If you soared over your neighborhood or town, what would you see?
New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.
May 24th, 2013
If you soared over your neighborhood or town, what would you see?
New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.
May 23rd, 2013
There are 180 days in the school year.
There are 36 weeks.
You have X number of children at writing age.
If you were to do one passage of copywork per week per child, you would have this equation:
36 x X = ______
So if you have 3 children at writing age, the answer is:
36 x 3 = 108 passages of copywork that you have supervised, corrected, and supported.
If you have a child who works to complete a single passage in a week by writing parts of it 2 or 3 times a week, that child is now working on handwriting and copying:
1 child x 3 days of handwriting (1 copywork passage) x 36 weeks = 108 days of writing 36 passages
3 kids x 2 days of handwriting (1 copywork passage) x 36 weeks = 216 days of supervising 36 passages (per child) of copywork
Can you see why you fall short sometimes? Can you see why adding a day of dictation or phonics worksheets or one more day of copywork can feel impossible, even though the actual daily practice is only 5-15 minutes at a time?
The hardest thing to do in homeschool is to sustain a routine without giving up when you don’t feel you’ve “hit the optimal practice.” Just like you wouldn’t abandon your daily math work just because you missed a week or a few days, you can take a similar approach to copywork and dictation. Get to it, as often as you can, within the weekly framework. When you miss, don’t let that derail you into *not* doing it at all.
Come back to the routine and try again. It’s better to have supervised 20 copywork attempts than 5. It’s better to have returned to the practice after being away from it, than to abandon it all together. Over years of time, you’ll see fruit from copywork and dictation, even if there are some (many) weeks you don’t get to it.
May 22nd, 2013
Have you noticed how easy it is to wish away your chief personality features? Do you think to yourself, “I’m the wrong personality for my temperament”? You might wish for a clean, orderly home in your heart, but your personality style is relaxed Bohemian. Or you are the sort who keeps a ship-shape house, but wish you could relax when your kids make big creative messes.
Layered on top of the structured versus unstructured selves we bring to homeschool are our memories of school. We compare what we do at home (even when we don’t want to) to what we experienced as children. We react against it (“I’m not doing *that!”) or we we suffer because of it (“I’m not teaching my kids anything”).
The temptation to overhaul our essential selves is powerful. Advertising everywhere tells us we are one tweak away from being the fantasy person in our heads. We may be able to resist Botox or Coach purses, but the seductress for home educators is any “method” that results in effortless, joyful learning where parents and kids get along all the time.
We hop from one program to the next like frogs on lily pads forgetting to consider which personality is implementing the philosophy!
Let me let you in on a little secret.
There’s no one personality type that is better for homeschooling than another.
Let me drill down further.
There’s no one personality type that is better for parenting, loving, nurturing than another.
Every type has its marvelous strengths, and (darn it all) each type has its blind spots and liabilities.
What you and I need to do is to become self aware people—able to recognize when our personalities are creating the hum of happiness and productivity, and when they are sapping the energy from the room and causing pain.
It isn’t always better to have a messy or a neat house.
Sometimes waking up to a clear kitchen table, fluffed pillows, books easy to access, and a freshly vacuumed carpet is the most nurturing way to start the day. If, however, the process of getting there ended an art project or removed a Robin Hood fort still lingering in the minds of your kids as they went to bed, the same cleared space in the morning may now feel like robbery:
“Where did you put my art project?”
“Do I really have to get out all the blankets again for my fort?”
The question to ask yourself as you move through the day isn’t “How can I be more relaxed?” or “How can I be more productive?”
You want to ask yourself a single question:
“How can I best serve this moment?”
I remember when I went to graduate school, I had just begun our unschooling experiment. It was a study in contrasts. I was being educated by highly trained academics with lectures, a syllabus, reading schedule, essay assignments, and tests. My kids were free to explore the world without any hindrance.
Or so I thought.
What became apparent to me after a semester surprised me. I loved graduate school. It felt nurturing to have someone care enough to create lessons, to show me what I should read to get a full view of the subject, to dialog with me from a position of investment and knowledge. I liked having a plan and a schedule. I felt relief. I had studied the subject area for five years on my own, and now I felt this surge of strength that came from guidance and support.
