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Our home education superpower

Newsletter · Jan 25, 2021

Hello! What a week.

We’ve got a very teethie (that’s definitely a word) little girl over here, and so sleep has officially left our home. We’d been getting into a nice daily rhythm to start the year, but over the past few days that’s completely gone out the window.

The timing of a week like I’ve just had was handy, because a theme that came through in a couple of your questions this week – and my answers to them – was time, and how we should be spending it. And as much as I passionately advocate for the intentional investment of it wherever we can, I also believe it’s important to slow down when life needs you to.

Chasing passions, learning new things, practicing what we’re good at, helping others…all those things are wonderful, and important, and life-giving. But sometimes, sometimes…you just need to stop.

As you read through this week’s questions, take on board some of that pressure to consciously invest your family’s time each day. But at the same time, know when – and give yourself permission – to release it all and just let it flow.

If that’s you this week, I’m right there with you.

(though, I really need to practice that letting go thing)

Your Questions & Answers

We are a homeschool family of forever… my girls have never stepped foot into the door of a school. And we don’t plan too.. We all love it. We are very eclectic, some days they want to work out of work books other days we spend the day making slimes and painting.. or baking, reading stories, writing their own books, playing instruments.. building with scrap wood, cleaning, you name it.. the list goes on.. other days we just play.. my girls love it and they’re such smart little cookies.. but our neighbors have started getting much nosier about our lifestyle… and noticing it much more now that they’re getting older.. their kids are telling my girls they should be in school, that it’s fun, and telling them homeschool kids are lame, and stupid, yada yada.. mean kids stuff.. that I don’t want to take part of.. and don’t want my kids involved with.. the neighbor kids are most likely being fed by the parents.

I have moms or grandmas that drive by (not even sure where they live) and ask why they’re not in school.. or that they saw me out walking with them and then proceeded to ask that uncalled for Q.. sometimes occasionally it’s a “oh good for you sweetie” other times it’s a “oh honey they need to be in school to learn and socialize” or “don’t you think they’re better off in school” and even a neighbor on our street talks about us to other neighbors for not having them in school.. mostly because she sees us out walking, or playing, or in the woods goofing off.. or you know, learning to ride bikes, scooters, rollerblades, skateboards, off paddle boarding, using our home garage as a gymnastics room, whatever the kiddos interests are at that time.. she insists they need a proper education and won’t thrive in that life style and once I do “need “ them in school, that they’re going to be so behind.. and it just boggles my mind that people would even say these things..

What do I say to these people?! I mostly react in shock that neighbors would even think this way.. my husband says it’s jealousy.. my girls are so smart and kind and here people are treating them so incredibly different simply because we have chosen a path they don’t agree with…

I feel you, Cheyenne! Not every home educating family has to swim against such a strong current of opinion (it’s definitely a more accepted path in some places than others), but it would comfortably be this way – globally – for more families than not. And while it can be incredibly challenging, it’s also an opportunity.

See, I don’t think people react this way because they’re jealous. Not most people, anyway.

I think it’s because they just don’t understand the good parts of this way of life. They’re carrying all the ‘normal’ perceptions of home education, and through that lens…they’re right to be concerned. Home educated children lack social skills, won’t be taught to a high enough standard, will struggle to find their place in the real world when they grow up…the list goes on.

When you add in that many people see the taking of a different path as a direct challenge to their own choices, you end up with an incredibly strong, almost allergic reaction to the concept of home education.

We can’t fix that second bit, but we can do something about the first. Those common perceptions are categorically (for most home educating families, anyway) false. You know that. I know that. But most people don’t.

I don’t think you’ll convince the people around you, through general conversation, that the path you’re taking with your daughters is a positive one. Those opinions are just too deeply and strongly held. So, my advice would be to use a clear but surface level line if you ever find yourself in conversation. Some variation of:

“We put a lot of time into researching different education options, and decided that – for our daughters – home education would suit us best. And we’re loving it!”

Then, when you get specific questions about socialisation, and teaching and learning, and future careers, just say something like “Oh, most of those things are just myths, really – we looked into all that before we started, and realised we didn’t need to worry about any of it.”

Then, get back to living that amazing life with your daughters, because that is the thing that will change those perceptions. If enough of us are out there living happy, balanced, fulfilled lives, then eventually – eventually – that current of perception will start to shift.

If someone is open to a real, genuine conversation about any of those things, dive in. Otherwise, keep it light and let your actions do the talking instead.

Issy, we are a baby unschooling family, just two months in, and I’m feeling a little lost.

I have three boys–a 16 year old and 3 year old twins. Over the last several years my heart has moved away from traditional school as my oldest son was getting absolutely no joy from school, and I could feel us both yearning for more. Together, we made the decision to take a leap into unschooling. So far, we’ve been deschooling but I think we are both feeling like, “what happens now?”

