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August 2011 Inspire!

Published on 13. Aug, 2011 by in


Please click on a title to skip to the article you want; or, simply scroll down the page to view them all in order.

Featured Article:



Featured Article:

Something to Love

by Oliver DeMille

Educational thinkers as disparate as John Dewey and Maria Montessori taught that the environment in which we learn is just as important (sometimes more important) than the curriculum. We learn from our surroundings, the people in our lives, and the wider world, beyond the assignment or textbook.

This is one reason the great classics are usually better than textbooks—they are more seamlessly connected with the real world. The environment around us drastically impacts our learning, and this is especially true for children (before puberty brings a heightened ability to think abstractly and compartmentalize).

In TJEd we put a lot of emphasis on helping young people fall deeply in love with learning. Children and youth who genuinely love learning will naturally excel more easily and effectively in their studies.

TJEd also teaches that the most important role of teachers is to inspire students to love learning. This typically comes in three stages:

  1. first, love of learning
  2. second, love of study
  3. third, love of hard, deep, broad and long hours of study

For many young people, the first is a focus for ages 8-12, the second of ages 12-15, and the third of ages 15 and above. For older youth or adults who never fully engaged a deep love of learning during childhood, all three stages are still vital.

A central part of helping students fall deeply in love with learning is giving them something to love. This is, ironically, often easier done than said. In other words, we too seldom put our focus and attention on giving our youth something to truly love. When we pay close attention to this goal, when we give it our focus and effort, it usually isn’t very difficult to find things which they already love and to help them build their educational life around these and related topics.

For example, consider the poetry of Samuel Woodworth:

How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood,

When fond recollection presents them to view!

The orchard, the meadow, the deep tangled wildwood,

And every loved spot which my infancy knew,

The wide-spreading pond and the mill that stood by it,

The bridge and the rock where the cataract fell;

The cot of my father, the dairy house nigh it,

And e’en the rude bucket that hung in the well.

Some places are easier to fall in love with than others.

Farms are, as portrayed in this poem, legendary for helping young people love life and love learning. Classics books like Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter, Little Britches by Ralph Moody, The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour, and many others take the reader through a close tutorial on how reading and the farm life naturally go hand-in-hand.

Many modern home-schoolers and others use the farm environment today as a means of helping young people find passion with various fields of knowledge.

Compare the following, non-farm, account from L’Amour’s The Walking Drum:

“What boy does not know the land of his boyhood? Every cave, every dolmen, every dip in the land and hole in the hedges, and all that lonely, rockbound coast for miles. There I had played and imagined myself in wars, and there I could run, dodge and elude.”

Not everyone can move their family to a farm or the beach, of course. But every family can create an environment in the home and possibly yard that is conducive to inspiring learning.

In our book Leadership Education, we share a number of suggestions on how to do this—including the ideal environment for a classroom, family room, bookshelf and academic-supplies closet.

For example, we described how a leadership education bookshelf has adult books neatly organized on the top rows, youth readings (Scholar Phase) just below, Love of Learning books for ages 8-12 arranged eclectically on the lower middle shelves, and children’s books and child classics (like The Giving Tree or Emma’s Pet) in a messy pile on the bottom shelf.

The paintings or posters on the wall of the schoolroom, and everything else about the learning environment, have a significant, indeed drastic, impact on the educational experience of the children and youth.

In short: Give the student something to love. This is essential to helping them fall in love with learning and, later, hard study. The learning environment matters.

For example, highly entrepreneurial parents often have an office and meeting room in the home, and children in such environments grow up witnessing business meetings, business parties and daily entrepreneurial work taking place.

They overhear business in action, and they grow up feeling that such things are the way life happens. Not only does much of the content of learning rub off, but the feel and culture and a thousand other little things which become part of their educational experience.

This same kind of “transfer of knowledge” occurs in families where the parents are highly artistic, or musical, or scientific/mathematical, or in love with the theater, etc. Actors transfer much about the acting culture to their children. The same is true of many other fields. In sports, a recruit is more highly prized when he is labeled as “a coach’s son.”

This phenomenon is not simply a vestige of the old feudal tradition of children following the same trade as their parents. In fact, in our modern society, few do.

Education encompasses much more than mere book learning and test scores—it is the overall package of one’s abilities, knowledge, character and skills. And all of these are influenced by family.

Moreover, when a student is deeply in love with one thing—from a sport to a topic like math or Shakespeare, to a club or genre of books—it is easier to help inspire her to excellence in other arenas.

I once had a college professor who said that we should only read the “best” books off the approved lists, while another professor taught us that those who read a lot of books of many types are more likely to read a lot more of the “best” books than those who only read from the approved list.

My own experience with students over two decades of teaching proved that the second view is the more effective one. The great educational thinker Jacques Barzun affirmed this in his excellent book Teacher in America. “Readers are leaders,” the old saying assures us.

But more than that, “Readers are readers.”

Likewise, those in love with one area of learning are more likely to fall in love with studying other areas.

Give them something to love. Or, more precisely, help them find something to love.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to force them to love something just because you love it—or because you think they should love it to impress someone or for some other inferior reason. Help them find something to love; this is perhaps the most simple and profound method of inspiring.

If your family doesn’t already have some overarching “thing to love,” or if a child seems to be looking for more than the “family love,” just take an hour and brainstorm things your child already seems inclined to love.

Then begin to help her build a broader educational experience around those things. A first step might be for you to study a lot more about something your child seems inclined toward.

The key to great education is falling in love with learning, and the key to falling in love with learning is having something to love.

Parents can greatly help with this (as long as they don’t force love of a topic), and doing so is incredibly inspiring. Moreover, it is fairly simple. Share your loves, and take the time to study more about things your child shows interest in loving.

The ideal is to be able to fall in love with every topic at will, and your example in this is one of the most important lessons you can pass on to your children. Help them find something to love, and keep finding new things you love in your own studies.

Few things make more difference in the quality of a family’s education than the parent’s ability to fall in love with learning and help each child do the same.

  • Create an educational environment in your home—no matter where your children attend school—where love of learning is part of the natural atmosphere.
  • Set the example to establish a background in your home where all learning is couched in a culture that loves all learning: “In our family we really love learning. Isn’t it wonderful?”

This one shift of culture can do more than anything else to help your children greatly excel in their educational pursuits through life.

Give them something to love.


Featured Article:

The Elegant Number 9

by Rachel DeMille

The elegant number nine is so fascinating and fun to play with. Nine is built out of 3’s, like:

  • 3 + 3 + 3
  • 3 x 3

There are several Fun Facts for playing with the Number 9. For example, did you know:

1. If you can count up to 10 and back down again, learning to skip-count by 9s (one step away from your times tables) is an easy thing to do.

2. It’s helpful to keep in mind that 9 is one less than 10.

3. The digits of any multiple of 9 add up to 9, or a multiple of 9.

4. Count down from 10s to check your math.

5. If you have two hands with 10 fingers, you already know your 9 times tables.

Let’s start with Fun Fact #1: Counting Up and Down with 9.

On a piece of paper, list the counting numbers, 0 – 9, in a column, like this:











Now create a second column to the right of the first one, lining up the numbers, counting down from 9 to 0, like this:

0 9

1 8

2 7

3 6

4 5

5 4

6 3

7 2

8 1

9 0

You now have a sequence for skip-counting by nines!

09 (9 x 1)

18 (9 x 2)

27 (9 x 3)

36 (9 x 4)

45 (9 x 5)

54 (9 x 6)

63 (9 x 7)

72 (9 x 8 )

81 (9 x 9)

90 (9 x 10)

But it actually doesn’t stop there; you can start the sequence again, with a minor twist on the very first one:

9 9 = 99 (9 x 11)

10 8 = 108 (9 x 12)

11 7 = 117 (9 x 13)

12 6 = 126 (9 x 14)

13 5 = 135 (9 x 15)

14 4 = 144 (9 x 16)

…and so on.

If you chant them out loud you can really hear the rhythm and pattern, and anticipate the next one coming. Try it and you’ll see what I mean!

Here’s where we bring in Fun Fact #2: 9 is one less than 10.

Like I mentioned at first, 9 is one less than 10. It’s a fairly simple thing to add 10 to a number—particularly if it’s only 1 or 2 digits.

For a 1-digit number like 2 or 7, simply put a “1” next to it on the left, indicating that your tens column has grown by 10. Thus 2 becomes 12 and 7 becomes 17.

So skipping to the next number in the 9’s sequence is easy when you just add 10 and then take one away.


  • 9 + 10 = 19, and 1 less is 18—so 18 is the next number when skip-counting by nine.
  • 18 + 10 is 28, and 1 less is 27—so 27 is the next number in the sequence when skip-counting by nine.

But what if you’re not looking at the whole sequence, or counting up from a lower number?

What if you just think you know the answer to 9 x 7, but you’re not 100% sure?

Time for Fun Fact #3: The digits of any multiple of 9 add up to 9 (or a multiple of 9).

There’s a really easy way to check your work, so you can know if you’ve made a mistake on a particular multiple of 9 without seeing the whole sequence. All you have to do is add the digits together.

When you add them and your answer is “9”, or a multiple of 9 (like 18 or 27) then you know your number is in the family of nines. If not, it’s not. How cool is that?

So, in the case of 9 x 7: if you guessed 63, and then added the digits together:

6 + 3 = 9

You know for sure that 63 is, in fact, a multiple of 9. (Of course if you guessed that 63 is the answer to 2 x 9, you’re still mistaken, LOL.)

Let’s watch that in action, so you can see what I mean…

09 0 + 9 = 9

18 1 + 8 = 9

27 2 + 7 = 9

36 3 + 6 = 9

45 4 + 5 = 9

54 5 + 4 = 9

63 6 + 3 = 9

72 7 + 2 = 9

81 8 + 1 = 9

90 9 + 0 = 9

99 9 + 9 = 18 (9 x 2)

108 1 + 0 + 8 = 9 (or 10 + 8 = 18 = 9 x 2)

117 1 + 1 + 7 = 9 (or 11 + 7 = 18 = 9 x 2)

126 1 + 2 + 6 = 9 (etc., as above)

135 1 + 3 + 5 = 9

144 1 + 4 + 4 = 9

Isn’t that amazing? Numbers are so elegant and fun to play with! I love finding patterns like these.

Fun Fact #4: Count Down from 10s to Check Your Work

You know what? There’s another really neat thing about 9’s. It’s a trick that you’ll use for other fact families as well, called “counting down.”

 Counting down works in this way: since you already know that ten times something is just to add a zero on the end, you have a really solid fact family to work from. Did you know that 9 times something is just ten times, minus that same number? Here’s some examples:

10 x 3 = 30

9 x 3 = 10 x 3, minus 3, or: 27

10 x 6 = 60. If you take six away, you are left with 54, or 9 x 6 = 54. Do you see how that works?

It’ll work no matter how small or large the number is.

The next pattern is so very cool, it’s right on the tips of your fingers…

Fun Fact #5: Your 10 fingers hold the key to 9 times tables.

This trick works for 1 x 9 through 9 x 9.

Did you know that you have the nine times tables wrapped around your fingers? In the palm of your hands? Here’s what I mean:

First, hold both your hands out in front of you, with palm open and facing you. Now, starting with your left thumb, number your fingers from left to right, ending on the right thumb. In this way, your left pinkie is 5 and your right pointer if 9, for example. Get it?

Okay. Now, if you want to do 1 x 9, you bend your #1 finger (left thumb) in toward your palm, like this:

See what’s left? Nine little fingers still standing. That means 1(the left thumb) x 9 = 9 (fingers up). Easy, right? But you already knew that one.

Let’s see if we can make it work for another one. Start again with all your fingers extended. Now bend your left middle finger (that’s #3!) toward your palm, like this:

This means 3 x 9. And what are you left with? Two fingers standing on the left, and seven (count’em—the left ring and pinkie fingers and all the fingers on the right hand) standing in a row on the right. So on the left of the bent finger we have a 2, and on the right of the bent finger we have a 7. Put them together and you have your answer: 2-7. 3 x 9 = 27. Isn’t that cool?

Let’s try one more. Start again with all your fingers extended, palms facing you. Now bend your right pinkie down, like this:

That finger represents #6, remember? So this is the trick for 6 x 9 (or 9 x 6, same thing—remember the commutative property of multiplication). On the left of the bent finger are 5 fingers standing, and on the right of the bent fingers are 4 fingers standing. 5 and then 4—our answer is 54. 6 x 9 = 54.

There is so much more fun to be had with numbers, the things they build and the patterns they create. Next time maybe I’ll share with you what pretzels, fudge, Mozart and gravel have taught me about Prime Numbers….


Rachel DeMille is developing a new Core and Love of Learning lesson plan resource for charter and homeschools called, “The Inspired Mind.” Watch for announcements from TJEd.org on how to take part, or contact Rachel here to be put on the notification list.

Continue Reading


Norman_Rockwell-_Beyond_the_Easel Some American Indian tribes teach that when something in your life repeats itself three or four times, you need to pay attention. A few years ago one of my students called such a pattern a “theme unit”: a thought, idea or experience that presents itself repeatedly in different ways to make you take notice and learn some important lesson.

This week I was reminded of “the best math curriculum.” In fact, there were three reminders, and when the third one came it finally made me pause and take notice.

Lesson #1

The first reminder happened when my son requested help on writing a resume for scouts. This evoked a memory of an occasion when his older brother did the same requirement nine years ago. At the time, I was spending a lot of days on the road across North America speaking about the 7 Keys of Great Teaching, and I found myself frustrated with the language of the scouting requirement.

I wrote about this experience years ago, but the short version is that I discouraged my son from writing a resume. “After all,” I reasoned, “we teach too much ‘employee-ship’ rather than entrepreneurial values in our society.” He nodded his head mildly and let me ramble. The result of this little interchange was that I had him write up a full business plan instead of a simple resume.

With the luxury of the fact that we home schooled him, he spent a lot of time on this and ended up with a three-month plan to make more money than any boss would pay an 11-year-old employee. He learned to use a spreadsheet and outline projected income, expenses, investments, debts, interest and payroll costs. Just to be sure he met the scout requirement, he included a resume in the business plan and “hired” himself to manage the project – a dumpster management service, as I recall.

He was pretty excited about his business proposal, but I didn’t let him submit it as a mere plan. I told him he needed to make a better case than just a bunch of numbers on paper. So he implemented the plan in our neighborhood, and only then went and met with his merit badge counselor.

I confess I was a little disappointed when the counselor simply gave a cursory glance at the business plan and moved on to other requirements; but my son did learn how to use spreadsheets and do basic business planning.

And now this week another son is repeating the process. Perhaps the years have mellowed me some, for I’m less zealous about it all now; and yet I still think business planning and using spreadsheets is a great basic math lesson.

Lesson #2

The second “ding, ding, ding” in my mind about “the best math curriculum” came when our eight-year-old daughter told my wife Rachel one home school morning at 10 a.m. that she “hates math” (this following a session of sitting through an explanation intended for her 15-year-old sister, which she found tedious) and then informed her at 3 p.m. that “math is so fun—I just love it.” She followed with, “Can we spend more time on math tomorrow?”

