Summer Learning for Your Child With Learning or Attention Differences

I’m seeing it on a lot of the Facebook groups for parents of dyslexic, dysgraphic, ADD/ADHD, insert-your-diagnosis-here children right now: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones? Understood.org even has an article addressing the topic, and I’m going to give you a completely different perspective on the question, after I ask some questions.

*For the sake of clarity, I’m going to dispense with trying to get the quotes I want to discuss integrated properly into a grammatically correct sentence and just use a bold font to quote or paraphrase the author’s points, and I will follow with my questions.

 “… it’s very important to find ways to keep working on these skills over the summer.”

My questions: Why is it “very important”?  And, to whom is it “very important”?  Hang on.  Just stay with me while I ask questions, and please – start thinking outside the K-12 classroom model of education that we’ve all been brainwashed to accept as the best method of teaching children and having them learn for some answers.  What you find outside of the box that someone else has created as a one-size-fits-all solution for teaching your children might be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own genius.

“When it comes to certain kinds of knowledge, kids really do have to ‘use it or lose it’.”

My questions: If this “certain kind of knowledge” is so important, then why wouldn’t kids be using it in their daily lives naturally?  Why would we need to be afraid of them losing it?

“Summer learning loss can set kids with learning and attention issues back as much as two or three months.”

My questions: “Back” from what?  According to whom?  And, why is their opinion the most important thing?

“Here are some thoughts on how to put together a summer learning schedule that looks and feels very different than going to school.”

My questions: Why is someone other than the person who’s supposed to be doing the learning putting together a learning schedule?  Why does it need to look and feel “very different than going to school”?  Is it because “going to school” feels like something the child hates?  If that’s the case, why are you doing things that way instead of looking for alternatives?

“Encourage your child to keep a daily journal.  Together you can come up with a minimum length for each entry and other details such as correcting misspelled words.  But give your child the freedom to choose what to write about.  And have her share the journal with you every day so she knows it’s important to keep up with it.”

My questions: Why would you say “encourage” when you actually mean “tell”?  You’re saying that it’s “important to keep up with it”, but important to whom?  Why?  And how does making your child share it with you help her know that it’s important?

“Tapping into your child’s interests is a great way to help your child ‘smell the roses’ and balance having fun with retaining skills.”

My questions: Why does it have to be a one or the other scenario?  Why can’t having fun and retaining skills go together?  And why would you want to leverage your child’s interests in order to get him to do what you want him to do?  Would you like it if someone did that to you?

So, what do you think?  Do we blindly accept someone else’s model of education, or do we ask questions?  As little as three years ago, none of what this author wrote would have done much more than raise an eyebrow for me. Back then, I was still fighting a little against this new paradigm of mine because it was just plain uncomfortable. It

It just didn’t fit with everything I’d been raised to believe about education, but it was still there, nagging at me. And of course if your child is having major difficulties in school during the school year, you work on those weaknesses diligently over the summer to make sure that your child doesn’t lose what she worked so hard to gain inside the classroom.  Right?

Wrong… at least, for me.  Words are powerful things, and over the last few years, the words I use to frame the questions I ask about education have changed profoundly.  The words I’ve learned have indeed been liberating for me.  So, getting back to the question at hand: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones?

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills over the summer?  Absolutely not.  For several reasons. Reasons that I will share with you in Part Two of this post.  Why “Part Two”?  Because I asked questions that were probably different than the questions you’ve heard before about this topic, and I want to give you some time to reflect on them.

Did you reflect on the questions I asked in Part One?  Did you find the questions I asked running straight into a brick wall in your mind?  Did you mull them over, wondering how it all might work?  Could thinking about these questions and all sorts of different answers to them possibly be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own unique genius?

If your child is in school, and you’re happy with that model of education despite the difficulties your child has in class and you have in IEP committee meetings making sure that your child gets what he needs, then you may as well stop reading and click the little X that closes the tab; there’s nothing here for you.  In that scenario, following the advice in the article that prompted me to write this post is probably your best bet.  Hire a tutor.  Make your child keep a journal and use her personal feelings for fodder for grammar and spelling lessons.  Turn off the sound and the pleasure in watching a TV show, and force your child to read the closed captioning.  Leverage your child’s interests and turn them into “school” during the summer.

But, if like me, you’re left with kind of an icky feeling in your gut when you think about doing that sort of stuff, and you’re even a little bit open to ideas that may sound weird and will totally challenge everything you currently believe about education, keep on reading.

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?

Absolutely not.

