Children

On Empowering My Children.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image via Co.

I recently read a stirring blogpost by a mother who homeschools her four children. I find the subculture of homeschooling fascinating, principally because I cannot even remotely fathom doing it myself. I’m being flip here*, but for one thing, I am already getting sweaty palms waiting for math homework advice from my daughter. What is a quadratic equation? PEMDAS? I don’t have faith in my own foundations outside of the language arts. I’d need to re-learn everything. Case in point: I am transferring mini to a Catholic school this upcoming fall because I feel I am not doing justice to my goal of raising her in the faith. I take her to Church, try to bring God casually into everyday conversations, hope that I explain and live out its core tenets, but — ! I don’t even know that she could recount the basic Bible stories. Anyhow, these misgivings are ancillary to my point in mentioning this blogpost, which is that I was tremendously moved by a section in which the author, Rachel Ringenberg, writes about a fourteen year old boy, Cole Summers, who recently died in a kayaking accident. The boy was homeschooled because his parents were homebound due to disabilities. The boy wrote about his educational experience as follows: “I started unschooling specifically because I started watching videos of Warren Buffett on YouTube at my father’s suggestion after I asked him, “Daddy, how do people get rich?” I was fascinated by Mr. Buffett’s teachings about how he uses the process of elimination in his decision-making. I guess I was an odd six-year-old. At that time, my parents were trying to copy public school curricula. I asked if I could make studying people like Buffett my school instead, and they said yes. That’s how I spent my first grade year. I learned about business, but I focused on decision-making processes.”

Ringenberg responds to this by saying: “I couldn’t help but contrast Summers’ obvious joy in his work with the message many young people are given today: not yet/you don’t know how/there’s nothing left to discover/wait until you’re older.”

Wow. The insight has followed me like a shadow since. Mr. Magpie and I have always been on the same page, aspirationally, about empowerment when it comes to our children. I remember many early parenthood conversations about this, and how our intentions even shaded things like which color scooter to buy mini, and balancing the purchase of STEM/building toys with dolls, and nurturing the strange interests small children seem to cultivate. Mr. Magpie in particular is mindful about explaining what he is doing in accurate (not dumbed down) language when fixing something, cooking, gardening. He often engages the children in these tasks and his tone is matter-of-fact, as though he’s talking to a peer. We openly and regularly discuss business in front of the children, specifically our inquiries into why companies are doing what they are: “they must be trying to acquire a new customer segment by doing y” or “why would they be selling these? that seems ancillary to the business.” We welcome their participation in these conversations, however meandering they are. Reading Ringenberg inspires me to take the intention further. For starters, I know I will now feel a little “PING!” go off whenever I reach for language like “wait until you’re older” or “you don’t know how yet.” But the most practical imperative I am taking away from this thought exercise is how to continue to cultivate mini’s interest in the visual arts. She is a prolific and talented artist — always scribbling, painting, drawing comics, tracing shapes, doodling, writing notes — and is nearly always sitting at her little art table in her room when I pause in the doorframe. She will often tell people she is an artist, or good at art. She says this without the faintest hint of squeamishness or self-aggrandizement — she recognizes her talent and tells it like it is. Clearly, I have impressed upon her the possibility, discipline, and joy of pursuing creative work, but I could do more to scaffold this interest: classes? new media? trips to museums? books on art? all of the above?

With micro, I could do a better job observing his interests in the first place — these poor second children! He has a mind for puzzles, sets with configurable parts, and sequencing in general. I will need to do some research into activities and programs that scaffold these budding talents.

More to come. I’m writing this very much on the fly in the hopes of cementing the intention here and revisiting over time. In the meantime, I plan to reach for responses like:

try it

you can do it

there’s so much to discover

Post-Scripts.

*I know homeschooling, for many, is a philosophical undertaking, and there are many inputs in the decision that stretch far beyond my surface-level discomfort with my foundations in math.

+On maker’s time vs manager’s time.

+I must sometimes remind myself to “write in soft pencil.”

+What to do when you’re feeling run aground?

+My daughter cheers me on.

Shopping Break.

