Archive for April 2011

The Safety Brigade Strikes Again! Many Outdoor Kid’s Games are Unsafe   2 comments

The Safety Brigade strikes again!  Remember childhood games such as Capture the Flag, Steal the Bacon, kickball and dodgeball?  Well here’s a story from New York where the health department has labeled these activities as unsafe and that they pose a “significant risk of injury.” Children’s recreational programs that offer these ‘dangerous’ activities will fall under certain regulations.

I’ll tell you what is dangerous.  26 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the CDC.   Many of them are children diagnosed with type II which was once rarely seen in those under the age of 40.  25% of America’s children are obese or overweight. We need to wake up!  Our kids need to be active – they need to play hard and use their bodies.  They cannot do that if we allow our fears of all the ‘what ifs’ to cause us to hover over them and keep them from physical activity.  When our schools and communities jump on the safety bandwagon we create a culture of fear and this handicaps our children by making them feel inept and creating barriers to self-confidence.  If that confidence and physical fitness needs to be attained by getting a few bumps, bruises, lost teeth and stitches – then so be it.


The Safety Brigade: Protecting Kids Everywhere from Adventure!   2 comments


“How do you like to go up in a swing?  Up in the air so blue?  Oh I do think it is the most pleasantest thing ever a child can do!”  This little poem was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and captures the childhood joy of the simple act of swinging.  But – obviously Mr. Stevenson has not been on a swing recently.

Gone are the days when playgrounds had swings on super long chains (I’m not good at gauging actual lengths – so I’ll go with super long verses super short) that really did allow you to go “up in the air so blue.”  If you were pushing a child on one of those swings, you’d have time to lay out a picnic lunch before they would make it back to you for another push!

 But along came… the Safety Brigade!  They consisted of helicopter moms, armed with bubble wrap, who alerted their communities about the dangers lurking in local playgrounds.  They investigated and saw that the slides were too high and too fast.  They determined merry-go-rounds were a death trap and that the big, metal giraffe was, well… big and metal! (remember those?) 

Well – the safety brigade won their battle and playgrounds all across American were stripped of fun, unique, stuff.  Now, playgrounds everywhere look the same – colorful, plastic slides that are slow as sludge, swings that are so short you’d better not blink when pushing a kid because they’ll be on the return from that push in a nano second and knock you in the face.  I remember when I was a kid every park in our town had different equipment.  One park had circus themed equipment – an elephant slide and an old circus wagon.  Another park had a slide shaped like a rocket that you climbed up inside to reach the top.  Our elementary school had giant, cement cylinders in its playground.  Cool stuff. 

The argument is that kids were hurt on that old equipment – the swings were too high and someone could fall and break their neck.  True.  The slides were too high and someone could fall and break their neck.  True.  But if you want adventure in life – it comes with risk. Even everyday mundane activities can be dangerous.  People choke to death eating.  Someone may slip in their bathtub and be seriously hurt.  Thousands of people every year die from taking medications.  Yet, we continue to eat, bathe and take medications because it is part of life.  Childhood fun and adventure was once a normal part of life taken for granted.  But now that adventure has been made ultra safe, sanitized and occurs under the ever watchful eye of an adult – who often times is literally hovering over the child.   

There is one park left in our town that still has those giant swings and I will get on one and enjoy the feeling of literally sailing through the air.  The height gained on those gems is such that you can feel the strong pull of gravity on your body after that split second of weightlessness.  That feeling just isn’t there at the end of a six foot chain.  So when we head to this park I always glance behind me to make sure a member of the Safety Brigade isn’t following – ready to snatch up one of the last remaining treasures from American playgrounds and robbing kids everywhere of the chance to experience the simple joy expressed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem.

