Camp Creek Blog

Five ways to stop unschooling attrition

Published by Lori Pickert on June 10, 2013 at 08:12 AM

There is a frequent, whispered conversation that I haven’t seen written about much online: the fact that as unschooled kids get older, they start drifting off to school.

“My daughter has good friends we see at an unschooling conference every summer, but in our town, hardly anyone her age is still around.”

“My son says he wants to go to school. He doesn’t think he’s learning anything.”

“My daughter wants to go to high school next year. She wants more friends. And now my son says he wants to go, too.”

“He’s bored.”

“She’s lonely.”

The two main reasons unschooled kids opt for school seem to be because their social lives are withering away or because they want to reassure themselves that they’re getting an adequate education.

This might be less of a problem in areas where there are plenty of homeschooling and unschooling families, but many of us don’t live in those resource-rich areas. Over and over again, I hear parents lamenting the fact that they can’t find community — or that their community gets smaller every year.

These parents believe in unschooling — they believe it’s the best possible learning life. So why do their kids end up choosing school? What went wrong? And if we want our kids to stick with this lifestyle, what can we do about it?

My recommendations:

- Embrace meta-learning.

Some kids decide to go to school because they don’t think they’re learning anything. They don’t think they know enough. They aren’t sure where they stand vis-à-vis their public-schooled counterparts, or they suspect their schooled peers are ahead. They’re worried about getting into college.

Someone recently tweeted that her unschooled child told her he didn’t think he was learning anything — and she thought this was a good thing. How could that possibly be a good thing? If unschooling embraces the idea that kids learn naturally all the time, then children should know they are learning. They should understand how learning works, and they should recognize their own knowledge and skills. They should know what they know and they should know what to do when they want to know.

It isn’t possible to feel confident and skilled if you don’t know what you know. It isn’t possible to define yourself as a great learner if you don’t know what learning is.

If unschooled kids partly feel happy about avoiding the drudgery of school but simultaneously develop the sense that they’re falling behind — and the only way to catch up is to go to school themselves — then something is wrong.

The point of unschooling should be for children to master how to manage and direct their own learning. The goal isn’t to not be educated by someone else — the goal is to be in charge of what and how they learn, so they can move forward confidently to do whatever they want in life.

They should know how to plan their own curriculum to acquire whatever knowledge and skills they want or need. If they want to learn about Pluto or snowboarding or programming video games, they should know how to pull together resources, seek out experts, figure out what they need/want to know, and self-assess to decide when they’ve reached sufficient mastery.

They should be confident about their knowledge and skills, and if they detect any holes in their learning that they want to correct, they should not only know how to take care of it, they should know that no one else could teach them better than they can teach themselves.

If unschooling is life learning and “learning all the time,” then kids should understand and speak the language of learning. They should know they’re learning.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” — David Foster Wallace, This Is Water

In this scenario, learning is the water — if kids are swimming around in it but don’t know what it is, something is wrong.

- Embrace rigor.

Without encouragement, example, and support, kids may not learn how to dig deeply into a subject and get beyond the surface of learning. Without thoughtful mentoring, they may not remember their own plans or develop the routines and habits of mind that successful learners need to make their ideas happen.

If kids just glide around endlessly from one thing to another, never going beyond the shallowest investigation, just repeating the same bland motions (read a book, watch a video, do a craft or science experiment, then move on), they won’t become expert learners. They won’t ever have to work hard; they won’t ever need to tap into their own self-motivation or self-determination. They may even begin to believe learning is boring — because they haven’t yet experienced deeply engaging, meaningful, purposeful, challenging learning. They’re only acquainted with the pale shadow of the real thing.

Some kids will dig deep on their own — but not all of them. Left to their own devices, not knowing how to take their learning further, many will just coast along, not knowing they are paddling around in water that’s infinitely deep. Several years of this and no wonder they start thinking they don’t really know anything.

Some parents don’t think kids will do difficult work on their own, without being coerced or compelled. Those parents pontificate about kids learning all the time, on their own, but they secretly believe kids will quit once it isn’t easy — so when they see children doing rigorous, challenging, difficult work, they don’t believe it was truly self-directed. Ouch! They believe in kids — but only so far.

One mother curled her lip at the idea of a child having a PBH-style bulletin board to display her ongoing work because it seemed “schoolish.” In other words, she equated doing serious work in a serious manner not with children in charge of their own learning, but with school. How confusing it must be for a child to be nudged away from doing deeper, more difficult work because her parent believes that smacks of the institution of school rather than learning itself.

Deep learning not only helps your kids learn more about the world, it helps them learn more about themselves — their interests, ideas, opinions, strengths, abilities, and talents. They find out what what they can do. They become more proficient thinkers, learners, makers, and doers, and their self-confidence grows along with their knowledge and skills. If they don’t learn to challenge themselves now, when will they? If they don’t develop authentic self-confidence now, when will they?

Children educate themselves, but we adults have a responsibility to provide settings that allow them to do that in an optimal manner. — Peter Gray

- Stop segregating.

Having beliefs doesn’t mean you have to stick with your own kind. That’s not what America’s about. We’re the melting pot. I learned that in social studies in third grade. Yep, I went to public school, I drank Kool-Aid, I watched Scooby-Doo, and I am not a monster. I’m smart, creative, generous, and funny. You’d be lucky to have me as a friend — even though I went to public school.

There are homeschoolers with whom I have absolutely nothing in common except the fact that we are both carbon-based life forms. There are families whose kids attend school with whom I have loads in common — hobbies, values, a sense of humor. There are plenty of great kids who go to school — as you may find out if your child decides he needs to go there.

Stop demanding the homeschool ballet lessons, the homeschool tae kwon do class, the unschool archery camp. Get out and mix with the hoi polloi. This means people who homeschool in other ways as well as kids who go to school.

If your child has lots of friends, they won’t need to go to school just because they have fewer unschooling pals. To have more friends, you have to know more people — so stop artificially reducing the pool of candidates. Sure, kids who go to school are less available during the day; so what? There’s no timetable for friendship.

Making friends is a skill a person needs for their whole lifetime — let your child learn how to be open-minded, inclusive, and focus on similarities rather than differences. Help them have a big, ranging, complex group of friends of all ages and educational paths so school and socializing are two separate issues.

- Eschew labels.

Labels serve no purpose other than verbal shorthand. The wider the application of the label, the less useful it is. We don’t say chummily to someone at the playground, “Well, we’re human. Yep. Yep. And we’re, uh, surface dwellers, mostly. We do have a walk-out basement.”

“Homeschooler” and “unschooler” may have had some real significance ten or fifteen years ago when fewer people were making that choice, but now it’s so vague as to be virtually meaningless. Don’t reach for a label and hope to make a meaningful connection with someone. Talk about what you do. Ask about what they do — their interests, their hobbies, their meaningful work. Dig below the surface and make a real connection.

- Stop spouting dogma.

The only thing worse than meaningless labels is the person who insists they really do have meaning and you’re using them incorrectly. And here comes the lecture no one asked for on the topic no one cares about.

Better yet, they let you know you don’t deserve that label. You’re not wearing enough unschooling flair — and boom, they rip off your name tag and throw it in the dirt.

Ungrip from the invisible manual. Leave it in the car. It’s just as obnoxious to lecture someone whose six-year-old is happily reading Harry Potter about the brain-damaging effects of early reading as it is to lecture someone whose eight-year-old is just starting to read. Judgment is boring and if your opinion comes without request, it’s rude. Lighten up.

Your curriculum choices don’t define you. This applies to all homeschoolers and unschoolers, and most of us pinball among the various approaches over the years anyway. Most of us are on a never-ending journey toward our most authentic, best life, and that doesn’t come with a pre-gummed label.

I won’t say that we’re all united by how much we care about our kids and their education — because people who send their kids to school also love their kids and care about their education. We are all an interesting mixed bag and I sincerely hope the most interesting thing about you isn’t the form of education you’re currently using. Get out of your bubble and lose the agenda.

In summary, you can’t dig yourself a tiny little hole, climb in it, then complain that it’s lonely in there. Open it up. Make your learning experiences bigger and more complex; help your child go deeper and further. Believe that children learn naturally all the time but don’t stop there — help them become self-confident, self-reliant thinkers, learners, makers, and doers. Walk the talk: discover just how hard children will work on something they care about when they’re encouraged and supported.

