Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)

My friend Jill recently posted a link on her Facebook page to How to Mentor a Kid with Big (Possibly Unrealistic) Dreams by Lori Pickert from Project-Based Homeschooling. The article touches on something that I’ve struggled with in the past. What’s the “right” way to respond to your kids when they have dreams that are beyond what you think they can accomplish – either now or ever? Do you encourage them even though you *know* it’s not going to work? Do you attempt to let them down gently to avoid disappointment and tell them you don’t think it’s possible? Maybe we are trying to save them from embarrassment or even save ourselves from embarrassment. Maybe we are afraid of failure — either for ourselves or our kids.
What’s a mom to do?

For example, my 6-year-old son has often said when he grows up he is going to invent a machine that makes him become a kid again or he’s going to time travel or become a super hero that does X, Y, or Z. When he first started voicing these lofty goals, I wasn’t sure how to react. My first thought was, “that’s probably not going to happen, buddy” but I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I’d try my best to encourage him, even if I felt like his ideas weren’t based in reality, but it was a struggle for me. Was I doing the right thing?

Pickert says:

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.
Remind yourself:
You don’t know what your kid can do.

One example shared in the article is about a child who wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher. Something similar came up for my daughter a few years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured this all out yet and rather than encouraging her and then (potentially, but who knows?!) see her fail, I thought I was being a good mom and tried to prevent disappointment by explaining how hard it would be to do or something along those lines.

Pickert points out that when you respond that way, “You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?”

Had I encouraged her, who knows what would have happened. But I’m not beating myself up over this either. I live and learn, just like the next person. All I can do is hope to do better the next time.

There are a lot of great examples and quotes in Pickert’s article (and comments following it). So many that I want to quote here, but I will just recommend that you click over and read it yourselves. If you have a big dreamer in your life, it is worth the read.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

It really goes along with the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The journey is all about the learning, the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and the triumphs, the tears and the joy. When we tell our kids, “This just isn’t going to work,” we remove the opportunity for them to experience all of those things.

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Confessions of a Reluctant Gamer: Playing Minecraft with my Kids

I should have known when I married my husband Jody — an avid gamer — that someday down the road our future children would be gamers as well, but I didn’t think much about it. I kind of thought my husband would eventually grow out of his gaming “phase.” I mean, grown men don’t play video games and Dungeons and Dragons forever, right? Right???

After 12 years of marriage I think it’s safe to say that the gaming “phase” is not a phase at all. It’s just a part of who he is, just as much as not gaming is a part of who I am. And I am OK with that. I may have fought it for a while (ok, for years and years), but I eventually learned that it wasn’t productive and I wasn’t going to change who he is, so I’ve mostly accepted it.

So now we have a 6 year old (who just lost his first tooth!) and a 9 year old (how did that happen?!) and they both LOVE computer games. Minecraft is a favorite in this house, as well as Roblox, Sims and a handful of others. Unlike my husband, who has accepted that I’m just not a gamer, the kids have not been so easily convinced.


When they first started playing Minecraft I joined them a couple of times. I had a hard time moving my character around and — big surprise — just didn’t get into the game. So I stopped playing with them. I figured Jody could play with them as he enjoys it and they were placated…for a while.

Fast forward several months. Ava would periodically ask me to play Minecraft with them. I would find an excuse or tell her it’s not my thing or whatever. I just really didn’t want to play. However, when she asked me the other day, I considered my answer carefully. I know the game is important to her and I want to support that and be a part of it, even if it is hard for me. So I said yes. Ava was ecstatic.

I’ve since played with them a few times and I’ve gotten a lot better about moving around and was surprised to find that I was actually having fun collecting wood and other supplies for the kids to build us a house. And I was surprised by how well they shared resources and helpful they were to me when I didn’t know how to craft a stone pickaxe or torches or whatever. And how much they appreciated me playing with them. I’ve heard several times from both of them, “it was so fun when you played with us, Mom!” And ya know what? It really was.

And so I’m trying to do a better job about playing with them when they want me to even if it isn’t my favorite thing to do. Even if I need to vacuum or water the garden or load the dishwasher. Today I even initiated it myself and it was fun. The time spent connecting with them is priceless. Who knows how long they will want their mom to play with them. But for now they do. And for now I will.

I’d love to hear from you!
Do YOU play any computer/video games with your kids even though you are not into games? What has your experience been? 

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Learn Nothing Day 2013

From Learn Nothing Day by Sandra Dodd:

Unschoolers need a holiday.
When people ask if they homeschool in the summer, they say yes.
When people ask when they have a break from learning, they say never.
This has gone on for a long time now.

July 24 is Learn Nothing Day — a vacation for unschoolers.

As unschoolers, we tried our best to take advantage of our vacation day from learning, but alas, we failed.

We’ve only been up for a couple of hours and already we’ve learned things! I learned a new exercise as part of the Daily Hiit and that the kids prefer their bagels untoasted. Ava learned how to spell several words, the color of her friends’ eyes and their Zodiac signs (she’s creating some of her friends in the Sims game). Julian claims he hasn’t learned anything, but I am skeptical. He’s watched a few gaming videos on YouTube, played with the chickens, collected eggs and then dried off some toys in a centrifuge (salad spinner).

