Encourage them to fail (part two)

…so let us start the failure revolution!

We need to step off this insane model, which punishes failure or not getting it right, instead of using it to learn what works and what doesn’t.

A  friend of mine, who is a businessperson, told me he does not take failing too seriously. He does not go deeply into it, analyzes it or dwells much on it. Being dyslexic, he got a lot of practice failing when young and learned to brush it off and move on. He sees this attitude as an advantage over people who got used to being perceived as successful. They hold back less they fail, while he just tries things until something works.

We allow babies to fail like this all the time, without much fanfare. Not when they fall and not when they eventually walk. We expect them to fall and then get up. Fall again and then get up again, until finally they learn to walk steady. Why do we later expect that learning  any other new thing will be different?  It is the same process.

A  homeschooling friend recently told me that her 10 years old son,  asked his soccer buddy the following question: “How strict is your imagination?” to which the buddy answered without hesitation: “very strict.” I thought it was a priceless question!

A strict imagination is a side effect of constant judgment. Let us free our imagination again. Let us not take failure so seriously. It is truly just a step in the learning process, of anything! And, it can make life so much more interesting. Ask your child, or any gamer you know and they will tell you that the good games are hard to figure out. You will fail much on your way to leveling-up and beating the game. Moreover, as long as you are still failing, the game is extremely engaging. Once, you have mastered it, though, you will likely stop playing it and go look for another game; one that will offer you many more opportunities to fail again before you eventually master that one, too.

The key to changing our culture around the issue of failing and stop living so carefully is to adopt this gaming model. Define the “real life game” you are currently playing and set-up your “leveling-up” goals, one at a time, until you master the level and can move on. For much fun, you can also define to yourself the “boss” you need to fight and defeat at the end of each level, before you can declare success!

Play this game with your children, too, to teach them that life is not really different then the games they love. And that when it comes to a healthy attitude towards failing, video-games have it while school and the culture it creates, does not.

Recommended reading for more on this subject:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Encourage them to fail (part one)

(from an email I sent to homeschooling friends)

“Didn’t get to share this with some of you who had to leave early, but here is the transcript of the last part of the interview I told you about and something I would love for all of us to think and talk about: how can we encourage our kids to fail. Basically it means how can we extend their childhood and their willingness to experiment and try things with no regard to a specific result, with no fear of judgment. This becomes really important in the tween/teen years and on… I used to tell my boys that everything in life is like playing a video-game: you try you die (fail), you try you die, you move up a level. However, the “don’t fail” culture out there, the culture that penalizes you when you get an answer wrong on the test, is so strong that we all need to brain-storm and brain-storm some more of how to keep our daring spirit alive for our children and ourselves:

ZAKARIA: So, what do you think when you look back at this? You have no business training. You have no business education. What do you think was the key to your success?

BLAKELY: I mean I would have to say one of the biggest keys to my success was my upbringing and my father. And he was very determined growing up to encourage me to fail.

ZAKARIA: Encourage you to fail.

BLAKELY: So, my dad, at the dinner table, he would ask my brother and me what we had failed at that week. And if we didn’t have a story to tell him, he would actually be disappointed. And I can distinctly remember coming home and saying, “Dad, dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible.” And he’d high-five me and say “Way to go.” And so what happened was he re-framed my thinking on failure. So, failure for me became not trying versus not succeeding. And I think, more than anything, what stifles entrepreneurship and this risk-taking that all these people are sitting on million dollar ideas is the fear of failure. And so that was a real big gift I got from the way I was raised was not to fear that.

(Fareed Zakaria  interviews Sara Blakely, the founder and owner of Spanx, on his weekly program, GPS)”

Too easy

The other day, my daughter (11.5 years old) came to me and said: “Mom, I think you are too easy on me”.

(I did not ask what she meant. It was much more valuable to leave it as an all-encompassing statement, not area specific).

