Home Education Magazine
May-June 2001 - Articles and Columns
Big Hairy Audacious Goals - Julie Bogart
Last spring I learned an acronym that changed the lives of my kids: B-HAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goals. My husband's company set their long-term goals using that term and I thought, "Aha! Perfect for homeschool."
So I asked my kids what big, hairy, audacious, sky's-the-limit kind of goals they would like to pursue while they're still kids at home. I was startled by the clarity and unique vision of each child.
My oldest son, Noah (13), said that he'd like to act in a Shakespeare play, learn to design computer games and play the piano. Piano, it turns out, was the secret passion of Noah's heart. He had wanted lessons for years and began to well-up with tears when he told me that his life would be happy if he could just learn how to play. Gulp! How come I hadn't known that?
Next in line was my daughter, Johannah (11). She reeled off two enormous projects that took my breath away. She wants to produce a Jane Austen-style ball instead of a high school prom for herself and other homeschooled friends. In order to do it, she needs to take Vintage dance lessons, then hold classes to teach these dances to other kids. In addition, she plans to learn how to sew the dresses from that era so that she can make costumes.
Her second goal (as if that one didn't already overwhelm me) is to direct her own production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. "And I'm going to do it, Mom," she told me emphatically. I didn't doubt her!
When I was a kid, school provided me with sensible goals that wouldn't interfere with my parents' lives too much. I wasn't taught to dream about bigger-than-life projects that would require driving all over kingdom come or that would oblige my family to participate in my areas of interest. Instead, I joined the pre-fab school organizations that offered me bite-sized experiences of the interests I had. Certainly some of my teachers rose above the mediocrity and contributed profoundly to my life, but on the whole, most of my school life was keenly managed and required mere compliance from me. I didn't own the experiences and I certainly didn't orchestrate them.
Enter the B-HAG into our family. Suddenly I'm on a radical learning curve led by my kids. It dawned on me that instead of micro-managing their experiences, I could throw myself into their big dreams by offering the kind of support that an adult can give to a young person - I can drive, I can look stuff up in the phone book, on the Internet and in the community papers, I can fix hair to look like Lizzie Bennett.
What I don't have to muster is the energy to "get up" for these activities. We've found that the B-HAG itself drives our children to a level of motivation that releases energy throughout the family. For instance, we signed up to usher at the local Shakespeare Festival in town. My husband and I usher with the two oldest kids so that both of them can continue to stay connected to their love of Shakespeare. As luck would have it, Noah was asked to audition for their production of Macbeth! He didn't get the part, but it made his dream of acting in a professional Shakespeare production that much more real.
When I took my daughter to her first Vintage Dance class (with adults, I might add - no kids in that group) she looked a bit intimidated. I urged Noah to join her for "just one night." Well, he got hooked and the two of them spent the next fifteen weeks dancing together in class, at home and finally at the Winter Ball. We brought the entire family along and now everyone wants to learn Vintage Dance.
My younger kids have caught the spirit of these big dreams too. Them is learning to play the recorder en route to the saxophone, they all enjoy watching Shakespeare films with us at home and my four-year-old daughter is well-acquainted with the cast of Jane Austen characters that people her imaginative play.
My six-year-old boy is fascinated with animals and stated that his B-HAG is to train pet rats. For his birthday last summer, he received two males. Noah found Internet sites that teach how to train pet rats. Now he's teaching his younger brother how to make that dream come true. (So far, the Cheerio rewards are ending up in my kids' mouths more than the rats', but it's a beginning!)
Because we have five kids and a small budget, I've discovered that B-HAGs can also be pursued on the cheap. As I mentioned before, instead of purchasing season tickets to the Shakespeare performances, we usher the shows we want to see and take the seats that are left.
I couldn't afford to pay for both kids to take the Vintage Dance lessons, but suddenly they both wanted to. The director allowed us to distribute flyers to pay for the lessons. I drove through neighborhoods and the kids ran up and down sidewalks tucking yellow advertisements into mailboxes. Not only did I save money on the lessons, but the kids owned the activity so much more. Their commitment to "earning their way" revealed their commitment to the classes.
Piano costs money. No way around that. But we've made do with a little electronic piano for a year and are about to purchase a used one for a couple hundred bucks. At Christmas, we found a cheap computer and some programming software for Noah so that he could put time into learning how to create those games instead of just playing them.
The most important aspects of a B-HAG, I've come to realize, is that the child who dreams needs to be reminded of the vision he starts with. As adults, we often find ourselves preoccupied with our own goals and responsibilities and hope that our kids will simply find a groove and get in it.
We admire the homeschoolers whose kids have built canoes from scratch in the living room, or who win awards for mapping the goat genome in their basements. Sometimes we forget that parents are a big part of the success of these kids. We can't create motivation, but we can support the fragile dream by fanning the flame. And we can enter into the learning adventure with our children whenever possible.
I know many other families who've adopted the B-HAG strategy for their kids. Marie in Illinois is one of those mothers. She told me that her daughter wants to be a paleontologist. At age eight, she picked up her first fossil on the beach and was hooked. By nine she had her first home museum. It grew so much that she began charging friends admission to come visit it and decided to learn sign language so that she could teach deaf kids about rocks as well.
"When we first started homeschooling three years ago, I had these great visions of classical education, foreign languages, music instruction, and advanced math," Marie told me. "Immediately I ran into obstacle after obstacle, until I realized that these were my goals, and not their goals.
"I grieved for the fact that I had to give up my goals, and kept my heart open to the idea that the kids would find their passions. We have followed those interests, and never looked back."
When allowing our kids to determine B-HAGs the hazard is that we'll judge or evaluate those goals. Or we might be tempted to "hold them to it" when they outgrow a dream. The real importance of letting our kids dream is to empower them to overcome the usual inertia that surrounds growing up - I can't do it; I'm not an expert - by reminding them that they have what it takes to achieve their dreams.
I heard an interview with Stephen Spielberg's mother on PBS years ago. During his teen years, she used to pull Stephen out of school to drive him to the desert so that he could practice creating special effects with his movie camera. She reported that his best education happened outside the four walls of school.
Imagine if she had told him, "You need to stay in class. No hooky for you!" Would we have Raiders of the Lost Ark or Hook?
We can stand aside and hope our kids will be more motivated than we were to realize a vision of their futures, or we can jump in with both feet behind them and support their dreams - B-HAGs - with our commitment of time, energy and love.
And what's my B-HAG? Well, Them is to see my kids find all the resources they need to realize the dreams of their youth.
(c) 2001 Julie Bogart
May-June 2001 Issue
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