because it’s in the Siberia of the house, but a warm, central space that is as warm and beckoning as that plush faux-leather shrine competing for their time.

 

If a house does have a studio, it usually belongs to the parent. If there’s a workshop, it belongs to the parent. The two spaces we typically allot to kids are their bedroom and the shared TV space. Anything creative is called “craft time” and the dining table is cleared off while it happens — but usually that table is covered with the detritus of life. There’s no space that is always waiting for a child to build and create. There’s no time set aside and protected so that making can be part of everyday life.

 

Does always-available electronic entertainment destroy a child’s ability to create, design, make, and do? Not if they produce what they consume. Not if you feed and support their interests and give them enough time to take them further. Not if you don’t artificially limit the amount of time they can play so they can only be a passive user.

 

They need time to achieve mastery and become a creator. But not just time — they need support. They need space. They need tools and materials. They need collaborators and cohorts. They need community. They need a parent who appreciates their interests and their efforts. They need a mentor.

 

They need the habit and routine of coming regularly to the space and to their own ideas.

 

We put all of our energy and resources into our kids’ organized activities and trying to shore up their deficits. Anything that they do well, anything that interests them, we assume can be left alone to develop on its own. Are you crummy at reading and great at science? We’re going to laser-focus on reading and cross science off our list of concerns.

 

When it comes to things our kids do well or things they care about, we figure that’s something we can safely ignore. Why invest in something that’s fine on its own? We give them the minimum — a chunk of free time — and go back to worrying about where they don’t measure up.

 

One article I read recommended that we schedule boredom. I have a different idea: Let’s schedule not-boredom. Let’s schedule interest and excitement and creativity and experiences and meaningful work.

 

Championing boredom for kids doesn’t even scratch the surface of best practice. We can do so much more than just leave a hole in their schedule where they can wallow. Boredom is the least possible effort we can make in the right direction.

 

We can invest in our children’s interests, abilities, talents, strengths, and ideas.

 

We can invest in their unscheduled time and flood it with tools, materials, collaboration, and support.

 

We can build a place in our home that honors making and doing, not just watching other people make and do.

 

We can build a family culture that celebrates meaningful work.

 

Give your kids too many bored afternoons and you run the risk of making them so fearful of empty time that they’ll try to avoid it like the plague. Make it too challenging for them to discover the pleasure of making ideas happen and they may never discover it.

 

Compared to over-scheduling, boredom seems like a valuable anteroom to having ideas and doing higher-valuer activities — the first step down a path toward self-direction.

 

But boredom is the easiest, chintziest, least-effort-expended way for you to help your kids head down that path. And the return on your scanty investment is in no way guaranteed.

 

You can do better.

 

Give your kids a workspace — an art studio, a workshop, a lab for ideas.

 

Give your kids a block of time devoted to making and doing — and protect that time. Make it one of your big rocks. Honor it. Invest in it. Give it at least the same level of attention that you give soccer and tae kwon do.

 

Give your kids an example to follow. Don’t just send them off to do something that you yourself never do. Live the life you want them to live. Work alongside them and become a family of doers.

 

Forget about boredom and become the kind of people who are never bored, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do.

 

•••

 

Note: There are still spaces available in the new PBH Master Class — sign up here!

Brief announcement!

We’re getting ready to enroll the next two sessions of the PBH master class; one will start August 26 and one September 30 (they run for six weeks).

Everyone who signed up for the early bird announcement should have received an e-mail from me today (Wednesday). If you have gmail, remember that my e-mails might be languishing in your “Promotions” tab.

Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. central we’ll start enrolling the early birds, then if there is still room, we’ll open up enrollment to everyone else on Friday at 10:00 a.m.

You can read the full class description and testimonials from students who took the first class here.

After these two sessions are filled, we’ll start a new early bird list for people interested in taking the class next Spring.

Thank you!

From the mailbag, a series of similar questions:

How should I handle my kids’ huge plans that can’t really happen?