What are the messages we send to our children about their future?   2 comments

“You’ll never make it in college.” Those words were spoken to me as I sat in the guidance counselor’s office of my high school, in 1985, to meet with him about the recent SAT test I had taken.  I was an okay student in high school, probably around a 3.0 gpa, but I never really studied or applied myself.  I liked music and focused my energy on band, not academics.  I don’t even remember taking the SAT, but I vividly remember having that counselor, who didn’t even know me, tell me I’d never make it in college, and brush me aside.  This person based my potential for success on a test and what I heard was, “You are stupid.”  That was a very profound moment for me and it affected how I viewed myself for quite awhile.  He was right in the fact that I wasn’t ready for college at that time, but I wasn’t confident enough yet in myself and that lack of confidence allowed his words to have power over me.

I think about kids everywhere who are given messages like these at some point in their schooling, either subtly or outright.  Instead of encouragement to grow and do better, often kids are made to feel inept and not good enough.  Even private schools aren’t immune to having this affect on kids.  My oldest son, after being homeschooled, decided he wanted to go to high school and graduated from a small Christian school. He did very well academically, but struggled with messages he received there that he was not good enough morally.

What are the messages we send to our homeschooled kids about their future potential?  Do they over hear us talking with grandma about the fact that they can’t seem to grasp math or just aren’t ‘getting’ reading?  Do they hear us say that we can’t imagine them as college material?  As parents, we know our children well, and can often guess the type of career path that they may choose in life.  But sometimes I see a tendency in homeschoolers to keep such a focused eye on that one path that they do not prepare their children for other choices.  I’ve heard parents claim that they don’t envision their daughter going to college, so they aren’t going to worry about higher level high school – and their daughter is only 12.  Or that they envision their son going to go to a tech school so they are just going to have him take the GED.   

True – this may be the path these kids choose, or is it the other way around – that they get the message that’s what they should do?   Life has a way of changing us and where will this boy and girl find themselves in life in seven, eight or ten years?  The son whose parents told him his best bet was the GED may want to enter the military, only to find out that they take a very limited number of GED applicants.  He also has to live with the stigma that when he hands in a job application people assume he was a high school drop out.  Or the girl may decide, at age 20, that she wants to go to college, and finds that she needs to take many remedial courses for which she can’t receive credit.  Why put limitations on our children’s future, by sending them the message that ‘this’ way is the way for them or purposefully limiting their education?   

Teens look to the adults in their life to help build them up – whether they admit it or not – and to help them gain confidence that they can tackle whatever steps necessary to achieve their goals.  Instead of saying, “You’ll never make it in college,” that counselor could have said, “Okay – you have some work to do and these are the steps you can take to better your score.”  Instead of closing doors for our children by limiting their high school education or sending them the message that they’re not college material, or that they don’t measure up to some high moral standard, or will never join the military – we, as homeschooling parents, or the schools we send them to, should be equipping them with all they will need – academically, emotionally and spiritually to go through any door they choose.

Posted April 16, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Why crafts to go along with reading books just aren’t my style   1 comment


Years ago I was in an educational supply store and saw an activity booklet to go along with the book, Sign of the Beaver, which my son had recently read.  I felt as though I should buy it– I was, after all, in an educational supply store surrounded by materials promising to give children an ‘edge’ in their education.  I certainly did not want my son to miss out on some great opportunity to expand his knowledge– this activity booklet would deepen his understanding of the book – right?  So I bought it and we proceeded to do the activities in it.

While in the process of finishing the booklet – I thought, wait a minute, I never draw maps of the settings from the books I read, build covered wagons out of popsicle sticks or make a huge paper mache map of the country in which it takes place – yet I am able to enjoy a book without feeling that I have to do enrichment activities to deepen my understanding.  A book may spark a desire to read even more information on the subject or prompt me to visit a museum to learn more.   But I can’t say I ever felt a desire to make a paper mache horse after reading The Black Stallion or somehow create a stovepipe hat out of a grocery bag after reading about Abraham Lincoln.  So why is it that I think my children need to all this extra ‘stuff’ to get the most out of a book?  The booklet felt like busy work and my son did it for the sake of doing it.  That was the first and last book activity we did.  Now we just read and enjoy books without adding cutesy, tedious projects to them.  I realize that there are homeschool moms who thrive on these kinds of activities and that is super – but for me, I tend to be more plain, practical and straightforward: read the book, reflect on it, talk about it – done.  No tape, glue or paint necessary, but I’m always up for a museum visit or a movie expanding on the subject. 

