There are no lazy people

The idea of setting a pile of sticks and logs on fire appeals to every kid who visits our farm. If we asked kids to walk through the forest and pick up the sticks so we can clean things up, the kids would get distracted. They would make guns and swords, they would look at caterpillars in the grass, they might even wander out of the forest completely. But if they get to light stuff on fire, they work hard. Kids love a good bonfire.

I read about these boys who put off going to college so they can lobby the Texas state government in favor of homeschooling. They are going to be great lobbyists because they care so much about what they want to do, what goals they want to accomplish.

When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: “How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

People who hate their jobs but do them anyway are not somehow better than the people who love their jobs. So why do we condition kids to accept that they must do work they dislike?

It’s totally normal to be unmotivated to do something you don’t care about. It’s abnormal, in fact, to pretend to care about things just because someone told you it’s a good, proper way to spend your life.

It’s your life. You choose how you spend your time. That’s the lesson school should teach. And then we’d have a country full of people who were engaged and passionate about the work they do.

So, the bonfire. Kids know right away what they want to do and what they don’t want to do. Then something happens: adults tell them it’s okay to pretend to like stuff you don’t. Adults tell them that it’s important to spend time and energy doing stuff you don’t care about. Then, suddenly, one day, that kid doesn’t know what he or she wants to do.

Passion to burn sticks in a forest is precious. Encourage it by telling kids they can do whatever they want, and then watch them exercise the muscle for choosing.


48 replies
  1. Sheela
    Sheela says:

    Thank you, again, for nearly-impossible-to-find common sense….I am reading ‘Unschooling rules’ by Clark Aldrich, which is also great in this regard…don’t recall where I heard about it first, was it you?

    advice my following conflict: my somewhat overweight 5.5 year old daughter is sitting here next to me watching some duck cartoon because I couldn’t stand her whining about it anymore…. she’ll still be here in 3 hours if I let her. I know my conflict comes from a judgment call of what constitutes time well-spent versus wasted, so I am experimenting with giving in instead of cracking the whip and hoping she’ll learn to moderate….all things in moderation …….except for Breaking Bad…I can’t get enough of that show……..ha, ha what a hypocrite. Me to daughter: “Turn the TV off now!” Daughter to mommy: “You turn the computer off now!”

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Has your daughter ever gotten to watch as much TV as she wants? I’ve never limited my kids’ screen time, and I found that they each went through a period of discovering this and watching almost all the time. Around here that lasted a couple of months for each kid. Then they got bored. My son still spends a lot of time playing games and watching videos about games, but then again he doesn’t read well yet…it’s a great way for him to get information about things that interest him, and one of his main interests is video games, which could definitely lead to a career some day if he keeps up with it. My daughter got really bored and hardly chooses any screen time now.

      I do feel like leading by example is a big thing, too. Whenever I do start to feel a little conflicted about the time my son spends on the computer, I realize that the first thing I need to do is set an example of the type of choices I would feel more comfortable with.

  2. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    If parents are successful, then they aren’t going to encourage their kids to pick a different kind of life.

    I remember when I told my mom that I bought my first car on my own with my own money. The look on her face was not pride. It was jealously. She didn’t understand how I was capable of doing that or why I would even want to do that.

    The expectation was get married, have kids, and have your husband buy you a car, because to encourage me to do something else that I actually liked would have been telling me to live a different life than hers.

    This is why your blog fascinates me. I’m exposing myself to something I’ve never seen before.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    A great post, Penelope, from the content to the delivery and everything in between.
    There’s a great video (and accompanying transcript) by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, at . His first few lines which encapsulate his message – “I’m often asked by parents what advice can I give them to help get kids interested in science? And I have only one bit of advice. Get out of their way. Kids are born curious. Period.” – are in step with your own advice here.

  4. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    “Then, suddenly, one day, that kid doesn’t know what he or she wants to do.”
    You are so wise!!! And I know this because I imagine that most adults really don’t know what they love to do! I didn’t figure out what I loved until last year. I raised my kids and homeschooled them and then I was lost.

    It’s not like I’m uneducated or gave everything to my kids. I think I’d just been conditioned to move along with the crowd that I didn’t know what I liked to do. I did some counseling and that helped but really I just stumbled upon my love of drawing :)

  5. Molly Goossens
    Molly Goossens says:

    “How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

    So relevant to me to today. I quit my job today, a job I was good at and worked hard at, and my boss was baffled. Everyone I’ve told has asked me why I didn’t find another job first, why I didn’t just stay a little longer.

