I’m here to disrupt your school

Published by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:47 AM

Dear Principal Jones, teachers, school board members, and parents,

My name is Carrie Smith. I'm here to disrupt your school.

People have been telling me for years that I shouldn’t be homeschooling — I should be improving the lives of all kids, not just my own! This year, it finally sank in.

We’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and hoo boy, I think we’ve tried it all! Montessori, classical, unschooling — you name it, we tried it. That’s what you do when you love your kids, I guess — you just keep fiddling with the recipe till you find what works. And now you’ll all benefit!

Our oldest, Margaret, was six when we pulled her out of school, and she still struggles with needing a bit of structure. Even after all these years of homeschooling she has a hard time taking advantage of the freedom she has to do it her own way. Her self-motivation still isn’t back 100%. But that’s okay — fewer changes for you to make! Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Margaret is a real crank bear if she has to get up before 9. But it turns out there’s abundant research showing that teenagers need more sleep and would benefit from a later start time. Circadian rhythms or something. I’m not sure how you’ll work it out with working parents and your bus schedule and so forth, but I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Carl is our oldest boy; he’s 12. Now, self-motivation is not a problem there. He’s never seen the inside of a classroom and he won’t stand for anyone telling him what to do or how to do it! Self-directed learner all the way. He really thrives in maker situations. You’ve probably read about maker spaces online — they’re all the rage. So much good stuff there, you’re sure to love it. You’ll have to mark out some really big blocks of time because the only way kids can think up their own ideas and then make them happen is if you clear the decks and throw your schedule out the window. I’ll let you work out what you want to drop from your current schedule to accommodate that.

Now Carl is like a lot of 12-year-olds — I don’t think the seat of his pants sees a chair all day. But no worries — talk about abundant research! Kids need to be up and moving around, not sitting down all day. And now they will be!

My younger daughter Luna is 9. She was born in France while we were living there for a year for my husband’s job and even though she was only 3 months old when we left, she must have picked up something from the air. The girl doesn’t walk when she can dance; she doesn’t talk when she can sing. She paints all day long.

Of course an artistic soul like our Luna would be miserable in school with all of the cutbacks in art education over the last several years — but not anymore! Ha ha! We’ll be reinstituting those art and music classes tout suite.

Our youngest, Joe, is 5. He’s a special case, but all our kids are, am I right? Strangely, what’s worked best for Joe is Waldorf, which didn’t work at all with the other kids. Waldorf is a little bit picky about … well … everything! You’ll see! I’ve prepared some handouts to send home about diet, special toys, no TV, and so forth. We’ll be switching to a Waldorf curriculum in all of the Kindergarten classes immediately.

Finally, in closing, I would like to sincerely apologize for taking so long to wake up and see that I should be taking my educational improvements to the school and putting them in action there. I honestly didn’t realize I had that power.

I mean, that’s why we homeschooled in the first place — because we didn’t think school could (or should have to, honestly!) accommodate the various needs of our four kids … not to mention the fact that we were figuring it all out as we went along! It certainly was a learning process.

Who knew that I could have stayed and improved things not just for Margaret, Carl, Luna, and Joe but for ALL kids. My husband and I had quite a laugh about it, I can tell you. I mean, we haven’t been able to afford a family vacation in ten years! We would give each other a rueful look every year writing out our property tax bill, looking at all that education money we couldn’t use — and now we can!



P.S. See you on Monday!


Equal players

Published by Lori Pickert on August 18, 2011 at 01:43 PM

[H]ome-schoolersoutperform traditional students across the spectrum. The National Home Education Research Institute found that, on a standardized reading test, home school students perform at the 87th percentile while formal school students perform at the 50th percentile. What’s more, the gap remains roughly the same despite parents’ education level, the amount of money spent on education or minority status — three factors that greatly influence the performance of traditional students. For example, both white and minority home school students performed at the 87th percentile on reading tests, while white public school students performed at the 61st percentile and minority public school students performed at the 49th percentile.