And here’s why:

  1. The way that question is worded sets the summer apart from the rest of the year and learning apart from school.  Inmy family, we don’t separate living from learning.  There isn’t a specific season or a specific location for learning to take place.  Learning takes place all year long in all sorts of different locations.  We don’t heave a great sigh of relief that school is over for a while when June rolls around.

My kids don’t have the expectation that they will devote themselves to academic pursuits from September until June, and then veg out for the remainder of June, all of July, and all of August.  They aren’t spending nine months of the year studying what someone else has told them is important for them to learn, whether they want to or not, so they don’t need a big breather.

  1. More importantly, I believe that “Should I have my child work on any particular skills this summer?  And if so, which ones?” are the wrong questions to be asking.  If, instead, someone had asked me, “Will the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?” the answer would be absolutely yes.  It’s a subtle change in language there, but a huge shift in paradigm.

In the original question, there are several underlying assumptions that I flatly reject.  One, an education is something that someone in a position of authority (a teacher, parent, tutor, etc) does to someone else (usually a child).  Two, the person in the position of authority is the best person to select what, when, where, why, and how the other person will learn and be assessed.  Three, since the person in the position of authority is the best person to make those decisions, the willingness and engagement of the other person aren’t particularly important factors in whether or not the teaching is going to get done.

In my reworded question, I have flipped those assumptions.  I’ve given power and control back to the person doing the learning.  I have recognized that an education is something that someone must want and strive for in order for it to be meaningful and worthwhile.  I’ve validated and supported what the person doing the learning wants to learn, and empowered them to make decisions about what, when, where, why, and how they will learn and be assessed.  I’ve eliminated the adversarial positioning between parent and child that often arises when a parent’s agenda for a child’s education clashes with a child’s desires for his own education.

In the original question, I’m left with all of the questions that I put into words in Part One and no satisfactory answers to any of them.  When someone tries to tell me that there are certain skills or sets of knowledge that must be used or will be lost and so it’s important to keep working on them over the summer whether the child wants to or not, I’m skeptical.  If these certain skills or sets of knowledge are actually so important for the child to know, then the child would either already be actively using those certain skills or sets of knowledge in daily life, or she would be running into roadblocks that not having those certain skills or sets of knowledge throws up in her path.  Running into roadblocks will then force the child to acknowledge a legitimate need for the certain skills or sets of knowledge.  He’d then have to figure out how to go over, under, around, or right through the roadblock.  All four options are valid, and as adults, we use all four depending on the circumstances.  Children need to be taught how to assess which option in different situations is the best course of action, and parents need to be available to advise and guide the decision-making and then help facilitate that best course of action.

“Summer learning loss” is something that is manufactured by an artificial learning environment.  It’s a problem in schools.  It’s a problem when learning is separated from living, and when teachers need all of their students to progress through the same material in the same amount of time at the same pace.  “Summer learning loss” is not a problem when real-world necessity or personal desires dictate what someone learns.

My Squirrel Hunter will indeed work on particular skills this summer… but they’ll be skills of her choosing, that are meaningful for her.  Right now, she’s off with her church youth group serving our community for a week.  Next week, she’ll be helping out with Vacation Bible School for the younger kids.  She’s working steadily through the Basic Military Requirements (BMR) manual and doing the tests at the end of each module so that she can go to Sea Cadet Recruit Training in July.  The BMR is no joke.  It’s 700 pages that she has to read, and each test averages about 60 questions that she must answer.  She’ll continue to work on her art and her ASL.  The Squirrel Hunter has mentioned several times that improving her spelling is something she might be interested in working on.  When she says the word, I’ll be there to help her do just that if she needs me.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with things like tutoring, drilling with flashcards, doing a parent-child book club, watching TV shows without sound while you read the closed captioning, or having a child keep a journal that you use as a fodder for spelling and grammar lessons.  Those are options that may, or may not, help your child shore up weaknesses and/or hold onto academic gains made in the school year during the summer.  The problems as I see them are making the decisions to do those things in the first place without input from your child and then actually doing those things to an unwilling child.

At its core, life learning alongside your child involves a deep mutual respect.  As a parent, you have to do what few people seem to do when we think about educating a child, and that is ask yourself: would I like it if someone else did that to me? Would you like having someone insist that you keep working on the subjects or activities that you hate the most and don’t see a need for right then?  Would you like being drilled over and over and over again? Would you like being hauled off to tutoring against your will while your friends got to go swim at the pool or watch a movie?  Would you like hearing, “because I said so” when you ask why you have to learn something that you weren’t interested in learning? Would you like being forced to work on your weaknesses instead of being allowed to focus on your strengths?  Would you appreciate having your interests leveraged or manipulated by someone else’s agenda for you?

