There are a lot of things we think we fail to do as parents because we want the best for our kids and some decisions we make don't end up working towards our family values. Many of those decisions sound great in theory, but when applied, we learn very quickly that they won't work for us as a whole. For us, that decision was to homeschool.
Despite over a year of studying homeschooling. Despite the hours of phone calls and interviews in trying to assess whether or not it was right for Max (5). Despite the three months, we tried to make it work, in the end, we all made the decision that public school was best for him. So this month, pushing all my worries and preaching aside, we sent him off to his first day of school.
The road leading up to this decision was a tough one. We had some deep conversations as a family and as parents around our options and really looked at what we all (individually) wanted to achieve in our lives. The kids wanted 'to play' and to be 'with friends', naturally a 4 and 5-year-old would want that. Us parents wanted to focus on serving the community. I realized very quickly that in spending daily 1-1 time with just one child, giving him my all, wasn't enough for me, and it certainly wasn't fulfilling to him.
The excitement of our big decision to homeschool died the moment we cracked open our first book at the dining room table. It was an odd feeling, as though someone told us we had won the lottery but the jackpot was only $2. Max and I both knew we needed more (truly an outstanding realization from a 5-year-old who managed to remind me so eloquently every day.) Though we were all properly set up with schedules, a fantastic curriculum and extracurricular activities planned, it didn't check out with us. The guilt set in immediately. So I turned to a dear friend of mine who had been homeschooling her kids for 12 years. She asked me a very important question: "What's your WHY in homeschooling your kids?"
I had listed several reasons why it was right for Max but failed largely at indicating why it was right for me or for the family. And so I did the exercise again to identify the big reason why I wanted to homeschool.
I felt like I needed more 1-1 time with Max. See, he was placed in daycare when he was only 5-weeks old. I hurried back to work after he was born because my business needed me and I had a variation of postpartum depression where I resented my own baby. Being at work was the easy part. #momguilt
I wanted to give him an environment of child lead learning. I feared that the school system would stifle his creativity and curiosity. The tight schedules, limited outdoor play, and the robotic-like manner in which the system predicates direct instruction (DI) made me nervous. Yes I am a product of the public school system and I turned out ok, but in these past 30 years, there have been numerous studies to show that we put our kids into school too early and that the system is antiquated. Essentially, the system is pumping out students that are prepared for a work world and society that existed 50 years ago.
I wanted him to have an enriched education that fed on his natural born talents. I wanted him to be exposed to things like entrepreneurship, having a growth mindset, adventure, leadership, critical thinking, time management, how to manage money, healthy eating, and learning from failure.
... and there were many other reasons. Some so negligible I dare not mention.
When I reflected on this list, I realized that the schools in our community would suffice in giving him a proper early education and that the rest of what Max needed was already being taught at home.
“When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete. When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers.” ~ Seth Godin, Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?
Setting the Right Example
The best education for our young children is the one they receive at home. Watching, trying, failing at the things they see us doing as parents set the foundation for their attitude and mindset. If we always play the victim, they will always play the victim. If we never try or always give up too soon, so will they. If we aren’t present, if we aren’t passionate about something, and if we don’t show affection, nor will they. While we think educating our children is tough, some of the most important lessons they learn are from our simple day to day interactions. I thought I was failing Max by sending him to school and not exposing him to these things. But we do this as a family every day anyway. Because we don't label it 'education' we sometimes forget that we are teaching our kids all the time. Every moment spent with them, is an opportunity to have them see and understand our world a little differently.
The parents or caregivers (ahem, you!) are the ones who seed your children with the real nuggets of wisdom they need to succeed as grown kids and adults. Living in a healthy environment (clean house, healthy foods, daily exercise, encouragement), having deep conversations (every day), asking about their interests, doing the things that interest them, are all opportunities to teach them and set the right examples. You can’t eat McDonald's and serve them steamed broccoli and expect them to be pleased with the outcome. You are the shining example first.
How to homeschool your schooled kids
Here are some of the things we do to teach our kids about entrepreneurship and in crafting a curious/critical thinking mind.
