If you’re looking for curriculum, try resilience

If you’re looking for curriculum, try resilience

When I started homeschooling I was inundated with useless advice. Use cupcakes to teach math! Use car trips to teach geography! The ideas are not helpful because parents who are able to conceive of the idea of homeschooling do not need help thinking of fun projects. The problem with fun projects is that most parents don’t think they are fun.

As a homeschooling parent I want to know what the essentials are so that I don’t have to spend my day doing fun projects in order to feel like I’m achieving my goals for homeschooling.

The picture up top is my son playing Ninja hide-and-seek with a friend after swimming. They gave each other hints with math problems and room numbers. No parent would have thought of this. I’d never think of it because it’s boring to me.  But obviously kids are born knowing how to find fun.

So what I’ve realized is that I need to focus on WHY I was homeschooling,  so that anytime I was worried about doing the wrong thing, I could remind myself “This is why we’re homeschooling and even if I don’t know what I’m doing, the reasons for homeschooling don’t change.”

One of the most powerful WHYS for me is resilience. It’s pretty much the determining factor as to whether adults end up are satisfied with their life.  Yet there is no part of school that contributes to learning resilience except schoolyard fist-fights.

The following list comes from materials from Casey Mulqueen a psychologist who specializes in building resilience. But really, my own curriculum comes from having seen multiple therapists in order to learn these skills in my own life, and then taking my children to therapists to teach them resilient thinking. But the most important work – -in all cases has come from what we do outside the therapists’ office, in the moment. Resilient thinking takes practice. 

Here is a curriculum for resilience:

1. Focus on filtering. How you frame a problem matters more than how to you solve it. When you talk to your kids, focus on framing, because more than the problem at hand, how you frame the problem is what will matter. This lesson is something that can’t be planned. It’s an in-the-moment sort of thing, so the more time you spend with your kid, there more opportunity you will have to teach framing.

  • Ask: “How can you change that?” A strong sense of personal responsibility helps adults control their own destiny and focus on success by their own hand.
  • Ask: “What is the most likely outcome?” Those with realistic optimism expect the future to be good, but they remain aware that challenges may arise and things won’t always go as expected.

2. Focus on your own actions. We all know that kids learn from what we do, not from what we say. So helping kids solve their own problems by talking through resilience is good, but we make more impact by a good model resilience ourselves – by how we act. Again, this lesson requires lots of time with the kids — they need to see you doing your own life, day in and day out, as opposed to you taking special time out of your every day life to do their life with them.

  • Model self-assurance, which is the belief in your ability to deal with challenges. This means your kids need to see you doing difficult things so they can you that you approach challenges and shifts in demands without loss of enthusiasm.
  • Self-Composure is the ability to manage stress and remain calm under pressure. So your kids would need to see you under pressure and they would need to see you making choices about how to cope.

3. Set your own goals and meet them.  Not for your kids. For you.  People who are resilient have the ability to decide what they want and then follow through to get it. Goal-oriented people set appropriate goals, monitor progress on those goals, and adjust behavior accordingly.

So often we get caught up in what we are doing for our kids. All our goals focus on our kids, and in the worst cases, we can’t separate our kids reaching their goals from us reaching our own goals. You know what this looks like on the baseball field: It’s a dad losing his mind over the fact that his kid struck out—screaming at the ref, the coach, the kid, everyone.

What it looks like at home is a parent who is overwhelmed with the kids and fails to set goals for herself. No goals is the opposite of resilience, actually, so your goals are more important to focus on than any other curriculum issue we have.

Fortunately, now we each of us has at least one personal goal to focus on: Improve our resilience.

16 replies
  1. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    I really love your advice to, essentially, do your own thing and let your kids do theirs. I think so much of the hyper-competative childhood culture these days is about parents who never achieved their own dreams trying to live vicariously through their kids, and everyone winds up frustrated. My kid is still little, but when I think/daydream about stuff I want him to do/learn, usually I can step back and realize “Actually, *I* want to do that, so I should just do it myself. He’ll probably come up with something completely different *he’d* like to do.”

