Check out Thriving in the 21st Century….

to get the latest on preparing your kids for the “new normal.” Find out about:

  1. the surprising link between homeschooling and Tumblr
  2. yet another student loan-related tragedy
  3. and what happened to the high school student who refused to wear a tracking device/student ID

plus oodles of great links for all parents, right here.

Preparing Our Kids for a Challenging Future, Part 1

Our economy is in shambles, with millions of people out of work and even more overcome by debt they can’t repay. But don’t worry; over at the White House, the president and his cabinet are working hard to find a way out of this economic mess by creating jobs somehow. However, they’re having trouble, maybe because only 20% of them ever had a job in the private sector. All they’ve got to work with is the theories they’ve learned from books and professors.

I don’t mean to pick on one group of politicians. Both political parties in this country are filled with elected officials who have made careers out of being politicians. They’ve got resumes packed with degrees and political positions. But real life work? Not so much.

The great leaders of our past had backgrounds of real-life challenges and experiences to draw from. George Washington was a self-employed surveyor who later fought in wars. Theodore Roosevelt was also a soldier, as well as a police officer, hunter and author. Abraham Lincoln grew up in poverty but became a self-taught and self-employed lawyer. Harry Truman worked as a farmer, a bank clerk, and ran a men’s store: not as exciting as being a war hero, but he understood real-life economics because he lived it.

No wonder things are getting worse instead of better. Our leaders today are armed only with book knowledge and political experience, they’ve had little education in real life. So who’s going to get us out of this mess? Looks like it’s going to be the next generation: our kids.

And how are they being prepared for this challenge? On weekends, they’re scattered on soccer fields, some kids chasing the ball while the rest chase them, or in the case of the three-year-olds, stand and stare at the sky while their parents yell from the sidelines, “Run, Riley, run! Don’t just stand there: go after the ball!” Do you ever wonder how that’s preparing them for the future?

During the week, they’re herded into buses so they can spend each day trapped in classrooms, where they’ll get a good dose of indoctrination along with watered-down math courses and remedial reading for all but the smartest. John Taylor Gatto’s studies reveal that the American school model that’s been used for over 100 years was originally devised to create a docile workforce for the nation’s factories and large businesses (you know, the ones that are now moving overseas). Do you ever ask yourself why we’re still using such an outdated model of education?

When you see kids sitting in restaurants and at family gatherings, not speaking to or even looking at anyone because they’re texting their friends or surfing the Internet, do you ever wonder how they’re going to cope with the challenges of the future if they can’t even take their eyes off those little screens?

And when you see the pressure they’re all under to go to college (whether or not they’re college material), and the debt they’ll have to accumulate to attend, and the decreasing likelihood that the degree they may earn (only 50% graduate within six years) will help them get more than a median-wage job, do you wonder how they’re going to be able to solve the problems we’ve saddled them with when they’re stuck in the debt-slave lifestyle?

This is scary stuff. It’s bad enough we’re handing our kids’ generation a legacy of debt and economic troubles, but we’re not even equipping them to deal with the fallout. Instead, we’re sending them out into the world unprepared and financially strapped with their own personal student loan debt before they’re 25.

So what can we do?

The good news is that homeschooling is the ideal way to prepare our kids for the future. The mere act of taking them out of school (or not sending them in the first place) frees them to learn what they need to know in a way that’s efficient and personalized. It lets us provide our kids with the specific skills they’ll need to thrive in a world that’s much different from the one we grew up in. But if homeschooling parents don’t give their children the opportunity to learn those skills, their children will be no better off than the kids now in the public school system.

Simply choosing to homeschool is not enough. How we homeschool our children will make the difference between kids who are prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century, and kids who aren’t.

Now, I don’t want to say there’s a right way and a wrong way to homeschool our children. There’s so much variety among children (and parents) that successful homeschooling always involves a unique mix of what the child needs and what the parent wants him or her to learn. But there are specific things we can do (or avoid) that will help us raise children who are prepared to tackle the problems we face in the future.

For one thing, we don’t have to replicate school in our homes. School was designed for the old reality, the one where we were preparing kids to willingly sit at a desk or on an assembly line for one company for 40 years. That’s not reality anymore, so why prepare our children for it?

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here, but think about it: are you replicating school at home? Do your kids sit in desks for long stretches? Do you make them raise their hands to answer a question? Don’t laugh; many parents do this, especially when they first begin homeschooling. I did it myself the first year we homeschooled; my kids sat at the kitchen table while we did bookwork for specific time periods. They were four and five then. Silly, I know, but “school” was all I knew at the time, thanks to my childhood experience. I soon figured out that there was a better way.

