Humble Homeschool Beginnings

January 25, 2013

IM000689Many moons ago, when I started home educating my first child, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Nicky just naturally gravitated to books and floor puzzles and mazes and all sorts of logic-related stuff, and that’s the kind of thing we had around the house for him to fill his days with. (This was way before the Computer Age, y’all.)

And by the time Nicky turned three, I was expecting child number three. I laid around and read to those first little critters an awful lot in the early days.

Before long, the card-carrying, diploma-waving teacher in me decided I needed to set some goals and add some structure to my oldest child’s day.

Here is a short list of the personal goals I had when I “officially” began home educating my first child, Nicholas, at age four:

1.   Present new information in various forms: workbooks, readers, texts, etc.

2.   Test when necessary to make sure information is learned to an A level.

3.   Move on to the next thing, letting my child’s readiness be the guide.

Because I had that degree in elementary education and had taught school before having my own children, it never dawned on me that children would enjoy learning if left to themselves. I was prepared to entice and cajole my son into formal learning.

Isn’t that a strange thing to say? But it’s true. My experience in the classroom had taught me that children had to be pushed and pulled along, for the most part.

In my experience as a mom who was home educating her child, however, I found that Nicholas moved very, very quickly through his lessons because he could go at his own speed. He didn’t need to wait for the class to finish up; he was the class!

Nor did he know that he should not be enjoying this thing called school. Ah! But that was the difference! It was not school; it was learning at home. We weren’t up at the crack of dawn, gulping down breakfast, scrambling to find matching shoes, and running out the door to catch the school bus, separated from everything related to family.

Instead, learning was a natural thing done in the comfort of our own home along with family, on a schedule that worked well for us, not for an entire school system. What a cool thing it was to be able to tailor learning to my student! What an improvement over group learning!

I wasn’t just providing the opportunity for learning; I was there to ensure that learning took place, the learning of all the subject matter, not just 75 or 88 percent of it, but all of it. And then we moved on, directed solely by my son’s desire to learn—a desire which was surprisingly voracious.

Why would I want to send my child to a school when he could have such fun learning at home and could move at his own speed? And hang out with his sibs? And eat real food?

I simply did not want to miss out on time spent with him either. If I put him on a school bus, that meant forty fewer hours per week I would have to spend with him, times thirty-six weeks in a year. That equals 1,440 hours apart per year. Multiply that times twelve years, not counting kindergarten, and that comes out to 17,280 hours—roughly three full years of his life spent elsewhere.  Yikes! Why did I have a child only to entrust him to someone else to influence, mold, and shape? That didn’t make any sense to me.

I knew my son could learn better at home than he could anywhere else. For now, home education was for us. We’d worry about high school later.

Additionally, at age four, Nicky had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This was quite a shock, of course. And years ago, there was no way to accurately test blood sugar at home as there is now.

Another reason we decided to keep Nicky at home was that we knew we could keep a better eye on his health challenges than any school nurse could.

If your child has chronic health issues, learning at home is certainly a wonderful option to explore.

Thus began our home-education adventure. Home-education adventures all have unique beginnings. What did yours look like?


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


SAT Perfect Score Conclusion (Probably)

December 17, 2012

YTo conclude the last few blog posts’ worth of examination of Dr. Tom Fischgrund’s Perfect Score Study of 600 perfect-SAT-scoring students and their families (breathe here), I’d like to point out that the students who were the subject of the study did not revel in their perfect scores.

Sure, they were happy about their scores, but they didn’t define who they were by test scores.

As Dr. Fischgrund found,

“Perfect score students would probably never have been able to succeed if their parents never took the giant leap of letting their kids have some control over their academic lives.”[1]

Letting go and allowing our children to have a measure of control academically is vitally important.

Yes, I was very, very encouraged by the way the Perfect Score Study results echoed the results my family has had. The similarities were almost eerie.

It should not surprise me that strong family values are so important to academic success because apparently the Moms and Dads in this study set expectations when their children were young and didn’t allow them to slack off at home.