    I won’t do it. Happiness is a choice I make everyday, and if something is making me unhappy I won’t allow it in my life.

    My friends are all at the point in their lives where they’re not happy with the degrees they’ll graduate with next year or the career options they have in those fields, but they don’t realize they have any other choices.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for brining up the act of quitting, Molly. So many of the ideas we have about how work SHOULD be come straight from how people told us how learning should be.

      Quitting a bad job is so important to do. It’s crazy that we tell people to stick it out. For what? You are much better off trying something else – anything – than sticking it out. Your learning curve gets so flat from doing something you already know you don’t like.


  6. Becca
    Becca says:

    In all seriousness- I’m curious. Where do below average intelligence kids/people fall in this homeschool/unschool/follow passion way of life? What if someone only has the aptitude for menial labor?

    And if ideally women become stay at home moms who homeschool the kids- why even bother educating girls? Or, less controversial way to ask- what’s the end goal of homeschooling if a girl just wants to be a homemaker?

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      …and let’s not forget…women represent the majority of the world’s poor. The statistic is 70% of the world’s poor is comprised of women. So passing down standards that perpetuate that statistic is happening from generation to generation. Choosing motherhood as your purpose in life, whether you love being a mother or not, will not bring you wealth or stability any more than picking any other job that you hate.

      • Sabrina Kent
        Sabrina Kent says:

        Whoa, wait. I just read an amazing quote in a review of the book “Father’s Day” by Buzz Bissinger:

        Character transcends intellect.

        Kids are curious. Above- and below- average intelligent kids are all curious. They like to play, they like to explore ideas and ask questions all day long.

        No matter the aptitude, any child, given the chance and the support, will develop interests and learn how to learn by being curious about their interests.

        Whether that’s an interest in literature or lawnmowers, the root is the same – kids love stuff. They just love stuff to death. They love to do stuff and learn about stuff and play with stuff and ask about stuff. And that’s how brains grow and personalities shape themselves. Maybe the goal of education isn’t intelligence as much as it is a full personality, in a way – character. Living a good life, and what that means.

        No matter the aptitude level, every child will have a passion to follow if they’re given half a chance. And following those passions is how a life is built, bit by bit. No matter the aptitude.

        • Becca
          Becca says:

          I by no means mean to exclude all the other benefits of homeschooling- it’s definitely something I’d like to do for my own family one day when I have one. And having gone to a character education based high school, I certainly respect strength of character over job titles. I work in retail (recent career change) myself and am quite happy so far- but it’s only been 4 months, so we’ll see.

          My question was more devil’s advocate because sometimes reading Penelope’s homeschool blog makes it seem like she’s saying kids who follow their passion get to do their passions as adults. What if their passion is for science but their aptitude isn’t? Or anything. I’m genuinely curious about homeschooling and unschooling and just want to learn more. I’m aware as well my own curiosity is clouded by my own struggles of being in my mid 20s and having a hard time finding a passion that also matches my aptitude. That also pays well enough that I don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

          • Melissa
            Melissa says:

            That’s a red herring.

            The point isn’t about your aptitude within a subject. It’s about your willingness to work hard.

            Hard work because you’re engaged in your chosen field trumps aptitude.

          • Kim Zerbe
            Kim Zerbe says:

            You speak in schooly terms. Science and aptitude are school words. Unschooled kids aren’t interested in “science” as you knew it in school. They’ve never had to sit in a chair while someone lectured them on some topi they care nothing about. Unschooled kids are interested in how things work, how the world works. They might take things apart and put them back together, in the process learning what all the parts do. They might start doing that at a very young age, not because someone told them to but because they wanted to. They will teach themselves things you can’t learn as well when you read about it. They’ll know more about mechanics and electricity by age 10 than most high schoolers. Now, maybe such a kid wants to follow his passion into an engineering field that requires a college degree. He will approach college the same way he has gone through life, with a passion. He won’t be there because someone said he had to be. Maybe such a kid becomes a car mechanic and doesn’t need a college degree. But is just as passionate as the other kid and both end up making a living doing what they love. By the way, many unschoolers have an entrepreneurial spirit and will create their own jobs! They don’t always follow a traditional path, often preferring to forge new paths and do things schooled kids never dream of. (Because parents and guidance counselors only tell them about jobs that already exist.) The world needs more dreamers who aren’t afraid to make their own dreams come true!

