January 27, 2020

Meet James Purcell – A Fellow Homeschool Daddy

The Purcell Family

My friend, and moderator of this blog, asked me to contribute some thoughts on homeschooling to this blog. I thought this would be fun, and hope to be a regular contributor. Therefore, I thought this first post should be a bit of an introduction to our family and experience as homeschoolers so we can get to know each other a little bit.

My name is James, and I have one wife, six children, two dogs, and two cats.  I have a few hobbies, most of which revolve around being outside either walking/playing with our dogs, playing with the kids who are young enough to still want to play with me, or just generally hanging out. We love to cook, and we love to eat. Our family also loves the water…so much so that we are hoping to relocate some day to a much warmer climate.

As for work and careers go, my career path has woven in and out of the insurance industry and healthcare, and my wife is a middle school math teacher for a public chartered virtual school.  We’ll talk more about that in a later post.

As I mentioned, there are six kids in the family.  Three boys, currently ages 20, 18, and 15. Then, three girls, ages 13, 8, and 6.  Yes, it makes me tired too. Many people ask us…”Why six kids?” I always answer with, “well, my wife wanted four, and I wanted two.  We both got what we wanted.”

The question about the number of children in our family usually leads to other questions, and homeschooling usually isn’t too far down the list. I’m sure we get the same questions you do….Why do you homeschool?  When did you start? When will it end? Are you a scientist/how will you teach chemistry? What about sports? What about what about???????

What is YOUR biggest question for yourself about homeschooling?  What fears, doubts, or insecurities cause you to struggle?

My single, underlying fear was AND IS….what if my kids grow up, and look at me someday, and ask….WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME?????  What if my kids get to college unprepared, because we “forgot about” something SUPER important?

So, a little spoiler alert here…if you paid attention to the ages of my kids, you know two of them are old enough to be college students.  So far…they are doing great. Both earned academic scholarships to the University of Indianapolis, a private liberal arts college in Indianapolis. Our oldest is in the middle of his junior year majoring in business, and boy #2 is halfway through his freshman year majoring in classical guitar.  That points to a future post…how different our kids can be, and why homeschooling is AWESOME for that reason.

I will leave you with my greatest homeschool dad FAIL….I mentioned our son who is majoring in classical guitar.  Well, the University gave him access to a locker to store his guitar…with a padlock. But…since we don’t have a locker bay in the front room, we apparently never taught him to open a padlock!  Good thing one of his locker-mates was a public school kid who gave him a quick tutorial 🙂

Share the strangest question you’ve ever fielded about homeschooling, and share your greatest fear….remember, you are among friends 🙂

Positive Discipline for Toddlers

Toddler Next to the Lake

Almost every parent at some point will struggle to discipline their toddler. Once the ‘terrible twos’ have hit, you’ll sure know about it! However, discipline doesn’t have to mean telling your child off and yelling at them. In fact, many parents are now choosing the positive discipline approach, and are seeing huge benefits by doing so. Here, we will discuss some of the ways you can start to discipline your toddler in a more positive way.

1. Focus on good behavior

Toddlers respond much better to being told what to do, rather than being told what not to do. So, instead of telling them “don’t hit the cat”, try something along the lines of “we have to pet the cat gently”. Redirect their negative behavior into something more positive – toddlers love to please. It’s best if you can phrase things so you don’t even have to mention the bad behavior at all. For example, by saying ‘don’t snatch from your friend’, you will probably just reinforce the idea of snatching. By using a phrase like ‘use your words to ask for the toy’, without mentioning snatching or grabbing, your toddler is much more likely to perform the good behavior.

2. Give options, where possible

Toddlers love to feel in control, and in fact feeling like they are not in control is very often the cause for bad behavior. If your child has done something wrong, try and give them the choice over what to do next. For example, if they have hurt someone suggest they can either apologize or give them a hug. Or ask them if they would prefer to continue playing nicely or go and do something else to calm down. Simple choices are best for children at this age.

3. Prevent situations where bad behavior is likely to occur

If you have noticed that certain things or situations trigger negative behaviors in your child, try to avoid them, or at the very least be prepared to step in quickly. For example, if the child frequently fights over some toys with their friends, leave it out of sight the next time they’re playing together. Or if your child always has a tantrum in the grocery store, try providing distractions, or ask if someone else can mind the child whilst you go shopping. After a few weeks of not being taken to the store, you might find they are suddenly well-behaved the next time you take them.

