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This is my concluding post in a three post series entitled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read my first two posts here and here. Or you can jump down to the summary for a quick overview.

Discipline series FIMBY


In my last post I talked about drudgery and discipline. I didn't set forth a plan for teaching your kids to apply themselves to drudgery. Instead I asked a bunch of questions that challenged the assumptions people have about children who are given large amounts of freedom in their learning and education.

On one level people are ok with kids "being kids", having time to play, discovering their interests and all that. Many people even question much of what is taught in schools. But the "real world" looms large and scary, and because most adults can't answer, with any honesty, the question "why do I have to learn this?" from their children, they take comfort in the belief that, compulsory education, if nothing else, at least teaches kids self-discipline, something they are unlikely to learn on their own.

My belief, and personal experience, is that children absolutely can learn self-discipline in a love of learning, freedom based, and interest-led homeschool. And I believe you can raise children, without compulsory schooling, who will grow into adults capable of fitting into the real world where not all work is interesting or inherently motivating.

(Please note: A lot of homeschoolers have a compulsory schooling mindset, they take the subjects and requirements of schools and apply that to learning at home. This post is not about learning-at-home vs. learning in a school. This is a post about a freedom based education.)

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Point one is easy enough to see.

Involving children in home life, not just involving them but depending on them, at age appropriate levels for pet and animal care, cleaning, laundry, chopping wood, cooking meals - good old-fashioned chores - develops self-discipline.

Chores are things that have to be done, yes, but you can grow a family culture of meaning, purpose and even fun around these activities. It's within your power to do that. We require our children to participate in home life, but we can also inspire them to serve (or not) by our own attitudes towards service. (I am so convicted about that right now.)

Training children to take care of their personal health and wellbeing also develops self-discipline. Personal hygiene, exercising every day, eating well, hiking together on the weekends are a few examples from our life.

In our family, there are a lot of activities our children do that develop discipline. They do these activities because they are a part of the Tougas family and the Tougas family does these things.

This is character training and habit formation. And although it is not "academic" it teaches the skills that transcend subject and circumstance. That's the goal.

family hiking in the snow

The goal is not the knowledge acquired in grade three or grade four but the skills you learn acquiring those facts.

And my argument is you can acquire those skills other ways.

You can acquire those habits and character traits in the context of a robust, intentional family life.

Most people will not quibble with this point. It's somewhat intuitive because family life is thousands and thousands of years old, whereas mandatory education is only a couple hundred years old.

To see this principle illustrated, all you have to do is look back through history at all the people groups worldwide who have lived without formal schooling, and learned to apply themselves, largely through the means I just explained, to the hard work of adult living.

You learn to do by doing. And children have been learning how to be disciplined by observing the adults in their tribes and societies and by participating in family life for millennia.

The point people quibble about is number two because most people have no grid for that. It was never offered to them.

A brief reminder, point number two is this:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Here are two reasons (I seem to like two's this discipline series) why people have a hard time with this premise:

1. When children are young "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of play and childhood exploration.

Because of the structures and standards of modern day schooling many people are uncomfortable with school-age children spending most of their time "playing". They should be learning. They should be "on the track" preparing for adulthood.

You have to learn the stuff of elementary school, to be prepared for high school. Then you have to get good grades so you can graduate high school with honors, so you get into a good college, get a degree which will give you a good job, which will pay you well, and allow you to retire... to do the thing you really want to do with your life.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not the track to success it once was but people live and educate as if it still was the reality. Or maybe it was always just a myth?

homemade fairy dolls

If allowing children time to play is hard the next point will be even more difficult to swallow.

2. When children become a young adults, after a childhood of creativity, exploration, and play, "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of intense study into things adults might question as valuable or worthy.

You've got to kind of expect this, especially after you've given young children time to develop interests, and don't box them into subjects. School subjects are constructs, "real" in name only.

Adults don't go through life thinking of their days and activities in terms of "now I'm doing math, now I'm studying history, now I'm having phys ed." No, they balance the checkbook, read for the pleasure of it and to learn about something they're interested in, and work out because it feels good.

Even so, when well meaning adults see young adult students spending heaps of self-directed time on things that don't easily quantify as "American History, Chemistry, or English" they get a little panicky. What about the success track as laid out above?

(Perhaps at this point I could direct you to a different success track. Let's say the story of Steve Jobs who spent heaps of his young adulthood "playing" with electronics.)

Here's the rub. It's hard for people to understand when another person, child or adult, is invested in and personally driven to do something they themselves don't value, or can't see as valuable in society.

And yet these outliers, these people who pour energies into solving problems other people didn't even know existed or make art that modern day sensibilities don't get, these are the very people, all through history, who are society's movers and shakers.

Even if people question the assumption that the conveyer belt education system is "the track to success" (success by who's standards? by what measures?) they assauge that cognitive dissonance with the belief that by conforming to the system you at least learn self-discipline.

