Don’t Panic: A Movement in Education


By Lockey Coughlin 

A fellow veteran homeschooling mom, Adrianne Roberts, and I had a long chat last week about newbie homeschooling parents who have had that title, more or less, foisted upon them. Our children are all in college now and we talked about our successes, failures, surprises, and joys along the way. We talked about this in the context of what parents are going through in a COVID world, wishing that we could impart some words of wisdom to them. Adrianne runs a small educational program, similar to mine, in Bethel, CT.

As we talked, Adrianne said that she wished she could start a movement in education called “Don’t Panic”. I thought this was brilliant and suggested she write a book. She is a warm, bright, dedicated educator that we could all learn a lot from.

Years ago, when we confessed that we were homeschoolers to non-homeschooling parents, their response was almost always the same. “I could never do that. I am not ____________________.” Fill in the blank with ‘organized enough’ or ‘an education professional’ or ‘patient enough’ or even ‘well-educated enough’.

Now most parents, having been drafted into homeschooling their children, realize that they can, in fact, educate their children at home. They have been doing it for months – even more accurately, since the day they began talking to their children in utero. Today, the oft-repeated phrases Adrianne and I are both hearing are more in line with, “How do I know my child is on track?” “It feels like they are not learning anything.” “Does my child have everything they need to move up a grade level?”

My son, who is now 18 years old and has completed his first year of college with high honors, struggled significantly with reading and writing at the age of 10 years old. I really thought something was wrong. His older sisters had easily picked up these skills at 5 or 6 years old and were avid readers and writers. I tried a lot of approaches, but he was incredibly wile and stubborn in his refusal to cooperate in any way with my efforts. He just was not interested. I wanted to give him the time and space he needed to learn at his own pace, but I began to panic around 7 years old.

I had him tested – a lot, which I heartily regret. Not only did it cost a small fortune, but it made Tucker feel less than, plus the results were wholly inconclusive. Tests showed first that my son was a genius, and then, nope, he was developmentally delayed in many areas; oh, wait, then he was totally normal. Ugh. The results depended upon the test, the tester, and what he had for breakfast. I finally recruited a private tutor and she was phenomenal. She had him at grade level in 18 months. Today he reads Dostoyevsky for pleasure. He is still a genius at getting out of things he would rather not do and he is still stubborn.

Looking back, I realize that Tucker could build almost any Lego set in about 3 hours. His level of focus, organization, and uncanny ability in this area were sources of never-ending joy for me and, consequently, this habit drained the checking account regularly. I thought he was a prodigy because his sisters had no such interest or skills. It turns out there are a lot of kids out there who can do the same thing at a young age. He is not a prodigal engineering genius, after all, but he does love to problem-solve and build stuff.

Adrianne’s son, William, was the opposite of Tucker. He was an avid reader and writer. He was also terrific at math. And, much to my chagrin, he was just as good at Legos as my own son. An incredibly sweet and humble kid, he focused a great deal on his academics. Even so, Adrianne went into panic mode occasionally, worrying if he was doing enough, if she was doing enough for him. This is one of her regrets. Of course, today he is also achieving great success in his post-secondary education. Two very different kids, with very different paths, and with pretty similar outcomes.

Why tell these stories? The point is that, while intervention is necessary with certain issues, there is no need to panic. Barring serious learning disabilities or a genius I.Q., humans tend to be self-leveling and, if you allow them to move at their own pace, focusing on effort and work-ethic, rather than where they are in comparison to others, they will hopefully enjoy the process immensely.

There is a lot of information about child development and education available. Much of it is contradictory. Much of it gives very large ranges of what is ‘normal’ and, yet, will then focus on the ‘mean’ or the ‘average’. This is mathematics and statistics. It has very little to do with the reality of your unique and highly individualized circumstances.

Was your child born pre-mature? Deduct that time from your developmental ‘norms’. Does your child struggle with their personal identity in some way? This struggle takes precedence in their life; as well it should, and will take some focus away from other pursuits, at least temporarily. Has your child suffered from a serious illness? Undiagnosed food sensitivity? An emotional trauma? Is your child a twin or a triplet? Is your child trying to learn in the midst of a global pandemic? You get the picture. We all have issues – every single one of us. That is the only normal part of human development. Don’t even get me started on learning differences, poverty, or malnutrition. Those are conversations for another day.

So, Adrianne Roberts says “don’t panic.” And I concur. Human beings are resilient and curious, by nature, literally. Allow that curiosity to bloom. Ask questions. Have conversations. Seek out professional help when necessary. Check-in with your children all the time and assure them that they are not less than anyone or anything, ever. Remind them and yourself that they are irreplaceable, irreproducible, wholly unique and that their existence on this planet is entirely miraculous. No norms, no means, no averages, no panic.

Lockey Coughlin is the Founder of Education without Walls, LLC, and Webb Youth Services, Inc, a 501(c)3. www.EducationWW.org & www.WebbYouthServices.org

Adrianne Roberts is the Founder of Sunflower Studio in Bethel, CT. www.sunflowerstudioct.com