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I would disagree. If you want to ber really good at something (violin, ice hockey, physics, writing, cooking….): hard work is necessary, interest is necessary to keep you going, but without aptitude you will hit a wall. Just the will and hard work is insufficient to bring you to the top in a profession of your choice if this is what you are aiming for.

          • mh
            mh says:


            I won’t be the last to point out that regular practice, much more than innate ability, points to success.

            Penelope has many posts about talent/prodigies/practice with great links to the research.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            it depends on where you want to be: at the very top of your chosen field? Then you will need the aptitude, in addition to a lot of very hard work. You want to be quite good in your field – get a good job and and a reasonable amount of success? Hard work and tenacity is probably enough. It all depends on your goals. I am only opposing the pendulum swing from “talent is everything” to ” hard work is everything” – in reality to move to the very top you need both.

            And “science” is not a definition made up by schools. It is defined as (and I am copying here from :” Science is the concerted human effort to understand, or to understand better, the history of the natural world and how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding. It is done through observation of natural phenomena, and/or through experimentation that tries to simulate natural processes under controlled conditions” including a much broader view of exploration. And indeed there are many aspects to mechanics and electronics: taking things apart and realize how they work together is one aspect, knowing why they work and what a current is and a field is another aspect – so, because the latter one is taught in school and the former one is what many kids start out with does not make one more or less science than the other.

    • mh
      mh says:

      There are things children need besides wealth. Homeschool is a social good, and I’ll assert that homeschool is better for society than compulsory school — produces better citizens and transmits American heritage and common sense better.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I’m not convinced that everything about intelligence of a person can boil down to a single number. I’d like that to be true, because I’m really good at taking tests. But my experience says it’s not, and people really have a variety of skills or intelligences. I feel pretty certain that most people, even if their test scores don’t add up to much, have strong intelligences or aptitudes in something else not on those tests. And some of the folks who score the highest on those tests aren’t the most employable.

      There is plenty of place in society and there are plenty of good careers for people whose strength is not in the direction of the kind of intelligence measured by tests. I don’t much care if my carpenter or plumber writes like crap, and they sure get paid. Someone with an aptitude for menial labor and good social skills and character can make a decent living in my city. I’d like his number, actually.

      As for your second set of questions, it’s important to recognize they’re two very different ideas. “Why bother educating girls?” is a completely different question from “What’s the end goal of homeschooling if a girl just wants to be a homemaker?” If a girl just wants to be a homemaker, she should decide how much and what kind of learning she needs to achieve her goals. That might be a college degree or it might not (most homeschooling moms I know have college degrees). There are as many ways to be a great homeschooling parent as there are people. If a girl just wants to grow up to be a homeschooling mom, there is an awful lot she can set herself to learn well without school in the way. But if that were my girl, I’d tell her (just like I’ll tell my boy) what my own mom told me: always have a Plan B.

      As for the first question of the pair, unschoolers would say the formulation that education is something grownups do to kids is very problematic. Education ought to be something a person does for herself. Kids ought to have some ideas about what they want to learn, and most kids – even if they come to an early conclusion they just want to stay at home with their own kids – are going to want to learn a whole bunch of stuff. Not all kids are going to want to go to college, and if they don’t that’s a whole lot of wasted money and time sending them there. So some folks might say “Yeah, stop _educating_ the lot of them; just let them _learn_ instead.” Myself, I’d say that if I want to teach something to my kids, I have to find out a way they can see its usefulness first, so they want to learn it. And I’d also say that education is an end in itself (yeah, I’ve got a PhD that was an end in itself, but that’s another story).

      The deeper answer to your question is that this isn’t medieval times or sharia law here; women are equal participants in society to men (and greater participants when it comes to college). There’s no reason to assume it’s only women who will stay home and homeschool the kids; in fact, there’s every reason to project that men will do more and more of that. So if you assume that all your kids will have kids of their own and they will all homeschool them there’s still no reason to treat your girls differently from your boys. It might turn out, based on who they are as people, that the girls are more suited to a career life and the boys are more suited to homeschooling their own kids. You just don’t know that based on what genitalia they come out of the womb with.