Maybe you don’t do school at home: good for you! But do you send your children to co-ops and other organized classes? That’s school, too, you know. In co-ops and classes, your kids are treated as a group: a herd, really. When you’re part of a herd, it’s hard to have your individual needs met and your individual questions answered. We can’t expect our kids to grow up as individuals who actively seek learning if we put them in situations where they learn to identify themselves as part of a herd, passively waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do next.

This is especially true for small children. I wince when I hear about homeschool groups setting up preschool classes. A homeschool preschool class is an oxymoron! During the first few years of life, children are learning who they are. If they’re part of a herd, they’re going to think they’re sheep. Is that what you want? If you want sheep, you might as well send your children to school.

Once homeschooled kids are older (14+) and accustomed to self-motivated learning, a class here and there won’t hurt most of them. In fact, some will enjoy the classroom experience; if they’re college-bound, a few community college or co-op classes will be good preparation. But using classes and co-ops as a homeschooling method is not going to produce kids who think for themselves.

Some parents unknowingly replicate school at home by using a curriculum that requires kids to learn only from books and workbooks, with the occasional topic-related, hands-on activity for variety. This, too, is school. I realize that some kids are workbook kids who love this kind of thing. But the majority of kids don’t. Why would you use the same method for all your children unless they’re all alike? Using one method for all children is what schools do for convenience because it’s the most logistically sensible way to handle large quantities of children, but it rarely produces kids who pursue learning.

This is important because in the new economy, people who are curious and who willingly pursue learning will be the most employable, the most successful at self-employment and the most likely to help solve the formidable problems we face. Futurists tell us that our kids will likely have multiple careers because of rapid technological change. They’ll have to willingly learn new skills in order to remain in demand. And they’ll be more likely to pursue additional learning if their desire to learn has been fed, not snuffed out by school or school-like homeschooling.

Next: Part 2, Raising Eager Learners

Don’t Let Inflation Keep You from Homeschooling

A lot of popular items from the 70s have come back into style over the past several years: fondue pots, platform shoes and wrap dresses come to mind. But now, one of the worst features of the 70s is back, and it can hurt a lot more than falling off your platform shoes. It’s inflation.

Inflation causes your dollars to be worth less and less. All of a sudden you’re paying more at the supermarket each week. The sale prices of clothing and supplies seem high; after all, 25% off of a rising price equals a rising sale price. When an economy is subject to inflation, it seems like prices are higher every time you go shopping….and they are.

This can really hurt homeschooling families. We tend to be single income families, or maybe we have two parents working at least part-time. Homeschooling families aren’t generally classified as wealthy because we tend to put more time into raising children than earning money.

A big jump in expenses can force us into a higher-paying and more time-consuming job that prevents us from homeschooling, and that’s something we must avoid. But we can’t stop prices from going up, and we need to buy food and clothing. How can we keep our budgets under control even as prices rise?

It’s not always easy, but it can be done. I’m willing to do whatever I have to in order to be home with my kids, and I’ll bet you are, too. So let’s look at some strategies for fighting inflation.

Strategy #1: Saving Gas

Whether you’re worried about the planet, your wallet, or both, saving gas is more important than ever. Gas prices have skyrocketed over the past few years ($5 a gallon in parts of California just this week) and continue to do so. This is a real problem for homeschoolers on the go, spending the week driving from co-ops to music lessons to organized sports. If you have several children, you probably drive a gas hog, but even if you toodle around in a small car that goes easy on the gas, you’re probably seeing a jump in what you spend at the pump.

This is a good time to reevaluate the activities your kids are in, and decide which ones aren’t really essential to their upbringing. If you remove the lesser activities, and keep only those that can be limited to one day a week, you’ll find that your gas consumption (and expense) will drop quite a bit.

Combining trips also makes a big difference. If you’ve got to take the kids to a class, shop at the nearest grocery store before heading back home instead of making a separate trip on another day. The more you combine your errands, the more gas you save. Get used to organizing your trips out so that you hit a number of spots in a row, rather than making separate trips on different days and using up far more gas.

If you live out in the country, driving is a necessity. But if you’re in a city or suburb, rediscover public transportation, your bike and your legs. Use backpacks and tote bags to carry purchased items and library books. A family walk or bike trip to the public library will save gas and also count as P.E. for that day.

One side effect of saving gas is that you end up staying home a lot more than usual. If you’re a homebody, high gas prices can be a ready excuse to get things done around the house. But if you usually prefer to be on the go, you may discover that staying home is not a bad thing. There are so many things you can do while you’re home that will save you even more money (more on that later), plus you’ll have more time for homeschooling.

Strategy #2: Controlling Food Costs

When all my kids were living at home, I could fill our minivan with grocery bags packed with food, yet have to do it all over again two weeks later. During their growing years, my kids seemed to inhale food. With the steadily increasing prices we’re seeing in supermarkets these days, feeding a growing family is becoming a very expensive proposition. But it’s not impossible.

