Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: unschooling

Image via Amber West WANA Commons
Image via Amber West WANA Commons

Last time, when we talked about Barnes & Noble, I mentioned a book by Malcolm Gladwell David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.  This is a really interesting book because Gladwell peels apart our common perceptions of what an advantage really is. Sometimes, that which others claim is undesirable really isn’t.

It is merely different.

Right now I am at a weird crossroads and admittedly I am a bit scared because I am deviating outside the “accepted.” For those who don’t know, my son The Spawn (Age 5) has had an interesting road. When he was two and a half, he had all four front teeth knocked up into the maxilla and had to have them surgically removed. Twenty thousand dollars in maxo-facial surgery later, we had a little bat.

This created some problems. Obviously, his speech suffered the most. His third word was dinosaur. Before the accident, I figured he’d be like I was and be speaking in full sentences before the age of three.


The best laid plans of mice and men and all. Anyway, his speech has obviously been delayed. Then, on top of this, he is incredibly analytical like his father.

When Spawn was a baby, we had a family friend living with us for a time. I’d discover advanced puzzles all over the house neatly solved and tucked away. I assumed she was picking up after Spawn (the toddler). Only later I discovered that he was solving them. Though they were meant for far older children, he solved them with ease.

Spawn writing his memoirs.
Spawn writing his memoirs.

He also plays XBox and can beat a game at the most advanced level in about two days. The same games it took his father and I weeks to unravel.

But good luck understanding him.

When he was barely four, he was “fired” from preschool because he liked zombies too much.

Teacher: We had an incident on the playground. Your son was pretending to be a zombie and it was freaking out the other kids.

Me: Was he biting them?

Teacher: No.

Me: Was he grabbing or touching them?

Teacher: No.

Me: Well then what exactly was he doing?

Teacher: Wandering around with a blank look and moaning.

Me: Sounds like every bureaucrat I ever met. What’s the problem?

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Anyway, he is supposed to go off to Kindergarden this year and I am going to homeschool because I feel our culture labels anyone who does not fit neatly into a standardized bell curve as “disabled” or “disadvantaged” or with a “disorder.” The reason I know this is that my own school years were hell because of this type of thinking.

Before we continue, know that these are MY opinions and MY beliefs from MY own experience. As I stare at my baby bat, all I can think of is the nightmare that school was for me.

Kristen was/is NOT Normal

Before it went BOOM!
Before it went BOOM!

Though I was gifted verbally, I was in trouble all the time. Seriously. ALL the time. I don’t even remember my third grade classroom. I remember the HALL. I had a terrible time paying attention to one thing at a time and sitting behind a desk.

Guess what? Thirty-five years later nothing has changed.

My mom was rather revolutionary in her parenting. She didn’t care if I did my homework hanging from the curtains wearing a tutu so long as I got it done. Results were all that mattered. Typically, I would spread all my books on my bed, play Tchaikovsky really loudly (over and over and, yes OVER), and do all my subjects at one time. I would do a math problem or two, then flip over to science, then color, then more math. I was most productive when I was doing a lot of things all at one time and I always made perfect scores.

I found that if a math problem was giving me a fit, that shifting subjects helped. I could do something right-brained (write an essay) and my subconscious would often sort out the answer to the math problem (a left-brained dilemma).

Then I would get to class. *head desk*

Kristen talks too much.

Kristen doesn’t use time wisely.

Kristen doesn’t pay attention.

Kristen Circa Third Grade
Kristen Circa Third Grade

I had to be moving in order to think. I still do. My brain doesn’t work as well if I’m still.

I asked “Why?” too much. In fifth grade, when the other kids were content to gulp down that no life could possibly exist in the Hadalpelagic Zone of the ocean because there was no sunlight for photosynthesis, I questioned

What if there are creatures that don’t need sunlight? Creatures that have some other source to convert into usable energy? If various combinations of salts can power a lightbulb, why couldn’t a living organism do something similar?

***Yes, I was ten at the time of this debate and ended up in the hall….yet again.

Imagine how vindicated I felt when years later, scientists discovered there were lifeforms that used volcanic vents and employed chemosynthesis to survive in such an extreme ecosystem (converting chemicals into usable energy).

I remember later in the fifth grade I got into an argument with the same teacher who gave me an F. She’d handed us a maze and the object (per the instructions) was to solve the maze. I began at the end and worked to the beginning and solved it in less than ten seconds (while the rest of the class had barely begun).

My teacher claimed that was cheating and failed me. I told her that the instructions never said which WAY I had to solve the maze, only to solve it.