Don’t limit yourself to building a community of clones — connect with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of ways. Don’t label yourself — live a life of such complexity that when people want to know how you live and learn and work and share, no label will suffice.

If your kids decide to attend school, it doesn’t mean you failed. There’s nothing wrong with going to school, and a child in charge of his own learning should be free to make that choice.

But if they don’t think they know enough — and they don’t realize they have the ability to fix that on their own — then something went wrong somewhere along the way. And if they don’t know how to build community and find friends wherever they are, they’ll have to make more compromises in the future.

So pay attention to those core values: learning and connecting. If your kids master those, then wherever they go and whatever they do, they’ll be choosing deliberately from a place of strength. They won’t drift toward something out of loneliness or anxiety — they’ll be confidently charting their own course.


Friday link round-up + updated PBH group guide

Published by Lori Pickert on June 8, 2013 at 07:40 AM

Before we get started, I’ve updated How to Start a Project Group, incorporating the additional suggestions and questions I received after I posted the first draft. If you want to share strategies with other people who are using PBH in co-ops, summer camps, and family PBH groups, join the forum!

We missed last week’s round-up, so here’s what I’ve been sharing on the PBH facebook page for the past couple of weeks…

First, a beautiful blog post Abbey wrote about her “PBH conversion experience”:

“Tonight, I went beyond “mentally committed because this seems like the best choice.” Tonight, I became totally heart-committed and gut-committed to this idea of letting his interests spark and catch fire and burn through acres of material … because tonight, I saw the pure joy in his face at being able to soak up as much information as he could hold with the promise that he would be able to keep coming back for more the next day, the one after that, the one after that, as long as he wanted. …

It was passionate. It was instinctive. It was his idea, his momentum, his knowledge, his research. And yet now, without adult prompting or coaching, he has learned where Argentina is, how big Herrerasaurus was, in what period it lived, what it ate, what its bones looked like, and that it had a small role in the movie Jurassic Park. (A little pop culture knowledge is almost always useful, right?)

I know it might not be like this all the time, but it can be like this at least some of the time. I can do this… I can make this possible for him by creating an environment in which he has what he needs to do this for himself. For the first time, I feel certain that this is the right decision for him and for our family right now. He's more than capable — I’ve always known that.

Now I can picture what it looks like.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: My Conversion Moment @ Surviving Our Blessings

And this is a way we can learn, not just in childhood, but for life:

“Self-directed play allows both children and adults to develop a powerful attention strategy, a strategy that I call ‘relaxed presence.’ …

When you [read or built things as a child], nobody was giving you an assignment, nobody was telling you what to do — there wasn’t any stress around it. You did these things for your own pleasure and joy. As you played, you developed a capacity for attention and for a type of curiosity and experimentation that can happen when you play. You were in the moment, and the moment was unfolding in a natural way.

You were in a state of relaxed presence as you explored your world. At one point, I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!’” — The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World @ The Atlantic

Bridging from preschool age to Nobel laureates, how does self-directed play and learning look like for older kids? At the IL Math & Science Academy, students get 20% of their time (one school day per week) to work on projects of their own choosing — or just to play:

“Every Wednesday at [the Illinois Math & Sci Acad], students are free to work on whatever they want — to follow their particular passions through self-directed study, internships, or other projects.

“[Peter Chu] spent countless hours playing this Dungeons-and-Dragons-like computer creation, but playing wasn’t enough. He wanted to understand how the game worked and, more importantly, change the things he didn’t like about it. As luck would have it, DikuMUD was open source software, so he was free to download the code that underpinned the game and start hacking it — and that’s what he did.”

“Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well.” — Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow @ Wired

This is compared to Google’s 20% time — a perk about which one employee said, “[W]hen you give engineers the chance to apply their passion to their [work], they can do amazing things.”

PBH is about giving kids time to work on their own deep interests, time when they are supported and mentored. It doesn’t have to be the entire curriculum, but it is essential for children to learn to direct and manage their own learning and their own meaningful work.

Kids need white space — they need down time. They need time to relax and play. And they need to develop the ability to manage themselves without being constantly kept busy with activities:

Modern parents are almost obsessed with filling up their children’s time. … [A]lone time is time a son or daughter uses to learn how to entertain themselves or just relax, without help or input from parents, siblings, friends, or babysitters. And it is a crucial aspect of the development of independence.

… The real world is not a constant party, or a day at camp. Real world includes downtime, and it includes alone time. And your job as a parent isn’t to entertain your children 24 hours a day. Introducing your child early on to the idea of spending time alone — and liking it — will help your son and/or daughter become a better companion to others and get more from their relationships with friends — and with you. They will grow to be an adult who can be happy on his/her own, or with someone else. And isn’t that the goal?” — Why Alone Time is So Important for Boys and Girls

In the forum we’ve been talking about how to help a child move from needing 24/7 interaction to being more self-directed.

Since it’s graduation season, we’ve been sharing some advice to graduates — advice that we can integrate into how our kids learn now:

“Jobs suck. At least the traditional version of a job, in which you do something you sorta hate, from 9-5p, and are paid for your time to just grit your teeth and do it. Let’s call this the ‘sell your time’ version of a personal business model: You sell your time to an employer, and they pay you for that time. …

There’s a better way — though it might not be the easiest way. … Learn to make something. Anything.” — New College Grads: Don’t Sell Your Time for a Living @ Andrew Chen

Real skills matter! In fact, they’re the most important thing potential employers care about:

“[T]wo of the first three people I hired for my new company made the decision not to get a college degree, and in both cases, it was the correct decision to make. If you talk to either of them, you will quickly realize that they are more intelligent and intellectual than 99 percent of the ‘degree holding’ population. They read more books than most college graduates I know.

Their head shots are prominently displayed on the ‘Our Team’ page of my venture pitch, and I have yet to have a single investor ask, ‘Where did that guy to go school?’ Investors prefer to ask, ‘What company did you steal them from?’

What’s more, skipping college puts pressure on young people to actually learn real skills and deliver real value — and that is a good thing.” — How Much Does Your College Degree Matter? @ PandoDaily

Scared to deviate from the crowd?

“Standing out seems riskier than conforming. But nobody ever talks about the risks of conforming: boredom (the worst of tortues), an uninteresting narrative (you'll never land your dream job), regret (we don't regret the things we do; we regret the things we don't do), a long and frustrated journey through the rest of your life (stemming from a lack of self-awareness).” — 31 Things I’d Have Told Myself Before College

Personalized education that focuses on your strengths takes you further than one-size-fits-all that focuses on your perceived deficits.

It can be scary to stand out, but even worse to blend in.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” — Bill Watterson

For those of you attempting to embrace your kids’ love of Minecraft and other screen-related passions, I have some good stuff to share this week:

“I think the potential is really there for us to be raising a new generation of young people who have grown up with technologies that allow them to pursue self-directed learning on their own terms and on their own time schedules.

This is very different from how kids learn in school, where they’re handed a set body of knowledge that they’re asked to master and the expertise really resides in the teacher.

When kids go online in these more informal contexts where they’re pursuing their interests, they can really go, look around, and connect with knowledge, people, online communities that really enable them to tailor and customize what they want to learn, when they want to learn it.

And that is tremendously empowering for kids and motivating for them to learn.” — Dr. Mizuko Ito on Teen Development Online: Interacting with Media

Are your kids fascinated with Minecraft? So are educators:

“‘[T]he really cool thing about Minecraft is there’s an invitation to be creative and an invitation to be customizable and an invitation to engage at that level that’s much more accessible and much more on the surface.’ …

‘I’m interested in how it is providing kids a space to create their own game space and to share those game spaces with each other,’ she says. ‘This is a huge departure, not only from previous games, but previous toys and objects that were given to kids to play. Kids always make their own games in backyards and in schoolyards. And now they have an opportunity to make those games part of their shared culture.’ …

Minecraft certainly promotes some healthy behaviors, she adds.

Aside from rule-free, creative thinking, Grimes says, it encourages and facilitates a healthy co-operation.

‘The fact that you can collaborate in building a world together, you know, it’s amazing,’ she says.” — Minecraft Game Being Hailed as a Teaching Tool


Require self-direction.

