The Congressional Award

A Secret Weapon for Rising Stars

congressional award, amazing kids, secret weapon

Most of us have heard of the Eagle Scout Award through the Boy Scouts. But what about the Congressional Award? If that one is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. Keep reading because this prestigious award is not only a bright gold star on any student’s resume, but the activities they do to earn it are life changing.

The Congressional Award was established by the United States Congress in 1979 to recognize initiative, service and achievement in young people. It is a non-competitive program open to all 14-23 year olds (kids can register at 13 ½ and start working on it at 14).

I first learned about the Congressional Award when my son was about to graduate from high school. By then, Chase had so much on his plate that it didn’t seem possible to add one more thing – or so I thought at that time. Looking back, that was really foolish on my part.

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Are You Wasting Your Time With Sports And Music?

Learning to play an instrument can do great things for brain development, and playing a sport can improve physical fitness, help kids learn discipline, sportsmanship and team work. But none of it does much good if kids are not actively engaged and willing to practice or train.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” There is something to be said for the quality of practice, but this presents an added challenge to parents. Not only do we have to motivate our kids to spend part of their day rehearsing music or training for a sport, but we have to make sure they are doing it well enough to grow.

A few years ago, a controversial book hit the New York Times Best Sellers List. It was called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and in it, author Amy Chua recounted stories about locking her daughter out in the cold and threatening to burn her child’s stuffed animals if she didn’t spend hours practicing piano. Is it any wonder that by the end of the book, the daughter hated her mom?

It was clear that Chua wanted what she thought was the best for her children, and she believed that her methods were a necessary means to an end, but she missed the most important part of motivation — desire. Her kids did not want to be musical prodigies — she wanted that for them.

Our kids were not born to fulfill our own dreams; they were not put on this earth to make us look good, and their destiny is not to fulfill our hopes for them. They each have their own purpose, and when it comes to sports and music, we are only wasting our time (and theirs) if we strong arm them into doing what we want, as opposed to what they want.

What Is The Goal?

On the flip side, sometimes we have to coach our kids to have a bigger picture mindset when it comes to extra curricular activities. I know many kids who based their entire childhood and adolescence on a sport or music with no actual plans for what comes next.

Let’s take a boy for example who loved swimming. He joined the swim team and went to practice five days a week. He swam all through middle and high school, and even got a scholarship to swim in college.

He randomly picked a business major in college, and although he got decent grades, he wasn’t really there for academics. He was there to swim. But then one day, he graduated. Swimming was over. Life had to start. But he had not planned for that, so he moved back home and began looking for a job. He had no idea what he really wanted to do with his life because up until that point, his whole world had been about swimming. He accepted a job at a bank to make money, but he didn’t necessarily like it — he tolerated it. At 25, he felt lost. He got up and went to work everyday, but inside, he felt unfulfilled.

He had a girlfriend and figured they would eventually get married. He would buy a house and raise a family, and he would be relatively happy, in spite of a quiet restlessness in his spirit. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he wanted to more. He wanted to do something meaningful. He wanted to make a difference, but he had no idea how. And once there was a mortgage to pay and a family to support, he realized he would have to put those thoughts aside. Maybe one day he would go back to school, he told himself.

He is not much different than the girl who spent her childhood and adolescence playing the flute. She practiced everyday. She played in the school orchestra and the community youth orchestra. She won all sorts of awards for her music. She enjoyed it, but she didn’t give much thought to what she will do after school because her focus was always on the next concert or the next competition.

When it was time to think about college, she knew that her music resume will help her get scholarships, but wasn’t sure that she necessarily wanted to major in music, and she didn’t think she wanted to attend a music conservatory. She got accepted to a good liberal arts school, and of course, she joined their orchestra. She started out as a music major, but deep down, she was growing tired of just playing the flute. It was something that she was always good at, and she like it well enough growing up, but she didn’t want her whole life to be about the flute.

The problem was that she didn’t know what she did want. She thought maybe she would try psychology, so she took a bunch of psych classes, but it didn’t seem like a good fit. She spent a semester taking classes to fulfill her general education requirements, while she tried to figure it all out. The next semester she thought maybe she would want to go to law school, so she enrolled in political science classes. But soon she realized that this isn’t what it either.

By the end of her junior year, she had yet to declare a major, and she realized that would  have to stay for at least another year to graduate. Her scholarship money wouldn’t stretch another year, so she would have to take out more student loans, but she still had no clue what she wanted to do.

This is both an expensive and a time consuming way to find yourself! But it’s a pretty common scenario.