Some of my child’s ideas are down-right unrealistic…

My concern is that he will feel let down…

If I try to find the possible in his dreams, I see his disappointment. He doesn’t like my sugggestions for making it “doable”…

Your three-year-old wants to build a rocket that really flies — one that he can sit in.

Your six-year-old wants to build a three-story treehouse with a fireman’s pole.

Your nine-year-old wants to write a novel that will be published by a real publisher — or a screenplay that will be produced by a real movie studio.

How can we help kids tackle their big, ambitious, seemingly unachievable goals?

When you say, “here’s the lesson — do this,” you know from the outset what’s possible. When you instead start with a child’s question and build outward organically, you eventually end up with a big piece of work — a project — the result of authentic inquiry. It’s big, it’s real, and it’s meaningful. That’s not something you can preplan. — Stop Preshrinking Your Opportunities

Why is it important to let kids move forward on their plans, even when they seem totally unrealistic?

I often tell the story of a four-year-old girl at my school who built a very detailed robot out of cardboard and found objects. Her parents and teachers all appreciated the hard work she’d put in, her creativity and her concentration. Then one morning she told her parents she needed to bring batteries to school — because she was ready for her robot to “really work.”

She cut a flap in the back of her robot, pushed two AA batteries inside, taped it shut, and was pleased as punch that now her robot would move and walk.

The adults were all worried that she would be very upset when she discovered her plan had failed. But there was no big meltdown. She was disappointed, but in a frowny, thoughtful, scientific way. She decided she needed to do more research — she needed to investigate the inside of other machines to get a better idea of what made them work. So another line of inquiry began.

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.

Remind yourself:

You don’t know what your kid can do.

If you guess, you may woefully underestimate. Don’t set limits where limits aren’t necessary. Don’t set limits where they will not only curtail what your child can achieve but may discourage him from getting started in the first place. Big doers need big, complex, far-reaching ambitions. Set the goal small and his motivation will shrink right along with it.

In my experience, adults guessing at what children can accomplish set the bar far too low.

When we move to protect our kids, sometimes we’re actually protecting ourselves — from embarrassment (maybe theirs, maybe our own) or from having to deal with big, messy emotions like frustration and disappointment.

Start ramping your kids up to independence now. Don’t wait until they’re 18 and then drop them off a cliff; let them take steps toward being in charge of their own learning and their own future. Let them have their own ideas. Let them have their big, towering dreams and ambitions. Let them work away at something that seems impossible to you. You don’t know what’s possible. They have all the time in the world to get where they want to go. You don’t know what they can do if they try. Instead of worrying about how long it will take for them to be successful, worry about how long it will take them if they never start.

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. — Sarah Ban Breathnach

You don’t know where his project will go.

He may deftly switch directions. He may spend months concentrating on just one part of his overarching goal. He may, along his “unrealistic” path, discover a deep interest that will last the rest of his life.

I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. — Pablo Picasso

Children grow and mature at an astounding rate. When your nine-year-old says she wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher, and you reply, “Well, sweetheart, I love you and I think you’re very talented, but that is highly unlikely to ever happen,” she’s likely to lay down her pages and walk away. You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Your child may work on her novel for a year or more and then decide on her own to put it in a drawer and start another. In the meantime, she’ll be building her skills, reading books about writing, and producing steadily improving prose. She may go on to publish a novel when she is 14 or 15 — all because she started now, because you believed in her and supported her now.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?

You are looking ahead and predicting failure, but you are guessing about the path your child is going to take — and you’re probably plotting out a very linear A —> B path. Meanwhile, your child is most likely going to take a circuitous, rambling path as she explores all the different aspects of her ambitious plan. She’s going to dig deep into one thing, then another. She’ll probably change her plan as she moves along. She’ll take a sudden left; she’ll circle back; she’ll add in a whole new line of inquiry she needs to explore.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

Ideas fly in flocks. To hold one idea in mind means to hold a cloud of them. — Kevin Kelly

Real learning takes a long time.

