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Homeschooling and Parenting Goals

by dave

I noticed that Loretta and I often make different choices in our parenting and in our schooling for our children vs. other parents we talk to. And it frequently comes down to our focus on our long-term goals. I’m not sure that those goals are any different than other parents… but we do think about them when making decisions, and try to avoid getting caught up in the day-to-day routine of school, work, and activities.

Our long-term goals for our children are vague, but simple — we want them to grow up to be adults with the skills to make their own choices, adapting to changes in their lives and their world, setting their own directions for their own lives. We want them to have the intellectual and emotional capabilities to make good choices to build stable lives for themselves, and to build the families they choose to build. We want them to understand the consequences of their actions, and use that when making life decisions.  We want to raise them to be successful adults, not “good children”.

Along the way, we are concerned that they do not make choices that restrict their options later. We care about school performance not because grades matter, but because poor grades might restrict the college options later in life. We care about college not because they have to go (it is not the right path for everyone), but because the choice to not go will impact their career choices later.

And that is what brings these goals down to the reality of homeschooling for an 11 year old girl. In general, when homeschooling, we can focus on helping her advance her skills in various subjects. But we also need to prepare her to be ready to go to college if she chooses, or to decide another path if that does not end up being the correct one.

Our real goal is to teach our children to learn, and to love learning. To help them figure out what their interests are, to learn how to dig deeper into a topic, to learn how to ask and answer questions, and how to manage their own time. We are working on things that many people don’t deal with until after college such as planning out personal time management, setting daily and weekly goals, measuring your own progress, dealing with failure if a project doesn’t work, and figuring out how else to approach a problem. We’re working on how to be an independent learner, how to be productive when someone isn’t spoon-feeding you a schedule, and how to take minimal direction and turn it into a real result.

Of course, we’re covering the actual topics and curriculum needed for kids at their ages, too. That is a given. But again, with the goals of raising adults with the skills to succeed in the world… there is more to it than just the subjects they learn, and test scores.

Seeking My Last Job…

by dave


Wait, what? Is Dave leaving his Job? Click for info if that question is concerning to you...

No, I’m not necessarily leaving my current employer…  But we are going through changes, and it is a natural time to think about whether or not it is still the right place for me.

I’m also just kind of done with coding. I’ve accomplished what I wanted to. I could accomplish more… I do like to achieve new goals, but I have no personal ego in having to be the guy who wrote the code to do so. So it is time to consider new paths.

None of this is news to my current employer. We’ve been talking about this for over 6 months, and we may find a new role for me there. Or we may not. Time will tell. We’re in a good place with each other either way. But this post is more about what I am seeking for the future, and less about where I sit in the present, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m intending to have a new role at some point in the relatively near future. I do not think of this as my “Next” role, but as my “Last” role.

I have been thinking about my career recently, and have divided it into three phases. Or, really, 2 phases, and I am planning out the transition into Phase 3.

Phase 1 – Building the Career:

These were the early years. Jumping from place to place for more money, more responsibility, a move to a new city, etc. Building technical skills, focused on always growing and improving, and trying to always stepping up in one way or another.

Phase 2 – Running At Speed:

I’ve been here for a while — Fully skilled up, leading projects, building products, running teams, consulting, having more successes than failures, but enough of each to learn lessons. Basically, a solid, reliable, professional tech guy.

Phase 3 – The Last Job:

Time to change gears to the next phase. The last phase, not the next phase. Time to move to my last role.

Why “Last?”

Because I’m not looking for just any job to collect a paycheck. I’m looking for something that adds meaning to my life, and to my family. I’m no longer interested in just doing generic tech work to make the  numbers grow for some corporation. I want to build something that is meaningful, and watch it grow.  I want to raise my family, and let them see me work at a long-term product while they grow up, seeing me spend time building something meaningful, and taking the time to do it well. I want a product that improves the world. It doesn’t have to change the world, but it should have a net positive impact. It doesn’t need to make me rich, but it does need to support the family. I want this to bring personal satisfaction to my life, and add meaning to my family. I want my children to see that it is good to be proud of what you do, not how much money you make.