Minecraft won’t do anything without the right input from the player. It doesn’t drag you along by the nose, but rather sits and waits for the player to do something important. And with every “correct” action by the player, they are rewarded with more freedom, opportunity and visual evidence of their decisions.” — 5 Lessons to Learn from Minecraft in Education @ TeachThought

Be sure to check out the great Minecraft projects being shared on PBH Kids!

Finally, some encouragement for the PBH grown-ups:

Eventually you will make a decision to forget your craft, or to zero in what you love most about it, truing to it fiercely above the urgent, the insistent, the loud demands that are yelling like a bully in your ear. Eventually it will be up to you to decide to turn a blind eye on the other things, and just pick this one thing. This one thing that feels important to you. That feels like the work you love, and just do it for an hour. Imperfectly. Even if it means you’ll be up a creek later. Even if it means there will be hell to pay. Even if it means the sky will fall. …

Eventually you will make the decision: to let circumstance define you, or to define your circumstance.” — Eventually You Will Make a Decision (or Reminders to Myself) @ Christina Rosalie


Stop listening to the advice of those that say it can’t be done, and seek the advice of those who are successfully doing what you want to do.” — Best Advice I’ve Been Given @ WhipUp

Thank you for hanging out with me on PBH and being part of this community!

I have to say that being a PBH mom has helped me tremendously to see that while being there for my kids, I can support my own work and make my dreams a reality. Learning as I go. — PBH forum comment

Thank you for challenging us parents the way you continually do and sticking up for the rights of children. You know why PBH rocks above all other educational methodologies? Because it’s the only methodology I’ve encountered that requires parents to try to become the best possible version of themselves in order to walk the talk. — PBH parent e-mail

Genuine interest is the magic ingredient that makes learning meaningful — and it’s what learners require to make their best efforts.

When we label a child as a “reluctant learner,” we’re making a big mistake. Not only are we focusing on the reluctance rather than the learning, but we’re telling a child that he has a problem learning. We’re missing the fact that it’s we who have the problem, because we have failed to provide our child with a learning experience that is interesting, relevant, and useful.” — The Myth of the Reluctant Learner


What to do if you hate your child’s interest

Published by Lori Pickert on May 30, 2013 at 08:40 AM

Holly made this comment on the sliver post:

[My son] still goes straight for the t.v. as soon as he walks in the door after being out. He still heads straight there as soon as “school-time” is over. Again, my bias gets in the way here, but I start to go crazy! Really, how many episodes of SpongeBob can one person endure?!

I guess the fact that he chooses to spend his time watching t.v. gets me the most. I’ve noticed that a lot of commenters mentioned Minecraft or other strategy-type games. I could probaby get behind that much more so than something as passive as t.v. watching (e.g., SpongeBob!!). I liken it to the parent who constantly provides entertainment for his/her child. In this case, it’s the t.v. constantly providing entertainment and he’s become totally dependent on it.

Just venting here a bit (sorry for that), but I do wonder if you have any advice or wisdom to share?

If you can’t stand the thing that your child is most interested in — or if you can’t see any real value in it — these are my suggestions for things you might think about or try:

- Look at what you WISH he was doing and then build that into your everyday life. Do those things together as a family. (This is the essential message of the sliver post.) Then you know his day contains those elements as well as TV — and it helps him see himself as someone who has more interests, more experences, and more potential.

- Imagine the ways SpongeBob might connect to activities you would be happier about. Would you be happier if he was writing Spongebob stories? Learning animation? Drawing comics? Is Spongebob really the problem, or is the problem that he isn’t oriented toward making and doing?

- Make sure he has the time and the raw materials to make and do. Does he have a workspace and materials? Are they clean and attractive and enticing? Does he have a desk or table in a place he wants to work (not off in a part of the house where he’d be by himself)? Does he have enough free time to watch TV and pursue other interests?

- Start journaling to identify his strong interests and carve out some dedicated project time. This includes SpongeBob and other interests as well. Open up a space in your life that is focused on helping him take those interests further.

- Sit down and watch SpongeBob with him. (You can just watch one episode.) Have him tell you about it. Ask him about his favorite characters and his favorite episodes. Dig into what he likes. The important thing isn’t SpongeBob — the important thing is connecting with your son, letting him see that you care about what he likes, respecting what he enjoys, and letting him know you want to know more about him and what interests him. You’ll also be able to start dissecting his interest and figuring out if there’s something you can help him explore further in a more active way.

- Make sure he has the ability to produce the media he likes to consume. Break his interest down and think about the component parts. Somewhere down the road, he might produce a podcast or a Youtube show. Right now, he might write his own original story or script, make a storyboard, learn how to do animation, make a flip book, draw a comic, put on a puppet show or skit, and so on.

Because everything is connected, it’s difficult to find ANY interest at all that a child has that can’t connect to books, films, community resources, hands-on making and building, websites, experts, writing, programming, and on and on. Roller-coasters connect to physics and design and business. Minecraft connects to programming and city planning and strategy. Spongebob connects to storytelling and animation and art. His interest is a point of entry that you can help him take in many different directions.

It’s easier to see the rich learning potential of an interest like bugs or dinosaurs or the human body. You nod and say, ah, science. I heartily approve. Yes, let’s explore this educational topic. Onward, ho!

It’s not so clear when your child has an interest like princesses or pirates or SpongeBob. You say, er, hmm. Well. Surely you have other things, better things, you want to learn about. Bugs? Anyone interested in studying bugs?

But when you start shutting down interests, you lose the child because he figures out very quickly that it’s not about him. It’s not about what he likes and what he wants to do. He isn’t in control of this time and these resources, and his interests are being judged as unworthy. That’s not a recipe for an excited, self-confident learner.

If you hate what your child likes, he may not understand enough to separate “Mom hates SpongeBob but she might like some other thing I like.” He may think, “The things I like are dumb.” He may just decide to keep his interests to himself. And if he feels like his interests do have value — whether it’s SpongeBob or Minecraft, comic books or Pokémon — and you loudly declare they have no value, then you’ve created a big dead spot where the two of you can’t share, can’t come together, can’t communicate, can’t understand one another. If you stay open to your child, you can approach any interest as a spark that can start a whole new rich line of inquiry. You can say

“Tell me about what you like. Explain that to me. Show me. How does it work? How would you do it?”

and so on.

If you’re open to it, his interest can be a starting point that goes everywhere. If you’re closed to it, then it’s a shut door and he may not take it further on his own, but even if he manages, you’re unlikely to hear much about it.

The most important thing is to take the focus off whatever he’s interested in that you don’t like and instead plow your energy into building up the making, doing, creating, thinking, learning part of your life. If a child is interested in SpongeBob but doesn’t know what to do with that interest other than sit back, get comfy, and watch episode after episode, then that’s what they’re going to do. If you make a space for digging into his interests and exploring different ways to express what he knows, he might draw Spongebob, write Spongebob stories, sew a SpongeBob doll, screen-print a SpongeBob shirt, make SpongeBob stop-motion animations with SpongeBob legos, and on and on.

You see how this works: It’s the bigger context that matters, and that’s what needs to change. Once the elements are in place for a life focused on digging deep, exploring, making, doing, and sharing, any interest will be explored in a meaningful, active way. And when he switches interests, he takes his skills (and his mentor) along with him.

Now, if your child has a lot of interests, you get to pick and choose what to invest in, and it makes sense to support something that you think is worthy of deep, prolonged study. And you may as well steer away from the things that you have a real distaste for. But I like to think that any parent who really gets experience mentoring their child’s self-directed learning will become more and more interested in their child and what they care about. The more you do this, the less likely you are to easily dismiss something they really care about. You’ve discovered how deep and complex learning born out of self-motivation and authentic interest can be. That’s what I think — that’s what I hope!

Stay open to what he cares about and design a life that is focused on the things you care most about. You won’t go wrong.



Also check out: Video games can actually give you ideas (guest post by my son)

After reading my posts on abundance, a few people asked:

If we provide children with more materials, will they still learn to share?

Here are my thoughts.

Too often, we concentrate on teaching lessons through negative means: forcing children to apologize (often after putting them in a Lord of the Flies situation in the first place), forcing kids to share stingy resources, and so on. Then we tell ourselves that they’re learning necessary lessons about how to treat others.

