Reflections on a Homeschool Journey from 1987

I was homeschooled with my four younger siblings growing up, and now as a mother of five myself, I am contemplating homeschooling once again (as I do every year before sending the older ones off to school). My mom found her journal from when she was weighing out the pros and cons trying to decide whether or not to homeschool and typed it out for me. It is amazing for me to see that she was struggling with many of the same things that I am now. In the following guest post, I have added all italicized content and the rest is as my mom originally wrote it some 30 years ago.

By Guest Blogger Diane Napierkowski

Author Bio: Diane is a mother of five who home schooled her children and is passionate about learning, teaching, seeking the truth, living a healthy lifestyle, and spending time with her family. When not working as a Quality Engineer, she can be found supporting her husband in their family run fundraising business at Great Lakes Promotions.

Written December 1987

*My mom hand wrote the original list and then her and my dad went through it together starring the the most important points.

Family Photo 1987

Family Photo 1987

Homeschooling Pros

  • No peer pressure (parent pressure instead)
  • Able to get along with all ages
  • **More of our values
  • Already I feel ostracized at Bushnell
  • *Very much a family
  • Enjoying these years instead of enduring these years
  • *New nicer friends, friends who respect religious conviction
  • Easier vacations
  • More respect from kids
  • *Kids get to be kids
  • No Christmas compromise
  • *No Rock ‘n Roll on the bus
  • Less busy work
  • Less sickness
  • *Sickness won’t interfere with school
  • *Twins won’t miss the big kids
  • Won’t feel that someone else has control of our children
  • Less $ spent on clothes
  • Lots of fun!
  • *Field trips
  • **More excitement about parenting
  • Next kids esp.

Cons of Homeschooling

  • **Can I do it
  • **Can I do it well
  • *Less kids to play with
  • Ostracized by teachers if they return
  • Expensive
  • *No free time
  • *Hassles with family and friends
  • *Maybe new friends won’t like our religion
  • *Lunch-time and $
  • *Learning well already
  • Court case
  • Brethren reject
  • Less stylish clothes
  • Dad added: ***Is it the best use of our time, that is using the government (?) for the good it does and then adding our own good
  • May fear telling world about our religion

    pros and cons

    Homeschooling Pros and Cons Original List

The Decision to Homeschool

When I was in the middle of 2nd grade and Jarrod was in the middle of 1st, they pulled us out of public school to homeschool us. I ended up going back to public school in the 8th grade, my brother Jarrod went back in the 11th grade, and my three younger siblings, Andrea, Lisa, and David were homeschooled K-12.

More than anything, being homeschooled allowed us to follow our own passions. Sure we did our workbooks and mastered the necessary skills, but the majority of our days were spent engaged in creative and imaginative play, exploring nature, and pursuing our own interests. 

First Day of Homeschool: Jan 4, 1988

Wow! Was it scary! “Is the school going to call? What will the neighbors say? Russ? Mom? Can I do it? Do I want to?” I needed encouragement today. But Barb Welch is in California for the refresher. Rich calmed me down markedly yesterday afternoon. “Remember why we decided on this, Di? It was for good, sound reasons, well thought out. We have legal protection, etc.” I needed to be reminded of all of that. We worked hard and long. Flash cards, work books, 2 pages each book minimum. School zone book 1 pg. Jarrod. Stacey and Jarrod spelling words.

First Day of Homeschool

First Day of Homeschool

Family Photo 1988

Family Photo 1988

First Year of Homeschool: June, 1989

What about the cons? Yes, I can do it and do it very well! There are fewer children to play with, but it’s really special when they do come over. No problem with being ostracized if they return. The money is well spent and fun to spend! I have plenty of free time – they help out with the baby, twins, etc. Good kids. No hassles from family and friends. Very minor occasionally, but it doesn’t bother me. Money and time spent on lunch is no big deal. TV is no problem. Just hard, fast rules with few exceptions on TV and Atari. They are learning well now. Brethren don’t reject much. The kids do wear less stylish clothes. It is definitely the best use of our time. Our short comings surpass their strong points. Our religion just is. It’s not like we’re so different anymore.

What about the pros? 75% peer pressure gone. Definitely can blend in with all ages well. More of our values. No tug of war with school over whose kids they are (values, etc.) It is fun! We are very much a family. We are definitely enjoying these years. Jennifer Metskar – new good friend. Not many more. Kids are more respectful, polite. They are socializing and want to be cool still. Holidays don’t phase us at all. No bus ride. No busy work. Still get sick. Twins love them. No fear AT ALL that someone’s taking my kids away. LESS $ spent on clothes. Lots of fun. We need more field trips – Lansing, etc. Parenting is natural, what it was meant to be.

