How to zero-in on what’s important to teach

I’m looking for some way to decide if I should make my son go into Madison tomorrow for gymnastics. And swimming. He loves both of them, but he hates to leave the house.

I can understand: I hate to leave the house, too.  I think most people who have Asperger’s hate to leave their house. Well, we hate to do anything because decisions about transitions are so hard. So right now, I am engrossed in writing and my son is engrossed in his Bionicles and we’re really happy. Mostly because we know no one will bother us. We can do this all day, until dinner.

But I think I need to teach him to do transitions. I think I need to show him that if he does stuff outside the house he’ll like it.

The thing is that I know this and honestly, if I didn’t have kids and I didn’t need to earn money, I’d never leave the farm.

And it’s appealing to me when commenters like Monique say that doing nothing is important in homeschooling. I want to do nothing. I can’t quite do it. I fantasize about it. But I get scared that my son doesn’t have occupational therapy or physical therapy—both of which he was getting in school. I think maybe I can make up for it in Madison.

My husband thinks this is crazy and the kids get plenty of that stuff when the goats watch them climb trees in the forest.

My husband never leaves the farm. Well, he does, when I guilt him into it. But he hates leaving.

And Madison, home to gymnastics and swimming, is three-hour round-trip. That’s a lot.

Here’s the list of things I’m trying to teach:


Body awareness

Making transitions

Keeping commitments

Honoring one’s own needs

It’s too much. I’m driving myself crazy.

But kids who make their beds each day are happier people. This is because people with self-discipline are happier, and making one’s bed is an act of self-discipline. I can’t decide: Is going to Madison on a day we are scheduled to go an act of self-discipline? I think it is. So I guess we are going.

But I wonder, can we leave our beds unmade that day?


36 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    This is really sweet. I did nothing productive this weekend. And I felt bad that it felt so good!

    I pulled an old ruggedy chair onto the lawn and read a book in kindle. Then I stopped to take it in and let what I learned sink in.

    Then I went inside for breakfast and my husband and I talked. I told him that the sudden death the day prior of a man we knew had me scared that my priorities were all backwards. I want many things but nothing makes me happier than being a few feet away from him and knowing he’s going to be right there if I turn around.

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    Love your homeschooling blog Penelope… in fact I love it so much that I recently wrote a blog called “In Love with Penelope Trunk”.

    I homeschool in Pakistan and i just read this post to my kids. My 7 year old son Shams wants to respond and made me start this off. So here goes (he is typing):

    “Are your sons allowed to email me? I am 7 and i live in Pakistan but I was born in Australia. I love playing Minecraft and Terraria. Your kids sound like fun and i also dont like leaving the house but mostly because Pakistan is hot and crazy and the traffic so bad that once my aunty got stuck in a traffic jam for 6 hours. :(”

    So that’s Shams. If your kids would like to chat with him, perhaps i could send you his email…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, boy. This is one of my favorite comments I have ever received! Yes! Of course my sons can email you! Here is my personal email address: I’ll show them the email and they’ll respond.


      • lhamo
        lhamo says:

        Hi Penelope (and Danielle),

        I will email you, too, if you don’t mind. I have two kids, a boy 11 and a girl 7, and we live in Beijing where the traffic, heat and pollution are also horrible (though probably not quite as bad as Pakistan — yet…). We’re not homeschooling, but I’m trying to work with my kids on issues of goalsetting, follow-through and happiness, so this post (and the other new one on the main blog) really resonated with me. My kids are also minecraft maniacs, and would probably love to connect with your kids. And I’d love to connect with both of you!

        • Danielle
          Danielle says:

          YAY!!! We are excited about new friends. I dont know if it is safe to share my email address here, but since Penelope did, I guess i can tooo…. is mine. Please email us there! I have 3 kids who would love to be in contact.

          Cool Penelope… you are starting your own minecraft penpal group! anyone got a minecraft server?

          • Bernie
            Bernie says:

            Just to join in here, my son is 9, we live in London where it is not steamy and hot. We started homeschooling (or whatever you call it) in September. He rarely leaves the house but seems to be less resistant to the idea than he did when he first stopped school so it is something I want to work on. He LOVES Minecraft. I was recently thinking that actual penpals, with letters, with stamps coming through the door would be cool. and be a chance for him to write. I haven’t run it by him yet but UK, China, Pakistan, US is stating to look like an interesting group of locations… thanks for the fantastic blog Penelope.