Even though most food prices are rising, convenience foods still cost far more than basic ingredients. If you learn to make even a few of your family’s favorites from scratch, you can save a bundle. There are hundreds of cookbooks that can help you with this, but you probably don’t have time to scrounge them up, so let me just suggest two things:

  • Search for recipes on the Internet
  • Buy The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (I consider this the equivalent of a graduate course on saving money)

Please don’t say you don’t have time to cook from scratch. You’re going to be home more often anyway since you’re saving gas. And this is something your children should help you with, so that the burden isn’t all on you. Even small children can peel potatoes. Not only does it count as Home Economics, but kids who help cook grow up into teens who make dinner, and believe me, that’s a wonderful thing.

If you’re lacking the proper cooking supplies, don’t rush to buy them from a store (rising prices, remember?) unless you have to. Try garage sales and thrift stores first. Also, ask friends and relatives if anyone has a such-and-such they want to get rid of.

Another way to keep food costs down is to limit how often you go out to eat. With food prices going up, restaurants have to raise their prices if they’re going to make a profit, so you’ll be paying more there, too. Save the eating out for special occasions. Replace trips to the ice cream shop with make-your-own-sundae evenings at home. Bring a cooler of food and drinks with you when you travel or run errands. A cold 2-liter bottle of pop and some paper cups will save you $8-10 on drinks at a fast food drive-through.

For those busy days when you’re going to get home too late to make dinner, keep some convenience foods (bought on sale and preferably with coupons) in your freezer. Yes, convenience foods cost more than those made from scratch, but they’re worth it if they keep you from going out for dinner, which costs far more.

Strategy #3: Controlling Clothing Costs

Kids grow, and that means you’re always hunting down larger clothes for them. It’s a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. First off, get it out of your head that every piece of clothing has to be new. As Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad Gazette often said, used clothing is just new clothing that’s been washed at least once.

Thrift stores and garage sales are great sources of clothes for kids, and they’ll save you a lot of money. Also, after reading part one of this article last month, Imperfect Homeschooler reader Debra J. from Texas suggested Freecycle ( as a great resource for free goods for families. But if you have issues about putting strangers’ clothing on your kids, why not try a clothing swap with your friends? Trading outgrown clothing with people you know and like may make you feel better about dressing your kids in used clothes, and a clothing swap can be a social event, too. Bring snacks for the kids and let them play while you go through the clothing.

Sewing for your kids is another option, but it has its limits. Patterns are ridiculously expensive unless you find them on sale for a few dollars, and the same is true to a lesser extent for fabric. I’ve found that sewing works best for special occasion dresses, saving you a lot of money because dressy clothes cost more than play clothes.

For the clothing you prefer to buy new (such as underwear), be sure to hit outlet stores and sales. This is where it really pays to know your prices. When underwear is on sale for a good price, buy the next size up as well as each child’s current size. Do the same for socks and jeans. The thing about inflation is that it makes tomorrow’s dollars worth less than today’s, so anything you can stockpile saves you money. Of course, you’ll need to be organized about storing clothes for future use, because if you can’t find them once you need them, they’ll be wasted money.

You may have to handle clothing purchases differently with your teens than your younger children, because they’re likely to be pickier about where their clothes come from. There’s a simple solution for this. They should find a job and buy their own clothes. It’s amazing how quickly they learn to find good deals when the money is coming from them and not you.

Strategy #4: Controlling Entertainment Costs

Movie tickets are going up, but there’s an easy way to fix that. It’s called staying home to watch movies. DVD rentals (local, Netflix and even your public library) will save you a fortune on movie tickets and refreshments, too.

As for other entertainment like mini-golf, bowling and amusement parks, it’s time to look at them as rare treats instead of regular events (and even then, use coupons to reduce fees). Instead, stay home and play board games. Bring home stacks of library books and computer games. Buy a second-hand trampoline for the back yard. Dig out the toys the kids got last Christmas. It will be good training for your kids to learn to use what they have instead of going out to be entertained all the time.

This goes double for birthday parties, those money-eating events that can leave you dazed and broke. Let’s bring back the old trend of a birthday cake, ice cream and no goodie bags. Set up a few games in the back yard or family room. The birthday child and his siblings can make decorations for the party room. (A homemade pinata out of paper-mache can count as an art class project.) Ideas for party games and decorations can be found in books and magazines at your public library. Use creativity instead of money.

Strategy #5: Controlling Shelter Prices

The previous strategies were for controlling relatively small expenses that occur regularly. The cost of your housing, however, is something that you’re locked into for months or years at a time, so making wise decisions in this area is crucial.

Back in the late 70s, inflation caused home prices to skyrocket along with everything else. But this time around, strangely enough, house prices are dropping because of the after-effects of the housing bubble that’s deflating. Many people have to sell their houses because they can’t make the rising payments of adjustable loans. As a result, there are so many houses on the market right now that prices are being forced down. The irony is that you can buy a nice house for less money, but only if you can get yours sold. If you decide to go that route, be sure to price your house very competitively, and be prepared for a long time on the market.

