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

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.


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!

Fall Schedule, or: What I do with my days

veggies14Hi friends!

It’s been a lovely summer in my town, and I’ve been sucking the marrow from it daily. You know, carpe sunny diem. We’ve picked berries, lounged at the seashore, camped and hiked and had all manner of little adventures. But, as August looms, so does the seriousness of getting back to a more scheduled learning week. So, I’m testing out a new schedule this week with the kids so we can tweak it before classes start on August 21.

BTW, Grace will be taking Algebra, Earth Science, Personal Leadership and Animal Husbandry with Williamsburg Academy, and she’s excited to be continuing there. Maybe less excited about taking Algebra, but she does fine in Math even though it’s not her fav-fav. She is very much enjoying her animals still and is glad to get credit for something she loves. She also wants to keep growing her arts skills, Piano and 2D Art especially.

Noah will be taking Leadership and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs with Williamsburg Intermediate, and he too is excited to be continuing. He’s also excited to do STEM even though he LOVES the Humanities. I promised that we’d cover the classic Year 3 time period of history (colonial America through 1900) together and he could lead the discussions. History continues to be his great love. He said this week that he dreams of becoming an old man who is a world-famous history scholar. I told him that might not make a lot of money and he said “then never mind.” But later Steve said that if he got in with the right niche it actually might. Who knows. 🙂

Anyway, I wanted to share my fall schedule. I use Google calendar to map out proposed schedules because I can pop in there from any device and mull it over and tweak it. I still schedule my actual weeks using a $5 wal-mart 7×10″ school-year planner, which I love. The kids chose a smaller version this year, maybe 5×8, but theirs is basically the same as mine and is written on daily/weekly.

Here are the notable parts:

  • Sunday is for worship and for planning (I plan the week with Steve), and mentor meetings (kids chat with Steve while I take notes about their weekly goals and accomplishments).
  • Monday is a reading and history focused day. Read-alouds and audiobooks too.
  • Tuesday is a math-focused day. Boys love math games.
  • Wednesday is writing day. I lead this of course!
  • Thursday is science experiments and arts and crafts. Discovery day, we call it.
  • Friday and Saturday are for field trips and family work.
  • In the mornings, I study and exercise (and, today, write blog posts) while the kids get breakfast, get groomed and do stewardships (each has a room in the house: Grace=Kitchen, Noah=Bathroom and Elias=Living Room).
  • MnM means Morning Meeting where we get together to talk calendar, pray, practice memorizing things (I’m calling it “Deck it” but it is just various flash card games) and such.
  • Workboxes: this is new, I’m asking them to do paperwork stuff during a specified time, rather than just whenever. Because in spite of good intentions, neither Noah nor Elias had done paperwork regularly. Grace knows that this schedule is optional for her, as a scholar, because she has privileges to structure her day as she sees fit. She is an INFJ for those of you into temperament tests, which means she lives for her causes and is good at finishing things so she is great to entrust with her own life and goals. 🙂
  • The kids still rotate lunch duty, and we’ve added rotation of dinner apprenticeships so they can all get good at making dinner too… with the goal that we’ll rotate that among all five members of the household. Yay!! Grace is apprenticing this week for 7 of her favorite dinners, so she can experience meal planning, purchasing and preparing.
  • The biggest change the kids commented on was Amber’s Mine, the time I share what’s “mine”. It now falls at the end of the structured learning time, so that it is separate from the calendaring and all that morning stuff. Also so that I can do a check-in with what the kids have learned that day. My hope is that I’ll have time to prep what I want to share during the day and have something super-duper-awesome to share! Wish me luck.
  • Afternoons are pretty packed these days with Taekwon Do, Scouts, Youth activities, Piano and 4H. It’s more than I like, really, but Grace the homebody said yesterday that she is enjoying the activities. I told her she’s not the one driving to everything! But it works for now.
  • Evenings we’ve packed with inspiring family times. Monday is family night for whatever activities and learning we want… and a treat. Tuesday is youth night for the older two. Wednesday is leadership night where we watch a show about life missions or some other inspiring big-picture activity. Thursday is music night, where Steve inspires by playing his guitar and it evolves into the whole band playing or a dance party or pillow fight or whatever. Friday is family movie night with popcorn and Saturday is stewardship reporting, flash card quizzing by Steve and then playing a family board or card game. And as I said, Sunday is mentor meetings and weekly planning. The days are subject to change, but evenings are so important for inspiring that I wanted them on the calendar, too.