My question is: Do you learn self discipline with compulsory education?

Children, teenagers, and adults of all ages are self-motivated to learn the things they want to know, or need to know, to reach their goals. And when you give children the environment and permission to actually do this they learn to be disciplined. They learn that discipline helps them accomplish what they want to do.

The real problem then is not the lack of discipline but the lack of self-knowing and inspiration.

inertia

I want to illustrate this but I'm not good at hypothetical examples. I tried writing some and they fell flat, so I'll tell you what this self-discipline, arising from self-directed learning, looks like in my home.

  • Designing and sewing a skirt. Making progress every week even when it's difficult to do all that pinning and stitching. Ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Training for a 5k running race.
  • Crying, yes crying, through the final stages of a project. Tears that tug at my heart strings, but tears I am nonetheless unable to do anything about. I did not assign this project, nor can I remove its burden (though I can do a few extra chores to buy a child more time). In our experience, as young adults and emerging young adults see ideas through to completion there will be blood (ok, so there hasn't been a lot of blood), sweat, and tears. This is the time for that.
  • Establishing a taekwondo practice routine.
  • Sewing a birthday gift for a sibling (with an obvious deadline). Again, ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Learning to read, even when it's hard. Being allowed to come to your own conclusion that this skill matters to you (not because of school shame) and then working at it.
  • Structuring your own school time, as a young adult, and sticking to it. "Showing up" day after day to do work that is tedious because you value it. Which brings the word tedious into question. (The work appears tedious to me because I can't imagine sitting down and doing it.)
  • Finishing what you start, even through difficult and uninspiring spots. Motivated by a commitment you made and payment upon completion. This applies to art commissions, doll commissions, and other obligations our kids choose.
  • Learning Japanese. Finding a language program, preparing your own study material, following through because you want to.
  • Programming with your Dad for a few hours a week not because "you love programming" but because computer programming fits with your strengths and interests and is an accessible way for you to earn the money you need to purchase an iPad. It's a skill that helps you meet a goal, and when you have goals you are driven.

My role in these scenarios is to offer encouragement and support. To secure resources, find mentors, accommodate the schedule (sometimes I do extra chores if the kids are under a deadline), bring fresh perspectives, and offer a lot of "you can do it" messages in the difficult spots.

The student designs and chooses their own "assignments", or projects. I don't have to convince them of its value, they chose it. The motivation to do the work is intrinsic. Self-discipline.

Our children, your children, are scientists, writers, readers, sewists, tinkers, do-ers, makers, artists, and athletes. They have ideas and inspiration all the time. They learn self-discipline by following through on some of these ideas (you can't make every idea a reality).

Children learn self-discipline through the perspiration of interest-led learning and living.

An important note about ages and stages.

I've mentioned this already but I must return to it again. A child's work doesn't look like work. It looks like play.

Crayola coloring set

They will be having fun and you will wonder, "how will they learn to apply themselves when they are enjoying themselves so much?" (Perhaps if you find yourself asking these types of questions you need re-evaluate your assumptions and beliefs and work, discipline, and joy.)

Only in recent years, as our children moved through the ages of 11, 12 and 13 has self-discipline been applied to anything that looks "schoolish". And even then it starts small.

Celine reaching her high school years, what we also call the scholar phase, was not an arbitrary age decision, "you're 14, you're in high school". Celine has reached this stage because, after a childhood of love of learning, she is choosing to go deeper, to be much more disciplined in reaching her goals.

There are days when I say "we don't have to do school today" because our schedule is crazy or whatever and she continues with her studies anyway. Regardless of whether her parents say it must be done or not. That is what is called self-discipline.

Trusting, through the childhood years, that interest-led learners will one day apply themselves to difficult study can be a nail-biting experience. Though I bet your children are already applying themselves to study, it just might be a certain skill set or knowledge you don't value.

Just remember, the development of self-discipline when a child is young looks like a meaningful contribution to family life and concentrated play, exploration, and discovery.

You have to give it time to unfold. You can't rush these things.

Tips & Strategies

Maybe you are worried that you don't see self-discipline developing in your children. Or maybe you just want to "do something" to make sure it's happening.

I understand that concern. That's a good concern. We want to raise children who will become independent adults, self-sufficient in the context of community and family.

  1. Open your mind up to possibilities, don't be hemmed in by "subjects". Are you looking for your child to develop a discipline around say, writing, while ignoring the other self-initiated work they do?

  2. Teach your kids, through example, how to be self-disciplined. What are you doing right now to model the self-discipline you want them to grow into?

  3. Make sure family life has meaningful and hands-on responsibilities for children. Your child's contribution should be needed, respected, and encouraged.