Sports and music are enormously valuable, and for some kids, they can be a great avenue to college scholarships. Some kids will even want to pursue a career in a sports or music related field. I have a 15-year-old nephew who is a great athlete. His parents have been helping him groom for the pro sports world his entire life. Not because it’s what they wanted — because it’s what he wanted. Even as a little boy, Steven was fascinated with sports. He memorized all sorts of players and their stats. I have no doubt that Steven will go into a sports-related career.

My own daughter is a musician. She is passionate about music. She’s been an opera singer for six years and has appeared in ten operas (three youth operas and seven professional operas). She plays four instruments, loves musical theatre, studies theory in her free time, and writes her own music. She and her friend just finished recording their first professional single. She fully intends to go to music school after high school, and she is totally committed to devoting her life to music.

Not every kid who plays sports or music has to be willing to devote their life to it, but before we let our kids throw their entire childhood into a sport or an instrument, we have to make sure they have a bigger plan for their life. The plan can include sports and music, but only as part of the bigger picture. We do our kids no justice when we allow them to hyper focus on an extra curricular activity without helping them find a sense of purpose.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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You Can Do It — Find A Pre-College Program

pre-college-student

This summer, my daughter (a rising high school junior) will be attending a summer music intensive pre-college program at a prominent school of the arts. It’s a three-week residential program, where she will get a taste of college life, and have the opportunity to take classes and private lessons with other rising juniors and seniors.

At the end of the three weeks, she will have earned three college credits, had a chance to collaborate with other kids who are passionate about music and experienced a small taste of life in music college. Plus, it’s a great addition to her high school resume because it shows passion, commitment and accomplishment (as with any college program, kids typically have to be accepted into these too).

To find the right programs for your kids, start by looking at your student’s top choices for college. If they have pre-college opportunities, it could be a chance for your student to network with school faculty and get a feel for what the school is really like. You can also Google “pre-college programs for [your child’s interest] .”

Consider also looking into programs that will strengthen a particular skill set your teen might need for her intended major. For example, if your daughter wants to be an interior designer, she will need a strong art portfolio. Consider finding a good summer pre-college art program. If you have a child who wants to be computer programmer, strong math skills might be important. Look for a summer math intensive at one of her top choice universities.

Counting the Cost

These programs can be pricey, but don’t let that discourage you. Many offer scholarships, and if you start planning early enough, kids can raise their own money. Crowd funding sites like Go Fund Me can help them raise money. They could also sell old clothes and other household items online or use income from a small business.

One way that my daughter raised money for her summer program was by doing henna tattoos. She also used crowd funding and received a partial scholarship.

Planning ahead can make every opportunity available to every kid who knows what they want!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Growing Leaders From Monday to Friday

When it comes to raising our kids, we want practical tools — stuff that we can actually put on our to do list. But we don’t just want busy work. We want realistic strategies that get results.

Grooming our kids to be leaders is high on our list (Jody and I, that is), but we were surprised to find out that it wasn’t for a lot of other parents. When we first started our radio show, our tagline was “Raising Leaders from Cradle to College and Parenting With the End Result in Mind.” But after about a year, we changed it because we found out that so many parents don’t think of their kids as leaders or even as potential leaders. We heard things like, “Oh my son isn’t really cut out for leadership. He’s not going into politics or anything. He won’t be a CEO.”

Running for office and running a company are definitely leadership roles, but so is being a foreman on a construction crew or the board member of a homeowner’s association or even a dad (he’s the leader of a household). Okay, so maybe kids can’t relate to those kind of leadership roles yet, but what about running a successful YouTube channel or being a popular Viner? Most middle and high schoolers can totally connect with that, but they may not see them as leadership roles. Young people like NigaHiga, Tobuscus, Alx James and Nash Grier are shaping the culture from the camera lens of their iPhones. They are leaders because they influencers.

But when we hear people talk about leadership development, especially when it’s geared toward kids, most of what we find is rhetoric — theory. We hear words like “Explore. Create. Connect. Inspire.” What does that look like in real life?

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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A College Prep Secret You’ve Probably Never Heard

Are SAT or ACT scores important for college admission?  Maybe.

Does my kid need to be in the top 10% of his class to get into a good school? Possibly.

What about extra curriculars and volunteer work; are they really important on a college resume?  It depends.

Ready for a juicy college prep secret? This is one that you might have never heard, but it could be the single most important thing you do to your child get accepted to the school of her choice.

