Many parents today see that traditional school doesn’t work. They’re looking for alternative approaches to education, ones suited to their kids’ unique characteristics.
These parents are asking good questions like:
“What's the best school: Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, or something else?”
“How do I know if teachers will meet my kid’s unique needs and recognize their talents?”
“Should I hire a tutor or look for a supplemental program?”
It makes a big difference when kids have parents who care about finding the best teachers and programs. However, another factor matters even more for kids:
Parents with skin in the game.
Skin in the game is a simple but powerful idea, best described by Nassim Taleb. It means “having an exposure to the real world, and paying a price for its consequences, good or bad.”
In essence, it’s when we dig into the work instead of delegating to others. For parents, it means teaching your kids a little yourself rather than outsourcing all of their education.
Having skin in the game is valuable for many reasons:
First, it ensures kids experience stability throughout their education. Kids get new teachers every year. Each fall, they have to re-establish a new relationship. This volatility makes kids feel unknown and, oftentimes, hopelessly misunderstood. However, if their parents are deeply engaged in their education, it gives them a throughline, a consistent voice who understands them, hears them, and has been there through every twist and turn. Teachers come and go, but parents are forever.
Second, it gives parents more insight into the needs of their kids. No standardized test or expert opinion can compare to the knowledge that you will gain by teaching your kid yourself. It’s just impossible to get the same deep understanding without direct experience teaching. As a result, skin in the game will make it much easier for you to make the hard but necessary choices required for them to excel in their education.
Third, it gives you an avenue to dynamically fill gaps in their learning and development. Teachers are responsible for educating dozens—sometimes scores—of students. The best teachers will work hard to customize the curriculum for each kid, but at the end of the day, they can only do so much. However, if you’re directly involved in your kid’s education, you have opportunities to focus on the subjects they enjoy the most, come alongside them when they’re struggling with a concept, and create unique experiences to help them become their best selves.
At first, the idea of teaching makes a lot of parents nervous. Many are already overwhelmed with packed schedules. Others might worry they will hurt their kid’s education because they’re not trained teachers. These are legitimate concerns, but in reality, you don’t need a degree in education or lots of free time to reap the benefits of skin in the game.
You can choose from a spectrum of options.
On the one side is homeschooling, where parents do all the teaching themselves.
On the other side are traditional schools, where parents outsource the work to others.
But there’s lots of room in the middle, where parents find outside programs suited best for their kids, but also teach a little themselves. The goal is to move from the left side of the spectrum to the right as far as possible.
As you explore options in the middle, here are five things to consider:
Learn the different educational approaches available for your kid. The parents I talked about in the opening are on the right track. You must take responsibility for making researched, intentional decisions. Explore and experiment with different programs, schools, and methods. See what works best for your kid.
Pick one subject your kid will learn at home. Select a subject you loved as a kid. Maybe it’s history, literature, math, or programming. Only a couple of hours per week will make a huge difference. Even if you get some things wrong, you’re engaged. That’s what matters.
Dive into a passion project with your kid. Maybe your kid loves baking or building or coding websites. Pick one to do together! If your kid wants to dance, learn to dance too. The key is to grow together, set a positive example, and keep it fun.
Let kids change their minds. Let’s say you picked the best alternative school, the best subject, and the best passion project—but your kid hates it. Then move on! If you didn’t like something, you’d quit. Give your kid the same opportunity. What matters is that you’re involved with them throughout the process.
Don’t blame teachers, schools, or tutors. The overarching principle of skin in the game is that you’re taking responsibility for your kid’s education. You’re not settling for off-the-rack options. You’re not blaming others. You are doing some of the education yourself. It’s easy to want to off-load responsibility, but don’t fall into that trap. If things aren’t working, face the challenge head-on and find alternative solutions.
I wish I could say this is easy, but it’s not. However, I can say that the effort is absolutely worth it. As with the rest of life, the best things are the hardest. You don’t want to watch your kids leave the home and regret not doing more for them.
Lay it all on the line. Put your skin in the game.
Until next week,
Ana Lorena Fabrega