deep thoughts

No one’s going to DIY that for you, sweetheart

Published by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2015 at 01:15 PM

It’s called DIY for a reason.

Wired published a story Homeschooling Only Deepens Silicon Valley’s Rift with the Rest of Us and I responded with the following rant on Twitter:

 

I love kids and I love great educators and I want great schools for ALL kids. But anyone who thinks it’s easy — or even doable — for one family or even a group of families to waltz in and disrupt their local school is … incorrect.

If I had the power to walk into my local school and change how they are doing things to how *I* think things should be done … gosh, just think of it. I bet they’d welcome me with open arms. They’d get out the red pen and start changing their schedule right then and there to accommodate my ideas.

But of course it doesn’t work that way.

To say that homeschooling parents are terribly selfish for just leaving and doing what they think is best for their own kids (a song homeschooling parents have been hearing from the very beginning) is to overlook the fact that schooling parents are just as selfish every time they

- sign their kids up for an extracurricular activity,

- move to a better neighborhood,

- hire a tutor,

- buy an educational app or book or film,

- help their kids with their homework,

and on and on and on. Not EVERY child has those benefits. Should you do for your child what you aren’t willing to do for society?

Please do not assume that just because people homeschool, they don’t contribute to the public schools or to all kids. You have no idea whether they volunteer, tutor, help out a teacher friend, buy school supplies, or offer to do free trainings and workshops. You know nothing about what they’re doing for all kids.

What you do know is what YOU are doing. Are you advocating for change? Are you in there demanding whatever it is you want? Are you rallying other parents to the cause?

Or, how about this: Are you asking your local school what they need? Do you know the average teacher spends at least $500.00 every school year buying materials out of his or her own pocket? Do you know they don’t just buy art supplies but soap and paper towels?

Whatever it is you’re doing, start there. DIY it. Be a self-directed learner. Educate yourself. Then decide what you want to do with what you learned.

If you believe with all your heart that I have the power to change your child’s education, that means you have the power, too. Use it.

Does what I do make a difference to anybody?

Published by Lori Pickert on January 27, 2015 at 10:19 AM
 
I was going to share this on Facebook but decided I wanted a permanent place on the blog for it, so I can reference it again and again.
 
Think of this applied to school — and then to family.
 
 
Max De Pree’s Twelve Questions to Leaders
 
Does what I do count?
 
Does what I do make a difference to anybody?
 
Why should I come here?
 
Can I be somebody here?
 
Is there for me any rhyme or reason here?
 
Can I “own” this place?
 
Do I have any rights?
 
Does coming here add any richness to my life?
 
Is this a place where I can learn something?
 
Would I show this place to my family — or am I embarrassed to show it to them — or does it just not matter?
 
Is there anybody here I can trust?
 
Is this place open to my influence?
 

One weekend you run into a friend who asks you how your holiday season is going and you think about the kid with the never-ending cold, the house that’s a mess, the decorations you haven’t managed to put up yet and the gifts you haven’t even thought about much less purchased, and you say, “Oh, it’s good. How about yours?”

And they tell you about taking the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and it’s a lot of work but you only get one childhood, right?, besides it’s a weekend they’ll never forget and after they leave the coffee shop you go outside and tap your head slowly on a brick wall for a few minutes.

The following weekend you run into a different friend at the same coffee shop and you’re feeling chuffed about all you accomplished during the week and when they ask how your holiday season is going you say terrific, in fact, you may take the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and they smile in the way you imagine they would smile at someone going into surgery and pat your arm and say, “That’s nice, but we prefer a season that’s more *meaningful*, you know? Today we’re going to play in the snow, have hot chocolate, and then make handmade cards for the nursing home. But I guess a commercial holiday is fun, too!” And after they leave you go outside to your special wall.

There are a lot of measuring sticks for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, summer vacations — and education, too. The variety is wide enough that you can always find that special measuring stick that makes you look like you’re failing miserably.

This is one reason why people tend to clump up with others who are making similar choices — because then it’s *standardized testing*. You can concentrate on one measuring stick and put all your effort into being the most Waldorf-y you you can be.

FOMO is everywhere this time of year, making you feel like no matter what you choose, you’re blowing it somewhere else. So this is just me popping in to say the competitiveness of “you’re not doing enough”/”you’re doing too much”/“you’re doing the wrong thing” is for suckers. Forget the impossible-to-find sweet spot and instead of being hard on yourself and those around you, prioritize and relax. Pick the thing you really want to do and do that. Do less so you can enjoy more.

