Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

Using Mind Maps to Get Your Head Straight

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Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do? Do you homeschool your kids? Work from home? Volunteer? Take care of the house? Grow your own food? Run bazillions of errands? Workout? Have a social life?

Me too. My husband knows better than to come home and say, “So what did you do all day?” It’s an innocent enough question, but the part that gets me is that little word “all” in front of “day.” It implies a long empty span of glorious time, when in fact my day seems to last all of 90 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep again. The better question is, “So what did you do today?” Most of the time, I barely know what to say because I’ve done so many little things that keep everything rolling forward. It’s like pushing 14 marbles up a hill all at the same time. I’ve read the time management books and the getting organized books and I’ve tweaked my routine hundreds of times over the years, but it all comes down to priorities. I would have more time if I dropped some things, but I’m holding out for some reason. And I’m doing OK. Do you want to know what helps?

When my marbles are scattered all over the place, I like to gather them up by journaling and/or a mindmap. A mindmap is a nifty way to jostle your brain by linking words or ideas together into more or less a web of connections. Here’s one I made recently to pull together all the marbles I’m pushing up the hill right now:

The idea is to start in the middle with one central idea and then start making branches. I’ve used this for goal-setting, brainstorming, outlining, and recording things that I want to remember. For related items, a simple list works fine, but when you’re dealing with lots of unrelated items, creating a mindmap is oddly liberating. For more ideas, just search for images of mindmaps on the Internet. You’ll see that some people like to draw pictures, shapes, and fancy arrows from one thing to the next. Every mindmap seems to be as unique as the person who made it, like a signature or a self-portrait.

Give it a try. You may not add any more minutes to your day, but it will help your head feel better.

Are Your Kids Ready for the 3rd Industrial Revolution?

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There have been a lot of predictions and discussions about a “3rd Industrial Revolution” in the past, but the one I’m referring to is promoted by a man named Jeremy Rifkin who was interviewed Oct. 3rd on NPR. He maintains that our current carbon based energy economy is unsustainable, because of both climate change and resource scarcity (we will eventually run out of the stuff). Everyone talks about the need for renewable energy, but Rifkin is promoting a shift away from centralized power and energy distribution to a more lateral system where we all create our own energy in homes and businesses, which are then all tied together by an “Energy Internet.” He’s trying to convince governments and industry to let go of the old business models in favor of a new system where we are all nodes in a giant web of information and energy transmission.

It’s an interesting idea, and I want to read his book to learn more. But it reinforces for me the urgency of our situation. Regardless of how well society transitions out of our old carbon-based energy dependence, we have to be ready for changes. Our kids will have to be ready for changes. Fortunately, they will probably be better at it than we will.

Based on my research so far, here’s some of the changes that I am predicting:

  • oil (and fuel) prices will continue to rise indefinitely, meaning prices for everything else will rise
  • local organic food production will expand due to high shipping and conventional farming costs
  • people will find ways to conserve more energy/drive less as costs go up
  • power companies will continue shifting to renewables but it won’t be enough to meet demand, so supply will have to be rationed
  • to control rising costs, any job that can be outsourced to cheaper labor pools will be outsourced
  • the only jobs left in the USA will be jobs that must be done in person here (construction, medical/personal care, hospitality, agriculture, storefront retail, etc.), and those that require creativity, research and innovation

There’s a bunch of other things that I could add to this list, but that will be enough to make my point for now. There are many people who present a very gloomy view of this future, and it’s true that a lot could go bad if we don’t adapt quickly. I don’t want to wait for things to go bad though. I want to adapt now, and help my community get ready too.

Part of that involves educating our kids, or rather, letting them educate us. Innovation isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up. Great businesses know this. They have recognized that they need to give employees the freedom to come up with a better way to do things. While researching for my book, I found that so many of our greatest innovators did so in spite of formal education, not because of it. Now, I don’t mean to malign all formal education, just standardized formal education. We have to give kids the wiggle room to design an education that fits their personal interests and ambitions, because that’s where their genius is. And we’re going to need all the geniuses we can get in this new world.

We don’t need pliability, blind obedience, subservience, or disengagement. Here’s what we do need:

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Flexibility
  • Personal responsibility
  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • Experimentation

How do we get these things? Self-directed education is a great first step (read my book!), but that doesn’t mean learning in isolation. Kids really do need opportunities to find mentors, work in groups, solve real-world problems, and be involved in their community. They need access to other people and information via the Internet. Technology will be a big player in how all of this turns out, so there’s no use sheltering older kids from computers. There’s even evidence that multi-player video games give kids a chance to solve complex puzzles/problems and exercise creative thinking.

Adaptation on a massive scale is going to take all of us working and learning new ways to cooperate and live within our means. It will probably take a generous dose of humor and goodwill as well. We can start with ourselves, unlearning what we used to know, and let loose our kids to learn what we will need to know.

Capture Your Homeschooling in Photos

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We all tend to take photos of our kids at holidays or on vacation. Scrapbookers and social media devotees take many more. But how many of you are taking pictures of your homeschooling routine? It’s OK to take a few traditional shots of the kids sitting at the table with a textbook, but that gets boring fast. Homeschooling is not school-at-home; it’s a way of life. Taking pictures is s-o-o-o important. Even if you don’t use any curriculum per se, you are busy doing things all day. And you won’t remember what you did. Trust me on this.