Family Photo 1989

Family Photo 1989

Homeschooling Goals for 1989-1991

  • Play the piano
  • Speak Spanish
  • Know all the countries, US States, capitals
  • Know the presidents
  • Do real well in math and enjoy it
  • Read avidly
  • Be into Church literature – studies, etc.
  • Be able to write stories (interesting), reports, letters
  • Get exercise, ride unicycle, water ski, snow ski
  • Be interested and self-motivated in science
  • Be very comfortable on computers
  • Type
Family Photo 1990

Family Photo 1990

Family Photo 1991

Family Photo 1991

Stacey Wants to Go Back to Public School (8th Grade): July 31, 1993

Pros of Going Back to Public School:

  • She wants to
  • More variety of involvement and education (pottery, woodshop, reports, sports, etc.)
  • Makes high school easier
  • More people
  • Easier to learn
  • Have a change to excel

Cons of Going Back to Public School:

  • Fear that she’ll go over the deep end (common sense, though, says she won’t)
  • Less free time
  • Mandatory learning
  • Not home until after 3
  • No sleeping in or up late
  • No after school sports
  • There are gangs
  • Lots of hallway kissing
  • Age in which most girls have sex
Family Photo 1993

Family Photo 1993

Update: Jan 25, 1995

Stacey’s in school – She has gotten into a “cool” attitude – disrespectful.

Family Photo 1995

Family Photo 1995

Update: Jan. 20, 2015

Stacey is considering homeschooling! I’m typing this up for her!! She’s a precious friend who uplifts me.

In Conclusion

So many of my young friends are asking me about my homeschool journey. It is so wonderful to see another generation of homeschool parents who are asking the same questions that I did. As time goes by, I feel even more happy about our decision to homeschool. A few doubts such as my inability to teach footnotes used to make me feel like a loser. Now I see that the greatest gift I could give my kids was to remove obstacles from them finding their own true norths. I think they each have.

*Read about my homeschooling pro and con list here.

Should We Homeschool Our Children? A List of Pros and Cons

When you have a lot of kids close in age, it can seem like the most natural thing in the world to homeschool them…especially if you are already a stay at home mom and a former teacher. Every year before school starts, I contemplate homeschooling my children, and this year is no different.

I’ve published this blog before, but I edit it every year and republish it to go over my list of pros and cons once again. This year is no exception. I currently have five children. Ruby will be going into 3rd grade (the grade I taught) and Elliot will be going into 1st grade. At home I have Ophelia, who is 4 years old, Julian, who is 2 years old, and Jack, who is 5 months old. This summer has been VERY busy with everyone home and a new baby, so I’m leaning towards sending the older ones to school so that I can focus on the younger ones who have had a hard time sharing attention with a new baby, but it’s still a good thought experiment to conduct nonetheless.

Pros of Homeschooling:

1. I would get to be with all of my kids as much as possible. They grow up so fast, and I want to be there for as many of the moments as I can.

2. I would know exactly how they spend their days. Whenever I ask Ruby and Elliot about their days at school, it’s like pulling teeth. I have to go through each subject and each time of day just to try to elicit the smallest response.

3. I am totally qualified to do this! Not only did I teach for 8 years and get my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis on Linguistics, but I loved it as well! In my heart and soul, I am a teacher. Who better to teach than my own children?

4. I could make sure they learn everything right the first time. When Ruby was in 1st grade, I noticed that she made a few of her letters in a really backwards and random fashion, and I was sad that I wasn’t the one to teach her how to write her letters. With Elliot, I did a more structured “homeschool preschool” approach and was able to work with him side by side every day to write his letters. If I were to homeschool, I would be by their side for everything they learn.

5. They could work at their own pace without competing with others. Ruby really struggles with timed math facts tests. The concept of a timed test caused her a lot of anxiety, and she freezes up when looking at the sea of numbers. At home, we work on the concept of addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. and find patterns in the numbers instead of just drilling random facts. If she were at home, I would be able to work with her as long as she needed in the areas where she struggles, and zoom through the areas she’s good in.

6. I could differentiate every subject as needed. Ruby is a very advanced reader, but she still spends just as much time as all of the other kids learning about phonics. Sure, she may have chapter books for homework, but there is a lot of wasted time in her day where she is “learning” things that are way too easy. At home, I could make sure that all subjects were in the zone of proximal development for all of my children.

7. I could choose my own resources. I would be able to pick and choose whichever resources seem exciting to me, and whatever I thought would meet the specific needs of each of my children. I could also tailor instruction to meet whatever passions each of my children expressed.

8. They would maintain their innocence. Teachers can only see and control so much. There are lots of things that happen in the classroom and on the playground where children are exposed to things like bullying, inappropriate language, boyfriend/girlfriend drama and so much more. They will experience it all eventually, but helping them to maintain their innocence at a young age is a precious thing.

9. They wouldn’t feel as much pressure to conform. School is meant to create cookie cutter kids. They set the bar at average and help all children to comply. Having children ONLY interact with children of their exact age is not reminiscent of the real world, and school creates this feeling that anyone who is different stands out and can be potentially ostracized.

10. We could accomplish way more in a day than is possible at school. With 28 kids in a classroom of varying abilities, transition times, lunch time, two recesses, busy work, behavior management, and so on, how much actual learning takes place? I know from experience (both being homeschooled and being a teacher) that the amount of actual learning in a 7 hour school day could easily be done in 2 hours at home. That would allow me to get through all of the standards and skills with plenty of time for free exploration, imagination games, outside time, crafts, field trips, and more!

11. Their tanks would be full of love. When Ruby and Elliot home from school, decompress, do their homework, play with her siblings, and have some choice time, there is very little time that we actually get to spend with them. What would life be like with all five kids are in school? How would we ever be able to fill all of their tanks with love? If they were at home with me all day, however, I could parcel out special one on one time for each child throughout the day.

