raising a dreamer

It seems that there was a little boy who struggled in school, finding math and science to be a challenge for him. In fact, he really didn’t like school much at all but, from his earliest days, he loved reading. Consequently, he spent a great deal of time imagining things. As he learned to write, he discovered his penchant for science fiction and would draft story after story filled with mystical characters and amazing adventures, to his mom’s delight.

As this little boy grew older, he thought it would be great fun to make movies based on his stories and so, with his simple camera he did, often pretending to be sick so he wouldn’t have to go to school and, instead, could stay home and pursue his hobby. Not so reluctantly, his mother allowed this.

Encourager that she was, this mom joined her aspiring film-making son as a stand-in character whenever he needed her for one of his productions and sometimes she even helped him carry out special effects. Once she worked in her kitchen to heat 30 cans of cherry pie filling in a pressure cooker until they exploded all over her walls, achieving the desired results for her son to use as he told his latest tale on film.

When the young man graduated from high school, he didn’t have test scores that would get him into a great film school but it didn’t really matter. A hard worker and a dreamer of dreams*, young Steven Spielberg took his creativity and spunk on to produce movies like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List, a movie that brought the horrors of Spielberg’s own Jewish family heritage to audiences everywhere. It is told that his mother could not speak at the end of a private viewing of the film, she was so moved by what her son had done.

Moms, if you are struggling today over a child who just seems to be in his own world, please don’t write him off as “lazy” or “learning disabled.” Use his interests as a springboard to teach him the essential things he must know. Participate as much as you can in his interests; praise him and delight in him. Pray for him, asking the Lord to give you both wisdom and patience as you work with the gifts and talents your little one has been given. Only God knows what the future holds for your child; pay close attention and trust that He will reveal it to you a little at a time!

*From the poem Ode by 19th century British poet, Arthur O’ O’Shaughnessy:

“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

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  1. says

    I really thought you were the mom in this story…the cherry pie filling had me convinced! what a great story…hope i can be that kind of mom!

  2. says

    I am homeschooling a 12 yo daughter with learning differences. Recently we have begun seeking outside assistance for the LD and running into brick walls. The experience has really highlighted for me how narrowly we allow our children scope for success. In both Christian and non-Christian society, children are valued if they are obedient, rarely or never questioning adult wisdom, quick at schooly sorts of academic tasks (multiplication tables, spelling tests), and infinitely interruptable for whatever next thing a grown up wants done right now but able to stay on task without distraction when that is convenient for us. The irony is that in both Christian and non-Christian society, the people who we most admire and consider successful rarely do anything like what we expect of children: they are innovative, creative, willing to rock boats, think for themselves, follow their inspiration (or God’s leading, if that is the phrase preferred) even when the conventional wisdom is discouraging. How do we expect our children to grow up to be these people if we never let them have the learning experiences in childhood in which to find and practices these skills?

  3. Andrea says

    I have a daughter like this. She actually struggles with reading and math, but she is a dreamer. She loves stories. She knows every fairytale ever told. She’s wonderful.

  4. says

    Yes, Sandra, your comment goes directly to the heart of the matter. Institutional education requires in-the-box methods and thinking and is not meant for those who can’t or won’t comply. I am reading The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto and would highly recommend it. It certainly explains a lot about what we all have been programmed to believe about learning. Here is just one quote that came to mind when I read your comment:

    “In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

    That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as there are fingerprints. We don’t need state certified teachers to make education happen–that probably guarantees that it won’t.”

  5. says

    Thank you, Karen and Sallie, for your approbation. I get so tired of fighting in-the-box thinking whether it is the religious box or the public education box or the crunchy granola, neo-hippy box where most of our homeschooling friends live. Homeschooling is supposed to be about climbing out of boxes and being broader, deeper, richer, more authentic human beings–at least that is why *I* chose to homeschool. But everyone I have met in the ten years we’ve been homeschooling just rolls an eye, curls a lip, and writes us off as just “not really in the program” (there have been a few remarkable exceptions but they simply prove the rule).