They were able to motivate their young children, and as the children matured, the parents were able to take a more hands-off approach to their young teens’ learning.

Once the teens became high school seniors, they had a sense of purpose as a result of developing one or two core passions before graduation. They had a direction to pursue after high school. They could see the bigger picture.

Parents, we have not only the responsibility but also the privilege of having the greatest influence on our children.

Would your children say that you and your spouse are the primary influences in their lives?

This is what I get from the Perfect Score Study: kids succeed with support in the home. I’m not talking about simply success on the SAT; I am talking about success in life!

Scoring well on the SAT or ACT is not a goal in my home-educating family. I want that to be perfectly clear. What I am laying out for you here is the fact that young adults who have been given the opportunity to be independent learners, who master each day’s work before moving on to the next day’s lesson, will be equipped to score well on the College Board exams.

Does that mean I think these exams are good things? No, not necessarily. I hate that so much hinges on them, and I guarantee they are not predictors of success in college or beyond. They are hoops through which our young people must jump if they want to head to college, and especially if they want to earn scholarship money for college.

All three elements of the Self-Propelled advantage ~ self-mastery, self-learning, and mastery learning ~ will absolutely give your children an advantage in scholarship competitions.

Beyond that, a firm family foundation will give your children an advantage that goes way beyond that type of success. There is nothing that can replace the value of family. 

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 74.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Parenting Perfect SAT Scorers (Part 4)

December 8, 2012

father_001Dr. Fischgrund, in his chapter on self-motivation, writes, “Perfect score students learned to become self-motivated by watching their parents giving the right amount of assistance, enough but not too much—during their grade school years.

“These students said they relied strongly on their parents to motivate them in elementary and junior high, but that their parents stepped back from this role when their children entered high school and became self-reliant.”[1]

This parental pattern of being more hands-on when children are in elementary and middle school and then stepping back in the high school years is 100-percent consistent with what I propose for raising self-propelled students.

I would add that parents must trust their instincts in supporting young children as they begin their educational journey in the early, formative years; however, it is just as important that parents understand that to everything there is a season.

There is definitely a season for letting go of the bicycle seat. Holding on to it prevents autonomy which will wreak havoc on the student’s motivation.

Tomorrow: more on home-educated students and the SAT. It ain’t purty, y’all.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, p. 67.

About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Motivation & The Perfect Score Study (Part 1)

December 5, 2012


We’ve been talking at great length about Motivation over the past severl blog posts, and I finished off the last one by talking about the relationship between those children who did NOT eat the marshmallow and high SAT scores. Speaking of high SAT scores, I’d like to relay a little of my own experience in tandem with a study done by Tom Fischgrund, PhD.

While browsing a local bookstore a couple of years ago, I came across a book, entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score. What interested me about this book was the fact that the author, with the blessing of the SAT Board, did a study of 160 college-bound high school seniors who had achieved perfect 800s on both the verbal and the math portions of the SAT in the year 2000.

His goal? Find out what makes these kids tick. What do they have in common? Who are they? How do they think? What do they aspire to? What are their academic habits? He also did a study of average-scoring kids, and this group served as a control group. No study like this had been done before.

Since I have a perfect SAT scorer and a near-perfect SAT scorer in my home, I was more than a little interested to see what this study revealed and how my sons, Nick and Taylor, compared to the kids Dr. Fischgrund interviewed for his book. Unfortunately, SAT Perfect Score is out of print, but you can find copies on Amazon and other used book outlets. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a student of motivational theory. You’ll see why as I share some juicy tidbits of information that relate to motivation from my well-worn copy of the 7 Secrets.

First, here is what the author says about his work:

“I have to admit that I was surprised by many of the findings of the Perfect Score Study. As a professional educator and a high-level recruiter, I have studied the best and the brightest for twenty years. When I looked at the information I had gathered in the Perfect Score Study and shared the results with knowledgeable professionals in the education field, we all agreed that we were amazed by the common trends that exist among perfect score students.

