Blimp or Helicopter?

I’ve been noticing a disturbing pattern in my habits as a homeschool parent.

My wife and I have always emphasized independence in our children’s learning styles. From the beginning, it was their responsibility to own their own education. By allowing them to determine their own schedule, giving them the choice type of projects they would present, and keeping  a “hands off” approach unless it was clear our kids needed direct assistance, our children became aware of the fact that our role as parents was to facilitate, not to dictate their learning.  Over the last 8 years, this strategy seems to have fostered the correct attitude in them. They study, they research, and they write for themselves, not for us.  This independence has given them a sense of confidence when approaching challenges, one I would not trade for any amount of personal satisfaction in solving their problems for them. 

However, at times I’ve used this independent streak as a crutch to excuse my own lackadaisical approach in keeping my kids accountable. It becomes very easy to allow their self-directed mentalities to cloud my judgement about when I should, in fact, step in and make adjustments. Examples include when assignments mysteriously have not been completed for a month, or a test unexpectedly is barely passed. The “why didn’t you ask for help” response rings hollow when I know for a fact that I was not pro-active in checking on their studies. I realize this may seem a good problem to have for parents that have less than motivated learners, but it has become a systematic issue in our learning journey, and one I can only attribute to my ‘big picture’ view of education becoming too big. 

I call this “blimp” schooling as opposed to the oft-mentioned “helicopter parenting”, the latter phrase referring to parents that hover too close to the child, not allowing them freedom to fail or to express their own abilities without interference. My problem is that I tend to look at the big picture (“they all learn at their own pace”…) to the point that I lose sight of the day-to-day quandaries that they may face educationally.  My blimp soars too high when all I can see are specks of activity on the educational roads my kids travel, when in fact there may be a pile-up on the expressway that needs an immediate infusion of intense interaction. It doesn’t help that they are, in fact, fiercely independent and resist when I bring the blimp closer in to observe their work in a more detailed fashion. Whether they resist or not, I know my role has to encompass both a long range and a short range view so they can reach their goals.

I’m sure there is a happy medium between the helicopter and the blimp mindset. I want to be able to keep a view from the long range of my children’s development, while having the ability to look close at any time and zoom in on the particular problem or skill that they need to develop.  Whatever that ‘aircraft’ looks like, I am making a new effort to become an expert pilot as I guide my children to their destination as learners and leaders. 



4 thoughts on “Blimp or Helicopter?

  1. Are the children able to make substantive decisions based on data in regard to their education? Students tend to want to study and research what is of interest to them which often results in a limited perspective on new and necessary learning based on a hierarchy of fundamentals..

    Clearly, I believe in some interest based learning with substantial direction and monitoring at an appropriate pace to keep the child on target for learning milestone events

    • Thanks so much for checking out this post…We’ve employed a variety of strategies so that the kids know how they are doing, not the least of which has been some ‘old fashioned testing’. We’ve used standardized testing every other year as part of the state’s required yearly evaluation as homeschoolers. However, what’s been more important to me is their understanding of WHY they need certain fundamental skills, and that has everything to to with activating their natural curiosity. A child that is interested in rainbows will quickly realize that a knowledge of weather, evaporation, characteristics of light, and other topics will be her only hope of fully understanding her interest. In our earlier unit studies, we used anything relating to the topic to help them realize that all the subjects were interconnected. So instead of a preset list of skills, they naturally began to seek out and master the skills necessary to master whatever topic they needed to learn. Although we, like most parents, would worry that there were ‘gaps’ in that basic knowledge, we usually found our fears were unwarranted. Now that we’ve moved to a more classical model, we focus on teaching the children how to ask the right questions about the world, then seeking out those fundamental skills that will allow them to learn anything, at any time.

      The “substantial direction and monitoring’ you mentioned is seen differently by many homeschoolers. Some are extremely detailed and data driven, others subscribe to an entirely interest based and ‘unschooled’ approach. What’s most important is the feedback we receive from our kids as their minds and souls are nurtured in this environment of family learning. I freely admitted in my writing, perhaps to my detriment, that my monitoring is sometimes suspect. But I’m heartened by the fact that the kids have a internal drive to understand the world around them, and I’m pretty sure that self-motivation is the most valuable learning tool I could ever give them.

  2. I absolutely love this imagery: ‘My blimp soars too high when all I can see are specks of activity on the educational roads my kids travel, when in fact there may be a pile-up on the expressway that needs an immediate infusion of intense interaction…’ I like to think that I’m not as low as the helicopter, but then again, I may just have more pile-ups! Lord, save them from the person who’s always trying to save them!

    2 posts in 2 months–you’re on a roll, cousin, you’re on a roll!!

    • “On a roll”….You are altogether too funny cuz. Thanks for always encouraging me. It’s a constant balancing act but I think every child needs a different amount of hovering vs. soaring. You’ve obviously got a good mix going from the evidence I see in your family’s postings.

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