This transformation occurred because my wife’s response to the 10 a.m. declaration of hate was to spend the school day showing the little girl (and her younger sister) as many exciting and fun things about math as time would allow. She went to the white board and they spent some time introducing the language and symbols of math with stories of pizzas, necklaces, fruit salad and the like, diagramming and discussing mathematical symbols, numbers, equations, shapes and problems, and also smiling, questioning, laughing and hugging.

Then they pulled out math manipulatives (pinto beans, actually) and made a hands-on game of it all.

It was a fun home school day for mom and both girls, and the next three days were spent the same way. I’m not sure if it will continue tomorrow, but I know that two little girls have fundamentally different views of math than they did at the beginning of the week.

Lesson #3

Then, just today, a third thing happened that reminded me of “the best math curriculum.” Again, I’ve taught about this for years, but when it came up again this afternoon in the immediate aftermath of the scouting and homeschooling events, I realized, “this is a pattern.” So now I’m paying attention.

This third reminder was pretty direct. I was reading in the excellent book Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich and I came to a chapter heading that summed up “the best math curriculum” as well as I’ve ever seen it: “One computer + one spreadsheet software program = math curricula.”

That’s the lesson. And it’s right on. Aldrich wrote:

“Math must be part of a critical core curriculum. It is one of the few subjects, along with reading and writing, worth making mandatory. Given that, what math should be taught?

“Most math curricula have been hopelessly tangled up in a quagmire of precedent, prestige and capriciousness. Obviously, there are people who are passionate about math, and some of them go on to be…math or engineering majors. For them, calculus is required.

“However, there remains a perfect tool and context for math for the many people who do not share that passion. And that is a good spreadsheet, which can be created with Microsoft Excel, which many people have on their computers.”

I agree with Aldrich about most of this, mainly that spreadsheet math is extremely useful in our modern world and also a fun way to learn math—as my son found out in scouting. I have long taught that business planning is the greatest math project of all: organizing something out of nothing, and then outlining the details of the plan to implement it and put it into action, both in prose and numerical languages.

Such a curriculum is excellent for mathematical and leadership thinking – whether you home school or not – and it combines numerous skills into one project.

I do question Aldrich’s view that certain advanced mathematical principles are just for those few who are passionate about math or engineering, but I understand where he’s coming from—in the conveyor-belt model of education, love of math is often forced out of all but a passionate few.

In my experience, “the best math curriculum” nearly always engages more than “the few” to a lifetime interest in math.

So what is “the best math curriculum?”

It is really six simple steps.

1: The young person must fall in love with numbers.

Let me restate this for emphasis, since this concept is not widely understood in our modern society. The first step is to fall in love with numbers—not math, not arithmetic, not addition or subtraction, and certainly not getting good grades, pleasing adults or being at the head of the class. A person who falls in love with numbers is on the road to being passionate about math, and this applies to pretty much everyone—not just the mathematical few.

2: The person must fall in love with shapes and comparisons.

This is really just a continuation of loving numbers. The best way I’ve ever seen for a young person fall in love with numbers, shapes and comparisons is to spend a few hours with an adult who 1) is in love with numbers this way and 2) knows how to share this passion in a fun and inspiring way.

If all of math is simply a continuation of one’s love of numbers, shapes and comparisons, the likelihood of continuing passion for math is drastically increased for nearly all people.

Where the conveyor-belt approach of forcing math on the young in rote and highly-pressured and competitive ways results in a few of the class getting passionate about math, the leadership approach of helping the young fall in love with numbers, shapes and comparisons engages the interest of nearly all.

I have witnessed the differences between these two approaches over and over—always with similar results. Most likely, so have you.

If teachers or parents aren’t themselves passionately in love with numbers, shapes and comparisons, or if they don’t quite know how to effectively transfer this passion in fun ways to youth, a few great books can help.

I highly recommend what I consider literally the very best book for falling in love with numbers and shapes: A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, by Michael S. Schneider. The adults can read it first, and then share it with the youth.

[For an expanded list of how to approach your own math-hate detox for a renewed love of math, and for tips and tools to inspire math learning in young people, see “What About Math” by Rachel DeMille.]

3: Fall in love with the mathematicians & 4: Fall in love with the ideas of math.

Once a young person is deeply interested in numbers, shapes and comparisons, the next step is to fall in love with the mathematicians who made their lives loving and pursuing math. Start with Mathematicians are People, Too by Luetta and Wilbert Reimer, and then go on to biographies of great mathematicians.

Along with biography, reading the original writings of great mathematicians—rather than math textbooks—helps the young learner fall more deeply in love with increasingly complex mathematical concepts and ideas. Indeed, loving the ideas of math is the fourth step. Great starting books are On Numbers by Isaac Asimov and An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead. Two more fun books for this step are Euclid’s first book of Elements and Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick.

5: Move on to traditional book learning

Once the first four steps are accomplished, it is time for a traditional book and lecture approach to learning arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and so on. This process is even more effective if it occurs simultaneously with step six.

6: Learn spreadsheets and practice business planning.

It is okay to make a number of plans that aren’t implemented into actual business, but each student should establish at least a few of their plans into real businesses that turn a profit. There is something about the physical and real impact of such math that brings a sense of magic to a love of numbers.

The irony of this is that step six is seldom taught in most schools but it is by far the most useful to nearly all adults after they are out of school. Indeed, if you have to choose just one of the steps, do number six. And whatever other steps you do, be sure not to leave out six. Finally, if you are going to do step five, you’ll see a lot more success for a lot more students if you do steps 1-4 first.

This is “the best math curriculum” because it will work for almost everyone, and by “work” I mean it will turn us all into lifelong lovers of math. To summarize, here is The Best Math Curriculum in a nutshell:

  1. Fall in love with numbers

  2. Fall in love with shapes and comparisons

  3. Fall in love with biographies of mathematicians—their lives, challenges, discoveries and achievements

  4. Fall in love with mathematical ideas

  5. Study math the traditional way, and at the same time,

  6. Learn and practice spreadsheets and business planning

The key to success is simply to follow the steps in order: one before two, then two before three, and so on until the first four steps are complete.

Once the student loves numbers, shapes, comparisons, reading math biographies, and thinking about math ideas, the traditional textbook study of math combined with the study of spreadsheets will make math interesting and fun for nearly everyone.

So whether this is the third, second or even the first time the idea of upgrading your math program has come up recently, pay attention. “The best math curriculum” can take your home school math program to a whole new level! It works.

And it’s also a lot of fun.

Here are Oliver’s suggestions on books to help with building a business plan:



by Rachel DeMille

On TJEd.org:

Math Toys and Games

Having abacus on hand is the ultimate in simplicity for teaching number and place values, carrying, borrowing, number grouping and basic (and even more advanced) operations.

Number balance
I love this toy because it helps to reveal number values, help with understanding of the number line, negative numbers, additive inverses, the associative principle of addition, the relationship between factors and products, etc. (If these terms are greek to you, try the


Sooo many great games and learning activities are facilitated by a nice set of dominos! Number grouping, equivalents, less/greater than, simple quantity recognition, etc. Plus, who doesn’t like a good game of chicken foot?


Tangrams are a learning tool that combines artistic and mathematical elements to enhance visual perception ability, develop problem solving skills, creative thinking capacity and teamwork. The classic tangram forms a square. The 7 pieces can also form an infinite number of abstract designs, human figures, animals and everyday objects. The object is to form the image on the card using all seven puzzle pieces.

Go Fish

I like this Go Fish game especially because it has such broad appeal and utility. Our preschooler learns her numerals/quantities, our Core Phaser practices letter and word recognition and our Love of Learner/Young Scholar kids enjoy the little factoids about each fish that are on the cards. They can all play together and glean different things, while having a pleasant medium to help the younger ones with the skills they’re most interested in working on right now. Plus everyone loved the exotic and beautiful illustrations on the cards.

Sum Swamp

I’m recommending this one because so many of my friends have enjoyed it, although we don’t actually own it. It’s highly rated on amazon, as well. It’s a simple addition/subtraction game for very young players.

For older kids, try these:




Pricey, but something of an investment in your kids’ future. Teaches principles of revenue, overhead, risk, loss and investment to “get out of the Rat Race”. We LOVE this game. (Even as I write this my kids are asking to play it…)


Like Scrabble, but you create equations instead of words…


Books and Other Resources:

The study of math has lost its soul in the past century. We have become so obsessed with our comparative lack of math proficiency that we have over-compensated on the side of learning skills without drawing meaning from the study of math. It was not always so: In ancient times math was strongly tied to music, philosophy and other “practical” pursuits.

The net result of this lack of vision is that today’s learners (and teachers!) are uninspired to explore math; they believe they are no good at math, and ultimately, that math has nothing to do with anything they care about. Thank goodness for a surge of great resources, with an ever-expanding field, to help today’s learners with the elegance and titillation of mathematical study. We are relearning the language of math in the 21st century!

Inspirational Math

For some homeschoolers, teaching math and science is the greatest worry. As TJEders, those of us who aren’t math-inclined find this especially challenging: how do you “Inspire and not Require” when you don’t like math? How do you use “Classics, not Textbooks”? An omigoodness, what of “You, not Them” in math studies? Must I really???

Never fear. As with everything else, your change of heart and new-found inspiration in math (suggestions to discover this new-found inspiration follow below…) will infuse your home and classroom with a dynamic and enthusiastic Love of Learning that leads to a successful Scholar-approach to mathematics. [Remember that we have a list of Math Classics for Kids and Math Classics for Adults, as well as a great article on Why Study Math.]

Must-reads for parents struggling to teach math

(I recommend you read them in the order they appear here)

1. Math Doesn’t Suck by Danica McKellar

math doesn't suck Not only does this popular actress/professional mathematician help you brush up on your skills, but her teaching style will help you get a feel for how to innovate on math principles, and how to use teach them in fun and relevant ways. Easily incorporated into anyone’s style. My kids love these!

I especially like that her teaching style promotes mathematical thinking. Too often kids (and even teachers) who seem to be successful in getting the right answers to equations don’t really grasp why it is how it is. They go through the motions without being moved by the bigger picture of how it relates to the wide world of knowledge! They deceptively excel at testing without ever becoming fluent the language of math.

This book coaches you on how to bring the principles into real-life focus, and does so in an entertaining and empowering way. There are two follow-up books in this series that are also worth your time if this book hits the sweet spot for you: Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed. (Don’t let the titles fool you; they’re the sassiest thing about these books, which are really quite sweet.)

2. The Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin

83585 Back to School Bonus Issue: What about math? I used this as a text for a class I taught, and some of the students who had previously been “math challenged” spent hours enthusiastically teaching and sharing their new-found genius in things mathematical!

Off-beat and inspiring, this one can not only empower the math-enabled parent or kid to new levels of prowess, but can reveal the undiscovered brilliance in students and parents who’ve missed the math boat in previous attempts. Highly recommended!

3. The Mathematical Universe by William Dunham

The Mathematical Universe 9780471176619 Back to School Bonus Issue: What about math? Unique in its approach; this book takes random concepts, events and personalities in the realm of mathematics and presents them according to alphabetical order. This seemingly chaotic treatment actually ends up being both accessible to the math-insecure and elevating to the math lover.

Elegant and eclectic, this book led me to many moments of pondering on mathematical concepts, which I had not been prone to do previously. Much inspiration comes from reading this book slowly and considering how to share what you’ve learned with others!

4. The Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider

A beginner's guide to constructing the universe I haven’t actually started this one yet; it’s next on my docket. But Oliver tells me it’s indispensable on this list, and I have to say that merely reading the subtitle makes me feel a little giddy: “The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art and Science – A Voyage from 1 to 10″.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE writers who are able to connect things from one discipline or area of study to another. This is what we too often missed in conveyor belt learning, and the thing that helps us achieve brilliance as we get off the conveyor belt. I can’t wait to read it and be mentored by this mind!

5. Cliffs StudySolver Basic Math & Pre-Algebra

This is my go-to book to fill in gaps (whether for the teacher or the student) in basic math skills and operations. It is organized in a very logical, sequential and simple fashion, and includes a pre-test that helps you pinpoint the exact concepts to cover to round out your basic math knowledge. AND!!! It only costs $.99 on amazon. Beat that with a math rod.

This is the one I like to teach older students from who know their basic math facts but don’t seem to progress (or feel that they can’t). (Use this in conjunction with Math Doesn’t Suck and Secrets of Mental Math)

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January 2011 Inspire!

Published on 05. Jan, 2011 by in


Please click on a title to skip to the article you want; or, simply scroll down the page to view them all in order.

Featured Article:

Other Features:

Love Changes Everything

by Oliver and Rachel DeMille

Exhibit A: Thirteen-year-old son loves to study math. Loves to read big books full of big ideas. Loves sports, movies and choir. Loves to play with his little brothers and sisters. Likes activities with his friends several times a week, but doesn’t let them get in the way of his studies or family. Loves school, social events and challenging new topics. Is happy to help out with housework. It isn’t surprising to hear him say, “Hey, Shawn, I’d love to go out for ice cream, but we did that yesterday and I really need to study tonight. How about Saturday?”

Exhibit B: The typical American Teenager.

“The boy in Exhibit A isn’t real,” you might be saying. Or: “He must be maladjusted.” In fact, he is socially popular, a natural leader, and secure in who he is—even at thirteen. “He must me some kind of genius, then,” you say. Actually, he is a regular kid who happens to be in love with learning.

Love changes everything.

Every thirteen-year-old loves something. And her high school years will be largely determined by her loves. Some love sports, others love theater or vocal performance, and still others loves science fiction, chess club or a certain music group. Some are in love just with being popular, whatever that requires of them.

But “Exhibit A” youth do exist.  In fact, there are a lot of them. They didn’t suddenly awaken at age 13 this way, however. They became this way mainly between ages 8-12. This is when they fell in love with that “something” which will determine their area(s) of focus as teens.

Unfortunately, our modern conveyor-belt style of schooling too often teaches preteens the following lessons:

  1. calvin-and-hobbes School isn’t fun
  2. Leave your studies until the last minute
  3. Math is boring and irrelevant
  4. Do the bare minimum in your school work so you can focus on things you really like
  5. Little brothers and sisters are pests
  6. Big brothers and sisters aren’t reliable like your friends
  7. Parents, ditto
  8. Parents just don’t understand me
  9. Teen culture is real life
  10. Deep study of academic topics isn’t cool
  11. Hard things aren’t fun
  12. Textbooks are the source of knowledge

The list could go on and on. And let’s be clear, the student in Exhibit A was exposed to all these lessons too. But he was also exposed to something else; and as a result, he fell in love with learning.

Loving learning changes everything else about life. A youth with this skill avoids the cliques and pigeonholing. She loves learning: through math, science, history, literature, sports, socializing, theater, choir, chess, fashion, technology, popularity, non-popularity, and everything else. She knows how to learn from the events that bring tears and those that bring laughter.

She knows how to go truly deep in topics of interest, and how to fall in love with hard subjects and classes that at first seem uninteresting. She knows how to learn from good teachers, poor teachers and great teachers, and how to turn books, assignments, events, friends, clubs and activities into mentors. She knows how to make math, textbooks, siblings and parents into fun teachers and confidants.

