Just keep going
When I was learning marksmanship, I used to check my target after each shot. My range instructor told me it was a bad practice because every time I stopped I lost my aim. She encouraged me instead to keep shooting until the magazine was empty.
We now use a similar strategy with our children’s learning: we encourage them to concentrate on the task at hand and to continue without worrying if they are doing it correctly or incorrectly – just get it done and check the results later. We don’t set any rules of how our children should do things. We don’t insist that they draw or build something “the right way,” and we don’t correct them when they make reading or spelling mistakes. We tell them to just keep going. We want them to learn to self-correct, to discover their mistakes on their own – which eventually will happen if they practice regularly.
We do dispense occasional feedback and praise once our children progress with their work and get somewhere, but not along the way. Just like my range instructor taught me, we want our children to concentrate on what they are doing and not to lose their aims. We don’t want them to be afraid to fail or to be held back by self-doubt. Besides, history knows of many great inventions and entrepreneurial ideas that came from doing something “incorrectly.”
Noise reduction. Many families have mountains of toys, but we believe that overabundance of toys creates a cluttered, noisy, and overstimulated environment which doesn’t contribute much to children’s development. We want to keep our home conducive to quiet, reflective learning and play, and that’s why we only have a handful of high-quality toys that can provide hours of open-ended and creative play.
Open-ended play. We avoid toys that restrict imagination and that have only a finite number of pre-determined ways in which they can be played. For example, we don’t buy puzzles because they can only be assembled one way and are not as exciting once they are done, we don’t have electronic toys with pre-recorded sounds for each button, and we avoid coloring books because they are already pre-drawn – we’d rather have our children draw from scratch. Instead, we invest in programmable robots, electronic and construction kits, and especially Legos that can engage our children in open-ended play without limiting their creativity and imagination.
Simple and real objects. Instead of buying too many toys, we purchase real-life objects for our children to play and tinker with. Compared with toys, real objects are much more interesting, stimulating, and educational. We want our children to get a taste for real things and learn to handle them carefully. For example, instead of buying dumbed-down, terrible-sounding electronic toy musical instruments, we gave our children a real (child-sized) violin, guitar, and my old flute. We teach our children to be careful and so far, none of the instruments have been broken. Our children also play with other real-life objects such as calculators, measuring tape, screwdrivers and bolts, computer keyboards, cooking utensils. We don’t hide things from them, we let them play with anything that we use ourselves.
We don’t teach subjects
Academic disciplines are too narrowly defined, and distinctions between them are arbitrary. Division of knowledge doesn’t show the full picture of the world’s complexity and relationship between ideas and concepts. Knowledge should be learned as a whole.
We aim to provide our children with a foundation of moral values and basic principles (such as principles of economics, politics, etc) and to give our children a general understanding of how things work. Later, as our children progress with learning on their own pace, they will gain additional knowledge, drill down for deeper insights, and perform further analysis, which will result in their fuller and more enriched understanding of the world.
Even though, strictly speaking, we don’t teach subjects, there are areas of knowledge on which we would like to focus within the next several years of our homeschooling:
- Basic science, so our children know what’s possible in the world and get a general idea of how things work.
- Statistics: conceptual understanding of how data is collected, analyzed, interpreted, and presented.
- American and world history, using alternative resources (such as The Politically Incorrect Guides or books by Viktor Suvorov) that debunk official myths and propaganda.
- Biology and health, so they know how the body works and how to diagnose basic health problems.
- Nutrition and chemistry, so they learn about food ingredients, toxic materials, and GMOs.
- Politics, with the emphasis on the Constitution, Libertarianism, and present-day political and social issues (using, among other resources, Gran’pa Jack comic booklets).
- Jewish religion and history, emphasizing our values rather than the mainstream approach.
- Economics, particularly Austrian economics and the works of Frédéric Bastiat.
- Money management (finances, earning and accumulating wealth, investing, asset management).
Critical and analytical thinking, rather than memorizing facts
As mentioned, learning disconnected pieces of knowledge produces a distorted picture of the world. That’s why we don’t teach separate subjects and prefer not to use encyclopedias, textbooks, educational multimedia games, and other types of learning resources that feed unrelated facts and that fail to put things in context and to tell the full story behind these facts.
I often wonder why some seemingly smart and well-educated people lack common sense, don’t understand what’s important and what’s not, and get life completely wrong. I think that’s because, even though they know many facts, they lack analytical abilities to make correct conclusions based on the facts they know and to piece together the full picture. Alternatively, such people lack curiosity and open-mindedness to seek out additional facts and to evaluate counter-evidence.
Instead of memorizing facts, we want our children to:
- Develop analytical skills, so they can see correlation between things, understand probability, and track causes and effects.
- Learn to think critically, so they can tell the difference between propaganda and objective information. Using both critical thinking and analytical skills, they will be able to see if information makes sense or if there’s an agenda behind it. When presented with a mainstream view, they will able to evaluate the other, less visible and less publicized side of the issue.
- Maintain their natural curiosity and open-mindedness, so they never get too comfortable with what they already know and always seek to widen their horizons and to learn about alternative ideas.
Broad exposure, basic principles, and approximation
Broad exposure and wide knowledge: We want to expose our children to a variety of interesting, real-life activities and experiences and to increase the range of things that they know about and are able to do. We want to provide them with a broad exposure and a general knowledge, but we don’t insist that they know the details of how every little thing works. Later, they can always drill down into any subject they like and to find out more on their own.