12. They would learn from each other. Yes, there are varying abilities in any classroom, but in a homeschool environment with siblings ranging in age, the younger ones can learn from the older ones and the older ones can learn from teaching the younger ones.

13. They would learn more about life. In a big family, children can learn how to take care of babies, cook meals, keep the house clean, and work together. They could see how I manage the house on a daily basis, and I could teach them valuable life skills that would serve them when they are independent and on their own.

14. I’m here anyways! I am going to be home anyways with Jack for the next five years, so why not throw a few more kids into the mix while I can!

15. We could stay up late and sleep in. Even during the summer, we try to keep the same bedtime because the little ones need it, but there are occasions where we want to stay up late. Letting the kids sleep in until they naturally awake is a precious thing to make sure they are getting all of the sleep they can without any alarms.

16. We could take vacations whenever we wanted. Instead of worrying about the school schedule, we would be able to make vacation time happen whenever we wanted.

17. My heart always tells me to homeschool. In my heart of hearts, I keep feeling like it is what I should do, but then the cons start percolating in my mind, and I just can’t seem to make that decision.

Cons of Homeschooling:

1. Public school provides a big social scene. Ruby and Elliot love recess most of all because of the huge social aspect. When at school, they get to be a part of a big group with PE, music, concerts, group activities, field trips, and more. Sure we could find homeschool groups to join, but most of them are based in religion, and that is not what we are looking for.

2. School has introduced new things. In kindergarten, Ruby really took off with writing more than I was ever able to do with her at home. In 1st grade, she learned about Pixie 4 in her computer class, started reading chapter books, and got excited about taking care of the Earth or whatever else they were learning about. Elliot struggled socially at the beginning of kindergarten (he has TONS of energy and very little impulse control), but made nice growth in his behavior by the end of the year among other things.

3. Getting to school is a huge motivation to kick off the day. During the summer, it’s a struggle to even convince the kids to get dressed (Are we going anywhere? Is anyone coming over?), but when we have to be out the door at a certain time for school, they get dressed, eat breakfast, and brush their teeth and hair in record time.

4. Would I have enough time for everyone? Ruby likes to do a lot of intricate projects that require a lot of help from me. In doing these projects with her, I’m not able to spend as much time with the younger kids who need me too. I’m just worried that if I were to homeschool, there just wouldn’t be enough of me to go around.

5. One day our kids will be out in the world, shouldn’t we prepare them for it? Being independent, being autonomous, being on their own, learning how the world works…these are all things that public schools help to teach our children. How young do children need to learn this, however, and/or do they?

6. What about the long winters? In Michigan, the winters are looooooooong. It starts getting cold in October and doesn’t really warm up until June, so for 9 months out of the year, the weather is inclement and it takes great effort to go outside. Often times, we long for a mall or children’s museum on the weekends just to let the kids stretch their legs. Going to school allows for some activity to break up the monotony of winter.

7. It would cost money that we don’t have. We are already pretty strapped financially with five kids and a single income. How would we be able to provide all of the necessary materials to teach them properly? I’ve always dreamed that the $4,500 that is allocated for each of my children to attend public school could be rerouted to me, and then OH MAN could I ever do things right…but in reality, the best things in life are free, and with the Internet, library, and my imagination, I could probably conjure up just about everything I need.

8. When I was homeschooled, I missed the social interaction and wanted to go back to public school. When I was a child, I was homeschooled starting in the middle of 2nd grade. I was bored at school and loved the idea of staying home every day. But then, starting in 6th grade, I started to get bored at home and longed for something more. My mom finally let me go back when I was in 8th grade, but let me tell you, 8th grade is no walk in the park. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves and experienced a lot of bullying, peer pressure, and very little academic growth. Would I have done better if I had been in the system all along or would it have been better for me to never go back? That is the question that I always have when I reflect on my childhood, and it makes me think that it has to be all or nothing.

9. What if they complain? What if I work really hard to get materials, books, and supplies, set up a routine, and get everything all into place only to have them whine and complain about it? I imagine that I would just keep going back to the drawing board until I got it right, but it could be frustrating.

10. What if they spend too much time in front of a screen? I would have a pretty set routine that wouldn’t allow for too much screen time (like we do over the summer), but what if I’m up late in the night with little ones, or feeling sick, or have too many things piling up?

11. The kids don’t want to be homeschooled. Elliot is my sweet loving guy who cries sometimes when he has to go to school because he’ll miss me, but when I talk to him about homeschool, he says that he would rather go to public school. He LOVES being around all of the kids and so does Ruby. They love belonging to a community and being a part of something structured.

In Conclusion

I keep coming back to the idea of homeschooling because it seems like something I should want to do. But every year when I reflect on the idea, the cons seem to outweigh the pros. It’s probably because I always have a baby in my lap and so many little ones in diapers, and it makes me think that as they grow older and more independent, it could be the other way around.

We have actually decided to allow our children to go back to our local school (where they can ride the bus and thus save a 20 minute drive each way for drop off and pick up). We decided to switch schools originally (mid-year when Ruby was in kindergarten) because of test scores, resources, and community, but now that we’ve experienced both, we can see that there’s really not much of a difference.