    Andrea, my daughter didn’t read a book cover to cover simply for the enjoyment of entering the story until she was 11 and even now reads only slowly, reluctantly, and uncomfortably (e-readers help!) but she has been enjoying and inventing detailed and multi-layered stories with complex themes and subplots since before she was 5. She can barely do a worksheet of single digit multiplication and can’t do long division at all but she can beat the snot out of me in chess and works through complex spatial mathematics games online in a very short time. She can’t spell worth crap and counts on her fingers but she can dance up a storm and rocks the house on her guitar. She’s been winning rock-climbing challenges for three years and embarrassing the college students who climb at the rock gym for longer than that.

    We have worked hard with both my kids to foster the idea that everyone is brilliant and everyone is handicapped. Some people’s genius or handicap is more obvious (or more valued/reviled by society at large) but everyone has a gift and everyone is disabled–that is why we live in community so we can share our resources and mediate our difficulties. Too bad our actual community is not showing to advantage on this principle.

  6. MN says

    I seem to get a bit confused on this whole subject. On one hand, I really love this idea you are speaking about. I’ve read all of the books and have tried to work it into my life with my kids. But on the other hand, I have seen way too many examples of what I deem total failure. I have watched many (that I personally know) kids “graduate” from homeschool to not have hardly any skills to do anything but struggle to find minimum wage jobs. The kids that did the “standard” school subjects (whether they liked them or not) have turned out better off than the “delight directed” educated ones. I am truly frustrated by this. In theory I completely agree with what you are saying but I don’t see how to really implement it. The times I have tried to follow the kids learning ability/desires/bent etc… I have not ended up with Steven Spielberg wannabees. They were more like the lazy, only want to read kind. Reading is great, but if it doesn’t turn into anything else, it just becomes escapism. I have two kids who hate writing, but I know they must learn it. I have one kid who hates math but I want her to know it because I see other young adult kids who are miserable because they don’t know how to figure out math concepts. My question is how do you balance it? And I’ve heard the “you’ll just know” answer and that doesn’t work. I have 3 teens who don’t have a lot of free time because they are busy doing the “regular” school subjects like Biology, Algebra etc… And if we didn’t do those things, what should they be filling their time with? Or are they suppose to be doing a bunch of other “better” pursuits in their non existent free time? I don’t want to push them into molds they aren’t suppose to be in but I also don’t want them to only be able to work at McDonalds forever. What does this type of education look like for teens if you don’t happen to have the next Lincoln or Mozart?? Thanks for your help, I appreciate your blog very much!!

  7. says


    Thank you for the book recommendation. I haven’t read that one yet. I like to read Gatto when I start feeling pressured to conform to conventional educational standards (like now, for instance! good timing!) and he seems to reset my internal gyroscope. I found that the book you suggested can be read in its entirety at Gatto’s website:


  8. says


    I don’t see “delight directed” as necessarily being opposite to or opposed to “standard school subjects.” I always think of it, at least in the earlier and middle grades, as using things children are interested in to also get them interested in those things they really need to know. For example, someone who likes to cook can learn basic math, fractions, etc. in the kitchen. Someone who has an interest in nature, outdoors, wildlife, animals, etc. can learn basic science, research skills, reading and writing skills, that way. It isn’t just letting kids go off and do whatever they want to do because it delights them. From my experience, children are naturally curious and desire to learn. I don’t think I have ever met a child who had no interests and didn’t want to learn more. (it also helped to not have a TV in the house except for using with DVD’s.)

    As our children got older and had the basics mastered, each at different age levels, we could see many things that held their interest that could turn into a vocation. We also saw certain life skills where they excelled. The combination of their gifts and interests usually intersected and within that area we encouraged them to pursue things that could be turned into a career.

    I know there are those who would disagree with this, but we never felt that all of our children should study all subjects in the same way. Our daughter is really gifted in music and we invested lots of time and money in piano and cello lessons during her high school years, even traveling long distance each week so she could study with great teachers. She practiced her piano 3-4 hours a days and taught dozens of students starting when she was 16. Physics and chemistry etc. weren’t on the radar. She wanted to be prepared to audition to study piano performance in college so that was what we all agreed on.

