Category Archives: Creativity

Book Review: Earning Admission

Earning AdmissionParents of college-bound students, check out my recent book review written for the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum…

 

The hallmark of a well-written advice book is that it leaves you inspired to move forward with a clear plan of action. Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges, a new book by Greg Kaplan, investment banker turned college advisor, definitely fits the bill.

While not written specifically for homeschoolers or other non-traditional students who plan to apply to college, the author offers strategies and ideas that are relevant for any parent wondering how best to help their child gain admission to a selective college or university. As Mr. Kaplan stated during a recent conversation, “This book is for parents who want options for their children.”   Read More

 

Homeschooling Outside of the Box

Have you ever seen that brain-teaser with the nine dots arranged in the shape of a square, the one where you have to connect all nine dots with just four connected straight lines without lifting your pencil? It looks like this:

Nine Dot Puzzle

 

I ran across this puzzle for the second time recently and, even though I’d seen it and the solution several years ago, I still couldn’t solve it. I did remember that the answer had something to do with seeing the spaces around the dots differently, but after several intense minutes of focus I still couldn’t come up with it.

Frustrating.

I tend to think of myself as a fairly creative person, and I love brain-teasers and puzzles that make me think another way, that show me where my “edges” are. It was surprising to me, though, that I’d forgotten the solution to such a simple puzzle. Why is it so hard to “think outside of the box” (there’s your hint if you haven’t solved it yet), even when I’ve seen the answer before? Even when I know there is a box (which isn’t always the case) and I want to move outside of it? As I stewed on these questions for a few days, I started wondering what I could do to challenge my own perspectives and limitations more regularly. Even more importantly, I started wondering how I could also help my kids cultivate their ability to see things differently, to think creatively.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is a question that could change the world. It’s hard to deny that there are some pretty serious problems in front of us right now that our children (and likely their children) will have to confront as they grow into adulthood. And in order to solve these problems, we need to help the next generations develop solid problem-solving skills, not the least of which is creativity. As a homeschooling mom of two boys, I’m in a great position to help my sons develop these skills, but how?

And as I’ve continued to ponder, I recognize that this is about more than just solving problems, too. Life is certainly about more than that. Even if we weren’t facing our current set of challenges, I would still want my children to develop to their full creative potential. Some of the most enjoyable and worthwhile aspects of life are brought to us by creative people: movies, music, fine art, architecture, food, fashion, books. What would life be without these? What’s more, there are countless wonderful inventions, and life-saving medical treatments that have come from creative bursts of insight. It may look different from person to person, but I’m convinced that we all have strong creative potential, it’s just that the process for recognizing and cultivating it can be elusive, lost somewhere in our “to do” lists and schedules.

So I’ve been kind of obsessed with these questions lately – something about this line of thinking has really struck a chord. And while I was washing the dishes the other night, it hit me like a flash: the kind of creativity I’m seeking isn’t limited to a discrete activity like solving puzzles or painting pictures. It’s not about output or products. The type of creativity I’m yearning for is an approach to life, a philosophy that permeates everything and helps me see the world differently. It would reveal my self-imposed limitations, help me recognize and break free from expectations and patterns, and encourage me to challenge the “status quo” and “common wisdom”.

I’m on to something. I’m feeling inspired. But now what?

As a homeschooler I’ve definitely got some experience doing these things, going against societal norms and questioning ideas that have always been givens. And yet, as I reflect on the past five years of my family’s homeschooling experiences, I recognize a concerning pattern: when in doubt, when worries about “falling behind” or getting into college spring up and the path forward isn’t clear, we have inevitably been drawn back to the established system. For example, my older son’s 7th grade year with an online charter school that included lots of testing, and enrolling in a distance school with “due dates” and grades for my younger son’s 6th grade year. We’ve also had periods when we’ve over-enrolled in classes, lessons, and sports activities which left us stressed and exhausted by the end of the day – too much scheduled time, not enough free time.

I see now that with those decisions we were seeking the security that comes from operating within the standard framework and familiar belief systems. I wanted to make sure my kids were “socialized” and not missing out on “normal” experiences and relationships. And there was nothing particularly wrong with these choices, but in retrospect I understand that we missed an opportunity to challenge our fear, to trust our inner wisdom, and to create something different. We lost sight of the real reasons we’ve chosen to homeschool, and haven’t taken full advantage of the freedom and creative possibilities that this lifestyle offers.

Fear lead us back to the box. Time to burn the box.

In all honesty, I don’t really know what this means for us yet. All I know is that I feel like I’m seeing things more clearly now, like I’m suddenly wearing a new pair of glasses with the right prescription. And I’m noticing and appreciating things that I missed before, like how much more relaxed and energetic we are on our slow days, how genuinely happy the boys are when we’re spending time outside or going somewhere new, what great questions they ask when we just hang out and ponder life together, and how excited they get when I take time to play a game or cook with them.

I’m also noticing how quickly and regularly the anxious voices kick in: Are we doing enough? Is this the best use of our time? Yeah, this is going to take a while. I seem to have developed a habit of seeing most things as a problem and a tendency to try to anticipate the next obstacle, the next difficulty. So, my first step is to make peace with those voices of worry, to notice what’s here now, and to listen more closely to my intuition. And I’m going to include a lot more unstructured time in our days, too — time for both play and solitude, time for spur of the moment adventures, time to totally immerse ourselves in new interests and interesting conversations. In short, time to create the life we’ve been looking for.