First Make a List of Top Schools in Your Student’s Field of Interest

Okay, so before I divulge the secret, we have to back up a bit. You’ve got to start by knowing what your kid is passionate about. If you’re not quite sure, take a look at Monday’s post.

Once you know what they absolutely love and the general direction they’re headed in, do a Google search on potential careers in that field. Sit down with your child and talk about it. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few things, find people in those fields who love their work, and let your kid talk to them.

Then, when you’ve got a handle on a strong potential career path, do a search on “Top Schools for [your child’s potential career].” Look at the schools’ websites with your student and pick out the ones that are most appealing. While you’re on their sites, sign up to receive free information on the school. It’s great to be on their mailing lists.

When Should You Start This? The Answer Might Surprise You!

So what’s a good age to start this search? 11th Grade? 9th? Summer before high school?

Nope. The best time to start this search is right before your student starts middle school!

Why so early, you ask? Because the information you get when you do what I’m about to suggest will help you plan the middle school years to set your kid up for the best opportunities during high school, which will make her the ideal candidate for her school of choice.

Don’t believe me? Keep reading. There’s a testimony below that may surprise you.

The Big Secret Revealed

Once you have your list of top school choices, look up the phone numbers for their admissions departments. Then call them. Don’t email. You’ll only get a stock response if you email. You have to get a human being on the telephone for an actual conversation. I know this flies in the face of our culture’s impersonalized, convenient, texting comfort zone, but a live voice on the other end of a telephone is the key to this secret.

Call in the summer! I’m not sure if it’s because they’re bored in the summer or it’s because they’re just not knee deep in applications at that time of year, but I’ve found that college admissions officers are conveniently chatty in the summer months.

The Script

Here’s the gist of what to say when you call:

“My child is planning to pursue a career in [fill in the blank], and your school is one of her top choices. We’ve still got a lot of time to prepare, and we want to help her become an excellent candidate for your program. Can you tell me more about what kinds of things you look for in the ideal [insert school name] applicant?”

Have a pen and paper handy and write down everything they say.

Stay away from questions about SAT scores and GPA requirements. You can get that information easily with a quick online search. You’re looking for the juicy stuff that will cause your child’s application to bubble to the top.

Over the past few years, Jody and I have spoken with many college admissions officers at many different types of schools, and guess what we found out? Every school is looking for different things!

And you might be surprised to know that colleges are not at all reluctant to share this information. In fact, in our experiences (especially if you call in the summer months) they seem excited to talk about it. And why wouldn’t they be? Colleges are businesses. They have goals and ideals, and most of those hinge upon the kind of students they attract.  So why wouldn’t they want to help a student become the perfect candidate for their program?

What was VERY surprising to us was that even within the same major, different schools seem to be looking for very different things.

Example #1 — The Air Force Academy

I have a son who has dreamed of being in the military most of his life. Even as a toddler, he was always out in the yard fighting off pretend “bad guys.” It wasn’t ever our influence. We didn’t really have any close friends or family who were in the military when he was little, and certainly, as a protective momma hen, sending my kid into battle wasn’t my first choice.

But at the end of the day, we have follow the path that THEY were created for, not the one we create for them. I have a cousin who always wanted to fly jets in the Air Force. My aunt wanted no part of it and encouraged him to go to college and then to law school instead. He did, but that thing kept nagging inside him, and today he’s an FBI agent and is certainly NOT living the safe attorney’s life that his mom wanted for him.

So even though I wouldn’t pick the soldier’s life for my son, it’s the desire of his heart, and I am committed to do everything I can to help him reach his goals.

Just before entering 6th grade, we began looking into the military academies. We settled on Air Force because at the time, it had some of the science programs that interested him.

I called the admissions officer, who basically gave me a step-by-step plan to get Seth accepted. When the guy asked me how old my son was, I sheepishly said, “Oh, he’s still quite young.”

“How young?”

With a little nervous giggle I answered, “Well…he’s going into 6th grade.”

“Oh no mam. He’s not too young. He’s in the Class of 2020, and this is the right time to get him registered on our website.”

Since then, Seth has received packages from the Air Force Academy about twice a year with information to encourage him on his journey. Middle school is an important time of discovery and preparation. For example, the Air Force Academy requires at least pre-calculous, but prefers calculous. In order to achieve that level of math, we HAD to start pre-algebra in 6th grade.