Anyway, long story short, I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws. My teachers were nothing short of cruel to me. Rare was the teacher who appreciated my energy. I was a high school drop out twice and labeled as a person with a learning disorder. I scored so low on my SATs they had to check me for a pulse.

A learning disorder.

So because my brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s I have a “disorder”?

Advantage in the “Dis”advantage

What was fascinating about Gladwell’s book, is he talks about the staggering percentage of successful “geniuses” who suffer from dyslexia. A recent study puts it at about a third and the list includes people like Richard Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, Charles Schwab (financial genius), Craig McCaw (cell phone pioneer), the founder of JetBlue David Neeleman, John Chambers the CEO of tech giant Cisco, etc. Einstein was a dyslexic, so was Walt Disney.

Y’all get the point.

Toss in ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, etc. and I would venture to say that “normal” isn’t very “normal” among the extraordinary. What I find so perplexing is that it seems every parent wants a “child genius” but the second it looks like the kid might not be “normal” in come the meds and therapy.

Two hyper peas in a pod.
Two hyper peas in a pod.

Which leads me to ask: Are we medicating out the very genius we say we value? I know in my late 20s I conceded to meds to “control” my “disorder” and it was hell. All my creativity evaporated and I was lost. I fell into deep depression.

Finally, I just accepted I was Abby Normal and rolled with it. I left Corporate America because I simply did not do well sitting behind a desk. Instead of staying in a traditional job (where I was also in trouble ALL the time), I changed tactics and became an entrepreneur.

I am the person who wrote almost a half a million words in one year. I’ve written almost two million words in blogs alone. I run two businesses and blog and write and teach. I also am almost a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I help teach the kid’s BJJ class three days a week (Mommy-Spawn time). Rumor has it, sometimes I even clean my house 😀 .

Yet, I appreciate that while my “Disability” comes with a number of advantages (high energy, high creativity) it has some downsides. I have to be extra careful to be more self-disciplined and finish what I start.

Anyway, when it comes to The Spawn, I hope to give him the same freedom to be uniquely HIM that my mom did for me. Frankly, had she not been so free with me at home, I probably would have grown up believing I was damaged (like the schools told me). Ergo my decision to homeschool.

What Does the Future Hold?

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This does make me think. The public education system was created in the Industrial Revolution to create educated workers for the future. But the system was educating future employees of a factory-model system. Now that factories have gone to China and Mexico, how wise is it to discount those who are nonlinear thinkers? How much advantage do we gain retraining them to think in “accepted” ways because it is easier?

We live in a multimedia society that demands multitasking. In fact, most jobs require that we do more than one thing at a time and that we be able to shift tasks quickly and easily. So what exactly do we gain by claiming something is wrong with a kid because he/she can’t focus for an hour or more on ONE thing?

And I am not saying there is anything “wrong” with “normal”, only that maybe it is idealized too much. Also, I more than resent being told I have a “disorder.”

Our culture is biased against introverts the same way. Because a kid isn’t super social and chatty and prefers to be alone, something is “wrong.” We encourage all this talking when the world would be a far better place of people did more listening. We idealize the extrovert at the expense of the introverts. Similarly, we idealize “normal” and anyone who is outside this model has a “disorder.”

Which is utterly ironic because the most valued innovators in human history were anything but NORMAL. In fact, I wonder if “normal” won’t go extinct in the next 20 years.

Before the advent of the printed word, humans had prodigious memories and learned orally and kinesthetically. Then, sure, once we ventured into a print paradigm and an industrial model, paying attention to ONE thing for long periods of time and thinking/learning linearly and via print were advantages.

But what about in a multimedia world?

Are we seeing a rise in learning “disabilities” or are we seeing evidence of the human brain’s amazing plasticity? That the brain is simply adapting to drastic social change?

We try to make kids “normal” but we VALUE those who are different. We also say we value creativity, but then label or medicate anyone who is different. Seems we are conflicted, to say the least.

Definitely food for thought.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a learning “disorder”? Does it bother you to be labeled in such a way simply for being different? Do you think our culture is Janus-faced? We “say” we want innovators but then we label them as something undesirable?

Quick Announcement: Due to popular demand, I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig...
Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig…

Since homeschooling The Spawn, life has shifted dramatically as I struggle along this uncharted learning curve. For instance, it is a gorgeous summer this year. I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and never witnessed weather so balmy and beautiful. This morning, I step out to let the dog go bark at every thought scuttling through her brain (instead of going pee) and it’s oddly quiet. No kids. No squeals of riding bikes or rollerskating or plundering trash piles for construction materials for some ramp or fort or weapon.