Meanwhile, the structures I had used in homeschool were on hold. I wanted my kids to feel free to learn what they wanted, to investigate any topic to their hearts’ content. A couple of them took off! But two floundered. They felt (strangely enough) unloved. They wouldn’t have used that language but in hindsight that’s what it was. They felt connected to me when I took the time to plan their lessons and guide their education. They lost that connection when I gave them “freedom.”
I spent hours on unschooling lists learning how to create the context, how to support an unschooling lifestyle, how to foster and nurture a rich learning environment. I didn’t “abandon” my kids to doing whatever they wanted unsupervised. Nevertheless, two of my children missed planned lessons and a structure for learning. I understood this because I was having a parallel experience in grad school.
What becomes so difficult to tease apart as a home educator is the idealized vision of learning that dances in our heads like sugar plums and the very real home and family we have. Our job isn’t to be more organized or more relaxed, more structured or completely free of structure.
Our job is to serve the moment—to serve the needs of our families from within the framework of our delightful personalities.
We can do that best when we lean into our strengths.
If you’re an orderly person, create happy order. Avoid the temptation to require everyone to be like you. Resist your tendency to nag or to have your feelings hurt when the rest of your gang is unenthusiastic for kitchen duty or keeping tables cleared. Straighten, file, assemble check lists, keep the sink empty, make the beds, plan the day. Enthusiastically offer your talent for creating a clean, peaceful, orderly, neat space to the family as a gift.
If you’re a relaxed, go-with-the-flow mom, stop pummeling your personality. Your home is cozy, it’s alive with activity, and it supports messes without stress. Keep big containers nearby for quick clean-ups, make a loose routine to follow each day (rather than a schedule), allow your kids who need order to create systems to support you and the family. Smile.
Do not worry that you aren’t getting enough done in either system or style. Focus on this moment. What is happening right now? How can I help it become a good moment? Shall I ease up and let the mess grow? Shall I hunker down and clear the space so something new can be born? Are we getting along and growing?
Above all: no system saves you. You will eventually go back to being who you are. Your job is to be the best you, you can be. Be the you that creates love and learning, not the you that worries and frets or ignores and pretends away.
You can even say to your kids in a moment of frazzledness:
“You know me! I need everything cleaned up before I can think straight. Anyone willing to help me so we get the day off to a good start? My brain is about to fall out of my head when I see shoes scattered everywhere. Cookies to the helpers!”
“You know me! I can’t put a week-long system together for the life of me. Let’s make a quick list for today of things we want to study and do, and then put them in an order. Who wants to make the list with me? If today feels good, we can do it again tomorrow. Let’s eat cookies while we discuss.”
See? The goal isn’t to “reform” who you are and how you are. The goal is to be the best of yourself that you can be, acknowledging that within your strengths and weaknesses is a real human being doing the best she can. Your kids want to help you and they want to be themselves too.
They’ll learn to love who they are in direct proportion to how well you love who you are.
Go forth and love yourself.
May 22nd, 2013
It seems the right time to do this expose on Jake as I just got off of Skype with him while he sits in Berlin with his younger brother. He shared some incredible news that I’ll save for the end of this post.
Jacob is our middle child. He came into our lives, the easiest of the five births, and is known for his basic equanimity. For instance, at age 2 when he’d feel a tantrum coming on, he’d excuse himself, scream it out for a few moments alone in the other room, and then return to the family smiling.
By age 3, however, he wasn’t speaking clearly or well. Jacob developed his own sign language to communicate what he wanted from us while trying to get his tongue around all those syllables words required.
At 5-6, we did take him to the local elementary school for speech therapy. He loved it. Thought it was fun. The therapist enjoyed him—her other public schooled students knew that therapy meant there was a problem. For Jacob, the homeschooler, therapy meant he got to go to a special class just for him!
Jacob showed signs of self-starting early on—teaching himself to read by using a program given to me by a California charter school. I literally didn’t have time to teach him (two other kids, pregnant). He didn’t seem to mind and sure enough, by 7, was reading.
Jacob showed a passion for astronomy so much so that inspired by his father’s suggestion, he started a cookie-baking business in our neighborhood in order to pay for Space Camp in Alabama. In two years, at 12, he had earned the $750.00 necessary for the trip and went!
Jacob attended our local public school for two classes his freshman year so he could join the band. Then he attended fulltime high school his last three years and was a member of the high school marching band that even got to perform at the Rose Parade.
He also started the first chapter of Amnesty International at his high school.
