Champion Character


In my family, we have a three-part motto:

  1. Dream Big
  2. Work Hard
  3. Be Humble

I think these three things go together, each one building on the previous. We first need to have a vision, a big vision, for how we want to use our unique talents and gifts and passions to serve the world. Then, we need to put in the work to prepare ourselves to accomplish that big dream. Hard work is a prerequisite to success in any endeavor. But it could all be for naught if we lose our anchor, if we detach from reality and get big-headed and hard-hearted.

Grace has a gift for the middle platitude. She works fantastically hard, no complaints. She is physically and mentally strong as a result. She has chosen the big dream of working with horses — ideally, owning her own ranch. This is where I come in, as her mentor. I excel at dreaming big. I encourage her to always think bigger. If she ends up with her own successful ranch, I’m sure I will be encouraging her to franchise, or to give travelling clinics, or something I can’t foresee at this point. Dreaming big comes easily for me.

It also comes easy for Noah. He wants to be part of the liberty movement that will keep the world free and prosperous. He wants to create wealth so he can leverage it. He wants to be a successful husband and father. Yes, he thinks about all these things, even though he is still 13. He wants to Be Somebody.

I’ve noticed something. Those who dream big have a tougher time with the second two steps. Those who have the second two need help with the first.

Elias, for example, has no idea what his big dream should be, but he works hard every day on anything you ask. He also thinks very little about his own self. He has confidence but not vanity, nor pride. He is a “team player” and enjoys others’ successes.

This is why it’s great to have two (or more) mentors for the youth phase of learning. I mentor the children about discovering their big dream, and Steve mentors them on working hard. He is also the better example of being humble, but life has humbled me some, as well. 🙂

Grace created the artwork above, and I thought it was fitting for this post. Our youths, and us ourselves, are in the hours, weeks, and months of building champion character. We need to establish broadly the right mottos, attributes, attitudes, habits that will help us be successful in life. And what is success? To live, to love, to serve, to experience joy and share it with all around us.

We aren’t preparing for a particular performance (getting the right job, making a bundle of cash, snagging the perfect mate, etc.) but rather building a character that will enable us to contribute and enjoy what life brings. It’s not that Champions have no challenges, it’s that they have the character to overcome. This is the time our children have, when they are in our homes, where they can build it. And so can we.

I love the 90’s show Lois and Clark, a Superman show. In the “UltraWoman” episode, through a fluke circumstance, Lois gains superpowers and Clark loses his. Because the world still needs a superhero, Clark’s mother comes over to make a costume for Lois so she can fill the role. Lois is uncomfortable with supermanwhat Clark will think, knowing that it can’t make him  feel good seeing her do the job he was born for.

But to paraphrase Clark’s father, “Lois, Clark is strong. And I’m not talking about how much he can bench press. He’s strong where it counts, when it counts.” What makes Superman the greatest superhero is not that he can throw nuclear bombs out into space. It’s that he is unfailingly good.* He has Champion character, and the great news about that is: character is not a superpower. We can all build that. We can help our families build that. And the world needs it, when the performance moment comes.

Live & Learn


* Although the comics have at times messed with Clark’s goodness. The Lois & Clark show really plays Superman well. He’s not all-knowing, but he is well-intentioned. The comic writers have sometimes sacrificed character for drama, always a mistake.

How to build a habitable planet


Noah took astronomy this past semester with Williamsburg Academy, and was inspired about the heavens and everything out there. Now, to back up a bit, Noah was age 12 at the time of the class, and it was a high school level course, so it was an experiment whether he could keep up with the workload and understand the concepts. Especially given that I was a full-time student and didn’t have time to help him much.

But, as a scholar, he had the opportunity to try. In reflecting on the experience, we decided that some things were easy:

  • attending class twice a week (plus live telescope sessions on occasion) – because the teacher was fantastic, thanks to Mr. Rees!
  • taking pictures and sightings of the day and night skies – this was fun and got the whole family more interested in celestial bodies.
  • using the online learning system (Canvas) since Noah had already been a student for several years with Williamsburg Intermediate.