In reality, generosity is more likely to produce a generous person. Stinginess is more likely to produce a child who is hell-bent on getting his fair share.

Demanding that children share ignores their feelings and does not truly teach them to share. It more likely teaches children to feel angry and resentful toward adults and to believe that sharing is always accompanied by emotional pain. The irony of sharing is that when children know they are not required to share, they are more likely to do so! — Teaching Children to Share

Will children raised with abundance learn how to share?

When we buy more butterfly nets or more wooden trucks, we aren’t focusing on abundance just to stop children from squabbling. We are investing in abundance (by making thoughtful choices) in order to allow the children to do more.

Instead of sharing wooden trucks, they are now sharing ideas.

Instead of sharing butterfly nets, they are sharing butterfly-catching strategies.

Children will still learn to share, because to do anything with others requires cooperation, collaboration, discussion, identifying and solving problems, and on and on. The point is to get to this richer area of learning that is completely blocked by an initial lack of abundance: not enough time or materials for the children to do anything meaningful or complex, for them to work together, for them to focus on something more important.

It doesn’t work to use punitive measures to teach children to be loving, kind, generous, compassionate, empathetic. In order for children to develop these traits, they have to grow up being treated in a loving, kind, generous, compassionate, and empathetic way. Whatever you want your child to develop within himself should be a big part of his environment.

We are so used to the idea that children must be forced to share, forced to apologize, punished for disagreeing, and so on, that we lose the opportunity to help them develop strong emotional intelligence, self-awareness, generosity, compassion, kindness, cooperativeness, and so on simply by raising them in a peaceful environment that focuses on doing meaningful work.

Please understand me: I am not recommending that parents ignore their children’s bad behavior and let them do whatever they like. I am recommending that you embody the traits you would like your child to develop. I am saying that focusing on abundance creates meaning and purpose — it allows your child to stop hyper-focusing on who has what and how much is left and who’s turn it is and move into a much richer area of making, doing, talking, sharing, extending ideas, helping, solving problems, and teaching.

Decide which areas of your life are important and worthy of investing in and creating abundance. Decide which areas of your life are less meaningful and simply stop investing your time and money there. Children absorb so much from how you live and the choices you make. Be thoughtful about those choices. Simplify your life in a way that shifts your resources to your deepest values.


Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 25, 2013 at 08:02 AM

The best thing I have to share this week (with permission!) was a post in the forum by a mom who worked past her initial misgivings about Minecraft in order to support her son’s deep interest — and had a great outcome:

“I’m new to pbh and still anxious about how it will all work; especially since both my boys love minecraft. The other day during our project time my 10 yr old was simply building on minecraft and I had to continually bite my tongue b/c that little voice in my head was telling me, “this is not education!”. However, I persevered. :)

I grabbed a notebook and just started asking him what he was doing. Lo and behold he was building giant forks, shovels, question marks, dollar bills, etc. I made the observation that there are artists that create actual sculptures just like that. Before I knew it, both boys were looking for images on google, discovered the artist was Claes Oldenberg, and we were talking about what was interesting about the art. That led to a discussion of art in context and I posed the question of what giant sculpture would be appropriate in the context of our house. They came up with several ideas, but decided they would build a life-sized Steve from minecraft. I asked what they needed, we gathered supplies. I jotted down ideas they came up with. They came up with the idea to hide binary code in their statue since steve is created by code. We went to the library and they worked with the librarian to hunt down books on Oldenberg. My oldest also got several books on architecture as well for inspiration for building and has immersed himself in that and has built some awesome buildings and is learning a ton about architecture.

I truly see the value of journaling. It is eye opening how much they learn. The math concept of median was used in the building projects. They were measuring and figuring out scale. They were working together and not fighting. As I write all they are doing I see all the different directions they could take this. It’s very exciting to watch. Thanks for all the encouragement and advice this blog provides.”

I love hearing these stories. If you’re a member of the forum, we share them in the small wins thread — it’s important to take a moment and celebrate your successes as you learn to mentor yourself and your kids to your best lives. Even a small change — like taking a pause and getting out your journal, asking a few questions — can make a huge difference in your learning life.

And have you seen O’s amazing Minecraft project on PBH Kids? If your kids have project work they’d like to share, let me know!

I liked this article on project-based learning (as manifested in schools) mostly for this teacher’s reaction to helping kids direct their own learning:

“‘[E]ngaging kids in project-based, deep-thinking types of learning that I saw in Finland … that’s what we tried to replicate in our state,’ Paine said. And not coincidentally, just the kind of pragmatic, complex, collaborative problem-solving that companies say they need in the 21st century workplace. …

“The first [project-based learning] project I did — after it was done — I said I would never go back to the old way of teaching, because it was that valuable.’”

I wanted to cry because I could see how much progress they had made from beginning to end.’

You might want to follow my project-based learning board on Pinterest. I think we can glean some insights and ideas from what traditional education is trying to accomplish with PBL even though we homeschoolers have the freedom to take it so much further. (The board is a mix of PBL at school and at home.)

Last week I wrote a post called The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time. In that post, I suggested using “generous limits” (as opposed to strict limits or no limits at all) to make it possible for your child to go beyond just being an irritable, frustrated, passive consumer and actually be in the flow, learn, and create with media.

In the comments, someone brought up studies on brain development and asked how I could dismiss those. I wrote a lengthy response, but a friend sent me a link to this article, which I think is a great addition:

“Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, Jacob spent years in the clutches of a special education system that didn’t understand what he needed. His teachers at school would try to dissuade Kristine from hoping to teach Jacob any more than the most basic skills.

“For a parent, it’s terrifying to fly against the advice of the professionals,” Kristine writes in her memoir, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. “But I knew in my heart that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away.”

‘I operate under a concept called “muchness,”’ Kristine said. ‘Which is surrounding children with the things they love — be it music, or art, whatever they’re drawn to and love.’

By the time he was 11 years old, Jacob was ready for college. He’s now studying condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.” — Boy Genius Diagnosed with Autism has IQ Higher than Einstein

And a quote from the boy himself, from his TedxTeen talk that appears at the end of the article:

In order to succeed, you must look at everything with your unique perspective and not settle for accepting the straight facts.” — Jacob Barnett

The talk is great, and your kids might enjoy it, too.

Since we’ve been talking a lot lately about screen time on the blog (posts, comments, and in the forum), I thought this was worth sharing:

“My work with children, teachers and computers over the past thirty years has been focused on increasing opportunity and replacing ‘quick and easy’ with deep and meaningful experiences. When I began working with schools where every student had a laptop in 1990, project-based learning was supercharged and Dewey’s theories were realized in ways he had only imagined. The computer was a radical instrument for school reform, not a way of enforcing the top-down status quo. …

Used well, the computer extends the breadth, depth and complexity of potential projects. This in turn affords kids with the opportunity to, in the words of David Perkins, ‘play the whole game.’ Thanks to the computer, children today have the opportunity to be mathematicians, novelists, engineers, composers, geneticists, composers, filmmakers, etc.… But, only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative.” — Technology Is Not Neutral @ for the love of learning

When Gary says “only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative,” I think he means only if teachers take the time to fully explore how computers can be used by students in school. At home, I would say “only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative” to see what powerful tools computers can be for mastering skills, creating original works of art, building community, and so on. If we demonize tech, we’re taking away so many of the hundred languages children can use to learn and build.

In the inspirational area, this week, I loved what Michael wrote about focusing on what we can do:

“I might dream of Sustainably Creative becoming one of the top 100 most read blogs in the world, being offered a publishing contract worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, and Oprah relaunching her chat show just to interview me. However all of those dreams require actions by other people, lots of other people (and Oprah). I can’t make those people act in the ways I might like.

However I can work on my half of the equation. I can show up and write posts regularly for Sustainably Creative. I can work on book proposals and publish my own ebooks. I can approach agents and publishers. In short I use what energy I have to focus on the work that at least puts me on the right track to fulfill my dreams.” — Achieve (almost) anything you want with a pen, paper, and a pot of tea @ Sustainably Creative

This is what it’s all about — just starting. Doing what we can. It changes your life, even if you don’t end up with what you originally thought you wanted.