So to find a role that hits those somewhat nebulous goals, I think of my search for my role not as just looking for a job… but as a bigger search for the last thing I will do in this life. It punctuates the importance of the search to me, and reminds me not to just go applying to a job because it is available and match my abilities… but to really think carefully about it and ask myself if it really matches who I want to be, and what I want to be doing for the next 15 years.

Now, of course, I hope that in 15 years I am still healthy and get to do this search all over again, and it isn’t really my last role. But there is no guarantee in life. And I do not want to end up working my life away while kids grow up without it adding meaning to our lives, because if it really does end up being my last role… what a pile of regret that would end up for all of us.

Right now I am young enough to accomplish big things in this world. And old enough to know that if I don’t start doing so right now, I’ll no longer be young enough sooner than I would like.

So this spring and summer, the search is beginning. I don’t know if I will find the right role or not. I could just end up staying where I am, while searching without success… but I am going to search.



Open Letter/Rant to Anyone Developing Online Curriculum for Kids

by dave

I have one child who homeschools, and 2 children who would like to. I also work indirectly with educators who are trying to improve the curriculum through the US educational systems. So I have a decent exposure to the details of the curriculum being offered to our children via online tools.

And I’m not impressed. I don’t want to be dismissive of the hard work people have put forth… on the contrary, I really do appreciate it, and have great hopes for the future. People are trying to identify betters ways to teach, and acting on it, which is wonderful. Nevertheless, this is a very typical conversation at my home:

Daughter: “Dad, I don’t understand this lesson.”

Me: “Let me see…”

*I watch, see what is being taught…*

Me: “OK, let me explain it differently…”

Daughter: “Oh! I get it! Why didn’t they just say that?”


Exactly. Why don’t the authors just explain it in the way children can understand? What I tend to see is an abundance of detail being thrown at my kids before the high-level questions are answered of “What are we teaching in this lesson? What goal are we trying to achieve?”

I’ve seen this trend described as “elementitis”, a term apparently coind by David Perkins in his book, <a href=”http://amzn.to/2hJIrGo”>”Making Learning Whole”</a>, which apparently I need to read, as doing so might be more productive than ranting online…

But to continue… Most of my daughter’s questions are not about the details of the lesson. They are about a lack of context. She can follow lessons just fine if she knows what she is trying to do. But sit her down and start delving into the details of a process for solving math equations, without telling her first what the equation is and what the final result looks like, and she cannot focus on the details because she is still trying to understand the overall goal.

The other common flaw I see is not speaking at the level that children speak. I see two extremes — talking like adults do, with complex grammar and vocabulary, and long explanation of details…. or dumbing it down to a kindergarten level, with cute pictures and stories. There is a middle ground that needs to be hit for kids at elementary school ages. They can handle some complexity… but for example,  (Sorry, Khan Academy folks…) don’t go down tangents about what each syllable in the word “concrete” means when trying to explain the difference between concrete and abstract nouns. Again, kids need context first, details later. FIRST tell kids that concrete nouns refer to real objects, abstract nouns refer to concepts. 5 seconds, and boom, they have heard the point of the entire lesson. THEN feel free to go into more detail about the meaning of those words. But don’t spend 90 seconds on a vocabulary lesson, unless you are actually trying to teach vocabulary. You’ve lost their attention, and they are not listening when you tell them the actual main point of your lesson.

Kids are smart. They soak up knowledge like sponges. But that doesn’t mean they have huge attention spans or complex thought quite yet. Tell them what they are going to learn, give them the simplest, quickest lesson you can, give them examples, let them practice it.  And be done. This isn’t even specific to kids – Adults learn well from general –> detailed, too.

It is OK to start simple! They have years to learn the details!




It is that time of year again….

by dave

The end of the year rapidly approaches, which means an arbitrary milestone to take an introspective look at your life, and see if your trajectory matches your desires.

Or, in other words — how was 2016?

Let’s see what I said a year ago, and see if I succeeded:

1) Work Either succeed or fail, decisively.

I failed, decisively. But that is not about work performance. It is about my health.  More details below, but I will be switching jobs at some point. Not necessarily employers… I like my employer. Just need a new role.

I am counting this as a success, though. I’ve been an in-the-trenches technologist for a long, long time. I have other skills that can be applied to my work, too. I’ve built and led teams, I’ve designed products, I’ve done platform transitions… I’m not sure exactly what direction things will head in 2017, but it is past time for a positive change.

