Auto-Didact, Self-learner, Malcontent with a Purpose

This Blog Has Moved!!!

I have combined blogs into one centralized location. You can now find all entries from The Homeschooling Advocate at The Homeschool Advocate – “Where hilarity, learning, and parenting challenges collide.” Even if you are not planning on homeschooling, come take a look and recommend it to other parents. There is much more to the site that simply homeschooling topics!


The Bigger Picture

I’m not into sports.

Fine art does not move me.

Classical music and opera leave me ho-hum.

Give me an old house to wander through, or an antique book to pore over…show me a cave, an ancient waterway, or the garden or a handcrafted quilt. Those are the things that move me.

So when it comes to raising a well-rounded child, I find myself faced with “The Bigger Picture.”

Despite my complete lack of interest, I find myself at events like last Saturday, listening to two children’s symphony orchestras as part of UMKC’s Music and Kids events. This was the third installment in a series of four events designed for kids 3-8.

Emily has enjoyed them, although she was slightly bored at the last one, too much sitting and not enough activity. Thankfully it only lasted 45 minutes. I was just proud as could be that I didn’t fall asleep.

Does that sound awful? Well, at least its the truth. Classical music is nice to hum, which I do with regularity, but other than that, it simply does not move me. I accept that I’m not wired that way.

In many ways, I find that a small piece of regret steals over me. I would like to enjoy fine art or classical music, I really would. But I don’t, and try as I might, and expose myself as I have, that feeling has never changed.

And if Emily feels the same way, some day, then I totally understand. But then again, she might not. She might fall in love with Mozart, dive into Picasso or Monet and feel something inside shift when she looks at those paintings.

When my older daughter, Danielle, was ten we went to the Nelson Atkins museum. And while the Egyptian exhibit, and some of the Renaissance pieces caught my attention, overall I was bored out of my mind. My daughter, however, was captivated.

And so it came to pass that at least once a year, if not more, we would visit that museum and spend hours walking through it and, in her case, sketching what she saw. As for me, I learned to take a cross-stitch project or a book along for the ride – things I appreciated far better.

Now 22, Danielle is a talented artist who loves art. When I look over her sketches, I see things I enjoy, but I’m no connoisseur.

I learned to hide my boredom as much as possible, or channel it into positive actions. And so, when UMKC’s Music for Kids program came along I signed Emily up, looking forward to exposing her to something I have no real preference for, but one that catch her and hold her in a way I cannot fully understand.

I do this because I see The Big Picture. Danielle is not me and neither is her little sister. I look forward to seeing where their dreams and inclinations will take them. I imagine a future that is bright with possibility and choice. And along the way? I’ll try not to fall asleep!

Studs in the Walls

I should have taken a picture, because it was too cute for words. There she sat on the couch, stud-finder in hand and her daddy’s ballcap (the one with the fancy LED lights for seeing in dark spaces) firmly set on her head.

“Mama, did you know that there are suds in the walls?”

“Suds, baby? Or studs?”

She smiled, “Oh, yes,” she giggled, “I mean studs, Mama, there are studs in the wall. Daddy and me found them with this.” She waved the yellow stud-finder. “I’ll show you, Mama.” She jumped up, walked over to the living room wall, and waved at me. “You press the button here,” the machine beeped in response, “and move it around until you find the suds…I mean studs.”

That was a week ago.

It had followed a repair of my shoe shelving in the master closet, in which Emily had been very involved in. She helped Dave find the stud and make the necessary repairs where a part of the shelving had been pulled out of the wall.

A few days before that I had told Dave, “I want her to learn everything…oil changes, carpentry work, even plumbing.”

He laughed, “What, worried you won’t have anyone to do it when I die?”


“No, I don’t want her to have to depend on anyone for something she can do herself.”

That seemed to satisfy him. And when I asked him to fix the shoe shelves, he made sure that Emily was right by his side. She loved it, you could hear the excitement in her voice when he told her he needed her help. And help she did, while learning the basics of a new skill.

But it is more than that. It is more than the hope for her to feel independent that prompted my encouragement of teaching home repair. Not having to depend on anyone, knowing how to fix something yourself is great, but it is the feeling you have when you first attempt it that is the most important. And that is what I want to get across to her – the feeling or belief that she can do anything she sets her mind to.

If you had that feeling, even when faced with something you had never done or knew nothing about, how likely is it that you would be successful? Pretty darn likely. It is the attitude in which we approach a challenge that makes the difference.

There is a second part to that, however.

