Each February for the past 3 years I head to St. Dorothy’s Rest in Occidental to gather with a group of open-hearted and conscious women for four days.  Our goal is to set our intentions for the coming year.  It was during this year’s retreat that I stumbled upon the missing piece between my philosophy about education and turning it into something real where the rubber meets the road.  I’ve been in search of that connector between the natural way an individual learns and creating an environment that allows each individual to learn in the way she needs to.  In a one-to-one situation that can be doable, but with a group or even a student body of two – as I was finding out – it’s more than difficult…it felt just this side of impossible.

When you’re on retreat pretty amazing things happen.  So frequently, in fact, that you stop being surprised when something you’ve been searching for, maybe even for years, is suddenly right in front of you.  This is how I reached out and touched the missing piece.  I was stretching on the floor of my cabin tucked into a ring of towering redwoods and while I lay back stretching out a quadricep I turn my head to stare at the bookshelf.  The books are pretty old and are not a conscious collection, but the results of donations over the years.  As I glance down the shelf at the titles I land on one that looks intriguing.  The title is “Freedom to Learn” written by Carl Rogers (the same Carl Rogers that wrote “On Becoming A Person”).  It was published in 1969.  I read the first page.  It starts like this:

“I am writing this book because I want to speak to teachers, professors, educators, administrators of schools, colleges, and educational institutions.  But what is it I want to say to them?  I sit here in my study puzzling over this question.  Such a flood of thoughts and feelings flows over me that I have no idea where to begin.  Then the thought begins to emerge – I want to speak to them about learning.  But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff which is crammed into the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into his seat by ironclad bonds of conformity!  I am talking about LEARNING – the insatiable curiosity which drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his “hot rod”.  I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me.”

Yes!  He had my attention.  This is what has plagued me since those first days as a teacher in a classroom and again, now, with my own two children.  Whether working with my own children or someone elses, I have struggled with the conflict of supporting them in their own discovery process, while at the same time being weighed down with the externally driven need that there’s this body of knowledge that they MUST learn.  How do I bring those two pieces together in a meaningful way? Is it even possible?

It became clear that what was being offered in “Freedom to Learn” was the missing piece.   Rogers is committed to approaching learning from an individual-centered perspective and then moving out from there.  Right off the bat in Part I of the book, Rogers offers three case studies of teachers creating structures for their students that allow the students to take responsibility for their own learning.

And that is exactly what I hoped for with my children.  I modified my goal for the year.  Now it was, “to create an environment where my children love learning and take responsibility for their own learning process”.

It was that moment of epiphany where all I had been figuring out and struggling with falls into neat stacks and suddenly makes perfect sense.  Now I had the tools to create the structure needed for Rue and Gigi to blossom.

Details next post…

Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers, First Edition
This is a picture of THE book. I know, it’s kind of dirty. You should have seen it before I cleaned it up. This is a first edition. Later editions are more heavily edited.

First Day of Homeschooling

The journey of our first year of homeschooling continues…

Armed with the knowledge of the learning styles assessment and the workbook pdf provided with the assessment results, I got busy getting ready for a 5th grade homeschooling year.

The dominant learning personality for one of my daughters (let’s call her Gigi) is Producer.  This means she prefers to work with structured, sequentially ordered components.  She thrives in a routine, prefers to have things planned and scheduled, and needs her quiet time.  According to the workbook, she wants to be acknowledged for being organized, neat, productive, and punctual.  Yep.  That pretty much nailed her.

My other daughter (let’s call her Rue) has the dominant learning personality of Relater/Inspirer.  Her ideal learning environment would have a people-centered point-of-view.  She wants to be social and talk about what she’s learning, so she would prefer to be working in a group.  She wants to be acknowledged for being kind, fair, thoughtful and noticing others.  This is also my dominant learning personality.

To portray how different the Producer and Relater learning personalities are from each other, imagine putting each of my girls at a desk with a worksheet.

Gigi: clean organized desk, sharpened pencil, she’s ready to go. In front of her is a task with a clear, delineated, and attainable goal.  She will complete the worksheet and check it off her list. Ideal set up.

Rue: papers are quickly stuffed haphazardly into desk, she can’t find her pencil, finds it and now needs to go sharpen it.  Finally sitting down she sees the worksheet, looks up, asks a question, tries to engage with anyone near her, tries to refocus on the worksheet and work a problem, puts head down on her desk because this is SOOOOO boring. Nightmare set up.

Of course other learning personalities come into play, but this really does sum up the way this scenario plays out in real life for each of them.

I DON’T want our homeschooling to look like this for Rue and I DO want the structure for Gigi.  I’m keeping both dispositions in mind as I do my planning. I’ve ordered the book What Your 5th Grader Needs to Know, we’ve signed up for a weekly homeschooling science class with a fab teacher/tutor, Meredith Caplan, and I’ve found lots of online resources for every subject, mostly sourced from Diane Flynn Keith’s ClickSchooling email which she sends Monday through Saturday.  I have a whiteboard, games, books, and math manipulatives.  And, because of the educational value, of course, our big splurge for the homeschooling year was to get each of them an iPad (more on this later).  I’ve thought about and made notes about various ways we can approach subject matter and I can’t wait to get started.  I’m back in teacher mode.

