Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Permission to Fail

As I look back over 2015 and ahead into 2016, I'm looking for ways to improve our homeschool. Not really resolutions, since I don't set New Year's resolutions. But, it is a prime time to reflect on what I want to fill my children's life with. There are two areas I plan to focus on this year: failure and curiosity. 

I noticed some of my children avoid situations where failure is a possibility. They put themselves in a box, never branching out beyond their comfort zones. They want to master a task before they've even delved into the task. We all like a sure thing. But, I want my children to fail. Failure is a wonderful learning opportunity. It reveals more about who we are and what we're made of than succeeding. I want my children to learn the art of failure. It took me a long time to understand the concept of there's more to learn from a hard earned "C" than an easy "A."

 I often ask my children if they're watching TV the dumb way. Are you taking in whatever is thrown at you without analyzing the  intent? Or are you asking questions, looking for the message?Just like you can watch TV the smart way, you can fail the smart way. Listen to the message failure is telling you.

Experiencing failure helps us set realistic goals. Maybe your initial goal was too big. Can you break your goal into manageable steps? Instead of chucking your career, withdrawing all your money from the bank, and plunging into a new restaurant, could you start by catering or having a lunch truck in the business district? Rarely is it all or nothing. Do I really need to quit my full-time day job or can I consult in the evenings or weekends, slowly building my clientele? This way failure is manageable and you're able to regroup for the next move. You don't have to dramatically lose your home or go bankruptcy to learn from failure. Stepping out always involves the risk of failure, but don't risk more than you or your family can afford to lose.

Experiencing failure keeps perfectionism at bay. Perfectionism is often a cover for fear of failure. I  am a perfectionist. I keep working on an idea or project, trying to reach some unattainable standard, until ultimately it's deemed unacceptable. So, I choose not to participate at all. Perfection is an illusion. I want my children to know perfection is not the goal, you can't play if you're not even in the game. Surprisingly, Kobe Bryant has set records for both career field goal misses and points scored. So, keep taking those shots. To make a lot, you have to shoot a lot. Check out Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan. You'll find the same thing.

Experiencing failure helps us find our interests. Once many moons ago I decided to praise dance. Just so we're clear, I'm pretty rhythm challenged. Practices went well. I had every move until the night of the performance. I was hoping for some supernatural, out of body experience. But, alas, it was just me up there. I missed the opening and from that point I was like a deer in headlights. I never did sync up with the group.  I learned that dancing is not something I enjoy doing in front of people, nor is singing. I tried singing on the choir and the person standing next to me asked if she could move somewhere else. In all honesty, it was necessary. It doesn't mean I quit singing, but maybe I just need to keep in the shower and not in front of an audience. I can focus my attention on areas that bring me joy.

Experiencing failure builds resiliency. The life well lived is a life of engagement. We have to jump into the fray and get dirty. When we fail we know we've taken a risk. We learn to adapt, and hopefully come away wiser and stronger. Failure doesn't equal defeat. As the song says, we fall down, but we get up again. More than just getting back up, we get back into the action. We're able to face bigger and bigger obstacles.

Experiencing failure lets you know you're challenging yourself. My son asked in a surprised voice, "You mean you want us to fail?" I explained failure lets him know he's challenged himself. It tells him his limits, his strengths, and areas to improve. It tells him he's human. Yeah, he wants everything to come easily, but that's not real life. I'm not saying fail all the time, but we can't succeed all the time either.

I want my children to fail often. Take chances, but do it responsibly and wisely. The best innovations have resulted from periods of failing. Failing teaches us what doesn't work, or it just might lead to new creations. Test out that idea. Learn a new sport or instrument. Failure is not the end of a task, but an opportunity for a brand new beginning. You have my permission to fail. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Friend Indeed