 

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College Admissions for Homeschoolers: Three Inevitable Questions

7K0A0947Now that the school year is in full swing for traditional students and homeschoolers alike, families with high school-aged students have more than fall leaves, crisp air, and pumpkin spice lattes on their minds. For many, this is college planning season, which brings with it admissions applications, essays, and financial aid forms. While this can be both an exciting and anxiety-producing time for everyone involved, students coming from a homeschooling background often face an additional challenge in their application process as they wonder how best to represent their non-traditional educational path and learning experiences….          Read more here

New to homeschooling? This is for you…

For those of you who are at the beginning of your homeschooling journey, and may need a little support right about now…

“Let me sum up what I have been saying about learning. I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are decidingwhat we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and openness of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it.”   — John Holt

Now carry on!

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Minding the Gap

Meditation, Week 4

The previous posts this month have all focused on the benefits of regular meditation and mindfulness practices and how, even when we are aware of the physical and psychological benefits of these practices, it can still be difficult to make time for them.  So if it’s difficult to be mindful on a typical day, what about the days and moments when we really need them — moments of extreme stress or overwhelming emotions?  What then?

This is how a mother of a young son described her situation after reading my last post, Mindfulness Blooming. She wrote that she would like her son to:
…think it through before he says things that he knows is wrong or mean. 
I like the whole approach about ‘choice’ – make a good choice or that 
was a good choice. But his bad behavior is getting very, very repetitive 
and frustrating because he’s so impulsive.”


Anyone who has been a parent of young children can certainly relate to this and, if we’re being honest, we must admit that even as adults we have impulsive moments when we react unconsciously and say or do something we later regret.  How does mindfulness come into play in these situations?

The short answer is:  by creating space.  Mindfulness is the process of creating a moment of space, a gap, between when we experience an emotion and when we choose a response to it.  The trigger for the emotion can be almost anything:  something we see, something someone says or does to us, or even a thought we have.  No matter how hard we might try (and believe me, I have tried!), we cannot control what other people do, nor can we control our emotional response to it, but what we can control is how we respond. 

  • First, we need to name the emotion, and often there are more than one. This may sound simple, but when emotions are strong and mixed together, it often takes some time to untangle them.  And there is science that supports how important the naming process is — just saying to ourselves “I’m angry” helps our prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of our brain, begin to “unflood” so we can think more clearly.
  • Next, we need to focus on our bodies.  Again, this sounds easy, but as we all know, pausing in the heat of the moment long enough to notice what’s happening in our body can be tough.  If we pay attention, though, there are often physical cues that go along with an emotion that can eventually be “early warning” indicators as we become more aware.   

For kids the “minding the gap” process is the same, we just need to coach them through it gently and patiently.  I describe one of the first times I did this with my son, Ben, in an earlier post Developing Minds.  Since that event, I’ve also noticed that sometimes I can tell even before my boys do that something has affected them — with my older son, Sam, it’s often a particular look in his eye that alerts me, and I can then ask him how he’s feeling, which helps him in directing his attention.  

Finally, there’s another aspect of parenting mindfully that I don’t think is addressed as frequently as it should be, and that is “self compassion”. I was first introduced to this idea at a meditation retreat, and it deeply resonated with me.  As parents, we work hard to raise our children and provide them with everything they need, and its easy to blame ourselves or feel discouraged when our kids don’t behave in the way we would like them to, when they continue to struggle with particular issues.  We need to be patient with them and with ourselves.  For me this can be difficult sometimes, but I find that trying to look at myself from the perspective of someone who loves me helps, as does including myself when I do lovingkindness meditations.  We can all benefit from a little extra compassion from any source. So this week, practice saying to yourself…

May I be happy,
May I be well,
May I be free from pain and suffering.
Activities for Meditation, Week 4


This week’s activities have been selected to help you:

  1. Consider ideas for parenting mindfully,
  2. Find emotional and mental space in everyday moments,and
  3. Have some fun with your kids doing random acts of kindness.

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When you have five minutes…

Watch this 2-minute video of Dr. Christine Carter talking about mindful parenting:  


What can you do this week to be a more mindful parent, and create space between your emotions and your actions?


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When you have 15 minutes… 

Notice the “wallpaper” in your own mind.   This mindfulness practice comes from Rick Hanson, and is something you can do standing in line at the grocery store, or any time you have a few minutes this week.  Here’s how:
“Enjoy emptiness in the forms that speak to you: perhaps the quiet at night 
when everyone’s asleep but you, a blank page in your journal, a friend’s 
receptive listening, an open counter as you begin to cook (love this one myself), 
a hole in your schedule, the space between thoughts 
as your mind calms and becomes still, or a Saturday with no plans at all.” 

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When you have 30 minutes or more… 

Do random acts of kindness.  Here’s a list of ideas to get you started, but it will be especially fun if you and your kids add your own ideas that are especially meaningful or enjoyable to you. 
  1. Take food to the food bank.
  2. Leave flowers on the doorstep of someone you sense might benefit from some extra kindness this week. 
  3. Offer to babysit for someone with young kids.
  4. Pick up trash in a neighborhood park.
  5. Write a thank-you note to someone whose work you appreciate:  the local police/fire department, a teacher, your mailman…