Some things that were more difficult for Noah:

  • Keeping up with the weekly study guides. He found that he needed to read and research for these, and it was a stretch. At times, he felt overwhelmed. I think he may not have turned every one in. Or a few may have been late.
  • Taking weekly mastery assessments and a mid-term and final exam. He had to study the weekly guides to prepare for these. He found that he needed to pray before studying and then take the exam right after reviewing his notes. When he did that, he was most successful. At times, he had to leave an answer blank because he didn’t know it at all. All questions were short answer, no guessing possible.
  • Managing the overall workload was a stretch. There were ongoing projects like tracking solar shift and moon phases, as well as random telescope viewing reports and observation reports. He sometimes asked for me to spend time helping him organize the list of things to do or catching up on assignments.

Overall, I thought the things that were fun and the things that were a challenge both made this a fantastic semester for Noah. He knew that the class would “count” for his admission to college, so he cared about doing well, and caring is everything for Noah. If you’ve got a sweet youth that you’d like to see stretch a bit and do more proactive learning, classes from Williamsburg Academy are perfect, you might give them a try.

Here is a screencast of Noah’s final project in the class, which he did using the Universe Sandbox program to experiment with How to Build a Habitable Planet. (note that screencast doesn’t buffer as nicely as youtube, so it may hang up a bit.)

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Live & Learn

* photo credit: aeirmid

When you see someone pursue their passion…

IMGP0226It has been a year and a half since Grace made the difficult phone call to ask the director of our local horse stables if she could volunteer there once a week. She was thirteen, and agonized over the call, partly for fear of talking to a stranger, but mostly for fear of being turned down.

But she did it, and to her surprise, the director said yes on the spot, without meeting her first. Since then, Grace has spent every week at the farm, now going 3-4 days every week, and it has been a fantastic experience for her.

I have allergies, so I just do the driving. Actually, the allergies are my excuse. I also don’t get involved because horses are not part of MY life mission. But mostly, I stay out of it so that Grace can practice leadership in this endeavor. And, it’s working. According to recent mentor meetings with Grace (personal weekly interviews and goal-setting sessions), she feels that working at the farm has given her great confidence in her ability to do hard things and work with people of all ages and types.

In addition, she is even more convinced that horses are a significant part of her life mission, and she is more motivated to study and learn and gain skills that will help her be successful in all aspects of working with her equine friends.

So, does it work, to mentor a young person, to help her find her passion, and then “let go the reins” and see where it leads? For this wonderful young woman, the answer is: YES.

Is this what your intuition is telling you your child needs? Well, I’m here to tell you I don’t regret a thing about letting her self-educate and use her agency to see what she can do in the world.

Here she is, riding while a friend captured it:

Now, just to be clear, our family gives Grace $0.00 for the horsey endeavor, she doesn’t own a horse, and in fact, the horse she’s riding she has worked with for months because he is naughty and likes to buck people off. She is training him to be safe for younger riders. Grace doesn’t have advantages here, she has determination.

There is something exciting about watching someone take steps toward their life mission. Watching someone who is passionately engaged in a good cause, it’s wonderful to see. We all benefit when this happens, and we should quit standing in the way of it. It makes the world a brighter place.

Live & Learn

It’s all over now

AmberMitchell-02-Light-InsideWell, my semester is.

I enjoyed returning to college this year as an online student, but am looking forward to the Spring/Summer off, and back to my mom duties and leadership education adventures.

Sorry if the blog was super boring this last season. I do still intend to reorganize so that there are clear paths for all the different types of posts, but alas, it isn’t going to happen yet.

Good news, though:

  • I found out that in an online college experience, one can learn a great deal. This is good news for my online homeschool students, both now with Williamsburg online high school and when they are 16 doing online college.
  • I found out that my years of momming and homeschooling have been a great asset in every subject area, from essay writing to algebraic applications and from computer programming to graphic design.
  • I remembered that I love to do all sorts of things, and I have a lot to contribute. In other words, I’m not “just” a mom. Although that’s enough.
  • I found out that I miss connecting with people outside the “conveyer belt” who understand that learning is a function of being human, not a thing you do to get a grade or a job. BUUTTT, I also love talking with those in the system and evangelizing that viewpoint!

