Preparing Our Kids for a Challenging Future, Part 2: Raising Eager Learners

The new economy is a completely different environment from the one our parents and grandparents knew, the one that’s disappearing. It’s no longer the norm for someone to work for one company for 40 years by doing what they’re told and behaving themselves so they can be rewarded with a gold watch and a nice pension. The length of the average job has already dropped to a little over four years.

Workers are laid off on a regular basis. Entire industries become obsolete and disappear, or simply move to the other side of the world where labor is cheaper. Change is coming at us more rapidly than ever, and those who are willing to adapt to these changes by learning new skills will thrive.

To raise children who eagerly learn new skills, we need to give them the opportunity for free exploration, hands-on learning and real-life experiences where they learn to fail. This isn’t easy for us as parents, because we weren’t allowed to learn this way. We went to school, where we were told what to learn, and we had no choice in how we learned it. But we must do better by our children, because they need to be prepared differently than we were.

Free exploration is important for people of all ages, but in our society it seems that only babies are allowed the privilege. They crawl everywhere, chew on new items they discover, and absorb every experience like the little sponges they are. But before long, they’re sucked into the world of school, where their learning is “guided.” Goals are set by educators, and free exploration comes to an end.

How sad and how unnecessary! It seems like we’ve taken a step backwards when it comes to early education by taking away children’s freedom to explore and learn. Today, two-year-olds are put in preschool, but when I was a child, we were free to learn through our play until age five or six. (The public school I lived next to didn’t even offer kindergarten.) And for generations before us, children didn’t go to school until they were older. Among American pioneers of the 1800s, children went to school sporadically if at all. But they learned what they needed to know while working with their parents to set up homesteads in an unfamiliar environment. Pioneer travels were the ultimate free exploration.

Homeschooling gives children the time and opportunity to learn through free exploration, if their parents don’t force them into the public-school-method learning mode. The children of today who are free to read what interests them, explore computers, and learn about the world by visiting museums and other sites of interest will be tomorrow’s eager lifelong learners.

Hands-on learning is the primary way babies learn, and used to be the way everyone learned. But the pervasive influence of school turned us toward attending classes and reading books as the preferred way of learning. (There’s nothing wrong with reading books, but some subjects cannot be learned by merely reading about them. There’s a huge difference between reading a recipe and actually baking the cake.) And of course, since schools contain large numbers of children, hands-on learning experiences are minimized because they’re so cumbersome.

But this is another area where homeschooling shines. Homeschooled kids can learn with their hands every day. They bake, paint, build and create whenever they feel inspired. Logistics don’t allow this to happen in school. Think about it: there’s a big difference between the mess created by a couple of siblings finger-painting and 35 school kids finger-painting. So finger-painting happens at home a lot more than it does at school, and it’s usually initiated by the kids’ desire to finger-paint, not a directive on the teacher’s lesson plan.

Kids who work with their hands all the time not only learn better, but also become accustomed to being creative. If there’s anything we’re going to need to solve our formidable economic and technological problems in this world, it’s creativity!

Next: Part 3, Why Your Child Needs to Fail

Helping Our Kids Find a Career

A recent article I read about a 13-year-old boy who wants to be a chef when he grows up included a comment that jumped out at me:

This young cook plans to attend culinary school and one day would like to teach cooking classes or own his own restaurant.

“I think I could be a chef anywhere. I like working with my hands and always being in the game and not sitting in an office all day,” Steven said. “So I think that may be a job for me.”

He’s a smart kid. He knows he wouldn’t be happy sitting at a desk all day. I wish I’d been that smart at his age (or even when I was a little older). Once I graduated from college, I worked at a couple of “desk jobs” and found that I was miserable. Even though I was trained (via many years of formal education) to sit at a desk all day, that didn’t make me like it.

Most homeschooled kids don’t have to sit at a desk all day. My kids didn’t. They had a few hours of daily bookwork, but once that was finished, they had freedom to pursue their own interests. And now that they’re all grown, I can see by the jobs they choose that they, too, clearly have no interest in sitting at a desk all day. My eldest has two online businesses supplemented by a part-time job working in a warehouse store. My son is a manager for a publishing company, which requires a lot of business travel. And my younger daughter works for the police department writing parking tickets while she works her way up to becoming a full-time officer (she was one of the few women to pass the physical agility test recently, woohoo!)