My answers to all of those questions come easily.  No, of course not.  And that is why will not be having the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer, but I will be available to guide, advise, encourage, and facilitate what she is interested in working on – this summer and for the rest of her life.

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How to Talk to Your Child About Making Decisions

How to Talk to Your Child About Making Decisions

If I told you an 8 year old is perfectly capable of making her own decisions about what to learn, what would you think?

I’ve gotta be nuts, right?  It’s crazy to give a child that much control, right?  Unschooling is educational neglect, right?

A child that young is too immature to make such weighty decisions, right?

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.

And wrong.

I’m not nuts; this is by design.  My children all choose what they will learn about, when they will study or practice, how long to study or practice, and with which resources they will study or practice.  

I am much more concerned about having them learn certain life skills while they’re young and under my guidance than I am about when or how they learn anything academic.  I want them to learn:

  • How to make decisions, for there are far too many indecisive people in this world.
  • How to articulate what is important to them.
  • How to prioritize what is important to them.
  • How to locate and evaluate resources.
  • How to think critically about when, how, and why they choose to invest their time and energy into something.
  • How to determine when to stop using one resource or another, when to stop pursuing an endeavor, and how to do so confidently.
  • How to evaluate the pros, cons, and possible consequences of their own actions (or inaction), and acknowledge that not acting is, in fact, acting…it’s just giving control to someone or something else.
  • How to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction).

It’s not crazy to give a child that much control over what she’s learning.  She’s the one doing the learning.  It’s the perfect avenue for helping her develop those soft skills that I think are crucial for success, because it’s actually an authentic choice and meaningful to her.

Unschooling is not educational neglect.  As you’ll see in the video below, Jillian isn’t being thrown to the wolves or left entirely to her own devices.  I’m very engaged with her, asking her questions, challenging her, getting her to think.  

It would be much easier in some ways if I just handed her a workbook and insisted that she learn the material.  Instead, I choose to keep engaging.  It’s more work with Jillian because she is younger and less mature than her siblings, but it is still definitely worthwhile.

A child that young is definitely not too immature to make such weighty decisions.  I want all of my children to have had years of practice making meaningful decisions before they grow up and leave home.  The only way children can practice making good decisions is to be empowered to make decisions.  

Real decisions.  Not ones where the options have been carefully whittled down to what is acceptable to an authority figure.  Not ones where nothing is really at stake.  Real decisions.

I’m inviting you in here, for a behind-the-scenes look at how this looks with my youngest.  

I promised someone in a Facebook group that we’re both a part of that the next time I talked to Jillian about “doing her school” I would capture the conversation on video and share it with her.  Jillian has chosen what she wants to study, and that’s her “school”.  The conversation is about a typing program I bought a subscription for after she asked what she could do to learn how to type.  It has turned out that she hates it, so this isn’t the first conversation we’ve had like this about typing.  It is the first time she has made the decision she ended up making.  

The video is 10 minutes long, but if you watch it all the way through, you’ll get to see her whole decision-making process and the questions I ask her from start to finish.

 

 

Rethinking Higher Education: How Isaac Morehouse and Praxis Are Expanding the Options Our Young People Have

Rethinking Higher Education: How Isaac Morehouse and Praxis Are Expanding the Options Our Young People Have

Have you carefully crafted a rigorous, college prep high school education for your children?  

Is every decision you make about their curricula, community service, and sports or clubs weighed against the holy grail of a letter of admissions from a prestigious university in mind?

Are you dutifully making sure that they follow the scope and sequence of their lessons, nagging , ehem, “gently encouraging” them to strive for excellent grades now…so that they can get into a good college later…where they will then again be “gently encouraged” to get good grades…so that they can graduate and land a good job?

Do fears that maybe you haven’t done enough to prepare your children for college and thus a successful life as adults keep you up at night?

If you said yes to those questions, you’re in good company.  Most parents I know, regardless of where their children are getting educated, will answer those questions in the affirmative.  The idea that a college degree is the golden ticket to a high-paying job and success in adulthood has been deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

Once upon a time, that may have been decent advice.  The problem is the world our children will inhabit as adults has changed, but the advice we give our kids collectively hasn’t…yet.  

Change will come slowly, if at all, to institutionalized K-12 education, but individually, there are some outliers like me who see the writing on the wall and are changing the advice we’re giving to our own children.  That doesn’t mean we don’t still have high hopes and fears for the lives our children will lead as adults.  

It means we’ve redefined how we assess the risk and rewards of higher education and its role in preparing young people to participate and compete successfully in the economy after graduation.