Both kids also proceeded to ask questions about why it’s Learn Nothing Day. Those darn kids and their questions. How do they expect to NOT learn if they are always asking questions!

It’s only 12:41 p.m. so we still have the whole rest of the day to try to avoid learning, but we are meeting friends at the pool this afternoon. Is it possible to avoid all learning while swimming and being with your friends? We’ll do our best, but this is going to be a challenge!

If you want to learn more about unschooling, you can check out my post What is Unschooling?. Just whatever you do, don’t read it today. I wouldn’t want you learning something on Learn Nothing Day.

Are you an unschooler? Did you participate in Learn Nothing Day? How did it go for you? Please share in the comments! :)

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Sew much fun!

One of the things I love about unschooling is that I’m often exposed to things/experiences that I might not explore on my own if it weren’t for my kids. One of those experiences that’s come up recently is sewing.

I’ve had my mom’s old sewing machine in my basement for years. I had a brief desire to learn to sew (beyond what I did in home-ec class in high school) when Ava was a baby. I tried sewing some diaper inserts for her FuzziBunz. My mom helped me with them and it was fine, but I never got excited about it. Once a few inserts were sewn, back into the basement the sewing machine went.

Fast forward nine years (has it really been that long?!) and my formerly cloth-diapered baby has expressed an interest in learning to sew. Some friends of her’s recently made doll clothes for her American Girl doll for Ava’s birthday and another friend sewed a dress for her own doll. There’s nothing like friends learning to do something cool to give you a little push in the same direction. Ava decided she wanted to learn to sew too.

I hauled the old White Jeans Machine from the basement and was pleasantly surprised to find it already threaded, since I really had no idea how to do it myself! Ava and I grabbed an old shirt and I set her up to practice. She loved it!

Ava learning to sew

Then the needle came unthreaded and it was up to me to figure out how to thread it again. Thankfully the sewing machine has a little diagram on it which made threading it easier than I thought. It took a little trial and error, but I got it going again. Woot! I got to learn something too! The practicing resumed.

A couple of days later we made a stop at my mom’s house to check out her fabric stash. Ava picked out a few fabrics to try making doll-sized pillows. And I chose several scraps to make into prayer flags for our sunroom — something I’d actually been wanting to do for several weeks after reading a guest post Create an Outdoor Space You Love on my friend Sara’s blog. I already added a few throw rugs and twinkle lights, but it still needed more color.

Pretty fabric

After I helped Ava a bit with sewing her doll pillow, I was excited to get to work on my prayer flags. I ended up needing my mom’s help with loading a bobbin, but once I got that down, I was set. It felt good to made something and I’m happy with how they turned out. I plan to make a second set for Ava’s bedroom.

Homemade prayer flags in my sunroom

I think it’s pretty awesome that my mom’s old (can I call it mine now?) sewing machine sat for years without getting any love, but when the time was right, it was here for me, for Ava, for us. I’m happy to have it and am thankful that my mom passed it on to me way back when. I’m excited to see what kinds of things we create using this old machine and curious to see if my son will want to play with it too. He’s done a tiny bit of sewing on it so far that first night I got it out. Time will tell. I do know that this time around the sewing machine won’t be retiring to the basement any time soon!

I’ve since started sewing a little dress for Ava’s doll. I’m mostly just playing around, but I’m having fun and isn’t that how all of the best learning takes place anyway?

If anyone has any tips for teaching kids to sew or fun, easy sewing projects for adults and kids, I’m all ears. A friend of mine just told me about these paper sewing sheets for kids and I plan to print some out for myself as well as Ava. And I just came across 10 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids. I’m guessing there’s a whole lot out there if I just start looking. Yay sewing!

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Boys, Girls, Bathing Suits and Inequality : a recycled post

This post originally appeared on my blog three years ago on June 17, 2010. As summer is in full swing once again, I thought it was a good time to revisit this topic. Has anything changed in three years?

My son started wearing a swim shirt for a few years (which I felt evened out the playing field a little bit and kept him from getting sunburned — win-win!), but then we had an unfortunate experience where his head got stuck in one while I was trying to remove it (the shirt, not his head!) and he pretty much vowed to never wear one again. Interestingly enough, my daughter (who is 9 now) no longer brings up this inequality issue. Perhaps it’s because she’s more aware of the difference between girls’ and boys’ bodies or culturally conditioned that breasts *should be* covered up. Hmmm, I might have to ask her about it sometime to see what she thinks.


June 17, 2010

As I was getting the kids ready for an afternoon of carefree fun at the pool today, my almost 6-year-old surprised me with this question, “Mom, why do girls have to wear bathing suit tops or shirts, but boys don’t?”

I wanted to shout, “Patriarchy!” as I like to blame most things on the patriarchy and I know it would have made Denise proud, but somehow I was pretty sure that response wouldn’t suffice.