The brightest of the bright students have common personality traits and lifestyle habits that made it possible for them to score a 1600. I call these the 7 Secrets of Perfect Score Students.”[1]

Keep in mind that this particular study involved the interview of one-hundred-sixty high school seniors, plus about fifty average students from a control group. Parents of the perfect score students were also contacted in order to corroborate what their kids said, as well as provide input on how self-motivated they thought their students were. I will not reveal the seven secrets here because I think everyone should get the book and read it for themselves, but I will share a few surprising statistics from the study. Here we go.

Who do you think studied more, the perfect score students or the control group of students? Surprisingly, they both averaged ten hours a week of study time. About 80 percent of perfect score students attended public high schools, and there was not a higher incidence of perfect scorers from private schools with smaller class sizes. The average class size was twenty-three students, which is close to the national average.

“Only 1 percent of perfect score students are homeschooled, which is even less than the national average.” And only one perfect score student in the study was home educated. In fact, Dr. Fischgrund states, “The 7 Secrets will reveal that homeschooling doesn’t offer an advantage—and may even be a disadvantage when it comes to doing well on the SAT.”[2] We will definitely take a closer look at home education and scoring well on the SAT.

Here is a startling statistic:

“Ninety percent of perfect score students come from intact as opposed to divorced families, compared with 66 percent of all U.S. high school students who come from intact families.”[3]

Just so you truly get this, let me put it this way: The vast majority of perfect SAT scorers came from public schools and from homes that had been untouched by divorce. Fascinating, don’t you think? It makes sense that homes where there is relative peace will spawn children who can be more single-minded in their pursuits.

One other statistic I am compelled to share:

“Perfect score students are just as athletic as other high school students.”[4]

Some people may find that surprising. I do not because my kids are very athletic. But they don’t get it from me!

Are Perfect Scorers Weird?     

What does a perfect scorer look like? First of all, it is important to know that perfect SAT scorers from this study saw their scores as simply a means to an end and not as the end itself. They had a well-rounded view of life in addition to a core set of values. They were always looking for a challenge, and they were multi-faceted individuals. Most were avid readers who read for enjoyment and learned for enjoyment. They were not motivated by external rewards; they possessed an intrinsic motivation system that drove them to do their best and to be self-motivated.

And believe it or not, these kids were not classified as geeks.

They were very likeable kids who were not likely to broadcast their perfect scores because they were quite humble about their achievements.[5] That pretty much sums up my sons, Nick and Taylor. They don’t discuss their test scores because they are not defined by a test score. They are both humble, athletic, fun-loving guys who throw themselves into every project they undertake.

Alas, my other six children are oddly motivated to succeed as well. They all have a desire to excel at whatever they undertake. While my kids may not all have perfect SAT scores, they all sport the same drive and determination to succeed. They each have one or two core passions that drive them, and they have parents, siblings, and friends who support them in their daily lives. I don’t care whether or not any of my kids ever score perfectly on any test. What is important is that they possess attitudes that fuel their motivation about learning and that they pursue their passions.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, SAT Perfect Score; 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, p. 53; hereafter cited as 7 Secrets.
[2] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 44.
[3] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 19.
[4] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 49.
[5] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 163


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Motivation and the Time for Change

November 29, 2012

In the last few posts I’ve been taking a look at motivation, and I’ve been sharing some things I’ve gleaned from Dan Pink’s fabulous book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. To get the full feel of this particular post, you may want to read a couple of my previous ones.

From a business standpoint, Mr. Pink makes the point that business needs have changed over the past century. During the Industrial Revolution, our country needed workers who could perform rote, manual, repetitive work quickly. Gradually, machines began to take over functions that before had belonged to humans. Because many jobs were void of creativity, companies used the “carrots-and-sticks” method of extrinsic rewards.

Today, however, our economy has shifted to where a lot of industries require innovation and creativity to stay competitive. The carrots and sticks don’t work so well in this type of environment, so a shift must take place in the business world to create a new kind of motivation that goes beyond the external rewards so effective not long ago.