    Our oldest son who now owns his own law practice also didn’t have a math/science emphasis but his was in pre-law, history, politics, communications. He was delighted in those subjects and knew something in this area was the direction he wanted to pursue. Law seemed like the natural fit.

    Our experience,(which I know was for our own family and everyone has their own way to do this) was to introduce all sorts of subjects in the younger grades, expose them to good life experiences that included meeting lots of adults with varying interests, and finding ways to serve others. As they came into the teen years, it became obvious what their strengths and interests were. And of course, spending lots of time with them rather than having them spend it with lot of directionless teens, I think, made a big difference.

    Each child is so unique and there really is no one size fits all. Our youngest is my late, late bloomer and that is ok. He has some very strong interests, some that could turn into a career. We are still feeling our way through that and he won’t take college classes until he has a plan. We have encouraged some of our children to take the college basics and have spent much money for that to happen when, in retrospect, we should have waited until they had a more clear direction.

    You mentioned that you have seen many homeschoolers who haven’t mastered the basics. This is so foreign to me because most ones I know have gone on to college. In fact, I think the current stats right now show that 85% of homeschoolers go on to college. From my perspective, it is quite rare for a homeschooler to leave home unprepared.

  9. MN says

    About 15 years ago, several families I was acquainted with started implementing many “delight-directed”(for lack of a better term) type of ideas. I have, unfortunately, been watching many of these families fail in raising basic educated adults. Some of them seem to misunderstand the ideas you present and probably would better fit in the unschooling category. In my fear(which isn’t good, I know) of not wanting to duplicate what they did I started more rigorous academics as my kids got older. I am stuck in this quandary now. We spend so much time on basics there is no time left to use on individual interests. On top of the fact that none of my 3 teens seem to be thoroughly interested in any particular subject. I am frustrated that I spent so many younger years on what I thought would help develop their personal God given talents only to be stuck doing “regular” public school type subjects in the high school years because we never seemed to find a passion with something. Out of all the families from years ago, there are only 2 that seem to be doing well now. I have met many great home schooled kids but I have also met not so great ones. There is definitely a category of families out there not doing a very good job and it is an embarrassment to the rest of us. I completely agree and understand your input but I believe there is a huge gap between learning the “theory” and putting it to real life practice. Too many people take this natural learning approach to ridiculous levels and end up with kids who can’t write or can’t balance a checkbook. I am sure your readers are not in this category but these families are out there! I appreciate your examples with your kids but unfortunately have not been able to zero in on any one area of interest with mine. We seem to be a jack of all trades kind of people at our house with a little interest in many different things but nothing extremely strong. Maybe I just have a trio of late-bloomers? 🙂 I would love to see more examples of how people transitioned from young learning to teen years and beyond. Keeping natural learning alive while still covering the basics. And I know it is different for each family what the “basics” are but there has to be some kind of basic basics! :-)For example, what about biology? My kids have done a ton of nature study over the years (it was so much fun!) and a couple expressed interest in biology. I also started thinking biology might be important to teach for them to learn some basics(relative term-I know) of life sciences. I am also strong in the science/math department (not so much writing/grammar) so we embarked on Apologia’s biology. Half way through we were spending a large portion of our week on it, two of them didn’t want to do it anymore and all three of them viewed it as drudgery and work not to be enjoyed. I also knew that at least one of them never did want to do it a whole lot in the first place. My question was then, keep going to learn perseverance etc..? Or stop and spend that time on finding something else better suited for them which I was already having a hard time with? Maybe I shouldn’t have done it in the first place but I know they all learned quite a bit and it has improved their ability to relate to the world at large and how it works. I just don’t know how to determine when to push and when to let go. Did we waste time on that because one or more of them won’t ever practically use the information they learned? I would love to be able to say that I could see each of my kid’s talents early on so I was able to tailor make their education appropriately but it’s not so easy. Kids(at least my kids) likes and interests seem to change with the wind and I have found it hard to follow. Hindsight is 20/20 and I sure wish I could see 5-10 years down the road to know what they would have needed/wanted to learn. Sigh… Thanks for your time. I know God is full of grace for me and my kids so I do the best I can to expose them to many different learning ideas. It’s up to Him after that! 🙂

