Friday, April 17, 2009

parental self-flagellation

This morning before I started work, I stumbled upon a discussion on this blog where the topic surrounded the idiocy of parents who are trying to teach their babies to read. And well, I thought it would be fun to join in on the conversation.

So I anonymously suggested that my 21-month old son knows how to read and play the piano. And with the use of dried beans, he can do simple addition, subtraction and create images of "The Last Supper." For balance and coordination, I am teaching him to roller skate and to improve dexterity, he uses chopsticks to eat his Cheerios. I further suggested that anyone who is not doing at least as much with their toddler, is lazy and robbing their child of their full potential.

(Michele, I thought for sure you'd know it was me with the use of your tracking software!)

Of course this was all a joke. But I couldn't help but think every so often, I'll find myself engaged in a conversation with someone who has children that are similarly aged to ours. And inevitably, that conversation might turn to all the amazing things that our children are doing.

Yet whenever I find myself engaged in these discussions, I wonder if us parents are primarily proud of our child - or - if we are proud of ourselves that we were responsible for creating such an intelligent individual?

The popular consensus is that children are a direct reflection of their parents. Or at a minimum, children are a direct reflection of the experiences that their parents have exposed them to. So, if a child is able to read and write and tie their shoes by the time they are five, clearly the parents must be doing something amazing.


We recently took our children out of what we considered to be the best preschool in our area. Even though the director of the preschool told us that leaving them in her school would most certainly guarantee the strongest academic foundation possible, we made the decision to remove our children from school and keep them home with us.

I'll never forget telling the Director that our children would not be returning to school. I'll never forget the stunned disbelief that we would actually take our children out of a program that in her opinion, would undoubtedly path the way for overwhelming success in their life. I'll never forget the frown she gave me which clearly said, "You are making a terrible mistake."

Obviously, I'm not a motivated parent who is concerned about my children's future. Obviously, I have no idea what I'm doing. Obviously, I don't think that my children's education is important.

Sometimes, I believe that I am giving our children the best possible start to life. And other times, I feel like I am blowing it big time. Especially when I get around families that appear to be doing so much more with their kids.

I find myself comparing my children against these other children.

I find myself comparing myself against these other parents.

Oh, I know I shouldn't.

But I do.

Because sometimes I don't know if I'm doing everything right.

Everyone knows that the window of opportunity where children's brains are rapidly developing is small. And unless I jump on the bandwagon of academic exposure now, our children will miss this heightened period of knowledge absorption forever.

So, why aren't they in violin lessons??

Or in preschool a few days a week??

Why is it that I don't provide a more structured learning environment and instead, let the children explore to their heart's content??

I feel a little awkward saying that we 'homeschool' our children because the fact is, there isn't much "schooling" going on. In reality, we have made the decision to keep our children home.

From school.

But I don't know if this really constitutes "homeschool." Because some days, we don't do anything that remotely resembles school.

I'm not pushing them to read. Or write.

Or learn all the flags of the world's nations.

I'm allowing them to play. Because for the most part, I believe that they are learning a lot through their play. But are they learning enough?

Last week, I used a bunch of PVC connections that were laying around and let the children create various pathways for water flow.

While I was helping them with this project, I thought that this provided a great illustration for fluid mechanics and I felt proud of my ingenuity.

But in the midst of this, I happened to notice that one of our children had pooped in the middle of our patio.

So, whatever feeling of pride that I had in regards to raising the next generation of open minded and creative engineers, was quickly replaced with the feeling of dismay that I am raising a bunch of savages.

Welcome to my home school classroom!

You might want to watch where you step.


  1. I often bemoan the fact that I don't have any friends with children the same age as my son, but it occurred to me recently that this is in fact a good thing because I don't have anyone to compare him to so everything he does is fabulous in its own right. As a single mother who has to work full-time to survive, I don't have the option of staying at home with my son more but whenever I read your blog about what you do with your kids I think "God, Joey would LOVE to do that kind of thing every day." Just goes to show you that as parents we will always be wondering if we are doing the right thing or if what we are doing is "enough." I am a great believer of learning things naturally and your kids are learning things the way people did before all this pressure to "achieve" from an early age started, which is awesome. The poop thing made me laugh though, bodily functions are the great equalizer! LOL!

  2. that school lost all credibility when they decided to give the kids sugar cereal for snack time.

    The PVC looks like fun. We will have to try it sometime.

  3. Give yourself a break already. They are 1 and 4. Over half the world pop start school at 5 so by their standards they shouldn't have even started.

    Let's face it. Our kids are our biggest experiments ever. Fingers crossed most of us get it right. Guaranteed none of us will do it the same.

  4. Awesome post! I love how you peppered the pictured throughout your musings about school...

    Totally interesting and great picutres. LOL @ the poop!

  5. Hey Jen,

    Homeschool or Un-schooled.......this one I have to comment on.

    As I often say to people when they ask me about Homeschool and how do I know my kids are getting a good education and all the other questions that come along with 'this home school thing'.

    "My kids are really stupid but they are safe.'

    Just kidding folks! Stupid they are Not!