  4. Build a family culture of identifying interests and talents, cultivating ideas and projects, and then doing the hard work (the perspiration) required to make those ideas reality.

Jump start the process

Do something amazing as a family. An activity or project that teaches sacrifice, discipline, hard work, service to other, overcoming obstacles, etc. Do something together that teaches the character traits you want to instill in your kids. Choose a concrete goal and then go for it - as a family.

Series Summary

I started this series with two myths.

Myth One: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, you must not have a very disciplined home and family life. It must be chaos after all to let your kids "do their own thing".

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I addressed myth one in my first post, in which I explained what early years discipline looked like in our home.

When our children were little we established firm boundaries, in the context of unconditional love. Now we all experience a great deal of freedom within those boundaries. And as our children get older, while still living in our home, they get to set their own boundaries.

creative messy counter

I addressed myth two in posts two and three. In post two I shared a pervasive belief that school is the training ground that prepares you for a life you don't necessarily want to live and forced academics is a great opportunity, and main vehicle, for character development.

I then asked a bunch of questions best summarized by this:

Or would these children-become-adults be empowered by years of personal decision making and experience - growing up in an atmosphere of unconditional support, clear boundaries, and positive role models - learn to seek after and make happen those things they want to accomplish in life?

In this third and last post of this series I started with a two-fold premise:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

I explained both points but went into detail with the second, illustrating what this looks like in both childhood and young adulthood.

And finally I concluded with tips, strategies and a challenge to help you develop self-discipline in an interest-led, freedom based homeschooling environment.

These tips can be applied to families in any schooling situation but I believe are most effective when children truly do have a large degree of freedom in their learning.

kids cooking in the kitchen

Let's Talk

I spent hours and hours writing and editing this series for you. I've attempted to answer, in depth, a common misconception I encounter (in coaching, conversations and educational practices, both at home and in schools) about interest-led homeschooling - that children don't develop self-discipline when given the freedom to study their own interests.

I hope this will help you in your homeschooling and give you more confidence in your methods in the face of questions or outright criticism from well-meaning (or otherwise) family and friends.

Please feel free to add any of your own observations in comments. I know your students apply themselves to what they love. Tell us about it!

What did I miss? Do you have more questions? Feel free to ask and if I have time I will answer them today in comments or build them into future posts.

This is the second post in a three part series titled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read the first post here and my concluding post here.

Let's dive right in. My last post left off here:

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

Before I answer this myth I must share something I found online recently which illustrates this idea to the extreme.

I came across this comment on a blog post about unschooling. I landed on this blog through some random internet wandering. It's not part of my usual circle.

Although this comment is somewhat extreme, I think it speaks, quite accurately, the fears people have about freedom education.

The problem that I have with unschooling is that school isn't just about learning, it's also about discipline. I think one of the most valuable things you learn in school is to get up in the morning and do something you don't want to do every single day. Unschoolers will bemoan conditioning children for the American work machine, but since that's the world they'll actually be living in, and most of us won't have the luxury of exclusively pursuing our interests into adulthood, this is a valuable discipline.

The commenter then adds...

Sorry, I wasn't trying to imply that school should be miserable, just that there is value to having a structured day and having to wake up in the morning and study math today even if it was art you wanted to do instead.

Another commenter:

There is also some value in learning to delay gratification. Learning to read is a slog, but being able to read is tremendous fun. Children aren't great at seeing the end-game; telling them that it'll pay off in the long run rings pretty hollow (at least, that's what I remember about being a kid) but showing them, over the course of years, that putting in difficult and sometimes unpleasant work really is worth the things it can accomplish... that's a very valuable lesson, and it's something I can't see them learning on their own.

I believe these commenters express something that many people believe. School is the training ground that prepares you for a life you don't necessarily want to live and forced academics is a great opportunity, and main vehicle, for character development.

Most people will never meet anyone who shows them otherwise (or will reject those who do). They will go through life thinking this is all there is - getting up in the morning to do something you don't want to do every single day, and therefore it is in their child's best interest to learn to do the same.

When I was growing up "school was my job". And "job" as a word, as an idea, as a concept, was not necessarily positive. Job was the thing you had to do whether you liked it or not. (By the way, I liked school. I love book learning, I'm social, and I'm always eager to please people, so school was a great fit.)

I don't have a problem with academics. But I question compulsory academics in a society where the success of its citizens, the longevity of the society itself, rests not on people having an acquired knowledge base (knowledge is free in our world) or following a set path (the Industrial model mindset is no longer the track to success it once was), but rests instead on people being empowered with a skill set of creative thinking, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

This is the complete opposite of being told what to learn. Our world needs self-motivated thinkers, leaders, problem solvers, do-ers and creators, not automatons.

In my next post I will share some ideas and observations on developing self-discipline around your interests, in a freedom environment (with the security of solid boundaries, see my first post). But first, I want to ask these questions:

Is this the life you want to live? One where you must do meaningless things every day that you don't like?