I don’t frequent educational supply stores much anymore.  I have learned about what my kids use and what they don’t use, what is productive and what is just fluff (mostly expensive fluff).  It could be said that, I thought of something I hadn’t before, what if education doesn’t come from a store.  What if education means a little bit more.   Gosh, I love Dr. Suess and I’ve never even made a cake in the shape of his hat, or a life size, paper mache cat… what do you think of that?  (I just couldn’t resist)

Posted April 13, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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In response to elaborate on independence   2 comments

This week a friend contacted me after reading my previous post last week on independence.  She said there was something missing from the post and suggested that I also talk about how I helped my kids (so far) to become independent.  So I will do my best to explain a little about what we do.

I’ve never been the kind of mom that cries about the fact that my kids are getting older.  When others are misty eyed because they cannot believe their child has reached a certain milestone or age, I’m ready to move forward with them and not wish for them to still be little.  This attitude is a part of my personality that keeps me from hanging on too tightly.

We do all the normal things families do; chores, money management, babysitting siblings and talking about safety and ‘what if’ situations.  We also experience our share of laziness and naughtiness – I won’t talk about remedying those situations today because there are a lot of great books out there on child rearing by respected authors.   But I think there are a couple of areas that I find aren’t talked about too often in books on child rearing that may stand out as being key to what has helped  my kids to experience a level of independence that is unusual for their age.

I have learned that there is risk involved in teaching them to be independent.  I began sending my children on walking errands when they were about seven years old.  When my oldest was seven, I had him walk to a small store called T-Mart a half a mile away to get an ingredient for dinner.  I gave him a quarter to be able call me from the payphone outside of the store (these were the days before everyone had cell phones) so I knew that he safely arrived there and then I could estimate how long before I could expect him home.   Just last week I gave my current seven year old a receipt that needed to be turned into our church office, so I gave her instructions on what to do with it and had her walk to church which is about four blocks away.  I could have easily given it to one of the older kids to do, but I want to make sure the younger ones also get opportunities to gain independence.

I have the kids ride their bikes or walk around town to the places they need to go such as piano lessons or the library.  They stay home alone when I determine they’re ready, not some agency that sets an across the board age for everyone.  When each child reaches around seven, they learn to start breakfast for the family, by getting eggs with cheese scrambled, muffins made and getting the table set or delegating it to someone.  Of course the person being asked to set the table must oblige, because the one cooking is in charge – even if the one cooking is seven and the one being asked is twelve. 

Is there risk involved in these things?  Of course, but life involves risk.  Sure, someone could point out all the red dots that represent those people charged with a sexual crime that reside near the route my kids will ride their bikes and ask how could I let them ride near there?  My response would be that sexual predators have been around – and in the same numbers- for generations.  The difference is we now have a way to track them and instantly look up their whereabouts at home on our computer – making us believe the world is more dangerous today.  Our parents and grandparents lived near these same kinds of people – but they just didn’t realize it because they didn’t live in an age of instant and abundant information.   This abundance of easily accessed information about crime and criminals adds to of our fear of ‘what ifs’.  With 24 hour news channels available, it is instantly broadcast across the nation when a child is abducted by a stranger – which is extremely rare.  This makes us believe that strangers are lurking around every corner to steal our children and our irrational fear keeps us from allowing them any freedom.

The area I think has been most important for gaining independence is that I make my kids feel needed in our home, not just wanted.  Most parents love their kids and make them feel wanted, but in today’s world the family doesn’t really need their kids as they did in the past.  There was a time where the literal survival of a pioneer or farm family depended on the work of every family member.  Children knew they were needed and that gave them a sense of purpose.   I let my kids know that the work they do is genuinely needed and not just a chore for the sake of a chore.  They have learned to climb ladders, clean gutters, and blacktop the driveway at around age 11.  Patch leaky roofs and chimneys at age 14.  In any work that is needed from housework to outside work, I have had them work with me and have let them know that their contribution is invaluable. 

