I feel very strongly that if we have the option, it is better to let kids play and not require chores whether for pay or not. The reason I feel this way is that I tried all kinds of options when my kids were young and all of them resulted in battles with my kids and resentment on my part. I switched to focusing on doing the chores as happily as I could, myself, and really focusing on the positive reasons for doing them while moving my thinking away from feeling like I “had” to do them! I did that for a couple of years and during that time my kids had switched their thinking too and didn’t resist at all when I asked for some help. I didn’t ask them to be responsible (without forgetting) for chores – that was a setup for me to be resentful when they DID forget. I didn’t ask them to tackle huge jobs that seemed overwhelming to them – another setup for them to flake and me to be resentful!

I asked them literally to help me – like if I was carrying a laundry basket I would ask, “Hey could you carry this into the laundry room for me while I gather up another load?” Or I’d be IN the kitchen doing dishes and we’d be chatting and I’d just start handing dishes to a child to dry and put away while we talked and I moved on to washing more dishes or wiping counters off, etc.

I got more and more clear over time on why I wanted my kids to do household work! Some people justify it by saying they need the help, but it was clear to me that the battling over it and their shirking and so on was much MORE work for me, not less. I realized that I wanted my kids to help because I wanted them to grow up to be helpful people.

Once I was clear on my real objective, I quickly came to realize that you can’t coerce someone into being helpful if you want them to become a helpful person. If you coerce them, they don’t get the choice to be helpful so they don’t get the good feelings they would if they’d done it voluntarily. And coercion creates resistance (either passive or active) and so they get into the habit of resisting being helpful. Not what I wanted.

So I stopped any attempt to coerce and they slowly became more and more helpful on their own. Eventually, they were doing lots of stuff themselves, without being asked. They all just sort of began doing their own laundry, for example. And they’d clean up their own rooms and often I’d notice someone had cleaned up the kitchen or cleared off the always-cluttered dining room table. And I also helped them. If one of them had laundry going, they might ask me to help by getting it into the dryer. Or they might ask for my help in cleaning their room.

And in the meantime, life was calmer and happier for all of us.


Reading Math – Picture Books

These are a few of my family’s favorite math-related picture books. They’re all great for cuddling up and reading math with your little ones.

      • Fraction Fun, by David A. Adler

    • Pigs Will Be Pigs, by Amy Axelrod*
    • Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish, by Emily Sper
    • Lemonade, by Rosa Drew
    •  Quail Can’t Decide, by Jacquelyn Reinach
    • Ten Black Dots, by Donald Crews
    • Quack and Count, by Keith Baker
    • 12 Ways to Get to 11, by Eve Merriam
    • Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, by Muriel Feelings
    • The Crayola Counting Book, by Rozanne Lanczak Williams
    • Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem-Solving, by Greg Tang*
    • Ten Sly Piranhas, by William Wise
    • A Bargain for Frances, by Russell Hoban
    • The Fly On the Ceiling: A Math Myth, by Dr. Julie Glass*
    • Anno’s Magic Seeds, by Mitsumasa Anno
    • One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktaleby Demi*
    • The Greedy Triangleby Marilyn Burns
    • How Much Is a Million?by David M. Schwartz*
    • Math Curseby Jon Scieszka
    • Millions of Catsby Wanda Gág
    • The Very Hungry Caterpillarby Eric Carle
    • If You Made a Millionby David M. Schwartz*
    • The Doorbell Rangby Pat Hutchins
    • Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violinby Lloyd Moss
    • A Remainder of Oneby Elinor J. Pinczes*
    • Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jarby Masaichiro Anno
    • Perfect Squareby Michael Hall*
    • The King’s Chessboardby David Birch*
    • How Many Jelly Beans?by Andrea Menotti
    • Anno’s Counting Bookby Mitsumasa Anno
    • Over in the Meadow: An Old Nursery Counting Rhymeby Paul Galdone
    • One Hundred Hungry Antsby Elinor J. Pinczes*
    • 2 X 2 = Boo!: A Set of Spooky Multiplication Storiesby Loreen Leedy*
    • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sundayby Judith Viorst*
    • Little Cloudby Eric Carle

*Great for all ages, including older kids

What are some of your family’s favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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Resentful Unschooling Parents

I think most parents probably struggle sometimes with feeling resentful. There are some good reasons for that.

