One of the more common (and most urgent) questions I hear is “How do I start from scratch with an older child?”

tollboothThis is indeed an urgent question; the clock is ticking LOUDLY.

We look at the lack of preparation for adult-level experiences such as college, work, relationships, independent living, having a family of their own – and it’s enough to induce panic in a mom or dad!

Because preparation for successful/joyful life-long learning is distinct in the various phases of development, I’ll touch briefly on each – and give the majority of my focus to the oldest students.

Littles (0-8ish)

When little kids don’t exhibit scholar-like behaviors, I’m not too worried. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about that when I know that the environment and modeling are in place, and I’m doing what’s mine to do. The Phases of Learning have worked pretty faithfully, in my experience, to predict and facilitate a successful transition from learn-from-play to learn-from-study, as the child matures into adolescence. (Click those two in-line links for more information on that process!)

Middles (~8-13 or so)

When middle kids don’t act like adult scholars, again: I’m not worried. It’s important to know what success should look like at each phase, and use the right measuring stick. Flitting like a butterfly from flower to flower, following rabbit trails of interest and inquiry, creating and exploring, beginning the efforts toward learning skills and habits that will later be mastered when the student has more maturity – these are natural and even ideal. However, if  “Middles” are dull and uncurious, I look immediately at two things: 1) Do they have negative associations with education from an environment or process that shut down their natural love of learning? 2) Are there things in their life that sort of suck the air out of the curiosity-room because they’re either too stimulating/addictive, or too time-consuming to allow them to show initiative and wonder? Those things are pretty easily resolved with deliberate and patient effort. The Family Reset works wonders!

Bigs (adolescents and above)

When healthy, normal older kids (who don’t have some neurological, developmental or emotional deficit or challenge) persist with a lack of motivation, I consider it a pathology; meaning, there’s something amiss — there’s something “infecting” their natural desire to learn and progress. Good news! When that infection is removed, and a healthy environment is established, they heal pretty quickly. I have seen this over and over, and the testimonials of others whose families have followed this course of healing and renegotiating lost phases, and have unlearned or re-scripted bad assumptions about themselves, their learning, their potential, etc., attest that the “miraculous” course corrections bring relief and delight.

Toxicity; or: Too Much?

Fairytale-Simplicity copyIf you consider the picky little details in the 6-Step Plan for Family Reset or Detox, you might discover that there is something in their educational “diet” (something that perhaps society or even your family’s habits calls “normal”) that is doing violence to their love of learning and ability to commit to the rigors that healthy youth/young adult learning normally leans toward:

  • Too much (or wrong kind of) friend time?
  • Electronics as play or personal entertainment? (as opposed to using technology for scholarly pursuits, family bonding, etc.)
  • Dietary stimulants/toxins that have them foggy/moody/edgy/otherwise compromised?
  • Nutritional deficiencies?
  • Sleep interruptions or deprivation?
  • Emotional setbacks unaddressed?
  • Divergent learning style being dismissed or underserved?
  • Unique developmental timeline needing attention?
  • Poor modeling of self-education in the home?
  • Lack of peer modeling?
  • Lack of adult mentors/heroes that support or exemplify educational ideals?
  • Lack of clear, shared family education culture?
  • Family routines and/or parental expectations get in the way of study time?

You get the idea. Once you know what’s going on and why, once you know what the right question is, you can make the hard and productive choices to remove the infecting element(s) and prepare to be amazed at how they heal.

Deficiency; or, Not Enough?

There’s another side of it as well. Once you’ve considered the toxicity that might be “infecting” their educational growth, it is time to take stock of the proactive elements.

For example (using the infection idea), when you’re trying to heal a wound, it’s only half the battle to remove the sliver, the gravel, and/or the bacteria. You also need sufficient hydration, rest, calories, protein, vitamins A and C, and sometimes the mineral zinc. Without these key elements, healing may take much longer, or be suspended entirely. The worry of a wound that won’t heal – when you thought you had dressed it properly – is frustrating and fear-inducing. It’s so important to deal with not only the “toxicity” but the “deficiency.”

In educational terms, there are also “nutrients” that lead to healing:

  • Fairytale-yearn copySolid core values
  • “Playfulness” with learning
  • Exposure to first-hand examples of people who love learning and do the hard work to learn, and achieve excellence
  • Access to high-quality resources (this doesn’t have to be TONS, and it’s literally better if you keep it relatively simple)
  • Social support from peers who share the study-with-a-life-purpose ethic
  • Inspiration from heroes who exemplify the value of education and personal mission, etc.
  • Time to be thoughtful, meditative, creative, bored, innovative, experimental, etc.

There are other details that can help, and TJEd does attempt to codify and simplify best practices and strategies to enable the ethic of family-centered, mentored self-education.

For example, for new homeschoolers or families who want to improve the education culture in their home:

For those who work with older students (or who are trying to get a great education as an adult):


next right thingBut you don’t have to internalize all of it at once to make meaningful progress. And you don’t have to have everything precisely.exactly.perfect in order to make meaningful progress.

Remember: the youth have a role to play in this process too, and they can do amazing things when they choose to — no matter what obstacles or disadvantages they have to work around. Think about it.

Really, think about it: this is so true!!

So what leads to them making such a choice?

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to release a series of posts that deal with our worst homeschooling fears and nightmares, and the tried-and-true process of empowering excellent self-educators – at any age, and even when you start “late.”

Not only do we have 7 youth/young adults in our own immediate family who are head-over-heels in love with learning, effective at writing, speaking, teaching and mentoring, conversant in the Great Ideas, etc., but I am in a position to hear the success stories of thousands of other such families – so I know our experience isn’t mysterious, or isolated.

If you’re interested, here is one example of what I’m talking about:

Testimonial Audio Button


Students get a great education when they put in the work to effectively study great things.

Leadership Education/TJEd is all about how, when, and why students make that choice, and what parents and mentors can do to facilitate it. Stay tuned for more!

xoxo rd