In the end, I feel like I homeschool all of the time whether or not I actually do. Our home is full of learning stations and bright minds that inquire, create, discover, and explore over the summer, on weekends, after school, and on breaks from school. In this house, learning is something that we do all of the time and school can provide a break that will at the very least engage them in social norms and allow me the time to engage someone that I have to keep content more than anyone else…myself.

Embracing Motherhood Why We Don't Make Our Little Kids Pick Up After Themselves

Why We Don’t Make Our Little Kids Pick Up After Themselves

First of all, let me clarify something. I’m not saying that I’ll never have my kids pick up after themselves, I’m not saying that I’m not currently teaching my children strategies for picking up after themselves, and I’m not saying that I’ll never teach them how to do chores. What I’m saying is that while our kids are little (all four are five and under), there are far more important things for us to focus on than whether or not they are picking up their messes.

I chose this picture of Ruby helping to fill the cat food as my featured image because it represents what I feel is a hallmark of success. She chose to do this on her own without any prompting or teaching from me. Lately, she has shown a desire to pitch in and help me out, and it completely warms my heart to find her “babysitting” Julian, getting a laundry hamper for her room, filling it, and then wanting to help me do the laundry, organizing the ponies in her room, and helping me pick things in the garden. This intrinsic motivation is what will allow her to progress farther than any preconceived notions I may have about where she should be or what she should do.

Why We Don’t Make Our Kids Pick Up

  • The time we interact with our children is valuable. When I think about the amount of time that our children are engaged in independent creative play, working on their basic needs (eating, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, etc.), and of course lots and lots of cuddle time, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for “instruction”. Their attention spans give me these small windows of time to work on the things that I really value and consider important. If I spent these rare teachable moments instructing my children on how to pick things up, I do not feel that it would not be as valuable as teaching things like number sense, the alphabet, reading, writing, and bigger concepts about the world based on their interests.
  • It would take them a long time to clean up, and it wouldn’t be up to my standards. Whenever I teach my children anything, I use the gradual release of responsibility model, meaning that I first model how to do something, then they do it with me, and finally I have them do it together or on their own. So basically, I would be spending hours upon hours of precious time teaching my children where all of the toys go, how they are sorted, how the arrangements continuously change, and how to adapt to this change. The very idea is not only insulting to my intelligence, but theirs as well.
  • I would have to hold them accountable. Whenever I teach my children a rule such as “Clean up your toys after you use them”, I can’t just mean “Clean up your toys only when I’m there to see it”, I have to mean “Clean up your toys all the time”. So I would have to follow them around from room to room ensuring that they indeed cleaned up every mess that they made. Frankly, the very idea of this is wearing me out!
  • I would rather that my children spend their time engaged in imaginative play. I remember when I was a little girl and my brother and I would take out all of the canned food and pots and pans from the kitchen, then take off all of the couch cushions, and finally use everything to make a little store. We would carefully set up all of the food and pans and take turns being the store owner and the customer, then we would play for hours! I also remember taking off all of the books from the bookshelf and playing library. I never once remember being expected to clean up any of these “messes”. (I say messes in quotes, because they weren’t messes to us, they were intricate worlds we created that we became immersed in.) Knowing that I would have had to put everything back “just as I found it” would have been so overwhelming and stifling that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to take out all of those items in the first place. Children need creative and imaginative play. Research has actually shown that their games of pretend have numerous cognitive benefits. Basically, it’s how children learn about and make sense of their world.
  • I would rather spend my time on more important things. Instead of following my children around while they are engaged in imaginative play to make sure that they are picking up after themselves, I would rather use this valuable time to prepare healthy homemade meals, clean up the kitchen, organize things in the background, set up new play and learning stations, prepare materials for guided instruction, or maybe even blog a little. Then, when I do engage with them, I will use my voice to speak to them about things that really matter to me. I will share my passions for learning, creativity, and writing, I will listen to what they are interested in and do my best to take their thoughts to the next level with my knowledge of the world and Socratic questioning (open ended questions that promote critical thinking), I will get down on the floor and play with them, and I will sit them on my lap and teach them about the world through a love of books.

Setting Up an Environment That’s Easy to Clean

  • Don’t cluster too many toys together, like in a playroom. Recently, we had a bedroom open up because our two older kids wanted to share a room, and so I turned it into a playroom. It was fun at first, but it was a concentration of too many toys that were always scattered on the floor. Not only that, but when the kids were playing up there, they were far away from me as I tried to get a few things done around the house. I prefer to spread small concentrations of toys around the house, and I’ve found that they are actually engaged for longer amounts of time and in deeper play when there are fewer toys available. Read more about how I set up this environment in my blogs: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative and Imaginative Play and Having a Clean House with Four Young Children…Is it Possible? 
  • Only keep out the toys that get played with. If there are toys out that don’t get played with, I put them away. If I keep them hidden for awhile, bring them out (I like to rotate my toys anyways), and they still don’t get played with, then I’ll get rid of them.
  • Get toys that encourage extended creative and imaginative play. I know that some people go so far as to say “no toys with batteries” or “only wooden toys”, and I don’t go that far, but close. My criteria is that if the toys we have engage my children for extended periods of time in creative and imaginative play, then they are worth keeping. It is also worth it for me to spend ten minutes cleaning up toys that engaged them for hours, but it is not worth it for me to spend twenty minutes cleaning up toys that only engaged them for five minutes.