All of this from one skill? Yes! Love of Learning is that powerful. If a young person falls truly, deeply in love with learning during this time, the stage is set for her high school and college studies and activities to flourish.

The reason for this is so simple as to surprise many of the “experts.” When students are forced, pushed, prodded, manipulated and required to learn in school, an interesting thing happens—they start to dislike the learning process.

Imagine if you were treated at work the way many kids feel treated in their schooling experience. What attitudes and habits would you be inclined to adopt? Would you become defensive? Apathetic? Rebellious? Withdrawn? Jealous? Insecure? Petty? Competitive? Anti-social? Non-conformist?

Hmmm.  Sounds like the stereotypical American Teenager. And do you suppose that our youth are more or less inclined than an adult to adopt such responses to a scenario where they feel marginalized, subjugated, manipulated, and so forth?

Now: Imagine that you are independently wealthy but you go to your same work and life to learn what makes people tick. Nobody knows you are wealthy, so they treat you the same as they always have—but your response is one of abundance, wisdom and patience, because you do not feel dependent on the system, and you are able to engage it on your own terms. You do not feel victimized or disempowered; you know why you do what you do. Whatever you learn at work, you apply to increasing your wealth and to improving the lives of others. And it works amazingly.

This is similar to what happens when a student falls in love with learning. Every experience has meaning. Every topic, lesson and person is fulfilling. School is so fun! Activities are exciting. Hard new topics are exhilarating challenges.

This is the aim of Leadership Education. This is the rule of thumb: If you want to help your kids flourish in their studies and minimize their teenage-stresses, find ways to help them fall truly in love with learning.  How? Like every great undertaking, there are principles that govern our success; and understanding them makes all the difference.

The Love of Learning Phase

Following a successful Core Phase, a child will naturally transition to what we call “Love of Learning.” These are the years when children dabble with learning, getting to know “what’s out there”. If they have emerged from the Core Phase in good order they are usually fearless—feeling like almost everything will be interesting and believing that they will be able to do whatever they set their minds to.

In Love of Learning Phase, the child builds upon the foundation of the Core Phase and continues on to form his assumptions of identity and community. The Love of Learner is ripe for exposure to the many areas of human knowledge, with a focus on that which he can experience on his level.

It is during these years that the child will start to become aware of gifts and interests that will help guide educational paths and begin to hint at the life’s goals and mission. Sometimes these interests are stepping stones or whimsies, sometimes the beginnings of a life-long vocation; neither is more valid than the other to justify following an interest. Parents do well to encourage the child to guide himself by this inward sense of direction, and to model the same in their own activities and choices.


Brother Reading a Book During Love of Learning, special care should be taken to allow for personal expression without negative feedback. By this we do not mean that there is no discipline in the home. In the areas of family routine, house rules and contributing to the running of the home and family, standards and consequences are essential to the child’s sense of security and accomplishment. But in the areas of exploration and skills building, the parent/mentor should be wary of establishing premature or arbitrary standards of “correctness” on points that will later be obvious and require no criticism or intervention whatsoever.

For example, the requirement to subject a daily journal to proofreading can stifle a love of self-expression. To constantly make an issue of numbers printed backward (when you could say, “Look how nice and round you made that part!”) can leave a child feeling defensive toward the very person she should ideally look to for help when she later has a desire to “do it right” or wants to make a good impression with others who may view her work.

High standards of quality are learned in the early years through family work and routine rather than in perfectionism in academic skills. Later, in Scholar and Depth Phases, the temperament and aptitude of the student not only allow for serious critique and review, they require it.

Peers, Parents and Projects

During these years peer involvement is carefully filtered and is ideally either an extension of whole-family relationships or, with intention, grows into them. In other words, the young child’s companions should be from that group of families that the parents trust and identify with. For example: If my child discovers a significant friendship from outside our circle of influence, that new friend’s family could become the object of outreach so that a whole-family relationship can be developed and the new family can be invited into the fellowship of the family’s community of friends.

Reading together as a family, and the child reading alone and discussing with the parent, are two very common activities during this phase. Writing skills are developed in the keeping of a personal journal, correspondence with friends and loved ones, and creative writing. The parent should be imaginative in offering opportunities to relate everyday life with books read, historical and current events and the operation of scientific and mathematical principles—without “taking over” the child’s interests and exploration.

The use of project learning is an incredible way to invite the child to venture into new areas of learning.  You can start with almost any subject of interest, and with enough ingenuity you can arrive at any other discipline from music to science to math to economics to biology to history to world religions to future trends, and so on.

The goal to relate the child’s daily experiences and study with the rest of the body of human knowledge and achievement make obvious the need for the parent to put a great deal of energy into his or her own education rather than making the child “the project”.  This is more consistent with natural law that one can only change one’s own self and—bottom line—it is much more effective to lead than to steer such an enterprise as the education of a child. The parent should be diligent in self-education so that the child cannot help but internalize the value of self-improvement and the obligation of the individual to be serviceable to his God and his fellowman.


To do all this necessitates that the home life and family’s time be kept as uncomplicated as possible.  Too many outside activities, no matter how valuable or interesting, can be over-stimulating for the child and draw him or her much too soon away from the ties that bind him to the nest. There will come a time when such activities are the ideal; they should be carefully considered at any stage, and deliberately limited in Core and Love of Learning Phases. Such a “vacuum” is a necessary element of Love of

Learning often begins when a child sits around for a while wishing for something to do.  Thus we see the problem with filling up his time and space with commitments and diversions.

“Young Mother Sewing,” Mary Cassatt

This can be difficult to avoid, especially when we as parents are unprepared for the peer pressure (not the children’s peers so much as the parents’!) that may be leveled at us.  When “every” other boy and girl is in *** (soccer, dance, little league—you fill in the blank) it’s hard to justify a decision to use that time to do relatively… “nothing”.  And this is not to say that any of those or other similar activities is inherently wrong for an individual child.

These decisions must be carefully considered; the time spent at home in simple, “homely” activities is irreplaceable, and needs to be held in greater esteem and higher priority against the more stimulating activities that society insists should fill our children’s and family’s lives.

It’s okay to stay home! We just need to own our role to fill our homes with wholesomeness, warmth and light.

~OD & RD

For a detailed treatment on nurturing the Core and Love of Learning Phases, see Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and Core and Love of Learning Seminar Highlights.


Homeschool Teleconference Super Summit

Dear Friends,

I’m thrilled to be part of the Home Education Super Summit in January!  I will be speaking on January 13th at 4pm Pacific Time. Be sure to check out all the other speakers; it’s a great lineup with a good variety of topics. Two others of our TJEd friends are included in the lineup:

  • Nicholeen Peck, whose amazing insights on effective parenting have gone viral and worldwide
  • Donna Goff, that sage who has mentored us all through the years with her wit and wisdom

This will be an excellent opportunity to not only recharge your own batteries, but to share TJEd with your family and friends.

The summit is free, and it’s done via telephone—so very convenient for all.  You will need to register to get the call-in information, and you can register at this link:


I understand that the number of people who can be on the calls is limited, so be sure and get registered early.

Thanks, and please spread the word by sharing this on your other lists. You can post it to FB, blogs and other media using this link to share:


Thanks for helping us spread the word, and I hope to “see” you there!


Rachel DeMille


Resources to Leverage Your Success

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March 2012 Inspire Newsletter

Published on 22. Mar, 2012 by in


Featured Articles:

Bonus article for Executives, Policy Wonks, Mission Phase Moms and the like:


* The Salt Lake TJEd Family Forum early registration discount (You DON’T want to miss this!)

* Texas TJEd Family Forum

For Adult Workshops and concurrent Youth Forum and Love of Learning Children’s Activity Center, there’s just nothing that compares with being in the same place with over 1000 other TJEders, many with their spouses, youth and children in tow! Inspiring speakers, educational classes, and a social experience that has no equal. Come join us at the TJEd Family Forum!

Just this morning I posted a query on Facebook to see what past participants might say. In just a few minutes my inbox was filling up with responses! Here’s a sampling:  READ MORE >>

* New fulfillment partnership with Love to Learn:  Classics and educational resources available to purchase with your order of TJEd products!

We’re making changes to our store options, and we think you’re really going to like it!!

While all digital products (including audio and pdf downloads) will continue to be available for purchase on TJEd.org with immediate delivery via email, starting today our hard-copy products will be fulfilled through our new partner, the outstanding and award-winning online homeschool store, Love to Learn!  READ MORE >>

* A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion paperback is now back in stock



Featured Article:

A New Way to Read

by Oliver DeMille

There is an old saying about effective studying that goes something like this: “know it backwards and forwards.” This idiom teaches an important truth, especially to modern readers. At first glance, it is obvious that reading deeply as opposed shallow skimming is more likely to net more knowledge and wisdom. At a deeper level, reading original sources is more conducive to quality education than settling for textbook-style summaries.

But “knowing it backwards and forwards” now has even more meaning to me. In fact, we could call this a new way to read.

I was skimming articles online when it hit me. I was researching background information for a chapter I was writing, and I wanted to know what others had already written on the topic. This is a common process for most writers, and it entails poring through mass amounts of information—often in a limited time frame. In such cases, the modern skill of surfing or browsing one’s reading is invaluable.

But depth is needed to make it stick.

To be skilled at skimming, the reader must shift back and forth, shallowly surfing one moment and then the next instant, without notice or guidelines, detecting something important and stopping to read with critical depth and applicational thinking. She must simultaneously analyze the content—its accuracy, relevance, application, etc.—and begin to couch it all in the juice of creative possibilities. All of this happens in split seconds – not as part of a plan but as the simple process of real reading.

In most cases the more a person does this, the better she gets at it. And the more she knows about a given topic or field of knowledge, the better she is at reading about it. This is why in Leadership Education we emphasize lots of discussion about what is read. People who discuss much of what they read with others naturally begin to read differently because their brains get in the habit of preparing for future conversations in multi-layered ways each time they read something.

On this day, however, I was reading on a new topic, and I was moving more slowly than usual. With so much information to skim, I was soon bored and eventually began wondering if this was a good use of my time. Maybe this topic is best left to the experts, I justified. Maybe I should stop and go get a sandwich.

I had hit this type of roadblock many times over the years, so I asked the key question:

Is this a time where I need to change my focus to something more inspiring?


Is it a case where I need to better inspire myself to push through and learn something hard but important?

My gut told me that I needed this, so I moved on to the next question:

How can I best inspire myself to keep working on this even though it is boring and frustrating?

Usually, the answer to this question is found in the text itself.

In my young adult years, when I was enthralled with history, political philosophy and biographies, and didn’t want to read literature, my mentor assigned Les Miserables. It was hard at first, but I kept reading. My mentor told me to smell the book—put it right up to my nose and smell the paper and ink.

Smell it? “Yes, smell it,” he said. “Then go read the last paragraph of the book and see how it makes you feel. And whenever you get bogged down and want to quit, randomly skip to a page far ahead in the book and read a paragraph or two. Keep doing this until you get interested, then immediately stop reading and go back to your real place in the book and read on.” I did it, smelling and all, and it worked. By the time I was done with this transformational book, I was forever hooked on great literature.

The text changed me.

Another example: When I found the math classics (including Nichomachus, Descartes and especially Newton’s Principia Mathematica) difficult, I stopped reading and told myself that somehow the text could inspire me. I spent nearly an hour looking through the texts for something inspiring, then I noticed a diagram with numbers arranged on the page in the shape of a triangle. I had an “a ha” moment, and begin studying the arrangement of the numbers. Not the equations, not the mathematical functions, not the proofs. I ignored the problems and the answers. Instead, I went on a quest to understand numbers and shapes. I got so interested that I spent the better part of two years studying the topic. When I finally got back to reading what the authors wrote and working on the math problems, I was in love with math and the whole thing was now fun.

The text had changed me.

I experienced this in various ways over time, but I won’t outline it all here. Suffice it to say that when I decided to push through my reading on the new topic, I knew that somehow the way to inspire myself was right there in the text. I scanned the articles looking for an epiphany, but nothing seemed to click.

No Eureka.


Still no Eureka.


This is taking too long.

There were no numbers in the shape of triangles, no footnote that seemed odd and captured my attention, no reference to something I knew that triggered a new way of seeing things, and the last paragraph of every article left me increasingly less interested in reading more.

Then, quite by accident, something strange happened. I had read the last paragraph of an article (boring) and was about to turn the page when something caught my eye. It was a name in the second-to-last paragraph. I thought I recognized the name, but it turned out to be the same name for a different person who was an expert in a totally different field (who knew there were so many Hamiltons writing things?). But it got me to go back and read the paragraph.

Somehow, the momentum carried me and I read the third-to-last paragraph and then the fourth-to-last, and so on. I just kept reading. Like Newton’s laws of motion, I read the whole article backwards. Actually, I read the words in each paragraph in the normal order, but I read the paragraphs from the last right back to the first. It was fascinating. Weird, but interesting.

As I read, I quickly warmed up to what I was learning. Somehow, by separating the subject into a bunch of factoids without the precedents and buildups from the author, I found myself deeply interested. The jargon of expertise was gone, the monotone “Beuller Beuller Beuller” voice disappeared and the content of the article jumped off the page. I was learning, questioning, taking notes in my binder, and penciling in question marks in the margins with hopes that the answer would be found in earlier paragraphs.

When I finished researching for the day, I had dinner and family time then got ready for bed. Before sleeping, I noticed the works of John Adams sitting next to my bed. Just for fun, I picked it up and started reading from the end. I read into the night. I’ve read this book at least five times before, and it is all marked up with different colors of ink (black, blue, red, green, and pencil to mark the different times through it—which is how I know I’ve read it five times), but this time I made more notes than ever before (I woke up my daughter Eliza to ask for a colored pen, and she sleepily gave me an orange one).

The book came alive for me, again. It was like a whole new book. Each paragraph had so much to teach, and reading the conclusions before the evidence was fascinating. It’s hard to explain, but reading things backwards can be very inspiring.

I find it especially valuable in two situations: 1) reading something that feels boring, and 2) reading non-fiction classics that I’ve already read several times before. (Note that I haven’t found this method very helpful with fiction works. Eliza stared at me in amazement when I shared this gem with her. Then she shook her head and said, emphatically, “Duh!”)

This is certainly a new way of reading, at least for me. Maybe it’s old hat for you, but if not you might want to give it a try—especially if you feel the need to push through on something that is difficult for you to read.

I’ve been using this now for over a year, and it still works. One day at lunch with a friend, Orrin Woodward, I was reading an article he had written, and he noticed that I read it all the way through and then read it again backwards. He asked me what I was doing, and I said, “I learn more from things when I read them forward and backward.”

I hadn’t realized until that moment that I was following the advice of an old adage in the English language. Maybe we can learn a lot more from the old ways.

In any case, I hope you’ll give it a try. I loved what it did for my scripture study, which brought up another thought: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” If it works for you, great. If not, remember that the way to inspire yourself to study something, especially something challenging, is often (for me, so far, always) right there in the text itself.

We just have to spend enough time and effort to let the classics do their magic.