I've written about finding your tribe, those group of likeminded people to encourage and walk with you through this homeschool journey. If you're having difficulty finding a group, think smaller. I encourage you to find at least one friend you can share the ups and downs of homeschooling. Life is joyous. Share those accomplishments, trophies, gifts, and talents. Life is hard. Relocation, unemployment, financial troubles, divorce, death, and sickness hit all of us.
 "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." Helen Keller (
Since moving to Virginia almost four years ago, we've really connected with two families in particular. These two moms keep me grounded when I lose focus of our homeschool goals. Their children provide my children with hours of playing and talking. I feel reenergized and ready to tackle the day after speaking or hanging out with them. One mom is better than google. She knows a bit about every resource, local activities, and can connect you with the appropriate people. The other, I call the "child whisperer." She has such an inspiring, patient manner with children that one has to simply stand back in wide-eyed wonder. They're the ones I talked to when I realized I needed to change our homeschool style. They're the ones who were upbeat and positive, telling me it might be good to change things up a bit. I waffle back and forth a lot, but they just listen. Plus, I'll make the trek into DC for them, and that doesn't happen for just anyone.

With friends like this, it seems natural that I've started to walk in the role of encouragement with new homeschoolers I'm meeting. I realize that I'm not accumulating all this knowledge and experience to sit on it. I want to share, so someone realizes homeschooling is doable and doesn't need to be complicated. Keeping it simple is my main objective.

 I recommend having three people in our lives when it comes to homeschooling. First, someone we admire, a mentor. She* has been where you are on your journey and openly shares her wisdom. You're not trying to duplicate this person's life, but she inspires you to step outside your comfort style or implement a great idea into your day. Also, you need someone you can just sit back and share your day to day homeschool experiences. You don't have to pretend that everything is okay, nor do you have to hide your child's exceptionalities. Surprisingly, not everyone understands when your three year is reading or if your ten year old isn't. Finally, consider mentoring someone else. More than likely, there's someone out there who can benefit for your experience and knowledge regardless of how limited you think it is.

Friends are especially critical for homeschoolers lacking family support, whether due to distance or philosophical differences. Consider,
"Friends are the siblings God never gave us." Mencius (brainy
We all desire a place to fit.
"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood." Lucius Annaeus Seneca (brainy
So, reach out to someone today in friendship.

* Substitute he/him if that's more appropriate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Putting Things in Perspective

This Thanksgiving break has forced me to reevaluate my idea of what it means to unschool, as well as the trust I place in my children to in some way understand their educational needs. Basically, my children informed that they're languishing and want more structured, outlined work. They have no problems with textbooks or curriculum. My children are pretty easy to plan for in this sense. My husband noted the kids seemed to need more than what was being provided. Note, we have internet, kits, crayons, games, books, musical instruments, video games, and art supplies. We have dance, football, swimming, the library, and field trips. But, they wanted more educational stimulus. My daughter told me it got a little old just focusing on her "likes"- reading and writing. Initially, math involved so much tension that we just needed to stop. Now, she's asking about finishing pre-algebra. Maybe this is the result of just letting her be. Her siblings display the same tendencies lately. A desire to push further ahead. She, along with her siblings, are on the path to recognizing their need for increased challenges. Guess, I needed to back off and give a little growing space.

 So, this is literally where the rubber meets the road. How much do I value their opinions, even when it opposes what I want to happen? My first thought, " I've failed them."  It felt as if I was giving up on the entire process. But, then I realized that was the old paradigm talking. Unschooling is not a goal or objective to be accomplished, but a philosophy. People repeatedly call it a lifestyle. It says learning never stops. My children learn what feels natural to them, whether the Pythagorean Theory or coding, when it make sense to them, thus it is not based on whether we use textbooks or curriculum. They have a desire to learn and actively seek out ways to increase their knowledge base. 

I tend to see things in black and white, fortunately, life is not that cut and dry. They still have their interests I outlined in a previous post, plus they literally asked for more work. This time has given them a chance to delve deeply into subjects, discover new hobbies, and time to just chill. Time is the key component here. They've had time to let information marinate, make connections, and initiated the process of defining what education looks like for each of them. Given time, I'm learning my children know when they are ready for more information. Also, they know when they're just breezing through everything.

Remember, there's no one way to unschool. This is what I keep getting caught up in. They'll still delve into topics of interest. They still have input on book choices. They have the ability to go as fast or slow as needed when covering material. There is no strict sequence, learning happens haphazardly at times. Plus, my eighth grader is starting the road to NCAA eligibility. He's set his goals high-Division I. I want all my ducks are in a row. It's not that we're giving unschooling up, but broadening our perspective of what it means to be an unschooler.