When Emily was three she brought me a piece of paper and a pen and asked me to draw an ‘A’. “Why don’t I show you how to draw it?”

Her answer cracked a line in my heart, “I don’t know how.”

Over the next few months, we encountered more and more of those statements, about a variety of tasks that seemed, at the moment, overwhelming to her. Along the way I would say, “No one knows how to do things at first, they try and they learn, and eventually, if they keep at it, they get really good. Just keep trying and watch what happens.”

At first, she was unsure, disbelieving, but eventually, she began to try, and learn, and grow, and excel at those things that had at first seemed so intimidating.

Faith and persistence is the second thing I would have her learn from all of this. Faith in herself and her abilities, and the persistence to stay with the task and not give up.

I think that if we go about a wide variety of tasks and challenges, then we will see an end-product that is confident, persistent, and open to new challenges and learning adventures.

And along the way, we will raise a daughter who can find studs, do carpentry, fix plumbing, maintain vehicles, cook, clean, operate electronics, garden, and so much more.

Robert Heinlein, a great science fiction author and free thinker once wrote:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Words to live by…

Last night I ‘attended’ a teleconference on unschooling. For those of you who are still turning over the phrase ‘homeschooling’ and having trouble, ‘unschooling’ is not as bad as it sounds.

The wealth of choice of curriculum (or lack thereof) for homeschoolers grows by the day. And more and more, we hear the term ‘unschool’ associated with it.

I will admit, when I first heard the term, I was hesitant. How can you unschool? Would that be the antithesis of learning? How could you be sure your child was learning? WOULD they be learning?

Imagine my surprise when I realized that early childhood, prior to those organized activities such as preschool or kindergarten IS unschool.

Unschooling is what your child does when he learns to walk. Or talk. Or dress herself. It is learning…without an agenda or a due date on the paper.

As the guest speaker on the teleconference, Pat Firenga said with a laugh, “Birds fly, fish swim, kids learn.”

That in itself is such a beautiful sentence, such a beautiful concept, and yet we allow our fears and upbringing to get in the way of what is, essentially, a very simple way of learning.

We are hard-wired to learn. We crave knowledge, experiences, and opportunities.

If you think differently, then I would posit that the system of learning you were exposed to as a child injured you, greatly. I would go on to suggest that it is less a matter of ‘teaching children what they need to know whether they like it or not’ and more of finding the joy in the pursuit of knowledge and skills.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that all of my education, four years in public schools, and the most of the rest in private schools, topped with a community college education – were NOT where I have learned the most. They are not where I got my skills to learn the rest of what I know. Imagine my surprise when I counted back and realized that my education over the past forty years has comprised over more than 25 of it in what was essentially unschooling.

Yes, I am an adult and yes, I am self-motivated. But so are our children. Ever meet a child that wasn’t curious and didn’t get into awful fixes at least once? Ever meet a child that you actually had to teach a primary first language too? Or did you simply talk to them and eventually they started using a word or two one day, progressed to telegraphic sentences and eventually to full-bore “But I want to go play with my friends, I’m bored!”

Recent training certified me as a business and life coach. One thing that I realized as I went through the training was that a coach’s job wasn’t to give answers or solve their client’s problems. Instead, it was usually quite evident that the client already KNEW the answer to their particular problem. They already knew the particular career choice that was right for them or the steps they needed to take to make their lives different.

The job of the coach, I quickly learned, was to help a client to step out of their own way. It was as if they were standing, with their back to the door of their future, audibly wondering what to do, when all they had to do was turn around, open the door and step through.

Overly simplistic?

Not really.

With one child raised and my youngest so early on her path, I have learned one very important lesson…


When my daughter wants to learn something, the best thing I can do is to hand her a few tools, my backup presence, and let her loose.

Pat Farenga also brought up the analogy of learning to ride a bike. When our children learn to ride a bike, do we get on the bike and demonstrate how its done? Or sit on the back of the bike and shout instructions? No. We help them on it, point out the brakes and the pedals and the steering column, and then stand behind, balancing them momentarily until the pedals begin to move and we are left behind.

That’s what unschooling is. That’s what learning is. The act of introducing something, providing limited guidance, and then stepping back and watching them glide away, jerky movements and terrifying crashes often involved, but independent and self-motivated.

That’s what homeschooling and unschooling and being parents is all about.

For more info on Pat Farenga, who worked closely with John Holt (coiner of the term unschooling), visit his site.

For some other interesting sites, check out:


Universal Preschool

Unschool Your Teen

Missouri is known as the ‘cave state’ and I’ve had a fascination with them ever since I read Huckleberry Finn as a child.