Now, as we followed the Air Force Academy plan, Seth began to realize that his true love is film making. He’s even learned that there are filmmakers in the military, but none of the academies seem to have programs suited for this. So we’ve since switched gears. We did, however, find an excellent film school that also has an ROTC program. So that is where we are headed, but nothing that we’ve done to prepare for the Air Force Academy has gone to waste. It has all been a huge benefit academically and physically (they require a very high level of physical fitness).

The bottom line — preparing for your child’s top choice school is NEVER a waste, even if they switch gears in the process!

Example #2 — Music School

My older daughter wants to be vocal recording artist. She sings at the Sarasota Opera House and has appeared in seven operas and is cast in a lead role in this fall’s production of The Hobbit. She sings on our church worship team and at open mic nights around town. She studies music theory and plays three instruments. Music is clearly her passion.

Her first choice school is The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan. When I spoke with them last summer, I found out that their audition process is the single most important admissions factor. But, I also learned that they offer an annual audition workshop to help applicants prepare for the best audition possible, and they encourage applicants to come every year through high school.

Had I waited until later in high school to make that call, or not even called at all, I would have never known about the one thing that could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Next summer, as a rising junior, she’ll also be able to attend a vocal intensive summer program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia (one her top five schools), where she’ll meet faculty, work with successful artists and gain experience that will dramatically boost her admission prospects at almost any school. Again, had I not spoken with an admissions officer there, I wouldn’t have known about this important opportunity.

 

This Saturday at 10:00AM, we’re going to talk a lot more about this, particularly about some of the unusual things we’ve heard that could dramatically boost a college applicant’s chances of being accepted. Don’t miss it!

Sarasota folks, tune in live on 1220AM, 106.9FM or 98.9FM. Everyone else, head over to the WSRQ Radio website and listen live streaming or download their mobile app to listen on the go.

 

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Out-Of-The-Box U

So, you’re starting to figure out what your kids are super interested in, maybe even passionate about. (If you’re not quite there yet, check out yesterday’s post for some inspiration.)

Now what? Where do you go with this information, and how do you help your kids dive deep into their interests without having to remortgage your house?

There are awesome opportunities tucked away in hidden places that you might not think about. You’ll have to be willing to do some research and log some miles on your car, but it’s totally worth it.

Hidden Treasures in Museums and Libraries

When I lived in NJ (Jenni speaking), we were members of the Newark Museum, and a few times a year, the museum offered inexpensive but awesome classes. One daughter, who was about eight at the time, took a jewelry making class.

The instructor would take the kids to a specific location in the museum where the kids would study a particular art form from a different time period and culture. Then they’d return to the classroom and make jewelry inspired by what they’d studied. The stuff they produced was way beyond anything she would have ever made at home. In fact, one of her pieces won second place at the county fair, and it was judged along with adult entries.

One of my sons took a digital photography class that trained his eye to look for art in the world around him. I remember one day in particular when the whole class went outside and spent the day photographing only shadows.

Another son, my resident scientist at the time, took a slime class. They spent the whole six week session making all kinds of polymers that they could play with.

Libraries can also have hidden opportunities. Some have teen knitting groups. Some offer master gardener classes or special guest speakers. Kids can learn all about bats or participate in an African music class or join a Lego club. Some libraries offer business help for young entrepreneurs or American Red Cross Babysitting Certification classes. One year, my daughter won a $50 gift certificate just for writing a winning book review through our local library.

Google Is Your Best Friend

You can find all sorts of treasures by simply making Google your best friend. So, let’s say you have a child interested in photography like I do (Jody speaking). Go to Google and search for local clubs, free workshops and photography studios that offer classes.

This summer one of my daughters is taking a few summer workshops at Ringling School of Art. What she has learned in these few weeks is irrefutably key to her future success as a photographer. She is also following bloggers who are experts in the field, mimicking their different styles and techniques and mastering her craft. This is one of the many ways to help your kids become experts in what they’re passionate about.

My other daughter was convinced she wanted to own a bakery. We found out that Michael’s Arts and Crafts Store offers cake decorating classes. So, for her birthday, the entire family bought her everything she needed to bake unique cakes and cupcake accessories and all the tools to create her own little bake shop, and my sister purchased the first round of classes for her.

It was one of the best things we ever did, and we all enjoyed her delectable desserts. Yes, I had to diet once she exhausted her passion for that field. But, what she learned was irreplaceable. She figured out that she loved to bake and make specialty desserts, but only for special occasions. This was NOT something she wanted to do for a living. Good thing we figured that out in middle school and not in business college!