Most of us didn’t get to have the really wonderful life that we’re giving our children and the child in us can’t help but resent that! So that bubbles up sometimes, especially when we’re tired or hungry or drained and really in need of some parenting/nurturing for ourselves.

Also, there can be a feeling of having waited to be the adult-in-charge for years, putting up with being ordered around, for example, and it is “supposed to be” our turn to be the top dog now, right? Breaking a cycle is like that, you give up your turn to be on top and, again, resentment at the unfairness of it can pop up sometimes.

Sometimes it feels like we give and give and give and don’t get enough back to fill our own needs. There can be times like that and if you don’t think you “should” feel that way, then you have added feelings of guilt on top of it. So – just to let you know, I don’t know any unschooling parents who never feel that way – you’re not alone and there isn’t anything wrong with you for feeling that way sometimes. It isn’t how we feel, but what we do WITH those feelings, that really matters.

And, of course, there is fear that we’re messing up our kids. This comes up because we are doing something that goes so completely against today’s conventional wisdom and, occasionally, we doubt ourselves. We start feeling like maybe we’re being really arrogant to think we know better than most other people and better even than professionals and experts. So we have doubts – especially when things aren’t going smoothly. But things will not always go smoothly – unschooling doesn’t promise that. Kids will fight with siblings, pick at their food, be uncooperative in helping around the house, say things that hurt your feelings, be later readers, break things by being careless, act thoughtlessly and inconvenience others, and on and on. Unschooling kids are still kids – still learning and much of that learning involves making mistakes. If you see these problems as unschooling failures, you’ll fear you are messing up your kids. Try to see them as normal childhood experiences – learning and experimenting and, especially, as developmental. Don’t let normal childhood behavior feed your fear that unschooling isn’t “working.”

Don’t compare your “insides” to other unschoolers’ “outsides.” You weren’t there when I lost my cool and threw a plastic laundry basket against a wall and made a big dent in the wall. We usually don’t talk about these kinds of moments because it doesn’t help people do better – they aren’t inspiring. I usually try to talk about ways I’ve learned to avoid these tough times, not comfort people and say there-there, its okay to have melt-downs and throw things. It is not okay. It wasn’t okay for me and I’m glad to say that those moments were very few and far between, but I don’t want to give the impression that my family life was always one long blissful stream of harmony. Again, it isn’t realistic that we parents would never get angry, resentful, cranky, etc. It is what we do with those feelings that matters and we’re learning along the way.

Be Their Parent NOT Their Friend?

Something that has rattled around in my head for years is the line, “You’re the parent, not their friend.”

I was just reading a news article and someone was quoted as saying: “Your kids don’t need a 40-year-old friend. They need a parent.”

What a tragic dichotomy that one little line sets up!

Every single time that line has ever entered my head, it was leading me in the wrong direction. Every time.

What is a friend? I’m not talking about the schoolmates teenagers go out partying and drinking with. Not talking about the 5-year-old kid your child happens to play with at the park that day. I’m talking about real friendship.

1. a friend: one attached to another by affection or esteem

Knowing what I know now, with my kids grown, I strongly feel that that that one line, which permeates parental consciousnesses, should be quickly and actively contradicted and rooted out like a pernicious weed every single time it sprouts up.

Instead of “You’re the parent, not their friend,” substitute, “Be the very very best friend to them you can possibly be.”

Do your kids need you to be their “40 year old friend?” YES! Children do need to feel attached to their parents “by affection or esteem.” What better connection is there than by affection and esteem?

AND what’s more, parents need their children’s friendship, too. Some people seem to think there is something wrong with parents “needing” their children. They act like being mutually attached to each other means children have not become independent enough and parents are being a “burden to their children.”

A 40-year-old friend isn’t going to have the same relationship with a 5-year-old as his/her 5-year-old friends or 10-year-old friends. And parent-child friendships evolve over the years until they are, eventually, adult-with-adult friendships.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your child’s friend. Do what it takes to earn their friendship—be supportive and kind and honest and trustworthy and caring and generous and loyal and fun and interesting and interested in them and all the other things that good friends are to each other. Be the best 40 year old friend you can be (or whatever age you are).