When a Kid Could Be a Kid

When I was Spawn’s age, the second cartoons were over, we’d have been out the door for the entire day…willingly. Even though it was always triple-digit heat. Weather like THIS? We might have skipped the cartoons.

Okay, we’d have watched the good ones and not hung on for the crappy kiddie shows.

I’ve started to pay more attention now that I have my son home all day. The other mothers? Working moms have kids in daycare full-time. But even the Stay-At-Home Moms befuddle me. It’s as if they’re the Carnival Cruise Activity Director all summer. They take the kid(s) to the gym to play two hours, then gym camp, then swimming lessons, then karate, then multiple play dates across the city then church camp and voice lessons and Sylvan….

My head is spinning.

And so much of it is college-prep stuff. Like, preschool isn’t just playing and learning lessons like “hitting and eating glue is bad for one’s social life.” PRE-K is preparation for “real school”, which is part of why Spawn was fired. His imagination was far less valuable than reading retention. HE IS FOUR.

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Every other game out there is “educational.” Summer is no longer even summer. We used to have THREE MONTHS off to simply be kids and play. Now? There are learning centers lurking on every corner chanting things like, “You wouldn’t want your kids to be behind, would you? You aren’t a BAD parent. Not YOU….”

In the early 80s, my mom could keep a clean home, cook all our meals, cultivate a beautiful garden and sew our clothes because my tail was outside and I had little brother in tow as soon as he was close-enough-for-government-work potty trained. My mom spent time with us, but not every waking moment. We played our guts out every day after school for hours and solidly for three months a year. Sure, after vacation, we had to catch up some in September, but I still graduated college with honors and so did Little Bro.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the literacy rates were higher back then.

What Happened to PLAY?

Play comes naturally to humans. Just watch the glee on a baby’s face when he discovers OMG I HAVE TOES! THEY FIT IN MY MOUTH!

I recall all the things I used to do as a child for FUN—write, read, draw, color, roller-skate, dance, play make-believe, do cartwheels. And I’d just bust out dancing or doing the splits anywhere and it was okay. I was a kid.

I’m no longer allowed back in Home Depot *hangs head*


I really was kicked out of a Toys ‘R Us one time for racing through the store aisles on a Hoppity Hop.

Remember ME?
Remember ME?

My art and writing were all encouraged until I hit about the age of ten. Then I needed to start being serious. I had adults asking me where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up. Teachers asking me this.

Of course, me being me, I said I wanted to be a rich man’s wife. And Mom was promptly called up to school. Sarcasm wasn’t appreciated then either.

But WTH? I was TEN and that was a dumb question. Most adults still don’t know what THEY want to be when they grow up an yet they put that off of a kid? And there is an “acceptable” answer. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that was cute.

Now what was I going to do to earn money?

As we grow older, play is demonized, called trivial and labeled foolish and unnecessary. Yet, studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that play, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity…Nothing fires up the brain like play.” ~Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun, TED Talk.

I’m reading a cool new book called, Essentialism—The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (and am learning a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong or even right).

The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet, our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed much of the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning. ~Author Greg McKeown, Essentialism, page 84.

We’ve talked about this on my blog before, how our public schools were designed for the main purpose of training future  factory workers. The Industrial Revolution was all about efficiency and mass production. Educational institutions patterned much of their structure from the military. As McKeown points out, we even see military vocabulary in our workplace. In the trenches. On the front lines. Even the word company is a military term for a military unit (McKeown, page 85).

A Changing World

So here we have this school structure that is designed to produce a force for manufacturing when most manufacturing has largely been outsourced to developing countries. If we are to have any economic future, it will come from fields requiring imagination—computers, programming, art, writing, design, etc.

Yet, most of the school activities that foster imagination are the first on the cutting block—art, music, drama, band, recess. We even have new schools being built with no playgrounds.

Even when there is play, it seems it is never just for the sake of play. Kids are learning piano or playing football not because it is fun, but because “they could one day use that to pay for COLLEGE.”

Many of the greatest human innovations have been birthed from leisure and play. Shakespeare played constantly with iambic pentameter. DaVinci was known to be a flake who’d run off chasing butterflies or tinkering with machines instead of finishing his paid “job.” Newton uncovered the Law of Gravity while resting.

Our most successful companies—Google, Pixar, Apple—encourage play and rest. So why then do we have SO many companies who measure keystrokes and phone calls and enslave employees to metrics?

And while we are doing everything possible to kill imagination and play and vilify vacations and rest, we simultaneously wonder why we’re losing our edge?