How to Teach Kids About Chores

  • I involve my children in the jobs I am doing, and I make it fun. When I am cooking, the kids love helping me crack the eggs, stir the batter, and of course taste the batter! Not only are they learning about what it means to help, but they are learning valuable cooking skills that will aid them in the future. I encourage them to help me with whatever I am doing, but I don’t force it. Over time, the kids have enjoyed helping me put laundry into the washing machine, rinse dishes (but mostly play with the bubbles in the sink), pick vegetables from the garden, put dirty clothes in the hamper, empty their potties, and many other small jobs that someday they will be able to do on their own.
  • The kids like helping Daddy too. When Daddy is doing little projects around the house, the kids love following him around and “helping him”. They will hold nails or screws for him, try hammering things, stand on boards to hold them straight, sit on his lap on the riding lawnmower, unscrew and fix computers with him, and many other small jobs.
  • It’s a gradual release of responsibility that lasts for years. I think the toughest thing for kids is when we expect the whole from them when we haven’t taught them the parts. So when parents say “Clean your room!”, what does that even mean? The children might not know how to fold their clothes, how to hang them up, where to put their toys, where to put their books, how to make their beds, and so on. And you can’t just teach all of these things at once. It has to happen layer upon layer in a gradual way over many many years.
  • Using backwards design as a template. When I think about chores with the end in mind, I wonder, “What do I want my children to know, understand, and be able to do by the time they are adults?” Well, I want them to know how to crack an egg, how to shake a rug, how to angle the broom to get under the cupboards, how to fold clothes so you can see the top of the shirt, how to do laundry economically, how to use different brushes to clean different dishes, how to change a vacuum bag, and so many other little things. I want them to understand the value of a clean home and how we take pride in the things that we have by keeping them clean and in working order. And finally, I want them to be able to do all of these things when they are grown and on their own; this includes my daughters and my sons (You’re welcome future spouses!).

Tips and Tricks

  • If you take something out, play with it. I will lay down the law if I see my kids pick up toy after toy and discard them about the room without even playing with them. That is not okay with me.
  • Don’t throw things inside. We really only had to make this rule for our son Elliot because he would throw things that would and could hurt people, but it was also a really quick way for him to make a tremendous mess. We tell him he can throw things outside as much as he wants.
  • Put caps back on markers. Since my kids are capable of it, I expect that they will put the caps back on the markers after they are done using them. Before I expected them to do this independently, I first modeled how to do it and showed them how to make sure the caps clicked on so that they were securely fastened and how different caps fit different markers. I also explained what would happen if we didn’t put the caps on the markers, and how we couldn’t afford to keep buying new markers all the time. Before I expected them to do this independently, I worked with them side by side to make sure they were doing this right. (I give you this detailed example to show the depth of teaching that I put into all of the parts that will one day lead to the whole of me saying, “Clean up this mess!”)
  • Clean when the kids aren’t looking. If you try to clean in the same room as the kids are playing in, it’s a futile attempt because they’re just going to keep making a mess, and you’re going to get frustrated. That’s not to say that you can’t tidy up a bit when they’re distracted, but I’ve found it’s easier to just wait until they’ve moved on to another project in another room. Also, I don’t think it’s good for kids to have to think too much about the cleaning I have to do. I don’t want to thwart their creativity by constantly reminding them that I’m the one who’s got to clean up all of their messes, and I don’t want them to feel entitled to having me clean it up. I just want it to be clean without them even thinking about it. I’m like a magic little elf who works behind the scenes!
  • What to do if kids get defiant about helping pick up occasionally. From time to time, you’ll need your kids to help you pick up (or do any other number of chores), and if they flat out refuse to help you on the rare occasion that you ask for help, then you’ve got bigger issues on your hands, and I recommend you reading my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors for some tips on how to nip that attitude in the bud with positive parenting.

How Kids Learn

Kids learn by observation and immersion. We shouldn’t have to tell our children (constantly, that is) to say please and thank you, they should hear us modeling it all the time (if this is something we choose to model) and it should become second nature to them. I remember when Ophelia was just learning how to talk and kept saying “I know!” over and over again. We were like, “Where did that come from?” but then when we were out walking one day having a great conversation and saying, “I know!” back and forth to each other, it finally dawned on us.

If we value having a clean home, if we model what it means to take the time to organize and clean our living space, if we involve them in the process along the way, and if we gradually release them to be able to do these jobs independently, then it won’t be something that they need to be constantly reminded about, cleanliness will be second nature to them. It will be so ingrained in their very fiber that they will crave it, and they will find a way to make it work without even thinking about it.

Future plans

People often ask me what we’ll do with our children when they’re older, or they’ll make me promise to them that I’ll do such and such when they are teenagers, and all I can say is that it is an ongoing work in progress, and there is no way that I can look into the future right now and know exactly what I’ll be doing or how I’ll be doing it. The way that my husband and I parent is by keeping the big picture in mind while focusing on the details at hand. We know that we want to raise well mannered caring children who have confidence, creativity, passion, and skills that will help them succeed at whatever they choose to do. We want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved, not just by our words, but through our actions as well. We know that when they are teenagers, we will have long chats with each other into the night about their well-being, growth, progress, and goals – just as we do now.