Look for local stores that sell supplies for your child’s interest and see if they offer classes. My daughter (Jenni here) has her own henna tattoo business. She gets her supplies from a store in Orlando, which is about two hours from our house. Next month, we’re heading up there for a full day of henna classes to help her hone her skills. While she’s there, she plans to rub elbows with some other artists and find out new ways to get more business.

Oddly enough, Skyler’s whole henna business was birthed out of a desire to take an art class. She’s an artsy kid by nature, but she wasn’t satisfied with her drawing ability. That one class opened a whole new world for her. Check out her henna designs here

Hidden Treasures in Your City

Do you have any historic societies or science centers in your community? Get on their mailing lists and find out what they’re doing. You might unearth some great treasures.

Does your city offer opera, orchestra, dance, live theater or bazaars? How about art shows? Are there galleries? What about restaurants (sometimes restaurant owners will let your kids tour the kitchen and make their own food).

Mark your calendar for the county fair and any other fairs your town might offer.  Get people’s business cards, and see if they’ll let you visit their farm or work studio.

Experiences fuel passion, and the people who are living and breathing their craft are great resources for helping us give our kids specialized experiences. Which leads us to this…

Sailing on the Right Ships: Mentorships, Internships and Apprenticeships

Contact local zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and other specialized attractions in your area, and see if they offer official internship programs.

Find a professional in your child’s field of interest who will allow him to job shadow for a few days. If it goes well, talk to the person about possibly mentoring your child.

Travel Required

Jenni and I have done some pretty crazy things to get our kids to places so they can have an experience that will fuel their passion . . . but I think we’re called to do that.

When Chase, my oldest son, was in middle school, we knew he wanted to pursue a career in law and politics. Politics was not my specialty, but this boy couldn’t get enough of it. I knew I had to get him to places where he could learn first-hand what it was all about. So, with two little ones in tow, I drove ninety minutes each way for five days in a row to get him to our state capital in Springfield, IL so that he could participate in a week long camp that would teach him about our political system and allow him to network with representatives and senators in our home state.

Well, that laborsome effort definitely paid off. Out of that experience, Chase was given an opportunity to work for our senator during the summer (his office was only twenty minutes from us – whew!), page for him later at the capital and later campaign for a representative in Missouri. Well, that passion at 12 years old catapulted him into law school and has turned into a career placing him with a group of attorneys that bring awareness to the Federal Budget.

But these trips don’t have to be a total wash for mom and dad. When Jenni and I take her daughter Skyler up to Orlando next month for a day of henna boot camp, we’re going to spend the day at a nearby cafe with WiFi working on our keynote talks for a 2015 homeschool convention (and we’ll manage to squeeze in some fun too).

Summer Camps

Specialized summer camps can have a steep price tag, but they can be a great investment in your kid’s future. My daughter Skyler (Jenni speaking) wants to be a vocal recording artist. A number of top music schools offer intensive summer programs that will not only build skills and experience, but it will allow her to make valuable connections with working artists.

One of my sons wants to be a filmmaker in the military. The New York film academy offers middle and high schoolers camps with A-List producers, directors, screenwriters and actors.

There are excellent summer opportunities for nearly every interest.

We’re going to talk more about this and how to help your kids get into their first choice school this Saturday at 10:00AM on Parenting On Purpose With Jenni and Jody. We’ll be talking about how finding our kids’ passion is instrumental in preparing them for their future.

Sarasota locals can catch us on 1220AM, 106.9FM or 98.9FM, but anyone can listen in on live streaming on WSRQ or get directions to download a mobile app and listen on the go.

 

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Does Your Kid Have a “Thing?”

A few years ago one of my children was celebrating a birthday. He had $50 to spend (a gift from a great grandparent), and he couldn’t figure out a way to spend more than $6 of it.

As he lapped the store, he would pick something up and carry it around for a while and then decide it wasn’t quite right and put it back. He asked me if I thought his G.G. (great-grandma) would be sad if he didn’t spend the money.

“Of course not, Sam,” I replied. “You can save it until you find something you really like. I think G.G. would be proud of you for making wise choices with your money.”

When we left the store, he was very sad, and when I asked what was wrong, he said, “I don’t have a ‘thing.’ Seth likes science, and Skyler likes horses, but I don’t have a special ‘thing’ that I like.”

After that day, we spent a lot of time and thought helping Sam find his “thing,” and he has! Sam loves to grow things. We call him Farmer Sam, and he’s even gearing up right now to invest his leftover birthday money in a worm farm (by the way, he’s still the kid who won’t spend money flippantly — his birthday was four months ago, and he still has quite a bit of money left over).