I think their level of responsibility grows when they know they are being counted on and trusted to come through.  When my 15 year old stays alone at his grandparents’ cabin he knows his life could be in danger if he is careless – such as not leaving a note on the counter indicating on which trail he plans to 4 wheel.  If he got injured on the trails, no one would know where he is.  My parents count on him to be careful with the wood burning stove and outdoor fires – and because they count on him and entrust him with their property – he comes through for them.   Because he has been taught at a young age to handle himself (which involves risk) and that his contributions to the family are vital, he has now reached an age to be completely trusted with these things. 

So for me – I would say the ‘how’ in gaining independence for my kids has been stressing two main areas and the first is accepting that there is risk involved in allowing kids freedom and the second is letting them know they are needed in the family.   The way I see it, there is greater risk in being overprotective and hanging on too tightly – and that is resulting in having older children who are overly dependent on their parents for too long or ones who ‘bust out’ because they want independence but were never taught how to handle it and then they make poor choices.  Our culture sees the result of this much more often than we see kids being abducted by strangers.

Posted April 9, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

The Goal is Independence   1 comment

image from Coaching with Horses


I have always listened carefully to those who are a little farther down the road than I when it comes to parenting and homeschooling.  I have tried to learn from their successes and mistakes.  Many years ago, when my kids were small, a friend who had adult and teen children told me about her experience in raising teens.  She wanted her teens to be independent and be making their own choices about their lives with her being there for guidance if they needed her.  I liked what I saw in her kids – the way they interacted with her on an adult level, they informed her about where they were going – but not asking like a little kid.  They always looked me in the eye and spoke to me like a fellow adult – not with mumbling and downcast eyes like I see so often with teens.  I wanted teens like that, so I followed her advice.

This was very different from my experience as a teen.  I was still very much a little kid – having to ask my parents permission to do anything or go anywhere, I didn’t have a job because my parents believed I had the rest of my life to worry about work (that’s a subject for a future post).  My life at 16 was not much different than when I was 10 – I went to school, my parents took care of everything and I wasn’t being well prepared for life outside of my childhood home.

I began putting my friend’s advice into practice.  My goal was/is to have my kids, by their mid teens, be prepared for life on their own.  They basically decide how to spend their time, how to manage money, how to hold a job and deal with people at that job.  This sounds pretty obvious, but in reality I think many teens aren’t given enough responsibilities and their parents are still running the show – and doing their laundry – when they hit 18.  

Without that push for independence, my boys would have never been able to experience their road trips to South Dakota on their own when they were 16 and 12 and then to Gettysburg and D.C. when they were 18 and 14.  For the last year, my 15 year old often stays alone for days at his grandparents’ cabin enjoying solitude and an environment he loves – the woods.  Last summer, when the boys were 18 and 14, I entrusted our then 3 and 6 year old girls to them for five days while I went on a church trip with my 11 year old (my husband is a truck driver and is gone most of the time).  They took them Geocaching, to the fair to see the animals, and let them stay up late watching Little House on the Prairie DVD’s.  I look at the level of independence my boys have and think I never could have done those things at their age – I was not prepared to. These experiences have enriched their lives and have helped make them capable and strong.

When my oldest was 17, he started college – after getting himself there.  He knew I was available for questions if he needed help filling out applications and financial aid, but I figured he was the one going to college – not me, so he needed to be the one to do the work.  After getting our tax information and asking my husband a few questions about it, he completed everything and got himself to college.

We are a culture of performance.  We want our children to get A’s, do sports, do dance, do theater or whatever.  Those things are great, but in the quest for performance we may forget that they need to learn how to be independent.  It’s wonderful if a kid is the swimming champion in his state while keeping up a 4.0 average – but has so much energy gone into those things that he can’t make a meal (without using the microwave), balance a checkbook, be trusted with the family home and siblings, do home repairs or change a flat tire?  When those life skills are not taught they are not getting a well rounded education so it should not come as a surprise that when they near their late teens  mama is still holding their hand and washing their socks – and believe me – you don’t want to anywhere near socks after they have been worn by a teenager.

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