Anyway, there is a lot of other good news. For example, my school was completely paid for during both Fall and Winter because of the Federal Pell Grant program, which you may want to look into if you think you might enjoy a return to university. I’m going to keep on it in the Fall after I take Spring and Summer to set my house in order again. Speaking of which, here are the good things I found out about my homeschoolers this year:

  • My scholars are capable of handling their own education and being responsible for their own successes and “failures”. Noah struggled a little with his classes — struggle meaning there were some assignments he didn’t do, and it looks like he’ll get three As and a B. On occasion, he felt overwhelmed. I gave pep talks but not much actual help, since I didn’t have time. I expressed confidence that he could meet his challenges, and I reminded him that the world won’t stop turning if this semester is a bomb. He did fine, and Grace too, in spite of her having a really tough time understanding Geometry. We’ll see how much she retained as she takes the ACT/SAT this Spring (if I get it together!) FYI: In our home, Winter looks the most like traditional schoolwork as the dark days make it nice to snuggle inside and study. They don’t act like this come Spring and Summer!
  • The kids were super capable of eating good food and even spontaneously making nice dinners when I was busy. I still did the shopping, but I did much less cooking than ever before, and with some compromises like jarred Organic marinara sauce (instead of scratch) we ate pretty darn well.
  • The house didn’t implode. Dust bunnies did pile up, but we didn’t live in squalor. They kept their stewardships passable without my help. (Elias: living room, Noah: bathroom, Grace: kitchen with rotating dish duty.)
  • Elias (love-of-learner) learned better how to learn on his own, start his own projects and explore his own ideas. This he has been a little slower than the others to do, but my limited input seems to have forced his boredom to flower into self-guided adventures. He still loves a good board game, though.
  • And finally, though all the above is true, I found out that they still really need me. Youth isn’t a time to be totally disconnected from mentoring. Weekly mentor meetings were crucial this year to help them stay focused on their bigger goals and to problem solve the small stuff. Yet they are breathing a sigh of relief that my school ended a month before theirs, so that I can help them do their very best in the final weeks. They are also really looking forward to hanging out together and field tripping this season!

Every six months or so, things change in the Leadership Education home, and this one was one of our most changeable seasons. It was a challenge, a pleasure, an exciting adventure, and I think we’ll try it again this Fall as I continue my education alongside my wonderful young friends.


The journey of music

musicFirst, if you aren’t a classical music lover, this TED talk is for you! Afterward, please enjoy my analysis of one of Mozart’s piano concertos.

Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

Here is my analysis of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, conducted by Murray Perahia. These two movements are 21 minutes long, which gives you ample time to sink in and really see the music. Enjoy!

In Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, conducted by Murray Perahia, there are many instruments playing, including violin, viola, cello and bass instruments from the string family. There are also supporting instruments from woodwinds and brass, including flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn and trumpet. There is even percussion with the timpani. But the feature instrument is the piano. This creates a rich, theatrical sound that has both high spirits and deep emotion at different times in the movements.

The melody works in the major key of C, with some minor flourishes at different times, such as at 6:30. As conductor Benjamin Zander* says, “the job of the C is to make the B sad.” It alternates between conjunct and disjunct as the movement develops, giving unity to some parts and variety to others — and helping the audience stay interested and engaged for the duration.

This concerto has a regular rhythm in a duple format, or what could be characterized as quadruple, with four beats per measure.

The harmony is mainly consonant, leading to a pleasant listening experience. On occasion, the emotion is made more tense by the introduction of dissonant chords, as at this point: 3:45. As conductor Benjamin Zander says, “If you have a deceptive cadence,be sure to raise your eyebrows. Then everybody will know.”

While each instrument (except for the piano) is monophonic, the texture of the overall piece is polyphonic, except at interludes where fewer pieces play and it is homophonic, having two parts.