The Power of Play

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Play has all these great benefits to the brain. Why? One big reason is play is AMAZING at reducing stress. When we’re stressed, our body defaults to reptile brain. It’s impossible to use higher thinking centers because the brain is in survival mode.

Yet, instead of doing some cartwheels, we chug energy drinks and coffee and work later into the night to “catch up.” We sacrifice sleep and play first. Then, we’re foggy-headed and disorganized. So we drink some more caffeine because naps are anathema and play is a pariah.

And the cycle continues…

We’ve created this culture that prides itself on getting no sleep and taking no time off. Even our words reflect our values.

I LOVE cleaning house, because I make everything a game and always have. I set timers and see if I can clean ALL the dishes before the buzzer goes off. I dance with the mop. I “race” Spawn picking up toys.

But we call them “chores” and wonder why everyone groans. We go to the gym to “work out” then are befuddled why we resist. I do Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because it’s FUN. I used to wrestle and play-fight as a kid. I’m not at a dojo to eventually make money competing in the MMA. It’s simply…FUN. Maybe one day I’ll get a black belt, more likely I’ll get a black eye.

But will I have STORIES to TELL!

Writing, Social Media and Blogging, Oh, MY!

I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I cloud finally be a CYBORG.
I wrote this book to help writers…but mostly so I could finally be a CYBORG.

Often, when we decide to become writers there is a LOT of social push-back. We don’t have a “real” job. Why? Because we actually have FUN. Is this what makes others itch with envy? When I created the WANA methods for blogging and social media, the goal wasn’t to sell books or measure algorithms. WANA is simple. HAVE FUN and others will be drawn to you. You will ENJOY it, so you’re more likely to DO it. Others gravitate toward the light so be the light.

Blogging? Have fun! Invite others in. That’s it. No gadgets, plans, gizmos or algorithms.

Facebook is FUN (maybe it’s why people get all snooty about it). Social media is recess for adults. It’s Show-And-Tell. “Hey, check out this cake I baked!” We share jokes and funny memes and smile and laugh…a lot.

Oh, but how is this directly impacting your book sales initiative? Are you targeting the right demographic to gain click throughs and meaningfully drive the curve of boring-as-hell?

No idea. And don’t care.

Play is anything we do for no gain other than we enjoy it. Is this why we have such a hard time being writers? Why are we swayed from fun to factory so easily? Everyone assumes the second we’re writing a novel, our goal is to become a NYTBSA. WHY? Can’t we just write something for the sake of fun? Maybe put it up for sale because we want to share our art project? Why do we need to monetize everything?

Children are investments, adults are assets and the elderly are losses and there is something terribly, horribly wrong with that.

The Play Challenge

Do ONE Thing Silly Per Day

This morning, I stepped outside to the cool soft grass and…did cartwheels. I’d forgotten how fun those things were. They added nothing tangibly to my word count and my laundry was still here when I returned, but cartwheels were strangely…liberating. Since Spawn has been home, I’ve been doing a lot of silly things. Chasing zombies with NERF guns, clearing rooms. Swimming. Tickle-fighting. And I was fretting over all this “wasted time.”

Pthththththt to that.

Last night we watched Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Why? Because it is FUN. It’s so bad it is AWESOME.

Pay Attention to Words

I’m going to stop using the phrase “working out.” Makes me stressed. Maybe call it “recess”? We ran and ran as kids and didn’t need to slot time to do it. We jumped rope and walked everywhere and not one of us counted how many calories we’d burned before we could stop.

Seek PLAY and FUN

This is NOT goofing off. It’s good for you, so watch. I guarantee you the next minute and fifteen seconds will improve your day dramatically….

I am actively working to seek rest and fun. It’s good for the imagination. Go write a story you have no intention of marketing. See if you can combine things that don’t go together. Put a cup full of genres in one jar and nouns in another then draw—sci-fi, knitting, nuclear device. Whatever. Go color, do a cartwheel, play a video game. It IS work. Workaholics aren’t challenged by working more, they are truly challenged working less.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think our culture has gotten a collective stick up its hind end? Are you vexed that kids don’t get enough play? Are you annoyed that everything has to be “educational” or “college prep” and that we seem do frown on anything that doesn’t make “business sense”? Have you had a hard time playing, napping, having fun? Do you feel guilty that you should do more, but the list never stops? Do you find that your creativity improves after rest and fun?

Have you worked fun into your life? Are you guarding your fun and recreation and rest? Do you get pushback? Do you MISS having THREE MONTHS OFF with nothing to do but PLAY? What would you do if given that opportunity as an adult?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?