"What about Structure?"

What about structure? People ask how, if a child is not pressed to live a structured school life, will he cope with "the real world" and its demands? One of my recent responses is here:

It doesn’t take ten years of practice for a kid to learn how to show up on time, and if they’re interested in doing something, they’ll probably get up early! All my children and very many more I’ve known have excelled in structured situations because they were there by choice and they weren’t sick to death of structure. They thought it was fun, when it was their option to be there or not.

Sandra Dodd Interview (Part II) on Rashmie Jaaju's "Mommy Labs" blog
photo by Sandra Dodd

A comment made under that blogpost by Glenda, when it was new in October 2012:

That's absolutely been our experience, too. My always-unschooled, night-owl teen loves being involved in a youth bowling league, and on bowling day each week gets up approx. four hours earlier than he does the rest of the week. He sets his alarm; he gets himself out of bed and into the shower; he makes sure to carve out enough time to eat breakfast; and he makes sure he's ready to leave on time.

The same thing happened this past summer when he asked to participate in an all-day, Mon thru Fri, eight-week long, youth theatre workshop. For those two months, he went to sleep early enough on weeknights to get up early enough for the next day's workshop. In the two weeks prior to the start of the workshop, he incrementally shifted his sleep schedule so that by the end of the two weeks he was getting up twelve hours earlier than he had been!!, so that by the first day of the workshop he'd be getting up early enough to be on time, while being plenty rested. During the eight weeks of the workshop, HE was the one who made the choice to quit gaming or hanging out with friends early enough at night to be rested the next day.

He recently told me he'd be interested in working in an office. My local family members have a family business, at which I've worked since before my son was born and at which my hubby works, and my mom was thrilled when I passed along to her my son's interest in working there at some point. One of the things he and I discussed was the importance of being there on time every workday. Having seen what he accomplished re: the theatre workshop this past summer, he and I both know that he is absolutely capable of meeting that type of commitment.


Below is the first page of the book Moving a Puddle, a 2005 collection of my published articles, up to that point. This short piece was first in the newsletter of the state homeschooling organization. "Susanna" in "ask Susanna" was Carol Rice, who had been one of the La Leche League leaders at the first LLL meeting I attended.

This writing is being added to my site for being 25 years old, in 2017—the same year Just Add Light and Stir was seven years old, and the year of the 10th Learn Nothing Day.

When I wrote this, I was in my 30's and had three children aged six and under.

The first paragraph has terms I used because it was for a general homeschooling audience.
The second paragraph foreshadows Learn Nothing Day celebrations in the following century.

—Sandra Dodd, 2017


“How do I structure our days
and how do I structure our learning time?”

I felt moved to suggest an answer to the question about how to structure a day of child-directed learning. I think it should be “Woke up, got dressed, ate, played, ate, played, etc.” In other words, I don’t think there should or can be any “days off” from child-centered “education.”

If this seems wrong, try this experiment: Keep your child from learning anything for a few days. Make sure that from the first waking moment there is nothing learned, no new material, no original thoughts to ponder, etc. The only problem is that you would have to keep the children from playing, talking, reading, cleaning or repairing anything, etc.

We have a new neighbor who attends private school. On the way home one day he wanted to get an invitation to come back to play the next day, and he phrased it this way: “Does Kirby have homeschool tomorrow?” (My less memorable answer was “homeschool is just sort of whenever.” Had I known I would be writing this I would have tried to be more profound.) The answer was YES! but that might have made my neighbor feel unwelcome. Little does he suspect that he is a guest instructor at our 365-day-per-year homeschool!

(This was part of the “Dear Susanna” column in the September 1992 issue of The Connection, the newsletter of New Mexico Family Educators. Kirby was six years old. The neighbor was seven.)

Learn Nothing Day

Just Add Light and Stir

Moving a Puddle