It means we’ve sought out the advice and resources of other outliers, who are challenging the status quo and changing the landscape of continued education and opportunity after high school.  One such outlier, an educational entrepreneur, is Isaac Morehouse, the founder and CEO of Praxis, which offers young people an attractive alternative to college.

Now, before we go any further, I need to let you know that I don’t get anything for promoting Praxis.  I’m promoting it because it resonates strongly with me as an advocate of self-directed learning.  Additionally, as an outlier who sees the writing on the wall, I don’t want to see other people get left behind – wondering what happened, what went wrong when their children’s college degrees don’t open up the hallowed gates of success.  I see Praxis as a game-changer for our young people, so much that I’ve encouraged both of my teenagers to strongly consider it.

According to Morehouse, “When we created Praxis we did it to fill a large and growing gap in the option set facing young people.  So many smart, ambitious, curious individuals are languishing in fluorescently-lit cinder-block classrooms.  Bored.  Racking up debt.  For no clear purpose.

The myth they are steeped in is that they have to do this.  There is no choice.  The options are presented: Be a loser, or sit around for 4-6 years at a cost of tens of thousands.”

Despite the attractive sounding siren calls for greater access to higher education and “free” college for all, the counter-intuitive fact is that too many people are already going to college.  The fact is that young people don’t have to go the college route, and most shouldn’t.  It’s near blasphemy to say these days, but it’s past time to start slaughtering Big Education’s sacred cows.

“If you want to break out of the educational rut, it requires new ideas and new experiences,” Morehouse says in his free e-book The Future of School.  “We mustn’t only talk about new approaches, we must build alternatives…You can take your own path right now, and by so doing not only improve your life, but serve as an example to others of what’s possible outside the status quo.  Educational entrepreneurs, not just intellectuals, will change the hidebound approach to education.  It’s already happening.”

It’s already happening.

Whether you like it or not, it’s already happening.  

Whether you change with the times or stubbornly dig in your heels and cling to advice leftover from the Industrial Age, it’s already happening.

As I type this, my son is upstairs on his laptop, filling out his application to Praxis, and you can follow his progress through the process here on my blog.  If someone had told me even as little as four years ago that I would be actively discouraging my children from going to college, I would’ve thought them insane.  

So what changed?

I opened my eyes and opened my mind to the possibility that maybe college isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anymore.

As I started entertaining that notion, which struck me as absurd at one point, I confronted cognitive dissonance head on.  I read books and articles about the condition of higher education and the status of graduates after earning their degrees.  My findings were demoralizing.  

For your reference, these are some of the books I read while I was in the information gathering stage or am planning to read in the coming months.  These are affiliate links, and if you choose to make a purchase through one of them, I will earn a very small commission.  It won’t cost you anything extra to do, and it’ll earn you my gratitude.  You can see my full disclosure policy here.

It was then that I began redefining how I assessed the risk versus the reward of encouraging my kids to apply to college after high school.  As the risks stacked up, I started searching for alternatives.  

I’m not afraid to buck the system – clearly; I do it every day with what I believe about education and how that influences my children.  I wasn’t going to blindly keep parroting antiquated advice to my kids, hoping that following it would yield different results for my children than it seemed to be providing for other people’s children.

One of the alternatives I found along the way was Praxis, which I discovered – to my delight – shared many of the same foundational beliefs about education as I do.  Only later did I learn that Morehouse himself was unschooled as a child and is unschooling his own children now.

So what exactly is Praxis?

Watch below as Morehouse explains the concept to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

Essentially, Praxis is a startup apprenticeship program.  Participants will partake in a three-month long professional boot camp to prepare them for success.  This boot camp will include things like building personal websites, populating those with blog posts, creating something known as a pitch deck, and learning skills specific to the participant’s apprenticeship.  The Praxis curriculum guides participants through the process.

Following that three-month long professional boot camp is a six month paid apprenticeship.  Participants bypass the classroom and learn in the real world.  They start creating value and building their personal brand from day one.  At the end, they get a full-time job offer.

Praxis currently has over 250 business partners and an active community of over 140 participants and alumni.  Additionally, Praxis is boasting astonishing results!  100% of participants are employed, with an average starting salary of $50,000 per year, and carrying no student loan debt.

Weighing those impressive results against the results many young people are struggling with after investing years of their time and tens of thousands of dollars (or more) into a college degree is precisely what I am talking about when I say that redefined how I assess risk and reward as my teenagers and I discuss their options.  

Imagine the wild possibilities!  

What could it mean for your child to begin adulthood with marketable skills, a salary that matches or beats what many of us are bringing home now, and no student loan debt?  It would be life-changing, for sure.