If you liked this article, you might enjoy, “How to Read a Book” by Oliver DeMille and Brad Bolon >>


Featured Article:

Teaching Heart, Mind and Soul

by Oliver & Rachel DeMille

In the Flow

Most of us have experienced times when learning just flowed, when it felt so right—and we seemed to be magnets of ideas and questions and knowledge. This is a normal state of learning when one is truly inspired. And it need not be a rare, spontaneous or haphazard occurrence. It can be the common state of studying, virtually day in and day out.

This does happen regularly when students are actively discovering, developing and polishing their deep areas of genius. When this occurs, they feel passionate, dedicated and excited about studying.

Schools have long tried to duplicate this for every student, but even Anne of Green Gables or John Keating (Robin Williams’ role in Dead Poet’s Society) could only reach some of their students. As soon as this type of great teaching is institutionally systematized, structured and enforced, it is fundamentally altered and essentially disappears. No U.S. president can “fix” education, no law can systematize inspiration, and no amount of funding, policy or resources can structure passion. Let us say again:

No president can fix education, no law can systematize inspiration, and no amount of funding, policy or resources can structure passion.

Great education defies structure because it is always (always!) individualized, personalized, interactive, nimble, responsive and inspired. The same great mentor will urge Student A to read and Student B to stop reading. The same great mentor will counsel Student A to read today and not to read tomorrow. Any institutionalization of inspiration loses its inspiration. Truly great learning is a miracle every time.

All the system can really do is set up the environment for predictable and consistent miracles, as Maria Montessori taught.[i] This includes establishing school buildings, providing budgets for schools, outlining general policies that ensure safety, and hiring principals and teachers (or presidents and professors at the college level) with proven passion and ability to inspire. These are the things the system can do.

The Spark

But beyond this list, great education can only happen if certain “sparks” fire, and they will only fire predictably and consistently if parents and teachers understand and master their transformational role—and this only if they are left unfettered in order to carry it out. We recognize this phenomenon in coaching sports, theater and debate, for example; but we too seldom apply it to teaching math, science, literature and history, etc.

The irony here is rich. The educational system—from the professorial pools and expert theorists to superintendents and school boards, from principals to teachers to Congress, and from think tanks to educational lobbies—seeks a quantifiable, measurable system, while year after year parents, students, teachers and observers leave frustrated that schools so often fail to deliver that spark, that flow, that light that defies virtually all types of measurement.

We want something we can detect and observe, but can’t objectively measure, and we use objective measures that consistently extinguish the spark.

Great education is not about institutions or bureaucratic policy. It is about individuals, one by one, becoming who they really are. Always.

There is a place where this kind of one-on-one mentoring in an environment of personalization, deep caring and quality is the most natural thing of all. The word for this place is “home,” or “family.”

As much as our nation would like a quick, by-the-numbers fix, a system-wide change in education won’t solve the problem. Anything systematic changes can do to improve the environment is welcome, of course; but they will not fix education. This will happen only when parents do their work. Parents who are deeply in touch with their children and youth, who meet with them regularly in mentor meetings and discuss the students’ hopes, dreams, fears, goals and passions, are, in effect, Student Whisperers.

They know what their children and youth are thinking, and they listen long and carefully enough to understand what their children and youth need. Not just in general terms, but in personalized terms, now, today, this week, this month. This is challenging work, the work of parents guiding and empowering their children’s education.

Force, Manipulation or Inspiration

Students can, of course, be forced to perform by progressive and technologically-leveraged means; or they can be convinced/manipulated more deeply and in higher numbers. This is what the system can do. And the result will be more educational mediocrity, and a failure to realize true potential. Unless the family is put back squarely as the center of education, the education debate will continue without much progress—as it has for many decades already.

For students to truly thrive, to consistently reach for excellence, they need to fall passionately in love with studying. To do this, they must be on the road to discovering, developing and polishing their deep inner genius. This is always individual

While it is true that the System cannot deliver this (because it is a system), there is one thing that can predictably, consistently and effectively deliver large percentages of students passionately studying hard, long and with enthusiasm that lasts.

This one thing is great mentoring. And nobody can fulfill this role better than caring, committed and actively involved parents. Great mentors understand what the students are seeking, what they deeply and completely want, and how they can get it. Great mentors understand this even when the students don’t.

This is not haphazard or strictly metaphysical. It is duplicable and learnable. Great parents and great mentors follow, knowingly or naturally, the Student Whisperer’s Creed.

The Student Whisperer’s Creed

  1. Great mentors believe in freedom—in the world and in one’s personal education.
  2. Great mentors believe in individualizing the process and content of each student’s learning.
  3. Great mentors believe that each student has a unique and vital mission in life.
  4. Great mentors believe that each student has untapped genius, with the seeds of what is needed for his/her personal mission(s).
  5. Great mentors believe that most personal missions benefit from a superb, broad, deep, leadership education in the greatest books and works of mankind.
  6. Great mentors believe that students learn more and better when they are inspired and intrinsically motivated than when they are compelled by external requirements.
  7. Great mentors believe that one of the most powerful means of inspiration is example.
  8. Great mentors set an example of rigorous, passionate study and lifelong learning.
  9. Great mentors exemplify seeking truth and searching out principles in many worldviews, ideas, sources and perspectives, and comparing them with the principles taught in their own core books and beliefs.
  10. Great mentors exemplify pushing themselves outside of their own comfort zone and consistently expanding their breadth and depth of knowledge and skills.
  11. Great mentors set an example and encourage students to learn from all mentors—authors, teachers, innovators, artists, thinkers, scientists, classmates, spiritual insights, and any other enlightening source.
  12. Great mentors foster a culture of friendship and cooperation. Mentors genuinely like their students, and they know their students will teach them and friends/classmates much of what is learned. Great parents who are mentors are consistently open and learning from their children.
  13. Great mentors use many tools to inspire and create an environment of learning, including group discussion, readings, writing, lecture, simulations, field experience, personal coaching, refinement of talents and skills, visiting speakers, assignments, small group tutorials, projects, etc. They feel successful when students leave their meetings (or classrooms) and passionately study with self-starting enthusiasm and rigorous tenacity. Parents who are great mentors don’t leave all this to the schools, but get involved in some or all of these environments of learning.
  14. Great mentors seek and revere quality, and therefore do not orient themselves by rote conformity or other arbitrary measures. They know that simple, inspired study is the surest path to excellence in learning.
  15. Great mentors acknowledge the working of higher principles and inspiration, and operate in harmony with them in a process that literally changes the world—building leaders for all walks of life who will greatly impact the future of family, prosperity and freedom.
  16. To all these, great mentors add their own personal style, gifts, interests, specialties and areas of passion and enthusiasm. They truly pass on a little bit of their best selves to every student they serve. Parents especially help their children in this way.

These are the things that can be codified and applied. Those who follow them become the greatest of mentors: Student Whisperers. Parents are the most natural, and often the best Student Whisperers. And every parent can do this.

The Choice

This is the great choice of education, and every family must make The Choice either: 1) to settle for whatever education is offered, 2) to push for higher excellence in whatever education is offered, or 3) to dig deep and become truly great parent leaders who go beyond what is offered. Note that such leadership means doing more at times, and also doing less when the time is right. The key, educationally, is to help the child or youth continually feel the spark of great learning.

The better the educational leadership of parents, the more “sparks” will ignite during each day of study. The better the quality of parental leadership, the more students will passionately and consistently study long, hard, and effectively. The better the quality, the more our youth will discover and embrace their life’s mission. The better the quality, the more genius will be loosed on our world. The better the quality, the more we will see society fix its problems and overcome its challenges.

It all depends on Student Whispering. More specifically, it all depends on truly great parenting.

But how? What exactly do parents need to do to go beyond what is offered and provide truly great educational opportunities and mentoring to their children? How do they make the Choice, and what exactly is it?

First, it is essential to clarify that great education is achieved mostly by the student. Students must accomplish most of the deep studying, thinking, pondering, memorizing, debating, practicing and learning.

But, second, the choice to engage long, hard and effective studying is nearly always sparked by…something. That something is often a dedicated parent considering the educational needs of a child or youth and seeking a way to make sure that these needs are fulfilled.

Not every action taken by such parents is effective, but parents who keep taking such actions will see amazing educational results in the lives of their youth. This is the family choice in education. To see just how simple it is for parents to make this choice and lead the education of their children to higher levels of quality and success, take a few moments and complete the following mini-workshop:

Mini-Workshop for Parents

  • Think of the best teacher you ever had. Was it Mrs. Cox in the third grade? Or Mr. Smolen in high school? Was it a coach? Your mom? A church leader? A counselor at camp? Was it a character in a book? Or a certain author? A friend? A great composer, actor, singer or musical group?Again, what teacher most inspired you to greatness in your life? What teacher helped you decide to become your best? Write down the names that come to mind.
  • Once you have your best teacher in mind, consider this: What made him/her/it the greatest teacher in your life? Was she interested in you? Was he demanding? Did she see great things in you that you didn’t realize you had? Was he caring, or empowering? Did she trust you? Did he move you deeply and passionately and make you want to be great? Write down the thoughts and experiences, characteristics and events that most inspired and impacted you.
  • Now, with the examples of such great teachers in mind, consider each of your children. Put the name of each child at the top of a blank piece of paper. On the first page, with one name at the top, answer the following question: What are the top 3 things you can do right now or in the days or weeks just ahead to be a better parent to this child or youth? Personalize your answers to this child, and write down your answers. Then, ask yourself what is the number one thing this child needs right now. Again, write your answer.

Now repeat this exercise for each of your children.

Great mentoring makes all the difference. How are you increasing your capacity as a mentor?

[i] See Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.

This article was adapted from content published in The Student Whisperer: Inspiring Genius by Oliver DeMille and Tiffany Earl.  Click here for more information >>


Featured Article:

Elections and Mentors

by Oliver DeMille

You say potaytuh.

It’s election year in the United States, and the ongoing debates, primary battles and jabs between candidates are dominating the news. In all of this, it’s helpful to remember that elections can teach us a lot about mentoring.

I’m not talking about the admittedly negative things. Too often elections in whatever nation around the world emphasize shallow ideology—whether it is conservative versus liberal, Left versus Right, labor versus capital, interventionist versus isolationist, etc., etc. The pundits argue and candidates on all sides hurl too much vitriol, exaggeration and negativity.

But there are some positive things about elections, and these teach us valuable lessons. For example, while in U.S. presidential elections most conservatives vote for the Republican candidate and the majority of progressives vote for the Democratic nominee, there is wisdom in the fact that the rest of the citizens actually decide the election based not on politics but on who they think will be the best leader.

The Leadership Thing

The “leadership thing” swayed the elections in 1980 (Reagan over Carter), 1984 (Reagan over Mondale), 1988 (Bush over Dukakis), 1992 (Clinton over Bush), 1996 (Clinton over Dole), 2000 (Bush over Gore), 2004 (Bush over Kerry), 2008 (Obama over McCain).

In each case, the electorate picked the person who seemed the most like the archetypical “leader.” Again, most people on the Left and Right support their party’s candidate, but the overall electorate backs the individual it thinks is most likely to be a good leader.

Likewise, good mentoring is, in large part, more leadership than ideology. Setting the example, focusing on “You, not Them,” quality weekly and monthly mentor meetings, “Inspire, not Require,” effective Family Executive Councils, “Structure Time, not Content,” emphasizing “Quality, not Conformity,” and making the studies “Simple, not Complex”—these are all issues of leadership. Whatever curriculum you use, these keys of leadership are essential to delivering a truly great education.

Add classics to this (like candidates standing up for the core principles of freedom—the things that really matter), and you take education to a place of real depth.

What do Great Leaders Do?

In the book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman teaches that great leaders do the following: 1) look for talent everywhere, 2) find people’s natural strengths, 3) utilize people at their fullest, and 4) remove blocks to success. These are an excellent guide to picking a president. Indeed, leaders who are good at doing these four things are going to be good presidents, prime ministers, governors or mayors.

These guidelines are also first-rate principles of effective mentoring. Let’s translate each of them into educational language for parents, mentors and teachers:

  • Look for talent everywhere. Each student has inner genius, and great mentors work to find these innate abilities, skills and genius and help the mentee recognize and develop them. This is the opposite of the conveyor belt. It is truly personalized and customized education, where a student’s passions and interests indicate the areas of quality learning! Great mentors, what I call Student Whisperers, look for the student’s passions and help them get a truly superb education.
  • Find people’s natural strengths. So much of conveyor-belt education emphasizes student weaknesses. The goal seems to be an attempt to ensure that each student spends less time developing strengths and most of her efforts struggling through weaknesses.

The result of such an approach is always general mediocrity. Only by focusing on strengths do we get the best out of our lives, relationships, careers and education. Weaknesses do deserve attention, but the best way to overcome weaknesses is to use our strengths to do so.

Great education helps each learner find, increase and polish his strengths—and this helps him overcome weaknesses at the same time that it brings passion, hard work, and real excellence to academics. Why would we settle for mediocrity when we can deliver great learning?

  • Utilize people to their fullest. This is the crux of Leadership Education. Each person has potential greatness inside, and education is really about helping draw out the student’s inner greatness. The root word of education, educare, means literally “to draw out.”
  • As Daniel Coyle has shown, there is a “flow” that occurs in some learning environments, an energy for study and practice and hard academic work where the student forgets time and spends hours and hours seeking more knowledge, wisdom and skill. Montessori taught extensively about how to create the environment and set the example for such learning, but too often we forget how vital this is to truly great education.

The principles of this type of great learning are simple and can be duplicated by anyone, but we must let go of the conveyor belt and set an example of great education (You, not Them), customize and personalize all learning (Structure Time, not Content), and keep the environment where the student falls and stays in love with learning and hard study (Inspire, not Require).

  • Remove blocks to success. Again, this is the fundamental role of good mentors. Once a mentor sets the example of great learning, creates an environment where the student is consistently inspired to great learning, and helps the student actively and passionately pursue great learning, there is just one more step: to meet with the student frequently and help her remove any distractions or blocks to great learning.

Mentor meetings, Family Executive Councils, Six-Month Inventories, and the other 55 Ingredients in our book Leadership Education are incredibly effective at doing all four of these steps.

All of this is quality mentoring.

Investing in our Future

Another lesson of election years is the amount and depth of passion regular people invest in the future. In education, it is the sustained efforts of dedicated parents and teachers that ultimately determine what kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit—and what they will do with it.

As citizens in free nations, we should certainly vote and help determine our future. But the results of elections pale in comparison to the consequences of our educational choices. Whoever wins or loses at the ballot boxes, the greatest influence on the future of our families, communities, nations and society is being daily delivered in our homes and schools.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that quality of our classrooms in one generation will be the quality of our governance in the next. Whoever actually said this first, it is profoundly true. We need to put much more passion, effort and energy into the education of our children than into our politics, our leisure hours, or even our careers.

Great mentoring is great leadership.

Each of us is called to be a better leader in our mentoring role, and the 7 Keys of Great Teaching are central to creating a world and future we can all be proud of. Like elections, the quality of our mentoring is up to regular people. It is up to us. We get to decide what kind of world we create, and the quality of our mentoring has more impact than anything else we do.

