The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners


How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

Culture Making Part XI: Creators and Cultivators are Free to Critique, Copy, or Condemn


Last week we discussed various responses to culture and how the only way to change culture is to make more of it. If you don’t like dinner, don’t complain, offer an alternative and make your own.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Critiquing is Passive

“The posture of critique also tempts us toward the academic fallacy of believing that once we have analyzed something, we have understood it. Often true understanding, of a person or a cultural good, requires participation – throwing ourselves fully into the enjoyment and experience of someone or something without reserving an intellectual, analytical part of ourselves outside of the experience like a suspicious and watchful librarian.”

I’m reminded of how sometimes observation can kill whatever spontaneous expression or experimentation our kids are engaged in. Are they so used to me delivering judgment that when they see me in the room they know critique is inevitable?

Kids are masters at throwing themselves fully into an experience without judging it first. Surely we must teach them discernment, but maybe we can relearn from them how to fully experience something without constantly judging the activity and ourselves.

For the homeschooler, not everything has to be educational – relax! Fussing too much about attaching educational worth to every activity could kill the very passion and deeper understanding of the world that we desire to teach.


“We breed a generation that prefers facsimile to reality, simplicity to complexity (for cultural copying, almost by definition, ends up sanding off the rough and surprising edges of any cultural good it appropriates), and familiarity to novelty. Not only is this a generation incapable of genuine creative participation in the ongoing drama of human culture making, it is dangerously detached from a God who is anything but predictable and safe.”

Appreciating a Bach fugue takes more work than tapping along to this week’s top hit. Pizza is easier to like than tabouli salad but it doesn’t mean we’re stuck only sharing the simple with our kids. It’s our job to train them to be able to appreciate the more complex creations of beauty. It may take time, but it’s a worthy – and possible – goal.


“[This is] the core premise of consumer culture: we are most human when we are purchasing something someone else has made.”


“Of all the possible postures toward culture, consumption is the one that lives most unthinkingly within a culture’s preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility.”


“Consumer culture teaches us to pay exquisite attention to our own preferences and desires. Someone whose posture is consumption can spend hours researching the most fashionable and feature-laden cell phone; can know exactly what combination of espresso shots, regular and decaf, whole and skim, amaretto and chocolate, makes for their perfect latte; can take on extraordinary commitments of debt and commuting time in order to live in the right community. . . [A]ll of this involves care and work [but it isn’t creation or cultivation.] . . . [It] is capitulation: letting the culture set the terms, assuming that the culture knows best and that even our deepest longings and fears have some solution that fits comfortably within our culture’s horizons, if only we can afford to purchase it.”

Freedom to Critique, Copy, or Condemn

There is a time and place for condemning culture, for critiquing culture, for consuming culture and for copying culture. The problem arises when one particular response become so habitual that it is our automatic response.

“[T]he simple truth is that in the mainstream of culture, cultivation and creativity are the postures that confer legitimacy for the other gestures. People who consider themselves stewards of culture – guardians of what is best in a neighborhood, an institution or a field of cultural practice – gain the respect of their peers. Even more so, those who go beyond being mere custodians to creating new cultural goods are the ones who have the world’s attention.”

I’ll end with a few quotes on creation and cultivation. Read the book to discover many more great reasons to be a creator and cultivator!

“Like our first parents [Adam and Eve], we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.”


“From the beginning, creation requires cultivation, in the sense of paying attention to ordering and dividing what already exists into fruitful spaces. . . This is an important point at a time in history when “creativity” often is associated with the rejection of order and when artists in particular can seem to be trying to outdo one another in provocative acts of chaos making.”


“Creation leads to celebration. Creation at its best leaves us joyful, not jaded. It prompts delight and wonder, even in the creators themselves, who marvel at the fruitfulness of their small efforts . . . Creation, even on a human scale is meant to end with the glad exclamation, “It is very good.”

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results? Next week we’ll discuss the shocking and counterintuitive answer.

Culture Making Part IX: Cultivation And Why The Most Creative People Are Also The Most Disciplined

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I’m super excited to introduce this part of the Culture Making series. Let’s dive in with Crouch’s words:

“We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible.”

“Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.” -Andy Crouch

Admittedly, “Cultivation is a somewhat less appealing word than creation,” but the fact remains,

“The more each of us knows about our cultural domain, the more likely we are to create something new and worthwhile.”