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    What I gathered from your words here is that homeschooling is so much about US as parents. You are correct. We need to set our goals and be sure WE know why we are homeschooling — the rest seems to fall into place.

    Thank you.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I like this post very much. It’s very focused on one goal of your homeschooling curriculum. Your own hacked curriculum not based on a specific subject or knowledge area. It’s a homeschooling education that incorporates math, liberal arts, and more with boundaries worked out together with your sons. The compartmentalization of knowledge is most effective when it’s done by the individual in their own way and on their own terms. When the knowledge is acquired with others, it’s done with parents, mentors, and others with whom they trust and respect. Which brings me to values. My values very much align with those I learned in the Boy Scouts. Specifically, the Scout oath which references the Scout law. Eight years well spent with good people. It was a good and fun education that I still use and value.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m enthralled by the idea that Boy Scouts achieve the goals of homeschooling. Maybe Boy Scouts are the first homeschool co-op. I have to think about this.


      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Maybe. Boy Scouts worked for me and, of course, many other boys. It was an activity other than school that I shared with other friends, their dads, and my dad. A national organization with the local troop run with minimal oversight and interference. I rather doubt it’s like that today. We met at the local volunteer fire department who sponsored us. My dad was a very involved and longtime member of the volunteer fire department. He attended many scout meetings and went on many camping and canoeing trips as did other dads. It was a fun and learning experience for me in many ways. Merit badges weren’t high on my list but I did manage to become a Life Scout. So I achieved some essential badges such as camping, first aid, swimming, lifesaving, etc. As with other organizations or other groups of people, it’s about the people. It started for me with the Cub Scouts and progressed from there. It was a good fit for me. And being “indoctrinated” with the scout oath and law by reciting it before every meeting wasn’t such a bad thing after all. :)

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    I was in a bad mood this morning so I was going to comment something like “ugh! why can’t free range education be also guided? there’s nothing wrong with guiding a child to learn history and science, etc.”

    Then the post took a completely different turn. And I ended up agreeing. Which makes me even moodier?


    What I am seeing more and more is that once I realized that the line between work life and personal life is BS so is the line between education and life. Perhaps the best direction for education comes from values or principles, as Mark pointed out.

    The thing is, our family values knowledge, education, good reasoning. So if I hang my homeschooling/education on something like resilience the kid is going to pursue begin well read and educated anyway because that’s just the environment that the kid comes from. Maybe he won’t be reciting the classics at age 7. Who cares. I can’t because I’ve never read it because I just don’t even know what the classics are. That happens when you’re an immigrant sometimes.

    But we are constantly evolving and reinventing ourselves. I am convinced that our kids will pick up on that. So if I lean my weight on teaching something (like resilience) then everything else will just ….. happen.

    I watched my parents be hungry learners and I watched them appreciate well spoken people. So I just followed because I wanted them to be proud of me. Then I realized it had internalized deeply and that’s who I became.

    So you’re right and it makes me annoyed to agree with you once again because I want to disagree sometime and make a dazzling argument as for why I am right.

    Maybe one day. I am resilient.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I liked this comment too, Karelys. I really liked this part: “What I am seeing more and more is that once I realized that the line between work life and personal life is BS so is the line between education and life.”

      We are so drawn to make things neat and tidy. A lot of homeschooling is about that untidiness.


  5. Bria O'Farrell
    Bria O'Farrell says:

    I really needed to read this today. Culturally, where we live (Ireland) the whole idea of homeschooling is completely foreign to most people. I’ve never been one to do what the general populous does, so it hasn’t been too much of a stretch for me to delve into the world of homeschooling. But because I am surrounded by people who feel that your education doesn’t count unless you’ve sat in a classroom from the ages of 4 (they start young out here) onwards, I often second guess myself because I worry my “curriculum” isn’t doing enough. The reality is, my kids have time to be kids and learn at their own pace without having to sacrifice the most formative years of their life to a broken institution. Having to defend our stand on this and other areas of our life can be a bit wearing at times. So teaching resilience is very good advice. Thank you.