There haven’t been studies conducted about informal learning at the college level yet. But I imagine we would observe similar results showing that those with an informal education would perform better than those with a formal education. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer as to why informal learners do better, but I believe it’s because students outside the classroom are able to think more freely and encouraged to follow their passion instead of memorizing facts. The upshot is this: Don’t make a decision to stay or leave school based upon your background because research shows that we’re all equal players outside the classroom. — The Case Against College

Mistakes are good

Published by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2008 at 12:57 PM

It is so easy to accidentally step on our children’s toes, to get in their way when they are learning.

We want to raise children who are creative thinkers and dynamic problem-solvers, yet when they are about to try something that won’t work, we immediately say “that won’t work”.

Letting them try and fail allows them to experience a small failure and handle their disappointment, overcome it, try something else, persevere, maybe try a third and a fourth time, and eventually experience authentic self-earned success. You can shorten that experience (or even eliminate it), but you’ll be taking away learning — taking away their chance to become truly resilient.

Are we so wrapped up in our own egos that we can’t allow our children to fail, even a little bit, even just momentarily? Do we feel like we’re better teachers if we make sure everything they do looks “right” from the beginning?

Learning to handle small failures, learning how to try again and not give up — these are lessons that they can use later in life, with bigger problems.

Also, when you don’t immediately redirect to the answer that you think is best, your children will sometimes surprise you. Their solution will work. Maybe it’s unorthodox, maybe you are sure it won’t last, maybe you “know” you have a better solution. But if your child is satisfied, let it be. Again, perhaps it will fail eventually. Then they will have to deal with it.

We want teenagers to make good decisions — about very important issues. But how much experience have they had making any decisions at all?

Smoothing your child’s way when they are small may actually make things harder for them when they are older.

Let them exercise their decision-making now. Let them learn to handle disappointment and frustration now.

What better preparation for life could we give them?


Part 2: Mistakes are Valuable


Different is good

Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2008 at 01:10 PM

The hundred languages are the many different ways children can learn and communicate:

• talking/telling stories

• dramatic play, theatre

• sketching, drawing

• painting

• sculpting

• constructing models

• writing/dictating books

• and so on.

Not only do children use the hundred languages for learning, but they also use them to express what they know to others.

Why is it important to give our children many different languages (forms of expression)?

Each new language deepens their knowledge.  Each new language engages their brain with the material in a new way.

Multiple ways of showing what they have learned respects each child’s individual strengths. In a group of children working together, each child gets to showcase his or her strengths, while learning from others in areas where they are not so strong.

(Being able to ask for and accept help, being able to learn from others — these are skills everyone should master, and they are as important as being able to help others and teach them what we know.)

A child who is allowed to take in information and express herself in a large variety of ways is connecting with her work — and life itself — in a much more interesting, diverse way.

Those hundred languages that we have learned to recognize as a richness, but that our “civilization” takes away from children and adults alike, thus impoverishing all of us.

— Sandra Piccinni, Commissioner of Education and Culture, Reggio Emilia

We homeschoolers

Published by Lori Pickert on July 27, 2008 at 12:45 PM

A friend sent me a link to a blog where an excited homeschooling mom had listed the curriculum she’d purchased for the upcoming year — a list as long as my leg. Wow!

She delightedly said something to the tune of “this is how we homeschoolers do things!”

Of course, in truth, the homeschooling community is as diverse as America itself. There are many, many different ways to homeschool. “We homeschoolers” can’t be pigeon-holed.

The gleeful mom’s mile-long curriculum list made me smile. It reminded me of my diaper bag evolution. When my first son was born, I really would have been most comfortable if I’d had a diaper bag big enough to fit around the entire house so I could bring along absolutely anything I might need in case of emergency. By the time my second son was born, I could just stuff a disposable diaper in my pocket and grab my car keys.