Once school starts, there will be some shifting to make room for morning classes, but this schedule should basically work for the school year. We tend to start strong and get flexible during the holidays, then recommit during the winter and peter out by spring. Summer is anyone’s game. Natural rhythms!

One thing I want to add: Noah and I tend to like a lot of freedom with our schedule, but it’s been a lesson I’ve learned that a good routine is what frees you. Thomas Jefferson Education key #4 to great teaching: Structure Time, Not Content is true. We’ve got a general spine here to guide us, and we flesh it out with content as we see fit. This is one of the main things that I feel separates the TJEd philosophy from Unschooling. There is an underlying foundation of structure, particularly after the Core phase of learning, when kids are actively doing “learning time” or “study time” for hours a day.

I told it to the kids like this: when you go to a paved parking lot, there are almost always lines painted for the cars to fit between. Why do stores do this? Because they know that without the lines, fewer cars will fit in the lot. With the guiding lines, the store can safely fit the most cars in that space. So it is with our learning. If we are organized, we’ll fit reasonably more into our learning day, thereby increasing our learning over time. There is a point of diminishing returns, of course, as we don’t want to just try to stuff things in and lose that wonderful deep study / pondering time, but instead to have a balance of useful information, deep knowledge and understanding and practical skills. In short, to grow a life.

Live, love and LEARN!

Portrait of a girl becoming a Scholar

100_0131This is Grace.

You’ve met her before, either in person or on this blog. Today I’m going to share the exciting changes I see in her life in the hopes that her journey — while unique to her — may give some insights into what a Leadership Educated child may go through on her way into youth and adulthood.

For the past year and a half, I have watched Grace grow from a Love of Learner with a strong Core into a youth in Scholar phase. At age 11, Grace was facing the mammoth problem of training two unwieldy puppies with no fenced area to keep them safe. This problem drove her conventional studies to the side a bit, but she learned a lot from this long-term project about handling animals, about how creatures learn, about faith and hope and perseverance and about wanting the best outcome for everyone in spite of personal preference.

Last year, her Compass planning document (part of Leadership Ingredient #16: The Binder) focused on pursuing her strengths, on generalities and on solving problems by enlisting help from adults. She wanted to get good at piano and read a lot, train the dogs and do art. She knew in a vague sort of way that cooking was an important life skill, as was patience with her brothers, but she often didn’t do either. She wanted to look into the 4H program, but in spite of repeated encouragement that she research online or call the local club, she didn’t follow through. She wanted to read entertaining fiction and reread favorite classics. She wanted to read nature encyclopedias to feed her love of animals and nature. In short, she wanted to be comfortable.

During this time, we had regular discussions about what she should be discovering during her transition toward Scholar, and what skills she would need. We studied biographies of people implementing their life missions in various ways. We emphasized the two towers she would build as a woman: a family and an organization. We talked about the reality that she would be educating her own children as well as caring for her beloved animal friends. We discussed ways she could help humanity in addition to helping animals — the two she liked best were doing sign language interpretation and using animals to help people.

We decorated a list of things she can look to develop and recognize, taken from Transition Discoveries and Skills (page 155-156 in Leadership Education by the DeMilles).

Here’s a PDF of that list, decorated by us: Transitiondiscoveries.pdf

Grace is now turning 13, and things have come into focus for her.

  • She took on Scholar classes with Williamsburg Academy and completed assignments with no promptings or reminders from me. She decided to continue in the fall.
  • She started following up on things she really wanted to have happen, like setting up time with horses and acquiring and caring for chickens. And searching for piano music online.
  • She researched and decided how to handle the unexpected turn when two of her hens started “cock-a-doodle-doo”ing.
  • She wakes before everyone in the house (except her dad) to take care of her responsibilities.
  • She started making and completing personal goals, including spiritual goals.
  • She started adding more Deep Thoughts to our group discussions. She and I have begun to share Scholar discussions on aspects of Leadership Education and book discussions of classics. We write essays.
  • She is looking outward at more ways she can serve the world.
  • She chose her dad as her main mentor, her leadership mentor, and decided to write him an ah-ha email once a week that they discuss at mentor meetings.
  • She makes and keeps weekly commitments that reflect achievable steps toward her greater goals — goals she’s set herself.