One of Sam's backyard growing projects

One of Sam’s backyard growing projects

Farmer Sam Canning Tomatoes

Farmer Sam Canning Tomatoes

Jody and I are consistently amazed at how many people we talk to who don’t know what their kids are passionate about (other than video games and social media, that is). We’re not necessarily surprised that they haven’t discovered it. We’re more surprised that so often people say that it never really occurred to the them to figure that out.

But just as my little Sam was so sad that he didn’t have a thing, other young souls are feeling the emptiness that grows inside when passion is missing.

Laziness is Not a Personality Trait

As we dig deeper with parents, encouraging them to help their kids find passion, we often hear many of them say, “My kid is just not motivated.” Or worse, “My kid is lazy.”

Lazy is not a personality trait; it’s a sign of a spirit crying out for purpose.

Understanding our child’s bent, knowing what sets their hearts on fire, gives kids energy and focus, and it gives us a kind of parenting compass: we can plan family activities and birthday parties and gifts and bedroom decor all around the things that our kids love most.

It’s Okay to Change Course

Often you will find that if you allow a child every opportunity to fully explore an interest (as time and money permit), they will often come to the end of it. And that’s okay.

When Skyler was younger, she was passionate about animals, especially horses. She read everything she could get her hands on about animals. When she had TV time, she watched Animal Planet. We got subscriptions to animal magazines, and she read animal fiction books.

She had many pets (snake, lizard, tree frog, bunny, bird, cat, dog, guinea pig). She loved to study an animal’s habitat and try to re-create it at home. We thought for a while, she might become a zoologist one day.

By about age nine, her focus was on horses. She read Equus magazine, worked hard every year selling Girl Scout cookies to pay for horse camp at the Girl Scout Campground, took horseback riding lessons (when we could afford it) and even studied a horse anatomy book in her spare time.

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But by the time she was twelve, she had pretty much come to the end of it. She’s 15 now, and although she still loves horses and hopes to one own a horse, she came to realize that her true passion (something she’d also been cultivating for a while even while she studied horses) was music and art.

She’s has an amazing voice and sings at the Sarasota Opera House. She studies music theory and has learned to play a number of different instruments. She also draws and paints and runs her own henna tattoo business.

In costume for her role in the opera Little Nemo in Slumberland

In costume for her role in the opera Little Nemo in Slumberland

Henna Art by Skyler

Henna Art by Skyler

As they grow and evolve, it’s okay to let go of old interests and develop new ones. Most people go through it, but isn’t it better to dive deeply into something at 10 or 12 and come to the end of it than it is to dive deeply into something at 20 or 25 and come to the end of it (especially after spending 10s of thousands of dollars on schooling for it)? We actually hear that story quite often — the one where people went to school to become a teacher (or something else), spent years studying and then figured out during student teaching that she doesn’t like it.

Sure, some people don’t find their passion and purpose until they’re in their 30s or 40s, but it’s usually because they were not guided to deeply explore interests when they were young.  We can absolutely shorten the learning curve for our kids. If we make it a focus, we can (and should) help our kids figure out what makes their hearts soar.

This Saturday on Parenting on Purpose radio show, we are going to talk about how finding our kid’s passion is a critical part of helping them prepare for college and career. We’ll also tell you what to do with that information, once you have it. So be sure to tune in live at 10:00AM on Saturday, July 19th.

Local folks can listen on 1220AM, 106.9FM or 98.9FM. And out-of-towners can listen live streaming on the WSRQ website. You can also get instructions there on how to download a mobile app to listen on the go.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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How are You Preparing Your Child For the Real World?

Facebook users, we have an AWESOME new group that’s all about preparing our kids for the real world. We want your voice and opinions and ideas, and we’d love for you to ask questions of the community and brainstorm with them.

This community is growing so quickly! We’ve added almost 500 people in the first few hours of it’s existence. Log into Facebook, join the group and invite your friends!

Here’s some info about the group:

This is a community for people who want to share ideas, ask questions and offer information that will help build the kind of skills kids need to succeed in the real world.

The goal of this community is simply to work together in raising kids who have REAL WORLD life skills — the stuff they probably won’t get in school (how to balance a checkbook, buy a house, grow a garden, learn about alternative energy, patent a product and bring it to market, harness social media for a purpose, etc.).