2) HealthI want to get to the point that I can exercise again. I want 2016 to end with me able to go on hikes, and be at least smaller than as I was when I left my last full-time office job.

Partial credit here. I am exercising daily. I can hike. I am not smaller than I was when I left my office job. But I am SO much stronger than I was a year ago.

I did hit a new problem this year, where my tendons in my wrist are giving me problems, and I really cannot work at a computer all day, at least not as a coder.  I can work still in tech, but the constant reaching for all keys on the keyboard, especially the special characters used so much in coding, is not working for me. As mentioned above, change is coming, one way or another. I will need to find a role that only has me typing a couple hours a day, not 8+. Or typing content, not code. Or something. I’m open.

3) CreativityPainting, drawing, photography, writing.

I really only did the drawing this year, but I did put together some new ways to merge my tech skills with drawing and photography. It took me months to tweak all the details, but I’m calling this goal as a success despite not actually doing exactly the crafts I was thinking about a year ago, because I am producing creative work.

4) FarmSimple goals – get irrigation systems in for all garden boxes and fruit trees, keep the gardens weeded and watered, and have a non-trivial produce harvest in addition to our current production.

Irrigation… Check! Gardens weeded and watered… Check! Non-trivial harvest… No. Well, at least aside from tomatoes, No. We got heaps of tomatoes. But due to half the year being spent with a wife recovering from injuries, we didn’t hit our farm goals this year. I’m not worried about it either, though. We had bigger fish to fry.

5) FamilySimply have a happier and healthier family at the end of 2016 than we do at the end of 2015.

Sadly, no. My health isn’t better, my wife is far more broken than she was last year. And those things don’t make for a good family year. But part of this yearly exercise is just about self-awareness, so I can fix problems over the long haul. So lets try this goal again for 2017

Moving on, I’ll lay out my goals for 2017 with the exact same categories, but new details:


  1. Work — I want to start a new job. Preferably with my current employer, but either way, a new job. Not coding. Probably still in tech though, because it is what I know.
  2. Health — I either want a diagnosis of what has been ailing me for the past 5 years, or to give up and just commit to living with the problems. I want to continue the daily exercise that I have finally achieved this year, and end the year having lost at least 20 pounds.
  3. Creativity — I want to continue to pursue the new ideas I’ve come up with for merging drawing, photography, and tech. (About which I may write more in the future.) Because it is a new project, I’m not going to define specific goals… just to work it and see where it goes.
  4. Farm — Get our dairy and eggs back into production in the spring. Produce more value in food than we spend.  Note: we tentatively have someone else working larger scale gardens on our land this year, and sharing the harvest with us. This should help with making this hobby farm thing a success.
  5. Family — Repeat from last year. Lets end 2017 happier and healthier than in 2016.


Lava Tubes

by dave

We are still here but I have been trying to avoid typing for the last few months so I have not been posting anything. Today I am experimenting with a new WordPress plugin that lets me speak a blog post so I can still put things here without having to actually type.

Two weekends ago we went down to the lava tubes near Fillmore and ran around there for an afternoon. The kids were enjoying the time that we had to explore. They went up and down the cliff to get into the lava tubes many times, and they did it safely. The only person who got hurt was me. I was not hurt badly — I just slipped on a rock as we were going into one of the tubes that go off to the side of the main lava tube and we decided it would be better to come back another day would we have life with us and maybe explore the darker parts of the tubes when we were little better prepared. But we did run around for a couple hours and I think all the kids had fun. Loretta was able to come with us and hang out while we explored.

We made up a small fire and a hung around the fire as the sun went down. As it started to get dark we let the fire burn down, laid out some blankets on the ground, and watched the stars come out. We have not seen the Milky Way in a few years because we are getting more light pollution near our house. But we were able to see the stars come out the, and Milky Way was visible early in the night. So we sat there talking and looking at the Milky Way for about an hour until we decided to go back home. The kids had such a good time we are going to go back in a couple weeks and give them an entire day to explore the lava tubes maybe even more than one day.

And on a tech note, the text-to-speech plugin I just tested to write this is OK, not awesome. I may keep looking for one that handles capitalization and punctuation better.