Self-Control, NutureShock, Tools of the Mind & Homeschoolers

Self-Control, NutureShock, Tools of the Mind & Homeschoolers

I have recently been reading the book, NutureShock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  I’ll admit, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s already got my mind whirring.  Essentially, it is a subject-by-subject look at emergent research in the field of child development.  Each chapter covers a different topic, and summarizes and extrapolates from new research being done in that field.  Topics covered include, Self Control, Lying in Children, Language Development, and Sibling Rivalry.  All of the chapters I have read so far have been fascinating, and sometimes, enlightening.

Last night, as I finished the chapter on self-control, my mind was whirring.  It hit home with me, in particular, as I have a very active boy, who sometimes finds it hard to sit still.  Sound familiar?  I’m guessing a good half of people (or more) with young boys (or children) can relate.  Anyways, as I read over the research on the Tools program, I started thinking about how some of their findings could apply in a homeschool setting.

Here’s a quick overview.  Tools of the Mind is a program that was founded in 1993, by researchers from the Metropolitan State College of Denver.  Read more about it’s history here.  The program combines two critical elements, play and self-control.

From what I understand from Nuture Shock, these are some of the things it incorporates:

1. Learner Choice.  Children are asked to choose what role they will play in the active / imaginative play in the classroom.  Although topics are chosen, children choose their own individual roles.  The example they give: children are told they will be playing firefighter.  They are given the option to choose whether they want to be a firefighter, home owner, 911 operator etc.

2. Self-Correction.  Children are asked to check their own work against “correct” answers, as well as correcting each other’s work.  The example they give: kids are asked to circle which of the letters they wrote on their paper is the best (most “correct”).  They also take turns reading to each other, taking turns being the listener and the speaker.

3. Self-Described Learning Plans.  Children are asked to write (according to their age and ability) a learning plan each day that dictates what they will be doing that day.  Presumably, so that they know what to expect, and can take their learning into their own hands.

4. Lengthy Play.  In Tools classrooms kids play, and play one thing, for extended periods of time.  The authors use the picture of a typical preschool, where kids play at stations for a few minutes, and then switch to another activity, to highlight the difference.  In a Tools classroom, kids decide what they will play ahead of time, and what their role will be in that game.  These actions sustain their play over an extended period of time (example: 45-60 minutes).

5. Using an Outer Voice.  Kids in Tools classrooms start of by speaking their instructions to themselves as they are doing things.  They are encouraged to voice their inner dialogue.  The example they give: kids are told to speak the instructions for writing each letter to themselves, as we do for the letter H – “line, line and across.”  Eventually, these outer voices become inner voices, and someday that inner voice becomes a child’s own dialogue of wisdom.  So the hope is.

Nuture Shock talks about how these kids have scored remarkably higher on (brace yourself) standardized tests, and tests of self-control.  Now, while many homeschoolers aren’t particularly interested in standardized test scores (to put it mildly), I would argue that all parents want their kids to reach their full potential.  If being able to think clearly, control one’s impulses and direct one’s own learning are things that sound good, maybe there is something to these Tools of the Mind techniques.

My opinion on the matter:

Tools of the Mind has “discovered” some truths that most homeschoolers already know (in fact, some of their truths seem ridiculously self-evident to homeschoolers).  For example:

Most homeschoolers are aware that child-led learning will yield high interest, and motivation in their children.  And, therefore, more positive results.  Both in terms on performance, but also in terms of the experience.

Most homeschoolers believe in the power of play.  It is one of the reasons people cite over and over for why they want to keep their kids out of school: more time for play.  More time for imaginative play.  Most homeschoolers know this makes their kids happier, healthier, and, yes, even smarter.

Tools of the Mind, though, does use many concepts that could fit beautifully into a home learning environment.  And, although there are still some question marks, here are a few of the ideas that are floating around in my mind.

1. Self-correction.  The idea that kids can correct their own work, and that of others, in a growth environment, rather than a test environment.  Again, this may be evident to many of you.  For myself, at the beginning of our journey, I would like to remind myself to ask my child if he sees his own “best letters,” his own areas of improvement.  Remind myself that, as a homeschooling parent, playing the traditional role of “teacher” – in this case by “marking” work for my child – isn’t necessary.  And it could very well be detrimental.

2. Play.  The concept of pre-planning one’s day, and the activities one will do seems evident to me as an adult.  But, all too often, I forget to involve my son in this.  I plan our day, and, although he usually gets a vote, he isn’t often involved to such an extent as in the Tools classroom.  We don’t sit down and write out a plan for the day.  Now, I’m not sure if this is too structured for the home environment (or, at least, for my home environment).  Is it really necessary? (Your thoughts would be appreciated on this one…)  But, I do like the idea of helping him to choose what he wants to do in a day (evident to me already), and helping him articulate this for himself (in written or oral form).  I, for one, am going to be more cognizant of this.

