I took this picture when I was in New York City, in the middle of the week, at a totally cool place called Make Meaning. They have cakes that are ready-made, and they have totally cool things for decorating the cakes, including a spin-art setup, where the cake is on the spinner instead of the piece of paper, and you paint the cake as it spins.

I took the photo because I knew it was a special moment. It was a moment that I knew I could only have because we were homeschooling. And I thought I’d need pictures like this to remind me when I have doubts about homeschooling.

I thought the photo would remind me of the educational benefits of being outside the classroom. But the photo is much more than that.

Peter Gray, at Psychology Today, polled homeschool families, and he published a summary of what parents say the benefits are to their homeschooling.

I am struck by the four benefits that parents mentioned most frequently: Read more

We went to visit my brother in New York City when his baby was born. My kids loved holding her. Finally.

There’s been a lot of lead-up to this. For example, the last time we visited, as we were going up to the apartment, in the elevator, my six-year-old said, “If Aunt Kristen is pregnant, does that mean she and Uncle Adam had sex?”

I said, “Yes.”

My son said, “Do you think I could ask Uncle Adam if he liked it?”

The people in the elevator nearly died laughing.

I said, “People like having sex with someone they love. But it would not be good manners to ask Uncle Adam about a specific time. That’s private.” Read more

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The New York Times has decided to take up the cause of studying English in college.

This discussion sounds similar to the discussion of whether we should legalize gay marriage. Generation Y is so overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage that the debate is a waste of time. It’s opposed by conservative, out-of-date Baby Boomers who want to freeze society in debate sessions like they try to hold onto their delusions of agelessness with plastic surgery.

The discussion of teaching English is absolutely ridiculous. Here’s why: Read more

It’s too bad that I’ve starting reading a lot of parenting books because I get free business books in the mail every day, but I’m sick of them. I’ve been getting free business books in the mail every day for the last five years, and I shudder to think how many I’d get each day if I hadn’t spent the last five years changing addresses more often than a felon on the run.

It’s also too bad that I’ve started reading parenting books because my local library doesn’t have any. Well, who knows if they have any, because the books are shelved randomly by someone with no apparent knowledge of the Dewey decimal system. For example, Shakespeare’s Henry V is shelved in the biography section.

Read more

I have come to enjoy when people ask me, “How is the homeschooling going?”

I used to say, “Fine.”

Now I don’t. Now I say, “We are not schooling. I decided that school is unnecessary and we are doing self-directed learning.”

People say, “What is that?”

Read more

I read a lot about how kids should have unstructured time to learn in non-sedentary ways. I totally agree. It’s just that I think it’s a conversation initiated by parents of overscheduled kids.

For homeschoolers, the idea that kids should have down time just being kids is pretty easy. After all, there are 14 waking hours of the kids’ days and for school kids 10 of those are spend dealing with school stuff. Homeschoolers don’t have that. They can do unstructured play all day long.

But I’m not sure that’s the best idea because then kids are not exposed to things they wouldn’t seek out on their own, in their small, home-based world. Read more

We spent three days in New York City. It’s amazing to me that we lived there for ten years, because I experience huge sensory overload when I’m there. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if I was always that way or being at the World Trade Center on 9/11 made me that way. I think I’ve always been that way.

And I think my older son has sensory overload as well. He spent most of the trip playing with Legos underneath a slide in a playground in Tribeca. And when he came out voluntarily, it was usually for an animal.

The highlight of the trip for him was staying at my brother’s apartment, because he has a Labradoodle. My son’s second-favorite part of the trip was feeding the goats in the Central Park Zoo. No joke. You should have seen my husband, the Farmer, doling out quarters so my son could pay to feed goats even though his job on the farm is to feed goats every morning. My husband said, “Maybe I should charge you quarters for doing your chores at home and then I wouldn’t have to nag you.”

My takeaway from this trip is that kids know how to find where they belong. If you give kids the chance. Even in New York City, my son sought out the quiet places and the animals.

I had worked with a career coach once who asked me to think of my favorite time in my childhood. And it was clear to me that doing that exercise allowed me to focus in on what I should be doing as an adult. We all know what we should be doing—we know it even as children. But if we don’t practice acting on that knowledge then, as adults, we are scared to direct ourselves and we feel lost in the workworld where we have to make career decisions for ourselves.

I was in low track math. I remember when I realized it. I was in the front row, on the far right, and did not understand anything going on in algebra class. We had a tiered system in our school. I was in the highest track for most classes, and the lowest track for math. I remember wondering what the school would do with me when they realized that I couldn’t even keep up in dumb-kid math.

Amazingly, after that, I was moved up for geometry, into a higher track, presumably because in a class of 1500 students, I was in the top 10%, but I was in special ed math. Something was wrong.

But something was really wrong in geometry. I was so lost that I still have nightmares about walking into class and having no idea what people are talking about.

I never needed math again until I founded my first start-up. The guy who funded it hired a CFO-type person to show me how to build financial models. Using algebraic thinking. I realized that not only was he assuming I knew how to do math, but he was assuming I knew how to use Excel. So I hired a college student to teach me how to use Excel.

Excel is amazing. It taught me how to think algebraically. And as I got better at Excel, the formulas showed me how to think in terms of possibilities, and the columns and rows taught me how to look for patterns in business models to evaluate feasibility.

I’ve founded three start-ups and each time, my Excel skills have improved because it’s fun for me. I love building financial models, and in my last company I put an investment banker on my advisory board specifically so he could help me get better at using Excel.

So I am starting to believe the people who say that kids learn math when they need to know math. I’m believing the people who tell me that it’s okay that my son can’t do long division. My son has a goat business. It’s time to get the goats pregnant, and he can’t pay to rent a boy goat until he can figure out how much money he needs left over to feed the moms and the babies over the winter. So I know that somehow, he’s going to learn math this fall.

 

When my son realized I had his dance class music on my iPod, he started asking for it all the time.

Then he started asking about the lyrics.

“Are they saying shit?”

“Yes.”

“Can we say that?”

“When we are singing the song.”

“Really? Let’s go back to that spot in the song. I want to sing it.”

I explained that in other parts of the world, saying shit is not the huge deal that it is in the country.

“Everyone says it?”

“Well. Not six-year-olds.”

“When I can drive?”

“Yeah. When you can drive and you’re in that area of the country.”

“How will I know if we’re in that area?”

“Someone will say, ‘Yo yo bro, how’s your shit goin’?'”

The kids die laughing.

We listen to the song more.

They ask what it means to say, “Beats so big I’m steppin’ on Leprechauns.”

And they point out the song sheds light on Lucky Charms.

And I’m starting to think the car might be more educational than I realized.

Since we don’t have school anymore, and I can earn a living from anywhere, we went to Mall of America.

I gave a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Business School, and I ended up bringing the kids and spending three days enjoying the fact that the amusement parks are empty during the school day.

My sons went on each ride three hundred times while I answered emails near guard rails and contemplated the expense of homeschooing when you buy two, thirty-dollar wrist bands three days in a row.

Our favorite part of the park was this rope contraption that simulates climbing up the masts of a pirate ship. The kids had safety lines, but they seemed to serve mainly as psychological assurance. There was a park employee whose job was to rescue stuck kids. Since mine were the only ones there, they got private instruction on how to climb all the different types of rope ladders. The boys were so excited to learn something new. And I was so excited to watch someone else teach them.