If you’re a renter, you may find that rents are dropping because so many vacant houses are coming up for rental. Unable to sell them in the slow market, their owners have decided to become landlords so that the monthly rent will help defray their mortgage payments. If you’re feeling cramped in your rental house, you may be able to find a larger nicer house for less rent than you’ve been paying. This could work out well for you! However, before you sign a lease, make sure the house isn’t about to be repossessed; some unscrupulous sellers are taking security deposits from potential renters knowing full well the house will be going into foreclosure and repossessed before long.

Whether you own or rent, you can save money on rising utility costs by being careful about your energy usage. Wearing sweaters and keeping the thermostat a few degrees lower than normal this winter will take the edge off the higher heating bills we’re sure to see. Hanging damp laundry around the house instead of putting all of it in the dryer will add to the humidity level (making you feel warmer) while reducing the amount of electricity or gas you use to run your dryer. We hang shirts and jeans from the door trim in our house in the cold months; you’d be surprised how quickly the clothes dry, especially if the humidity in the house is low. No, we’ll never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens with clothes hanging from the doorways on laundry day, but I’d rather have lower utility bills than live in a model home.

Keep your shades and blinds up on the sunny side of the house, and down on the cold, windy side. If you live where the winters are very cold, you’ll find that insulating windows with plastic can help keep out cold drafts. Back in the 70s, people made draft dodgers (long, skinny stuffed fabric snakes that lay along the crack where the door meets the floor) to keep out drafts; maybe that’s another 70s trend that needs to make a comeback!


These are just a few ideas to combat inflation, but if you know anything about the 70s, you know similar ideas made a big difference in keeping costs down. If you were just a child in the 70s, or weren’t born yet, ask your parents about how people fought inflation. Knowing how to do so could make the difference between being able to homeschool your children and having to put them in school so you can get a full-time and/or better-paying job.

The Downsizing Chronicles: Where is Home?

We lived in a lovely, large house for many years. But when we took vacations at a small Door County condo, we were always surprised at how quickly we got used to being there and having it feel like home. Even so, we were always happy to get back to our house and would echo Dorothy in saying, “There’s no place like home!”

Since we had to sell our longtime home four years ago, we’ve lived in three more houses: two rentals and now the little house we just bought. And one of the interesting things we’ve learned on this journey is that each place felt like home rather quickly. Considering we moved out of state, this really surprised me, because each time we had to get used to a new town, new library and stores, new church, etc.

But what I finally realized is that home is wherever our family is gathered together. I recall a Christmas soon after we left Illinois. Four of us were living in Door County, our eldest was in Chicago and our son and daughter-in-law were in Missouri. Rather than have them trek up north, we rented a hotel suite in Illinois so all of us could gather there for Christmas. Never before had we exchanged Christmas gifts in a hotel! Yet it felt like home because all of us were there together.

Many people are being forced to move in this economy. Some are downsizing like we’ve had to do. In fact, someone very close to me has gone from owning two lovely homes and a tract of land in an island paradise to living in a tiny rental townhouse. It’s a painful process, no doubt about it. But once you discover that being together is the most important thing, you can get past your material losses and realize that the real gift is being with those you love.

Back in the 80s, when country decorating was all the rage, there were lots of folksy wall plaques emblazoned with geese or quilt blocks along with the saying “Home is Where the Heart Is.” Now those plaques look kind of dated and cheesy, but the saying is true: if you’re surrounded by your family, you’re home, no matter where you are.

How Parents Can Help Their Young Men Learn to Work for Themselves

In response to my post last week “Young Men Need to Work,” I received an email from a reader that made so much sense that I just had to share it with you (with her permission). She and her husband are raising their sons to know how to earn money without having a regular paycheck. Here’s what they’re doing this summer:

We are teaching our sons to think outside the box, much like the men in your family did.

One way is to help the elderly with their errands for a small fee. Today he is helping his dad paint a rental house that a senior citizen from our church inherited from his parents. The man can’t afford a professional painter yet the work still needs doing. My husband had the day off and took our 14 y/o with him. They will earn enough money for a small profit and just enough to buy a storage unit full of stuff from someone who defaulted on the bill. Then my husband will help our son post the items on eBay. With that money our son will purchase curriculum for this school year. Hopefully he will make more than when he started to be able to buy himself a Razor scooter.

We have to teach our kids to think outside the box as the box gets smaller and smaller.

This is a great example of parenting wisdom. These parents are teaching their sons to be of service to others while creating income for themselves. And I love her imagery of the box getting smaller. That’s how it’s going to be for a while. We’ve got to teach our children to live in the real world.

Many thanks to the mom who shared this with me.