Then the night before we begin I remember my goal.  My goal for the year is for my children to have a love of learning again.  Will that happen if I’m deciding what they learn about? I make the decision that we’ll still cover the gamut of “school subjects” but I’ll ask the girls WHAT it is they’d like to learn about.  And I mean it (mostly).

The first day of school my daughters wake up moaning about having to go to school.  Yes, it’s 9am and school is 12 feet from their bedroom and STILL they’re moaning.  Geesh.

We gather on the sofa.  I have a large whiteboard on a stand set up on the coffee table.  I draw a big circle in the middle and write “CURIOUS” inside it.  “What are you curious to know more about?”, I ask.

Brain map on the first day of homeschooling

It’s not an avalanche of subject matter, but a few substantial ideas make their way onto our brain map.  We decide to start by exploring Ancient Greek Mythology.  We head to the library for books.  While we’re there, without any prompting from me, each of my girls starts taking notes from Greek Mythology books they’ve found.  Gigi says she’s pulling out vocabulary words and Rue is writing down important facts.  We come home and spend the rest of the morning working on fractions (otherwise known as baking).  When we clean up, both girls find a cozy spot to read.

Not too shabby for a first day of school.  I fall asleep that night with a smile on my face.  So far so good.  Well, we’ll see about that.

How Now, Homeschool Frau?

We decided to homeschool. We had also decided to file a Private School Affidavit (PSA), which lets the state know that we are functioning as our own private school with no attachment to a district.  Giddy and slightly bewildered the question became, “Now what?”.

The advice I read and heard most often was, “Don’t buy any curriculum sets, you’ll just be throwing away your money at this point and you’ll likely never use them.” Easy. They cost a fortune and I was still gathering information on how we might approach the next school year.

The second most common advice was “If your child has been in school, give her time to deschool.” The rule of thumb most often provided was a month of letting your child do her own thing for each year she was in school. If you’re not familiar with the term (and I’m familiar with it and it’s still a bit illusive), deschooling is about taking time to let go of the school-based structure of how learning happens. By letting go of these preconceived notions we begin to see learning from a perspective that doesn’t necessarily include an assortment of textbooks, worksheets, project centers, tests, allotted time slots, and other deeply-rooted beliefs in the tools of education. This just glosses over the shiny freedom of deschooling. Believe me, it’s much more extensive than that. There are entire books written about it, like Tammy Takahashi’s Deschooling Gently, in case you’re interested enough to pick up a book about it. To say the least, I didn’t tell my girls about deschooling. I was totally freaked they’d love the idea and never learn another damn thing in their lives.

“Now what?” still loomed large. In August we went to HSC’s homeschool conference. Wow. If you are considering homeschooling, do this. The event is designed for the entire family: workshops for kids, teens, and adults, plus non-stop group activities. It was all fun and games and interesting until the end of the very last day when I found my golden nugget. The workshop was presented by Marilyn Mosley Gordanier of Laurel Springs School and was my first introduction to learning styles by breaking them up by learning personalities. Marilyn described each one (of which there are five and we are each varying degrees of these five personalities) and when she described my dominant one I had that knot-in-the-throat, you are speaking the truth moment. I actually got teary. The residual negative feelings of all those moments of my education where I felt “less than” or misunderstood drifted away as the reality that I am who I am and my teachers were who they were and it was just a miss of expectations and internal motivators that caused the chasm. I’m well-schooled in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (which, BTW, is incorporated into the assessment), but the information I learned in that itty-bitty 45-minute workshop gave me a whole new perspective on learning dispositions, approaches, and motivators.

The concepts of the learning personalities and the assessment were created by the women of Learning Success Institute, however, Marilyn offered that if the people in her workshop sent her an email, she would provide the tools to give your children the learning assessment for free. That email may have been the first thing I did after I walked out of the workshop. And I went ahead and purchased three more assessments for my husband, my wasband, and myself. Your learning personality makes a huge difference in how you approach teaching, we needed to be clear on where we all stood.

Here is a graph that shows the degree of each of the personalities for my daughters (green and red), my husband (blue) and myself (orange). The sections are in this order: Performer, Producer, Inventor, Relator/Inspirer, Thinker/Creator. You may or may not be able to deduct that my two daughter are almost exactly opposite in dominant personality.

There are 5 sections with 4 colors in each. The sections are the personalities, the colors represent each of my daughters, my husband, and myself and how we “rate” in each personality.


I came home pretty enthusiastic, with access to a tool that could shed a lot of light on how to reach my number one goal for the school year: to create an environment where my children were once again in love with learning.