So, as Grace is my first Scholar, I am probably making a mistake in not rigidly following the Scholar levels. But I would say Grace is sometimes a Project Scholar, doing art projects or researching edible plants and concocting herbal teas, or creating a lapbook on horses. But she is also a Self-directed Scholar who knows a lot about her life mission and is actively, daily, weekly, journeying toward it using excellent study skills and perseverance. She often excuses herself quietly from things that distract and goes on with her studies in another room.

Yet she has also been a great tutor in many ways to her brothers – games with an educational focus, teaching simple piano songs, reading to Elias.

You know this means the boys have no hope of impressing me with their Scholarliness, right, with the bar set so high? No, not really. She has actually inspired us all by blazing the Scholar trail and letting us see how it can be done. And I can already see that Noah’s Scholar Phase will look different in many ways than hers. More on that when the time comes…

For now, I have to say that seeing a Scholar phase up close feels kind of miraculous. Odds are you didn’t have this kind of education, and I certainly didn’t. Steve didn’t. Our parents and siblings didn’t. This is a whole new kind of education, one where learning is supported by a great set of core values; a real, deep, abiding love of learning; and the freedom to study long hours in preparation for a great life mission. I’m incredibly excited about what’s in store for her after these next few years.

Conclusion: Grace is Amazing. 🙂

Live, learn, love and LEAD!

Winter with Williamsburg

ultima1Grace and Noah tried something new this winter — online learning, leadership style! Grace took high school credit courses with Williamsburg Academy and Noah did Williamsburg Intermediate. It was a growing experience for all of us, and I wanted to reflect on some of the ah-has we had about it.

A little background: Several years ago, Grace did a year of online learning using the K12 curriculum, which included self-paced modules, no live interaction with teachers or students. It was classical (she read Mark Twain and Shakespeare and the like) and it was very worksheet-heavy. Grace did well, finishing 1.5 years during that school year. She was, however, uninspired by it, and we found Leadership Education that spring so we left K12 without looking back in order to strengthen our Core and Love of Learning phases.

I mention this because Williamsburg is kind of the anti-K12. It has tons of live classes and group interaction using the Blackboard Collaborate e-learning system (chat, video, whiteboard, emoticons, hand-raising, checks and x’s, all the bells and whistles — and recordings for if you miss a live session).* It still has classics, but is not about worksheets and is all about inspiring young minds and hearts.

Here are some ways we were inspired and thoughts we had:

  • I was able to observe the mentors as they led sessions, to see how they used personal enthusiasm and energy as a catalyst for learning. This reminded me that I can (and should) bring energy and enthusiasm to my mentoring…. it also made me realize that I need the help of great mentors to help my youths navigate scholar phase, because keeping up that kind of energy all the time would be — and is — EXHAUSTING. For an introvert like myself.
  • I realized just how far the traditional classroom is from the leadership classroom, and Steve and I decided we will not be taking the “free” road of Running Start for Grace’s high school. Free junk is still junk. Okay that may be a bit extreme. Free beer may be the best beer ever, use the best hops, aged just right, but if you’re not looking for beer, it doesn’t make sense to avail yourself of it. Just pay for the medicinal herb tincture you really wanted. 🙂
  • How is the leadership classroom different? Well, I found out one way: that the kids are different! They’re excited to be there! They bring so much to the session — thoughts, ideas, examples, they come prepared and passionate about the material. They take risks to answer things they aren’t sure about. And they have LIVES. Sometimes they miss class because they had a cello concert or a Shakespeare festival.  During student share (start of each class) they share events from family life that are interesting and active, and no one mentions the latest video game level they completed!
  • The students take on leadership roles in class, and seeing that was particularly exciting for Noah. The example of his peers leading classes and small group breakout sessions was so inspiring. He took it seriously when it came his turn to be class president, with the responsibility to welcome class and give announcements, etc. He even combed his hair before going on webcam. 🙂
  • Noah, in taking Humanities and Leadership, was immersed in the study of people making hard choices and doing hard things. This ended up giving him an increased perspective on his own life, that maybe things he thought were hard really aren’t that hard, and that when things ARE hard, he can still have courage to do them! So, while the class was important for his Love of Learning and transition to Scholar phase, it also strengthened some core values.
  • Grace had the opportunity to make several class presentations in Technology and Photography. We discovered that online presentations are a great way for a person to get feet wet in public speaking; that they are less intimidating!
  • We found that if one child focuses studies on certain areas, another child can study contrasting areas — and that complements the studies of the whole family. So when Noah chose to focus on Humanities for the semester, he covered a lot of social studies, current events, history and geography. This benefited all of us through table discussions, and after Noah would read a book for class, I often found it in Grace’s nighttime reading stack. In the reverse, Grace did more math/science/tech this semester, and everyone enjoyed her Pringles-can pinhole camera and discussion on light refraction, for example, and many other things.
  • We were SO GLAD we had a well-established habit of daily planners. This made it easy to add all the week’s assignments on Monday, and then Noah would video himself holding the schedule. He loved turning things in on webcam and did that often. But, related to that:
  • There was also a lot of typing, and we wished Noah had better typing skills. He improved dramatically throughout the semester, but word to the wise — if you’re thinking about online classes, try to have your child become a good touch typist first!
  • Steve thought everything about the Williamsburg experience was great. He liked the insights the kids would share at the dinner table and he saw their enthusiasm for the subject matter. He also noticed that they were learning things he (and I) didn’t know. It was really apparent that our own public school educations were really very lacking, particularly regarding world history.
  • I liked that Grace, after an initial orientation, was able to figure out all aspects of the online system and manage herself and her workload the rest of the semester. Noah needed more support. It took about a month for him to reliably know what his assignments were, and to complete them. There are a lot of little assignments, but this frequent accountability helped him keep his classes in mind and he made huge strides in his time management and ability to finish tasks. Major win.

Couple thoughts from the students themselves:

  • Noah:

It was cool to learn with students from all over the world. I learned that I was good in a classroom environment. That I could study and contribute what I learned. I was actually sad when the semester was over!

  • Grace:

I liked that it was flexible, that it bent around the student and yet had structure, and I liked choosing projects that interested me. I was sad it was ending on the last day, too.

After reflection and discussion amongst the Mitchells, we’ve decided to continue with Williamsburg this fall. So a great big thanks to any Williamsburgers who read this — mentors and students alike have inspired us!

And we hope to see more of you there. It’s good stuff.

Brag Section

Grace kept a photography blog for one of her classes, feel free to check out some of her projects from this winter.

And here is a small sample of Noah’s work from several books he read — this kind of assignment was called the “epiphany slide” where they quoted a bit of the book that interested them, shared their thoughts and then asked a discussion question:

Lost Prince epiphany slide Noah M (1) red-scarf-slide-Noah sign o' the beaver Noah m snow treasure Noah M

And if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should check out the site Noah’s Humanities class made for their culminating project: Here’s his video for that project:

Final thoughts

When I first started homeschooling, I scoffed outwardly (and worried inwardly) about whether Steve and I have all the inner resources needed to mentor our kids in all they need and want to know in the world. I’ve struggled to give the very best I can, and as this year has progressed, it has become clear that if I keep struggling to keep up completely with three very diversely talented children, I’ll end up emotionally looking like that guy from the first X-Men movie who Magneto forces a mutation on… Yeah, that’s how it feels when you try to do/be too much for too many people!

Thankfully, we are finding mentors, here and there, to fill the gaps to give our children the education we never had. That we may — all — not just survive, but THRIVE.

Live, Learn and LEAD!

* To be clear, the high school also has some self-paced courses that do not have live interaction. Grace will try some of these in the future but our courses this winter were live, plus one independent (for piano).