    As your kids get older you will find No one really know what they are doing when it comes to parenting.

    There are times when I talk to parents about what their kids are into and I think Oh No! What am I doing?.....but then calm down,listen to my kids, grade papers, look over our materials do lots and lots of self reflection, .....have them tested and then I know.....we are okay.

    My sheltered homeschooled kids are just amazing. I am confident they are getting the best education I can possibly give them.

    Hang on! Your doing great!

  6. I could not agree with you more!!!!

  7. GREAT POST!!! And great prank! (-:

  8. Well, of course you aren't giving those poor babies enough stimulation at home. My own children are accomplished gymnasts, dancers, and black belts. They all can read in English and Spanish. They've been riding bikes since they were two. Their most recent endeavor is competitive skateboarding.

    I don't take any credit for this. My kids are just exceptionally bright. Maybe yours will go to school someday ------ on the short bus.

    You window is quickly closing. You better GET ON IT!!!!

  9. I find myself, occasionally, comparing my son (age 2) with others his age and I closely watch what other parents do. We currently send him to a home daycare five days a week where he is treated and taken care of like one of their own family members. They speak Spanish almost to exclusion so he is already bilingual, and all of them are well-educated and are teaching him colors, shapes ... all kinds of things.

    I sometimes agonize over whether we will send him to preschool or not. In my own opinion, I don't think there is a better classroom out there than where he is right now.

    You're a very devoted, attentive and loving parent with an extraordinary education to boot. I'd wager that you're doing exactly the right thing, seriously. I guess I'm saying don't second guess yourself so much. Those babies are confident in you. You be confident in you, too.

  10. I agree. I try to stay away from the my kid is doing this, what is your kid doing convos. Mainly because I know my twins are behind a bit. But they are my babies and I am not pushing to much on them. I am enjoying my babies. My hardest thing is not comparing my daughters to each other. Yes, I know they are individuals. But when you have one child that picks everything up and learns really fast, and then one that is just the opposite, it is hard to not say "Why can't you do this. Your sister could" I have to work on myself with that, and do daily. I am glad someone posted about all of this! Thanks Jen!

  11. How many miles did you run this morning? You are so lucky we are not neighbors!

  12. Okay, in all seriousness, I decided just 5 minutes ago that I am not sending Austin to preschool next year.

    I was going to blog about it yesterday, but you sidetracked me with all the lunacy. My kids have been taking a phonics book to class to read out loud during snack time, in front of their peers, for the last six months. I thought it was ridiculous, it's four year old preschool, but it's those really short BOB books and they wanted to do it. So, whatever. Amanda can't really read yet like the other two, but she's got them all memorized.

    She was crying her eyes out on the way home yesterday because she got ONE WORD wrong. I kept telling her that it's OKAY to get words wrong when you are LEARNING to read. It's not A BIG DEAL. But the fact she was so upset made me take the children aside separately to find out what was going on in class.

    Turns out that for the last six months, if you get ONE WORD wrong in your book that you are READING in your FOUR YEAR OLD preschool class, the teacher doesn't help you sound it out, or prompt you, or point and say the word, OH NO, you have to STOP READING and GO SIT DOWN. That's what they've doing in there. CAN YOU IMAGINE?

    I am so pissed. They have five weeks left before "graduation". They've been going there with the same kids since they were two. I plan on going over there today and RAISING ALL SORTS OF HELL.


    Austin doesn't need to be subjected to that kind of negative learning. Public humiliation at FOUR?

    Your kids are going to be fine. Click on that link to that professor on yesterday's post. Did you know the country with the highest test scores in the world is Finland and they don't start compulsory school until SEVEN.

  13. Have you read the book "Parenting, Inc"? It has more to do with the money and raising children, but it also helped me feel better about my decision to play with my children and not try too hard to educate them, especially when they're younger. It had always been our intention to keep our babies at home until half-day kindergarten when they're five. The book helped me feel better about that decision.

    Your blog posts since you quit the preschool have been so much happier. You're doing what's right for YOUR family!

  14. Michele - that's horrible! I hope you can give them a good smackdown!
    Jen- I'm very guilty of being personally proud of my kids achievements, but I think I've mellowed out over the years. My oldest is a very bright, very sweet daughter, now almost 12, and when she was little I loved getting complements on how much teachers loved having her in their class. And then... my 2nd kid came along ;-). We didn't do anything dramatically different with #2, but he was just a different child from the get-go... still bright, but not at all compliant. Loud. Fun. Boisterous. Parent-teacher conferences are a whole different game now. It's given me a new humility when I go to the conferences for my oldest... teachers still love her, but I know it's her doing and personality and not mine.
    (We had a similar experience with picky eating... our daughter was always a good, adventurous eater and we chalked it up to how we were exposing her to all sorts of ethnic cuisines, etc. Then along came our boys, both of whom were incredibly picky as babies and are still much less adventurous than their sister).
    Anyway... more on your main point... I try to have a balance between letting my kids have free time to play and signing them up for activities, and I do have periods where I start doubting myself and wondering if I've gone too far in one direction or the other... but I agree that kids need time to just play.