      People have very different personalities from early on and their happiness in their careers is going to depend in large part on how well they fit their work to their nature. Someone in the next generation is going to stay home and raise children and do a great job of it. That might be both my boy and girl, or either, or neither (right now I’m thinking neither). But that’s going to be decades off in any case, and there are a lot of books to read and subjects to explore before that happens. It would be as silly to try to train all little girls to be homemakers as it would to try to train all little boys to be engineers.

      • Carmen
        Carmen says:

        Commenter said: “There’s no reason to assume it’s only women who will stay home and homeschool the kids; in fact, there’s every reason to project that men will do more and more of that.”

        I wish this were true, but it’s not. Kids are either being left alone to fend for themselves at a very young age while waiting for a parent or sibling to come home, or they’re being raised by complete strangers. This was true around both my wealthier and less wealthy poorer friends. Parents just weren’t around.

        And….none of us, the girls, were encouraged to learn anything. We were all expected to just marry, have kids, and rely on men.

        The boys, on the other hand, were accompanying my father to work and learning what my father knew about his job at a very early age.

        I think gender plays a very big role with parent expectations and the amount of effort parents are willing to put into their child’s education.

        I’m curious…If Penelope had girls, would she be doing this for them?

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          I’m suggesting that what will be done in the future differs from what was done in the past.

          I’m sorry you and your friends were neglected as children, Carmen. I don’t think that has a lot of bearing, however, on the increased choice of men to be stay-at-home parents.

          • Carmen
            Carmen says:

            I don’t doubt the existence of stay-at-home dads. I’ve just worked around men my entire life, so I’ve never seen it.

            Someone else brought up the point that “ideally” moms do the homeschooling, and for argument’s sake, why educate girls if they will most likely grow up to be homeschooling homemakers.

            I thought with homeschooling gender expectations would be a non-issue because you’re letting your kids learn for themselves whatever they want.

            If you’re letting your kid decide for themselves what they want to learn, why would their gender play a role in what they’re learning? Are homeschooling parents influencing their kids to fit their own expectations of what boys and girls should learn? If so, then the point is lost.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I agree with you completely, Carmen. The idea of letting children decide for themselves what they want to learn is entirely incompatible with the idea of educating boys and girls differently. I don’t know that anybody here has expressed both ideas simultaneously, though. I also didn’t hear anyone say that ideally moms should do the homeschooling, or I’d likely have piped up. I’m not a fan of reductive perceptions of humanity.

            Gender is certainly not a non-issue for all homeschoolers. I My impression, however, is that those homeschoolers who hold to distinct gender role expectations are never unschoolers but are more likely to be the Christian school-in-a-box type of homeschoolers. They may even have more distinct gender role expectations (headcoverings, etc.) than mainstream society’s, and that may be part of the reason they want to keep their kids at home.

            I would also agree that working around men is probably not a good way to meet stay-at-home dads. If you’re working around them, they’re not staying at home. You’d be more likely to encounter stay-at-home dads through a workplace with female executives. If you want to break the glass ceiling, somebody else has to hold down the fort.

    • Jenifa
      Jenifa says:

      If you only have an aptitude for menial labor, or you want to be a homemaker, it’s even more important to be homeschooled. You are not going to learn anything about either of those things going to regular school.

    • Heather Bathon
      Heather Bathon says:

      Becca, when you say ‘educating’ girls are you referring specifically to girls attending college – as in “Why bother going to college if you’re going to end up being a homemaker/homeschooler”?

      Given the expense of college today I’d say that’s a reasonable question.

      But, the whole question of being educated and the importance of education is a different one from going to college or not. This question is at the heart of self-directed learning and the pleasure of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, not as a commodity.

      Given enough interest, learning almost anything one can learn in undergrad is practically free, if one is learning for the sake of knowledge alone. It’s after that point, that learning with the goal of getting a job in a specific field, becomes a reason in and of itself.


      • Becca
        Becca says:

        My question re: girls is more pointed at Penelope specifically based on past posts of hers and what she’s written about regarding girls and homemaking/homeschooling.

        I think homeschooling/unschooling is a great way to foster a life long love of learning. For the sake of learning.

        But basically 99% of us have to work as adults to support ourselves so what is the end goal of growing up? Paying bills- yes? And how do we tailor homeschooling to help kids be happiest earning money to pay bills?