We’re here to talk about HOW and WHY to raise:

  • entrepreneurs
  • good communicators
  • civic-minded people
  • effective activists
  • debt-free, financially wise stewards of our planet
  • world changers
  • people who can manage their own thoughts, emotions and choices well
  • emotionally healthy people

We’re here to brainstorm together, offer ideas, ask questions and share information about:

  • how to help our kids start a business
  • how to teach our kids about our free market system
  • how to raise kids who will know how to cast an informed vote
  • how to help find their passion
  • how to nurture their passion
  • how to teach our kids to advocate effectively for what they believe in
  • how help kids negotiate well
  • how to teach kids good conflict management
  • you get the idea!

Did you join yet? Do it now, and share this post. See you on Facebook!

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Boosting Academics in the Summer

Researchers estimate that the average students loses about a full month of learning during summer break. The numbers are significantly higher for lower income families. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Summer reading contests are a great way to keep young minds engaged. They give kids tangible goals and rewards for their hard work. Check out Barnes & Noble,Scholastic, Pizza Hut, and your local library. Keep tracking sheets all together in a folder, and show your kids how to track their reading for each contest.

For middle and high schoolers, check out the College Board’s 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers. For this age group, I also highly recommend the book Do Hard Things, by teen twins Alex and Brett Harris.

Do a summer unit study. What topics are really fascinating to your kid? Take a trip to the library, and check out a stack of books on the subject. Find hands-on activities they can do related to the topic (just Google “activities for [your topic]” “[your topic] unit study”), and contact an expert in the field to arrange an interview. When it’s all done, have your child put together a PowerPoint or create a small book about what they’ve learned, and share it with the family.

To encourage writing, have your kids pick out a journal that appeals to their sense of style (or they can make one with a composition book, fabric or decorative paper, and some craft supplies). Ask them to do Sensory Writing in their journal for 10 minutes everyday. For this exercise, your child would find a new place each day (outside, a particular room in the house, maybe an interesting place on vacation) and pay attention to all of their senses. Then for 10 minutes, they would write everything their senses experience — what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

With the wide use of email, texting, and Facebook, the art of good, old-fashioned letter writing is all but lost. It’s sad because who doesn’t LOVE to get a letter? Encourage your kids to write to someone once a week. They might even find some fun replies in their own mailbox.

Middle and high schoolers can start a blog about their favorite topic, comment on blogs that interest them, or write an article for a local newspaper or magazine. They could even spend the summer interviewing family members and writing a family memoir.

Get ahead in math this summer. Maybe your kids could master their times tables. Head over to Barnes & Noble and find some good math workbooks. Middle and high schoolers can check out Mr. D Math. He offer online courses that could help kids either catch up or jump ahead.

Visit us tomorrow. We’re going to talk about investing the summer months in our kids interests and talents.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Mom, Will You Homeschool Me?

About fourteen years ago, my athletic, top-of-his-class and popular son came to me and blew me away with an unexpected question. As it turned out, he was battling an emotional turmoil, and the only way he could see out was to be homeschooled.

Here’s what was going down. The kids his age (7th grade) were starting to dabble in marijuana, alcohol and promiscuity. He did not want to travel down that road of destruction, but if he stayed in school, he could only see three options: #1 – partake in the activities and betray everything he stood for; #2 – walk away and be labeled a loser; #3 – be a loner. None of them appealed to him.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was standing in the doorway at the top of my stairwell — grey carpet, white walls with all of our family pictures lined down the hallway. My hand gripping the door handle to the steps, I was in shock.

I was emotionally constipated for sure. My son’s big chocolate brown eyes staring up at me, not quite understanding why I was so frozen in terror. I wanted to have courage, but at that moment, I felt like I was drowning in a whirlpool of self-doubt and fear of the unknown. But he needed an answer – and FAST.

“I’ll pray about it, and we’ll see. Maybe next year,” I managed with feigned confidence.

“Why not this year?” he pleaded. I could hear the urgency in his voice.

I sunk. What could I possibly say? I had no answer. My twelve year old seemed more confident than I was about this homeschooling thing. How could I do what he was asking of me? I was no teacher. I didn’t even have an undergraduate degree. I was just a mom and a house-wife.

The response that left my lips (clearly, the Holy Spirit had taken over) was, “Okay, I’ll pray about this year.” Was I crazy? What had I agreed to?

Well, I prayed. And as I prayed, I got a resounding “YES.”

So, several weeks into Chase’s seventh grade school year, we pulled him out of public school. I walked into the middle school that I had once attended and talked to the principal, whom I had gone to high school with. I told him I was pulling my honor student out of his school to teach him myself.