That’s not to say that every homeschooler is evolving toward unschooling, but “we homeschoolers” do get more confident as we go along, no matter what methods and approaches we use. We trust ourselves and the process more, because you can’t help but be amazed by how much the kids themselves bring to the table, regardless of the materials we’ve gathered. Not to mention how much learning is just sitting outside the front door, waiting to be discovered.

I’ll be stuffing a field guide, a notebook, and a magnifying glass in my back pocket as we head out the door this fall. Because “we homeschoolers” know it’s an amazing world out there, chock-full of possibilities.

When does your homeschool year end?

Published by Lori Pickert on April 26, 2008 at 12:35 AM


As the weather turns warm and the green starts to emerge, we are putting down our books and moving outside — to play catch, read on the deck, draw in the woods behind our house.

We start living outdoors again. We may take sledding and snowball breaks in the winter, but it’s nothing like the wholesale move to outside that happens in the spring.

Public and private schools in our area start getting out around the middle of May (for those who have no spring break and a very short winter break) and some are still in session in June.

The biggest change for us when school lets out is that our school-attending friends are suddenly free to play during the day, during the week.

We like to schedule vacations for either the last few weeks of public school in the spring or the first few weeks in the fall. It’s such a luxury to visit popular places when the weather is beautiful but there are no crowds.

When are you “done” for the year? If you are unschooling, do you pay any attention at all to the “school” year?

Excerpt: The Once and Future King

Published by Lori Pickert on October 4, 2007 at 12:20 PM

It was the most marvellous room that he had ever been in.

There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very life-like and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it. When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed. There were thousands of brown books in leather bindings, some chained to the book-shelves and others propped against each other as if they had had too much to drink and did not really trust themselves. These gave out a smell of must and solid brownness which was most secure. Then there were stuffed birds, popinjays, and maggot-pies and kingfishers, and peacocks with all their feathers but two, and tiny birds like beetles, and a reputed phoenix which smelt of incense and cinnamon. It could not have been a real phoenix, because there is only one of these at a time. Over by the mantelpiece there was a fox's mask, with GRAFTON, BUCKINGHAM TO DAVENTRY, 2 HRS 20 MINS written under it, and also a forty-pound salmon with AWE, 43 MIN., BULLDOG written under it, and a very life-like basilisk with CROWHURST OTTER HOUNDS in Roman print. There were several boars' tusks and the claws of tigers and libbards mounted in symmetrical patterns, and a big head of Ovis Poli, six live grass snakes in a kind of aquarium, some nests of the solitary wasp nicely set up in a glass cylinder, an ordinary beehive whose inhabitants went in and out of the window unmolested, two young hedgehogs in cotton wool, a pair of badgers which immediately began to cry Yik-Yik-Yik-Yik in loud voices as soon as the magician appeared, twenty boxes which contained stick caterpillars and sixths of the puss-moth, and even an oleander that was worth sixpence -- all feeding on the appropriate leaves -- a guncase with all sorts of weapons which would not be invented for half a thousand years, a rod-box ditto, a chest of drawers full of salmon flies which had been tied by Merlyn himself, another chest whose drawers were labelled Mandragora, Mandrake, and Old Man's Beard, etc., a bunch of turkey feathers and goose-quills for making pens, an astrolabe, twelve pairs of boots, a dozen purse-nets, three dozen rabbit wires, twelve corkscrews, some ants' nests between two glass plates, ink-bottles of every possible colour from red to violet, darning-needles, a gold medal for being the best scholar at Winchester, four or five recorders, a nest of field mice all alive-o, two skulls, plenty of cut glass, Venetian glass, Bristol glass and a bottle of Mastic varnish, some satsuma china and some cloisonné, the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (marred as it was by the sensationalism of the popular plates), two paint-boxes (one oil, one water-colour), three globes of the known geographical world, a few fossils, the stuffed head of a cameleopard, six pismires, some glass retorts with cauldrons, bunsen burners, etc., and a complete set of cigarette cards depicting wild fowl by Peter Scott.

— The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

Last night, after reading this description of Merlyn's study, we agreed .. it would certainly make a good homeschooling room, wouldn't it?