  3. Sacha
    Sacha says:

    How about a balance of leaving the house all day once a week, like that trip to Madison, and staying on the farm the rest of the time? I do think it teaches discipline and the other things on your list of things to teach. Just because your son doesn’t *want* to be out in the world doesn’t mean he doesn’t *need* to. Temple Grandin credits (at least some of) her success to her mother expecting some of the same things from her that are expected of neurotypical children, e.g. not sitting alone all day wrapped up in her own thoughts and tics.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      hey this is great!

      I think I am neurotypical and have found out that one of the hardest things to be is to be yourself. Always fighting to recognize when you are acting out of expectations from others and when it’s okay to put your foot down and say “this is me. Take it or leave it.” But it’s gotta be a balance.

      Most times leaving the house means, for me, not being myself hardly at all and just being who people want/need me to be. And that is just exahusting. This is a great thought to keep in mind: just because you don’t want to/like it doesn’t mean you won’t have to.

  4. emily
    emily says:

    Awesome awesome awesome post. I’m going to pin that bullet list of things you’re trying to teach somewhere special so I can see what they are when I start everyday. Especially since my job is to be the example grown-up for a team of kids only a few years younger then me and some grown-ups a whole lot older.

    But – it IS a lot. Sometimes I just handle that kind of alotness by thinking that’s ALL there really is to do. Which relates to the idea of doing nothing, in a way.

    I’m very excited, by the way, by this idea of linking to specific comments. I think that using that method is the future of hyperlinks! This isn’t my idea, of course, but I’m thrilled to see you experimenting with the idea here.

  5. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    If you hate to leave the house so much, are you sure you are an ENTJ and not an INTJ? I can see you being invigorated by talking to people, but I think introverts and extroverts alike are prone to positive social adrenaline. I’m an introvert and I get energized by people–for about an hour at a time, more or less. I vs. E has no bearing on public speaking, either, IMO.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m an E because I get my new ideas and good thinking done when I am communicating with other people. Not leaving the farm does not mean not talking to people.


      • Laura
        Laura says:

        This is such a great explanation of an Extrovert and has explained why I get so invigorated by a brainstorming session either in person or on the phone.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      This is such an interesting topic. My husband is definitely an I, but he is great at public speaking and leadership. As he describes it, speaking is not two way communication, he is talking at/to people about things he is passionate about. He says that is different than the E ability to engage in social environments or having to show empathy and interest in others when he really wants to retreat. He says when he can focus on a task he is able to motivate people best.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think it’s a good idea to take your son into Madison tomorrow (and on a regular schedule in the future) for gymnastics and swimming. It would establish routine and self-discipline for both you and your son. Maybe one day a week for starters. If it’s possible, I think you somehow have to make him want to go … help to inspire him and find a reason for looking forward and wanting to go. The Bionicles or video games could be done to and from Madison. What I don’t like about the advice I just gave is the three hour commute. Can you maybe combine this trip to Madison with something else?

  7. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    That’s a long drive for a kid and a lot of stress to do weekly. Those feelings are understandable for any kid.

  8. P Floores
    P Floores says:

    You children will do as you do, not as you say or demand they do.

    Body awareness
    Making transitions
    Keeping commitments
    Honoring one’s own needs
    It’s too much. I’m driving myself crazy.

    So, reviewing your list, we see several noble qualities. The lesson they are most likely learning is “how to drive myself crazy–which Mom does to herself so it must be right.”

    See? That’s how this stuff get’s passed down. Your kids are little. Chill out. The first five qualities on your list will happen naturally, if you raise happy well fed children who feel loved.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a wise comment. Thanks. It’s hard to read. To be honest. But I appreciate it.


  9. P Floores
    P Floores says:

    …The first five qualities on your list will happen naturally, if you raise happy well fed children who feel loved…and more importantly, if you embody those qualities yourself.

    At least, that’s been my experience parenting unschoolers. Beware of the unintended lessons when you set out to teach.

  10. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    If you make the commitment to go to Madison because that’s how you want them to get their OT then yes, going is an act of self-discipline… for you. I’m not sure it teaches the kids anything about self-discipline (unless they were the ones who asked to enrol in the classes). But if the commitment is killing you then change the commitment – do OT at home. You have everything you need there.

    Getting out of the house is a transition, but it doesn’t automatically teach how to handle one. I have this exact problem with my kids – they love it when they’re there but getting there is hell. So I’m taking a step back and working on the transition part as a completely separate skill, and working on self-discipline by getting them to set (and stick to) their own goals.