 

*Note: There is a fantasy element to this post that imagines you got to go to the coffee shop alone two weekends in a row.

*The title of this post refers to George and Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. If you don’t have time to watch it this year, I forgive you.

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

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 limit the amount of time they can play so severely that 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 amount of 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 your child’s interests 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.

 

 

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 game 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.

 

Think about what you did right this year

Published by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2012 at 10:57 AM

I have a thing about goals, so I really like the New Year. I like the beginning of all the seasons. When things change over, it feels like a reboot. You can stop, reassess, make new plans, and so forth.

Onward!

The problem with resolutions is that they so often don’t pan out. It takes significant effort to really make a lasting change in your life. And failing again and again can make you feel like just giving up. Being inspired is nice, but action is tough.

But change really is possible. The way we go about it is often a waste of time and more harmful than helpful.

Don’t just think about what you don’t like about your life. Think about what you DO like — then figure out how to have more of it. Think about what’s working and how you can make that happen more often. Put your attention and focus on the thing you want to see more of. Feed your successes.

Think about smaller steps. It’s difficult to completely change from bad to good, but it’s possible to slowly build new habits. If you focus on one small thing at a time, failure will only send you bumping down one step instead of a whole flight of stairs.

Focus on positive goals, not negative goals. Instead of “stop,” “don’t,” and “no,” create goals that say “try,” “do,” and “prioritize.” Embrace the people, habits, and things that create good in your life. Adding more of them will automatically create less of what works against you.

The first step is believing that you can make the life that you want. If you want your children to build that life for themselves, you must believe that you can do it, too. If they see you living the life you want, they will know they can do it, too.

Posts about Goals and Resolutions:

Goals, goals, goals: Expectations vs. reality (Princess Bride edition)

Resolutions get a bad rap (The 5 resolutions that work for *everyone*)

Four ways to make a change — “The parts of your life that you value most deserve most of your attention and effort.” Believe it!

Do your children have time to develop creativity?

Published by Lori Pickert on July 30, 2012 at 09:24 AM

 

To put it simply, innovation isn’t rewarded in schools. Instead, it’s often punished. — Conformity Strangles Creativity

To be playful with ideas, you have to have enough time to have them, explore them, and combine them in new ways.

Riffing and trying new things require time.

If you only bake twice a year, you’re probably not going to experiment by throwing in a handful of craisins or a cup of sour cream just to see what happens. Because you bake so seldom, your tolerance for risk (for ruining your batch of cookies, say) is very low.

You don’t have the opportunity to experiment enough to develop a sense of what will probably work. You can’t take failures in stride because they factor so heavily compared to your total amount of baking. One failure means half your baking this year was wasted.

If you bake all the time, these problems disappear. Your failures aren’t statistically significant. You’ll just bake something else in a few days. You’re more confident because you have more experience — with success and with failure.

You have time to develop an instinct about flavors, about how things work together, about what usually works and what’s more of a crazy let’s-just-see-what-happens. Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” When you have more time to have ideas, you have more good ideas.

If you have enough opportunity to practice, you can roll with your failures or not-clear-winners — your successes outweigh your failures. And your skill improves steadily over time: both your foundational skill and your skill for experimenting and trying new things.

If you want to be good at something, if you want to develop talent for a thing, you need to do that thing as much as possible.

You’re not just developing your ability to be creative — you’re developing your tolerance for creativity. You’re creating a larger allowance for innovation.

If we want to help our children develop confidence in their own ideas, we have to help them by lowering the stakes so they’ll feel free to experiment. “When people hold back from taking risks, they miss opportunities.” Do your children have enough time to develop creativity? Without it, they won’t have the same opportunities.

 

Resolutions get a bad rap

Published by Lori Pickert on December 30, 2011 at 02:43 PM

It's that time of year when people either announce their resolutions for the new year, keep quiet and mull them over alone, or loudly denounce having them at all.

Personally, I am pro-resolution. After all, how often do we see meaningful change where the first step wasn't a firm resolve to see that change occur?

In that spirit:

Resolution 1: It's not all or nothing.

Resolution 2: Break it down.

Resolution 3: Take real baby steps.

Resolution 4: Use the upward spiral.

Resolution 5: Quit.

What you risk

Published by Lori Pickert on December 18, 2011 at 02:52 PM

What you risk reveals what you value. — Jeanette Winterson

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