  10. says

    Just finished reading the Gatto recommendation from above. I’ve been reading for nearly 30 hours and my mind is reeling. Not much of what he wrote was entirely new to me but the overwhelming weight of seeing it all put together in one grand gestalt, to have it repeated over and over from so many different strands…. Wow! We have collectively bargained away our individual rights for critical thinking, free agency, and democratic governance for the dubious benefits of cheap oil, urban sprawl, and the bread and circuses provided by nonstop digital entertainment–all at the behest of global power brokers who were eager to socially engineer everything America stood for in our founding documents to ensure their bottom line.

    At times… okay, most of the time… the book reads like yet another fear-mongering conspiracy theory (although bigger in intention, broader in scope, and longer in time line than most such theories) yet every time I got fed up with the grim doomsday prophecies, he reminded me that hope springs eternal, all is not lost, and I and my children can (and have) opted out of the grand plan in our radically subversive act of homeschooling–though I sigh in regret that we don’t measure up to the examples he extols of the many self-taught Founding Fathers. Taking back the responsibility for educating ourselves in a perhaps uniquely American confidence in the individual’s aptitude for self-governance is a small but necessary first step in realizing our cultural myths as embodied here:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

  11. says

    And, I have to add, I’m beginning to feel that my daughter is not such a “different learner” in need of remediation and top-down academic micromanagement as I had begun to think. I think I need to quit reading so much about accommodating her LD and go back to review my library of Howard Gardner, Thomas Armstrong, Grace Llewellyn, and John Holt–to remind myself of the faith in individual capacity to learn what is necessary and sufficient for that individual to live passionately, productively, and profoundly in community.

  12. says

    MN, you brought up such a good point when you observed that children’s interests change through the years. This is so very true and,I believe,one of the real advantages we have as homeschoolers. Because siblings are also classmates, we all are taken up with the interests of each other, thus everyone is exposed to learning such a variety of things. While I wasn’t necessarily interested in dinosaurs, nor was our daughter, we both got into it because one of the boys went through a big dinosaur phase; his enthusiasm inspired our interest. As they grew older, our daughter loved attending symphony concerts and often she and the older brothers all went together, which drew them into her interest. And since each of them went through several stages, we managed to learn so many things from each other!

    As Clay was reading through this post, he remembered something he once heard at some homeschool workshop. As simple as this is, it is great advice. Lots of times it is hard to know what a person’s true interests are, especially if they aren’t talkers or emoters. Take them to a library or a book store and turn them loose. In the background, observe where they spend their time, what topics seem to peak their interest. Everyone has at least one thing they find intriguing. A little sleuthing will unearth those things.

    I would add to this that having your children either prepare speeches for your home classmates or putting them in a homeschool public speaking class will also accomplish this goal. I have been teaching public speaking skills to homeschoolers at the junior and senior high level for a number of years and after 2 or 3 speeches I can tell you both their passive interests and their passions!

  13. says

    Sandra, I am exhausted knowing you read straight through that book! And impressed!!! I can only handle a few pages at a time and then I have to sit back and ruminate! I totally agree with your evaluation of Gatto, too. So much resonates with me, both as a homeschooler and as someone who was caught up in the system for a time. Reading him also helps me put so much of my own schooling years into perspective. I often wonder what might have become of my life had it been free of all the trips that I still carry around because of them. In my early years of elementary school, while I did well as a student, I was always consciously aware that I was marching to the beat of a different drummer and that I looked at life so differently than others, meaning the way I was supposed to look at it. Because of that, combined with this passion for justice (I still struggle with daily) I was never part of any one group of people, which is a death sentence for social status. I love reading and learning and researching but all of that was stifled by the mandated stuff that I have little use for today.
    I think Gatto is a great reality check for me. Steering clear of curriculum-driven philosophy also has been. I want to guide my children in learning rather than program them. I want to set the example for life-long learning in my home by making it a lifestyle.