Entrepreneurship: Teaching your kids to have an entrepreneurial mindset is paramount for a successful future. Here is why: automation will kill jobs, but entrepreneurs will create more, innovation is needed which often comes from new businesses and ideas, entrepreneurship contributes to the economy, some of the richest people in the world are self-made, believe it or not, business ownership will become more secure than having a job. So, teaching your kids about entrepreneurship is important. Start by a) telling stories about the businesses that exist around you, b) teach them about how money circulates in the economy and why we pay taxes, why we invest, and how businesses grow, c) explain to them about ownership, d) teach them sales, e) ask them to solve problems and more of their own ones! and f) set up the right environment (make entrepreneurship the theme of your dinner time discussions, use it in play, etc)
Growth vs Fixed Mindset: If you haven't yet read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, it’s time to pick up a copy. It explains how a fixed mindset refuses to grow and views everything as an obstacle, not opportunity. Whereas a growth mindset is hungry to learn and can more easily pick up after falling down (read: failing). We need to push our kids a little outside of their comfort zone in order to maintain their mindset. See, kids are already born with a growth mindset. Ever watch a kid teach himself to walk, eat with a spoon, or even climb out of his crib for the first time? If he knew the potential painful or dirty consequences of those actions he wouldn’t try. Scraped knees and sticky fingers are signs of growth and it’s our duty as parents to help them perpetuate that risk-taking mindset.
Adventure [Nature]: This past spring my youngest son asked me to help him dig holes in our backyard. Weird request, but I went with it. All he wanted to do was dig. I thought to make this a little constructive and asked him to help me dig up an old tree trunk and while we did that, we discovered a black salamander. I had never seen anything like this before so I was (too) quite curious. It led us to examine it a little closer, then we headed over to the good old Google to learn more. Turns out it was a blue-spotted salamander. Well, that was enough to keep his little mind curious about what more he could find outside and so we set out on some daily adventures to uncover and discover things in nature.
Adventure [Travel]: Travelling with young kids is no easy task (check out my post on How to Fly with Toddlers), but it’s good for them. It’s good for them to get out of their routine, to discover new places, new foods, and to sleep/live in new cities. We take the boys with us as much as possible and have even spent a few winters away across four different time zones. They’ve attended different daycares, made new friends and even tested out having a nanny (that didn't work out well for us since we all work from home). All these different experiences so early on for them was a great way to test out their preferences and to teach them how to settle down in new places.
Leadership: Taking ownership when something goes wrong is what some of the best leaders do. Not only that, but great leaders also help encourage others and set the vision. To help your child achieve this level of leadership takes time and practice. If your child spills his cereal and milk gets everywhere, tell them that it’s ok (with a smile), but since they made the mess they have to clean it up. Encourage them by saying you’ll get them the ‘best absorbing towel in the house’. Making light of the situation, they’ll feel more confident the next time it happens and will likely start taking control of the cleanup themselves. If a toy gets broken and no one fesses up to the issue, teach them about accountability and that a true leader will admit their mistake and correct it as soon as possible. Kids love competitions, so if you make these little mistakes feel like an opportunity then you'll have mini-leaders growing up right before your eyes.
Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is to look at a problem with an open mind and consider all the alternative ways for a solution. Perfect example: tying a shoe. Most pre-schoolers and young kids aren’t able to do this yet so it causes a lot of confusion. But there are some ways to have your child assess and correct the situation themselves. It takes practice. First, have them ask questions about the situation so that can get more clarity. Second, ask them to state the facts, like they don’t know which loop goes where. Third, make sure their concerns are relevant to the issue. Is he frustrated because he can’t tie the knot, or is it because he didn’t get that extra cookie at lunchtime? Fourth discuss the logic behind the situation. And lastly, show and encourage empathy in the situation so that your child learns to be fair.
