You’ll never guess the skills your kids will need for work

I went hiking with my kids, and I couldn’t remember where the trail started. But my younger son remembered. And my older son remembered to put the tick collar on the dog. And I found myself going along for the hike, as a sort of passenger on the journey the kids set up for us.

It is so hard to imagine this happening, but kids become teenagers and then there it is — you are following them. Which makes me wonder when did I get in my head that I would have any idea what skills they’d need in their life?

My parents had no idea what skills I would need. And their parents had no idea what skills they would need. So what makes me think I can help my kids? What do I know?

So far what I know for sure is that skills I never dreamed of calling superfluous are, indeed, superfluous.

Taking notes. Kids have flipped classrooms now. The teachers hand out notes and the in-class time is for discussion. Moreover, taking notes doesn’t help with retention or comprehension. Kids are much better off saying the information out loud, or taking practice tests covering the information. I like taking practice tests on Quizlet so much that I do it just for fun when I’m bored.

Writing a paper. I actually only found this out when I started recording conversations with journalists. I give them so much good material, and I think, why don’t I use what I just said? I can use MightyCall to record my conversations, and then turn those conversations into posts. (Especially easy since I’m a terrible listener — there’s so little to edit when I’m the only one talking!) Podcasts are growing faster than text or video. And the only way to find what works is to try stuff.

Starting a company. Startups are passe. Which makes sense because 55% of them were started by Gen X. The lure of Silicon Valley is over, and homeowners and companies are gunning to get out. The only people are staying are those who could not function anywhere else. And for those who want to start a profitable, non-Silicon Valley company, places like CalChamber make it so easy to stay legal that your kids won’t have to give up tons of stock just to get a labor lawyer to take their call.

I am trying hard to remind myself that I have no idea what my kids will need to learn and I should leave them alone. But I always want to give my opinion.

Then I watched a teacher talking to my son when he stumbled on a word.

She said, “What should you do if you see a word you don’t know?

He said, “Look on the Internet.”

She said, “Or a dictionary.”

He laughed. Out loud. And so did many kids in the class. Because what is she even talking about? The dictionary is on the Internet now, but more than that, the Internet is actually a huge dictionary.

The adult who presumes to tell a kid how to learn will be an adult makes kids laugh.

Stop asking me questions about homeschooling that you’d never ask about school.

Schools decide the priorities of non-school time as well. In Newton, MA there is an extra period in the day so the school can require kids to try extracurricular activities that will make the kids more appealing to colleges. In Darlington, WI, there are half-days of school when the football team has a home game so all students can spend the afternoon preparing for the event. In Winnetka, IL kids in jazz band frequently travel during school breaks.

If you send your kid to school, the school board chooses the parenting philosophy for your household. If you homeschool, you decide what the point of childhood is. You decide what the goal of family time is. You decide what your role as a parent is.

These are questions we are not accustomed to answering. For most of history children were small workers – in fields and then in factories. Then children went to school where they learned to be good adult factory workers. We have not given much thought to what is the point of childhood because we have not had so much freedom to decide for ourselves.

No one asks the school board to defend it’s parenting philosophy, but homeschoolers end up doing this all the time. Because if you talk about how you make decisions about education you cannot avoid talking about what you think is important about childhood. I have been swayed by different philosophies at different times:

Childhood Institute: making sure children fulfill their potential
Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi: becoming an expert at something
Martin Seligman: learning the principles of locus of control
Bryan Caplan: twin studies show nothing parents do matters

Each of these theories took decades to develop. And the theories contradict each other. So it’s clear that knowing the goal of childhood is like knowing the meaning of life: impossible.

Often while my kids were playing basketball, I was stressing about not knowing my parenting philosophy. Now that I see there’s no right answer to what is the goal of childhood, I wish I had watched more basketball and been less distracted by people telling me I shouldn’t let my kids stay home from school and play basketball.

How to do 1st grade – 7th grade in one month

I didn’t teach my kids any curriculum until 7th grade. Here’s how I did it:

Reading
Education insider Lisa Nielsen showed me all sorts of data that says kids of college graduates teach themselves to read. That turned out to be true for our family.
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What professions are we preparing our kids to enter?

I was really surprised to read that since the 1960s, the professions that are deemed most prestigious remain unchanged. Medicine, military, public service, science/technology, journalism, clergy, law. Most lists, no matter how you define prestige, have these professions on the list. And if you change the modifier to admired professions, the list doesn’t change.
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Letting kids fail means also letting them be irrelevant

I was the top seller of Girl Scout cookies in Illinois for two years in a row. But it was my mom who was the sales star: the first woman in senior management to force her underlings to buy Girl Scout cookies. She sold hundreds of boxes in a day.
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Pick the best teachers instead of the best curricula

My son’s first cello teacher, Gilda Barston, died when he was 10. He warms up every day with a short song she taught him for getting his fingers in tune. He’s been playing the exercise for so long that it’s no longer an intonation exercise as much as a prayer. A prayer to teaching, I think.
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Search is a skill kids develop on their own

Today’s students memorize fewer facts because they are well aware that everything they’d need to know is online. To get the best of this sea change, your kids actually know how to find things. It’s not as simple as you might think, and kids need a lot of time to explore the Internet unfettered by parental advice.


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When homeschooling is like playing pinball. And you are the ball.

Being a homeschooler and breadwinner feels like I’m the ball in a pinball machine. I hit something, hopefully make it light up, and go to the next thing. I never stay too long at one thing or I fall down the black abyss.
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Lesson plan: how to suck it up and go

How do you know when to quit complaining and put up with the terribleness of life? We shouldn’t torture ourselves, but maybe some things should be endured.


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How much do elitists spend homeschooling?

It’s difficult to get a real number for how much homeschooling costs. The answer is: it depends. It depends on a lot of things: your income, family size, location, etc. But the real question parents are asking is “Am I doing okay?”
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