Elections come and elections go. They are important, but ultimately they are not nearly as impactful as how effectively we mentor our children. Our children don’t come and go—they are here, we get our chance to mentor, and they move on. If we mess up in an election, it causes pain and soon we get a chance to rectify things. If we blow it in mentoring our kids, we better fix it today or it will soon be too late.

We are a world in deep need of better leadership, and I’m including in this our friends in Canada, Britain, Mexico, Australia and elsewhere. We are desperate for better leadership. But I’m not speaking here of national politics, as much as it might be applicable. Nowhere do we need better leaders more than in the mentoring of our youth. And each of us holds immense power in this role.

How can you make a huge difference in the future? Mentoring.

How can you be a truly great leader right now, today? Mentoring.

How can you exert massive power on the world? Mentoring.

This is true. This is real. This is our call to greatness, leadership and influence in the 21st Century. It is our greatest need, and all of us can do better.

Unelected Leaders

Great mentoring is leadership, and in an election year we should all remember that we are each called to great leadership. What is your platform? How will you lead?

More specifically:

  • Whom do you mentor?

  • How can you mentor them more greatly?

  • What’s keeping you from doing it?

  • How can you get started right now?

  • What kind of leader will you be today?

For more commentary by Oliver on the ties between education and freedom, see The Coming Aristocracy: Education and the Future of Freedom and FreedomShift: 3 Choice to Reclaim America’s Destiny.




2012 Salt Lake TJEd Family Forum

May 4-5, 2012 at the Salt Palace

(For information on the upcoming Texas TJEd Family Forum, Saturday June 2, 2012, click here >>)

For Adult Workshops and concurrent Youth Forum and Love of Learning Children’s Activity Center, there’s just nothing that compares with being in the same place with over 1000 other TJEders, many with their spouses, youth and children in tow! Inspiring speakers, educational classes, and a social experience that has no equal. Come join us at the TJEd Family Forum!

Just this morning I posted a query on Facebook to see what past participants might say. In just a few minutes my inbox was filling up with responses! Here’s a sampling:

Absolutely loved it! I would recommend it to anyone who needs a shot in the arm as a homeschooler. Last time I attended Nicholeen Peck’s presentation on raising a family with self-government, and it changed my whole perspective as a mom. There is such great energy in the gathering, it’s worth every cent. I’d love to take my entire family.

~Rebecca S.

I have attended the Forum every year since the beginning, I think. It helped me have the courage to change my paradigm as a mother, wife, teacher and citizen. If you have kids in homeschool, co-ops, private or public school, don’t miss this great weekend of inspiration. It has become a wonderful family tradition.

~Ann M.

One of my favorite things about the forum is seeing the other families. It’s so cool to watch the youth interact with each other and the moms and dads seeing others who understand their journey!

~Rachel D.

I’ve attended one before and absolutely loved it. It was really hard for me to decide which classes to try and attend but then the ones I couldn’t do I bought the MP3 for so I could still listen. I loved all the ideas I got and the encouragement. I would definitely recommend it to others and very much hope I can attend myself this year.

~Erica M.

I have gone several years and do recommend it. I can’t go this year due to scheduling conflicts 🙁 I wish I could go for the battery recharging as well as I’d love to bring a friend and immerse them into the TJEd scene and people so they can catch more of the vision. Plus seeing my online friends is fun, too!

~Jody J.

I’ve been and loved it! All the presenters were fabulous, it’s hard to choose who to go to. I love the wide range of classes and topics. I have been recommending it to people and am trying to find or create a group to go with!

~Kimberly R.

I have attended for three years, each year I have gone and helped as a room host. My experience has always been wonderful! The rooms I am hosting in are always the information I need to help me through another year! I recommend this to anyone who will listen!

~Carolyn T.

The first year I attended was a paradigm-shifting experience for me — almost as much as reading A Thomas Jefferson Education. The other times I have attended have been battery-charging experiences that have always been worth every penny. The interaction with other people who are either exploring or practicing Leadership Education is invaluable. The keynote speaker has always been excellent, and the break-out sessions are diverse and very informative.

~Ammon N.
And check out what Home School Coach Mary Anne Johnson said about last year’s Love of Learning Center…

For information on this year’s LoL Center, click here >>

So as you can see, there’s something for everyone, and we’d really love to see you there!

Register today for the $20 Early-bird Discount >>


Classics, Teaching Aides and TJEd Products

in the same shopping cart!

We’re making changes to our store options, and we think you’re really going to like it!!

While all digital products (including audio and pdf downloads) will continue to be available for purchase on TJEd.org with immediate delivery via email, starting today our hard-copy products will be fulfilled through our new partner, the outstanding and award-winning online homeschool store, Love to Learn!

Here’s what this means for you…

  • Reduced cost in shipping: Our previous cost for shipping a single title to you was $6. With Love to Learn’s efficient process and bulk rates, a single title will now ship for $4*. That’s less than it costs you to drive to the bookstore, and competitive with online mega-bookstore rates!
  • For more than one title, shipping is a total of $7*!
  • Convenient access to the Hopkins’ inventory of hand-picked classics, teaching resources and learning games (with Dianne’s outstanding commentary on them) via the same shopping cart as your TJEd purchase!
  • Unfortunately, you will no longer be able to purchase hard copy and digital at the same time, as they are now managed through separate shopping carts. But most of you don’t do that anyway (usually you purchase one or the other in a given sale), so you we’re hoping that you won’t mind too much. 🙂

And to kick off this opportunity, we’re offering a special bonus on your first purchase through TJEd/Love to Learn. Simply click here to shop and when you check out, use one of these special offers…

Good for any order of $19.95 or more, any one of these ( just add one of them to your shopping cart):

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

($6.99 Retail)

Add item #10413TJ to your cart, or simply click on this image.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

($3.00 Retail)

Add item #10572TJ to your cart, or simply click on this image.


Treasure Island

($6.99 retail)

Add item #10422TJ to your cart, or simply click on this image.

To claim your bonus, simply add one of these specially-tagged items using the above-referenced code to your cart on Love to Learn (you can click on the image of the item of your choice here to redirect there) and then purchase $19.95 worth of product. Your bonus will be credited at checkout!

*For shipping within the U.S. only. Canada shipping = actual USPS cost + $2 handling fee. To inquire about international orders, please use our contact form.

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by Oliver & Rachel DeMille

The Key

Whatever you know about Love of Learning Phase, this one key will make all the difference. If you’re already doing it, you can do it just a little bit better—and get huge results. And if you’re not doing it every week, now is the time to start. You’ll see your Love of Learner child blossom and thrive.

Really. One little thing can make all the difference. Okay, actually, it’s not that little. It will take a bit of work on your part. But it’s not big either. It won’t take a lot of your time, or a bunch of effort.

It will take a little bit of planning and then some consistency. That’s it. And, like I said, it will make a huge difference. great education is inspired education

This magic pill really does work. It’s the Weekly Interview. If you’re not holding it every week, you’re not seeing the Love of Learning results you could be. Really! It’s that effective.

So, what, specifically, can you do to make the Weekly Interview so powerful?

Let’s break it down bit by bit in four simple steps. We feel pretty strongly about these steps, and some of them are down-right vital:

1. Make it a Priority

First, set aside a time each week to meet with your Love of Learner child. We tend to recommend Sunday afternoon, because we’ve seen this work extremely well with seven kids so far. But you know your schedule and the flow of your week better than we do, so if some other day will be better—say, Monday morning first thing, or Saturday morning, or Thursday evening, whatever works best with you and your family—go with that.

The key is to have a specific, set time each week, and always do your interview at that time. If you just can’t swing it one week, treat it like you would any appointment with an important person: talk to your child beforehand and reschedule, then be sure to hold the meeting at the newly appointed time.

Don’t miss a week. Make this happen, and you’ll see Love of Learning phase really flourish. Start skipping weeks, and things can deteriorate.

2. Make it Fun

Second, make it fun, and schedule enough time to really talk to your child about what he/she is learning, enjoying, struggling with, and thinking about. You want enough time to really get him/her talking. And then listen.

think read 1 For some Love of Learners, twenty minutes will be enough. But in our experience, that’s the exception. If you really invest in this and make it relaxed and fun, most kids this age will want to talk for a while.

About 30-40 minutes feels right for most young people, but some kids will want to go on a little longer. You know your kids. Schedule accordingly. And don’t be afraid to change the plan if he/she surprises you and turns all chatty. That’s great.

As for the “fun” part, you don’t want to turn the interview into “twenty questions” where you interrogate your youth. To really get this right, you almost have to tweak the definition of the word, “interview.” This is not about you grilling your kid. That’s not in keeping with “Love of Learning.” This is about you getting the Inner View.

Asking the right questions can be a great catalyst to gaining this “innerview” (see what we did there?), but keep in mind that it’s not the questions and answers, per se, that make this successful. It’s the process of dialoguing with your youngster and feeling her heart on the things that are important. It’s the “Diamond Dust” inspiration that whispers how you can do better, what you can do more of, what you need to do less of. It’s getting a view on that child-heart, and gaining a sense of what she was born to do, and what’s yours to do to help her prepare for it. Start by asking her what she is loving about her learning, and then sit back and enjoy listening.

If that doesn’t work, jump in and start sharing what YOU are passionately loving about your reading and learning right now. Keep at it until she catches the bug and starts talking. It will happen if your passion is genuine and you stay positive and engaging.

3. Do Your Homework First

Third (and chronologically this comes before the second item above), spend at least 15-20 minutes before each weekly interview Brainstorming on a Blank Page! This is so important. How do you do it? If you’re asking this question, closely study our book called Homeschooling: The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Homeschoolers.

BEWARE INSTITUTIONALISM-keep your focus There’s a whole chapter on Brainstorming a Blank Page (and we review it briefly here), and every successful educator (parent and teacher) needs to understand it.

This is vital.

To recap: before each Weekly Interview with every Love of Learner you mentor, take a few minutes and brainstorm.

Put the child’s name at the top of a blank page, and ask what they need from you. Any way you should be helping them.

Don’t make a list of assignments for them to do! That’s the wrong spirit.

Focus on what YOU should do/not do/purchase/organize/model/forgive/inspire/learn/cuddle/etc. Write down your ideas.

Then pick a few, circle them, and do them. Note that one of the most important things you can do (and must do if you want to be an effective mentor) is set the right example. Specifically, if you want them to truly love learning, you have to set the example of really loving learning yourself.

Depending on the logistics and season of your life, ideally you’ll have maybe two topics that deeply interest you and set the example of learning about them during the week. And do so passionately, with enthusiasm and excitement. Then, when you get to the Weekly Interview and your child isn’t very excited, you can just let your exciting learning gush and gush. It will turn the meeting to real passion for learning—if you do it well, authentically, and happily.

It might take two such Weekly Interviews to get them going (in truth, it hardly ever takes more than one), but when you go on and on about your passion for learning—and share a lot of specifics about what you’re reading and thinking about—it’s captivating. It rubs off. It creates enthusiasm.

Keep at it until this works.* It will, if you are genuinely learning things that excite and interest you. If not, find some. Set the right example. That’s mentoring! And it’s fun. Really fun.

4. Listen.

Fourth, when the energy is right (e.g. he’s talking about what he’s learned, and excited about it) ask him what he needs from you. And listen. If he wants to go to the library, make it happen. ASAP. If he says he needs more time to…whatever it is, consider how you can best help with it.

If he’s not sure, ask him what was the most exciting thing he’s learned about the topic so far, and how he learned it. If it came from his reading, perhaps you’ll feel you should help him get more books of the same kind. If it happened in a discussion with a friend, maybe you’ll feel you should set up another discussion opportunity. If it happened…whatever it is, consider doing more of it.

beware the anti-readers DeMille-Great Minds read, read, read And be open to trying new things as well. And, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask him what his most exciting learning experience was—and then do it yourself. “I want to read that book, too, Johnny. Do you have it, or should I get it at the library? I want to experience what you did. Do you have any other recommendations?”

When you get him “mentoring” you to “enjoy his learning passions as well”, you’re in a great place. You’ll both be loving learning—and this will naturally synergize. It will be more fun for both of you.

Each week, use some of your time in the Blank Page Brainstorming session to think of ways to make the Weekly Interview better and better. As goes the Weekly Interview, so goes Love of Learning Phase.

The best news in all this is that if you can get this one hour right every week—week after week after week—Love of Learning Phase will flourish and thrive in your home (or classroom).

This one thing will make a huge difference! Use it for greater success and fun for any kids in Love of Learning.

This article has a followup. Click here to read >>

(For more details on effective parenting and teaching for children in Love of Learning phase, see Chapters 3-6 in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, and Habit 2 in Homeschooling: The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Homeschoolers—both by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.)

*If you find that the relationship or the child is not thriving, you may need to reconsider whether he or she really is in Love of Learning Phase, or whether he needs to build a stronger foundation in Core Phase. Sometimes, doing a full-family “reset,” going back to the beginning, can heal relationships and hearts, and restore a love of life and learning for those who are healing from trauma, change or something that has hurt their confidence or enthusiasm. Click here for details on the Family Reset >>

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Super Summit Q&A

Published on 24. Jan, 2011 by in Uncategorized


I had a great experience on the Homeschool Teleconference on 1/13/11. As promised, I would like to address a few of the questions that we were unable to get to on air. Some of the questions are grouped with a common answer, as they were so similar in nature. This is a work in progress, so if your answer does not appear yet, please check back soon.

There were one or two questions I didn’t address here because I felt they would be better served with a sampling of answers from a variety of TJEd mentors. I encourage you to post such questions on TJEd MUSE, where there are hundreds of participants in an active and supportive conversation about excellence in education and mentoring. Enjoy!

Rebecca – Lake Oswego, Oregon

As a mother of three boys (4, 2, and 3 months) I am finding it very difficult to ever find any “me time” without putting my kids on videos all the time. In theory, this “me time” would include reading, studying, dreaming, planning, and a host of other things. While my kids are young, it seems like the best time to prepare myself to be their teacher in later years, but I can’t seem to get ahead without this time. So, I find myself either putting them on another video or “breaking the bank” to hire a mother’s helper. I need this time SO much! What do I do?

Similar questions:

Sarah- Orem, UT:

The whole idea in TJEd I innately resonate with. I want to do it. I have 4 children; ages 7 years down to 7 months. My challenge is, in day to day reality, how do I take care of my baby, potty train my toddler, keep the house at least sanitary, cook, pay bills, serve in my church, exercise, etc., AND spend all this time inspiring, exposing, and supporting my kids in their interests and learning? I just keep feeling like all these great things I’m learning about and want to implement really aren’t practical for me to do until the youngest child is out of diapers and I’m just stuck until then. Can I be an effective TJEd mom in my kind of situation?

Trina – Quesnel, BC Canada

I have 5 kids all under the age of seven and find it difficult to find the time and motivation to study. Can my children receive a leadership education if I’m in a love of learning phase and not in a scholar phase? Will they be inspired?

Marci Erickson – West Valley City, UT

I have been homeschooling my children now (ages 8, 8, 6, 4, 2) for six months. I have times when I panic and think I need to be doing “school”, like math, spelling, reading, etc. How do you get over those panic times, and what do you exactly do, during a typical day, during the core and love of learning phases?

