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I’ve written on this topic in various forms over the years, but as my children approach the end of their homeschooling years I see it from a new perspective and I’d like to share my observations. I’m standing here on the edge of a unique viewpoint. While my kids’ peers are visiting colleges and bearing down on their last year of high school, my senior is standing still- sort of like what the whole world looks like when Hammy the Squirrel drinks the energy drink in Over the Hedge and it appears that time has stopped. What that means is that I’m not in the thick of it as a parent myself and I have time to reflect on where our kids are and where they want to go. And that’s just it. I see a lot of kids furiously preparing for college but unable to land on what it is they want to study there. I’m going to be bold on this and say that at the root is The Problem of Over-Scheduling.
The freedom to fill our days meaningfully and in the direction of our interests stimulates expertise. – Free Range Learning
Making Time for Exploration
I’ve met a lot of kids and teens who are busy. Perhaps you know some or your own family is busy. These are the teens who are in as many activities as can fit in their week and they go from thing to thing. There are music lessons, choir rehearsals, Bible studies, 4-H or Scout meetings, leadership seminars, speech and debate, drama practice, sports and every other opportunity you can think of. The schedules of children in the family are well oiled and fine tuned so that everyone is on time to their various activities. When you add in the academic schedules of these kids, it’s hard to see when they will eat dinner let alone have time to explore and learn.
I know what you are thinking. Of course all these valuable and resume building items are good for kids. But, do your kids have the time to learn what they love? What they have talent for? What talents they want to take to the next level?
- Make sure your kids have the time for exploring their own ideas– whether it be a musical talent, art, STEM, etc.
- Schedule uninterrupted blocks of time– Having the time for discovery isn’t just about having the time. It’s about having large amounts of uninterrupted time. If kids are running from event to event, practice to practice, lesson to lesson, when they do have down time, they will not want to invest time in pursuit of learning.
- Use activities to explore– With our kids, we’ve looked at what they want to repeat vs what they could let go when a session completes.
- Choose how you will invest your finances in a talent– We choose wisely and at various times what we will pay to outsource for our kids. We save the big investment for the lessons which will have the biggest impact.
Above all, we don’t sign our kids up for activities just to fill their time even if it’s something we are pretty excited about. I’m always curious about summer and school break ads which draw attendees because kids must be “occupied” by activity the entire time. Why do we think orchestrated, structured time is always better than free time? Is it any wonder that kids and teens don’t know how to spend their extended time off when they have it?
Provide Resources & Space for Exploration
One of the biggest investment of our finances is in resources and the space our kids have to work on their own projects. Not only do our kids and teens have the time they need to explore, but they have the resources and space as well. How do you know what to have on hand?
- Focus on supplies for the interest that comes up often– Is your student really into music? Then focus on lessons, instruments, music books, etc that speak to this passion. Give them time to explore that is not formal instruction or practice.
- Purchase real, quality supplies for the work– If your student loves art, then buy artist quality materials not the craft section paints but the artist paints. The cost is worth the huge difference in the product not to mention the message it sends to your artist.
- Provide mentoring for the project– You can be a mentor as a parent. In fact, you ought to be your child’s biggest mentor, but you can also find others who are knowledgeable and can offer expertise to your students. Our entomologists have worked with two of our kids for years on their collections. Our 13 yo RC plane pilot belongs to the local RC club and when we take him up to the field he learns from the guys who have been flying for 20-30 years. He has gained great skill in that time and since he is a youth member, the cost is low.
- Use online resources– People joke about YouTube, but our kids learn new skills all the time with this resource. Many people think it’s not real instruction unless you pay a lot for it and honestly this is a hallmark of pouring into our kids’ passions. We look for alternative ways to get them the instruction they need. It’s not because we are so cheap we don’t want to pay for lessons. It’s because I know we can have the need met in another way. In fact, with what lessons cost these days, I have high expectations and they are not met. To save myself that annoyance, we find other ways.
- Tap into community groups– I mentioned the RC club, but 4-H is a huge resource for homeschoolers with many project areas from the practical arts to technology.
- Use the resource of local universities– Every state has a land grant university with a cooperative extension. Many of them have extensive online resources and programs offered all over. If you live close enough to a college, take a look at what they offer to the community. Some have a cost which can be nominal and others offer things at no cost. Universities often have outreach charters in some of their grants and they are looking for ways to accomplish those goals.