Cultivation as a Child’s First Job

“In the West it is popular to imagine children as innately creative, since they lack the self-censoring self-awareness that plagues grownups. And children certainly do express their creative drive to make something new of the world from an early age. But childhood is much more fundamentally about imitation than creation. Learning language, learning our culture’s vast store of stories and saying and symbols, learning the meaning of street signs and stop lights, learning the rules of baseball, learning to jump a rope and dribble a basketball – none of these are, strictly speaking, acts of culture making. But they are indispensable acts of culture keeping, and they are necessary if the child is ever to grow up to contribute something to that cultural realm. We can only create where we have learned to cultivate.”

What Cultural Cultivation Looks Like

“Cultivation in the world of culture is not so different from cultivation in the world of nature. One who cultivates tries to create the most fertile conditions for good things to survive and thrive. Cultivating also requires weeding – sorting out what does and does not belong, what will bear fruit and what will choke it out. Cultivating natural things requires long and practiced familiarity with plants and their place; cultivating cultural things requires careful attention to the history of our culture and to the current threats and opportunities that surrounded it. Cultivation is conservative – ensuring that the world we leave behind, whether natural or cultural, contains as least as many possibilities and at least as much excellence as the one we inherited.”

Cultivation, Discipline, and Creativity

“The most demanding forms of cultivation are disciplines – long apprenticeships in the rudiments of a cultural form, small things done over and over that create new capacities in us over time.”

“[I]t is intriguing that the domains we often consider the most “creative” – art and music, for example – require some of the most demanding disciplines.” -Andy Crouch

“[U]nderneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping.”

“As small and seemingly insignificant as they are, disciplines can have powerful cultural effects. If I make dinner tonight for my family, nothing much will change in my family’s culture. But if I make dinner tonight, tomorrow night, next Tuesday and for the next fifteen years of our children’s lives, seeking to do so with creativity, skill and grace that grows over time – even if I never become an avant-garde chef and always follow the recipe – that discipline alone will indeed create a powerful family culture with horizons of possibility and impossibility that we may not even now be able to glimpse.”

Cultivate and Create

“With any luck, [our children] will be both culture keepers and culture makers – both cultivators and creators. And then they will be prepared to both conserve culture at its best and change it for the better by offering the world something new.”

This, my friends, is why I care about teaching my kids to love good music, and good food, to learn poetry and read the classics. I care about imparting the world’s cultural heritage to my children because it gives them cultural power to go and make something of their world.

Creativity begins with discipline.

No longer are unschooling (a word that to me represents allowing children to exercise their power and creativity) and classical education (a phrase that to me represents training sharp minds and imparting our cultural legacy) at odds in my mind – they are both fundamental to the health and training of productive, powerful, and peaceful human beings.

What’s your take?

Still not convinced? Next week I’ll dig deeper with Crouch’s arguments, but there simply wasn’t room for it all this time.

Culture Making Part VII: How To Encourage Our Children To Be Makers

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How do we help our children make something of the world?

Last week we discussed the most important way: be a maker yourself!

Here are some other practical ways to increase productive cultural power for our children to encourage their creativity, productivity, and responsibility.

Get Out Of The Way

One way is to get out of the way when our children are making meaning. It’s clear when they are painting that they are being creative, but what about when the 5-year-old dumps water on his dinner then refuses to eat it?

Our son did just that the other day and it turns out that his rice was too hot to eat and he wanted to cool it down. He’d recently watch a few videos on how water puts out fires by reducing the heat of the flame.

He was making meaning. As he had predicted, the water cooled the rice down, but he also learned that it made the food inedible.

Lori Pickert gives some hints on how to build what she calls a “maker culture” for our families in her book Project-Based Homeschooling.

I’ve mentioned before Pickert’s idea of producing what we consume.

“[When children] don’t just passively consume [but] actively produce . . . they take ownership over ideas and work with them, build with them. They take what interests them, what they enjoy, what they love, and they make something new.” – Lori Pickert

This idea takes us a huge step away from the idea that there are good and bad activities or good and bad media, and challenges us to ask what process is going on beyond the surface.

Instead of thinking books are good and movies are bad, notice whether or not a child play-acts his own stories after watching a movie, or shares a scene after reading a book.

Even if we don’t particularly care for Frozen we can appreciate the important work our children are doing when they play-act, draw, make dresses, and otherwise make something of the Frozen world.

A Frozen obsession won’t last forever, but the skills gained in making something of their world will if we choose to appreciate it rather than condemn it.