Rachel’s Answer:

Rebecca, the only thing harder than having exactly three kids is having exactly three kids under the age of 6.  Relax! Enjoy this precious time. They’re little, you’re tired. Your family is young and you’re still figuring out your professional life, your marriage, the relationships with the extended family… It can be a bit much to change the world from where you’re sitting. Remember the old adage: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Rocking the cradle really is enough some days. Reading Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose really is changing the world. Really. Really.

Give yourself permission to do the right thing today, and let tomorrow worry about itself. Some days you might be surprised at how you actually did something that was an investment in you. But rest assured that as your oldest gets older and more helpful, and as your youngest gets older and less needy, and as you regain a little bit of your energy when lost sleep and low iron aren’t such an issue as today, things will start to fit and flow differently. You’ll probably find that even if you have more kids, three was the hardest. You’ll never again be the only one who knows how to comfort a baby or go find a diaper.

As you apply the Ingredients in the Recipe for Success (see the sample download from Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning to get an idea what I’m talking about) to get the home environment calmed down from the rat-race and the conveyor belt, the kids will entertain each other and fill many of the needs that right now only you can fill. And as that happens, you’ll start to find that the music you listen to and the videos you watch as a family, the stories you tell and the books you read can all sort of build on your dream and intention to create an inspirational environment of learning and becoming.

Do your part by considering the environment in your home, and the way you spend your mornings and evenings as a family. Read the Core and Love of Learning section of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, and the article, “A Thomas Jefferson Education in our Home: Educating through the Phases of Learning” found here. (Marci: I wrote that one in particular to address the frequent question, “What does a typical day look like in your home?”) A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion has great ideas on conducting Family Reading Time.

Do the one or two little things that you feel inspired/urged to do today, no matter how irrelevant or insignificant they may seem in the big picture. As you get in tune with that voice and become trustworthy in attending to it, you’ll find that things just magically work, in spite of (and even because of) the chaos and challenges. Be patient with the process. Trust the process.

Here are a few articles and resources that might be helpful:
[please share your comments on them!]

Core Phase, and Young-Mom-Overwhelm:

TJEd in a Large Family:

From the TJEd Library:


Heidi – Santa Cruz, CA:

When will information about the March TJEd Conference be available online?

Here is a link for that information: http://www.tjedmarketplace.com/forums/slc/2011

The good folks at TJEdMarketplace are busily working right this moment to put up more information about this exciting event. You won’t want to miss it, so save the date and check back on the Forum page often to get details on the events and offerings!

No Name:

I’ve read all your homeschooling books & am part of a support group centered around the Thomas Jefferson Education method & I LOVE the ideas & feel so excited about living them. I tried homeschooling for one year last year, and then a Montessori charter school opened near my home & I decided to give it a try. Mainly for the reason that I felt like I could not be consistent enough in my homeschooling at home. I’m wondering if you think a mom who suffers from maybe some mild depression at times, or is not really used to being routine or scheduled can be successful at homeschooling. It seems to me that the most successful homeschool families have mom’s that are super positive & motivated & organized. What if I don’t feel like I fit in that mold? I feel like I’d be better off to send my children to public school so that they can learn from someone else rather than risk they learn inconsistency from me.

No Name:

Do you have any advice on helping my 10 year old enjoy math? She is great when it comes to money, but has no interest in learning computation or number logic?

We have several articles and resources here that might be of interest to you:

This is a subject where it’s important to remember the 7th Key: You, not Them. It’s going to be tough going to get your kids interested in math study when you can’t imagine doing it yourself, whether for pleasure or personal enrichment. When your kids see you using math and enjoying the study of mathematical topics and authors, you will be asking me a different question–I promise.

Nicole – California

We have soo much ‘stuff’ (games, science kits, art supplies, you know what I’m talking about!) Books are easy as they go on bookshelves and are nice, tidy, and easy to get to there…but what ideas do you have for all the rest of it?

Ingredient #20 in the Core and Love of Learning section (pp 108-109) of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning is all about this! It’s called, “The Closet,” and it’s one of my favorite things about a TJEd Home. Basically, it describes how to keep your materials so they’re accessible when you need them, and so they’re valued and engaging when you get them out. My good friend Mary Ann Johnson actually created a mentoring project all about the TJEd Closet, called the Closet Coach: http://home-school-coach.com/.

You might also want to consider Ingredient #6, “The Six-month Purge,” (pp 76-77, Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning). The idea of clearing your time and space is also covered in “A Thomas Jefferson Education in our Home: Educating through the Phases of Learning,” which is available as a free download here: https://www.tjed.org/bonus-gifts/.

Michelle – Denton, TX

What is the “Detox” phase supposed to look like? We are two months into homeschooling, and my expectations are discouraging me. My husband says just “hang out and detox”, but I want to have it more structured. Please help.

As I mentioned in the Teleconference, there are two case studies in the Q&A section of “A Thomas Jefferson Education in our Home: Educating through the Phases of Learning,” which is available as a free download here: https://www.tjed.org/bonus-gifts/.

The process is also described in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning in several places: pp. 25, 32, 33, 38, 40, 181, and 183.

Here are some articles that might be helpful:

Katherine – Lodi

Would love to learn more about how to mentor going into transition to Scholar and scholar phase.

You’re in luck! The free sample download from Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning includes the whole chapter on Transition to Scholar. You can learn a little more about the Phases in this article, as well as here.

As for Scholar Phase:

  • The book A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion describes the process of helping the child graduate from adult skills courses so they can qualify for the privilege of having more time to study by being excused from the chore rotation that applies to the younger children in the family.  It also provides suggestions on running a club for teens to facilitate scholarship, service and achievement.
  • The Leadership Education book has a chapter on Scholar Phase that describes the levels of scholar phase (which are also enumerated here), how to create a Scholar Contract, the Top 8 Mistakes Parents Make in Scholar Phase, how to renegotiate the lessons of lost phases, working with mentors before and in college, transitioning to Depth Phase and beyond, etc.
  • The book Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens features a Teen Top-100 list graduated by age and interest levels, and provides helpful ideas on how to annotate a book, how to run a book discussion group, sample simulations, commentary on life’s mission, personal allegiance, goals and purpose in education, education for character as well as competence, etc.
  • For TJEd-friendly online instruction in Scholar Phase, we love Williamsburg Academy.
  • For TJEd-friendly community schools, we love Leadership Education Mentoring Institute, which helps moms and dads develop local commonwealth schools with mentor development, skills acquisition, leadership training and more.

Marci Erickson – West Valley City, UT

I have been homeschooling my children now (ages 8, 8, 6, 4, 2) for six months. I have times when I panic and think I need to be doing “school”, like math, spelling, reading, etc. How do you get over those panic times, and what do you exactly do, during a typical day, during the core and love of learning phases?

momofmany – NM

is there a type of personality or learning style that would not work with the TJEd? (i.e. would it not work for a child who is not self-directed but is more comfortable taking a “follower” role)

tisha – okawville

How does this form of education fit in with a child with learning challenges?

Kimberly – Tacoma WA

With a love of learning student, should you ever tell them to do some math and reading or writing if they don’t seem motivated to do it on their own?

Marian – Riverside

Thank you for all you and your husband do…I love your books! How do we find a group in our area (Riverside, CA) to meet with other like-minded families…for book discussions, etc.?

Sherry Brost – Oregon City

hello, i have read the TJEd books and am very, very inspired, but feeling overwhelmed on where to begin. My children are 9 and 11 years old, and until last year, when we began home schooling, were in traditional conveyorbelt school. i too, was educated in the public school system – -where do we begin when we are already well down this other path – how do i un-do or re-program the conveyorbelt and obtain the phases?? Many thanks!

Andrea – Raleigh, NC

I love TJed. Thank you so much for all you do. I have recently been reading about a “classical education” as explained by Susan Wise Bauer, which I have also enjoyed reading. I am wondering about missing ‘sensitive periods’ for my children, especially in basics like math and grammar, if I follow a very ‘child-led’ approach to education.

Annmarie – Henderson

What do you do with children with special needs. Like dyslexia? Will this work with them and those with learning challenges

Shirley – Las Vegas

My son was public schooled during 2 years of his core phase, so can he still be successful in this method of learning?

Shirley – Las Vegas

How can I know that by doing this method, my child will love to learn and it will be successful?

Shirley – Las Vegas

How do you know if you are doing enough each day to mentor your children?

Carolyn Donaghey – Fayetteville

We do have one child at home now, 8 yo, and started home educating and TJEd this Fall. Any specific suggestions for 1 child families?

Shirley – Las Vegas

I am homeschooling with Tjed. He is 8. He is my only child. Any good ideas on how to make this work well with homeschooling an only child.

DRyan – Yakima, WA

I LOVE the TJEd principles–but I wonder how you incorporate math and science. I understand reading the math classics–but I believe that a person needs daily practice, too. How can I reconcile daily Saxon math practice and TJEd? I have 7 kids 5-16. I struggle with them taking sooo long on their math (and we also do a Science lecture/lab program) that they don’t have “time” to read the classics! There is a LOT of wasted time (boys wrestling!) I know they’d rather read–but don’t they also need practical math and science, too?

Olivia – Wichita

Because of life circumstances, I haven’t been able to give my children the ideal that would put them on track of the phases. I now have a 12 year old son. And it is said, that boys are a little latter, but when should I worry. Because it seems that he has barely entered Love of Learning a few years ago. Plus he has PDD-NOS Like Aspergers but not as strong. Will that affect that?

Janalyn Blanchard – Salem, OR

I’m afraid I have been failing in Love of Learning phase. My kids don’t seem interested in very much and I find that I have to lead them in most of their learning time. They really just want to play, even the 10 year old. What might it look like as a 10 year old self-educates?

Traci Cumbie – Phoenix

I have a 5 year old that really fights the core phase. He says he doesn’t want any of the good “core” values that we try to teach. Is this just a phase that we try to skim over or do you have a good idea of how to really hit that home with him of why those values are important?

Lee – Utah

Where does a mother (or father) find a mentor who can help guide them?

Amber – Kennewick

how important is having a tjed community in your area to help you and your children have a great education?

Laurie – San Diego

My son turned 13 today. We have been on an unschooling path, He loves learning and spends a lot time reading but gets overwhelmed by novels. Can I trust that he will be able to and desire to read classic literature?

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By Oliver DeMille

“Do you love your country?” my daughter Meri asked enthusiastically. “I’ve been reading Anne of Green Gables and I love my country as much as she did!”

Nearly everyone says “yes” when asked this question, but let’s look a little deeper. Do you actually, really love your country?

Most people don’t know what this question means. They think it refers to loving your nation, or your state, or being patriotic to your government. But these are actually four different things:

  • A nation is a group of people with a shared history and a shared vision of the future.
  • A state is a government entity, sometimes ruling over a nation but at other times ruling over many nations.
  • A government consists of the institutions and people who carry out the will of a state.
  • A country is the land, the trees, rivers, lakes, clouds, mountains, “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain.”

So when someone asks if you love our country, it is worth thinking about. Where do you love to take a walk outside, hike, raft, or visit for a picnic?

This is your country.

Louis L’Amour asked: “What boy does not know the land of his boyhood? Every cave … every dip in the land and hole in the hedges, and all that lonely, rockbound coast for miles. There I had played and imagined myself in wars, and there I could run, dodge, and elude.”

The answer to this question, in our modern world, is that many boys and girls have no such experience.

How can we love our country if we spend very little time with it?

Part of Leadership Education is spending a lot of time outside.

TJEd is about getting the kind of education great leaders need, and the outdoors can be an essential part of this.

Mountains, beaches, parks—there are so many ways to get outside and improve education.

The Only True Patriotism

The classical historian Livy wrote that the Roman Republic became great because of what he called an early “…sense of community…. That sense—the only true patriotism—comes slowly and springs from the heart: it is founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil.”

That’s right, the great nations of history were “founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil.”

Taking the family and getting outside, close to nature, close to the land, and where possible actually planting and caring for things, is part of leadership.

No education is complete without it.

The great mentor Russell Kirk used to wake his mentees before light and have them work in the orchards until the heat of the day before hitting the books.

He said no book learning was really possible unless you had already worked with your hands.

So change your plans this week.

Do more outside.

Take your family with you.

Let family and soil and trees and streams teach your kids and youth more about greatness.

If you look around, you’ll be amazed at all the opportunities for outdoor learning.

Take advantage of more of these.

A lot more.

A Thomas Jefferson Education

Thomas Jefferson took a long walk outside nearly every day, because he believed that it had a huge impact on one’s ability to think.

Go outside more often. Love your country more.

Try to love it as much as Anne of Green Gables, even though that’s admittedly a tall order.

Go outside more, like Elizabeth Bennet, and drink in some of her spirit of “conceited independence and country-town indifference to decorum!” Our nation could use a lot more of this attitude right now.

Your whole family’s education will greatly benefit from this one improvement in our daily lives.

“Meri,” I said after explaining what it means to love your country, “where do you want to go today? Somewhere outdoors, I mean.”

“I know, I know,” Meri jumped up and down happily. “Let’s go look at some actual gables!”


Image Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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Age: (Commonly) 7, 8 or 9ish to 12-13ish—boys often just a little later on both ends.

The emphasis here is on Love above Learning. This distinction is only necessary because so many of us have a conveyor belt hangover, and we tend toward duplicating our own experiences with conveyor belt systems.

These are the years when children dabble with subjects, getting to know “what’s out there”.

If they have come from the Core Phase in good order they are often fearless, feeling like almost everything will be interesting and believing that they will be able to do whatever they set their minds to.

Children learn accountability through their family obligations, chores, personal grooming, attitude, etc.

School time is simply “fun,” with no sense of obligation to be responsible or committed to a particular path.

In any endeavor: let them get what they came for (fun, curiosity, exposure, ???) and then move on when they want, however short or long that time might be.

You are the parent with the right and obligation to set healthy limits during “School Time” (like: no friends over, no video games, no [certain type of other diversion]), but be sure you aren’t limiting something for the wrong reasons.

Keep your eye on the prize!

The most important thing to learn during this phase is Love of Learning. Just remember: by supporting their love of learning they will truly excel in some areas that will later be a spring board for learning in other areas that they might not yet be interested in.

And if they enter their youth with a profound excitement for and love of learning, there is absolutely nothing that they can’t “catch up.”

We can’t reasonably cover everything in these years.

We can’t reasonably cover “everything” in 90 years! Of all the lessons they master in these pre-adolescent years,  the most important value, the one that will enable the child to really learn what they do study and successfully cover later all the rest, is the Love of Learning.

That value governs the whole concept of “Inspire”.

How to Do It

  1. Avoid committing to a curriculum or lesson structure that has external demands (financial commitments, practice schedules) you are not willing to compromise. In most cases, you can find a way to gain the value of that experience without the Scholar-level requirements. In the few cases you cannot, strongly consider letting it wait until Scholar Phase.
  2. Be patient! The time for such demands and structure is coming soon during Scholar Phase! Love of Learning should feel like a treasure hunt. Parents, especially those who thrive on structure and follow-through, need to be on track in their own progression in the Phases as a means of gaining confidence in this time of high-energy/low-demand. The more you want to push and manipulate the kids, direct it at yourself! Remember: Inspire!