Right now, when we look at the details and the big picture, we see that there are more important things to focus our energies on than having our children pick up every single “mess” (or remnants of creativity left behind) that they make. As they get older and are capable of more, this may change, but for right now, this is what works for our family.

Why We Don't Make Our Kids Share

Why We Don’t Make Our Kids Share

In our family, I guess you could say that we have a “policy” that if someone is playing with something, it’s not okay to take it away. Basically, we do not make our kids share just because someone else wants what they are playing with. I never really thought about this as being our policy, however, until I read this article and I realized that yeah, this is kind of a policy with us. And with our four children, it has worked really really well. But when we’re out and about, the real question is: How can we enforce this in public…with other children whom we do not control?

A Bit More About Our Sharing Policy

Even though I’m the one with a teaching certificate, a Master’s degree, and seven years of teaching under my belt, my husband is the one who comes up with some of the best one liners that shape our family’s “Mission Statement” if you will. Our kids repeat, “Treat others how you want to be treated; An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind; Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me what I can do”, and other phrases that help them to figure out how to navigate their own way in this world. I love it! So even though we came to these policies together, he’s the one who comes up with all of the cool phrases that the kids repeat, like “It’s not okay to take something away!”

Our sharing policy pretty much follows these guidelines:

  • It’s not okay to take something away. If someone is playing with something, it is not okay to come up and take it away. Let’s say that we see Elliot take a toy away from Ophelia. If so, we will intervene and give Ophelia the toy back while reciting our policy, “That’s not okay to take away so-and-so’s toy while they are playing with it”.
  • Make a trade or wait your turn. Now that Elliot has given Ophelia her toy back, he has two options: He can wait for Ophelia to be done with the toy, or he can make a trade. This part of our policy is really cool, and the children love it. So basically, Elliot can find a toy to entice Ophelia with, and if Ophelia drops her current toy to play with the toy Elliot has offered, then Elliot can now play with Ophelia’s toy. (This is provided that Ophelia is truly happy once the trade has completed. If Elliot has coerced her into something she didn’t really want to do and she is now upset, the trade will be null and void.)
  • New toy policy. We also have a policy about new toys that were specifically purchased for a particular child, like a birthday present or something. Now, any toy in any common area is open season for any child (provided that no one is playing with it at the time). But if a child has a toy that is “new to them”, they can elect to not have that toy in the common area until it’s not “new to them” anymore. Usually, a child doesn’t realize that they don’t want anyone else playing with their toy until they see someone else playing with it, at which point we’ll say, “Is that toy still new to you?” And if they say yes, we encourage them to put it in their rooms or somewhere where no one else can get to it until they are ready to keep it in the common area and let anyone play with it.

Why Do We Have These Sharing Policies?

It may seem a little complicated, a little convoluted, and a little time intensive to establish and enforce these sharing policies, but trust me, having such policies in place eliminates A LOT of fights. I mean, pretty much 99% of what kids fight about is wanting to play with the same toy at the same time, because, hey, that’s their world! Having a policy in place during these fights allows you, as the parent, to be a neutral party just there to enforce the rules. No favoritism detected at all.

Do you know what happens when you don’t have such policies in place? You end up caving in to whoever is screaming the most. Trust me, I’ve been there! And if your policy is that you always give the toy in question to whoever is screaming the loudest, you are setting yourself up for some very stressful situations in the future! The goal in parenting is not to just get through each moment or each day, the goal is to teach your children how to function when you’re not around. And sooner than you think, they will be out of your sight living with the skills you have provided them. Learning how to share is probably one of the most important skills for children to master as they gain independence.

What About Other Children?

Now enforcing this policy with your own children is all well and good, but what about when other children are involved? Let’s say your child is at the park, or a part of a play group, or at an organized activity, and they are happily playing with a toy, when another child comes up and tries to take that toy away. What then?

You know what we typically do in these situations? We do what we think we’re supposed to do and say to our child, “You’ve played with that toy long enough, why don’t you give so-and-so a turn,” or we’ll just say loudly enough for all to hear in our mommy voice, “Shaaaare!” We say this because we think it’s what everyone is expecting us to say, not because it’s what’s best for our child!

Everyone wants to look like the good parent whose children know how to share, but when we allow children in our groups to just walk up and take something away from another child, and even worse, when we encourage it to happen, we are basically encouraging bully behavior. We are saying,

“It’s okay for someone to come up to you and take things away from you.” We are saying, “You don’t have any control over the behavior of others so you just have to accept the fact that others can do whatever they want to you.”

By allowing children (especially children they don’t know) to take things away from our own children, they are left feeling vulnerable, unprotected, and let down. We let them down, and so inevitably they scream and cry, and then we pick them up and say loudly so everyone will hear, “You need to learn how to share. If you can’t share, then we are going to have to go home right now!”

Now, doesn’t your mommy heart just break when you hear it put like that? So what are we supposed to do?