How to know if you’re infected with the Homeschool bug

 …and whether it is terminal.
gne14skunkMy good friend Lara blogged recently about homeschoolers. Now, Lara is a good thinker and more than a little funny, but I took her to task on Facebook for being a little off on her post (which is understandable, since she is not a homeschooler). Since reading her post, I’ve found myself ruminating, somewhat cow-like, on the subject of what is funny about homeschoolers. Specifically, what is funny about me, the post-public-school me, the hoity-toity-leadership-education me. And suddenly, there are twenty funny things a day that happen or that cross my mind. And now, I’m going to share them with you. They may or may not be exaggerations for the sake of funny*.

The first one is for Lara!

You know you’ve drunk the Homeschool Kool-aid (or is it Chia-stevia lemonade?) when:

  • Your daughter researches and purchases 14 chicks for her spring science project and egg business. You buy two more chicks next time you’re at the farm store, because you actually want to encourage this.
  • You glance out the window and see your teen daughter run past, drawing a homemade arrow in her homemade bow, and you think “Life Skills!”
  • You think a hailstorm is a justified interruption to the school day, and requires immediate attention.
  • Your daughter teaches her little brother “Heart and Soul” on the piano and you think “Integrated Fine Arts!”
  • Your sons argue that games like Risk and Stratego are important exercises in game theory. And you buy it.
  • You consider bringing your daughter to a baby shower because it would be a good educational experience. You may or may not convince yourself of this.
  • Your son can read a book titled “Red Scarf Girl” without the words “that sounds like a GIRL book!” ever crossing his mind.
  • Your son admires Salmon Khan but doesn’t know who Justin Bieber is.
  • You get so excited about the book you are studying that you interrupt the kids and read a portion aloud. They are genuinely enthralled and may or may not have Deep Insights to add.
  • You don’t think your daughter should be suspended for carrying a knife in her boot or a lighter in her pocket. In fact, you borrow said knife and lighter often!
  • You encourage the wielding of swords and daggers at school.
  • You wake in the morning to find your kids snuggled together on the couch, one of them playing Malagueña on the student guitar.
  • Your kids love overnight field trips to Grandma’s house.
  • You have a dinner guest who talks way too long about their life story afterward, but your kids continue hanging on guest’s every word. You may or may not just want to go to bed.
  • Your kids beg for just one more Tim Hawkins vid.
    You see nothing wrong with snacking during class. As long as their webcam isn’t on. :->
  • Your kids jump and clap their hands when you mention a trip to Barnes and Noble.
  • You like all your kids’ friends (because you pretty much picked them based on whether you liked their moms!)
  • Your wish list on Amazon includes seed starting kits, classic books and history dvds. And so do the kids’.
  • Your sons want to be a medieval knight or Roman centurion rather than Spiderman or Mario for Halloween.
  • You use Winnie the Pooh to teach about the Tao.
  • You make the kids calculate the miles per gallon every time you fill up at the gas station.
  • You decide family vacation spots based on historical or earth science appeal.
  • You stay up late at night, eating ice cream and indulging in surfing for homeschool resources. And you feel guilty.
  • Your son writes an essay about why liberty is important, and it makes you so proud you cry. And your tears make him cry.
  • You see a school bus on the road and someone in the car invariably exclaims “Whoa! Some kids were in school all day!”
  • You use “Home Ec” as an excuse to make chocolate chip cookies. Or even “Math”.
  • Your kids migrate to the same parts of the house throughout the day, because they like being in close proximity to each other and to you. You may or may not find this annoying.
  • You hear your son tell others that his best friend is his brother, and you think that’s awesome.
  • You hear your son say he’d like to marry someone like his sister, and you also think that’s awesome.
  • Your son’s most prized possession is either a Civil War Kentucky rifle replica or a ceremonial Samurai sword and sheath. Or his Indiana Jones Scout hat.
  • Your first thought when your printer finally breaks is “Yay! now we can take it apart for a Tech lesson!” and you start to imagine what you could make with a little soldering — either art or perhaps a working FM radio!
  • The dog being cute is a justified interruption to the school day.
  • …for everyone!
  • Your daughter loves Shakespeare and made her own Elizabethan gown for the field trip to the Renaissance Faire. (And you remember to spell fair with an “e”.) Oh, and she may or may not wear it for her online class’ Shakespeare discussion.
  • Your husband dissects a goose and shows all its parts to the kids for “Science” before everyone eats Roast Goose for dinn-dinn.
  • You encourage the building of weapons from trash…
  • …and call magnetic roller-coasters “Engineering”.
  • You allow mock choking in your school, mostly because you know your students actually love each other dearly.
  • Your students are allowed to punch and kick the principal. Because he really is their pal.
  • Your students are allowed to cuddle their mentor anytime, even if/when they get taller than her.
  • You think your children are smart, sweet, caring and fun and you never miss sending them away every day. You’re just stoked to be a part of their world for the few years you have with them.