  15. Jen I think you're making the best decision for your children possible in education. Because I honestly believe they need time to be just kids. And you can pepper in some casual learning for awhile like with what you did with the pipes. How AWESOME! Eventually over time your kids will tell you by their actions that they're ready for someting more big and meaty. And it may still be years down the road for that! I'm speaking from my own experiences and I have triplets too. I also have two older ones. The oldest started the so called must need pre-k when he was 2. I had become so convinced that if he didn't go educationally he was doomed. My oldest daughter started when she was 2 also. But that was because outside influences convinced us that since she has specialized needs that I would never be able to meet those educational needs on my own. By the time my oldest was in 5th I pulled him out to homeschool. My oldest daughter had completed 3 sessions pre-k, one k, and was soon going to be repeating 1st when I said enough was enough. Now that brings me to the triplets who are my youngest. They have never been traditionally public schooled. Let me say BIG difference!! My older two have issues clearly associated with their experiences in public school. And my youngest are now 10. We waited and waited and waited. I think patience is much needed. A little sprinkle of this and little sprinkle of that. Oh my let me say I am amazed at the results! There are days and then there are DAYS. :) Hands down best decision I have ever made for my children. I just so wish I could back in time and reverse are choices for sending the older 2 when they were younger. When asked why aren't your kids in school when your out and about just tell them they are in school; the same one you are in - the school of life! Thanks for posting your thoughts and sharing your day. It brings back so many fond memories! :D Another Trip Mom

  16. don't know you, but no doubt to me you did the right thing by pulling them out of that quack joint.

    ps. "school" doesn't start till 5 or 6. You've got 3 kids the same age, they have enough socialization together. :) Your children are happy, healthy, creative and loved!!!

  17. Personal opinion here but I think your doing a great job.

    Although I will be able to evaluate more closely when I come out in May and compare my 6 and 8 years old to your 1 - 4 year old children!!!! ;-)

    It's parents like myself who have a mediocre education and homeschool that the world should worry about..... We are finishing up year 2 and I'm still not sure if I am doing the right thing.

    Especially now that I realize I DON'T HAVE ANY PVC PIPE!!! What the blankety blank kind of homeschool parent am I???? Oh Dear God! STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!



  18. thanks for the giggling at the end, the poop was funny, maybe not to you or at the time but i"m sure if you read about it in a bout 10 years you will think so. Everyone compares its so hard not to, I guess because we put so much time into these awesome kids I'm hoping its just because people are proud. Believe me always hearing that so and so is so advanced and basically your kid is an idiot isn't one of my favorites, but normally they are not doing anything special anyway. YOur kids aren't even 5 I wouldn't worry about it, I didn't even know there was homeschooling before kindergarden, they are suppose to be kids and play, the reason people do preschool or preschool co op is to socialize their kids, but I think yours having siblings their own age are learing to deal with other kids anyway. I think kids should be kids, they learn more form playing anyway the book stuff can always be taught, and please that school that fed the kids junk, they are full of it, have your kids at home and enjoy them!

  19. YOU ROCK!

    I can't believe a couple people thought you were serious...

    You might want to read the books "Better Late than Early" and "School Can Wait" (Moore). It's always fun to have some actual facts to back up our unknowingly brilliant gut instincts. (Not everyone can claim to have brilliant gut instincts by the way...)

    Keep up the good work!

  20. I agree with you 100% Great post, I love the pictures.

  21. Jen, I have always been a believer of public school. My big brother who has doctors all over his family has always said "this is the result of public school." But then our children in public school did not fare as well, at college age they had to be "up=gtaded" to enter college. Now I have two daughters who are home schooling. What a difference. These kids WANT to learn, it is amazing to me, they are caring great kids, who can tell you about politics, religon, history, and can really spell. I truly am very pleased, there is so much potential in furthing your own values on to your children.

  22. My four children were raised by wolves, and they turned out okay. Except for all the bite and scratch marks. Wolves play rough!

    Seriously, I unschooled my kids and did my best to ignore what other kids were doing. I did notice that two of mine didn't read until they were eight. Poor kids, they're obviously headed toward a life of illiteracy and poverty.

    Oh, wait. They grew up to be excellent readers and, more importantly,love to read. One will graduate at 21 with a degree in Genetics and Cell Biology and is hoping to go to med school. The other will receive her associates degree shortly after her eighteenth birthday, and will transfer to a major university to also pursue a degree in biology. Maybe all that time with the wolves paid off! Being able to explore the world and learn at their own pace kept them from losing their innate love of learning, and helped them excel. Sadly, though, they never learned to skateboard.

    (Patented diclaimer: Unschooling is what worked best for our family. Public school, private school, or structured homeschooling might work best for your family. To Each His Own.)

  23. As a parent and a teacher I applaud you for not taking your kids to school. They are getting a wonderful "education" just by being with you and your husband and each other. They grow up too fast, so keep them home and enjoy every second of them (obviously you do!) Can you even imagine how quiet your house will be when the Amazing Trips go to school all day long. Now I'm sad thinking about my own quiet house, I miss those kids when they're away.