When my oldest was in public kindergarten, he used to smuggle mass quantities of paper clips to school.
Yes, paper clips.
He collected paper clips of all colors, shapes, and sizes. And he loved nothing more than to fidget with them. He’d connect them and make shapes and numbers and words. He would give these wiry characters unique personalities and create stories about their wild adventures.
And being the impulsive guy that he is, he’d sometimes fling a couple across the room. Okay, maybe it was more than a couple.
I’d suck them up with the vacuum. I’d find them in the washing machine. They were everywhere.
On Paper Clips, Paper Airplanes, and Play
That period of time is now referred to as the paper clip phase.
We rolled with it! There have been countless other phases over the years:
- the Humboldt squid phase
- the rock collection phase
- the map phase
- the cuttlefish phase
- the cuneiform phase
- the business card phase
- the ring-tailed lemur phase
- the origami phase
- the potions phase
I could go on and on, but I want to get back to kindergarten.
Public kindergarten most decidedly did not roll with the paper clip phase. The paper clips became enemy number one. They were a distraction to learning and therefore unwelcome.
We had to have a paper clip intervention.
“Buddy, you can’t bring your paper clips to school. You can leave them here and they will be safe. When you get home, you can play with them while you eat lunch, okay? Deal?”
He would nod his head and promise to leave them at home, but he was undeterred. He’s always loved a challenge! The sneaky little fella would leave a large portion of his collection at home, but he’d smuggle the rest into the classroom.
“Mrs. Curley, he had his paper clip collection with him again today.”
We had yet another paper clip intervention followed by another smuggling incident. We had TSA-level clearance before heading to kindergarten drop-off.
Yes, I had to frisk my kindergartener.
For paper clips.
The paper clips were not the only problem, of course. There were others.
Every afternoon, in the pickup line, I’d get a “white slip” with that day’s infractions. The white slip listed behaviors such as:
- speaking out of turn
- difficulty staying seated
- forgetting to raise his hand
- running when he was supposed to be walking
- tipping in his chair
- doodling on a neighbor’s paper
- singing while completing seatwork
- reading books when he was not supposed to be reading
That last one? To this day, if you want my oldest to calm down, to be still, to be quiet, you give him a book. The fidgeting, the singing, the tipping in the chair- all of those things cease when he’s reading.
I told the school that if he was driving them bonkers, they should give him a book. He’d calm down and ditch those paper clips in record time!
Alas, the school wanted him to read certain books with specific Lexile levels. And he didn’t enjoy the books they threw at him. He’d devour them in seconds and ask for something else.
When I gave them examples of books he was reading at home, in his free time, they’d smile at me and say, “Oh, Mrs. Curley. He might be reading those books, but he certainly isn’t comprehending them.”
They told me he was impulsive.
Do you know what they rarely told me? They rarely shared positive stories with me. Our conversations never mentioned his many strengths, only his weaknesses.
Every day at pick-up, my little guy became increasingly downtrodden. He’d throw himself into the backseat, shoulders slumped, eyes brimming with tears.
On more than one occasion he told me that his kindergarten teacher didn’t like him. Can you imagine being in kindergarten and feeling like your teacher disliked you? Makes me well up just thinking about it.
Now, this is where I have to stop for a moment and share that, before I was an unexpected homeschool mom, blogger, and podcaster, I was a school psychologist.
There is a principle that is well-known in education and child development circles. It’s called the 5 to 1 ratio.
The basic premise is that, to have a successful and safe relationship, you need to have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction.
If a student is struggling, for any reason, you want to make a connection and build a relationship. You want to “catch” them being good and reinforce that desired “good” behavior.
Here’s the thing…
No 5-year-old should feel his teacher doesn’t like him. No one should be misunderstood at age five.
And that’s how we ended up suddenly, unexpectedly, homeschooling.
There’s more to the story, of course, but the long and the short of it is that traditional public kindergarten was not a good fit for our son.
It served only to illuminate his weaknesses while masking his strengths and making him feel awful in the process.
As a product of public education and a former public school employee, homeschooling was never on my radar.
But sometimes life throws a curveball.
Our curveball loved paper clips.
At first, like many new homeschool parents, I attempted to recreate a version of public school at home. It was familiar and it helped me feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do.
But I bet you know how that story ends, don’t you?
It backfired. Of course it backfired! We pulled him out of school because it wasn’t working for him. Why would I attempt to recreate it at home?
But then I paused and reminded myself that school and education are two completely different things. One child can get a fantastic education in school, while another may thrive outside of that one-size-fits-all box.
You don’t need a school to get an education.
Sometimes, and especially in those early years, our brain tries to trick us into thinking that education must look like school. I call this the public school mindset and it can be incredibly challenging to shake. It’s especially tricky to shake if you are the product of public education or if you worked in a public school system.
We found our groove when I started to listen to my gut and rely on my background in education and child development. I told that public school mindset to shush.
- I focused on connection rather than correction, completion, or perfection.
- I focused on the heart before I worried about the head.
- I read to my children every single day because I know that reading aloud is the most important part of your homeschool day.
- Knowing that interest-based learning is hugely important, it became my goal whenever possible. I paid attention to their interests and talked about these interests. I found books, games, experiences, and activities that related to those interests.
- We spent time outdoors, immersed in nature, every single day regardless of the weather. Why? Because I know the science shows that exposure to nature is good for our physical and mental health.
- And I left ample white space in our day for free play and games. Why? Because play-based learning is incredibly powerful. There is research to show that play benefits the whole child. It has a positive impact on a child’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development. Moreover, research has demonstrated that play is good for all of us, not just our kiddos. (Not to mention the fact that I’m a lifelong gamer!)