For more on Love of Learning:

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February 2011 Inspire!

Published on 16. Feb, 2011 by in


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Them, not You!

A Problem We Can Solve

by Oliver DeMille


There is a major tragedy brewing in America. It is not the reality that while only 1 state had budget a deficit in 2007, in 2010 an astounding 48 fell short—nor that the federal government stimulus money is running out and won’t be there to help them get through 2011. It is not that huge numbers of private jets fly our skies unchecked by TSA security and that it may only be a matter of time until Al-Qaeda does something about it. It is not the calamity that the unemployment rate has gone from 4.7% in 2007 to 9.8% now and even higher when you count people who have given up looking for a new job.

Nor is it the largest looming American tragedy that the federal deficit has gone from $161 billion in 2007 to $1.3 trillion in 2010 and worse this year. All of these are real challenges, and indeed each was mentioned in just one issue of The Atlantic (January 2011). Of course, there are many more that weren’t discussed.

I’ve always believed that optimism is the most accurate policy, and now is no exception. Optimism works best when we see the realities and then figure out truly positive ways to respond.

The Bad News

The big tragedy ahead, the one I think will have truly drastic consequences in the years and decades ahead, is this: The average minutes spent reading per weekend day by 15 to 19 year olds has gone down from 16 in 2007 to just 5 in 2009. That’s right; when they aren’t in school being required to read, our youth now voluntarily choose to read just 5 minutes a day.

This is a disaster of grand proportion in the making. Leaders have always been readers, and the only free societies have been those where reading was widespread and popular among the “regular” people. Remove reading and freedom quickly goes away—along with prosperity and a lot of other family and individual benefits.

Through ancient history those who could read ruled those who could not, and this pattern lasted through the classical and medieval worlds. The Renaissance was, above all, a rebirth of reading; the same is true of the Enlightenment, which presaged the American Founding. English freedom followed the spread of reading, as did rising freedom in other nations through history (e.g. Athens, Golden-Age Israel, the Franks, the Swiss Cantons, the Saracens and the free Germanic states). Egypt, Babylon, Rome, China and various monarchies had their golden ages, but only the upper classes (readers) took part; life for the uneducated classes was painful and marked by poverty and servitude.

Peter Vilhelm Ilsted, “Woman reading by candlelight”

In early New England, literacy rates well above 90% foreshadowed and coincided with the Revolutionary and Constitutional eras. The pioneers took the best books with them across rivers, mountains and plains—and read them over and over again. Their children followed their example. I have said before that a nation whose regular members read and deeply understood The Federalist has a different education than ours today, and that the type of regular citizens who sat quietly listening to six hours of a Lincoln-Douglass debate and then followed up with months of heated debate is a rarity in modern America.

The United States was built on the concept that nearly every regular citizen would have an education just as good as the President or any Senator, Judge or Governor. So when our 15-19 year olds only spend 5 minutes a day of their free time reading, our freedoms, prosperity and future are in very real jeopardy.

Lincoln is credited with saying that the culture of the schoolroom in one generation will be the culture of government in the next; it is a profound thought. With this in mind, we should have real concerns about the next generation.

The Good News

Fortunately, this is one national (and international) problem that we can do something about. We are not dependent on policy-makers, politicians or experts to remedy this situation. Whatever happens with unemployment, government budgets, national debts, terrorists with planes, or the myriad other things most of us feel powerless to resolve, the reading thing is completely in our power to change.

Source: BlissfullyDomestic.com

The really good news is that of all the challenges mentioned here, this one has the most potential to positively influence the others, because a nation of readers naturally becomes a nation with more leaders, and leadership is one of those catalytic things which drastically impacts everything it touches. If you want to improve the world, you can hardly do anything more powerful than help somebody fall in love with reading.

To be honest, most of us in TJEd probably haven’t done enough to share our love of reading with others and promote more reading—especially among the youth. For all that we have done, we still haven’t done nearly enough. There is so much more we can do.

For example, get a blank piece of paper and a pen. Now think of everyone you know who might fall in love with learning if you invited them. Write down their names. Consider those in the various groups you belong to. Don’t forget to think of 15-19 year olds you know. Make a list. Really. Your list could change the world. Who knows who is on your list—a future Einstein, Jefferson, or Mother Teresa?

Without reading, Jefferson never would have amounted to much. Same with the other greats in history—just name your favorite. And then go back to your list of names.

Your list matters. Who do you know that hasn’t yet fallen in love with reading?

Once you have a list, use your Inventory skills; sit down and brainstorm how to invite each of them to love reading. How can you inspire them? Is there a certain book that you think will resonate with them? Will it be most effective to gift the book or to recommend it to them? Would a book on Kindle be more interesting to them than a hard copy?  Would a movie or audiobook be more effective than a book? Would a science fiction series do the trick? What about inviting them to a book discussion party, or a simulation you could arrange? Or just sharing with them how much you love a certain book and telling them they’ve “just got to read it—it’s sooooo good!” Just sharing your own enthusiasm can be contagious. Many people have simply forgotten how much they love to read–or given in to the notion that they don’t deserve to take that kind of personal time.

If they just need permission, by all means, volunteer to give them permission!

We need a nation of readers, you know it, and you know people who should be part of it. Now you just have to figure out how to get them excited to become an avid reader. Some might turn you down, but others will get into reading and share it with still others. You’re already a reader, so this is about them, not you.

Make a Difference Now

I know it sometimes feels hard enough just to make yourself read a classic and truly inspire your children, but the world needs a lot more readers—and if those who are already in love with reading don’t inspire others to read, who will? When you spread your passion for reading to others, you literally influence the future of freedom and prosperity through leadership.

There are many problems in the world which most of us can’t do much right now to change or improve, but spreading love of reading is something we can all take part in—and in the long term it builds the leaders who will overcome the problems of the future. The leaders of the future are reading today…or maybe not. When we help spread a love of reading, we are improving the future in a real, tangible and lasting way.

If this seems like too much to you, just gift more books. And write a note with the book telling the recipient why you gave it to them and how much you love it. The tyrants of history have fought freedom by burning books, because they know the power of reading. In contrast, those who truly want to improve the world can find ways to increase the love of reading in our families, communities and society. For those who resonate with Leadership Education, this is a natural process. Simply look for ways and opportunities to more actively share your love of reading with others!

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Are you *just* reading to them? GIGO.

Mary Cassatt, "Reading to Children"

Mary Cassatt, “Reading to Children”

So much has been said about the importance of reading to our kids; and those of us who do can attest that it’s a formative experience–on so many levels:

  • Bonding
  • Laughing
  • Making memories
  • A shared language
  • Gratitude
  • Reliving the past
  • Pity and compassion
  • Empathy for others
  • Tenderness
  • Shared stories/quotes/inside jokes
  • Moments of transparency and unguarded confiding
  • Feelings of righteous outrage and commitment to make a difference
  • Self discovery and desire to improve
  • Exploring new ideas/places/words/peoples/images
  • Connecting with our ancestors/predecessors
  • Deepened affection for family
  • –and so much more…

It occurred to me one day last week, when I was teaching a little lesson for a group of friends and their kids (we take weekly turns for an hour of class before the kids play together), that I do something a little more than just reading. It’s one of those things that comes so naturally that sometimes you forget to even comment on it or suggest it to others.

pig3 As I taught our little group about the the power of stories to help us “Remember”, I retold the traditional folktale of the 3 Little Pigs–not the Disney version, but the one where the piggies actually get gobbled up because their houses were not made to last. And then I did what I always do: I started to ask questions about the story.

We had a discussion about it. In technical mentoring terms, we had a “debriefing.” It took longer to discuss the story and listen to the responses from the kids and their moms than it did to tell the thing, and it could have gone on for three times as long. There is so much to talk about when you have a good quality story!

I found a version on the web that’s really close to the one I read to the kids. You can view it here. (Click on the arrows at the bottom of each illustrated panel to “turn the page”.)

Some of the things we discussed:

  • Why did the piggies leave their first home?
  • Where did the little pigs get the materials to build their houses?
  • Does it seem strange that the man gave away the straw/wood/bricks just because the pigs needed them and asked for them–without paying?
  • Do you think the man would have given away the materials if they hadn’t asked?
  • Who in our lives gives us what we need, just because we ask?
  • Why is asking an important part of that process?
  • How did the pigs get the houses? [They built them]
  • How much did they cost? [Only the cost of their labor]
  • So basically, they all cost the pigs the same amount; which house was the most valuable, and why?
  • Why would a pig ask for free materials of lesser value, and put his effort into building a house that doesn’t actually do what a house should do–protect and shelter?
  • Do we ever ask for things that aren’t of lasting value?
  • Do we ever put our effort into things that don’t serve our interests? How/What?
  • Did the unfortunate piggies try to avoid the wolf? Why were they unable to do so? [Because they had not prepared adequately]
  • Did the wise piggy try to avoid the wolf? How? [He put in extra effort to use the resources he had been freely given by the man so that the wolf wouldn’t be able to enter his home. He also made plans and sacrifices in an effort to never be in the same place with the wolf when he had to leave his home.]
  • What happened to the foolish piggies? Does misfortune ever come to those who mean well but do less than they could?
  • How does this apply to us?

barros-book-war-love There are many more questions that could come from such a story. But obviously, just any old version of the story doesn’t provide such fertile thought. Some common versions are stripped of the details that make this one such a great discussion. This is why we recur to the classics. They stay around generation after generation, retelling after retelling, because they have more than a bossy moral at the end; they have myriad open questions embedded in the details.

Not all stories are created equal; not all reading times are created equal. It sort of brings to mind the computer science term, “Garbage in, garbage out.” The common acronym is: GIGO. It means, the quality of output is determined by the quality of input. How many times have we pulled out our hair in frustration because our computer (or vacuum, or car, or…) isn’t reliably doing what we need it to do? Somewhere in the programming, design, construction or planned obsolescence of the tool we were confronted with its limitations. And yet, a sleek, well designed program can really make your life a dream and simplify your work; and there’s nothing as quite so glorious as a vacuum or car that you absolutely love!

When it comes to family reading time (or personal reading, or leisure pursuits), are we choosing materials freely available to us that don’t serve our interests? Are we putting in the time and effort, but getting inferior results?

GIGO. The lesson of the 3 Pigs tells us this:

  • Choose the highest quality materials
  • Put in the extra effort to put them to work (Don’t just read; interact. Don’t just lecture; listen.)
  • Shun, dismiss and expel the influences that distract, compete or deceive

I think sometimes moms and dads feel overwhelmed, frustrated or disillusioned with their family’s education and have no idea that the fix could be as simple as having a family reading time with a great classic. Consider: if I had chosen a different version of the 3 Little Pigs, what kind of discussion might have ensued? How might I have spent that 30 minutes? What additional effort or floundering might I have gone to, and never had such an enriching and bonding experience with my kids and friends?

To my way of thinking, it would have been a lot harder, and a lot less fulfilling. When we’re engaged with a great classic, I don’t have to have 7 different lessons going on for 7 different kids at home. They each take from that experience something that applies to them specifically. In fact, my 18-year-old daughter happened to pass by the parlor while I was leading the 3 Pigs discussion and she stayed to take it in. It was every bit as interesting and relevant for her as it was for my neighbor’s 4 year old. She commented to me afterward that she hadn’t realized how much there was to think about in that story! My response: that’s the power of classics and mentors. GIGO. Quality in, quality out.

And in this case, quality also translates to all the wonderful feelings and experiences I listed at the beginning of this article. After such a discussion, the natural result is a spirit of harmony and productivity that never fails to lead to other wonderful projects and happy times throughout the rest of the day. Isn’t that more productive and less stressful than the alternative?

What do you think will happen to your family’s education when you input the classics and debrief with interactive listening? What will the output be? Sounds like a good time to employ the scientific method….

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The Student Whisperer Sample Download & Presale Discount

The wait is finally over! The Student Whisperer by Oliver DeMille and Tiffany Earl can now be reserved, to be shipped in March. Reader response is the best ever. See for yourself:

  • “My ‘epiphanal rate’ was off the charts.”
  • “I was moved beyond words.”
  • “…a guide book for all who want to truly mentor well and make a difference in the world.”
  • “…a classic! [It] will apply to the businessman and homeschooling mom alike.”
  • “…no matter what I say it would be an understatement.”

Click here to read complete reviews >>

Early Design Concept

A special pre-print discount of 10% off the $19.95 cover price is available for those who reserve their copy(s) in advance–and U.S shipping is free!** Plus, those who participate in the presale will get a complimentary copy of the e-book version.

We anticipate the paperback will be available to ship by the third week of March. When it does, the presale discount, free shipping and free e-book offer all end! Please act now to help us fund the design and printing costs of producing this important book–and help yourself to the discounts only available on this presale!

Custom quantities and shipping preferences available on request. Please contact us here to inquire.

**Shipping free within the U.S.; pro-rated discount available for shipping outside the U.S.

This page will be updated with the new cover image when it becomes available. Watch for it!

Click a link for more information:

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Resources to Leverage Your Success

helping hand 300x200 January 2011 Inspire!

Would you like a daily dose of TJEd?

View the Daily Inspire! archives here >>

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Nurturing the Foundation

Published on 14. Mar, 2011 by in Basic TJEd, Blog


by Kelli Poll

picture_of_plant_to_grow_in_the_soil_169075 It was the early 1960s. In Grosse Point, Michigan a bold experiment was carried out.

Applicants were tested to find those who had intellectual and leadership potential.

The parents whose children were turned away became bitter and resentful, while those of accepted applicants carried a new mark of distinction.

Five years into the fourteen-year project the researchers tried to stop it. It was a profound failure.

The region boasted a high ratio of brilliant executives. The students were handpicked from this seedbed of success.

What happened?

The project was to take these specially-selected children and place them in an academic institution at the age of four.

This would give them a head start on the academic track.

They would become aggressive learners who would surpass the Russians and help America retain its position as leader of the world in every arena.

The problem was – it didn’t work.

Because of pressure from parents, who still supported the high status project, it continued another nine years.

The expected outcome was well-adjusted children who exhibited strong leadership characteristics and academic success.

The actual results were:

  1. nearly one-third were poorly adjusted
  2. 1 of 20 were judged to be an outstanding leader (far below the norm)
  3. 3 of 4 were considered entirely lacking in leadership. The dropout rate among them was above the norm.

The researchers concluded that if these children had been allowed to develop normally they would have been outstanding (i, ii).

Great structures need great foundations to support them.

If the foundation is faulty whatever is built upon it will not be structurally sound or fit for long-term use.

A mentor who applies the principles of great teaching, while understanding and supporting normal development, lays a foundation for leadership.

Sooner and faster is a Conveyor Belt answer. It has been tried and found lacking.

Better answers to the leadership crisis must come from off the conveyor belt.

I believe we learn through study, faith and experience.

When I decided to teach my own children, the only information I had to go on were the thoughts of an enthusiastic friend who had been to one homeschool conference and had absolutely no experience.

I took my decision to God and explained that my motivation was fear and my purpose was to keep my children safe.

There was no reply. So I reconsidered.

About six months to a year later I was back on my knees.