When we nervously move to cut our children off before they waste time on an impossible undertaking that’s sure to lead to disappointment, what we really mean to say to them is: You’re not ready for this yet.

We want them to hold their big ideas, dreams, and plans until their abilities catch up. What we fail to realize is that the only people who acquire those abilities are the ones who are chasing big dreams. The ones who give up stop trying and so they stop learning. They stop working hard. They stop believing in themselves and in what’s possible.

They don’t hear, “You can’t do that yet” — they hear, “You can’t do that.”

We don’t meant to kill the dream; we only mean to postpone it. But succeeding at a big undertaking isn’t like buying a ticket to ride the ferris wheel. You don’t wait until you’re “this high” and then boom, you’re all set. Big doers start chasing big, ambitious dreams long before they’re ready to make their final ascent.

I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it. — Picasso

You don’t know how your child will react to failure.

If you interrupt him while he’s building and say, “That won’t work,” you take away his opportunity to learn from his mistakes, brainstorm alternatives, and feel the rush of self-esteem when he finally solves his own problem.

Likewise, if you try to protect him from getting his dreams crushed, you instead crush his motivation, his ownership, and his self-confidence. Out of fear that he may feel disappointed later on, you take away his opportunity to find his own way, to be resilient, to invent a new plan, to find another way. You eliminate the possibility that he might discover on his impossible journey a very realistic focus for all his ideas and energy.

It’s the experience that teaches — not the outcome. If outcomes truly did the job, then every soccer medal would lead to a place on the Olympic team. You are focusing on the outcome and trying to save your child from emotional trauma, but actually working toward his goals is what’s going to make him strong, resilient, confident, imaginative, and joyful. Let him choose his own goals to work toward — it’s the working that matters.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. — Henry David Thoreau

Self-motivated, meaningful work is never wasted time.

Do you think she’d be better served working on something she could really accomplish?

Is that because she would be acquiring more knowledge and skills? Or is it because you would have something more reasonable to share with family and friends?

Working toward big dreams, kids acquire the same skills as working on “doable” tasks — and more. They are working at their challenge level: the front edge of what they’re capable of doing. They are powered by intense motivation. Every big dreams breaks down into smaller goals which break down even further into achievable tasks.

If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can’t solve: find it. — George Polya

You help them break it down. No matter how big or ambitious a goal is, it always breaks down. When they eventually run into something they can’t do (if it happens), then you ask them, “What can you do?” You model for them how to work on big, ambitious goals — by taking it one step at a time.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” — Anne Lamott

How you mentor the big dream

Instead of trying to convert your child’s dream into something “doable,” help her break her big goals down into smaller tasks. Help her find something she can start working on today.

Reflect her ideas and plans back to her. Help her see herself as a learner, maker, and doer.

Honor her work by giving her the space and time she needs. Invest in her deep interests.

Let her maintain ownership — don’t take over. Let her go at her own pace and set her own course.

Always take the approach of “If not X, then what?” Model how to take a break, step back, brainstorm, and look for alternatives.

For older kids and teens, treat their ideas with respect while communicating realistic constraints. Let them find the doable inside their own dream.

Older kids and teens are more likely to nix their own ideas and preshrink their own opportunities. Help nudge them past their own negativity and focus on what’s possible. Don’t put it off until the misty future when they think they’ll have more money, time, and freedom to chase their dreams. Help them understand that the more they learn to work with what’s available now, the more likely they’ll be to eventually become dreamers who do. The more they push things off until it’s easier or there’s more money or someone else chooses to help them, the more likely they’ll be to become dreamers who don’t.

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it out while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come. — C.S. Lewis

Your goal is to help your child become a person who can articulate ideas, make plans, break down goals into achievable steps, and see things through. How do you do that? By letting him fully immerse himself in his deep interest and his big ideas.

