When my kids were young and I was new to homeschooling, self-directed learning was so easy for them. They played video games, had fist fights, and set things on fire.
The person who had trouble with self-directed learning when my kids were young was me. I was scared other parents would think I’m neglectful. I worried my kids would never stop playing video games. I worried the research about self-directed learning being the best might turn out to be wrong.
My worries were unfounded.
I should have been worrying that self-directed learning is a lot harder for kids as they get older. Bigger kids have bigger goals and bigger goals take a lot more self-discipline to accomplish as a self-directed learner.
So today most of the problems my kids have as homeschoolers are around self-discipline. I know they’re not alone because teen anxiety is higher than ever before. Sure, a ton of that anxiety comes from school, which is not relevant to our house, but there’s still a lot of anxiety left over even once you account for no school.
My older son is 15 now, and he needs to pass a lot of AP tests to show that he measures up against the high ranking private school kids he wants to compete with to get into college. He’s very good at school work — I think maybe he was born to take standardized tests. But he’s not nearly as good at focus, and at this point in his life productivity is really important.
I surreptitiously shadowed him all day adding up all the time he did nothing. Picking at his socks. Petting the dog. Showering for the third time, snacking for the fifth time, checking CNN.com for the thousandth time. It all adds up.
I would know. I’m on ADHD medicine and when it wears off, I’m right there with him. Picking at my socks. So I made it my job to help him focus.
People told me that if he is not focusing then he’s probably not interested. I don’t believe that. Because I have a kid who chooses to practice music five hours a day and I still have to force him to focus.
So I am trying to get to that with my older son. Surely after learning all the focus skills for music I should be able to apply it to something else. But it wasn’t so easy.
I think that’s because when you play an instrument you are always moving. So I was really excited when FluidStance contacted me about their new product the Grade
We have had things to stand on before in an effort to help with focus. We have had the ones that are so hard that I nearly broke my neck. And we’ve had ones that are easy and you have to focus to reach your core, but really, if I could focus then I wouldn’t need to be standing on the thing for focus, so those didn’t work either.
The Plane we received is the perfect amount of needing to balance combined with being able to concentrate on something else. It didn’t surprise me that kids took to it — because really research shows kids should be on something like this all day long if they are going to be in school. The kids use it so much now that we started keeping it in the middle of the living room. But then something crazy happened.
Every single person who comes over tries it out and they all love it. It really surprised me that adults loved it as much as the kids loved it. Then I realized that adults are drawn to things that help them focus because focus is about calm.
For a while I was feeling like a failure that our unschooling had morphed from nature-centric free-ranging to by-the-book test-taking. But now I can see that letting kids play when they are young is brain stimulation and teaching kids focus when they’re older is self-regulation. And I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t love to have more ability to self-regulate.
I always say the first thing I had to do to homeschool is unschool myself. I had to really understand at a deep level how irrelevant school is for kids so that I could let my kids do what they need to do as kids. The same is true now — I’m still having to unschool myself. So just like I didn’t know early homeschooling would mostly be playing video games, I didn’t know later homeschooling would mostly be practicing focus.
I thought my job would be to get the kids the opportunities they want for college/work/life. But it turns out that they can get their own opportunities, they just need help learning how to focus.