        • Natalie Lang
          Natalie Lang says:

          Just curious where you read/heard that 99% of adults have to work? I don’t think 99% of adults have to work, I don’t work and I know many others who do not work or HAVE to work and we live comfortably on one income.

          I homeschool my 3 girls and I have a college degree and come from a high middle-class income family. I attended private schools growing up and even though I have chosen to homeschool I have not received any negative feedback from my family or friends or even strangers that I meet.

          To your earlier question to paraphrase: you said what’s the point in educating girls if they just want to be homemaker’s and homeschool their own children. I think this frame of thought gives me a clear picture of your background, and this is why you cannot understand the point of still educating women, even if they desire those things. Like that is a bad thing to want to stay at home? It’s not like no one has passions! We’re also artists, musicians, celebrities, athletes or bloggers work from home. Lots of lawyers, doctors and engineers (women!) homeschool… and all in between!

          I know a lovely young lady, through her father, who was homeschooled her whole life and just graduated high school and is now 18 years old. Her father owns a bookstore that she helps run and she knows how to run a successful business. But she doesn’t want to go to college, she wants to get married and have her own children and homeschool. So this is what amazes me about her, she meets experienced mothers and asks if she can spend time with them to learn new things. She met a mom who is great at gardening so she spent a week or two with that mom learning everything about gardening. Next she found a mom who is an excellent cook and spent several weeks with her helping her prepare meals and creating recipes on her own. She also looks for lots of opportunities to be around kids so she can develop those skills. She wants to be the best stay at home mom she can and this is how she is going about doing that, this is just amazing to me!!! (Why didn’t I think of that!? LOL)

          For my own girls, I am not only educating them in reading, writing, and math, I am also helping them discover their passions and letting them see the world through travel. I will hire mentors in their fields to provide years of expertise to help shape their craft/skill/sport. I would expect that if they wanted to be stay at home moms and homeschool their own children they will need to be able to attract a husband who will provide them the same style of living they have been accustomed to. I have no doubt in my mind that they will be able to do whatever they want and will be successful in whatever that is! Entrepreneur, athlete, artist, musician! Why can’t a woman have it all! A great homeschool education, a niche skill/passions and they will be able to work at home AND homeschool their kids if they want!!!!

          There are so many wonderful things about homeschooling/unschooling there are no limits! Just look at my example of the bookstore owners daughter.

    • Kelli
      Kelli says:

      What better reason to educate your girls than the expectation that they will grow up and raise families and educate their own children? If you educate a boy, you educate one person. If you educate a girl, you educate generations!

  7. mh
    mh says:

    My sixth grader — homeschooled, unschooled — still feel reluctant to STOP reading a book once he has begun it. I tell him it’s ok — if he doesn’t like it, he can just stop.

    I’ve started saying things out loud like, “I’m not enjoying this anymore. Let’s go do something more fun” and hoping he picks up on it.

    So school isn’t necessarily the only influence on kids telling them they MUST do what they don’t enjoy. Part of it is personality driven, I’m sure. But I’m taking steps to assure my kids that they are free to quit.

    Oh also, to your post, burning stuff = good.
    Also water. Give my kids a hose and a few bikes to wash and the day just got better.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The act of stopping reading a book in the middle seems really important. And no one teaches that in school. If nothing else, free-choice reading is judged by how many books you’ve read. So you put yourself at a huge disadvantage if you start books and stop them.

      I have a son who reads bits and pieces of books in the Eyewitness series. He doesn’t finish those books. He starts them in the middle. On random pages. And when it gets boring he puts the book on the shelf for months. I wish people would do that as adults with jobs and relationships and commitments. It would open us us to do so much more with ourselves.

      Its’ a different way to think of learning not just as kids but as people.


      • Samantha
        Samantha says:

        But this doesn’t account for the sense of accomplishment one can get from pushing through and finishing something that wasn’t originally very fun or may have stopped being fun in the middle. There are lots of things that I do that aren’t enjoyable at some points in the activity- reading challenging books, meditating, distance running, etc. but overall are enjoyable and very rewarding. We need to remember to teach kids not only to stop doing something when it becomes unpleasurable, but also to decide when something is worth sustained effort despite difficulty or lack of enjoyment (long term versus short term satisfaction)

        • mh
          mh says:


          So who decided you would do distance running? A state bureaucrat? I’d bet not.

          You work hard at (perhaps temporarily disagreeable) projects of your choosing. Have I misunderstood you?