4. Ensure the child understands what they are doing wrong

For older toddlers who understand most of what you are saying, and who are able to communicate well, this can be a great way to eliminate negative behaviors. Explain to them why they can’t shove their friends, or why they have to put on their coat to go outside. If your child simply thinks you are punishing them for no reason, they will probably keep repeating the behavior.

5. Let your child suffer the consequences

Of course, this depends on the situation, but it can work well under certain circumstances. For example, if your child will not eat their dinner, let them go to bed hungry. Don’t bribe them by saying they can have dessert if they eat dinner, or that they can stay up later if they eat dinner. Instead just use a phrase like ‘oh well, in that case you’ll be going to bed hungry. No more food until breakfast tomorrow.’. Using the ‘natural consequences’ of not obeying instructions is much more effective than bribing them with rewards which are not related to the behavior.

Hopefully, you have learned something new about how to positively discipline your toddler. Children respond really well to this kind of treatment, and you should notice an improvement in your child’s behavior almost immediately.

Links for Further Reading

Are We Pushing Our Kids Too Much

Here’s another update I’m sharing from a friend that recently posted it on Facebook, Kelly Phillips Erb. Apparently, I’ve got a number of friends who are sharing some really great stuff on Facebook lately right? This update focuses on whether or not we should be pushing and accelerating our kids through their educational years as fast as we are. Or, perhaps not deciding one way or another, but making sure we’re conscious of the reasons we’re doing so and understand the ramifications of that effort in the long run. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Graduation DayToday, I overheard parents discussing how they are putting their kids in summer school so that they can graduate early. The plan is to stack college credits in high school so the kids (and they are still kids) can get through college in three years and start graduate school early. The one mom said, “She’s going to compete, she’s going to get it done.”

I don’t purport to be an expert on parenting. Goodness knows, I have made and continue to make mistakes as a mom. Just like all of us, I’m learning as I go.

But I want to tell you a story. Many of you know that I started school at age 4 (after loudly complaining that my brother got to go to school). I skipped a grade. I left home at age 14 to attend a residential high school. I started college at age 16.

I was always the youngest (except at law school, thanks Ambreen). I was always trying to prove myself. I was always rushing. I wanted to keep finishing early because I wanted to start the next chapter as quickly as I could. And I don’t regret any of those things because every step along the way – even the mistakes – made me who I am today.

But I do want to say this. As a mom, the thing I want to teach my kids more than anything is to ENJOY.EVERY.MOMENT. Don’t rush.

All of that speeding ahead? Yes, it gave me some opportunities – but I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t have found them anyway. The things I missed? The school trips? The parties? Hanging out after school? Lazy summers? I can’t get those back.

I have resisted efforts to skip or rush my kids. The most we relented was letting Ames take an accelerated math class. I have good kids and they are doing well in school. They enjoy playing sports and attending clubs at school. In summers, we’ve been traveling, not taking classes (Kate excepted but she did that on her own as an online class). I know that achievement is important and I try hard to balance their own appetites for success with the understanding that they also need some time to have fun and be carefree. The stresses associated with adulting will come soon enough.

Studies prove that we don’t laugh as much as adults as we do as kids. We’re not as active. We don’t take as many risks. Somewhere along the way, we lose all of that. I think about that a lot now that I’m older. And I intend to let my kids be kids for as long as I can.

* Edited to make clear (as in the comments) that I’m not suggesting that skipping and accelerated classes are bad ideas. Skipping was the right choice for me and my kids are taking some of those accelerated classes. There may be valid reasons – like avoiding college debt as Miranda Marquit points out – for some of these choices. When it comes to my family, I just want to make sure those reasons include something other than just being first.

Kelly Phillips Erb and an attorney with The Erb Law Firm PC, in suburban Philadelphia, PA, where she focuses on tax law for individuals and businesses. Erb is also mom to three children, so she can add “dinosaur expert”, “cupcake baker” and “princess dress designer” to her resume.

Are you pushing your kids to get double-credit for classes and courses in college and high school? Are you letting things happen on a slower, perhaps more organic level with that accomplishments and educational goals? Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.