It occurs to me now that this may be the first time she’s really had to deal with inequality in the world (or the Puritanical society in which we live). Yes, I know it’s only a shirt (or a bathing suit top), but this may be the first time she’s realized that different rules exist for different people. That’s a pretty big deal.

Back to my story. I can’t recall exactly how I replied (I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t study! I didn’t know there was going to be a test!), but it was something to the effect of blaming “the man” for making “rules” like that. She didn’t think it was fair. I can’t blame her. It’s not.

Later that evening I mentioned her question to Twitter and asked how they would respond. I received an interesting mix of replies.

I think my favorite came from Denise (Eat Play Love) who said, “Tell her breasts make people really really nervous! ;)” I have to agree. That pretty much sums it all up right there!

Emily (Mama Days said, “best answer: men have it easier in basically everything in life ;)” While I tend to agree with this statement, it wasn’t the message I’m quite ready to give to Ava.

Cassie (Cassie Boorn) said, “I totally had a fit about that when I was young. It was my first sign of feminism ;)” I get the feeling many little girls find the notion off-putting.

While Amy (Entertainment Realm) said, “I went shirtless when I didn’t have any boobs i.e. at that age. no biggie.” Interesting. I can recall my little sister toddling around without a shirt when she was 2 or 3, but probably not as old as 6.

InnerWizdom said that personally she wouldn’t enforce that “rule” because she finds it “bogus.” She added that her kids do go topless at the public pool or beach, but not in stores because nobody is supposed to go shirtless there. She also said that she doesn’t know how anyone can explain to a 6-year-old “that adults see their chest as sexual, as something to hide away, even though it looks the same as a boys.” Yeah, I really didn’t want to get into sexuality with her at that point. Also I admire her for not “forcing” her kids to do something just because that’s what society says they should do. I don’t know that I could do that.

So what do you think? What would your response be if your 6-year-old daughter asked you the same question? Would you blame anatomy? Blame the patriarchy? Blame the Puritans? Blame the American prudery (as my friend‘s husband suggested)? Or is the answer: “that’s just how it is?”

Photo credit – Flickr: bunnygoth

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Just when ya think you’ve got it all figured out…

We’ve been unschooling for a relatively short period of time, but over the past couple of months I felt like things had really started falling into place. I felt like I gained an understanding of what unschooling is all about — and what it isn’t. Like I was saying YES more often than saying NO and it felt good. Like I could let go of the little things and not sweat the small stuff. Like I started to really “get” what my kids needed from me and how to provide it. And we were all getting along SO. WELL. And it felt great. And perhaps I started to get a little self-righteous ’cause I knew what I was doing (or at least I thought I did). That’s where I made my first mistake — thinking I had it all figured out.

And then this thing happened that shattered my confidence in my skills as an unschooling mama and as a parent in general…


The long and the short of it is that there was a misunderstanding between me and my 8-year-old daughter Ava and it turned into an ugly, UGLY, sad battle of wills (good Lord, we are both stubborn as hell!) that left both of us in tears.

I thought my husband had told her one thing and I was trying to support what I thought he’d said. Turns out (I learned the next day) that he never said it. (Had I just asked him what he had told her instead of assuming, I’m pretty sure the whole thing could have been avoided. Yes, that is what you get when you assume.)

That night I pretty much went against everything I had learned and been doing for the past couple months and I’m sure that caused an enormous amount of confusion and frustration on my daughter’s part. And once we were in the thick of our “battle of wills,” I didn’t know what to do. Should I “give in” and rescind what I told her? Will that be “letting her win?” Do I stand my ground no matter what the price? Does it really matter if she does X, Y or Z? Do I even know a damn thing about anything right now??

Ugh. UGH!!!

We were obviously not going to get anywhere continuing what we had been doing. I felt terrible and was at a total loss. I had no idea what to do other than to pick up my phone, retreat into my bathroom, close the door and ask for help.

I texted my good friend Rebecca (also an unschooling mama) to ask for her advice. She listened. She reassured me. And she gave it to me straight, but without judgement. It helped me sooooo much. I also let myself feel my feelings (something I think my sister Carrie would have been proud of) and let myself cry. And I had a little talk with myself, “You don’t have to know what to do 24/7, Amy. It’s OK to make mistakes.”

Once Ava had calmed down and I had taken several deep breaths, I took Rebecca’s advice and talked with her (Ava). I let Ava see that I’d been crying. I told her how I was feeling. I apologized for our fight and told her that parenting can be hard stuff and I don’t always know the “right” thing to do. She came to me for a very welcome hug and we sat together for a while.

Eventually I asked her if she had any suggestions on what we should do (one of Rebecca’s tips). Guess what? She did! We came to a solution together and it all worked out — not the way I had thought it would when our “fight” first began and probably not the way Ava anticipated either, but it worked out and nobody was in tears. Nobody felt that they hadn’t been heard. Nobody went to bed that night feeling defeated.

I later came across this quote from Buddha that I think illustrates nicely one of the things I learned that night:

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.– Buddha

Although that night didn’t go “according to plan,” with the help of my friend, working through my feelings and talking with Ava, I conquered myself. And that kind of victory was pretty sweet.


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