Eventually he will set a big goal, make a plan, figure out what he needs to do to make it work, do the hard work, make mistakes, solve problems, and finish. That’s the goal you’re working toward. Those are the habits and skills that you are building. But the entire journey is one of learning and discovery — not just the big finish. Miss the journey and you miss everything. It’s the doing that will build your child’s thinking, learning, and making muscles. It’s the doing that will form his thinking and learning habits and his character. It’s the doing that matters.

Supporting your child’s big ideas, big plans, and big dreams is how you help him become someone who’s capable of actually achieving them.

When I was a child, things were different.

There were no screens to speak of — we had no cable TV, no video games, and no one I knew owned a computer yet.

When the summer sun dawned hot and relentless, we would pull on our shorts (cut from last winter’s jeans) and our striped Garanimals T-shirts and head outside.

That billboard I complain about would have been proud: we didn’t have video controllers clutched in our dirty little hands — it was always a frog or a turtle, a handful of crabapples, a chunk of splintery wood, or a rusty hammer.

Every summer tended to be defined by large, lengthy, all-consuming projects. Projects that took up all of our time and energy, from dawn till dusk. Projects like digging a really big hole. Or trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for pogo-sticking. Or hammering 8,000 rusty nails out of old planks of wood with an eye toward making a fort or maybe a treehouse.

We spent weeks working on deep intellectual problems like how to catch a crawdad with a broken plastic bucket and a piece of hotdog as bait. No one’s mom appeared with a Pinterest post about how to build a crawdad trap and then, once we had him, how to turn his captivity into a teaching moment about biology and our polluted waterways. We just caught him (finally), then examined him at our leisure, played with him, named him, watched him crawl around in the grass, tried to feed him bologna, and then, if we didn’t kill him with too much scientific curiosity, we put him back in the creek. And no one even knew we had him in the first place.

When I was a child, things were different. We went swimming; no one was on a swim team. We played baseball; no one was on a baseball team. We hatched plans that required stealing balls of string from every junk drawer in the neighborhood; no one came at us with a Pinterest plan and a hopeful expression.

What has changed since then?

It’s not the screens.

It’s not video games or Minecraft or cartoons or comic books.

It’s freedom.

Not just the freedom to roam around physically, but the freedom that comes from not being under the parental microscope all the time — the freedom that comes from just being a kid when no one thought what you did all day mattered that much.

The freedom to conceive a big idea (digging the world’s biggest hole in the empty lot on the corner), rally support among your peers (bring your sandbox shovels and meet me after breakfast), problem-solve (get your baby brother’s wagon to move these rocks), practice leadership and collaboration (it was my idea; if you don’t like it, go dig over there!), and experience true satisfaction with a job well done (that is a really big hole).

No one cared what we did. No one said, “Is digging in the dirt really the best use of your time?” No one said, “How can you sit in front of the fan playing Monopoly for nine hours a day, six days a week?!”

If we had Minecraft back then, we would have played it nine hours a day, the way we played Monopoly and Clue. We would have plowed the vast capacity for single-minded focus that allowed us to dig a hole visible from outer space into building the world’s most complicated Minecraft castle.

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

You can pull a million cute crafts and activities off Pinterest and arrange them for your child — and end up with a kid trained to expect a steady stream of fun things to do.

You can fill your child’s schedule with a perfect balance of activities combining creativity and outdoor time and language arts — and end up with a kid who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in charge, who doesn’t know what it’s like to make something happen.

You can end up with a kid who’s happy to let someone else have all the ideas and plan all the fun.

When we keep saying “you’ve had enough of that, now go do this instead,” we’re telling kids that their interests aren’t important and their focus isn’t needed. When we fill all their time, they don’t have the chance to fill it themselves.

The best part of the old-fashioned summer isn’t how innocent and simple it is, but how much room there is for growth, for ideas, for hard work, for freedom from micromanagement.  There are things you can learn in an atmosphere of freedom that you simply cannot learn in an organized environment. They aren’t always things about science or history or literature; sometimes they’re things about yourself.