How to Enforce Your Sharing Policy…with Tact

Okay, so you’re at your mommy group or at the park, and all of the children are playing in the middle while you sit off to the side casually chatting with each other, when you see a child come up to your child ready to take their toy away. This is what you say and do:

  • Walk up to both children, crouch down so you are at their level, take the toy away from the other child (gently) and give it back to your child saying (calmly, but firmly), “So-and-so is playing with this toy, when they are done with it, you can have it.” It’s important to make eye contact here with the children, don’t look to the other mothers!
  • You can also ask your child if they’d like to give their toy away (don’t say share, because it’s not sharing). And if you say, “Would you like to give this boy/girl your toy?” and they say no, it’s OK! Don’t belittle them and say sarcastically, “Sorry, so-and-so doesn’t want to share right now!” because that defeats the whole purpose.
  • If the child who wants your child’s toy doesn’t want to give up his or her pursuit and seems somewhat willing to listen, you can say, “If you want to play with so-and-so’s toy, you can find another toy to give them in trade.” Then, if your child accepts the trade, voila! But if not, then you need to stand up for your child and protect them. You can say to the other child, “There are plenty of other toys here that you can play with, and when so-and-so is done playing with this toy, you can have it.”

Okay, so I can see the eye rolls coming from the other mothers too. “Look at that horrible mother,” they’ll whisper to each other, “She doesn’t know how to teach her child how to share!” And you know what? Let them whisper, let them talk, let them see you stick to your guns and time and time again to defend your child, to teach your child, and to guide your child towards proper behavior in both the giving and the receiving end. Your children only have you for a little while to guide them and stick up for them like this, and when they see you standing up for your policy in front of others, they will have a MUCH easier time following it themselves.

Moving Forward

So now that you’ve burned all of your bridges with the mothers in your group and at the park and have no friends left…okay, so I hope that doesn’t happen, but what if it did? Are you okay with losing the supposed approval of other mothers at the cost of your own child? If you enforce your policy with confidence and explain yourself to the other mothers whose jaws are left agape in disbelief after you so brazenly influence their child, you may just gain a few supporters. And after a bit of time, if everyone in your circle can see the positive benefits of your policy, maybe they’ll adopt it too, and then you can all work as a community to teach your children that they matter, that they are important, and that they come first. Because in the end, your mommy friends aren’t the ones you are accountable for, your children are, and they deserve to come first.

When You Tell Children They're Smart, It Makes Them Dumb

When You Tell Children They’re Smart, It Actually Makes Them Dumb

When children do something praiseworthy, it’s easy to tell them, “You’re so smart!” But what about when they fail? Does failure imply stupidity? Quite the contrary! Failure, and persevering through it, is actually one of the hallmarks of success! But when we repeatedly praise children for “being smart”, for “getting the right answer”, or for “getting good grades”, we are implying that the outcome (rather than the process) is all that we care about.

In their absolutely riveting book about research-based parenting topics called NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman touch on a very interesting subject in their chapter, “The Inverse Power of Praise”.

Why Do We Praise Kids for “Being Smart”?

Bronson and Merryman discuss how this idea really took off with the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self Esteem when author Nathaniel Branden began a movement of belief that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person. In 1984, California even created a “Self Esteem Task Force” because they believed that raising self-esteem would improve everyone’s quality of life. What ensued was an entire generation of kids growing up feeling entitled because they were constantly and repeatedly told that they were smart. But is this really such a bad thing?

Bronson and Merryman explain how researchers Dweck and Blackwell reviewed 15,000 scholarly articles from 1970-2000 about self esteem, and concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievements, it didn’t reduce alcohol usage, and it especially didn’t lower violence of any sort. (Actually, they found that highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves.)

Bronson and Merryman further explain that,

“The presumption is that if a child believes he’s smart (having been told so, repeatedly), he won’t be intimidated by new academic challenges. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.”

But research is actually showing the opposite to be true and that,

“Giving kids the label of ‘smart’ does not prevent them from underperforming. I might actually be causing it.”

Parents mean well when they tell their children that they are smart. They believe in them, and they want them to succeed. But these blanket statements of innate intelligence actually do children a considerable disservice.

Effort Over Innate Intelligence

Take the example of Carol Dweck’s work. She and her team at Columbia spent ten years studying the power of praise on students in twenty New York City Schools. In one example, she designed and conducted an experiment that clearly shows how a belief in innate intelligence discounts the importance of effort. Here’s an overview of the experiment.

  • Researchers would take one fifth grade child into the hall at a time and give them a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles that were designed to be fairly easy so that the children would do well.
  • After giving the children their score, researchers would give them a single line of praise. One group was praised for their intelligence and told, “You must be smart at this.” The other group was praised for their effort and told, “You must have worked really hard.”
  • Then, students were given a choice to take a more difficult test where they would learn a lot, or an easy test. Of the children who were praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder test. Of those praised for being smart, the majority chose the easy test.
  • Why is this? The conclusion Dweck surmised is that, “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”

“Being Smart” Doesn’t Prepare Kids for Failure

In another experiment, Dweck shows how emphasizing natural intelligence can actually have detrimental effects because it teaches children that if they are “smart” they don’t need to put out an effort. Here is a summary of that experiment:

  • The same fifth graders were given a subsequent test that was designed to be difficult and which all students (predictably) failed.
  • The group who had been praised for their effort on the first test assumed that they hadn’t worked hard enough on this test and Dweck recalls that, “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles.” Many even commented that this was their favorite test.
  • This was not the same for the group who had been praised for being smart. They assumed that their failure was proof that they really weren’t smart after all. Dweck remarked that, “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”
  • Then, all the students were given a final round of testing designed to be as easy as the first round had been. Those who had been praised for their effort did significantly better, by 30%. But those who had been praised for being smart did worse, by about 20%.
  • Dweck concluded that,“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural ability takes it out of their control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to failure.”
  • In repeating her experiments, Dweck found that these results held true for students of every socioeconomic class and that it hit both boys and girls, but especially the very brightest girls. It even held true for preschoolers.