People use “I’m the parent, not a friend,” as an excuse to be mean, selfish, and lazy. Instead, be the adult in the friendship. Be mature. You’ve BEEN a five-year-old and your child has not been a forty-year-old, so you have an advantage in terms of long-term and wider perspective. Use that advantage to be an even better friend. You know how to be kinder and less self-centered and you know how beneficial it is to put forth the effort.

I can honestly say that my children and I are friends. I know they’d say the same. I’m not trying to act like I’m 18 or 21 or 24—I am 57 years old. They’re having a “Halo” party at someone else’s house tonight and will stay up all night playing video games and I’m not going to go and hang out with them all night and play Halo. I’m going to make a huge platter of deviled eggs for them to take over there, but I’m going to stay home and watch a movie with my husband and go to bed early enough that I’ll feel good tomorrow. I’m not 18 and I don’t recover as quickly as they do from a night with no sleep. I didn’t go to the midnight showing of the Terminator movie the other night, for the same reason. But I was certainly invited and welcome.

My kids are not spoiled brats because I’ve tried to be their friend. They hold jobs, they manage money, they make good and responsible decisions. We are very strongly “attached by affection and esteem.”

I wish I could wipe that expression out of everybody’s minds and replace it with “Be the best friend to your children that you can be.”

Game of SET

Game of SET

One of the best games out there for families to play together. Twelve cards are laid out on a tabletop and everybody plays at once. The goal is to find sets – 3 cards that have various attributes that either all match or are all different. The game is fast-paced and there is no waiting. It supports cognitive, logical and spatial reasoning skills as well as visual perception skills. There is a SET Junior version which is very well designed and fun. The SET website is great – it has lots of cool variations and even a section of mathematical research on SET. There are daily puzzles on their website.


7 Habits of Highly Happy Unschoolers


These are some brief notes from a talk I gave at the North East Unschooling Conference on August 22, 2013.

7 Habits of Highly Happy Unschoolers
(Based on “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey)

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Don’t be stuck in reaction mode. Move on from reacting to: government pushing you around, parental control when you were young, bad school situations that you suffered yourself, or negative experiences your child had in school.

Being proactive means having the imagination and confidence to make your own choices. If you choose unschooling then remember that it IS a choice. You could send the kids to school like everybody else. Happy unschoolers recognize that they’ve made an alternative choice and it is up to them to choose how to carry through on it.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
What is the point of unschooling? Figure that out for yourself – your goals won’t be the same as mine. How will you know if unschooling is “successful?”

Habit 3: Put First Things First
This is the habit that really really matters. It is practical. It means that every little or big decision you make today and tomorrow and next week should be based on whether or not it contributes toward your true goals. Don’t do things just because others are doing them. Don’t do things because they are expedient. Don’t do things because they seem urgent. Do the things that line up with your own principles – the ones you came up with as Habit 2.
Remember that keeping your choices in line with your own highest priorities will feel good and right when you do it – even when it is hard. This is what can guide you in handling the little things that come up in everyday life and it is all those little things that add up to the big things and your family’s quality of life.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Kind of a “duh” for unschoolers – we know we want to do this. But is also the place where many people get stuck most often. Remember, the idea is to develop a habit of looking for ways that everybody can win. If you are normally committed to being solution-oriented, then on those occasions when solutions elude you and everybody else (DO remember to ask the kids), then your family members will more likely be forgiving and accommodating.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Listen, listen, listen. And then listen some more. Nobody ever told me that THE number one most important parenting skill is to stay interested, listen carefully, and not interrupt when your children are talking. Ask questions. Make sure your child feels thoroughly understood. Then respond with few words and lots of encouragement. Kids (and other people) will only really listen to you if they feel understood first.

Habit 6: Synergize
For unschooling families this means think of your family as a team. The very minute you get any hint of an adversarial relationship developing, work on that immediately. A feeling of being “in this together” is the critical element that makes unschooling wonderful and different than mainstream. How do you develop it? Support your family members. Model generosity. Invite a lot of collaboration in little and big ways. For example, in a grocery store ask the kids, “What do you guys want for dinner?” Get what they want. Ask, “Which check-out line should we get into?” Include them in these little mundane things casually and in the normal course of your day.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
This is about self-care and also about continuing to work on your own understanding of unschooling and on creating a sweet unschooling life for your family. We can become complacent – but don’t do that. Instead, keep reading, learning, and stay connected.