Thank you for hanging out with me on PBH and being part of this community!

I have to say that being a PBH mom has helped me tremendously to see that while being there for my kids, I can support my own work and make my dreams a reality. Learning as I go. — PBH forum comment

Thank you for challenging us parents the way you continually do and sticking up for the rights of children. You know why PBH rocks above all other educational methodologies? Because it’s the only methodology I’ve encountered that requires parents to try to become the best possible version of themselves in order to walk the talk. — PBH parent e-mail

Allowing children to learn about what interests them is good, but helping them do it in a meaningful, rigorous way is better. Freedom and choice are good, but a life steeped in thinking, learning, and doing is better. It’s not enough to say, “Go, do whatever you like.” To help children become skilled thinkers and learners, to help them become people who make and do, we need a life centered around those experiences. We need to show them how to accomplish the things they want to do. We need to prepare them to make the life they want. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Parenting with abundance and simplicity

Published by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 12:33 PM

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity.

A few people had questions for me about how abundance fits in with simplicity and even minimalism, thinking those concepts might be oppositional. Actually, they work together. Let me explain how.

Abundance requires simplicity — because in order to have abundance in one area, you must reduce something else. You can either use your toy budget to buy a roomful of random toys or you can decide to focus on investing in only two or three open-ended toys: say, wooden blocks, a wooden dollhouse, LEGO.

If you have a lot of random toys, children might fight because they all want to play with the plastic dinosaur at once; then when they tire of that, they suddenly all want to play with the nerf gun. They can’t play *together* with one plastic dinosaur. However, if you have a basket full of plastic dinosaurs, they can all play together. They can take them to the sandbox or get out the clay and make a dinosaur world. They can collaborate and cooperate and build something complex.

If you have a couple dozen wooden blocks, not only can children not play together (there just aren’t enough to share), but even one child is limited in the complexity of anything he can build — there aren’t enough blocks for complexity. He can build a small, simple structure and that’s it. He quickly reaches the limits of what he can build and he can go no further. A large variety of materials or experiences can make it seem like we’ve given our children more, but really we’ve given them less.

If you have fewer random toys and a LOT of wooden blocks, suddenly you can build something big and complex. Multiple children can work together, and there are enough materials for everyone. There are enough materials to go beyond simple ideas and simple constructions.

But this abundance requires simplifying — you can’t offer an abundance of everything. You have to choose what matters most and invest there. To offer abundance, you must thoughtfully simplify.

PBH requires focus. In order to support your child’s deep interest and help him stay with an idea longer, you have to forgo some random, unrelated activities. They might be perfectly fun activities, like a homeschool field trip to the petting zoo. But you might instead take him to the planetarium so he can stay with his interest on space. They might be perfectly fun crafts, attached to the current season or holiday. But you choose instead to help him stay focused on making planets out of recycled materials. You are forgoing variety, novelty, and width to focus instead on depth, on mastery, on becoming an expert in something he really cares about. You’re letting go of some things that are mildly fun and interesting for everyone to focus on something that your specific, unique child finds deeply engaging. You are helping him move beyond the surface of learning and dig deeper, learn more, and build new skills.

If you want your child to be able to work deeply and meaningfully, you might pare down your extracurricular activities. Another family might be doing swim lessons, tae kwon do, soccer, and ballet, while your child is goes to one art class a week at the local museum. You are making a choice for simplicity (more white space, more project time) that is simultaneously a choice for abundance (a deeper exploration of art, more time for his specific deep interest).

The main point of abundance vs. scarcity is that if you limit materials, opportunities, or experiences too much, you are ensuring that your child can only be a passive consumer. You haven’t given him enough time and support to become an active creator.

“Abundance” doesn’t mean an enormous pile of materials or a huge number of activities or a never-leaves-the-basement obsession with a particular interest. Abundance means thoughtfully paring away the less important so you can invest more time, energy, and money in what you really care about.

What is the point of simplifying your life, if it’s not so you can do more of what matters?

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity

Published by Lori Pickert on May 18, 2013 at 07:42 AM

This week I shared how we use generous limits as a way of dealing with screen time and how that approach reflects an abundance vs. scarcity mindset.

When I owned a small Reggio-inspired school and worked as an educational consultant, I often ran into this type of problem, where emotions are high and adults and children are in opposition. No one is happy and the overarching goals are not being met.

Scarcity situation:

- Conflict arises because of a scarcity situation (or a perceived scarcity situation).

- There is intense focus around the item or experience that is felt to be scarce.

- The adult is frustrated by the child’s intense focus.

- The adult wants to “teach a lesson” through scarcity.

- Much time is spent arguing, bargaining, and complaining (the ABCs of scarcity).

Scarcity issues typically arise directly from how the adult has organized the situation. Once conflict occurs, the adult usually maintains the scarcity for a reason: because they want to teach a lesson.

Here’s a reenactment of a mentoring session I did with a preschool whose teachers had visited us. All names and details have been changed.

Sunnyside: We want our kids to be working on projects and collaborating like yours do, but all they do is fight all morning.

Me: What are they fighting about?

Sunnyside: Well, there are a lot of boys in this class and only four kids can use the block center at a time. They fight constantly about who is in the block center, whose turn it is, how long they’ve been in there, and so on. Then, even when they’re in the block center, we have two wooden trucks and they fight over who gets to use those.

Even the girls who weren’t even interested in blocks are demanding to play in the block center and demanding their turn with the trucks, just because they see the boys fighting about it. All we do all morning is referee arguments. No one is working on any projects. All they do is fight about this.

Me: What have you tried so far?

Sunnyside: We want the kids to use all the centers instead of just staying in one place all morning, so every half-hour we have them move from one center to the next one. And we have an egg timer to keep track of whose turn it is with the wooden trucks, but we get busy and sometimes we forget to check it, then they fight even more.

Me: Okay, you need to do two things.

Sunnyside: Tell us!

Me: You need to drop the limit on how many kids can be in the block center and you need to buy more wooden trucks.

Sunnyside: What?! But they won’t all fit into the block center! And giving them what they want seems totally wrong — shouldn’t they be learning how to share?

Me: Just try it, then get back to me in a week.

So here’s what happened:

- When the strict limits were taken away, all the kids did try to crush into the block center at once. There was a lingering residue of “the block center is the desired place to be.” Sixteen kids pressed around one small table and a limited number of blocks didn’t work, and the kids figured that out on their own. It was boring to stand in a crowd with hardly any blocks to play with, so after awhile, some of the kids wandered away. The ones who stayed began to negotiate how they would share the blocks.

- When the new wooden trucks arrived, the kids ceased arguing about them and started playing with them.

A week later:

Me: How’s it going?

Sunnyside: Much better. But we still have more kids who want to play in the block area than the block area will accommodate. They are crushed in there together and they’re doing pretty well, but there isn’t enough room.

Me: Make the block area bigger.

Sunnyside: Wha— [sigh] Okay.

When you have a scarcity situation, the first thing to look at is:

What am I trying to accomplish by using scarcity?

These teachers had good goals for their students:

- They wanted them to use the whole classroom and not just one center.

- They wanted them to collaborate and not argue all the time.

- They wanted them to work on long-term projects.

But their choices had made the exact opposite happen.

Instead of valuing all the areas of the classroom (art studio, library, science area, etc.), the kids were all hyper-focused on what they couldn’t have: the block center.

Instead of collaborating, they were arguing and bargaining and complaining all morning.

Instead of working on long-term projects, they were being rotated through the centers, so that even if they were involved in what they were doing, they were interrupted to move on in the name of variety. Whatever a child was building in the block area, someone else knocked down a half-hour later. Whatever a child was painting in the art studio, he had to drop it and leave — so why ever start anything complex or ambitious? Whatever book two children were looking at together, they had to put back on the shelf and move on — so no deep interests ever sparked.

The teachers were accidentally training the kids NOT to focus, NOT to invest in big ideas, and NOT to work on long-term projects. They were accidentally training them to have the opposite traits than they wanted: developing short attention spans, seeing each other as competitors rather than collaborators, and so on.