What if you did live your childhood getting up every single day (give or take a few days) knowing you had the power over your own days, knowing you could make your ideas happen?

What if you were taught, through healthy home life, how to manage your time and then given free reign within that time to do the things you loved, study what interested you, build what you imagined? What kind of adult would you be?

What kind of world would those children-become-adults create?

Would those children-become-adults be lazy no-gooders, unable to get out of bed in the morning, interested only in playing video games all day?

Or would these children-become-adults be empowered by years of personal decision making and experience - growing up in an atmosphere of unconditional support, clear boundaries, and positive role models - to seek after and make happen those things they want to accomplish in life?

(Hint: That last sentence is our educational philosophy, in a nutshell.)

Would these empowered adults be able "to fit" into a society of people who make themselves get up and do things they don't want to do? Or would they have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to create a new reality for themselves, and those around them, of passionate, creative, missional, and interest-led living?

I started this post with this myth: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I wrote this post weeks ago, these ideas have been percolating for months, years even, as we have set up a home learning environment based on an interest-driven education philosophy (and coached other families in doing the same).

Imagine my delight then, when just this week I came across the thoughts of one of my favorite authors on the subject of drudgery.

One problem with the word work is that it has come to be equated with drudgery, and is considered degrading. Now, some work is drudgery, though it is not always degrading. Vacuuming the house or scrubbing out the refrigerator is drudgery for me, though I find it in no way degrading. And that it is drudgery is a lack in me. (my emphasis) I enjoy the results and so I should enjoy producing the results. I suspect that is it not the work itself which is the problem, but that it is taking me from other work, such as whatever manuscript I am currently working on. Drudgery is not what work is meant to be. (my emphasis) Our work should be our play. If we watch a child at play for a few minutes, "seriously" at play, we see that all his energies are concentrated on it. He is working very hard at it. And that is how the artist works, although the artist may be conscious of discipline while the child simply experiences it.

Madeleine L'Engle from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

This quote is a great place to stop as it sets the tone for, and introduces some key ideas from, my next and final post in this series. I'll see you there...

In the spring I re-launched my blog. One of the things I wanted to do with that re-launch was create better resource pages for readers.

I have written many, many posts over 9 years of blogging.

Some of those posts are better than others (smile) and over the past few years I curated that content into Resource Pages that highlighted the most helpful content I've written around themes of homeschooling, soapmaking, vegan eating, adventure living, crafting, etc.

When I re-launched the blog I totally cleaned the front page. It was like re-decorating a home. The links to those resource pages disappeared, even though the pages are still there. I am keeping them "behind the scenes" because I am in the process of upgrading them. 

fimby resource pages coming soon

My goal is to create better resource pages that are automatically updated when I publish posts. Fellow bloggers will appreciate the beauty of this. Instead of manually curating and creating a page, the content is tagged a certain way and it happens automatically.

Of course, nothing happens on a blog automatically. It has to be set up, often painstakingly at first.

I'm happy to say my Homeschool Help Resource Page is done and is now accessible again from the front page. Look around, you'll see the links, one in the menu bar, one in sidebar graphic (which will not always be there but is for now).

The Homeschool Help Resource Page is nice and all but it's really just the portal, or access point, to the pages I am most pleased with.

I have spent the last six months dividing my best homeschool content by topic. These topics are found on the Homeschool Help page immediately after the introduction. They look like this:

homeschool-help

If you click on one of these links (on the page, not in the image above) you are taken to a page of FIMBY related posts and supporting books, curriculum, and resources for that subject or topic. For example, Reading & Books.

This allows you to see, at a glance, what curricula I've used to teach my kids, and other products or books I recommend. You can also scroll through related posts and read those that look interesting to you, based on your needs. 

I have read, re-formatted, and fixed the code on hundreds of posts to create these pages.(Applause from the peanut gallery.)

I love that these pages allow me to feature helpful homeschool products.

There are so many wonderful resources I want to share with FIMBY homeschoolers but I don't want to clutter up my front page with a bunch of banners. FIMBY is not a homeschool blog, per se, and banner clutter annoys me.

I want FIMBY to be a beautiful, helpful, and encouraging place for readers and myself. Curating resource pages is one way to create the kind of blog I want to read and write.

I'm not completely done, there is no done in life or on a blog. There is good enough for now. I have a few more resources to add to some of the pages, which I plan to do this week.

This week I will be posting a few of the topic pages to the FIMBY's front page. Turns out I can't do that. Bummer.

These pages do not allow comments so if you wish to chat about the contents you can come back to this post to leave a comment, e-mail me, tweet me, or find me at Facebook.

homeschool help

If you notice dead links or weird stuff please let me know.

One resource page down, five to go. (Sigh...)

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