Thursday, April 24, 2008


It's a mystery to me how my children have found their life work at young ages. As parents, we have never pushed our children into any particular hobby or activity. We have just gone about our lives doing the things we are interested in, and our children have done the same.

Clara plans to teach cello as a sideline to raising a family. She has played the cello every single day that she is not sick in bed or travelling, since she was four years old. That's every *single* day. She has achieved an amazing musical fluency and seems to always take joy in making music.

By the age of three she was obsessed with the film version of Pirates of Penzance with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline. After watching the video, she assumed the persona of the soprano lead, wore bonnets, and answered only to Mabel. Shortly afterwards she requested violin lessons. Lacking a violin teacher in our small town, but having, of all things, a very accomplished Suzuki cello instructor at the local college, we asked if she didn't want to try the cello instead. That was a yes.

Felix plans to be an ornithologist, and teach and research at a university. Okay, Cornell. His first two words were beewee and weewee, Beewees were insects that fly. Weewees were insects that crawl. At age three he spent hours and hours dictating pages to me for a book of imaginary fish. Each fish's habitat, appearance, size, etc. were described in detail. And written down (by me) and illustrated (by him).

When he was eleven, we camped at Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Composer took the boys on a ranger-led bird walk. That did it for Felix. He bought the Sibley's Guide in the park gift shop, scrutinized it all twenty hours of our homeward trip, and never looked back.

When Giles was thirteen, the Composer took him along on a trip to Cameroon. The Composer was shooting video, and needed someone to do the still photography. Giles had no special interest in photography, and had never done any, but was willing. Several months later something clicked in his brain, he took over the digital camera, and from then on he has been totally committed to taking pictures.

So looking back, I can see my children's vocational journeys so far, but I can't explain them. But I will say this:

1. Don't force. It's like falling in love. It's there or it's not. God has his plans, and we may not be in on them yet.

2. Once they're interested, still don't force. My children own their vocations--not me.

3. Cast a wide net when raising your children. Do everything that seems interesting; you never know what will spark your child. I introduced Clara to Gilbert and Sullivan because I enjoyed it, not to further her musical education. We went on a bird walk because it seemed like fun, not because we wanted to raise a scientist. And why not take a teenager to Africa if you're going anyway?

4. Give them lots of unstructured time. We were slim pickings on the organized activities for a very long time. Instead of lessons and teams, we were home wandering around the yard, flopped on the couch reading together, or working in the kitchen.

5. Teach them to learn. In their fields of interest my children read widely, deeply, and constantly. They seek out periodicals, research materials, current information on-line, and useful people. They network with adults, make contacts, plan gigs, and generally go about their lives with gusto. They know how to do the next thing, and they do it every day.


Elizabeth said...

I really appreciate the wisdom behind your words! You have done an excellent job raising your children. I was home schooled myself and find everything you said to be so true. My mother didn't push us she showed us the joy of learning. She allowed us to blossom and cultivated what God planted in us. =)

Thanks for being a great mom!

Anonymous said...

I am so inspired by this, and being that I have three little ones and one on the way...this is hope as we homeschool and mold. Our greatest desire is for our children to love the Lord and love to learn. Out of curiosity--do you allow much television with your children. We limit our kids only to select fun or educational you think that aids or hinders? I want their appetites to be the written did you foster that?

Anonymous said...


I appreciate very much what you wrote and am thankful to know that I am on the right track with my four children. I can see their intersts taking shape into what may become their vocations someday. We go about our live very much like you have done, so I will remain content in knowing that they will discover their interests and gift soon enough.
I've been a long time reader of your blog and truly enjoy looking forward to reading it each and every day you post. I have only just become computer smart enough to figure out how to comment, so that's why you've never heard from me before.
Thanks for brightening my day!

Eleanor Joyce said...

Wonderfully encouraging post. Thanks!

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

This is such a great post. I'm going to link to it later today when I'm able to write a post on my blog.

It is the way I raised my children but put in such a way (your words) that makes sense.

My still remember the day my daughter wanted to be Bob Villa (This Old Housse)! A rather unusual mentor for this particular girl. She went on to the University and studied Interior Design, which is actually a pre-architecture curriculum.

My son became fascinated with the environment, energy, and home building. He's going to transfer to Building Construction Management in January.

I just love how you described your kids finding their own passion.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

Sorry for all the typos. I just got up. I haven't had my full cup of coffee. Perhaps I should get off the computer now. :)

An Adventurer in the World said...

Anna, I have often wondered HOW you raised your children (aside from the obvious genetic gifts they've been given) -- I speak of their ambition.

Here is a sparked question:

My 14yo son is a writer, and has passionately declared this since about 2nd grade.

If we let him, he would sit at the computer all day long and type, then illustrate the chapters. He MIGHT stop to eat. Just yesterday he came into the kitchen and passionately burst out "THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE WORLD TO WRITE EVERY STORY I WANT TO WRITE!" He also has an acute visual memory and a deep love for movies; he can remember an obscure, supporting actor's face across a 30-year span of their work. He can perfectly hum the background music to the most un-noticed soundtrack element.