The work of figuring out how to share can’t start until children are given the responsibility and freedom to do that work. When you create a scarcity situation, you aren’t teaching them how to share, you’re teaching them how to compete hard for what’s rightfully theirs. When they are given the tools, the opportunity, and the support, they can begin to build those character traits and habits of mind you want for them.

The work of figuring out how to self-regulate can’t happen until children have enough elbow room to make some of their own choices. You aren’t teaching kids how to restrict their own screen time when you restrict it for them. There is literally not enough white space for them to give them any control or decision-making, so they aren’t building any skills. They’re just reacting emotionally to a situation that you control. How can they learn to make good choices if they don’t get the opportunity to make bad ones?

With generous limits, children find that they have to make decisions — Do I finish drawing this comic, or play Minecraft? Now they’re beginning to make choices and deal with consequences. They may make what you think are wrong choices, but mistakes are the pathway to understanding and eventual success. If they don’t have room to make mistakes, they don’t have room to learn.

Let’s check in with Sunnyside one more time:

We doubled the size of the block area and suddenly the boys started working together on a large construction. It was like magic. They started building a city, and they used all the trucks to build a garage. Once their project got going, the girls became interested and began to make suggestions and work on it as well. They are making signs in the writing center and they are using the art studio to make people and animals. Some girls are painting a backdrop for the wall; they all sat down together and talked about what it should include. They are even using the materials in the science center to make trees and bushes. We’ve put books about cities and garages in the library and they are using them for reference.

We finally have a project going, and the kids are doing the work we wanted them to do instead of fighting all the time. And we are helping them work on their ideas instead of being referees. It is wonderful. Thank you.

By the way, we had to throw away another rule. Before, they had to clean up the block area at the end of the day. The day we took that rule away, they started to build their city.

As a parent, you need to think about what you really want. Then you need to look at your choices and see if they are getting you the results you wanted or if they’re getting you something else entirely.

What parents want when they set strict screen limits (or strict limits on comic books or anything else) is for their kids to play outside, read, build things, develop intellectual hobbies, play, enjoy their family, collaborate, do more worthy activities. They want screens to be a small part of the children’s lives.

What they get is often a child who is hyper-focused on the exact thing they wanted to be least important. Suddenly the limited thing looms large and taints every other hour of the day. It’s all the kids talk about and all they think about. Arguing, bargaining, and complaining ensue.

When you employ generous limits (focusing on abundance — there is enough time for everything), focus can shift away from arguing and bargaining to what the child wants to accomplish. The focus can leave the screens. There’s no need to argue and fight, because there is enough time.

Note: “Generous limits” does not mean “no limits.” Generous limits take the pressure off and eliminate anxiety and bargaining. No limits can actually increase arguing, bargaining, and anxiety because every single thing you want to do during the day is opposed to screen time. Do you want to go to the park? No, it’s park vs. screens and screens win. Do you want to make a cardboard robot? No, it’s robot vs. screens and screens win. No limits can actually be a more fraught situation. Generous limits make time in the day for everything: outdoor play, art studio, library, reading aloud, cooking together, playing, etc. These things are not directly opposed to screens; screens have their own generous part of the day. And generous limits mean that even during the time when screens are allowed as a choice, there is enough time to choose other things as well. Note: choose other things, not have them chosen for you.

Now, I’m anticipating that someone will say, “Oh, you’re just giving in to the kids! You’re giving them what they want!”

If you are arguing with your child for no reason other than to control what they do, does that really fit with your overarching values and goals? If you get stuck in an oppositional pattern, are you helping them learn how to articulate their goals, negotiate fairly, collaborate as a team, and make their own decisions?

When you approach a situation with the mindset that there has to be a winner and a loser and as the parent you should always win, you are going to experience a lot of conflict and a lot of unhappiness. You are creating scarcity: scarcity of power, scarcity of freedom, scarcity of autonomy, scarcity of choice. You are putting your attention and your whole family’s focus on something unpleasant.

If you approach a situation with the mindset that you want to live your values, focus on your priorities, and consider your child’s goals along with your own, you can find solutions that are win-win. But you have to be willing to experiment, gather data, and revise. You have to be willing to examine your own prejudices. You have to be willing to let your child have both freedom and responsibility. They go hand in hand.

Flip to an abundancy model and flood your life with your priorities, your values, and your goals. Make room for your children to stop thinking about the rules and infrastructure and start creating, building, thinking, playing, making, and doing. Envision a life where everyone in the family gets to have their own interests, their own meaningful work, and each other’s support.

What is the end goal of extremely limiting a child’s screen time? Presumably it’s a young adult who knows how to live a balanced life, who has various interests, and who isn’t addicted to screens. What is the outcome of extremely limiting a child’s screen time? Sometimes it’s a child who is absolutely riveted on what they can’t have, who can’t enjoy their screen time because they’re tense and watching the clock and who can’t enjoy their non-screen time because they wish they could play Minecraft instead. When they’re a young adult, what’s going to happen? When they finally get freedom and control, what are they likely to do with it?

Employing generous limits helps a child live a balanced life now, a life that is much closer to how they might live as adults. (My sixteen-year-old son pointed this out to me — credit to him.) Employing generous limits allows a child to begin learning today how to make good choices, how to manage his own time, and how to prioritize his goals. If he falters, you are there to help him get back on the rails. If he makes poor choices and suffers for it, you’re there to help him figure out how to fix it.

Whatever it is that you are tightly controlling, it’s an emotionally loaded issue for you, and you may be making it an emotionally loaded issue for your child. Wherever you are causing scarcity, you are probably feeling scarcity. You feel your child’s outdoor time, project time, or reading time is scarce, so you clamp down on screens. Instead of dealing with a feeling of lack by tightly controlling something else, try abundance instead. Fill that lack with all the things you’re missing. Consider that the situation is not oppositional after all, and there is room for all the good things.

A day holds much more time and potential than you might think. But you have to hold it gently.

There really is enough time. Focus your attention on what you want to grow. Focusing it on the thing you don’t like is not going to get you what you want. Forget about that, take some deep breaths, and then focus on what you want to see more of. Let it bask in your attention and love. Try it, and see what happens.

See also:

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 1

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 2

The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time


Parenting with abundance and simplicity


Abundance and sharing: How children learn to be generous



Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 03:34 PM

My favorite thing this week was something Georgia Schlegel (YarnPirate) said during a conversation on Twitter when I expressed frustration that some people see PBH as just “arts and crafts”:

My five-year-old knows most of the organelles of a cell from his so-called arts and crafts.

To see more of her son’s anatomy project, check it out on PBH Kids!

Some good links about making and doing and sharing this week:

Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time.” — Creative People Say No — Thoughts on Creativity

If you need someone to give you permission to say “no” to something so you can prioritize your meaningful work, this should help. “The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.

I liked this post of Michael’s and we had an interesting discussion about it on Twitter. Some read it as “take 24 hours to commit to working on your top project,” which is hardly doable for parents of young children. I read it as “take 24 hours to focus on one project and not be distracted away from it.” (Can you tell what *my* issue is?)

“Sometimes lack of time or energy make it necessary to make very radical choices about what is important to us, what we want to give priority to and get on with. Sometimes it can just be that the amount of choice and options before us is so overwhelming that reducing them suddenly seems like a breath of fresh air.

Whatever the motivation, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that cutting right back and concentrating on very few (or even just ONE) thing is the way forward.” — Distill your ambitions down to their essential core @ Sustainably Creative

Michael writes about doing creative work from the perspective of having a chronic illness that leaves him with low energy; his “important work” equates to my “meaningful work.” I find his work very inspiring; you might want to check it out.

Along with this, Jennifer’s beautiful words as she works on changing her life:

My intention and direction have been set
now I need only to listen
to pay attention
and let go.” — growing :: letting things go @ under the big blue sky

Pay attention to what you want to grow; put your focus there. Let the rest go. Good thoughts for anyone who’s trying to make a change.

A couple of work-related links this week, the first just one great quote from a slideshow by Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) that’s well worth your time. Having owned two businesses and hired and fired more people than I want to count, I think his advice is pretty much on the money. And forget about college grads — this applies to anyone who wants to accomplish anything:

“Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.” — Amazing Career Advice for College Grads

This is something I’ve experienced in my own life. Magical things can happen if you focus on trying to help people, preferably for free. You can build experience, make contacts, make friends, learn, and grow — and opportunities lie beyond that experience. Concentrate on people — they *are* the opportunities.

