Real World Research: Get Some Experience

Real world research is a great tool to master for lifelong learning. You need to develop your basic research skills, and then take them into the world. Instead of just reading you move to doing and learning through experience.

Dr. Uke Says:Get Some Experience Real World Research at

Getting out in the world and seeing what a career or field is really like is a good practice for anyone exploring careers or going through transitions, not just recent high school grads.

Maybe you have a 5th grader wondering what they want to be when they grow-up, or a teen, whether in school or not, contemplating what the future holds. Do you know  someone having a quarter-life  or mid-life crisis or an empty nester mom wondering what’s next?  Hop on ever to the UnCollege blog to read my article,  Advice for HS Graduates:Get Started Now. There are exercises to help you figure out your field of interest and tips to get started learning and getting first-hand experience.

Go on, get started with some real world research.

What kind of real world research have you done? How did it help you with decisions? I’d love to hear your story in the comments.  Lisa


Do You Ever Struggle with Making Decisions?

Do you ever struggle with making decisions?  Feel overwhelmed or scared about choosing one thing and moving forward?  Get stuck with analysis paralysis?


This can happen especially when you are facing a decision with lots of angst and hope, that requires the courage to go against the grain and follow your own path instead of the generally accepted route.  If you are thinking of unschooling, homeschooling, or UnCollege you know exactly what I mean.

But, if you don’t make a decision and move forward, well, what’s the point? 

Take a deep breath and remind yourself, as the Heath Brothers say, that decisions are commas, not periods.  Their book Decisive, and the WRAP process is great.

I like to do things my own way.  And, when stressed I seem to write lyrics or limericks or attempt my simple version of poetry.  Here is the process I use to get myself out of a decision making mess, in case it might help you.  I hope you enjoy my handy-dandy little poem and these steps make it easier for you move through your decision-making process.


D efine goals & priorities

E xplore ideas & opportunities

C hallenge assumptions

I nvestigate realities

D ecide & take action

E valuate your satisfaction



I always like to start with WHY – get clear about your goals and hopes related to the decision. Consider your dreams and your values. Try to step back from  your immediate concerns and set your emotions aside as you clarify your goals.

When Dale was in his senior year of high school he was frustrated and angry. He felt ready to be done and was itching to go to college.  We had to pull back and say, “ Wait – sure you can think about where you could go to college RIGHT NOW, but let’s also think about everything you could do with this year.  What is at the bottom of your frustration?  What is it you are wanting that you think you can get at college?” This is how he ended up with his internship at Zinch.


I love generating lots of ideas and possibilities – Why not? How about? What if?  This is one way to combat our tendency to limit ourselves before we are even ready to decide.  Expand.  Get creative!

One of the ways that life has dramatically changed is in how many more avenues there are to access information, education, training, networks, and the world.  Lifelong learning beyond the classroom is all about options.  Give yourself permission to try new things and change your mind.


Challenge your assumptions.  You are trying to overcome what is called confirmation bias – when we only look for information to prop up our existing ideas.  It’s always good to look for examples that contradict, disprove, or give you more information to base your decision upon. Challenging your assumptions, see my “raising a Thiel Fellow tips”, is a good practice to apply to decision making and all areas of parenting and life.


Investigate and get the nitty-gritty details about costs, consequences, and time frames.  Let these realities help you plan ahead for potential difficulties and help you determine if you’ve taken the right path.  Get some first-hand experience as soon as you can.

Look for ways that you or your child can do what I call real world research and get some hands-on experience as early as she/he can.  There is no reason to wait.  People can job shadow, volunteer, intern, interview and find ways to reality test assumptions.  Thank goodness I had a work-study job in oral surgery during my first semester at Duke, before completing 4 years of pre-med.  I passed out cold the first week on the job  after seeing the first incision. I decided to rethink my plan.


Don’t get permanently stuck in analysis paralysis. I get bogged down with this a lot, so a critical step in my decision model is  taking action –  it is time to decide and get on with it.  If after all your investigation you want to have a plan B ready to go, that’s great.   Just decide and go for it. 


Evaluate, reflect, and revise!  Decisions are not set in stone.  You can change your mind or make a new decision when needed. If it didn’t work out the way you thought it would, what did you learn to help you move forward?

 For example, when we first started homeschooling we started one way, very ‘schooly’, but said we would evaluate how we were doing it on a weekly basis.  We changed course after our very first day!   We also said we would try homeschooling for one year and then re-evaluate and look at which options now seemed best for the following year. The documentary Class Dismissed does a fantastic job of showing a family going through this process of deciding and revising their educational choices.

In working on the ABC’s book, Carrie and I researched publishing platforms, various options for print, e-books, workbooks, a video course, and a card deck.  Warning – some of us can spend too much time thinking of new ideas instead of committing and completing.  It wasn’t until getting started that we learned more of what we needed to know.


Here is your rally cry:


D-E-C uh I-D-E

That is what will make you see

What your next  – uh – step should be, so

D-E-C- uh I-D-E – Yeah!


What do you do to help you make a tough decision? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.  Lisa


PS Do you recognize the rhythm I used?



DIY Gifts: Doing + Giving = Gratitude, Saving the Budget & Making Memories

Lest you think that I am some saintly mama educator who was looking into the future trying to determine how to best raise a child who would love to help do things, have a sense of gratitude, understand budgets and give gifts; let me share the truth.

I was a hot mess. I was a sleep deprived, wild-eyed, and on a budget so tight I couldn’t buy the $3.93 jar of artichokes at the local store on my birthday, but needed to wait for our monthly run (to save gas money) to the “dented food” store where they could be had for 50 cents.