3. Outer Voice. I like the idea of having my son talk things through out loud.  And, wouldn’t it be an easy thing to do at home, where you aren’t “disrupting” anyone, anyways?  I love the idea that by doing so, he is learning to create inner dialogue, and self-control.

4. Buddy Reading.  NutureShock author, Po Bronson, relates that he has adapted a way to do buddy reading with his preschooler.  He reads first, and the she recites the story back to him (with her own flourishes).  Sounding a little Charlotte Mason to anyone else?  I like it.  If it’s done in the right way, it could be incredibly enjoyable, and incredibly fruitful, too.

Of course, the biggest thing I took away from the chapter, entitled “Can Self-Control Be Taught,” is that children can do amazing things, especially when supported and encouraged to follow their own interests.  With a little guidance from us (and, in some cases, the amount of guidance needed may be very little indeed) our children can become wonderfully self-aware (but not self-centred), and, yes, even self-regulating, human beings.

Certainly, this is one of our reasons for homeschooling.  Maybe our biggest.  To paraphrase John Holt:
My children want to learn.  They yearn for it.  And, they are innately good at it.  I may just have to remember to get out of their way…


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  1. This sound like a very interesting read. I have always thought homeschooling is a natural part of parenting.

    • That’s such a lovely, simple way of thinking of it, as a natural part of parenting. I completely agree. I haven’t even finished reading the book, and I’d recommend it. It’s full of so much fascinating information. Thanks for reading!

  2. “I must remember to get out of their way.” Oh so true. I have changed my teaching style from leading to guiding, and I have seen a huge difference as a result of it.
    Self-conrol is one of the character traits that our family focuses on learning and putting into practice. The more I lead by example, the better they are able to follow through themselves.
    Great post!

    • Thanks so much for your comments. Nice to hear about how things work for someone a little further along in their journey. All the best.

  3. You asked about having a plan. I have one for the year that I use to guide us each week. What we end up doing each day depends on each of my daughter’s interests, what pace they work at, and what they have the energy/enthusiasm to do. Somehow, what I’ve set out for them to learn and do ends up being done.

    At times, however, I realize that I’ve scheduled too much or I’ve changed my mind as to the importance of doing a particular activity. In those cases, I simply erase them from the plan that I set up going into the school year. Flexibility and knowing your kids is key to making homeschooling successful, educational – and FUN!

    • Sounds like you’ve found a nice balance. I know, for myself, I’m not structured / disciplined enough to make myself follow through on a strict plan… but I like the idea of having some sort of idea, if only in my head, ahead of time. Thanks for your perspective, and the reminder about flexibility. And thanks for reading!

  4. Sounds like an interesting read… The buddy reading system jumped out at me. My middle child has started reading with me like this, of her own accord. Fascinating!

    • Yes, I’ve been involved in buddy reading programs for kids through libraries before, but never thought to do it in such a way with my own kids… at least not quite as structured as the Tools program suggests. And this is just one chapter. The other topics sound just as fascinating, and are, from the ones I have read. Thanks for your comments. Love your blog!

  5. I just finished that chapter in Nurture Shock and home school as well, and I literally ran downstairs to google “Tools of the Mind + homeschool.” And your post came up! I really would like to learn more about how to incorporate these techniques and more about them. I appreciated your thoughts and ideas. I like the concept of being more intentional in the way I present learning opportunities to my kids, who are all young right now. Since the writing of this post have you had any more thoughts on these techniques?

    • So glad you found this post. I was hoping others who had read the book would read it. As for new thoughts… the example of the firefighters and choosing your own role in a game is always in my mind. I see it in my child, when he chooses what he wants to do, and how he wants to play – although I still seldom ask him to do it ahead of time. I also do involve him a lot more in what we do wach day. Although, often I ask, and am not prepared for the answer. Still, the days we talk about our plan for the day (incorporating both of our ideas), and know what to expect work better for both of us. I feel organized, and he seems more agreeable, and less easily upset by little things.

      Reading over my post, reminded me of a few things – like the play plan and the idea of self-correction. We haven’t done much in the way of self-correction (intentionally), but just today my son noticed that he could write a “D” better than before. He just noticed it, and was so proud of himself for “really” being able to write a “D.” So, I know he sees the “best” letters. Which makes me wonder whether he even needs to be told on this one…

      In fact, I think I’ll have to get the book out again and re-read. I didn’t get a chance to get through all of the chapters, so now you’ve given me new incentive. Thanks for visiting and for your comments. All the best, Kelly


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