Did I start too late with my 16 year old? How do we spark some interests when we don’t really leave the house due to a pandemic? Did my 16 year old trick me into a life of him playing video games all day? (Kidding, but, did he?! ?)

I just don’t know if I’m missing some essential next step. I imagine this is a question that comes up a lot for families after a shift from traditional school, NOW WHAT?

Thanks Issy. Your words have been invaluable to me.
Liz B

Hey Liz! I don’t think 16 is too late at all.

In fact, I think it’s a stage of life filllllled with possibility – and that’s the part you should focus on. I always liken the role of the home educating parent to a sports coach – standing in front of us is this human brimming with passion and potential, and it’s our job to draw that out.

As a starting point – and this isn’t always a popular opinion in unschooling circles, but I stand by it – I would take most of the distraction of video games away. They can be amazing – they teach us to problem solve, they develop our fine motor skills and coordination, they can improve our concentration and memory recall, they’re an outlet for stress…there are a heap of benefits to gaming.

But they’re also incredibly addictive, and have been built to be so. If we’re not intentional about our use of them, they will consume more of our time than we might be comfortable with if we were conscious of it. For that reason, I will always advocate for a balanced approach to time spent in that world. Perhaps you can both agree to an hour of gaming each day? Whatever you decide, just be intentional about it.

With that expectation set, sit down with your 16 year old and make a plan together for the investment of his time – because that’s the superpower this home educating path has given you. If he put his mind to it, with so much time available to him, what could he achieve by the end of 2021? What is he good at that he could do more of? What would he like to get better at? What skills does he have that he’d like to build on? What new skills would he like to learn? The pandemic has narrowed some of how we can get out and experience and express all that, yes, but we can still research, and discover, and read, and listen, and think, and practice, and learn…

Map out a plan, together, of self-development. And then encourage, guide and coach your son to make sure a good chunk of his time each day is spent there.

Now, go unleash his superpower.

Minecraft?! I find value in it, but I’m just looking to see someone else’s opinion…

Do you feel like this could be a passion, an area we could/should dig deeper into? I want to “interview” my 7 yr old son to work with him to plan his days to value his interests. But, I know when I ask he’s going to say “Minecraft” & “lego video games,” etc. He’s at the age where I think he can dive deeper, but at the moment, I haven’t witnessed anything he lights up over more that the games he plays for a tiny portion of his day (besides the audiobooks he listens to on repeat— Harry Potter & Land of Stories). Personally, I can’t see him sitting on the iPad all day— it causes a lot of conflicts and issues for him and his younger sisters (as well as me), which I’ve talked to him about those concerns. Thoughts?? Thanks so much!!

Well played, Aubrey – this is the perfect follow-on from Liz’s question.

In short – yes, I absolutely see value in Minecraft, and it will always make the list of games I recommend kids spend some time in. It is incredibly deep and rich. It offers the chance to be creative, to solve problems, to collaborate, to make plans and then execute on them. It can help children learn to read and write, develop foundational math skills without even realising it, and understand the basics of programming. The list of cool things that come out of a game like Minecraft is long and varied.

The challenge for us as parents (and I go back to my coaching analogy here) is to build on the skills they’re discovering and learning in Minecraft. For example, if your son loves the programming aspects of Minecraft (like redstone circuits) you might help him reinvest some of his time into a visual coding language like Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/). If he enjoys creating narratives with his character, you might expand that to making Minecraft comic strips or stop-motion movies. If he’s into building super complex constructions, get him blueprinting those on paper or with lego. Get out some Minecraft fiction from the library as bedtime reading.

Basically, use his Minecraft time to inspire other forms of play that tap into the same interests.

But at 7 years old, your coaching angle should also be one of fresh discovery – because unless you actively expand it, his sphere of interest will stay relatively tight. Introduce your son to all sorts of different things, because neither of you know – yet – what might be out there that lights him up as much as Minecraft does. Go to the library and get out books on everything. Pour over them together. Watch documentaries and Youtube videos on everything. Listen to podcasts on everything. Introduce a musical instrument (or even just different types of music). Bake. Plant something together. Give him something to take apart. Give him something to fix or build. Discover a new language together (using something like Duolingo: https://www.duolingo.com/). Introduce him to different types of dance, or sports. Talk to an astronaut (https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/stem-on-station/downlinks.html). When he shows an interest in something, take another step down that path together. Then another.

Find things that stick.

By choosing home education you’ve taken back a heap of time that would otherwise be spent in a classroom, and it’s important our children start understanding how powerful that is as soon as they’re able to.

Time is our most valuable currency, and you’ve given your son a massive life deposit.

Help him invest it wisely.

Thanks for reading 🙂


Issy Butson, aka Stark Raving Dad. Author of The Grandparent's Guide to Home Schooling

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