Time management: Setting a timer for everything! This may be a little OCD for some, but for us, it was a matter of organization (and sanity) in setting effective restrictions around screen time, bedtime routine and morning routine. For a 4-year-old, 10 minutes is something that is hard to ‘feel’ or understand. For 2-weeks, we set timers for only that amount of time so he learned how 10 minutes would feel. Once I thought he had the grasp of that time, I then set a timer for 5 minutes but called it 10 to see what he said. He figured it out pretty quickly as he knew what he could and couldn't do in that interval. Now when I set a timer for 2, 5, 10, or 20 minutes they know exactly how much time they have so can manage it more effectively (for the most part. My 5-year-old is still a lollygagger.)
How to manage money: There is so much content around this topic so I’ll just tell you what works for us [Read: A Simple Chore System for Pre-Schoolers.] We have a three jar system and a chore system worked out. The three jars (Save, share, spend) is used when they find change around the house or have earned it doing something extraordinary. Given the recent hurricane season and the damage it’s caused, our boys opted to take the money from both the share and save jar to give away to people who “broke their home.” - Noah. [Yeah, my mommy's heart sang when he did this all by himself.] The tactics and strategies will increasingly become more complex, but for little kids, just the basics are good enough for now.
Healthy eating: Simple yet so very difficult at the same time. The secret? Just don’t have crappy food in your house to begin with. We do meal prep like champs a couple times a week. After months of trial and error, we discovered the foods that we can all enjoy together (And are able to sneak greens into their meals without them blinking an eye. Woot!) Every time we eat something particular we will tell them the effects it has on our bodies. Chicken, for example, is high in protein so is good for our muscles. Broccoli has the same effect. We talk about how green foods keeps us regular and how some dairy is good for our bones. Sugar and fast food makes us unhealthy, tired and contributes to disease. Because we talk about it at most meals, they know it very well. [And they have joyfully named their muscles ‘broccoli muscles’ when they eat their greens.]
Learning from failure: Oh my favorite. When we pick the boys up from daycare one of the first questions we ask them is “What did you fail at today?” When they answer, we discuss how they overcame that failure. One time Noah said that he failed at putting on his car seat, but said he will “push harder on the buttons” next time. He already had the solution lined up in the event he found himself struggling again. Instill in your kid's heads that failing is ok. Sure it’s frustrating, but we all go through it and it’s one of the ultimate forms of growth.
Discuss your failures with them. When Max spilled his milk the other day trying to pour himself some cereal for the first time (a wobbly 2 Lt jug is heavy for those little broccoli muscles.) He got really upset and had a mini-episode. I went down to his level and said “Max, it’s ok. I do that all the time too! Sometimes my messes are bigger than yours. But I tried!” Show them that you aren’t perfect and, more importantly, show them that you just keep on trying.
Bonus! Storytelling: For young kids (0-5) narrate everything you see when you’re driving somewhere or doing something. This helps them get a better understanding of the things happening around them. For example, there is a new roundabout being built at the end of our street and the boys kept asking me why there were holes in the road. So I began a daily story about the roundabout and why they are constructing it and why it’s safer than an intersection. In my story, I used numbers to explain things (how many construction workers there were on site, how many temporary stop signs there were, etc), I talked about how long that type of construction takes (using days, weeks and months as examples), and what materials and tools were needed. Because we pass by it every day, they saw the progress happening, so all the mini-stories started to tie into each other.
There is so much to be said about homeschooling. I love the idea in theory. It works for many (some of my best friends homeschool their little ones and they are incredible little human beings.) But it’s not for everyone. For those who worry about the system, its curriculum, and potentially negligent schools or teachers, rest assured that most kids are better off in school. While it took us some time to accept that this our new normal, we came to terms with it knowing that our boys’ education was already being taught at home. Us parents are the leaders and the ones who set the best examples. Show them what YOU can do and they will follow.
If you require help in setting up family values, a family mission, and in finding your families why, please check out the guide: The Couples Retreat Playbook. In this guide, you will learn when and where to book your next couples retreat, how to schedule your time away, and even what to pack. More importantly, you’ll gain access to some helpful worksheets that will guide you through the process of completing an effective disconnected time away.