+I have been hearing such good things about this perfume — I’m intrigued enough to buy a rollerball of it! Usually I alternate between Narcisco Rodriguez’s “Her” and Diptyque’s “Fleur de Peau.”

+Love these affordable wicker x-benches.

+Have no idea how, but this cute striped sweater is under $10.

+Fab white top for fall.

+On the theme of child empowerment, I love the book “Julia, Child.” It encourages children to see that they have a unique, valid, and valuable perspective that rivals and occasionally supersedes those of adults.

+Love this gingham dress.

+Also love this dressier white blouse!

+This gold heart pendant is engraveable — so chic as a layering piece.

+If you’re not a color manicure gal, people love this sheer pink nail conditioning treatment from Kur.

+This gorgeous Ulla dress is 70% off – perfect for a bride to be!

+These seamless bralettes look so comfortable.

+Chic cashmere striped sweater for just over $100.

+Cute, affordable shelves for a nursery.

+Newborn mamas: people are raving about these inexpensive, solid colored burp cloths as THE most absorbent, soft option.

+This linen jumpsuit situation is wildly chic.

+Love these pretty jewelry rounds — great gift!

+These personalized blankets are adorable.

+This $35 dollar bag!!!

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16 thoughts on “On Empowering My Children.

  1. I love this post. I, too, have been a fan of Rachael’s writing and I love your thoughts here on empowering learning. I was a (virtual) middle-school tutor during the pandemic and now that my own stepkids are in middle school, I find myself helping them with homework a lot (esp. math, which always blows my mind because math wasn’t my strongest subject — although to me, that just meant I had to work for As in honors classes instead of obtain them easily … !) Anyway, I have to spend a lot of time re-framing my stepdaughter’s concept of her own ability and aptitude and encouraging a growth mindset. Sometimes I think, could I have done more to reinforce this from an earlier age?!

    I’m getting off track here … haha! … but wanted you to know that your post is leaving me with inspiration. I also was so pleased to see you call out Julia, Child as that’s one of the gifts I’m giving my oldest niece for her 4th birthday! She loves to cook, and I think the story will really resonate with her.

    xx

    1. Such a good book! I know she’ll love it.

      I love the goal of “encouraging a growth mindset.” Yes!! I find myself highly aware of how I engage with my daughter after something has not gone her way — whether she’s lost a game, or a race, or not gotten her way, or what have you. I find those moments high stakes in the sense that I really want to drive home the idea of “you lose, you learn” and “what could we do differently next time?” and “good first try” and all that.

      xx

  2. I enjoyed reading your reflection on my newsletter, thank you! It’s amazing how an idea can bridge time and inspire–with just the smallest window into how someone like Cole thinks (I can only imagine what it would have been like to meet him!) shifted my perspective. One of the underlying questions I am circling: the why of why do I discourage them, when I do? Is it fear? If it is fear–is it fear of failure? Am I afraid of their failure? If so, why? Failure is the path to innovation! I know this…so why did I discourage them (and so on…) : ) We’re learning. : ) Thanks for linking and that nail polish looks like the perfect fit for someone like me.

    1. Thank you so much for chiming in, Rachael! I am starstruck — I love (!) your writing. You have such a great way with words.

      I am clearly learning, too – appreciate the questions you’ve posited here, too. A lot of food for thought!

      xx

  3. I appreciate this post! Have you heard of Julie Bogart’s book, The Brave Learner? I listened to the tiniest bit of it last summer, but I was mothering two under two and it really was not the right time to think about homeschooling (ha!) but, strangely, I think of one anecdote I listened to all the time. It was about letting her son take the lead on an interest in astrology and really leaning into it, even though it was very inconvenient for her as a mother, but then being blown away herself one night at the telescope, feeling this burst of magic. I found it so empowering to think I could enrich my sons’ lives by cultivating these experiences.

    I also really like following 1000 hours outside on IG (I think she introduced me to Julie) – she leans into the importance of unstructured free play in childhood which gels with what I know about un-schooling.

    Would be curious to hear more about Mini’s school shift and how it goes! I’m kind of debating between Waldorf vs. Montessori, but also contending with waitlists so who knows if I’ll really have the choice.