I wanted to homeschool my children because I loved them and wanted to give them strong relationships with God and family.

This time He answered. In my heart I felt the warmth and peace of His Spirit confirming my new plan.

I had chosen to do the right thing for my family and had found the right reason.

I began the work of trying to figure out just how to do this and found an advertisement for a boxed curriculum.

It came with great references and seemed to guarantee success and security.

I was sold on it.

My son was only 4 but I wanted to “see” how great this was going to be – so I envisioned it. I imagined my son sitting at the table while I opened the box and handed him his work for the day.

He was excited and happily did worksheets.

Suddenly, I lost control of the image and the vision changed.

I saw a different day not long after – only this time my son was upset and refusing to do his work.

I saw myself frustrated and trying to make him do it. It was a battle of wills.

The tension was thick and tangible.

When the vision was gone I went straight to my knees. I asked God to help me find a way that would work, particularly for strengthening relationships.

Cornerstones of Great Teaching

I had two key pieces of information to get me started – the first two cornerstones of great teaching – Relationship and Freedom. Cornerstones are used to guide and align the layout of the foundation.

These were my criteria, my guides as I began the work of finding a new way of educating.

I had been well trained in how to do conveyor belt education – I needed mentors to show me what I could do instead and I found them in books. I searched stores and libraries for books on homeschooling.

If the books met my criteria I studied them carefully.

A few of my favorite authors were Raymond and Dorothy Moore, John Holt, Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason. From them I learned the other two cornerstones – Trust and Individualize.

I also learned a key to troubleshooting – the simple things are the most effective.

1. Relationship

Relationships are created and maintained on the basis of frequent, consistent, simple and positive interactions. The most important relationship in your home is your marriage.

By taking time each day to connect with your spouse and family they will know they are loved and matter to you.

Human bonds are built with positive:

  • Eye contact–we often misuse this by only using it for reprimands or giving instruction. It is more effective to use it primarily for connecting.
  • Physical touch: this can be holding and hugging, a brief pat on the back, or even tousled hair. Boys often prefer roughhousing.
  • Focused attention – this includes listening, planned or spontaneous one-on-one time, displays of portraits and artwork, personal letters to them, etc.
  • Teaching: after the connection is built with eye contact, physical contact and focused attention, the child is open, trusting and ready to be taught–wanting the parent’s input and guidance. A mother was wondering how to connect with her teen daughter. She decided they would “play salon” and manicure each other’s nails once a week. It didn’t take long for her daughter to open up, confide in her mother and ask advice.

A child can learn well only if he is happy, feels safe, content, confident, secure, accepted, and loved. … In order for a child to identify with his parents (relate closely with them) and be able to accept their standards [incorporate and accept parental values], he must feel loved and accepted by them.(iii)

2. Freedom

Children need academic freedom to own their education.

This is the freedom to: explore, pick up and put down interests, follow their passions, discover their strengths and gifts, think and imagine, find their unique voices and express them.

This includes the freedom to take breaks from frustration and find a better approach.

Freedom to make choices and learn from them, to ask questions, get messy and make mistakes.

3. Trust

There are at least four places to put your trust.

  • First, trust in God. He knows and cares about what happens in your home. He wants you to succeed and will give you answers, but not all of them.
  • Second, trust yourself – you can do this, you can find help and you can learn what you need to know.
  • Third, trust your spouse. Listen to them. They may not be the most articulate or diplomatic when expressing themselves, but their concerns and suggestions should be respected and considered. Their perspective is invaluable to a shared stewardship.
  • Fourth, trust your child. They come to us with a desire to learn and understand the world around them, and to impact it. You really don’t have to “make” them learn.

Leadership education is a collaborative effort of God, parents and child – this requires relationships of trust. Being able to relax, have peace and confidence – trust – help me to receive the right answers.

4. Individualize

One size does not fit all. Each child is unique.

There are many varieties of genius, gifts, strengths, challenges, developmental time frames and agendas, learning styles, and missions.

Even when using the same materials the timing, pace, approach, discussions, etc. should be personalized to the needs of the individual.

Also, each family is unique, so the application of educational principles will look different from child to child and family to family.

Developmental Phases – the Foundation

Rearing leaders was not on my mind when I began homeschooling.

When TJEd arrived on the scene I embraced it because it fit my criteria, my philosophy, for education.

It also added a new dimension – a new definition of leadership. In the Michigan project there are more Conveyor Belt assumptions that must be questioned:

  1. that leadership potential exists only in “certain” individuals and can be found through testing.
  2. that leadership is based on material success in business or politics.

TJEd operates on the assumptions that there is a spark of genius in every person and that leadership is about much more than material success in business or politics.

A Leader is a person who lives a life of integrity, lifts and blesses all around them and impacts generations by finding and fulfilling their God-given purpose.

We all have leadership potential – if mentored and “allowed to develop normally.”

So what is “normal” development? The Giant Bamboo plant helps me understand the Phases of development.

The Giant Bamboo grows 20-100 feet high, depending on species, and matures into a useful building material. There is a saying about newly planted bamboo:

The first year it sleeps,

The second year it creeps,

The third year it leaps.

The first year the root sends up a shoot which sprouts to the dizzying height of six inches.

Then it just sits there for the rest of the year. The second year it rises to about 2-3 feet.

The third year it leaps close to its mature height. After that it grows in height and girth until mature and ready to be of use.

What is happening? All the growth of the first two phases is happening where you can’t see it – the roots.

The roots double in size each year.

It is the amazing growth of the root system that makes the tremendous leap of the third year possible. As the roots grow they are better able to feed the growth of the canes.

A relationship is created between the roots and leaves, feeding and nourishing each other for greater growth.(iv)

Relating this analogy to the Phases of Learning, the first year of bamboo growth is Core Phase, the second is Love of Learning and the third is Scholar Phase.

The symbiotic relationship of roots and leaves explains how Core and Love of Learning are never finished.

They continue to nourish the later Phases and are fed by them in return.

What would happen to a plant without its root system? What happens to roots if the plant fails to develop or the branches and leaves are all cut off?

You have probably heard the phrase “head, heart and hands.”

In development it should read Hands, Heart and Head.

It is through the roots — the hands and heart — that the head is reached. Abstract thinking begins between 12-14 years of age.

At that point you can teach straight to the head; in the meantime, those abilities and avenues appear dormant.

When you mentor the Core and Love of Learning phases it does not look like much is happening.

If you want to see the growth that is taking place you will have to look deep below the surface to see and appreciate it.

Building the root system is the foundation work of these phases. This creates the possibility for the tremendous growth of Scholar Phase and beyond.

Core Phase-Hands

The primary Core mentor skill is the ability to receive and act on impressions.

A “mentor skill” is something to be utilized, modeled and taught. An important part of Core is knowing where and how to turn for guidance when facing overwhelming situations.

Without it we accept tyrants and their false promises of security.

The main lesson is Character.

Learning the family moral code and religious values as guides to discerning the difference between true and false, good and bad, right and wrong and to choose what is right no matter the cost.

These lessons do not end in Core phase, but it is certainly the best time to begin, the time to lay the proper foundation.

Each day we are made increasingly aware of the fact that life is more than science and mathematics, more than history and literature.

There is need for another education, without which the substance of our secular learning may lead only to our destruction.

I refer to the education of the heart, of the conscience, of the character, of the spirit – these indefinable aspects of our personalities which determine so certainly what we are and what we do in our relationships one with another. (G. B. Hinckley)

Core phase children learn primarily through their “hands” – their bodies and physical senses.

They learn through interacting with their environment. They imitate what they see and hear.

They taste and touch everything and anything. They love movement and rhythm – dancing and acting out stories.

Learning is very “hands on” this is why Montessori and similar methods work so well.

Core Phaser’s concept of time and space is limited to the here and now -– their immediate experiences and surroundings.

The method is doing things together: work and play, love and home, stories and songs.

These give opportunities for discussing good/bad, right/wrong, etc. Family relationships are the training ground to learn manners, negotiation, service and more.

The Core need is order–structure of time (routines) and space (environment).

In general, those in Core Phase like knowing what to expect. This includes a daily rhythm of times for meals, reading, play and work, morning and bedtime routines, family rituals and traditions.

If you are having trouble with little ones being too active when you would like them doing quiet activities, such as while you read aloud or work with older children, consider structuring active time (especially outdoor) before quiet time.

I once read an article in a women’s magazine reporting on some recent ADD research.

The findings were that ADD kids who spent time outside running and playing were able to focus and pay attention to their work afterward. Many homeschool families report the same result whether it is work, play or exercise. A good Core kid is a tired Core kid.

The main skill to work on in Core actually complements (rather than competes with) character training; that skill is comprehension. Comprehension is the ability to understand, to grasp the meaning.

Comprehension is built through hands-on experiences and discussion.

I have a friend who teaches high school math.

When she teaches geometry she can tell which students have had hands-on experience with shapes – they are able to comprehend the material while the others struggle with the concepts.

The early years are the time to build up a catalogue of experiences.

If you came across the letter combo, “D-O-G,” how great would be your understanding if you had never seen, touched, smelled or played with one?

One school district set up an experiment . . . Some kindergartners in the district received extensive instruction in reading. Others spent the same amount of time learning science.

They melted ice.

They observed thermometers in hot and cold places. They played with magnets, grew plants, learned about animal life, and so on.

By third grade the “science” children were far ahead of the “reading” children in their reading scores. The reason? Their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced.

They could read on more topics and understand higher level materials. . . . You can also teach about music, art, literature, money, work, safety, God, people, and everything else you and your child are interested in.

All such teaching is “pre-reading” instruction. It is getting ready for reading. Everything your child learns increases his vocabulary and develops his thinking skills. (v)

There are many avenues of play that build comprehension and motor skills, such as:

  • drama
  • drawing
  • painting
  • clay
  • storytelling
  • handwork
  • lacing
  • sewing
  • mazes
  • blocks
  • puzzles
  • sorting
  • sand and water play
  • bugs
  • cooking
  • gardening

Acting out stories is another favorite activity. One day my children asked me to play with them. I had to nurse the baby so I quickly brainstormed. We had a cardboard playhouse and I agreed to tell them stories that featured a house if they would act them out.

They had to listen, follow instructions, create dialogue and costumes and figure out staging.

They had to think, understand and use every learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic). It is amazing and comforting to realize that “child’s play” is truly the best means to help them develop optimally.

Love of Learning – Heart

The primary Love of Learning mentoring skill is passion, enthusiasm and genuine interest in everything – particularly for trying new things.

You model this skill by not only finding and exploring your own passions and interests but by enthusiastically sharing your and their interests.

The main lesson of this phase is Confidence. During this phase there is a strong desire to do things “right”, to be successful at things, but underlying is the desire to successfully navigate life itself.

This is why Love of Learners want to know “the rules.” A strong relationship with Dad is especially important in building confidence. The influence of Dad increases as they grow and move into Scholar Phase.

This phase is about their Heart, their feelings, their Love of learning. The main method is to add the Heart to the Hands. They continue to need hands-on activities but they become more purposeful now.

In Core phase they imitate a general idea of what they see you do, in Love of Learning phase they notice the differences and they care.

No more scribbling; they want to learn how to really write.

Same for other things such as reading, drawing, etc.

They have the attention span and interest for lessons, projects and other skill-building activities. They begin to care about and comprehend other people, places and times (past and future) outside their own experience.

Love of Learning is a great time to explore the arts and sciences (including math), history and geography and to explore talents and abilities.

As they are exposed to new things they find interests they want to investigate further and are enthusiastic about sharing them. They consider their interests as a part of themselves and they take our responses to those interests very personally.

They need models, positive feedback from you and academic freedom to choose.

Their primary models are their parents and older siblings; but now the need may begin to expand. These years often include a search for heroes.

Emulating heroes is a way to learn and follow the rules for a successful life. Biographies of great men and women are appealing at this time because it meets this need for models to follow, and for the “rules” that govern the outcomes in life.

A mentor who puts trust in their choices and helps them learn through positive feedback (specific and honest) helps them build confidence in themselves, even when things don’t always work out. Encourage them while keeping the following in mind:

  • They like to do what they can do.
  • They want to do what they think they can do.
  • They hate to do what they can’t do. (v)

Before introducing or asking for effort on something new or that they feel they can’t do, build confidence by letting them do what they can do. Allow them the freedom to spend time on things that they can do rather than “challenging” them.

Resist the paranoid suggestion that they don’t progress unless pushed.

They will move on when they are ready. They need to mess about, to live Ms. Frizzle’s (vi) mantra – ask questions, get messy and make mistakes.

The skills learned in this phase are the basic life and academic skills. But the most important is trying new things. The new things can be books, sports, food, lessons, groups, etc.

This does not mean making commitments, just trying. When I was attempting to transition my very visual son from picture books to chapter books all I asked was that he listen to the first chapter.

At the end I asked if he wanted to hear more. I read a lot of first chapters until we found the one that worked for him.


In the Foundational Phases the work of the mentor is to facilitate positive, enjoyable experiences and opportunities to be and feel successful.

The most important and enduring lessons of this time involve not as much what they know as what they feel about themselves and learning.

The Love is the pilot, and the Learning the co-pilot in Love of Learning. Nurturing positive associations with subject matter will give the child the desire to go deeper and learn more.

This, along with developmental preparedness, character, confidence and a sense of purpose helps them choose to make the leap of Scholar Phase.

About 150 years ago, a religious community was determined to build a structure that would be dedicated to God and His work. With much time and labor they laid a foundation of sandstone, the most readily available material on hand.

Shortly after completing the foundation work they covered it over and left it for a few years while they tended to more immediate needs. When the time came to continue the work they uncovered the stones and found them cracked.

This would never do. They intended to build something that would be strong enough to last for generations.

They did the only thing they could do under the circumstances: they pulled the stones out and started over. This time they used better quality material — granite blocks — although it increased all costs including time and labor.

The price was worth paying; the building still stands and fulfills its purpose generations later.

As we mentor our children we will make mistakes, but they can be corrected in them and ourselves.

As adults and parents our work is to uncover the foundation and see if it is good enough to build the work of our lives upon, to carry us forward in the great purpose of our life.

Is it the right foundation to help us become whom we are meant to be and to do what we were born to do?

Then comes the painful part: ripping out what is just not good enough and replacing it with a foundation that will last.

It is definitely work. It is even more work if you have begun to build on it before recognizing its inadequacies. But the work and agonizing effort are worthwhile, because we are building to impact generations, and the generations of our families will impact others.


i. Moore, Raymond and Dorothy, Better Late Than Early, (Camas, Washington: Reader’s Digest Press, 1975), p. 93.

ii. Moore, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1994), p. 62.

iii. Campbell, Ross, How to Really Love Your Child, (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1992), pp. 95, 132, 134

iv. Bamboo Growth Habit, Mid Atlantic Bamboo

v. Beechick, Ruth, A Home Start in Reading, (Pollock Pines, California: Arrow Press, 1985), p. 4

v. Pudewa, Andrew, “Motivating Boys & Other Kids Who Would Rather Be Making Forts All Day,” Workshop Presentation on DVD or audio download, (www.excellenceinwriting.com)

vi. from “The Magic Schoolbus” series of books and television programs.

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