When I listened to my gut, trusted the process, and told that public school mindset to hit the road, our homeschool routine looked nothing like the public school of my past.
And, really, homeschooling shouldn’t look anything like public school, especially if it didn’t work for a kiddo.
I now refer to homeschooling as the best curveball ever. We are about to finish our seventh year of homeschooling.
My paper clip smuggler will turn thirteen in a matter of days. (Where is the pause button?!)
He’s not interested in paper clips these days. We’ve had innumerable phases since then. Currently, he’s deep in a Dungeons and Dragons phase and he’s taken his little brother along for the ride!
Do you know what? My children are older now. Our homeschool has had its ups and downs, but we still rely on the same things each day:
- interest-based learning
- play-based learning and gameschooling
My focus has always been on connection rather than completion or correction or perfection. Those bullets above? Those are the best ways I’ve found to connect with my children.
I love this quote from Mr. Rogers:
There’s a world of difference between insisting on someone’s doing something and establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.
Connected kids are happier and more cooperative. By focusing on connection first, you’ll discover that everything else gets easier.
It’s seven years later and my children are thriving. That doesn’t mean our homeschool is perfect. It most definitely is not. We have rough days and weeks and seasons.
Plus, you know, 2020.
But I wouldn’t change this journey for a million bucks. It has been the best curveball ever. I am honored to spend my days with these three interesting little humans. Honestly? They are my wisest teachers.
Maybe you can relate to our story…
Sure it might look a bit different. Maybe your daughter flew paper airplanes rather than smuggling paper clips… but I bet she was misunderstood. I bet traditional methods didn’t work for her. And you knew you could do it better, even if you didn’t quite know what you were doing.
Even if you were scared out of your pants. (Ask me how I know!)
Traditional homeschool methods don’t always work for outside-of-the-box kids. You can have a connected, playful homeschool filled with curiosity and learning… and it doesn’t need to look anything like the public school of your past.
In fact, it shouldn’t. You have the power to do it differently… and to have fun in the process. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be all rainbows and sunshine, but I do believe we could all be having a heckuva lot more fun.
Especially this year!
We’ve all just muddled through a historic year and we’re still in the throes. It’s more important than ever to connect, to laugh, to make memories, to be curious, and to learn together.
If you’re feeling stuck after this challenging year, if your kids are resistant to tasks and complaining of boredom, I want you to know that there is a better way.
You can add more play-based learning and gameschooling to your homeschool routine and make it count for those year-end assessments.
As a lifelong gamer, educator, and homeschool mom, I have witnessed the transformative power of play over and over again.
- as a child
- as a babysitter
- as a tutor
- as a nanny
- as an assistant teacher
- as a school psychologist
- and now, as a homeschool mom
Science has demonstrated that play benefits the whole child, and that play is good for all of us, not just our kiddos. Play has the power to help us connect, make memories, and fuel learning.
Play has the power to transform your homeschool and family life.
- Children and teens learn through play.
- Play helps us to connect.
- It reduces stress.
- Play is the best way to practice social skills.
- Play can help us to preserve the joy of learning for learning’s sake.
So, if you’re feeling stuck…
If you feel like something is missing from your homeschool…
If you feel like your homeschool routine needs a restart…
I want you to consider adding more play to your day. It is – please pardon the pun- a game-changer.
You’ve worked too hard, worried too many nights, and invested too much to waste another minute feeling stuck, bored, or frustrated.
I want you to look back on these years with a smile. I want your children to look back on their homeschool years with a smile.
I would love to support your family on your play-based learning journey.
Announcing: Never Board Learning
Never Board Learning is a private online community for creative parents and educators who embrace play-based learning and gameschooling.
This community was inspired by you.
I received so many emails and DMs about the 7-Day Gameschool Kickstart and how it helped your family to play more and worry less. So many people told me that they didn’t want the 7 days to end.
And it got my wheels turning. How we could keep it going? What if there was a space where we could connect daily and support each other on our play-based learning journey?
The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about it! And then I reached out to the My Little Poppies community for ideas and those ideas came pouring in!
(I just love you guys!)
I wrote every single idea in a 5-subject Never Board Learning notebook. You can read more about that in this post:
View this post on Instagram
I know I can’t get to all of your ideas in the first month, but I have BIG plans.
I want to support your family on your play-based learning and gameschooling journey.
I love to create communities. It’s why I started My Little Poppies, my FB communities, the 7-Day Gameschool Kickstart, and the 10-Day “Coffee and Books” Read-Aloud Challenge. It’s also why Kara and I started podcasting.
Connection is GOLD. Especially right now, in these post-2020 times.
I hope that you will form lifelong connections and friendships in the Never Board Learning community.
Never Board Learning members will have access to:
- a private community forum (and it’s not a Facebook forum)
- guest speakers
- Q and As with yours truly
- day in the life family spotlights
- a growing resource library filled with printable documentation resources, challenges, and print-and-play activities and games
I’ve been working hard behind the scenes over here, creating Never Board Learning. I cannot wait to share it with you! Doors open on April 1st.
If you’re interested in joining the Never Board Learning community, hop on the waitlist!
Those on the waitlist will be the first to know when doors open and they will be offered a founding member rate... and they’ll never pay more than the founding member rate for as long as they remain a member.
And founding members will be able to help shape the Never Board Learning member experience from day #1!
Play is powerful. I want you to witness the power of play in your homeschool. I want to help you grow in confidence and connection. I want you to look back on these years with a smile… and I want your kids to look back on these years with a smile, too!
This is your community. It’s a space for us to discuss play and learning and gameschooling. It’s a way for us to support each other, our paper clip collectors, and our paper airplane makers. It’s a way to connect, share ideas, and learn from each other.
I’d love for you to join me in April. Let’s play more and learn lots… together.