But as his mom, I have believed, with equal passion, that I need to guide him in developing other aspects of his life (i.e., exercise, basic music education, becoming sentient to others' needs...). Who among us really gets to indulge our favorite passion ALL DAY? Life is so much broader...

I find myself pushing him in those areas.

As you can imagine, resentment is brewing. Obviously, something needs to change.

Any thoughts you have are appreciated as I mull this over.

deb meyers

Polly said...

Fantastic. I appreciate this as I embark on mothering (10 1/2 month old). Broad exposure to experiences--so important!

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...


Thank you for so clearly sharing your thoughts on this subject. I truly believe that God sends our children to us, already full of what they need to be the people God has Planned for them to be.

We as parents just need give them opportunities to experience things.

I too am going to link to this post from my personal blog as well as a homeschool blog I do with a friend.

Randi~Dukes and Duchesses said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! When I read about Felix's latest birding venture, I wondered again how your children had fallen into these interests and whether you had encouraged or pushed in any direction. I really appreciated reading this post.

Rebecca said...

This post couldn't be more timely. I was just talking about you to a dear friend of mine, wondering aloud how your children came to be so...professional grade at such a young age!

I enjoyed this post immensely and have enjoyed Giles' photography and witnessing Felixs' love of birds and I am SURE I would love just as much to hear Clara on the cello!

You have such a lovely family and I consider myself very lucky to be able to witness it, even secondhand.

Alice said...

I really like what you wrote here. It is something I think about often, having a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. I keep wondering if I should be scheduling lots of things in their lives (but I really haven't), and I'm glad to hear your perspective. It goes with what I've been feeling is right anyway, so it's great to hear from someone who's already been through it! (What we love to do best is just sit in the rocking chair together and read and read and read!)

So, thanks! Oh, and maybe Felix will be the one to finally definitely see the ivory-billed woodpecker. And Giles could get the illusive photo! :-)

Anonymous said...

My daughter's passion from the age of about 12 months (she was drawing stick figures at that age with crayons) has been drawing. She's now 15 and takes commissions for her digital artwork. I have asked her what she wants to "do" when she finishes school, and she gives me a funny look and says, "I'm already "doing" what I love!". There you have it...she's an artist. Without any prompting from me. My husband and I have just made sure that she has a quality Wacom drawing tablet for her computer, and that her computer has the programs, capacity, and speed to handle her work. It has been a joy to watch her talent unfold over the years, and to see it continue to develop. She spends literally hours working on her pieces which does mean a lot of time alone. She has a few close friends that keep her balanced, but she far prefers to be alone to work on her pieces. I agree that we should just put things out there for them to try - you never know what spark will ignite the fire!
Kathy Frazier

Cheryl said...

I, too, am inspired by your well-articulated ideas about allowing God's plan to form in our children.
I serve as the editor of our local homeschool group's monthly newsletter...and I would LOVE to be able to share this post as an article in a future issue. Would I have your permission to do so?
(My e-mail is, if you'd like to ask any questions.)
~ Cheryl

maggiegracecreates said...

This is a beautiful, well thought out, and wisdom filled post. My daughter has been on the college search along with your photographer. It has been incredibly difficult to not just tell her what I want her to do, but to let this play out at it should.

Thanks for the reminder that my decision was the right on.

Have a wonderful day.

sherry said...

What a lovely description of how your children discovered and are finely honing their loves. I'd love to include this in my next school newsletter. The school is a private ISP devoted to homeschool families. You can email me at:

ladyjanesjournal *at* gmail *dot* com

Thank you for considering.

Trudy said...

Wow - thank you! I've been amazed by their advanced interests for some time. Thank you for explaining.

Wondering if you have limited their t.v. and computer access? It seems these two things work against reading and the discovery of the world in your own backyard. (we have this problem)

Great inspiration!

Nicole said...

I really enjoyed reading this. My children are 7, 6 and 4 and we can see so much in them that is truly gifts from God as far as abilities and interests already. This was such an encouragement in how I homeschool, with more reading together and fun play instead of lots of book work. Thank you again.

I found you off of Crrekside Cottage (I am Deanna's cousin - that she has never met)

Hope to read more soon!

Alicia said...

What a lovely article! I've found your children's varied intersets and amazing talents intriguing and am so glad that you gave a history and showed what you did (and didn't) do. Thanks, Anna.

Kristina said...

So beautifully and wisely said, Anna. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, your heart, and your life with us here. You are very inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Your explanation makes a lot of sense, thank you! (o:

Anonymous said...

What about Bella?

Everly Pleasant said...