So when the notice came up that Fantastic Caverns was having homeschool rates from February 1-14, I immediately asked my DH if he was up for a road trip. He agreed and we’ve put it in the schedule which is big around here. If it is in the schedule, it exists. If it isn’t in the schedule than it doesn’t exist. And that schedule is full of activities, even now, in the middle of winter.

Then I called my dad the other day and he said, “Really, I can’t talk now, National Geographic is showing the Caves of Naica right now and I hate to miss it.” After giving me a brief description and telling me to look it up, he hurried off of the phone.

So look it up I did, and I can’t wait to see the documentaries. I found three documentaries, actually two of them on Naica and one on another cave, and watched the first last night with Emily. It was not on the Naica Caves, not this first one, but instead on the largest cave in the world, located in Vietnam.

As we watched it and Emily snuggled close I said, “We are going to go and see some caves in a couple of weeks, you know.”

“Really, Mama? Where?”

“Near Springfield, baby. It’s a long drive. It’s near that restaurant where they throw food at you.”

We recently made a trip to Branson (boring in winter) and stopped on the way back at Lambert’s – home of the throwed rolls, which is definitely an experience. They actually toss rolls at you, and come around with buckets of fried okra, black-eyed peas, fried potatoes and more. It’s fun, and the food is very tasty, the ultimate down-home comfort food. I’m thinking that since we will be so close, a visit to Lambert’s will definitely be in order.

The look on Emily’s face when she caught her first roll is priceless. She was so darned proud of herself!

As we continued to watch the documentary, Emily became restless. It was a documentary, after all, and she is only four. So I began to point out things that they were talking about and give her little synopses of what the explorers were facing. “The cave is so big they have to bring enough food for seven days, it will take them that long to get through it.”

I didn’t realize she thought it was the same as the Fantastic Caverns until she said, “Oh my. Mama, I think we will need a tent with us when we go to visit.”

How cute is that?

This prompted a discussion on how there are many, many caves – all over the world. And later she watched with interest the discovery of a white wood louse (roly-poly) in one of the side caverns. “He’s white, Mama, why is he white instead of dark?”

I explained that he lived in the dark, always, and when that happens the creatures don’t need to be dark to protect themselves from the sun.

The documentary didn’t hold her interest for the entire length, and that is fine. I knew before I started it that it might be too far advanced for her, but I wanted to watch it and she had been game.

Perhaps today we will get to see the documentary on the Naica caves, where the temperature never falls below 120 degrees farenheit, making exploration of the cave system nearly impossible. It is a wondrous place where crystals (you know, the kind that hang from necklaces?) grow to lengths of twenty or more feet. I can’t wait to see it.

More than anything, though, I look forward to our first trip with Emily to Fantastic Caverns. I think she will enjoy it. I wonder too, if it will unlock an lifelong fascination with caves and lead someday to spelunking down an unknown depth.

No matter where it leads or doesn’t, it will be fun and educational and something we can do as a family.

On other news, I can’t wait to finally be healthy and not having to croak out my words. Poor Emily hasn’t had much reading done lately, mainly because I can’t manage to croak out the words!

Maps and Reading Lessons

“Mama, I’ve made a map with my new sharpened pencil.” Emily said, smiling proudly, a piece of copy paper clutched to her chest. Dave had just installed our manual sharpener on the wall down in the basement and helped Emily sharpen her pencils.

“Really? Can I see it?” She nodded and handed over a piece of paper with squiggles everywhere.

“See Mama, it’s a map!”

“Yes, Baby, I can see that it is. So tell me, who is on this map?”

She grinned in excitement, “Right here is my Cousin Eddie’s house.” She pointed to the top left corner of the paper.

I asked her if I could write locations on the paper and she nodded. I carefully marked the spot where her finger was pointing and wrote “Eddie’s House” on it.

“And we live right over here,” she said, pointing to the opposite side of the map. A few minutes later we had a set of points marked out for friends and family, including her friend Callie, Jude, and even Grandori’s house. Surprisingly, she only made one positioning mistake on our street, which had included five other houses besides ours, swapping two of the houses locations with each other.

Later that evening we pulled out the “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” – we had tried it last year and it just hadn’t met with great reception, so I dropped it and waited for her to evidence more of a readiness for reading. She has certainly been doing that in the past few months. She often repeats words over and over as she tries to sound out and differentiate what letters come first.