    1. Love the astrology anecdote. I have been surprised a number of times by how much I learn and appreciate when exploring new things with the kids. It sounds so trite, but it’s true. I totally relate to the “burst of magic” phrase. So special.

      Sending good vibes and clarity of thought your way as you sift through the options on schooling. I was a little overwhelmed by those early navigations in education — it’s a lot to contemplate (educational approach, location, exmissions, what you know about the community, price, the values of the school, etc) and I easily tied myself into knots worrying I was setting mini/micro off on the wrong “track.” Just a note to say I have been in the same boat before! You aren’t alone!

      Will definitely report back on the shift! We are huge Montessori fans, philosophically, but this move feels right to me.

      xx

  4. I think I (might?) see this slightly differently from you, or maybe not given your note about moving schools for Mini. In my opinion cultivating children’s interests is important and obviously a good thing to do, and I am a huge believer in not dumbing things down for children; they’ll tell you if they need more explanation.

    However! Children are still discovering the world and if we only lean into what they love, enjoy, or are good at (which are often the same thing), they may never find other talents or things that bring joy, and their belief in their abilities when faced with having to learn something they don’t enjoy, are not interested in, or are not naturally gifted at will never be developed. They also risk being less than well-developed and able to interact with all sorts of people. Same goes for adults of course.

    I might be sensitive about this due to the devaluing and denigrating of expertise I see happening both in the States and in New Zealand, where I live, but I also feel that curricula are designed by experts and taught by experts and exist for a reason. It’s wonderful when parents or teachers see a spark in a child and nurture that. It irritates me when the action seems to suggest that teachers or educators don’t know what they’re doing. For example, I’m academic, hold more qualifications than my child’s teacher, and am very good at what I do…yet I would not be as capable at teaching my daughter as her teacher is because I’m not trained or an expert in that field. We are doing a good thing when we notice and cultivate our children’s interests. We are doing them a disservice when we individualize them so much we suggest that only they, or we, know best and that a general curriculum (designed by experts!) has little relevance to them.

    1. Definitely agree – this is not an either/or situation in my mind. Exposure to new experiences, sports, disciplines, etc are so important. I definitely feel that I was told I was amazing at writing and at the same time mildly discouraged from mathematics and sciences in various ways. The cultivation of my interests in writing has proven powerful but occasionally I wonder if I foreclosed on other opportunities/interests/etc because of it? Anyway – completely agree. I think this area of parenting is, for me, about balance: empowering my kids to explore what interests them while exposing them to new things, opportunities, etc. A lot is also learned when we try things and fail at them, or dislike them, or determine something is “not for us” — those experiences cultivate discernment. So, at best, you try something new that you love and cling to, and at worst, you learn what’s not for you and why that might be. And 100% agree that the experts are the experts for a reason!

      xx

  5. Greatly enjoy these musings on parenthood! It makes me pause and think why didn’t I encourage more of xyz. I, too, wish that I’d been more adventurous as a parent. Raising children is the hardest job in the world.

    The Kur nail concealer is creme de la creme! It is so easy to apply and looks like a professional manicure. It lasts me 2 weeks with no chipping. I have the milky color which is a very soft pink with white undertones. Love, love it!

    1. Oo thanks for the Kur upvote! I’m intrigued.

      I agree – I would like to be more adventurous as a parent!

      xx

  6. Seriously enjoyed this post.
    Your awareness is remarkable. I remember only being aware of where they were, what they were doing and what meal was next.
    The fortitude for any parent to enable their first grader to study business/successful business people is mind blowing! Who does that….but wait…why not do that? I loved the acceptance of helping your child grasp ideas and/or concepts at ANY age! Wow! Wish I had been as adventurous. Granted, mine did well in the “normal” student curriculum, but what if they had focused their talents in first grade. Interesting.

    1. I know – so inspiring! I was completely stirred by this post and Rachael’s commentary. Really want to try for more. Thanks for writing in, Cynthia!

      xx

  7. I also wear Narcicso (but not Her, the reg. one) …its been my signature scent for many years. After hearing so much about Phlur Missing Person I asked for a spritz and its subtle…might need to try again and put on a bit more. Would be fun sometime to have readers submit their signature scent.

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