And if anyone cares for the child's perspective on this method, my siblings and I love it.
Last year when I announced to my parents that I felt that God was calling me to write, my parents told me that they had known I would be a writer for a long time. I am so glad they didn't put in their two cents before. If they had, I would have second guessed that it was God and not just my parents.

good_to_be_home said...

Great tips, thank you! As long as my children love the Lord and are doing His will, I don't care if they are garbage men or doctors! Isn't it wonderful to let go and let God lead them? Although, you are right, we do have a job to do in giving our children a rich life, and letting them see the many ways in which they can be useful. I hope all of our children love their life-work, whatever they choose to do.

Anna said...

We do limit DVD/video viewing--45 minutes under 12, older children get an hour. After school is done, chores finished, and music practiced. And thirty minutes of active outdoors time.

Cheryl, you may reprint (I'd be honored) with credit to this blog.

As for Bella (and Daisy), not there yet! Both my boys were early teens when they fixed on their paths. Everyone has his own timetable, and we seriously, truly, are happy to wait for the Lord to unfold in His timing.

Unknown said...

This particular writing really hit a spot for me. When I was growing up I was always told I couldn't do things because of financial limitations or simply it was the way my mother was raised- People like us don't go to college or dream big. To this day I have to work very hard to convince myself that I can do anything I want to do. Negativity toward my own capabilities always seems to rear its ugly head.

Because of this, I always want to encourage my children to stick with things and not give up. Unfortunately often times I feel like I can't provide them with the culture and travel they need to really feel inspired by life.

This really helped open my eyes to see that they are being inspired and cultivated right here in their own garden. They will be who they will be no matter what.

Great words of inspiration!

Cheryl said...

Thanks so much for your gracious permission to reprint! We will be sure to credit your blog and include the biographical info that you have provided there.
I pray that other moms are encouraged and blessed by your words of wisdom.
~ Cheryl

Linda said...

Such wisdom Anna. Isn't it exciting to see your children bloom and grow into amazing young adults. Our daughter began writing when I joined a writer's group. She wanted to do what Mom was doing. She is an amazing writer and editor today. God gives the gifts; we give them a place to bloom and grow (if we are wise).

Amy said...

This post was a breath of fresh air for me. We've steered clear of pursuing a lot of lessons and team sports. My oldest tried piano and *hated* it so we quit before the year was out. I loved piano as a child - I think you either love it or you don't.

On the other hand, the highlight of his week is afternoon woodworking lessons with his grandpa. He's been making things nonstop ever since he could manage a pencil and scissors.

There is always a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) pressure to enroll our children in all sort of activities - especially because we homeschool.

Sarah said...

Wonderful post, Anna! Lots of wisdom :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks you for answering my question about the story behind their interest!

Blessings to you!

Natalie said...

Yes, yes, yes. I know from personal experience that when parents start crusading for a child's dream it can be very hard on everyone involved. When I decided I'd rather be a wife than a college professor guess who kept pushing that doctorate on me "in my own best interest"?

Anita said...

I'm so impressed. I wish I could go children are all grown. Sadly, I think I'm a better grandmother than I was a mother.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! It was so wonderful to read how you support your children in their interests without pushing them.

I grew up in a household with two classically trained musicians as parents - and unfortunately, both of them saw ANY talent and ability in their children as a direct personal threat to their egos. So all children's attempts at music making, art, crafts, creativity of any kind were squelched with sarcasm, ridicule and undue criticism. When a child's efforts are laughed or sneered at enough times, the child simply stops trying and becomes an underachiever.

It took me half a lifetime to get out from under this early influence, and even though I make a living selling my own art and craftwork today, it is still difficult for me to feel confident about my work.

It is so wonderful to see children who are given so much support and whose parents rejoice in their choices and abilities! Thank you so much for this post.


Theresa said...

Thank you for the insight to your family life. I am a new follower of your blog. Your home seems to be such a santuary for your children to grow and express themselves.

I am a mother of an 18 month old and I have started to notice his fascination with music. He will dance to anything with a good beat and will always pickup his toy microphone and sing or pickup his drum and drum sticks and beat it constantly while the music plays.

I will just have to wait... God is so good.

Charity Grace said...

Thank you! :)

World's Greatest Mommy said...

My husband, the music teacher, checked out the Kevin Cline/Linda Rondstadt version of Pirates of Penzance 4 weeks ago from the libraray, and has rechecked it weekly since.

All of my children are "Pirates crazy" right now, including our eight year old daughter who will not stop singing all of the songs.

The kids were reinacting the scene after the "Doesn't Really Matter" song. My son said, "Oh, horror." and before the other kids could respond, my two-year-old daughter piped up, "What da matter?".

We were all dying laughing.
Nice post, and great advice!

l o v e l y d e s i g n said...

Thank-you, so very much, for sharing your experiences and what you have learned. They meant a lot to me to read, and I cherish every word.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of Einstein's words on the subject of education 'I never attempt to teach my pupils. I attempt only to provide the conditions in which they can learn'.

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