An article about work *and* about making and doing:

“There are millions of unfilled jobs in America, and most of them are careers where you actually have to make and build stuff. If you grew up in an affluent environment, then you see your software engineer friends getting jobs easily. But it’s not just them. There are countless labor jobs — everything from HVAC to plumbing — that still pay big dollars. But rich kids don’t even know what those jobs entail.

My advice to young people is to figure out how to make something. That means either working with your hands, or learning how to type code with them.” — Young People Are Screwed … Here’s How to Survive

Even if you go the traditional job route, it’s the people who have real skills — the ones who know how to make and do — who float to the top. This goes back to that “arts and crafts” misunderstanding — it’s not about a pretty picture, it’s about knowing how to plan, execute, revise, build, share, collaborate, and contribute!

And one more thought on prioritizing:

“Make no mistake about it, the things you spend most of your time doing is how the world sees you.” — We Are What We Do, Not What We Say

I’ll add to that: How we live is what our children see and it’s what they internalize. They will do as we do — so it’s crucial that we think hard about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Finally, I’ll end with the quote I shared on Mother’s Day:

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” — Oscar Wilde

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time

Published by Lori Pickert on May 15, 2013 at 08:08 AM

Sub-subtitle for this post: Why you need to move from a scarcity to an abundance model.

One of the most frequent things I’m asked is how to deal with the struggle between parents and kids over limits on screen time.

Parents want something better for their kids than TV, movies, and video games — they want their lives to be full of better-quality activities, like playing outdoors, reading, playing, and building.

Many parents approach the subject of screen time — or other kid activities they don’t like, like reading comic books — by placing a strong limit on it. They say to their child, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are cramming all the stuff you love that we don’t like into this sliver.”

The child hears, “Blah blah blah, you love the sliver.”

Then the parents get to experience the ever-burgeoning frustration of having their child riveted on that sliver of time. The kids want to talk about it. They want to bargain for more of it. They want to argue about whether they got their fair share of it. Why? Because the sliver is where all the good stuff is.

What we need to do is flip it around. Instead of making the sliver the garbage chute on Star Wars that everyone dives into for blessed escape, we need to allot the sliver to ourselves instead.

We say, “We want our lives to be lovely and full of all the good things, so we are going to allot a portion of our day to the stuff that really matters — the stuff we think is important.”

Now put it all in there. Make time every day to read, to play outside, to play a board game together, to build with LEGO or blocks, to spend time together in the art studio. Work on your projects together, side by side. Go for a hike, fly a kite, sit on the steps and eat an ice cream cone. Read aloud to one another.

As if by magic, the stuff you care about is now part of your everyday life. Magically, your kids are no longer riveted by the tiny sliver of time when they get to do what they want — therefore, they are free to enjoy all the good things instead of bitterly resenting them. Magically, you have just negotiated a life that respects both what is important to you *and* what is important to your child.

When you set up a scarcity situation, you are always going to whip people into a frenzy to get whatever it is that’s hard to come by, whether it’s a dancing Elmo, a Beanie Baby, or a half-hour playing Minecraft. That’s just human psychology. Make it rare and people want it desperately. And when you limit what your child wants to do and push them toward something else, saying THIS is better than THAT, you create conflict where there doesn’t need to be conflict. They should be able to love books *and* TV, computer games *and* playing outside. But because you have put these things in competition with one another, they have to choose — so they end up rejecting the very things you want them to embrace.

When you force your child’s interests into the sliver, you are denying them the opportunity to get good at what they care about. You are denying them the chance to relax and enjoy themselves. And you are saying, flat out, “I don’t care about this thing you like. I don’t like it.” That’s a path toward having them not talk to you about it anymore. You are forcing them away from you just when you should be pulling them close.

If they love Minecraft or playing a video or computer game, they can’t accomplish anything in a tiny slice of time. The way these games work, it usually takes a lot of time just to learn how to play and then it takes a lot of time to slowly progress to mastery. The games make you put in the time; they don’t let you jump straight to the fun part. And the kids are willing to do the work — but if they don’t have enough time, they can’t do the work.

It takes a lot of time to understand, grasp new concepts, figure out rules, learn, practice, and master. Kids whose screen time is limited are living in constant frustration because they can’t build their skills, they can’t watch the YouTube tutorials another kid made, they can’t learn what they want to learn, and they can never relax while doing the thing they enjoy most because they always have one nervous eye on the clock. They can’t experiment, they can’t explore, and they can’t practice — and those are the key steps of learning that you want them to experience, even when it’s doing something you yourself aren’t interested in.

Some parents say they’re really frustrated because their child seems to spend all of their available screen time watching *other* kids play — and they’re tempted to reduce the amount of computer time even more. But watching others is a crucial step in learning. What’s the fastest way to learn to ride a bike — reading a booklet about it or watching someone else ride? Plus, watching tutorials and watching friends play are community aspects; that observation helps them learn how to teach and mentor, how to collaborate and socialize. If you only get X minutes a day and you really want to learn, you are going to forgo playing yourself in order to try to cram in more learning time — and learning requires observing. So cutting back on their computer time actually forces them to do less hands-on experimentation. Learning by doing takes a lot of time, and they just don’t have that luxury.

One of our higher goals as parents should be to help our children become independent — not just physically, but intellectually. If we reject their interests because they seem stupid or because we don’t understand them or enjoy them ourselves, we are rejecting our kids themselves. Do you remember what you liked when you were 11? I’m pretty sure that’s the summer I played Monopoly nine hours a day, six days a week. On the one hand, it was very sedentary. On the other hand, I do own some real estate now. I haven’t built a hotel yet, but don’t count me out. I also watched a lot of “Love Boat” that year. Yet I still managed to start a company, open a school, and write a book. If “Love Boat” can’t kill your intellect, believe me, nothing can.

In our home, we limited screens naturally when our children were little by having a routine that just didn’t include them. When they got older, we employed generous limits. We didn’t use screens for entertainment (our family word for this is actually “sloth”) until 3:00, which made their morning and early afternoon the focus of project work and play. As they got even older, we shifted that time to 2:00, but we also allowed computer use for project-related work because the boys were now researching independently, making films, writing books, and so on.

During the day, we worked on projects, played outside, read, played LEGO, took photographs, made art, and all the other good things. The kids never watched the clock; they never dropped a book or a squirt gun to dash to a computer or a TV set. They experienced balance and they enjoyed everything they did. There was no competition between computers and nature or between books and TV. Screens were fun, but the kids never riveted on them because there was no need to. If they wanted to get to level 47 of some game, they had plenty of time to do that. Employing generous limits means you have plenty of time. You don’t worry — there’s no urgency. You aren’t hyper-focused on it, and your mind is free to focus on and enjoy other things. And we made sure they had plenty of other things to focus on.

We need to shift from a scarcity model (there’s very little time for you to do those things you love to do) to an abundance model (there’s plenty of time for us to do all the good things, including that stuff you love to do).

You can’t really fix the sliver problem by, say, making the sliver a little bigger. It really takes a complete flip-flop. You have to stop curtailing what your child loves and instead focus on building a routine and a family culture around the things you believe are most important. Get those things in there — do them every day. But if you want your child to see them, appreciate them, and relax enough to enjoy them, think about getting rid of the sliver.

See also:

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 1

Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids’ Screen Time, Part 2

Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 3, 2013 at 08:38 AM

Welcome to Friday! Hope everyone had a great week. Here are the links I shared on Facebook this week (and some extra material as usual) with *bonus insightful comments*!

We spend a lot of time in the forum and in the PBH for Grown-Ups series talking about goals: how to set them, how to break them down, and then how to keep them. We talk about taking real baby steps — and in the forum, we have a thread where we support one another to set and work on monthly goals. An important theme is always — just keep going. Don’t give up. Any progress at all is better than no progress! So I liked this post about the marathon shuffle:

“The essence of the marathon shuffle is that, no matter how daunting it feels to add miles to your training runs, it’s entirely doable if you just keep shuffling out mile after mile.

And that is precisely what I kept top of mind throughout the training program, and all the way through that first race.

Just keep moving.