Job satisfaction really wasn’t to be expected in the past. Work was work, and people worked for a paycheck. (Many country music songs reflect this, don’t they?)

Not so anymore. Mr. Pink gives many examples of companies who are changing their structure and policies to reflect a concern for employees and their needs. Business owners are beginning to get it that certain things motivate more than others.

Micromanaging is on the way out.

I want to share with you the three components that Pink believes will revolutionize businesses upon implementation, but first I want to say that these three components are precisely what can also revolutionize education in America. Keep that in mind as you read over the following needs that employees (and students) have:

  1. Autonomy. Pink states that “our ‘default setting’ is to be autonomous and self-directed.” People should have control over “task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it).”
  2. Mastery. Pink’s definition of mastery is “becoming better at something that matters.” Businesses who want to be on the leading edge should give employees responsibilities and tasks that are not too hard and not too easy so their work will be suited to their abilities and just challenging enough to promote steady, personal growth.[1]
  3. Purpose. Believe it or not, some companies are actually looking beyond the bottom line and are seeking to make contributions to others on the planet. In the past, purpose was seen as “ornamental” to many companies, meaning it wasn’t the goal, but if it turned out to be a byproduct, that was a bonus. New policies that allow employees to pursue purpose will motivate folks because “humans, by their nature, seek purpose—to make a contribution and to be a part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.”[2]

Just as Dan Pink dares business owners and companies to rethink their outdated methodologies of managing employees in order to maximize human potential, creativity, and overall purpose in their lives, so I challenge educators and parents alike to rethink their outdated methodologies of micromanaging children in order to maximize the human potential for creativity, genius, and purpose in their lives.

Here’s a cool link to an RSA animation of Drive:  It’s worth your time, I promise.

[1] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 222.

[2] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 223.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Goals and the Switcheroo

November 18, 2012

It’s hard to be successful without having goals and milestones, isn’t it?  In order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you’re headed, right? Hence, the advent of GOALS.

How would you define success? (Wow ~ this must be National Deep Thinking Day for me.)

Here’s what I mean when I use the word success. We and our kids are successful when we reach our goals.

We all have goals, well-defined or not. Perhaps my goal is to keep from eating ice cream today, and another one is to clean the basement someday. Both are goals: one is short term, and the other is long term.

The higher I set my expectations, the harder I have to work to satisfy them. If I’m going to finish cleaning the basement by tomorrow night, I have to work harder than if my goal is to finish cleaning the basement by the end of next month. The higher the bar is set, the harder the work at hand, and the more determination required to meet the goal. Are you with me?

The thing about goals is they are oh-so-subjective. Think about the marathon runner who reaches the finish line first. Is he successful? That depends on what his actual goal was in running the race.

If he is out to beat his personal best time, and he wins the race without doing so, he will not have reached his goal even though he won the race.

The guy who finishes last does not necessarily look like a winner, does he? Yet, if his goal was simply to finish the race, then he was certainly successful. If his goal was to beat somebody, anybody, across the finish line, then he did not meet his goal.

See what I mean about goals being utterly subjective?

Do I have to reach my goals in order to be successful? Not necessarily. You see, sometimes we have to revise our goals along the way. Sometimes goals require a little switcheroo.

Sometimes we set goals too high, and reality lets us know it. Lofty, unreachable goals are no fun. They result in major frustration. When setting goals, I reserve the right to adjust them as necessary in order for them to actually be reachable and not become stumbling blocks. It is absolutely fine to revise our goals so that they are attainable. It is better to revise wisely than to fail miserably.

Now, if your goal is drop three pounds this week, and you get the munchies and decide to revise your goal at 11PM so you can tear into that package of oreos, that’s a BAD thing, okay? Not what I’m talkin’ ’bout here.

However, if your goal is to drop three pounds this week, you go out for a run and twist your ankle, you are going to have a setback to deal with. Don’t negate the goal entirely; revise it slightly. Make sense?