I only said: “I sometimes think that, too, but then you come to me, and say something like that, and I just think: Oh my God, this really works! You see, I used to think the same about how I was raising your older brothers, and then I noticed that probably because I trusted them to do the right thing and was not using punishment and discipline, they had to figure out for themselves what was right, what served them well and what didn’t. They were not busy with how unfair I was as the adult in their lives but rather they were experimenting and learning what works. I think they are still learning that in their adult lives now, and it seems to work well for them, even though I’m not around to guide them anymore. There will come a time when you will leave to go live as an adult, and I will still trust you to figure out what is right for you and what works for you”.

In one of the essays he wrote to send with one of his college applications, my older son wrote:

“Perhaps more importantly, however, homeschooling has allowed me to become extremely self-directed and independent. I do not wait for my discipline to come from external sources, because it never has. From an early age I have set my own goals and, to a large extent, met them, without being coerced to do so. I welcome guidance, but I do not expect anyone else to be in charge of my life—a trait which I believe will continue to serve me well in the years ahead”.

I thought he said it very well.

Where do you want to get to in life?

While we were making cookies tonight, my daughter shared with me that a friend told her she will get nowhere in life if she continues to watch Anime (Japanese animation) all the time. I told my daughter to ask her friend where does she (the friend) wants to get to in life. My daughter thought it was a funny question, but then proceeded to tell me that she – herself – wanted to design apps or write Manga when she grows up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manga). “In that case,” I said “watching Anime will probably help to get you there”.

When my boys were young, we lived in Israel and were the only homeschooling family around. Never the less, since our house was very kid-friendly, we had other kids from the village come to play with the boys, daily. Every now and then my older son would tell me that someone told him he will never be able to get a job because he didn’t go to school. My boys continued to hear those dire predictions throughout their unschooling life (if they could only see them now: enjoying their work and earning good money…).

These statements were never the children’s. Kids do not think or talk this way. Rather it was something they heard their parents say when they inquired about why their friend can stay home and not go to school; or why their friend can watch Anime all day long. And parents repeat what they have heard from their parents. Which once – quite a long time ago – may have been true, but in today’s world has no traction.

So the questions we should all be asking ourselves (no matter how old we are) are: Where do we want to get to in life? What do we want to do when we grow up? Am I happy and interested in what I am doing now? Am I working towards something I want to achieve? Is doing busy work for many years really necessary and if so what will it cost me? (Creativity, joy, interest, courage, thinking for myself)

Especially in today’s rapidly changing world going to school and doing the “school thing” guarantees nothing; not when it comes to getting a job and definitely not when it comes to personal happiness and finding your way in life. In my mind – though nothing is assured – the best way to get clear on what you want to do when you grow-up is to do what you want to do right now.

Whether you are an adult or a child, if you get into the habit of doing what you want to do at any given moment, chances are you will continue to do so when you can, rather than follow someone else’s “getting there” plan for the rest of your life.

An anime stylized eye.

An anime stylized eye. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

From the Book: 

Kaizen (改善?), Japanese for “improvement”, or “change for the better” refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management…  Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country.


”The Kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments”.

(One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, PHD)


Continuous improvement in small steps:

Kaizen or continuous improvement may have been a revolutionary approach when applied to business, but in life this is how everything evolves. Evolution by definition is continuous improvement and change. And any parent – especially to young children – would recognize it as the natural way by which growing up and mastering new abilities – occur.

Slow pace and appreciation of small moments is the best mindset to cultivate when raising young children and is often instinctively used by mothers and fathers. We delight in any show of progress by our baby, tiny as it may be; the new sound, the new movement, the funny face in reaction to a new taste… many small moments, many small steps that will eventually manifest a big change. There is actually no other way to grow up; one or several small steps every day, without stress, without fear, without fail. It is all part of nature’s grand scheme of continuing survival of the animals and human races. And before we know it, a baby has mastered walking, talking and such. All built on very, very small actions he/she takes every day.