DIY GIfts: Doing + GIving = Gratitude, Saving the budget & Making Memories at
Sweet memories.

The family was descending on us from all parts of the state and country to celebrate Christmas and we needed gifts.  For the people who couldn’t make it, we needed light-weight gifts that would be cheap to send. What could I do?

I had an adorable and exasperating child, lovingly referred to as the sleepless wonder, who was always busy. We had no tv, computer, or internet and what felt like an impossible budget. Cameras still used film, which was pricey, but the developing companies had just introduced the “double prints” come on. Pierre, our frugal budget master, had found and stocked up on a SUPER deal on white copy paper.


And so the annual christmas calendar gift project was born.* Desperation + creativity+ what is on hand. I can vouch that this equation works for gift making, meals for unexpected company and last minute Halloween costumes. Was it Plato who said necessity is the mother of invention?

Dale was 9-12 months old that fall and participated in all facets of the gift making, wrapping, and giving. I chatted with him about what we were doing and let him help. Each calendar was unique – made specifically for the recipient. We made a work area with a photo of each recipient spread out on the floor and made a game of naming each person. As I sorted and found the right photo for someone I would ask Dale to deliver it to their area.


“ Look, heres a picture of you and Grandma Dot, go put that in her pile.” And so on. Now this might not work for your 9-12 month old, but we started giving Dale fetch and carry tasks as soon as we could. Because we were tired. And he seemed to enjoy it.


I had him sit in the high-chair to draw pictures that we could  glue onto the calendars for one of the months. I let him help with the non-toxic glue stick, the non-toxic stamps and markers. “Can you make  a picture for Daddy’s calendar, please?”


Since I was teaching part-time I had access to the binder at school. We made copies at Staple’s and found a box of the plastic binding thingies on the clearance table. Score. We now hand enough to last for years.


Dale and I worked side by side, in small  chunks of time between September and December until we were done.  I’ve always been gift wrapping impaired so having Dale help was no big deal. The extra tape and wrinkles in the paper made no difference. I had two choices of paper and asked each time, “which paper shall we use for  _______?” He pointed, I cut, and away we wrapped.


And let me tell you, he was so happy handing out those presents on Christmas morning. He proudly toddled around the room delivering packages he had made. The relatives loved their homemade calendars. Dale loved to create and to give gifts. We stayed within our budget.


Of course it was time consuming, our project table was messy and glue stained, and the high chair tray would never fully recover. I had unwittingly begun a family tradition that not only shaped our holidays and but also laid a foundation for our family dynamic that included Dale as a full contributor to the gig.


In hindsight, making and giving gifts tailored to each individual influenced how Dale perceived gift-giving and receiving. He understood why expressing gratitude, writing thank-yous and recognizing the love behind a gift even when the gift wasn’t exactly what one wanted mattered.


As you head into holiday season, see if you can carve out some time to work on gifts together. You don’t need to do crazymaking calendars, but there many easy ways to create something meaningful. Sometimes it means you have to let go of quality control and other activities that aren’t feeding your soul.


Do things. Let them help. Put them in the role of creator and giver. Enjoy.


What happy holiday gift traditions do you have?


* The year I started this I wasn’t intending to start an annual tradition. So many holiday traditions start without forethought. But that’s another post :-)


Gratitude and Hope

I am feeling a lot of gratitude these days for all the gifts and opportunities I have in my life. As we head into Thanksgiving weekend in the the US, I don’t want the frenzy of sales to overshadow this opportunity to reflect on the Ferguson decision, and critical questions of racism and inequality in the world and what actions we can take.

What I am so grateful for at this moment in time:

beautiful squash volunteers Gifts of Gratitude and Hope
An abundance of volunteers in my garden this year. Photo: J.Pierre Stephens

That I have plenty.

A garden of abundance. I can fill my belly, quench my thirst, keep warm and lay down my head when I need without worry.

That I have choices.

So many choices about how I use my time, how I relate to my loved ones, my community, strangers. I have choices about how I parent and relate to my child, how to learn, what I want to pursue at this point in life and how I want to do it.   Continue reading

How do you raise a reader?

Some parents have asked me how I got Dale to love reading, how did we end up raising a reader?  Looking back, I see that what really made the difference was sharing a love of reading  that began long before thinking about teaching him to read.

How to raise a Reader?

I  vividly remember those dreary rainy days when Dale was two months old and nursing all the time. I had so little sleep and was completely out of my element as a new, older mom. For some reason I thought my babysitting experience and being an older sister had prepared me. Hah!

Our blissful first month with Pierre at home caring for both of us was over. Pierre was just beginning a new phase as an engineer for the state department of water resources as we headed into a wet year. We transitioned from happy daddy at home to stressed daddy learning a new job and having to work way overtime. And I sat in the rocker, staring out the window at the rain, disheveled, overwhelmed, and unwashed; and nursed and nursed and nursed.

One afternoon I used a pillow to help me hold Dale at a level that was more comfortable. Ahh, that felt better, now I could move my other arm. I reached over for the nearest book, a how-to baby book, and started reading aloud from the section on Sleep. “Hah, it says here you are supposed to be sleeping 16 out of your 24 hours. Listen to this…” I continued reading aloud, stumbling over the convoluted sentences, but only got more frustrated as I read about what someone else told me my baby should be doing.

I put that book aside and reached for the next book in the stack. It was a smallish paperback, a mystery. Oh this was much easier to hold. And read. The story was funny and the writing was good. And our mutual love of sharing reading began.   Continue reading