Teaching Kids That Intelligence Can Be Developed

In this next example, teachers in East Harlem decided to apply Dweck’s research in their own schools to help improve math scores. Here’s what they did:

  • They took 700 low performing students and split them into two groups. One group was taught study skills and the other group was taught study skills and how intelligence is not innate.
  • In the group where students were taught that intelligence is not innate, they took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows more neurons when challenged. They also saw slides of the brain and acted out skits.
  • At the end of the eight week session, the students who were in the group that learned about the brain and how intelligence is not innate showed marked improvement in their study skills and grades. It was further noted  that, “The teachers – who hadn’t known which students had been assigned to which workshop – could pick out the students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed.”

Excessive Praise Distorts Childrens’ Motivations

When children do things merely to hear the praise, they can lose sight of the intrinsic enjoyment an activity can bring. Bronson and Merryman discuss a meta-analysis of 150 praise studies in which they found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of a question.” They go on to explain how,

“When they get to college, heavily praised students commonly drop out of classes rather than suffer a mediocre grade, and they have a hard time picking a major – they’re afraid to commit to something because they’re afraid of not succeeding.”

Children should be allowed to explore and discover the things that they are passionate about, the things that bring them joy, and the things that make them who they are. If they are always trying to please an adult, they will never truly discover this.

Praise the Process Not the Outcome

The solution here is to not stop praising children altogether or to never tell them that they are smart, but rather to be more mindful of the type of praise we dole out. One of the solutions is to praise children for their process along the way instead of the final product.

The other day, for example, I was working with my four year old son on Khan Academy doing some early math problems. Together we watched the instructional videos and then did the practice problems. When he was done with a problem, he got to push a button that would say whether or not he got the answer right. He was always excited to hear that he got the answer right, and I could have only congratulated him when he got the answer right with a, “Good job! You got the right answer!” But instead, I praised him along the way by saying things like,

  • “I really like how you used the picture clues to read those directions.”
  • “Great job using your finger to count every ______ (object)!”
  • “You’re really good at math because you double check to see if you got the right answer.”
  • “You used the strategy of counting on your fingers! That’s what kids who are good at math do!”
  • When he got an answer wrong, I didn’t make a big deal about it, but said, “Let’s try that again.”
  • And yes, I may have congratulated him a time or two for getting the right answer, but that wasn’t the only praise he was getting during this process.

Another example occurred the other day when my five year old daughter showed me a puzzle she completed. “Look what I did mom!” she said to me excitedly. Once again, I could’ve just praised the end result by saying, “I’m so proud of you for finishing that puzzle! You did such a good job!” But instead, I asked her a series of questions that created a wonderful line of dialogue between us. I said things like,

  • “That’s great honey! What strategies did you use to solve the puzzle?”
  • “After you found the corner pieces, what did you do next?”
  • “What was your favorite part of the puzzle?”
  • “Was it easy for you or hard for you? Why?”

We had a lovely conversation about the puzzle that didn’t end with her simply being encouraged to do things to get my approval. I want my children to be intrinsically motivated to find the things that are exciting for them, not the things that will get me to praise them.

Give Specific Praise

This is something that Bronson and Merryman touch on as well, and it was something that was taught to me time and time again through my education courses. When I was a teacher, I wouldn’t just walk around the room doling out praise willy nilly to boost kids’ self esteem. I would find specific characteristics about what they were doing to praise. I would say things like,

  • “I really like how you’re using a variety of colors to draw your picture. I can tell that you really like to be creative.”
  • “Nice job showing your work on that math problem! Now I can see exactly what is going on in your head!”
  • “When you were solving that problem with your friend, I really like how you used your words to share your feelings.”
  • “When you were reading that page, I really liked how you read the punctuation. That’s what good readers do!”
  • “At the beginning of the year, you didn’t know how to write any of your letters, but now you can write all of them! And every time you practice writing, I can tell that your letters are getting smaller and neater. Pretty soon, you’re going to have handwriting like me!”

I enjoy doing this with my children too. It takes a bit more time on my part because I have to really know what they are capable of, what their progress has been like, what their interests are, and how I can articulate all of this verbally, but by praising them in a way that highlights something specific that they did, it really helps to guide them to the next level.

In Conclusion

As parents, we want our children to be successful, and we want them to be happy, but it turns out that repeatedly telling them that they are smart in an effort to boost their self esteem is not the best way to do this. By instead praising the process and being specific with our praise, we can help our children to be able to articulate the things that they are good at and the things that they enjoy. Because in the end, our children are not our little trophies to show off how awesome we have been as parents; they are unique individuals who can use our encouragement not to be what we think they should be, but to be whatever they want to be in life. Now doesn’t that sound like a smart idea?

For Further Reading