No need to sprint. Just keep shuffling forward.” — Too hard to sprint at your goals? “Marathon shuffle” at them instead

I used to have a handmade sign hanging on my computer right in front of my face: “Forge Ahead.” No matter how bad things get, no matter how slow you go, just keep going. As Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I haven’t shared the following post on FB, but I keep sending people the link to underscore this point, so I’ll share it here:

[W]hen we consider our actions, often it’s true that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior. — Gretchen Rubin’s “One Coin Argument”

This hearkens back to the story of the two men who were asked about their work at a construction site: the first said, “I am laying bricks”; the second said, “I am building a cathedral.” Keep your focus on the cathedral you’re building — every brick counts!

Loved this old post by Rachel at Small Notebook about setting compelling goals. If you’ve doing some experimenting (by which I mean trying and failing) with goal-setting, you know they can be too small, too cloudy and undefined, and definitely too large and unwieldy. Compelling goals that are deeply meaningful can tap into our inner motivation:

Want a different life? Here’s how to do it:

Those things you’ve been calling dreams? Start calling those your goals.

And those things that you’ve been calling goals? Those are more like New Year’s resolutions: good for your health, but not quite compelling enough. You need bigger goals, captivating ones, audacious goals. The kind you’ll have to take risks for. In Search for Compelling Goals @ Small Notebook

It’s scary to set big goals. But the people most likely to achieve big things are the ones who were brave enough (or crazy enough — probably a combination of the two) to attempt them in the first place. Speaking of which, this short video is definitely worth your time. In it, Roman Krznaric talks about how to find fulfilling work. I pulled out this short quote he referenced, and I think it speaks to the argument about whether you should pursue passion or just work hard:

“For the first time in the human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work. We would be mad to miss the chance.” — Charles Handy

Hear hear. (Want to read more about the kickback against passion? Try this post: Why Skills Don’t Trump Passion. You can also check out last week’s link round-up.)

Roman talks about five strategies for finding work that is meaningful and fulfilling, which he defines as something you care about and something you’re good at. I’d say that’s at the heart of PBH.

Speaking of which, I shared a post about learners as entrepreneurs, which as you know is a favorite topic of mine:

“To cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents is much more than adding an entrepreneurship course or program to the curriculum. It requires a paradigm shift — from employee-oriented education to entrepreneur-oriented education, from prescribing children’s education to supporting their learning, and from reducing human diversity to a few employable skills to enhancing individual talents.” — Learners as Entrepreneurs @ User Generated Education

Read my posts about raising entrepreneurs here: Entrepreneurship. Whatever you want to call the shift that is happening in our work world — freelance economy, gig economy — it seems clear that we need to prepare our kids to make their own jobs. Personally, I want to make sure my kids are prepared to both compete for a regular job they want *and* make their own job. Statistically, they will change jobs often, and we already know our career plans don’t always pan out. So I don’t think you can skip these crucial skills, even if your kid is sure he or she is set on “normal” employment.

This post is a little scattered and crams a lot into a small space, but there are some good, deep ideas there worth pondering:

How do we find our authenticity with all of the many influences in our lives pulling us in different directions? One approach is to identify and make your own “authentic connections” with the people, places, activities or memories we relate to so deeply that they empower us to be more authentic.” — Authentic Connections and Growing Your Creative Confidence @ Forbes

Good thing to think about: authenticity. “Authentic” is a word that would loom large in the word cloud for PBH. Why? Because everything about PBH is about trying to make the learning experience more real, more learner-specific, and more relevant. I think we should be drilling deeper in every area of our lives to reach authenticity.

Another good thing to think about: self-efficacy. Another key part of PBH: having the *authentic* self-confidence that you can achieve what you are setting out to do. This ties back into goals — heck, it ties to everything. We’ll talk more about this in the future.

Okay, so some specific PBH-related goodness for this week — I shared this quote on FB, and it’s about leadership in business, but I want you to think about it in terms of mentoring your children to become self-directed learners:

“[I]t all starts with listening, turning our attention fully to the person we are with. It’s not just leaders, of course. We’re all besieged by distractions, falling behind on our to-do lists, multi-tasking.

A classic study of doctors and patients asked people in the physician’s waiting room how many questions they had for their doctor. The average was around four. The number of questions they actually asked during that visit with their doctor turned out to be about one-and-a-half. The reason? Once the patient started talking, an average of 16 seconds or so the doctor would cut them off and take over the conversation.

That’s a good analog for what happens … everywhere. We’re too busy (we think) to take the time to listen fully.” — Curing the Common Cold of Leadership: Poor Listening

We are leaders in our homes, and if we want to really mentor our children, we have to learn to stop, pay attention, and really listen. Good stuff.

Abbey shared a beautiful post about her five-year-old son’s foray into project-based homeschooling building a model of a Roman aqueduct:

“He got frustrated. … This frustration led to the most stunning moment of all, when he decided to build supports for the lower end of the aqueduct. …

I was sure [his plan] wouldn’t work. The pipecleaners were bendy…how were they going to support the weight of the wooden balls? When he tried it, though, I was surprised to see that although the pipecleaners buckled under the weight as the balls rolled down the chute, they popped back up again. The bendy pipecleaners made his design flexible where mine would have been rigid. His idea worked better than mine would have.” — Water Beads, II: Roman aqueducts and project-based learning @ Surviving Our Blessings

So much good stuff there, I want to just include the whole post — be sure to click over and check it out. This is the process *every* adult goes through when they support children to make their own ideas happen: the struggle to let go, the amazement when you see authentic learning happening. Authentic! This kind of learning is so much richer, deeper, and longer lasting than prescribed education. They own it. They know it. They will never forget it.

I hope you’re checking out the projects on the new PBH Kids blog. I got a great e-mail from a dad saying he was blown away and now is interested himself in helping his kids do more self-directed learning. We have the chance to inspire other kids *and* their parents — so let me know if you have some self-directed work to share!

Finally, I’m going to share a couple of inspiring quotes from the PBH forum. If you are interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling and sharing your exploration with other like-minded parents, join us. So much good stuff happening, good discussion, sharing, encouraging, and just all-around support.

We are not deeply involved in any projects that seem scholarly, but the play the girls have been involved in is intense and lasts for days. They’ve built a huge train track and have houses all around. Even their arguments are based on scenarios of what could happen where they are thinking through situations and using their imaginations for imaginary problem solving.
Play is how children learn! And if this doesn’t inspire you, nothing will:
I’ve been seeing things through fresh eyes again. Before breakfast, I grabbed a cardboard Top Ramen box I was going to throw out, and started sorting out our neglected craft box. I kept big ‘materials’ in that box, and transferred crafting ‘tools’ into the cardboard box — glue, pencils, scissors, rulers, thread spools, markers, etc. I sat this out for the kids and they were so excited! I also noticed that they were able to sort things, find things, AND put them back on their own today! No more ‘mom, where’s the glue?’ or ‘I can’t find my scissors!’
Also, today was our first official focused project day. It turned out great, and the kids were churning out more and more projects after they were finished. Our son, who only seems interested in video games, has been filling his new ‘project notebook’ with ideas! On a walk to the store today, I brought my first-ever mini notebook to jot down ideas as the kids mention them, and he actually said ‘Mom! Get your notebook back out! I have an idea!’
...all for our FIRST DAY... 

It doesn’t get any better than that! Have a great week, everybody!


Be a part of the PBH community. Project-Based Homeschooling isn’t for only one kind of homeschooler — whether you’re a classicist or a radical unschooler or somewhere in-between, all kids deserve some time to direct and manage their own learning while pursuing their deepest interests. Read the posts on project-based homeschooling. Check out the book. Look over the 10 steps to getting started with PBH. Join the forum. Chat with me on twitter. Follow me on facebook. See my pinterest boards on learning, authentic art, play, and more. Come make friends, get some new ideas, and brainstorm about your challenges.

“You want to build a family culture that celebrates and supports meaningful work. This is much more than saying the right thing — this is creating a lifestyle, a set of articulated beliefs, and a  daily routine that encourage and sustain the life you want for your family.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

“I’m especially grateful for the shared experiences, questions, and suggestions in this forum. Already I have been able to think more creatively about some of our dilemmas and I think the idea of a tribe of families working on this makes it so much more interesting to me.” — from the PBH forum