          We are human beings — we learn naturally. Learning is enjoyable for everyone, not just for adults.

          Learning is a naturally enjoyable activity. That explains why traditional school is compulsory for 5- to 17-year olds. And why so many 17-year-old compulsory-schooled Americans are illiterate and unprepared for life. Oh, wait.

      • Kelli
        Kelli says:

        Wow. I see this as a problem. There are many things in life that we must do even if it isn’t “fun”. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because we are responsible. Like paying our bills on time when we would rather spend our money on “fun” things like new clothes or a day at an amusement park. Like meeting our childrens needs for love and care when we really just want to hang out with our friends. This attitude of “Just do what’s FUN” is destroying our society! Have fun in life, yes, but duty and commitment are not given enough weight. They are what character is built of. Where would we be if George Washington decided that fighting the Revolutionary War just wasn’t “fun” anymore?

        • Stephanie
          Stephanie says:

          I think there is a big difference between fun and engagement. Fun is play, and play has a definite place in children’s lives. It is an important aspect of their development. The research on this is clear. Engagement is an emotional involvement, a commitment to something you care about. I’ve no doubt Washington was not playing around, but you can be sure he was engaged! Had he been placed behind a desk to manage wartime resources, he may not have been so engaged, because the work would not have fit his personality. What we want for our children is this kind of engagement. It has nothing to do with “what is wrong in this world” because you can be sure those troubles are, by and large, not coming from homeschoolers. I cannot speak for everyone, and I have read of some families that don’t make their kids do chores, but certainly in my family everyone helps out with chores. We learn to work for the common good of our family. What we don’t want for any child is a life filled with no play, no engagement, and only work that is dictated by an institution rather than understood within the context of the family, meaning, or growing mastery.

    • mh
      mh says:

      1) It would certainly change the schools.

      2) I still wouldn’t send my kids. There is little a compulsory school could do that could make me “want” to send my children.

  8. Chris M.
    Chris M. says:

    “How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

    Add to this: How will they start eating vegetables? How will they learn to love taking out the trash?

    I’ve come to find there comes a point where force feeding isn’t effective and one has to make decisions to grow responsible on their own. Responsibility doesn’t have to be force feeding. In fact, in my experience, it has come through role models and personal necessity. Let us not forget, there are plenty of adults who graduate and completely forget math, never really clean their house and won’t be caught dead with a piece of broccoli on their plate, yet they function fine. Some even thrive in their professions. How?

  9. Michelle Straka
    Michelle Straka says:

    Aptitude is like beauty; it’s in the eye of the beholder. How many times have you worked for or with someone who you considered inept? Yet someone more senior to you hired them…and continues to employ them even though their impact on the workplace is minimal.

    Hard work, perseverance, resiliency, curiosity, willingness to try indicate success…not aptitude. All things that in my experience were nearly killed in me by traditional public education.

  10. Eva
    Eva says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I have great respect for your insights and intentions, and this is not an attempt to find fault. However, the two statements below seem contradictory, and beg an explanation.

    In this Homeschooling blog entry you write:
    “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like.”

    In your Career Coaching blog, a few days ago, you wrote:
    “I get so frustrated forcing my kids to practice, that the (music) room is already sort of a torture chamber.”

    I am sure you have sound reasoning behind why “forcing” music practice is OK, while “forcing” certain academic pursuits is not. I hope you will take a moment to clarify this distinction.

    Thank you for your courageous blogging. It is truly inspiring.

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      I do this! We haven’t done any curriculum in a long time, but my kids practice piano every day, except recently because we’ve had a big family disruption. And though I can’t speak for Penelope, I can tell you why we do it. Because music is an amazing teacher of so many things. There’s a great podcast from On Being that interviews Adele Diamond (a leading cognitive neuroscientist) where they discuss what strengthens the growth of the prefrontal cortex, and what doesn’t (stress). (it’s here: ) So I decided to make our Suzuki piano practice the cornerstone of our education. It’s the one thing we do every day. Music is everything, wrapped in a package of beauty.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. It’s conflicting. I agree. The way I tell myself that I am consistent – or maybe not consistent but sane – is that I am using the music practice to teach them skills that I think are incredibly important: self-discipline, grit, determination, working a little bit every day, commitment to something large, working with others, learning a second language etc.