Now that it’s so hard for young people to find good jobs, it’s more important than ever that they pursue the kinds of careers that are a good fit for their personalities and experience, because once they get a job, they’ll need to hang on to it. Homeschooled kids who are accustomed to freedom may have a difficult time sitting at a desk, computer or phone all day. They might be better suited to active work or even outdoors work.

As parents, we can’t force them to come up with a career plan, nor can we make them do what we want (my dad still thinks I should have majored in accounting, but I’m so glad I didn’t!) But we can encourage them to pursue their interests, provide the tools they need to pick up a skill they want, and share helpful information whenever we happen to find it. By supporting them in this way, they’ll have a better shot at finding the work that’s right for them (even if they want to do something that requires sitting at a desk all day!)

Our Kids’ Competition for Future Jobs

When I hear that the unemployment rate is still going up, my immediate thought is for our kids and their future. We’ve been told that many of the jobs that were lost aren’t coming back due to technological change and offshoring. So how will our kids make a living? Will they have to deal with long periods of unemployment in their lives?

Those concerns are why I’ve written my new book, but talking to two of my children who are working adults has given me hope that things won’t be as bad as they seem. Both of them tell me that despite the high unemployment rate, it’s still hard to find good workers. They’ve expressed frustration with job applicants who barely speak during interviews and lazy new employees who spend their time texting instead of working. (These aren’t isolated incidences; they say it’s a pattern they see every day.)

These young employees have some ethical issues beyond laziness. One new employee borrowed a customer’s coupon during a transaction to get an additional discount on her own purchase. A self-identified Christian young man hired as a manager flunked his drug test.

As a result of experiences like these, my kids (who live in different states, by the way) think the high unemployment rate reflects a large number of incompetent people who can’t hold a job. That wouldn’t apply to several people over 40 I know who are among the long-term (2 years +) unemployed. But I think they’re having a hard time getting hired because they’re used to higher pay, and their age makes offering them health insurance a more expensive proposition. As for the younger people, maybe my kids are right.

In that case, we don’t have to worry as much about tough competition for our kids. If we raise them with moral character and a good work ethic along with the skills needed to compete in the 21st century, they should be ahead of most of their peers from the start.

More on Productivity

Picking up from yesterday…….

The next change I made really drove up my productivity. It all started a few months ago when I saw a job ad for an editor in the corporate office of a well-known business, an office that just happens to be 10 minutes from here. I had all the requirements, including a journalism degree, but the job only paid $10-12 an hour. I debated about the job, but not for long because it was quickly snapped up. (Shows how bad the economy is!) But I got to thinking about it and realized that if I devoted regular hours to my writing, I could earn more than that and wouldn’t have to leave home or buy new clothes.  :)

So I began having regular business hours for my writing. Each weekday I’m holed up in the office (doors closed) writing from 1-5 pm, with a brief break at 3 for a cup of tea. (While I’m in here, my husband is with our son, who cannot be left unattended.) During these hours, I do not check email. In fact, I don’t go online at all unless I’m fact-checking something. I don’t do any business-related work either. Nor do I run down to the basement and start a load of wash, or quickly make something and throw it in the oven for dinner. All I do is think and write and think some more and write some more.

And it’s working! It’s amazing how much writing I’m getting done during these 20 hours per week. It hasn’t been easy, though. After the thrill wore off, there were several times when I faced an enormous temptation to just jump online to surf for a few minutes’ break, but I didn’t give in.

Then that passed, and I found it was real work to just stay with one topic for four hours. My attention span had disintegrated to the point that four hours on one subject was torture. I remember being in college and getting a precious “stacks pass,” which meant I could roam about the stacks of the enormous U of I library, reading anything I wanted. I spent hours there, sometimes having to be kicked out because they were closing. I sure had an attention span back then, reading books straight through. Now I couldn’t even concentrate on one project for four measly hours.

But I kept at it, and I’m slowly getting over that hurdle. Now the four hours passes in no time (most days, anyway), and it’s much easier to stay on track. I’m finishing up a book about preparing our kids for the new economy, as well as a Bible study I designed for my daughter when she was a young teen. I’m working on one book four days a week, and the other one day a week. We hope to have both of them out this year. But I don’t think either of them would be in the works if I hadn’t started having office hours.

Here’s a question for the veteran homeschool moms who pop by this blog now and then: Have you had trouble concentrating too? Or is it just me?