The tempo of this piece alternates between fast and driving, and slow and serene. This contrast gives the audience a richer experience. The conductor encourages rubato, or small increases and decreases in speed for artistic effect, at various points, particularly in his own piano part.

There is a wide range of dynamics in this piece, at times loud (and fast) and alternately slow and soft. The piece spends more time in the forte or loud dynamic, punctuating softer opening sentences (with few instruments) with whole-orchestra exclamations. Transitions between loud and soft are often smoothed by crescendo on the way up or decrescendo as the volume goes softer, but at other times the piece surprises with a sudden shift in dynamics.

Perhaps because of too many viewings of Fantasia, I felt the form of these movements told quite a theatrical story. The characters, represented by the various melodies, took turns traveling across the minds’ stage, sometimes heavy and smooth like a hippo on ice skates, sometimes trilling and light like a hummingbird gathering nectar. Other characters made their journeys by leaping from stone to stone across a pond or by spinning, dancing, skipping and strolling. Often, a smaller character (higher, lighter sound) was followed step by step by a larger one (played by a lower instrument) in echo.

So many adventures happened that it gave the sense of travelling far away and afield. The sense of coming home is accomplished by the slower, softer, serene cadences, such as at 16:30. Overall, these two movements by Mozart lead the listener through several tests and trials on a journey that has some cheer and excitement, some danger and foreboding, some sadness, some time to catch one’s breath before being whisked into the next adventure, and finally the return to quiet glades and, perhaps the comforts of one’s own hobbit-hole.

Live & Learn

Fall is for harvest…and sowing seeds

In our Agrarian past, school would not have started until the harvest was brought in, or at least those farming youths would not attend until the work was done. Today, my husband Steve still works tirelessly, as our ancestors did, to bring in the harvest at his tree farm during September. It’s a seven-day-a-week job during this time. We don’t see him much, but since the rest of the family doesn’t have a personal contribution to the harvest, we instead start our official school during the last week of August.

I would actually prefer to start in October, since September always brings the best weather in the northwest. I do love that Homeschooling is flexible and lets you utilize the most natural times for things. However, the lovely Williamsburg Academy and Williamsburg Intermediate folks, based out of southern Utah, do not share my view. They start classes at the end of August! And both Grace and Noah join them, so we will slug through the first week or two as we ramp up our scholar habits. May the fertile ground of our minds get freshly tilled and ready to nourish the seeds of truth that will be laid out this season.

P1120579Grace (14, scholar), is taking a solid course load:

  • Geometry
  • American Lit
  • U.S. History
  • Journalism
  • LDS Seminary studies

She is also planning on working at the horse stables again this year, at least one day a week. She also has youth activities weekly. She has decided to stop taking piano but to continue it on her own.  Oh, and she’ll continue doing 4H with her dog weekly.

With all her various activities, I can’t wait until she starts driving!

Noah is taking Humanities 8 with Williamsburg Intermediate, continuing his great love of history. Lately, he’s been hoping to be some kind of diplomat when he grows up. He plans to do Khan Academy for math and science (as well as the vids on history of course) and he’s working his way through literature classics — the manly ones, anyway. 🙂 This summer, he showed his scholar side at times by refusing to go outside because he was reading a history, and at other times he delved deeply into his core for some outdoor play. He was always up for a Deep Discussion though. I believe the summer has primed him for a solid scholar year. I have seen him taking initiative to patiently teach Elias things, so I plan on inviting him to grow his mentoring abilities this year. He continues to be a chef, also, and to sing in church.

For activities, he just has youth group. Phew. He’ll be hunting with Steve often.

Elias is going to do a special reading program for dyslexia this year, since other “regular” programs haven’t stuck very well. It’s at His wonderful mind works a little differently. He still loves STEM, particularly engineering, and so he’ll be working with his Lego Mindstorms kit to build and program more complex robots this year. He is planning to join the local elementary strings program (playing cello) if all works out, and he is involved with cub scouting. He’ll play piano on his own.

But the big news is for me: I’ve been accepted to the online degree program at BYU-Idaho, and will be finishing my Bachelor there in Web Design and Development with a minor in English. I’m all registered for Fall semester and I’m really looking forward to it!