The Secret:

In my mind, this process is why anybody who so chooses can unschool their kids.

Because the only “secret” unschooling parents allowed themselves to discover was that the same continuous, daily, small-steps improvement that occurs in young  children – and therefore goes almost unnoticed – continues to happen for older children, teenagers and even for adults.

Unschooling our children requires that we respect and allow natural continuous improvement to go on beyond our child’s early years. For the truth is there is no fundamental difference at how we learn and master new things at any stage in life. Deciding to put a child in kindergarten or school is based on arbitrary judgment or practical solutions for problems and life-style that have nothing to do with how learning really happens, at any age.

No drama:

Growing up is not dramatic when you witness it on a daily basis, as all parents do. If we have not seen a baby for several months or years, we will marvel and be amazed (why???), at how they grew up, how they have developed, how much they have learned… But when we spend our time with them, day in and day out, things happen at a boring slow pace. Small, almost unnoticeable daily improvements happen all the time but they are not very impressive or noticeable until the first step, for instance. Before it, the child is picking himself up and maybe moving around holding the table, for many days. Every day getting stronger on his small legs with no noticeable improvement, except there was some, every day, as we all know. That first independent step may have added some drama, but the before and after had little or no drama.


The other day, my daughter – who is now 10 – gave me a suggestion on how to respond to an email I was wondering about, that had to do with group activities she wanted to take part in. It was a great suggestion that seemed very compatible with my writing style (my voice). If I would have told her to write the email herself it would have sounded very different (her voice), but since she is reading my back and forth emails almost daily, she seems to now know how I like to answer; what is my style. No one sat and taught her my style, to the contrary. From time to time I wonder aloud, in front of her, whether there is any privacy left. She brushes it off and continues to read my emails, incoming and outgoing. She obviously learned something from doing so.


Unschooling is not more complicated than allowing our children to slowly become better at whatever they choose to do. Complications arise for us – as unschooling parents – when we get impatient or fearful of the pace of progress our children show, or become judgmental of what they choose to occupy their time with. Dealing with that fear and how to find out if the problem is ours or our child’s is a subject for another chapter.

Deferring Bragging Rights: 

Be aware, though, that many unschooling parents who choose to let their children go about the business of growing up and slowly improving at whatever they choose to do, also give up – or more accurately defer – bragging rights. Mostly around their kid getting an A on his/her test or being an honor student. Also, being with our children daily we do not see much change, as is the nature of small improvements. Take heart, though. The grown unschoolers I know, including my own children, are very much worth bragging about, on so many levels! And when they leave home it is easy to see how much they have grown and how well they function and succeed in the real world.

Doing Nothing

(Translated from an article I wrote many, many years ago which was inspired by reading to my boys A. A. Milne’s Pooh books and by watching them in their own world…)

Doing nothing (October 1995)

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going of to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say. Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.

         A. A. MILNE /  THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER   (p. 172-173)

I remember when last I did nothing.

I was standing in the middle of the lawn, the sun streaming over my head, on my arms.  A famous children’s song was playing on the record player at the nearby Kindergarten. Kids were running around, playing. It felt warm and safe and I was listening to all the things you could not hear and I was seeing all those things you could not see, not bothering…

I was suddenly jolted by an angry voice: “Stop dreaming and get into class!”

Guiltily I rushed to class feeling angry and ashamed.  “Never,” I thought,  “are they going to catch me like that again.”

They never did.

At 10 years old I stopped dreaming.  I stopped seeing all those things you could not see. I stopped listening to all those things you could not hear. I stopped doing nothing and not bothering.

I grew up.

In the last few years I am working on “growing down”.  I am attempting to do nothing again.  Mostly through meditation, though taking a shower will do it sometimes, too, or seeing a movie. Or hugging my boy, sitting with him on the sofa, in the morning, in silence, doing nothing and having nowhere to go.

It is an art form I now have to re-learn.