I gently explained that it had nothing to do with the quality of education that the school was providing, but it had everything to do with me giving my son exactly what he needed emotionally and spiritually. At the end of our conversation, he condescendingly blurted out, “Well, I won’t tell you I told you so when you fall flat on your face!”

I went from one word of discouragement to another.

Family was my next obstacle. One family member cornered me in my own home and said, “You’re going to ruin that kid! He’s going to hate you!” A family friend, who was a teacher, told me that I was in no way, shape or form qualified to homeschool my child and asked what made me think I was more qualified than she was for the job. I could go on and on.

The people in my life had made it clear that I was on my own, but regardless, it was time to figure out all of this homeschool stuff. I started by contacting a homeschool family that I knew. They invited Chase and I over to observe them. They were using the Switched on Schoolhouse curriculum, which is a program done on the computer. It appeared to be simple, intuitive, and it graded everything for the parent. Easy peasy. It was a no brainer. That was what I was going to use. Feeling a weight lift from my shoulders, I went home and ordered my new curriculum.

Well, it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t really what I wanted. In hindsight, I’m surprised my boy didn’t end up with blood shot eyes from staring at the computer all day. After a few months, we decided to give Abeka a try. Purely textbook and classroom driven, I felt like I needed to have a master’s degree in lesson planning and spend 40 hours a week wading through the teacher’s notes in order to simply assign a lesson.

By the end of that first year, we had a few battle wounds, but then I discovered a beautiful thing called a homeschool convention. It changed my life! I could put my hands on curriculum and see if it was really something we wanted to try. In the midst of all this trial and error, I consulted with Chase often. I enjoyed his input, because I felt he was mature enough to help make choices in his own education.

After looking at a wide range of history curricula, I realized that my boy would read and research way more if I gave him topics instead of textbooks. I found a really cool U.S. history book that was not a traditional school book. I told him to read it. It was super thick. He loved it. He loved history. So, for history, he just read. He learned more than I ever knew about history, even after a full 13 years of public education.

When I pulled Chase out of school his weakest subject was writing. I was not a writer by trade, so I tried a variety of language arts curricula but to no avail. However, one thing Chase did excel at was reading. He read often, and he read good books. Maybe that’s what eventually helped build strong writing skills, or maybe the sheer volume of writing required of him in law school did it, but whatever the case, his lack of homeschool writing success didn’t seem to hinder him the long run. (Whew!) He recently wrote an article on the national debt. You can take a look and decide for yourself.

At the end of the day, we discovered that textbooks weren’t the best learning tools for Chase. Instead, we did a lot of hodge-podging. Take math for instance. I remember having different math textbooks and having him do a bit here and a bit there. But I’d say Chase’s primary math curriculum was helping his dad with the family business and eventually running his own business.

My husband Tony owned Hagaman Construction and was a general contractor. Often, he took Chase to work with him. He would challenge Chase to help him figure out the dimensions and measurements when creating a floor plan for a new home. Chase did math even when he didn’t realize he was doing it.

Talk about an education – not only did he learn practical math skills, but at the end of his “schooling,” that boy had enough skill to be able to build his own home. He poured concrete, laid block, framed houses, roofed, assisted with the electrical and plumbing and landscaped yards. And in the process, he developed a strong work ethic. Isn’t that what we want from an education? The building of both skill and character.

But my boy also wanted to attend college, so I knew the SAT was an important mountain to climb. In spite of our loose education plan and lack of formal math curriculum, Chase earned the highest level of the Bright Futures Scholarship and went to on to earn a free ride for his Bachelor’s Degree.

No one really told me how to homeschool, but I’d bet that’s exactly what most homeschool parents would say. We figured it out along the way, and maybe that’s even one of the most powerful benefits of homeschooling.

I followed Chase’s experiences and passions with the necessary education. He was passionate about politics, so we did everything we could to immerse him in it. We took him to TeenPact every year and spent a week at the capitol. He even wrote a bill that was read on the Senate floor. He paged for our senator during the school year, worked for him in the summer and flew to Missouri during an election year to help on a campaign.

I knew he would need a strong entrepreneurial spirit in whatever he did in life, so I challenged him to start his own business. He registered with all the necessary government entities and even paid taxes. His business was a success!

969376_10202171359227701_862736858_nChase is now an attorney in New Hampshire. At the start of this year, he was hired as the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bi-partisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy.

So, I guess I didn’t wreck the kid after all! I’ve since gone on to homeschool our two other children, and I did some things very differently with them, but that’s a story for another blog…

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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