  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    Great post and to the point.

    As karelys points out, one of the strengths of homeschooling is breaking down the school/life division. Baristas across America know it’s a myth that decades of application in school lead directly to a good life. In homeschooling, we can focus on those matters that really do contribute to a good life – resilience, commitment, openness, cooperation, enthusiasm, motivation – rather than worksheets and boxed curriculum.

    Cooperation is a big one for me. One of the things I’ve noticed lately in my boy, who just turned ten, is an improved ability to cooperate.

    For example, he is getting really good at asking for things in the right way and at the right time. Last night, he popped up after dinner and started clearing. He got halfway through the dishes and up to the heavy pots, and then came over and asked me “Dad, the dishes are almost done, but I’m not sure what to do with the heavy pots. Do you think you could help me now?” This is the way you ask a tired dad. And, when you come down to it, the way you ask a tired dad for help with the dishes is the same way you ask a co-worker for help with a project.

    We talked about our goals yesterday (we type them out a couple times a year), which ones we’d met, which ones we’d missed, and why. We are at a stage now where being home together isn’t a one-sided thing. He is better off helping me with my goals as much as I help him with his. “Dad,” he said to me yesterday afternoon after lunch, “now would be a good time for you to practice violin.” Yes, my son, it would.

    If you want to get somewhere professionally, you don’t just need to learn how to manage yourself as an individual contributor. You need to learn how to manage other people too. You need to learn how to set and meet your own goals, but you also need to learn how to tell when you need help, how to ask other people for help, how to motivate other people to help, how to cooperate and collaborate.

    So add that to the homeschool curriculum, after resilience.

  7. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    “Model self-assurance, which is the belief in your ability to deal with challenges.”

    The power of framing questions is such a powerful learning tool. Being in a room this past week, watching Sugata Mitra ask children questions and his process of doing so was fascinating.

    Seeing him answer questions from a group of parents afterward agrees completely with what you said “No parent would have thought of this.” His questions and answers back to the parents and his personal story with his son showed his understanding.

    It is trust that we must all practice and you cannot get there without resilience first.

    Thanks Penelope – you continue to keep me thinking!

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    So I learned something new, I learned that curriculum is not necessarily textbooks. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I totally thought when someone asked me about curriculum they meant “which boxed set of textbooks” I was using…. which I don’t use any boxed sets. My go to response was “I don’t use curriculum.”

    Then when I signed my kids up for acting classes (oldest needs to help with anxiety issues), they were talking about curriculum… I thought “How and why are they going to learn about improv and character development from a textbook?” But I had it wrong, that’s not what curriculum means for acting school.

    Then I looked it up in the dictionary… Curriculum really means: “courses of study offered by a school “. Ohhhh… duh! I feel embarrassed!

    So then, if I want to have a course on resilience or a course on grit, I don’t have to use any one-size fits all textbooks. Life is the curriculum, and we learn by exploring and doing things in a way that works best for us as individuals. So with this definition, I will just say we do our own curriculum from now on.

  9. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I’m curious if you think its important to intentionally put your kids in a position where they have the freedom to fail, or if you think that will happen on its own?

    I think that I learned a lot of “life resilience” from my parents modeling, but I think that I developed a lot of personal resilience through organized sports.

  10. Nisha Worsham
    Nisha Worsham says:

    I like the ideas of taking money from rich parents and giving it to poor parents so that the poor parents who want to stay home and homeschool can stay home with their kids. The problem with this logic though, is that not all rich parents are “fit” parents. Money just allows you to cover up your “issues” better with expensive toys. I was sent to public school and as much as it was a waste of 18 years of my life, I can tell you there are some parents who are so narcissistic that they are unable to do any better than the schools. A parent who will not confront his or her own issues, rich or poor, is a bad parent, period. Unfortunately, being with your kids is something you have to want to do. Selfishness is too rampant in America to be made illegal.

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