And, if these things don’t sound like you, but you would actually like them to, then maybe….just maybe…. you should try the Chia-stevia Lemonade, too.

It’s pretty addicting.

Live, learn and play!

* Funny meaning funny-peculiar, as much as anything. Yes, homeschoolers are proud to be weird!

P.S. Do share yours in the comments!

2012 – Anxiously Engaged

P1060606Well, as long as we’re still here, prior to any possible impending apocolypse (perhaps of a zombie nature?), the Mitchells plan to have a wonderful and exciting year of learning starting this fall!

This is our second year focusing on a Leadership Education. I recently read a well-thought-out blog from a man who doesn’t like the Thomas Jefferson Education books and gives his reasons why. I found his arguments interesting, in a sort of academic way, as I could see he got very different things from the books than I did. More and more, I have realized that some folks like things to come in neatly-tied packages. If one ribbon is askew, or the item has a scratch or two, they return it for a full refund.

This isn’t how I naturally view information. As I hear or read new things, I pick up the things I like, put them in my pocket, and leave the rest without glancing back. I don’t care what the packaging looks like, and I actually don’t care much who’s offering the gift. This is one reason I own a copy of the Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s autobiography as well as the Quran and the Torah and Buddha’s teachings and others, though I’m actually a Mormon. And I don’t subscribe to all I’ve heard from the Mormon camp, either. For instance, their tendency (in the U.S.) to support Republican politicians. 🙂

I don’t know that my way of viewing information is better, I just mention that it is what it is.

This may be explained by the fact that I am a Rational temperament type (see — test based on the old myers-briggs tests). I think this gives me a distinct advantage as a homeschooling mom, as I can explore history and literature and other subjects (art and music come to mind) sort of eclectically, looking for the nuggets of useful information, of Truth, as mentioned in my last post. And I hope that, even though I am the only Rational in my family, I can help my kids to learn this as a skill, if not by nature.
So, what ideas do I find useful from Leadership Education? Let me list a  few things:

  • Student whispering — or really taking the time to meditate, pray, list and act on behalf of each individual I mentor.
  • Working hard to inspire learning and be an example of it.
  • Imparting what’s MINE, including my own list of classics, while encouraging my kids to find their own list of classics in every field, some of which are common to others in our culture.
  • The lingo — I mention this because the anti-blog fella hated the lingo. In fact, his griping over definitions encompassed most of his dissent. But I find Leadership Education’s labels of “Core”, “Love of Learning” and “Scholar” much more practical in everyday conversation than (for instance) Piaget’s “preoperational”, “concrete operational”, and “formal operational” stages! And a million times better than the conveyer belt’s “grade 4” to describe my wonderfully individual child.
  • Emphasis on quality, not conformity, or HOW to think — not WHAT to think.
  • Emphasis on learning to Create, to Value and to Impact…. not to copy, count and compare.

Note: clearly, these are simple and not original ideas, but do I care that the Thomas Jefferson Education books did not originate them? Nah. It’s a handy conglomeration.

There are many other concepts that appeal to me — weekly mentor meetings, emphasis on experiential learning, the KISS principle… etc.

Anxiously Engaged in a Good Cause

Grace is 12 (and by the way, an Idealist whose cause is animals) and a Practice Scholar who is holding back into our love of learning environment for hopefully the whole academic year, so she can wind up and soar when we finally let her go :).

Noah is 10 (an Artisan who currently wants to be an orthodontist or gunsmith) and solidly in Love of Learning — a real pleasure to see as he had some serious core issues just one year ago.