Some folks never set goals out of fear that they will fail to reach them. I would much rather have to adjust my goals because I set them too high than not have any goals at all. I love a challenge, but I don’t enjoy being challenged beyond reason.

Do you set goals for yourself, even if they are just mental goals?

We all have goals, whether we know it or not. Maybe your goal is not to have any goals just to prove me wrong. It’s still a goal.  😛

Goals can be very motivating things to have in place, and they can be very motivating for our children, especially when we allow them to set their own.

The self-propelled student has the tools and the motivation to set his own goals, adjust them if necessary, and make continual process daily as he builds success upon success upon success! Allow your children to set their own educational goals, and see how much more motivated they become at reaching them!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

The Separation of Chores & Cash

November 2, 2012

Did you receive an allowance when you were growing up?

My memory is shaky, personally. I think I did from time to time. I don’t remember if allowance was tied to chores or not though.

Then again, my mom was a stay-at-home mom, and there were only three of us kids who were gone at school all day long, five days a week. She pretty much took care of the house and did the laundry, etc.

I was called upon to wash dishes Sunday afternoons, and my brothers took out the trash. I remember dusting and vacuuming, but only occasionally. Our house was generally well-organized with little input from anyone besides Mom.

I do remember throwing a fit about having to wash Sunday dishes. I remember not liking to clean my room. I remember saying, “Why don’t the BOYS ever have to do the dishes?” And whining.

But I digress.

As a student of motivation and its causes/deterrents, I read Dan Pink’s fabulous book entitled, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I highly recommend it. The items he discusses are relevant to education, business, and parenting ~ of all things.

At the back of Drive, Pink has a tiny little section on allowances: to give or not to give. I find his advice excellent, so I thought I would share it with my 8 dedicated blog readers.

The title of this section says it all: Give your kids an allowance and some chores–but don’t combine them.

First of all, having an allowance gives kids the opportunity to manage money. Or not manage money, and in the process learn how to manage money. Chores are good things because kids learn about responsibility, mutual obligations, and being a part of a whole.

But here’s why there’s a need to keep the two separate:

“By linking money to the completion of chores, parents turn allowance into an if-then reward. In the absence of payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, or make her own bed.

It converts a moral and familial obligation into just another commercial transaction–and teaches that the only reason to do a less-than-desirable task for your family is in exchange for payment.”

I find that to be a very insightful treatise on allowances. What is the purpose of an allowance? We as individual parents must decide that for ourselves. If we want to give an allowance in exchange for our children working, there will be consequences in the thought processes of our children, naturally.

I think Pink’s conclusions are quite valid. Saying, “If you want your allowance, then you have to do your chores,” sets the parents up for a struggle. What if the child doesn’t care about allowance? What if it is worth it to him to lose out on money in exchange for being lazy? Yeah, some kids will jump on that opportunity, won’t they?

So strike a balance by creating a Separation of Chores & Cash.

I give my kids an allowance in order to give them personal experience with money handling. I give them chores because there are more of them than they are of me. I can’t possibly clean up after a busload of kids each and every day. That’s how chores got started around here, anyway. My mom could physically do everything that needed to be done, and she was happy to do so.

I didn’t appreciate that at the time. (I’m sorry, Mom!) All I could see was how unfair it was that my brothers didn’t have to do “girls’ work.” I think my attitude needed some adjusting, and I would have done well to have had my clock cleaned out at a much younger age.

Some moms have the energy and ability to take care of all of the chores around the house for their family. Some families may have maid service come in and do the cleaning. I strongly urge you to hand some responsibility over to your kiddos before they are grown and leave home. Their future spouses will thank you.

I also want my kids to learn how to do stuff for themselves and for the good of others ~ those they live with, for starters. Charity does begin in the home, truly. Children who learn to respect the people they live with and treat them kindly grow up to be kind and thoughtful adults.

Raising kids with the proper attitudes about chores and cash is part of our parental responsibility.

Grab Drive from the library on your next visit, or buy your own copy if you like to highlight and refer back to your highlights later. There’s much to be highlighted!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

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