I was living in Hawaii, with a curious, active two-year-old. When he napped in the afternoons, I’d surf the internet (it was an hour long drive to the ocean), and I stumbled upon the most beautiful blog. Camp Creek was a gorgeous compilation of educational philosophy, project-based homeschooling ideas, inspirational photos, book and material recommendations, not to mention a community of parents, engaging in on-line dialogue with the author, Lori Pickert. I was inspired by the way Lori brought the processes of art, learning, and family life together, into a meaningful, self-sustaining circle.
I’ve continued to follow her work over the years, so you can imagine how happy I was to buy a copy of her new book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. Before launching into my short interview with Lori, here’s an excerpt from the book, on the topic of authenticity:
This approach doesn’t work if it isn’t authentic. Your values have to match how you really live. Whatever you think is important for your child should be reflected in your own life and your own choices.
Your core values must align with your goals, which must align in turn with your everyday choices.
Really listen to what adults around you say about children – not their own children, but children in general. Many adults think very little of children and their abilities and motives – possibly because they think very little of themselves and their own abilities and motives. They transfer their negative beliefs onto children. If adults thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoy challenges and want to contribute, presumably they would see children the same way.
Although the title includes the term homeschooling, it’s a book about learning, creating, and living authentically – important themes for all creators. Whether you’re homeschooling, unschooling, public schooling, or charter schooling, this book will feed your thinking about the way people of all ages learn. The questions and ideas presented are thought provoking, no matter what your relationship is to educational systems – if you’re a learner, then there’s probably something for you in Lori’s book.
As for the interview, please make note of her answer to the fourth question – housekeeping is highly overrated – move your creative priorities up the list and go make something! After reading the interview, of course.
What do you make? How did you begin?
I’ve made a business, a school, a family. Most recently I wrote and published my first book about children and learning.
I started my first business when I was only 22. My husband and I have spent years hacking our life. We’ve done a lot of interesting things: ran the business together, renovated the top floor of a historic building for office space, founded a school, built our own space to hold our business and the school, built a barn house. We had two sons who we took with us everywhere.
I think the beginning for me was working my way through college and realizing that I had no interest whatsoever in working a regular 9-to-5 job. Then, starting a company in my early 20s, I got used to living an alternative lifestyle. Being in control of your life is addictive.
Why do you continue to make stuff?
I’m motivated to create because I want to make my vision come to life. I’m not good at settling. Whether it’s a house for my family or a school for my kids, if I can’t find what I want, I make it.
Thoreau said something in Walden: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” I think a lot of makers and doers feel this way. I would rather make something myself and have it be imperfect in general but perfect for me.
One of my favorite things to create is community. When you articulate your vision, there are always other people who are looking for the same thing. You share the same values and priorities. So when you make something, whether it’s a physical product or an experience, you’re also making friends, community, a life.
What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?
A few months ago I published my first book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. It’s the culmination of everything I know how to do — writing, publishing, helping kids be in charge of their own learning.
Along with the book, my husband and I made a new site with a forum — so we created a community as well. This project really combines all the things I love.
How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?
There’s other stuff that needs to be done?
I relentlessly prioritize. If it’s not really important to me, it falls to the bottom of the list. (That’s where you would find things like housekeeping.)
Being with my sons and working with them is a vital part of my creative life. They are the best collaborators. I feel so lucky to be part of their lives, watching them create. They’re my biggest supporters — and I’m theirs. That goes for my husband as well. Our family life is centered around helping each other learn and make.
My work life isn’t something separate from the rest of my life. My need to work and make things is woven into my family life, my home, and my relationships.
Even when I ran my school for seven years, that just became part of my creative life and my personal life. I love to learn, and I loved the experience of making something that huge and complex. I loved the people. I suppose my answer for balance is not to keep things separate. Just make everything creative. Absorb what you have to do into what you want to do.
What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?
Be deliberate about your choices. Define who you are and what you want out of life, then make it your everyday mission to live that life. Surround yourself with people who fill you with peace and energy; stay away from negative people. Make your environment support your goals — everything you see and touch should remind you of your priorities and values.
Relentlessly prioritize. Drop the things that make you feel good in the short term but aren’t part of your ideal life. I watch TV, but I don’t watch it every single night. It may feel hard to sit down and do your work, but the work will actually give you energy. Meaningful work is nourishing.
Remember that it’s not the end result that matters — don’t focus on rewards or recognition. The reward is living your most authentic life and doing your work every day. The only recognition that matters is yours, when you realize you get to spend your life doing what matters most to you.
How do you know when you’re finished with a project?
Being able to finish is crucial. I’m a reformed perfectionist, so it was hard for me to publish the book when I knew I could make it better. The problem is, you can always make it better. I could have held onto it for the next thirty years and kept improving it, but it doesn’t really exist until you let it go and share it with people.
One of the tenets of project-based homeschooling is that you must share what you make with others — it’s the final stage of learning. To really master something, you have to reach the point where you can explain it to someone else. And you need to help others. Pass your knowledge along to someone who can really use it.
If you focus on helping others, you can stop focusing on yourself. Fail enough times and keep going, and you internalize it as a method of eventual success. I’m a writer and that means writing and publishing books and getting better at what I do over time. In order to be something, which is a never-ending process, you have to keep taking on new challenges. Just push your work out into the world and move on.
Speed Round – The A-List:
Artist: Maira Kalman
Author: Laurie Colwin
Actress: Juliette Binoche
Activist: Eleanor Roosevelt
Aspiration: Help parents help kids take charge of their own learning.
Action: A little every day adds up to a good life.
Advice: To quote Woody Guthrie, “Take it easy, but take it.”