So we sat down and I did the lesson just as it was written. She was so excited! Which of course made me excited. We whipped through the lesson until the last part, a writing exercise, when my office phone rang and I had to go and answer it. I did, and while I was gone Emily practiced writing all kinds of letters in the dry erase alphabet book I have for that.

I was itching to do Lesson 2, but that will wait until today.

I’ve been weaning her back off of the electronic babysitter (TV) that was employed so often while we were sick with cold and flu and then cold again. What a month it has been!

Finally, after days of constant requests for movies and tv, Emily only asked once in the morning yesterday and took the denial well and did not ask again for the entire day. Instead she played in her room, helped me with baking and cleanup, and helped us organize the garage (which is packed with stuff and needs to be cleared out in time for the chickens in mid-February).

I have also noticed a dramatic improvement in her behavior since she isn’t in front of the tv all the time. A charming, friendly, helpful and inquisitive little girl returned to us!

Today will include story time at the library, a lunch prepared from her new cookbook, and of course Lesson 2 from the reading book. I can’t wait to see this little girl with her nose stuck in a book – lost in another world, in adventure and mystery. It will open up her world like no television ever will and she will take off!

As a friend of my older daughter said recently, homeschool provides “so many more opportunities and educational experiences” – and later added “as a home schooled child Emily has every opportunity to study something she directly loves” – and this is all true.

Today it might be princesses and ponies, and tomorrow maps again. Who knows? At four, and born so late in the year, Emily would not even be eligible to go into school until the fall of 2012, just a couple of months before her 6th birthday.

In some ways I view anything I do between now and then ‘extra’ or ‘free’ – but I do hope to see her reading by the fall of 2012. It will open up her world and fuel her curiosity in ways that I may be lacking.

I look forward to her ‘maps’ and her daily presents (boxes filled with a mass of unrelated toys) that are brought out and displayed. Every day is a learning adventure.

“I Thought So”

I attended an “Introduction to Permaculture” class in Emporia, Kansas yesterday. In attendance, among the dozen or so students, were two kids. I’d estimate the girl’s age at about fourteen and the boy was approximately eleven years old (I didn’t ask ages, so I just don’t know).

We went around the room, introducing ourselves and why we had come to the class et cetera. When it came around to the kids, the girl spoke first and pointed to her mom, who is in charge of organizing the farmer’s market there in Emporia, “I came because my mom said it would be a good idea.”

The mother, next in line, pointed to her son and said, “He found the announcement for the class and said we should go.”

Interesting. My ears perked up. A boy that was interested in a Intro to Permaculture course? Not one with a Wii or Xbox controller firmly welded to his hand?

Later as the lecture began we would occasionally have questions, and among those with the most questions, was this young man. As we broke for lunch, I heard him ask his mother, “Who was it that was concerned with low spots and boggy areas in their yard?”

I turned around, “Well, that would be me.”

He excitedly began to list off plants that would grow well in boggy areas, including cranberries (which has got me to thinking, let me tell you, I would love to grow cranberries) and we talked for a few moments about the issue, before heading off in separate directions for lunch.

After lunch, when the lecture resumed, the instructor was reviewing the zoning restrictions for livestock he had found for Emporia. The boy’s hand went up, “Um, actually I also saw that pigs were strictly NOT allowed.” (The instructor had just lumped them in with livestock and was saying they WERE allowed)

At this point I was certain, this young man had to be homeschooled. I wrote down a name on one of my business cards and at the next break I handed it to him. “You remind me of this guy and I thought you might be interested in looking him up.” I handed the card over, “Jere Gettle started his own heirloom seed business when he was 17. That was what, 10 or 12 years ago? He now travels the world collecting heirloom seeds from all over. He’s down in Mansfield.”

The boy grinned and nodded his thanks. I asked him, “Are you by any chance homeschooled?”

He nodded, “Yes, I am.”

We talked for a few minutes more and I walked away so damned excited. This was a glimpse of the future. Where will he go and what will he learn and do and accomplish? At 40, I’m standing beside him, learning a new skill, a new way of living. What will he accomplish in the next 30 years?

It gives me hope. Not just for him and what he can contribute to our future, but what I can do to help guide little Emily. At that moment, standing there, talking to a young man who had such an obviously deep interest (and knowledge) in the subject at hand I realized how much was possible, and how limitless the opportunities are for Emily to follow her interests, feed her craving for knowledge, and become a freer thinker, and more capable adult than I was for many years.

How lucky I am to live in a state that is so conducive to homeschooling. And you know what? I just might plant cranberries in my yard!

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