It’s weird because during the past few years as I re-navigated my education through history, literature and religious studies, I didn’t feel any need to get the accolade of a degree. But all of a sudden, I felt strongly a few weeks ago that I should apply. Everything has fallen into place quite neatly, and it makes sense to me that now, when I have a well-rounded scholarly education, that I would do some depth studies to prepare for the next part of my life mission.

How will it work for me to be a full-time student alongside the kids? Well, stay tuned and we’ll find out together.

Thanks for keeping up with our adventures. Family education is exciting, hard, seamless, disjointed, random, orderly and fun.

The joy is in the journey!

Reflections on Winter Learning

Hi all,

20131216_203107I haven’t been blogging much lately, as life is getting busy with youths (who don’t yet drive). Also, I have been writing fiction, and I’ve learned that when I write in one venue there often isn’t time for writing in another.

But our semester is ending, here in the Mitchell homeschool, and that got me reflecting a bit. (We basically do a fall semester September through December, and a winter semester January through April. This coincides with Williamsburg Academy, which we are still enjoying very much.*)

We all learned so much this winter, and it was such a joy, that I wanted to honor the progress the kids and I made in a holistic way. I am doing four things:

  1. I am creating a semester survey that invites the kids to recognize things they have learned and ways they have changed this season.
  2. I will ask each of the kids to write a letter to me focusing on one of these things, using all their best handwriting, grammar and composition skills.
  3. Steve will praise each of them in their weekly mentor meeting, giving specific feedback on ways he’s seen them grow and ideas for what he thinks they might be ready to focus on next season.**
  4. The kids and I will bake each of them a pie of their choice and celebrate with a pie night. (Dinner will be chicken pot pie). This is also a kickoff into the new spring/summer season of more hands-on activities and family relationship building time.

In homeschooling, there are no set structures, no built-in accolades, no signposts telling us what levels we reach… none that are externally, universally applied.

And I like that.

But I also think it’s important to reflect on learning and growth to let that learning sink in. To acknowledge it, not just for the pat on the back, but because the very process deepens and solidifies the learning itself. When we count our many blessings we feel gratitude for the journey and the blessings alike.

The other main benefit of doing this is that it demarcates the time. Since learning never actually ends, we don’t use the public school summer calendar and school is never “out for the summer”. Nevertheless, I think there is value to showing the passage of time and having measurable end points so that it is clear when goals are reached.

So in case you’re interested in what I included in the semester survey, I’ll link it here so you can download and change at will: Semestersurvey

I have a tendency to step outside and observe and analyze life, so this comes naturally to me in mentoring the kids. It takes a bit of time and I’m not sure the kids really understand why I’m doing it, but they trust my mentoring enough to cheerfully shrug and dive right in. 🙂

Live, love and learn along the way!

* In fact, Grace is taking a few shorter summer term classes: Sketching for a week in May, Independent study Horseback Riding and Animal Husbandry. Noah is taking his first class with the Academy (HS level) by doing Four Books that Changed My Life. As for fall, Grace is signed up for the Academy and Noah will take Humanities with Williamsburg Intermediate again.

** By the way, I have the most awesome husband in Steve, and he is quick to respond to my ideas about mentoring, so even though he doesn’t do the main mentoring himself, the kids feel he has an active role — especially as they’re getting older. Dads are great teen mentors.

The Newest Scholar

In Leadership Education, they define the classic phases of learning with self-descriptive terms, more friendly in conversation than, for example, the classical approach. They are:

  1. Core – roughly 0-8yrs
  2. Love of Learning – 8-12
  3. Scholar 12-18
  4. Depth – 18+
  5. Mission – adult
  6. Impact – later adult


If you read my last post, you may be surprised to find that the newest Scholar in my home is Noah, and that the ups and downs he’s had lately have been a transition to that phase — and we told him thus. We gave him the opportunity, this season, to shore up any holes in his Core and Love of Learning so that he can be accepted, with all the rights and privileges, as a Scholar in our home.