The Power of Attention

This brings us neatly to another tip of Pickert’s:

Give attention to what you want to grow.

“Think hard about what you value most, because that’s what deserves your attention. Your child will respond by doing more of whatever earns your focus. You feed a behavior with your attention, and by feeding it, you create more of it – so be thoughtful about what you invest with that power.” – Lori Pickert

What we shine the light of our attention on will increase, whether it’s the negative, or the positive.

It’s important to encourage with actions and not words. Make time, space, materials, and support for making and sharing.

Make Making Safer

To help get over the hurdle of starting, think of how you can lower the stakes so that creating and sharing aren’t attached to big risks.

Provide art materials that you won’t get upset about if they are dropped and broken.

Stay calm when you want to scream “What were you thinking?!” in the aftermath of a failed act of making meaning (like water on dinner).

Don’t immediately judge when your child (or spouse!) shares his work with you, rather show genuine interest and ask open-ended questions to learn more about the meaning behind the work.

For details and more concrete ideas, visit or read the book (it is not at all just for homeschoolers!).

In Short:

A child’s play is often the important work of using their cultural power to make something of the world. We can increase our children’s productive cultural power by getting out of the way when we see it happen, shining the light of our attention on it, and making it safer to venture into creative work.

Did this post inspire other ideas for encouraging and appreciating your child’s work?


This is Part VII of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI and Part VIII here.

Two Discoveries About How I Enjoy My Family


My theme for the year is to enjoy my family. That’s surprisingly vague and difficult because I can’t put off all my work and do nothing but enjoy my kids.

Meals have to be cooked and toilets have to be cleaned.

I recently saw an advertisement for an online cooking course for kids. The lady encouraged parents to let their 5-year-olds use knives and flip pancakes, claiming that we often underestimate what our kids can do.

I’d tried letting my first join me in the kitchen, but he was so strong-willed it drove me crazy and ever after I’ve dreaded letting the kids join me.

I almost bought the cooking course, but then I pictured mothers throughout time and place laughing at me that I would need a course to teach my kids to cook!

Kids can learn whatever their parents expect them to learn. Why had I forgotten this?

With renewed energy I brought the kids into the kitchen for making pancakes. I was shocked how much their ability to obey had grown. Even my two-year-old did much better than his older brother had done at that age.

Since then I realized I needed to shift my mindset from getting my work done as efficiently as possible while the kids were busy to training them to help in as much of my work as possible.

Again, I knew this before. The kids had always helped with laundry, why had I forgotten to keep training them? The new baby? The move?

In any case, I discovered an important lesson.

Discovery #1

I enjoy my kids when we do valuable work together.

This simultaneously solves problems of not enough time for housework and not enough time to enjoy me kids.

I know for many of you this is obvious, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the obvious because we forget.

Where you burned once trying to share something with your kids? Washing dishes? Cooking? Writing? Try again now that some time has passed and see what happens!

The second discovery this week occurred during a spontaneous tea party. The baby was sleeping, so I could focus my attention on my 5, 4, and 2-year-olds.

I took out the cookies first to get them excited. I explained that we use good manners during a tea party. We’d never really talked about manners before – I mostly just try to survive meals!

I was astonished how well they responded to my calm but firm directions. They waited patiently with their hands folded in their laps. They carried breakable cups and bowls with two hands.

Even the two-year-old asked politely for more tea and asked to be excused when he was done. We all really got into it!

It would be too exhausting to insist on impeccable manners every meal, but practicing once a week during a tea party sounds doable – and fun!

Discovery #2

Work before play doesn’t always apply. When I take time to enjoy something beautiful with my kids, important lessons can be learned easily and painlessly.

This week I (re)learned that my kids can cook and they can behave at a tea party, and that both activities can be enjoyable and not stressful!

In what other ares do we tend to underestimate kids? Please share your success stories in the comments!

The Cost of Creativity: 9 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Want Creative Kids

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Fostering creativity in children seems to be all the rage these days.

I’m not buying all the hype.