    I made a list like yours too when I decided to start homeschooling again, of the things most kids learn ‘naturally’ but my kids need to be taught… it has 78 things on it. Then I ate a large amount of chocolate and that’s pretty much where we’re at…

  11. anna
    anna says:

    no one in my house – 2 adults and 3 kids – ever makes their bed. now i wonder if we should.

    but i love not making my bed and not asking my kids to make theirs. hmm.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      We don’t make beds here and most of us are happy ;) I think there are plenty of ways to learn self-discipline. I wish there was something that said clean bathrooms make happy kids. I could get behind that!

  12. toastedtofu
    toastedtofu says:

    I’d echo an above poster and say lead by example. Even be overly verbal about it. Explain that you are stressed about a transition, demonstrate what you are doing to relieve that stress (even if it’s eating a bagel) and then ask your son how he feels and what he is going to do to relieve the stress.

    When I was younger my parents did lots of things to help me, but they never told me what they were doing at the time, and now I still need people to help me. Just bringing your son to Madison, although good, I suspect wouldn’t be enough without getting him to recognize the reasons for going.

  13. CJ
    CJ says:

    I see magic, inestimable igamination, swirling brain beauty, and absolute gitty playfulness in utter boredom for children. They need the chance and reserved time to do nothing every day of their lives so that they can get to being bored…and then the sparks REALLY happen.

    I don’t have any problem with the video games but I do believe in limiting their time weekly. What has happened is that now my son will play for awhile with his sister and then say to her that it is time to do something else, “let’s make a movie” which is their code for making an intricate story up for them to play out. If we permit too much screen time, kids don’t have time to just get lost in their minds. Creativity, the best and brightest sparks ONLY HAPPEN when this time is permitted. As parents we need to gaurantee it for them. It, after love, is our greatest gift to them. This is the number one reason to homeschool/unschool.

    **this isn’t the same boredom children get in mind numbing lectures at school…that’s more of a survival boredom, a tune-out boredom as a coping mechanism just to get through a lousy day**

    For the practical questions: Is there room for a pool at the farm? Maybe a good tree house, ropes for climbing? You can get mats for tumbling? Maybe a gymnastics coach at the public school could be a resource for someone local that could come to your house for lessons and spotting? Get creative and you can make the farm fit your children’s needs even more. It may not be as precise as a perfect gymnasium in Madison, but I bet you five bucks, you can get it to good enough to not do all that driving back forth. As for the beds, I really don’t think that matters- it sounds like your older son does a wonderful, responsible, life teaching amount of farm chores. That’s what he will remember when he is a man, much of his character about work ethic and responsibility will come from those memories. From the farm itself.

    I sincerely don’t want to hurt your feelings, I just don’t know how else to say that putting him in the car like that every week is so similar to the mind numbing environment you are avoiding in the first place. You want to be at the farm because your heart tells you this is where it is right. TRUST your heart.

    Stay. And get bored!!

    • Niecie
      Niecie says:

      Wonderful, beautifully written advice. I just enjoyed reading every bit of that. You sound like such a wonderful, cool,smart,CALM mom. Something I struggle with everyday.

      • CJ
        CJ says:

        Neicie, you are sooooo sweet for taking the time to write this to me. What a gift to read today. Thank you, sincerely. And:

        1. You sound like someone it would be great to have a glass of champagne with on this mothers day! Or three. As my girlfriends and I say to each other, flattery will get you everywhere with me lady!! LOL

        And 2. My husband said lovingly, “ummmm, calm? NO!” I am a crazy person! I am a sort of hurricane personality, polymathic interests, always seeking change, restless, it helps that I don’t fear change I think though. But for some reason I have secure confidence in my children. Even when I think I am screwing up royally- I trust that my love and support and their own awesomeness are and will always be enough.

        Besides, calm is no fun! So, I wish for this confidence and embracing of your crazy to all the Mommy’s this mothers day!

        • CJ
          CJ says:

          This is silly, but my husband insisted I come back to say he thinks I am wonderful and very very smart ;-) not “just” crazy…

          Niecie I am sorry your name keeps getting spell checked everytime I reply to you, it is a gorgeous name!

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “Here’s the list of things I’m trying to teach:

    Body awareness
    Making transitions
    Keeping commitments
    Honoring one’s own needs
    It’s too much. I’m driving myself crazy.”