You see, something important is taking place when a child, your child, is doing nothing.    Something important is taking place when you are doing noting (though you will not catch many of us in that compromising position…).

Within the nothing we become enlightened.

Within the nothing understanding takes place.

Remember Newton who sat under an apple tree, doing nothing, when suddenly an apple knocked some sense into him and allowed him to re-write our physics books?

Remember Archimedes who discovered another physics law while lounging in the bath, doing nothing?

Within the nothing things find their rightful place.

Within the nothing we can see the whole picture. We can allow things that seemed unconnected to come together and create something new, effortlessly.

Within the nothing, articles are being written.

Doing nothing can only be done with a pure heart. A child’s heart. The heart of a child who have not yet learned that “just” being is inefficient and unproductive.  That “just” being is not “right”.

The only requirement to doing nothing is the willingness and ability to let things be exactly the way they are.

To not add a thing. No guilt feelings and no “shoulds”.

Children are wonderful at “just” being. They are wonderful at doing nothing.

Children are naturally engaged in both the seen and the unseen world. In both the visible and the invisible.  They are totally engaged. They are taking part at all that around them, exactly the way it is, while at the same time creating something totally new.

Children have in their hands the secret to living contentedly and creatively. The secret is out there, in the open and all we have to do is watch, learn and let go.

All we have to do is re-learn how to do nothing, and not bother.

Doing nothing means doing something that is beyond words, which is unfocused and cannot be explained. Something that encompasses the whole universe and includes all.

When we are doing nothing we are connected to the source, to all that there is. That is why nothing is usually done alone, in private.

Doing nothing is essential to living. It is as needed as the air we breathe. It is needed in order to grow, to be happy, to feel alive, to connect to higher power, to create, to be who we really are. That is why we all find “legal” ways to do nothing, ways that will eliminate the guilt involved with being inefficient…

We watch a movie or the TV, we meditate, we read a book that is connected to nothing, or if no one is watching we may just stare at nothing for a while…

But if we are kids, oh then we can just swing on the swing or sit on those special rocks, or play in the mud, or follow that cat to nowhere, or do any other thing that is totally unexplainable and call it nothing. It will include everything.

The next time you see your child doing nothing – tread lightly. Let him be. Leave him alone, allow him to do nothing. He is doing something that cannot be taught. He is doing something that many of us are trying to do again.

He is doing nothing.

The big “S” (“but what about socialization?”)

From the book:

“I was telling a friend about the book I’m writing about unschooling. She knew I home-schooled my children but we met in a business seminar, and clearly the idea was new to her. I mentioned that my daughter was somewhat of “a social animal”, especially in comparison to me, and the challenges it presented to me. “Oh, yes” she said “did you write anything about socialization?” With a sense of shock I realized that I totally forgot to include in my outline any mention of socialization. The above question is by far the most asked question of all homeschoolers, whether they are an only child or whether they come from a family of seven. Whether you are talking to another person at the post-office or whether they meet you and your child at a community theater you are all participating in.

But being a homeschooling mom for so many years now, and not meeting so many new to the subject anymore, also, having resolved the issue in my mind so long ago – I totally forgot to include it in my book (thank you K., for reminding me!).

It often amazes me that people hold in such high-regard school socialization, especially when bullying is finally coming out to the forefront, and everyone is becoming aware of how prevalent it is, and how much it is part of school socialization.

Yes, we humans are social animals, but if you delve into what that really means then suddenly romanticizing it may lose it grip. Our social nature has both necessary and problematic components to it. Yes, cooperation and working together can get us far, and we have it in us to help and support each other, on the other hand humans have inflicted horror and violence on each other for a long, long time now.

The question that needs to be asked by everyone, over and over, is how do we promote and bring about the positive aspects of socialization and how do we lower the negative aspects of it, for both children and adults. It is definitely time to pull our heads out of the sand and face the truth head on, with no romantic lies to blind us…

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