Elias is 7 (a Guardian like his dad, so we are bookended nicely by these solid individuals!) and is just tipping the scale into Love of Learning.

This year, I want to grow the things that were awesome from last year, and truthfully there wasn’t that much to prune. I feel like all we need is to make the year even more full and vigorous, to see how far we can go! Once we see our limits, we’ll know where they are, right? And even then, as we bump into them I firmly believe they will retreat before us. Our motto for the year comes from this scripture:

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.  D&C 58:26-28

As such, I am turning even more of the educational reins over to the kids — particularly Grace and Noah, while still offering accountability on a daily and weekly and bi-yearly basis. The accountability mostly takes the form of mentor meetings with me and Steve.

We are again using history as the spine for our learning during Amber’s MINE (example MINE here), moving into the Middle Ages. We’re very loosely (see above!) following the weeks outlined in Tapestry of Grace’s year 2 (between ancient and modern) and so we’ll move from the fall of the Roman empire, through the Early Middle Ages, into the Crusades, on to the Renaissance and Reformation, and ending the year with Elizabethan England and the French Revolution, hitting some geographically broader studies along the way (like China’s Genghis Khan, the northern Vikings, the New World colonies, etc). ToG year 2 goes into the founding of the U.S. but we’ll save that for next year.

This means our science will study the advancements (or, at times, lack thereof) of the middle ages, you know, stuff like how iron turns to steel, the printing press, all sorts of things. I find I don’t have to buy a science curriculum because the kids are great at noticing something interestingly science-y, designing their own experiments and finding their own resources to study. I will be inviting them to do more scientific method and more scientific reporting this year.

Our literature will focus on things like King Arthur and Robin Hood early in the year, Fairy Tales by mid-year and Shakespeare in the spring. I find that all I have to do with literature is get lots of great books into the learning bins, and they devour them. We discuss them throughout the day and at Amber’s MINE. For composition, our fiction (and fantasy) writings will be set in medieval times. Art and Music will focus on these periods as well.

I guess I should say that when I say “focus” I mean that it remains a focus in my mind constantly, and at the beginning of the year, I invite the kids to get in the same habit. Then, it comes up many times a day… Grace is choosing a new piano piece: I invite her to pick something from a classical composer or something bard-ish… Noah grabs a blank page to draw his umpteenth Star Wars scene: I hand him a “how to draw knights and castles” book… Elias wants to do an engineering project: I suggest we construct his favorite medieval battle weapon. You know, stuff like that. We’ll go to medieval fairs, plays and events, too.

Outside of “learning time” (though all things are learning!) We’re going to continue partnering with a local school district program for field trips and curriculum stipends.

With my local homeschool support group, I’ll host a weekly meetup, and will be involved in various other events such as mom’s-nights-out, book clubs, show-n-tells, etc.

For the kids, Grace’s extras will be with the church youth group as well as piano lessons and dog and chicken care. Noah’s are with the Scouts and shooting with his dad. Elias wants to do martial arts and in the Spring he’ll join Scouts.

On a more personal growth level, Grace is increasing her personal leadership as a practice scholar in our home, Noah is strengthening his higher-level core virtues as he studies the knights and saints of the middle ages, and Elias is focusing on becoming a fluent reader so he can enjoy being a love-of-learner in our home.

As for me, I’m focusing on several writing projects this year, and I’m reading or re-reading the books on the TJEd for Teens 100 book list so I’m ready to discuss them with Grace when I give her the Teens book at the end of this year.

P1060713Now, all these plans have come as a result of some serious soul-searching and proverbial hair-pulling over the past month. It certainly isn’t easy to design a great individualized education, and to mentor three different personalities toward designing their own, but it is incredibly rewarding. I am much more engaged than I was when they were at big box school. Perhaps that was my failing, or perhaps it is the nature of that system. Most likely it’s both. But here’s the thing: I’m not the most talented or organized mom. I’m not. I just care, and that’s enough to be going on with. That’s why I think any loving parent can educate their children. It’s not about degrees or smarts or talents. At the core, it’s about love.


Live, love and learn!