Part of this transition, Noah proposed, was to break from taking his online classes with Williamsburg Intermediate, and to begin going to work with his dad, farming. This was a bold proposal, and we all talked it over extensively. Noah wrote his thoughts about why he felt it was important to work with his dad, and what he felt he would gain. We also came up with other commitments he would make at this time to take more control of his own life and education.

He typed up these commitments into an Apprentice Scholar Contract that we all signed, and we agreed that upon successful completion of the contract, he would be considered a Youth Scholar in our home, as Grace is.

Here is what he decided to include in the contract:

  1. Work with Dad according to mutual agreement.
  2. Keep daily planner and report orally daily.
  3. Write weekly summary of epiphanies.
  4. Read classics and non-fiction two hours a day.
  5. Aleks online math: a couple topics a week.
  6. Build business entrepreneurship and reputation on eBay.
  7. Journal 15 minutes, several times a week.
  8. Build domestic skills like cooking, cleaning and stewardships.
  9. Create a boys’ club and begin operating.
  10. Complete “Faith In God” church program, read scriptures and have regular prayer.
  11. Keep physically healthy.

Noah, who doesn’t like to feel too tied down, purposely left some things vague, but at least he covered a broad range. He doesn’t struggle with things such as keeping physically healthy, so specific goals in that area were not as needed.

We left the details of his working with Dad up to them to work out, to keep the relationship flexible, as this is such a new endeavor. Behind the scenes, Steve and I agreed that we would not be the ones to either say Noah shouldn’t work OR should have to work. We decided to let Noah test his strength and fortitude for work, and test his commitment level on this proposal. So far, Steve and I have bee surprised at his sticking with it (we are 3-4 weeks in, now). Noah originally wanted to go to work all day, four days a week — 5am to 5pm. We knew this wouldn’t work, both for Noah’s stamina (bit of a late riser!) and for Steve’s job demands. But we’ve settled into something closer to one full day and two half-days.

I suggested the importance of the items that involve writing and reflection, so that Noah would get the most out of this experience by understanding it clearly. Also, he has a big hole in his Love of Learning for writing, and I challenged him to find the value in recording his thoughts this season.

Noah came up with the reading two hours a day, building entrepreneurship and domestic skills items.

After much discussion, we all decided that Noah will not be involved in Scouting anymore. That it just doesn’t meet his interests and needs. That although it purports to be a leadership program, is more about following: the procedures, checking off boxes, filling in endless worksheets, jumping through hoops. And, that it separates our two sons merely based on age, a conveyor-belt mentality. Noah thought it would be much more fun to design his own practical skills program with his brother, and he invited his best friend and best friend’s brother to join him. Thus the boys’ club will begin operating this season, and will surely grow to be it’s own blog post at some point. 🙂

Noah has a tendency to promise great things and then forget to follow through, so after he wrote a rough draft, he then typed a final draft that he printed and we all signed, and now he keeps it right with his planner so that on a daily basis he can use it to create his to-do list. He also brings it to his weekly mentor meeting to give a fuller account and chat about any challenges in accomplishing any of the items.

At the end of April, at a mentor meeting, we’ll all evaluate the success and see what worked and didn’t from the agreement, and hopefully create another contract for the next season.

This is something I’ve learned about mentoring older children versus little ones: that we take on a more managerial role. We do less actual teaching and coaching, more guiding and providing gentle accountability.

The idea is that once a youth reaches the point of being a more self-directed Scholar, the fun really begins, because they need little guidance. They know their mission areas as well or better than the parent. This is pretty much how Grace is already, so I get an early dose of it. Instead, we get to support, cheerlead, and be creative with older youths.

I look forward to that for my boys, and whenever they show bright spots in managing their own lives, I try to give them a glimpse of me as the fun cheerleader instead of the tough lion-tamer. Oddly, neither of these roles are natural to me. (I prefer the absent-minded professor role.) But alas, parenting — especially home-educating parenting — requires us to wear many hats! And it really is fun to be their helper, their friend, more than their manager. To have wisdom to give them proper counsel and advice, but to know that their lives are their own and that they are free to make their own mission come about. That gives me joy.