YOU WON’T REMEMBER. But journaling and taking pictures will help bring it all back. Looking back at the end of the year, you will be amazed at what you did. Put it all together in a scrapbook and you will have a visual memory for a lifetime.

Here are ten photos you should take for each of your kids:

  • Favorite reading spots.  Do your kids like to read outside on a blanket? In a tree? In front of the woodstove? Catch them in their favorite spot (preferably when they are not looking).
  • Bedroom in all its messy glory. Children’s bedrooms change over time in very personal ways that reflect passing interests. What toys are scattered about? What posters are on the walls? Take new pictures every year.
  • Picture of bookshelf.  For the same reasons that bedrooms express personality, a child’s bookshelf or shelves will show what he or she is interested in. Plus, taking pictures of those books, knick-knacks, photos, and other treasures is a great way to hang on to those things without actually hanging on to them.
  • Child’s portrait next to a stack of curriculum or library books – not just any books of course, but books he or she is actually using. This can be very cute if you try different poses and angles. Get creative!
  • Something your child does NOT like. In this case, it would be math.
  • Let your child take some pictures of “homeschooling” to see what he or she comes up with.
  • Science experiments or projects – these can be difficult to explain in words, but pictures with captions look great in a learning log.
  • Art projects – take pictures of the process as well as the end product. Zoom in your child’s expression when they are in the “zone” and don’t know you are looking at them.
  • Other people – coaches, music teachers, homeschool group, friends, neighbors, church members. Our worlds are full of wonderful people that we don’t think to take pictures of.
  • Have someone take pictures of you reading to them, playing games, exploring, crafting, etc. Don’t be shy. Someday you will want to remember these times, and your kids will want to see you in the picture too (and laugh at your goofy clothes and hairstyle).
  • Ten Examples of Personal Self-Education Plans

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    Our job as homeschoolers isn’t just to help our kids learn – we have to set the example too. Kids who grow up in households that value learning are much more likely to value learning themselves, and for a lifetime. We have to teach them that there is no such thing as graduation. We humans are way too smart for our own good, so we need constant reminders of how much we don’t know to stay in balance. Plus, how are we going to solve the world’s problems without pushing ourselves to get better?

    There is something to be said for free-range learning, picking and choosing the next book, website, documentary or course as it catches our interest, leading to serendipitous discoveries. But serious self-education calls for a bit of serious planning. Instead of picking books willy-nilly from the library, make your own learning plan, just like you would for your kids.

    This is something I’m working on for myself. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be using my other blog to write about what I learn as I pursue my own studies. But I don’t have it all figured out yet. I would love to add a forum to this site where readers can post their own or their kids’ learning plans. There are lots of websites with lists of resources for self-education. Try lifehacker and selfmadescholar for starters. But I had a harder time finding examples of personal learning plans.

    To give you an idea of the diversity, here’s a list of 10 personal learning plans I found:

    1. Well Trained Mind Forum
    2. Gary Schroeder’s plan for a self-made MBA
    3. A plan to teach yourself film directing
    4. A homeschooling mom’s plan
    5. Another homeschooling mom’s plan
    6. A book lover’s plan
    7. A science lover’s plan
    8. Autodidact 101
    9. Teach yourself graphic design plan 
    10. Self-University

    I’m actually surprised I didn’t find more. There were lots of helpful lists of suggested resources, and many book lover sites where people posted the books they want to read, but not many individual plans, as in “Here’s what I’m going to learn . . .” Maybe I didn’t look in the right places.

    So, if you have a learning plan, send me an email at and I’ll post it here. As soon as I have mine sketched out, I’ll post it here too.

    Homeschool Plans for 12th Grade

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    The only child I’m homeschooling at the moment is my second son Aengus. He is in 12th grade this year and getting together his college applications so we have a lot to do.

    Here’s what we have planned so far:

    He’s taking Spanish II and Physics for dual credit this semester at our local community college (not sure yet what he will be taking next semester)

    AP Calculus at home – probably using Thinkwell’s online course but we’re still reviewing

    English/Language Arts at home  – Aengus will select a list of “living books” to read, plus “Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose; and he’ll go through assignments from Julie Bogart’s “Help for High School” Brave Writer program.

    Computer Science at home – this takes up the most time because Aengus has been feverishly programming a new homeschooling recordkeeping/planning application for Mac (for more info see: He has been programming with Windows languages for years but only started learning Mac about a year ago.

    We still need to work out something for social studies/history so he’ll have enough appropriate credits for college applications. Aengus isn’t really interested in another general American or World History course. He’s more interested in specific subjects that may or may not relate to one another, so we’ll have to be creative. Here’s what we are thinking:

    • Fall Semester: Understanding events in the Middle East (this would take several lifetimes to learn, so we can only cover a tiny bit):  “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain, “Islam – A Short History” by Karen Armstrong, “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East” by Sandy Tolan; and maybe “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” by Daniel Yergan.
    • Spring Semester: History mixed with science: “The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye view of World History” by Robert McNeill and William McNeill and “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson

    On the side, Aengus and his brother are learning how to do online video tutorials. They want to make a series of how to build/reproduce ancient architecture in the Minecraft game. This will involve a certain amount of research into the landscape and architecture of ancient Greece, Babylon, Egypt and other places. With any luck, they’ll become rich and famous YouTube stars!

    Aengus also takes regular drumming lessons and is looking for a band to play with (in all his free time!).

    If anyone has suggestions for our history/social studies books – I’d love to hear them!