    I think one of the biggest reasons our country and the church is in the mess it is in is because the system has done such a great job of programming people what to think. It takes a tremendous effort for us to set aside the thoughts and convictions of the masses and to think for ourselves. In fact, woe be unto anyone who dares think or speak outside the prescribed box! The public school mentality has taught us that compliance is good, questioning authority is bad. No wonder things are such a mess….anyway, so much for the random thoughts you produced this am!

  14. says

    Karen, Have I told you lately how much I love your blog and your extraordinary gift of passing along a wonderful message to all us homeschoolers. Thank you!
    Sandra, it exhausts me too that you read straight through that, as it made my head hurt with its truths and I had to read in bits and pieces. John Holt’s sweet observations of children while they are learning have been timeless too. Great post and comments!

  15. says

    “In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.” –Gatto

    In light of how I began my comments here, I wish Gatto had elaborated more on this point. Instead he left it simply as an indictment of public schooling without support. I can agree that dylexia (the LD we have particularly been focussed on in our house) is made worse by conventional schooling but the brain research definitely shows differences in brain function between dyslexic and non-dyslexic brains–to label one as “normal” and the other “disabled”, I agree is doing a disservice to society and the affected individual and is, of course, the mainstay of special ed programs. What I wish Gatto would do–or refer to some other source–is to suggest how to go about reaching those kids who have been labelled and cast aside.

    Although we have never really done public school (yet, my other daughter starts local high school next August), we have been involved with enough institutionalized schooling that my 12yo knows that she is “not like the others” and has shut down in many ways over writing and arithmetic. The school (and para-school experts) push drill-and-kill as the only remediation, which Gatto specifically reviles, but I’m am at a loss at how to help her bring her skills into a place where she can function productively in today’s society. I suppose I am fretting unduly; after all, simply stepping back and letting her find her own way (supporting and facilitating as I see opportunity) has allowed her to read reasonably well, more than would have been predicted by the early-intervention schooly crowd.

    I guess I’m still caught in that fundamentalistic, religious kind of thinking that there is only one right way–that everyone at the brink of adulthood (say, between high school and college) OUGHT to know a certain body of knowledge and be facile in a certain repertoire of academic skills in order to be healthy, happy, and productive members of society.

  16. says

    I watched an interesting documentary from PBS a couple months ago on the human brain. I would highly recommend it as it was very helpful for me to actually visualize some of the”wiring” issues I know my son has. It was also interesting, as I watched, to realize how many of the things the Moores taught years ago can now be proven via brain imaging!


  17. says


    Thank you for the PBS link; I’ll watch it. *chuckle* I exhaust a lot of people with my reading! I am a bulimic researcher–when I get an issue caught in my mind, I read, google, wrestle, experiment with it until I about make myself ill. Certainly my husband’s familiar refrain is “just let it go for a while, will you?” but I can’t.

  18. susan t says

    for MN-
    I heard Jeff Myers speak at a homeschool conference about children’s gifts/natural skills once and he gave the suggestion that a parent think of and ask your child to think of what s/he loved to do when they were age 5-7 and then you ask why they think they liked to do that. Often there are alot of clues to natural gifts & temperament if you do this exercise. He cautioned NOT to jump to conclusions or let an “expert” i.e. guidance counselor,… jump to a conclusion for you or your child. Let the person puzzle it out. He had a school counselor completely jump to the wrong conclusion on his own childhood example. The individual needs to figure it out himself.

    He may have taken these ideas from the book he recommended in that talk- “Finding a Job You can Love” by Ralph T Mattson and Arthur F Miller, Jr.(1982) as the book has several guided exercises that remind me of these. The talk may have been called “Discovering Your Child’s Gifts: Cultivate Your Child’s God-Given Identity”… and it may be possible to find an audio CD from a homeschool conference. It was an excellent talk.


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