Live, Love and Learn!

A letter to my son, on the eve of his youth

10. Planning through Tests. When your mentees are going through tests, help them strategize and plan. They need your expertise during tests.
11. Rigor through Traps. When your mentees are going through Traps, teach them high standards, and hold them to them. They need your leadership to escape Traps.
12. Empathy through Trials. When they are going through Trials, be there for them. They need you to be more of a soul mentor at this point, to really care and show humanity that transcends the mentoring relationship without compromising it.

The Student Whisperer, 13 Mentoring Improvements, steps 10-12


Noah, age 11, has had a rough time lately. He has realized that his love for history doesn’t impress his peers. The fact that he doesn’t have much to say on the latest video game levels or professional sports games doesn’t get him far with the crowd. It bothered Noah greatly when one boy recently bragged that he’d never really read a book all the way through.

I’ve commiserated with Noah, for although he has wonderful conversations with the adults in his life about everything from Napoleon’s navy to Mao’s China, he just isn’t going to fit in right now with boys his own age. That is the price of pioneering a new path in one’s education.

But the fallout of this challenge for Noah has been some insecurity, and when Noah feels less confident he makes life difficult for everyone in the family. He’ll have bouts where he acts snappy, disrespectful, and unkind. At least, according to our family standards, which require an atmosphere of safety and peace in our home so that it is conducive to learning.

To help him learn to govern his behavior better, I asked him to write some thoughts this week about self-governance: why he feels it is important and how it will help him in accomplishing his life mission. He proceeded to try to get out of this assignment, using all sorts of creative tactics (and, knowing that our family standard is to accept the consequences of our behavior barring some mitigating circumstance).

One tactic he used was to say that he has a hard time respecting me (or others in the house) when we don’t always respect him. His example was that I sometimes won’t let him negotiate his way out of things, but rather cut off the conversation by walking away.

I had to go to a meeting by then, proving his point, apparently. So when I was waiting in the car that night, I wrote down some thoughts for him, and I’d like to share them here, as an example of what it means to be a Student Whisperer. To speak to the heart, to the deepest desires of one’s child/mentee/student/loved one. In order to speak to those desires, we must first know the person. REALLY WELL. Then, when the storms of the heart rage, God-willing, we know how to calm them.

Here it is:

Dear Noah,

I’m sitting in the car and this is my only paper and pen so forgive me!

You said tonight that sometimes I don’t respect you. But I want you to know — I think you should know — that I have the utmost respect for who you really are. For who I know you can be — will be — in the future.

In the future, I see a man who wears a uniform. Maybe it looks like this: (a pseudo-military uniform). Or maybe it looks like this: (a clone trooper uniform). But I suspect it will look like this: (a modern man’s suit). I respect that uniform and the man who wears it well.

I visualize you diffusing situations more tense and complex than any bomb — and you do it with your words. You are a master of history, and of negotiating, and you have a keen, discerning mind.

I see a man who is great because he knows he is not just a son of man. He is a son of God, and he bears God’s power with authority, with worthiness, with peace and of course, with ~~ style ~~ He has so much confidence that he doesn’t need pride in lesser things — he doesn’t use manipulation or competition. He thinks win-win. He knows that his Father is the most Creative Being in the Universe and he draws on that to solve the unsolvable and accomplish the impossible. He creates peace from chaos, tolerance from hate, and security through freedom and personal responsibility. You see truth from error and you influence others with that power. Maybe you influence wards, communities, cities, even nations — even the course of history itself.

Noah, you are learning the skills today that will make you into that awesome man. I don’t worry at all that you want to negotiate your consequences or that you don’t usually take others’ word for truth without questioning. These are skills that are vital to your life mission, I’m sure of it. Please also know that you will always need teams of people on your side if you are to accomplish great things. A team of one is always outnumbered. You’ll need to learn to know who to trust, who is on your side, who has your back.