- Devote space to your students– Dedicated space communicates that their work is important. Each of our kids has a table which is theirs to use. They store equipment there and have places to leave projects to come back to along with a spot to display their work. If you don’t have room for a table, consider a large bin that is put in an easy to get to spot for pulling out. Whatever you can do to encourage exploration with real materials in a spot all his own will be worth the trouble! I’ve seen a lot of excellent work come out of having dedicated space.
Helping Young People Cast a Vision
I see so many teens today who lack vision. Not because they aren’t capable of casting it, but because they are never still long enough to invest in the process. As parents, we want our children to grow and be successful whatever that looks like for us. Do we help our kids to envision goals in a practical way?
- Find out what they like– exploring not just with organized activities but with personal discovery
- Find out what they are good at– along the way when children find out what they like, they will learn what they do well and what takes more work.
- Can you work at what you love? Do people do this job? What is it like? Learn more about it and ask people you know who do the work.
- What is your concept of work? I’ve heard some teens say they don’t want what they love to become their work. Some of this may come from messages about practicality from us as parents, but what does this sentiment say about a teen’s concept of work?
- How does what I like to do fit into the workplace? Can they find a job doing this work? What training to they need? Where can they find the training? How can they prepare now for what is ahead?
Now more than ever our kids need vision for what’s ahead. We are asking them to work hard for a goal (college, for example), but sometimes we aren’t giving them what they need in order to make the next phase of education successful.
All of this discovery takes time. Let’s see the forest through the trees!
More Links on Project Time
- Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschooled Teen– Homeschooling parents know what it’s like to make things happen for their kids. This post is all about how to pull together adventures for your teens.
- Project Workspace– It’s time for an update to this post, but most of these spaces are still the same. We did update Rebecca’s space to accommodate her fabric stash. Do your kids have the space for the work they do? Not just a place for studying but a place for project work? This has always been a priority for us and it’s paid off.
- Scheduling Time for Creative Pursuits– How we worked creative time into my 10th grader’s high school schedule. Time for creativity is not optional for her and cannot be considered a treat for later!
- Creating Other Worlds: Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction– Our high school senior loves to write. Participating in the One Year Adventure Novel changed his life. Once he completed it and other literature work, he opted for an elective on writing in this genre. Writing is a project area for our oldest. Pouring into this area has been fantastic for his formation as a young adult.
- Entomology: The Science of Insects– A project are for Joshua and Rebecca, this activity includes a lot of collecting, listening to lectures, and taking field trips.
- Sewing & Design Projects– Rebecca is a serious student of sewing and this page is devoted to her projects as I have time to share them.
Resources for Vision Casting
These are books which approach the topic of exploration and diving into topics. This is not to say all of our schooling follows this pattern, but it does mean we leave time in our schedule for this to happen.
- College without High School– This is the book that helped me see that homeschooling allows our high schoolers to stand out in the crowd heading to college.
- The Art of Self Directed Learning– Inspiring for anyone who wants to direct their own unconventional education whether you are in high school, recently graduated, a college student, college grad, or an adult who wants to keep learning.
- Project Based Homeschooling– This is one of my favorite homeschooling books. Lori Pickert gives excellent advise for mentoring self-directed students. I love that this book gives form to what I’ve been doing for years!
- 10K to Talent– Jonathan Harris has written about making education more productive and developing kids’ talents- based on the research that high levels of mastery in a given area are reached once a person has put in 10,000 hours of practice, performance, and play. You might enjoy his e-course on the topic or the books he’s written about helping young people learn more about how to make use of what they like and are good at by capitalizing on resources around them. I love his book on getting kids to blog and building audience for their talents. Great stuff!
- Helping Young People Establish Mentoring Connections– an article on how to find mentors and the reasons it’s valuable.
The jury is still out on our kids. We have two who will graduate in the next few years (including our senior with a chronic illness who was to graduate this year). What I do know as I watch other parents do college visits and discuss with their teens what their goals are as part of the process is that they don’t really know. They’ve been busy and their transcripts will have much to share, but they don’t know where they fit. Whatever else happens and wherever our teens end up upon graduation and beyond, what I can say is that they know where their talents lie, what they enjoy, ways they can offer that to their community and what they want to learn more about. That’s a big piece of the pie. I’m excited to see what comes next!by