Here are nine reasons why I don’t want my kids to be creative:

  1. It’s messy. The other day my three-year-old pulled out the plastic decorative grass between my sushi, said “It’s a crown!” and proceeded to put it on the 1-month-old’s head. Yes, raw fish on the baby’s head is the result of young creativity.
  2. It’s risky. Creativity knows no bounds, you never know where you’ll end up. First they paint on the paper you give them, then they find your stack of bills and paint on that, then they paint the walls and driveway . . .
  3. It’s dangerous. Creative kids tinker. They have no fear. Put “tinker” and “electricity” in the same sentence and you’ll understand why I don’t want creative kids.
  4. It’s expensive. The trouble with real art supplies is that they are expensive and kids keep coming back for more, which results in a feedback loop of creativity followed by the need for buying more art supplies. Fortunately there is an easy and cheap solution to this. Buy cheap art supplies. Kids get so frustrated with them not working properly and breaking that they give up creating. Poor art supplies are not only cheap, they last the whole childhood! Double win.
  5. It’s time consuming. It takes an hour to walk half a block with creative kids. They somehow see infinite potential in a pile of stones. Each one is unique, so no stone can be left unturned.
  6. It’s uncertain. The creative path isn’t charted and there’s no instruction manual. I don’t know where we’re going or how to get there but I am still held responsible should anything bad happen to my kids!
  7. It’s maddening. Creative kids think of creative ways to obey the letter of the law while flouting its spirit. As in, “I didn’t throw the truck, I just dropped it off the table!”
  8. It’s heartbreaking. Creative kids fail. They try out many ideas and most of them fail. As a parent, I hate watching my kids fail. I’d rather do things for them and save them the agony, though strangely enough they don’t seem to mind failing as much as I do.
  9. It’s humbling. My kids might show me up and have a more successful life than I do.

So before you jump on the “creative kids” bandwagon, be sure you count the cost!

Have a reason I missed? Please share!

Can We Trust the Path of Learning That Our Kids Choose?


My son loved numbers from an early age and I enjoyed watching him learn on his own terms. He painstakingly taught himself how to write the numerals on his blackboard, but he struggled with the number “5.”

I decided to step in and give him a short and cheerful tip about what was tripping him up.

He stopped writing numbers for a week.

When my daughter became interested in writing I knew better than to intervene. She once asked me to help her write her name. I tried to hold my tongue, but I couldn’t help giving her tips as we worked together.

Lo and behold, she responded well to my tips, did a great job writing, and was so proud of herself!

Every child learns differently and needs different support along the way.

That’s easy to say when we’re looking back and things have turned out well. It’s quite another story when the future is uncertain.

This morning I watched my two-year-old coast around on his pedal-less bike, my three-year-old struggle with her real bike, and my five-year-old zip around like a pro.

Seeing the stages of learning to ride a bike side-by-side made it strikingly clear how short each phase is.

The same daughter who likes writing lessons has resisted all help in learning to ride a bike. It’s taken all my strength to hold back and let her do it her way. I had hoped she’d learn to pedal this summer, but fall is at our doorstep and she’s still only sitting on the bike and pushing with her feet along the ground.

Suddenly I notice she has one foot on a pedal. The other is suspended in the air and touches down only occasionally. She quickly improves her technique and can soon bike one-footed the whole length of the lot, never once touching down with her left foot.

Amazing! “Surely biking with one foot is harder than with two,” I think to myself. “All she needs is a little encouragement to put her left foot on the pedal and she’ll discover it’s even easier!

“I’m right,” I assure myself. “But I don’t have to say so.” I congratulate her on her one-foot biking skills and with great self-control manage to leave it at that.

Why is it so hard to trust that she’ll find the way? I know from watching my first child that the learning time is over and gone so quickly. What’s the rush?

Each time a child learns something on his own, it is a personal victory. Why diminish that victory by intervening too much?

The time spent waiting for our kids to learn the next skill feels long because the future is uncertain. It’s not that I want to rush through the process, but the discomfort of uncertainty compels me to take charge.

There may be times when we need to insist on our way, but I’m starting to suspect that our kids need our intervention far less than we think.

Can we trust the path of learning that our kids choose?

We might not be able to answer the question once and for all, but we can challenge ourselves to have more respect for our children’s way of learning and have more humility in sharing our superior skills.

We can hold back a little longer before we jump in with our own ideas. We can respond positively when we’re asked for help, rather than insisting a child do something on his own that he doesn’t feel ready for.

We can stay in the suspense of uncertainty a little longer and keenly observe the situation before we act. Experience will teach us if we can trust how our kids learn.

After an hour of one-footed biking, the grandparents arrived and my daughter wanted to show off her new skill for them.

Scarcely had her grandfather noticed her unusual style when she put her other foot on the other pedal . . .

And she rode that bike.