 I hope you know that for now and always the Mitchells are YOUR TEAM. Grace and Elias have your back. Dad and God are on your side. And you can trust me, as your Mum, to never lose the vision of your great mission in this world — and I will do everything I can to support you as you prepare for and do it. So! When I discourage, at times, a never ending negotiation, a slither-out-fest, or a bit of whiny behavior, it is probably because I recognize that such a habit will impede your progress to your goals. It isn’t because I don’t respect you. It is that I respect you too much to encourage you to act like less than yourself.

Noah you are a historian and wise analyzer, a creative problem-solver, a leader, a good friend, smart, thoughtful, capable, & a wonderful son, and

I love you deeply,


Becoming a Finisher

g14fairaIn life, as in business, there has always been a need for those persons who could be called finishers. Their ranks are few, their opportunities many, their contributions great. – Thomas S. Monson

People have commented on my kids’ talents and skills at times, like “Wow, she’s a wonderful pianist!” And sometimes, there is a second sentence that comes after: “…but of course, she’s homeschooled, so…”

I’m never sure whether the person thinks the accomplishment doesn’t count if a young person is homeschooled, but I’ve chosen to view it as a positive thing, that these days, the bar is higher for homeschoolers so it is expected rather than surprising to be an achiever.

I’m guilty of the second sentence as much as anybody, as I want to be an ambassador for homeschooling, so someone says, “Wow! Your daughter is a wonderful artist!” and I say “Yes, she’s homeschooled.”

But I’ve remained a little uncomfortable with this unfolding of events because I haven’t really pinpointed why a homeschooler should be so much better at something than her (or his) public school counterpart. I’ve often thought the answer is TIME. The homeschooler has more time to pursue interests both in traditional academics and in all areas of learning and talent and arts. This is certainly true if you subscribe to certain models of learning such as the Suzuki Method. Suzuki believed strongly in talent education, that talent was not inborn so much as educated into being, and that nearly any child could become a great violinist with the right amount of time, support and work.

I sit more in the middle of the nature/nurture scale than Suzuki, believing that nurturing children’s inborn loves and inspiring them to develop these talents is the root of achievement — real, satisfying, passionate achievement. Not just accomplishment to please others.

More than time, however, I realized there is another component to why the homeschooler may tend to achieve. I found this out when my daughter had her friend over and they played piano together. During the summer, Grace sourced out and ordered several new piano books online. She played for an hour or more a day, most days per week. She performed her pieces for visiting family and friends on a dozen occasions. She played a new piece for her friend, and then asked her friend to play her something new. Her friend had no new pieces to play. The reason given was that she had started several new pieces but never really learned any of them.

The disparity between the girls was not time — not during the summer, when they were both out of school. And technically, Grace still schooled during the summer every free morning and many afternoons. She also worked tirelessly getting ready to show her dog at the county fair. But she found time to play piano. No, she made the choice to play piano, and to progress in her pieces and overall skill. She had also set herself a goal to finish her level 5 piano books to start the new year off clean with level 6.
I think this is where homeschooling shines: In self-education (where youths are learning to lead themselves, self-governing), they learn very naturally to progress. They pursue something until it comes to a natural completion. Not just until the bell rings or the next test is due, but to the satisfying end of a thing. Anything. Why do they naturally want to progress? Because it feels good to do something well! It feels good to work hard and receive the reward of your work. There is no pressure, just the joy of the work and its result.

There used to be a belief, in early America, that the work of becoming broadly and deeply educated was a worthy goal, that it preserved freedom and culture, and that an adult occupation was only a part of it, a side effect. I believe Homeschooling has resurrected this belief and youths like Grace are the fruit of it.

Dare I say it? Dare I jump onto the couch, fists in the air, cheering, heedless of the waves of criticism that may follow? Yes…I LOVE HOMESCHOOLING!

Live, love, and learn!

P.S. Grace just finished showing her dog at the county fair, and much to all our surprise (for having been in 4H only two months) she came home with a slew of ribbons and trophies, and for her written test she scored 30 points higher than anyone else due to her extensive knowledge of dogs. All that encyclopedia reading pays off!