Basic principles and approximation: How many of us remember having to solve those infamous high school math problems such as “pump A fills a pool in 2 hours and pump B fills a pool in 4 hours”? Are these problems really useful and do they have anything to do with the real world? I don’t think so. Most real-life problems are based on comparisons – greater than, less than, or equal – and on other types of approximations. Rarely do we need to know exact numbers and exact facts. Math drills, problem calculations, and memorizing tables and formulas are, in my opinion, a waste of time, because they don’t help solve real-life problems. It’s sufficient for children to learn to calculate approximate values and to understand the ideas and concepts, the meaning of things and the basic principles that make things work, and the relationship between concepts, facts, and numbers.
Modern tools for quick results. We don’t teach the children to memorize facts, we teach them to use references so they can always drill down into details and exact facts if they need to. Similarly, we don’t teach them to count in their heads or with pen and paper – why waste time? We teach them to use modern tools such as Excel spreadsheets, calculators, and computers – so that, when necessary, they can calculate exact results quickly and efficiently and move on to something more interesting.
In addition to teaching our kids general fitness and stretching, we currently focus on tennis, archery, and mixed martial arts because we play these sports ourselves and can always provide expert coaching. We also play other sports occasionally.
There are two criteria on which we pick sports for our children:
- We want our children to practice individual sports where the outcome relies solely on them and not on the successes or failures of others. Individual sports teach children to be self-reliant and allow them to practice on their own pace.
- We also focus on simple sports that our children can practice on their own, at any time, and virtually anywhere, without depending on costly equipment or on special facilities such as skating rinks. This way it’s much easier to maintain regular practice.
Swimming is another important sport we would like to focus on, but it requires regular practice which we currently cannot provide. We avoid pools because even the best pool water contains toxic chemicals (that are used for cleaning and disinfection), and this is not acceptable for us. We also avoid lakes and ponds in our vicinity because they are overcrowded and dirty. We prefer ocean beaches, but from where we live we have to drive far to reach a nice, clean, and quiet beach, and in the cooler months the beach is off limits altogether. However, in the near future we plan to move to Florida where our proximity to the beach should provide our children with an opportunity to practice regularly and eventually become expert swimmers.
Learning with parents
We often get asked if we know how to teach or if we have any teaching credentials. We do not, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we live busy and productive lives, have a broad and diverse professional expertise, read lots of books and resources on many topics, practice a wide range of hobbies and interests, possess a rich life experience, have personal aspirations and professional ambitions, and hold a vision of the future of both our family and our businesses. That makes us better qualified as teachers of our children than any teaching license ever will, and it gives our children the opportunity to learn directly with us and by observing and emulating us.
Expert teachers and coaches can provide our children with advanced instruction in specific academics and sports. But regardless of how good these hired teachers are, we the parents will always remain our children’s best teachers because we have a vested interest in giving our children the edge to succeed.
Knowing what not to do
Another question we get asked is if we follow a homeschooling curriculum and if we know exactly what to teach and when. The answer is that we don’t know the right way to teach, but neither does anyone else, including the best teachers.
But from our own school and family experiences we know what not to do. We know that school may work as a safety net for mediocrity, but it doesn’t work for what we are trying to achieve. We know that a boxed curriculum, strict and repetitious instruction, and other methods of top-down education don’t work for our goals either. And we know that absentee parenting doesn’t work. Knowing what to avoid is just as helpful as knowing what to do.
Why do we unschool?
We refuse to participate in money- and energy-draining rat race of classes and extracurricular activities. We don’t actively ‘educate’ our children just to keep up with what other parents are doing.
Stuffing young children’s time with classes and activities may feel good for the parents because it will appear as if they are doing something to educate the kids. But if their kids don’t particularly care about the subject, the long-term result will be the same as if they haven’t done anything at all, not to mention disappointment and wasted time. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something that is useless.
Rather than deciding for our children what classes they should take, we strive to expose them to many skills and experiences on a basic level. When they get older and have a wide experience with a variety of things, they will decide for themselves what kind of advanced instruction they would like.
- We don’t teach our children to follow orders, and that’s why we don’t practice top-down education. It’s fine to learn from a coach or an instructor occasionally, but it’s not our primary homeschooling method. Unlike corporate workers who must follow orders, entrepreneurs have to walk down their own path.
- We encourage our children to make their own decisions, to define their own problems to solve (instead of us giving them pre-defined problems), and to correct their own mistakes (instead of us correcting them). This is exactly how it works in the entrepreneurial world.
- We don’t limit their creativity and imagination by setting rules on how they should learn and do things.
- We encourage wide knowledge rather than deep knowledge – that is, we don’t insist that our children focus on a narrowly defined area of study. Rather, we try to give our children a general overview of as many things as possible. For an entrepreneur, it’s essential to have a wide range of knowledge and experience. Only when one is familiar with a variety of skills and industries can one develop a vision for a viable business venture.
We want to teach our children to be free and to understand that they have limitless opportunities to succeed and to lead by example, and from that they will draw their inspiration to make things happen rather than to wait for others to give it to them.
We also want our children to be able to break through their mental and physical barriers on their own and to learn how to teach themselves rather than expect us to teach them. This will take longer, and it is harder, but it is a lot more efficient and effective. We are there to facilitate and to assist, as well as to expose them to what’s possible and to serve as an example of how our children can – despite what schooling advocates say – become successful by following their own unique path that they can create themselves without any formal education, and by learning everything they need as they go.