      You could get things from a lot of things. Even school. But my son practices violin 40 minutes a day and gets everything he needs for life. I think. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about anything. But maybe this will be true.

      My cello son wants to grow up and be a famous cellist – so I feel like I am just doing what he wants when we are practicing insane amounts of time. I tell him all the time, you shut up and practice or we don’t drive to Chicago. It’s insane to drive 16 hours a week for cello if he’s not going to practice.

      So, this is my thinking. I hope I’m right. Or at least good. And kind.


      • Eva
        Eva says:


        Thank you for your time to clarify. I no longer see those statements as conflicting!

        The distinction is Skills vs. Content.

        By forcing your children to practice music, you are forcing them to practice learning Skills (self-discipline, grit, etc.). By forcing a curriculum, you would be forcing the Content (as well as a certain pace of learning) for sure, and maybe Skills (if you are a really good teacher).

        Skills can be applied over and over to any Content, and thus internalized by the child, and used in the future. Content (subject of the day), itself, will most likely not be re-learned over and over, so it will eventually be forgotten. Therefore, focusing on Content without Skills is unproductive.

        I find that an apparent contradiction often holds key information. This was certainly the case. I admire your courage to post contradictory statements, and openly discussing your doubts. You are good and kind, to your children and to us your readers.


        Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, the specifics about your family and the amazing link to Dr. Adele Diamond’s interview. Your input facilitated my understanding of Penelope’s clarification, and my own little “aha” moment. Thank you!

        I am inspired by your and Penelope’s making music practice the cornerstone of your children’s education, and plan to try that for my 5 year-old harpist (an instrument she discovered without my input at age 3). I love your statement “Music is everything, wrapped in a package of beauty.”

        Penelope and Stephanie, thank you both so very much for great intellectual support.


        • Stephanie
          Stephanie says:

          Eva, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I think it’s wonderful that
          your daughter discovered her desire for the harp on her own. My daughter has been studying piano for five years now and also wants to study harp. It’s time for me to make that happen! I feel like I should also add that I am not a “pure” unschooler (whatever that means) because I do believe that consistent math practice is essential. Just a little bit, every day.

  11. Art Fewell
    Art Fewell says:

    Speaking from experience, I was homeschooled and never learned the proper foundations in math. Today everything in my career and personal ambitions as well revolve around math, I spend the wee hours of the morning, nights and weekends struggling to learn many of the things I need to largely becasue I never got the proper foundations in Math. When I was homeschooled I was a child, how could I know what I wanted in the future when I had no real concept of what it was to be an adult. By the time I hit college I knew I had interests in computer science but I avoided the topic due to EXTENSIVE remedial math needs. And I suffer for it.

    The bottom line is, when you know very little about a topic it is difficult, intimidating, even daunting. But, if you get to the point where you are comfortable with a subject, only then can you properly evaluate if you really like doing something. So for my kids, they will get a well-rounded proficiency across a breadth of subjects not to force anything down their throat, but to give them a well-rounded viewpoint. Not being good at anything other than your wim I would think is actually forcing things down your kids throat as was the case with me, I couldnt really pick what I wanted to do when I was old enough to know myself because I never received the propper foundations. The flip side of this is, I also still love learning so I am still motivated to study – giving freedom in studies can help promote a love of learning but it must be balanced with some forced subjects. That is the way to give your child real freedom and empopwerment to choose their own destiny.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      I agree with this. I was also home schooled and to this day, really struggle with math because it wasn’t something we focused on in my house. I feel that part of home education means giving my kids the chance to succeed partially through having them try a variety of different things and learning how to at least conquer the basics.

  12. Mary
    Mary says:

    For responsibility and character development, nothing in my kids’ lives has been as valuable as their pets. They both love animals, and we live in a semi-rural area, so we have been able to keep over a dozen animals. When the dogs need to be walked, or the elderly cat needs to be bathed, or the guinea pigs need to have their pen cleaned, my kids are on the job in a flash.
    Not because they are forced to do it, but because they are passionate about their pets and value the relationships.

    And speaking of jobs…I have had to do both kinds of paid work as an adult; the kind that is a means to an end, and the kind that is pure joy. My happiness in both kinds of work had more to do with my own sense of worth and value as a person than in the nature of the jobs. From my observations, schools are not the only place where kids can develop these internal strengths. They can, however, do a great job of crushing kids’ spirits.

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