    Two things to add to your list to succeed at the first five items – Perseverance and Resilience. Used correctly, they will not drive you crazy. If you feel as though you’re driving yourself crazy, then you’ve got too much going on. Focus on the goals that matter. Perseverance and Resilience allow us to fail and eventually succeed at meeting our goals and changing our behaviors.

  15. Lori
    Lori says:

    it’s only self-discipline for you. since you’re making him do it, he’s not developing self-discipline. he’s just being disciplined by you.

  16. LeAnn
    LeAnn says:

    I think by following through on your commitments your also teaching them responsibility (although your kids seem pretty responsible with all of their farm chores). If going to the classes is too much finish up these sessions and don’t sign up again, but I think there is something to be said for not throwing in the towel early when something gets hard or boring. It seems like so many kids these days don’t show up, either physically or mentally, to the things they are “signed up” for, and adults don’t care. I imagine that the kids who grow up learning how to make decisions and change their minds while understanding how their decisions affect others will do better?

  17. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    I am always surprised when we go to someone’s house and their beds aren’t made. Makes me depressed a tiny bit. How long does it take? 10 seconds? 15?

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      I get that for the grown up parts of a house. Unless company is coming I never have my kids make their beds. Why? (I am most definitely a neat freak and I keep my home free of clutter and my bed is always made)

      Because throughout the day their beds become sea ships, or a cuddle up spot where the children read books to their stuffed animals, or the bedspreads become tents or forts or sailing masts. Once a week they have to clean their playroom so that we can again see the floors and they have to clear out under their beds, so that sweeping/mopping can occur. Otherwise, we let their rooms and playroom be their domain. It would depress me to always impose order onto their imaginative well springs.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      But what does making the bed accomplish? My parents are bed-makers, and they are happy with that. I made my bed in their house for years, and as an adult I did it in my own house for a while. But I was gaining nothing from it. It did not make me feel more orderly or calm or produce anything at all except a made bed. Besides, I have two kids now who mess it up all the time. So, how many times a day should I make it in order to satisfy your lust for control, eh?

      Not everyone needs to live life the same way. Lighten up.

  18. karelys
    karelys says:

    I just came here to say that I’m pretty proud of myself for going to the DMV yesterday (nightmare!) and getting my license reinstated. It was suspended because I forgot to pay a ticket.

    Well, more like my husband forgot to mail the check I gave him. But the whole time I thought “Karelys YOU ARE neurotypical. If Penelope can do it you can do it. And don’t be mad at your husband. He forgot. Everyone forgets.”

    So I wasn’t mad at him and I had to work extra hard to get him to understand I still trusted him. I tried to pay the bill but I had to chase the office because they changed them around. When I arrived at the right office I found it closed to not open until after my 2 hr lunch was over. No one bothered to tell me this little bit of info!

    I worked hard to not be mad and not feel lost.

    I called my mom and thankfully she took the day off to help my uncle with things. So she went and paid my ticket. Yesterday I went to the DMV in my 1 hr lunch and I prayed hard I’d be out of there on time so people at the office wouldn’t get cranky.

    My license is reisntated! it was a long day. When I got home I was planning on skipping dinner and going straight to laundry and cleaning because it’s driving me nuts and I want to be self disciplined so bad so I clean a little every day not a lot once or twice per week.

    BUt I remembered this post. I am getting really good at body awareness, keeping commitments, being on time and kinda sorta for self care.

    So I made tuna salad and enjoyed the process then sat down and ate a bowl.

    It was the best decision! I didn’t know how powerful it was to draw a line on the sand and say “doesn’t matter what needs to get done I am taking care of myself right now!”

    It was great.

    Okay I’m done. I’m not a criminal anymore and I didn’t have a melt down due to lack of food :)

  19. KJ
    KJ says:

    I have a general question about the studies you link to. Have you studied statistics? Isn’t it true that “correlation doesn’t imply causation”?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s not really a question, is it? You are just reminding me that correlation doesn’t equal causation. And you are wondering, since it’s unfathomable that I don’t know this, how I could write what I write. That is the real question you want to ask, even though you are not asking it.

      The answer is that I’m deciding causation for myself. I link to everything I read so you can decide causation for yourself as well.

      By the way, this is why I think print media is so sub-par: Because in print media the author writes assuming that the conclusions he draws from the sources are the same conclusions you draw from the sources; there are no links to click. In online media, you can decide for yourself. That’s why it’s a conversation.


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