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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What is Unschooling?


Unschooling is based on the belief that children learn best when they are internally motivated. Unlike homeschooling which is essentially doing school (following a curriculum) at home, unschooling allows children to explore their interests and learn without the restrictions of a curriculum. 

Teacher and author John Holt — one of the founders of the modern homeschooling movement — coined the word “unschooling” in 1977 to mean “learning that does not look like school learning, and learning that does not have to take place at home.” He believed, “there is no difference between living and learning…it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate.”

Pam Sorooshian explains unschooling like this: 
“Unschoolers simply do not think there are times for learning and times for not learning. They don’t divide life into school time or lesson time versus play time or recreation time. There is no such thing as ‘extracurricular’ to an unschooler – all of life, every minute of every day, counts as learning time, and there is no separate time set aside for ‘education.'”

There are many other names for unschooling including “natural learning,” “life learning,” “experience-based learning,” “delight-driven learning,” and “independent learning,” and there are a ton of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are just a few: 

Over the past couple years we started our own unschooling journey, which I plan to write a lot about in the future – including how we began on this path. However, I first wanted to provide a little bit of a background information to explain some of the ideas behind unschooling. 

I welcome your questions. I absolutely won’t have all of the answers, but I enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

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