Even if your son or daughter has no desire to be an entrepreneur, real world training actively engaged in the marketplace is still important.  Morehouse insists that thinking and acting entrepreneurially, regardless of whether or not someone actually strikes out on their own and builds a business, is “…becoming vital.  You don’t have a job; you are a company – regardless of where you get a paycheck…Nothing is more valuable than someone who knows how to create opportunity and create value for others, whether in someone else’s company or their own.”

Now, I get it: opting out of a system as deeply ingrained into our collective psyche as the benefits of attending college has been is scary.  These are our kids!  Our hopes and dreams for them.  The burden of making sure that we’ve done everything we can to send them off into the world ready and prepared to achieve their goals and live successful lives is heavy on our shoulders.  

But consider this as well: “First movers have big advantages,” Morehouse declares.  “If you know that you can create opportunities for yourself without a degree before most other people know it, not only do you have a head-start but by being a first-mover, you are way more interesting and special.  You’ll have all kinds of advantages being one of the very few who do X without a degree.  As it becomes more common, you won’t be as special.”

We live in exciting times.  Things are changing at an astonishing pace.  As homeschoolers, the flexibility we have to adapt our ideology and our methods quickly to keep up with the pace of change – if we’re willing to do it – is our ace in the hole.  

We don’t have to view life through a lens of scarcity and fear.  We don’t have to keep giving our kids outdated advice because we’re afraid that if we don’t, we’re dooming them to financial hardship and unsuccessful lives as adults.  There are viable alternatives available now.

If this was enough to get you thinking about whether or not college is everything it’s cracked up to be, I’ve created a free, downloadable file with links to 30 different blog posts that challenge conventional wisdom about college and the value of degrees so you can start doing your own research.

Click Here to Claim Your Free Resource List

For more information about Praxis, you can visit the Praxis website here.

To download Morehouse’s free e-book, “The Future of Education”, click here.

To purchase books written by Morehouse, click on any of the images below.

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KonMari and Toys: Teaching Your Children a Valuable Lesson

KonMari and Toys: Teaching Your Children a Valuable Lesson

There was stuff.  Stuff everywhere I turned.  Too many clothes.  Too many books.  Too many papers.  Too many toys.  Too many odds and ends that didn’t seem to have a real home (unless you count the junk drawer, which I am told doesn’t count).  

The sheer volume of stuff my family owned was suffocating and overwhelming.  I’d look around my cluttered home, and my left eye would twitch.  

Me as a housewife = Failure.

Me teaching my children how to manage their own things rather than being enslaved by them = Epic Failure….

…until I came across The KonMari Method.  It was, no joke, the very first time I had ever read anything at all about decluttering and tidying that not only made good sense to me but also seemed like I could make real progress in a relatively short amount of time and would work long-term.  It made such great sense to me that I’m enthusiastic about sharing an affiliate link for her book with you.  If you choose to buy it through my link, I will receive a very small commission.  Doing so won’t add any cost to you, and will earn you my thanks.  For more details, you may see my privacy and affiliate disclosures here.

Details are available for the basics of The KonMari Method online, but I chose to buy her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

 

 

Part of my job as a parent is to teach my children how to successfully manage their own households one day.  I saw no better opportunity to do that than to enlist my 8-year-old, who is the only child in the house who still plays with toys, to “KonMari” her toys. Together, we rounded up all of the toys.  Old, beloved toys that we’re saving for grandchildren came out of the garage.  Toys came out of a large storage closet in our downstairs.  And, toys came out of her room.  We piled them all into the great room.

Once Jillian and I had all of her toys removed from her room, we went ahead and did a deeper clean in there.  She couldn’t believe how nice it looked and how free she felt with all of that space!

Once we got everything all out into the great room, Jillian and I went through it one item at a time.  Do we love it?  Do we use it?  If the answer to those questions was no, then the toy got donated or thrown out.  It was quite a liberating process.

 

 

 

Jillian and I put anything she “loved” or used back where it belonged as we went.  As toys got returned to her room, I insisted that she find them permanent homes.  She made very thoughtful decisions about where to put each beloved item, and in the end had a room that only held items that brought her joy – just like Marie Kondo recommends.

It took us the better part of a day to get it done, but it was time well spent…and unlike the standard piecemeal approach to decluttering, all of the toys in our house have been carefully considered and dealt with.  My daughter learned discernment.  She figured out how to make difficult decisions.  She learned a little more about herself in the process.  I consider that a homeschooling success!

I cannot recommend Marie Kondo’s book highly enough, especially if you’re feeling suffocated, like I was, by all of your family’s stuff. Pick up your copy here .

 

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