Habit 8: Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs
Apply that to our roles as unschooling parents. It encapsulates what this is all about – finding our voice as we work on ourselves. We work through all our own crummy baggage and while we’re doing that our children grow and learn and, just as we find our own voice, we discover we are singing in beautiful harmony with the voices of our kids – voices we have inspired.

This is a beautiful idea that really resonates for me with the way unschooling has worked for me and my family.

I hope for the same for you.

Physical Activity

I read two posts today from moms comparing older daughters and younger sons – and in both cases the girls come off as easy and docile while the boys are aggressive and physical.

I’ve noticed that moms very often vastly underestimate the amount of physical activity their kids need and they think there is something wrong with their kids when what they really need is many more hours of physical activity.

My siblings and I played outdoors from morning ’til night, as kids. We ran and jumped and tumbled and skated and biked and climbed and dug and chased and roughhoused like crazy. I also spent many hours in water almost every single day during the summer.

On school days I walked/ran to and from school, had at least two recesses, a class physical education time (we played games like Capture the Flag, dodgeball, and Red Rover Red Rover), and a lunch break (I ran home for lunch and back quickly to spend time playing on the playground), and we had NO homework so the minute I got home from school I changed into pants/shorts because girls had to wear dresses to school in those days and ran back outside to play with neighborhood kids. Play consisted very largely of hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, stickball, kickball, a wide variety of tag games, mother-may-I, lemonade, red light green light, duck duck goose, and a TON of hopscotch. I roller skated and rode my bike and we had rudimentary skateboards (we took apart our skates and nailed them to boards). We had pogo sticks and slip-n-slides and hula hoops. We often went over to the school playground and played on the equipment – rings, slides, swings. We played foursquare a lot. My neighbor had a trampoline and we bounced and bounced and bounced.

Nearly every evening of my childhood I was physically worn out – very grubby and tired and ready to have some dinner, a bath, watch a little tv, have some stories or have mom or dad sing to us kids, maybe play with my sisters with dolls or something for a little while and often fall asleep reading a book.

And “I” was a fairly sedentary kid compared to many! I was a bookworm kid who loved board and card games.

Children haven’t changed – their physical needs haven’t changed – since the 50’s or 60’s. Some kids need more and others need less physical activity, but when a parent thinks a kid is “hyper” or “bounces off the walls” or complains about a kid’s aggressive behaviors and so on –  the parent probably has no idea the sheer quantity of physically strenuous activity that that child needs.

People these days will say, “He’s got soccer 3 days a week,” as if that is supposed to give him enough opportunity for physical activity. First, I love soccer for many kids, but it is a structured-by-adults activity in which a child has to control his physical urges for much of the time. He has to wait, stand in line, use the part of his body he is supposed to use. It is not at all the same as structured-by-the-kids-themselves play. And, a few hours a week is completely inadequate for most kids as an energy burn off. They more likely need a few hours every day.

Yes, kids are different. Not all kids want or need a lot of physical activity. Some will climb a tree and sit up on a branch and read a book for hours – not hang and swing and jump and balance. But ONLY the child can really know how much physical activity he or she needs and the child can only figure that out in the context of having plentiful free and unstructured time for it.

Boys, on the average, need even greater amounts of strenuous physical activity than girls. That they tend to be more aggressive has to do with hormones they experience even in the womb. Again – there is a big range and some girls have greater physical needs than some boys and vice versa – but moms seem to very often have a hard time with how physical their little boys are. The same can be true for moms of girls who happen to have extremely high physical energy needs.

Sometimes dads help the moms understand their boys’ physical needs, but when dads are busy working all day and it is mom who is home with the kids, boys can end up not getting their needs met and moms end up thinking there is something wrong with their little boys.

Of course all of this is made much worse by school, where all kids are expected to sit still much of the time. But homeschooling moms can have unrealistic expectations, too. And I think many of their sons suffer for it (and some of their daughters, too).

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