The real difference between the summers of my youth and the summer of today isn’t what kids want to do, it’s how infrequently it’s even taken into consideration. Kids used to be in charge of summer; they used to be in charge of themselves. Now they’re passive recipients of someone else’s ideas, passengers in the backseat being taken somewhere to do something another person has decided they should do. Summer used to be the time when kids shook off the adult control of the school year and rose up, filthy with skinned knees, to create their own worlds. Now they seamlessly move from one adult-controlled agenda to another, from one set of classes to another, from one packed schedule to another.

If you really want to embrace the values of the old-fashioned summer, forget about the surface stuff — the yo-yos and pinwheels and bike parades — and give your kids a really radical gift: freedom.

Give it to yourself as well. Let go of the big expectations; take a deep breath and remind yourself that this summer has little to no bearing on your child’s future career prospects. Be lazy. Drink lemonade. Sit in the shade. Read a book. Cross off 90% of the things on your summer bucket list and really enjoy the remaining 10%. Eschew guilt. Summer is supposed to be about taking a break from the rest of the year, not simply switching from being pummeled by one set of expectations to being pummeled by another.

Pinwheels are nice, but empty days and low expectations are even better.

 

Ten ways to help your kids pick themselves

Published by Lori Pickert on June 26, 2013 at 09:08 AM

On Monday, I wrote a post about how sometimes, even if someone wants you for their team, it might still be in your best interests to pick yourself.

Here are ten ways to help your kids pick themselves:

- Didn’t get that part in the school play? Build a plywood stage in the backyard, hang a curtain, and hand them a clipboard. Target sells a great plastic microphone for a dollar that works as a director’s megaphone. You can string holiday lights above the stage if you want to get fancy.

- Spending most of the game on the bench? Mow that field behind your house, clean up the empty lot, or tell the neighborhood kids you’ll take them to the park. One bat, one ball, a few gloves — that’s all we ever needed. (Or one soccer ball. Or one football.)

- Help them set up their own minecraft server.

- Writer in the house? Let them know they can publish a zine or a neighborhood newspaper. Take them to Kinkos; give them a budget.

- No one hiring five-year-olds? Let them run their own front-yard business.

- Let them build a skateboard ramp in the backyard.

- No one else into their hobby? Not enough friends? Make your own community. (More tips here.)

- Didn’t make cheerleader? Set up a cheer camp in the backyard for the neighborhood kids. Or grab a room at the community center and make flyers. Ask them what they need.

- Loves movies but Hollywood not in the immediate future? Give them a videocamera and let them make their own movies.

- Too young for culinary school? Let them take over the kitchen.

Whatever it is your kids want to do, even if no one picks them, they can pick themselves. They can get started today doing the thing they care most about.

Want to enhance the experience?

- Give them a budget. Whether they’re baking or making or using up bandwidth, let them figure out how best to spend what they’ve got.

- Let them have their own ideas. Make sure they know what’s possible, then stand back and let them take over.

- Help them. Whether it’s power tools or chauffering them to the store or reserving them a room at the library, let them know you’re ready to help them when/if they need you.

- Encourage them to share. Teach someone else what they’ve learned; invite family or neighbors to see what they’ve accomplished. Spread the knowledge around and inspire someone else.

Support them. Grab the car keys and take them where they need to go. Give them a little budget to control. Give them tools or show them where they can access them in your community. If somebody says “No,” show them how they can say, “Yes.”

Help them produce what they consume.

If they don’t make the team, help them make their own team. If opportunities are scarce, show them how they can make their own.

There are a million roadblocks that appear in life — not enough parts to play, not enough positions, not enough room in the club. The earlier you learn to respond by creating your own opportunities, the better. No one else is in charge of what you get to do. They may be in charge of their class, their club, their team, but you can make your own.

No one can keep you from doing the thing you love to do. The younger you learn this lesson, the better.

Have some examples to share of kids picking themselves? Let me know in the comments and I’ll make this list longer! (Give me links if possible!)

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