Now Jacob is in his junior year at Ohio State. His list of accomplishments is long, as Jacob is quite ambitious and oriented to human rights. It’s easier to list them than to describe them so here they are, as best as I can remember.
OSU Honor Student
President of Amnesty International at OSU (sophomore year)
RA (sophomore year)
Member of the Mock UN
Intern in Haiti for a summer, combined with research into NGOs and their effectiveness post earthquake
Exchange student in Geneva
Intern with the Human Rights Watch Commission in Geneva
Produced documentation for North Korean HR violations
Participant at the International Symposium on Human Rights at the UN (Fall 2012)
Presented his research about the NGO’s in Haiti at an Int’l Conference on Sustainability in Hiroshima (Jan 2013)
Exchange student in Paris (Now)
Recipient of numerous scholarships
Member of the Sphinx academic honor society at OSU
Student at Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton (This coming summer)
Jacob’s goal is to work in the field of human rights (possibly at the UN), post graduate school. His double major is French and Globalization.
Let me say this. I’m as stunned and amazed as anyone would be by Jacob’s ambition and his success in his chosen field of energy and passion. His heart for what he does and his commitment to the causes he cares about inspire me even more than the “list.” But the list is impressive in a special way. Let me explain.
I homeschooled just like you do, reading about other kids’ accomplishments, and not really believing that one of my kids would go on to do the “impressive stuff” I had read about. I believed in homeschooling (and do!). But I believed in it as an alternative to the standard measures of success. I felt fine with that. I’m proud of each of my children (I look forward to sharing about the last two soon) and the choices they’ve made. They all amaze me in their own ways.
What Jacob’s journey showed me, though, is that home education can be a rock solid foundation for academic advancement and achievement. It’s not a “sub-standard” education nor does it put a child at a disadvantage, if that child is achievement-oriented. Jacob wasn’t always so sure homeschooling had been an advantage (when he got to high school, he was angry, for instance, that I started him on algebra in 9th grade rather than 8th). But I told him he’d be fine. He was… and is. More than.
The foundation he got at home had more to do with his capacity to care and self-educate, than grades. His worldview, his interest in rights, his curiosity about global issues and politics, came from his life at home. He took his natural energy to actualize that caring into active service and achievement. He has a strong work ethic and a lot of motivation, even if he sometimes also loses his shoes. (Which he does.)
Jacob is in Berlin with his brother traveling. Here’s the news he just shared with me:
He was selected as one of two Rhodes Scholar Nominees from Ohio State and found out today.
Jacob will visit Oxford next weekend to check it out before he gets to work on the application this summer. He’ll be in a field of 1500 candidates nationwide. Crossing our fingers!
Cross-posted on facebook.
May 21st, 2013
We joke that poetry teatimes are the ‘gateway drug’ to Brave Writer. They’re the lure, the enticement, the shiznits of all we’re about. And they’re free—no product purchase necessary.
You can read the details of *how* to hold a poetry teatime here.
But let’s look at why it works and what it does in your family, if you’ll just jump off the ledge and give it a go (even if right now, you think you hate poetry).
Here’s what happens when you take an hour a week to read poetry and drink beverages in tea cups or mugs with a few sweet treats for munchies.
Everyone. The whole bunch of you gather and every person is equally important to the tea—baby, toddler, little kidlet, middler, teen, parent. It’s a moment in the day where the whole gang comes together.
The workbooks, the calculator, the DVD instructions, the playing with toys, the reading to oneself, the “moving a load of laundry from one machine to the other.” It all comes to a halt for an hour.
Poetry books once stacked, enough for everyone to page through, are passed around the table. The readers, read. Long poems, short verses, paired-reading poetry, recited tongue twisters and limericks. Everyone reads—at whatever level they can—the exact poems they want to read. This is not “drumming out a few pages to prove you can read” reading, but a joyful dive into material selected by oneself to share with others!
Even *non-readers* read. They hunt for clues on the page that tell them that *this* poem, *this* verse is worth hearing. They look at fonts, and pictures, and words they recognize and they make good guesses—”Hey! I think I’d like hearing that poem.” They pass the book to a neighboring, willing reader and almost always want to follow along. Their selection is being read! They picked it! Reading is elevated to a goal, to a sacred practice, to being as cool as the big kids, to “I can almost read because I picked that poem!”
TEA is drunk.
Or the beverage of your choice or your kids’ choice. Hydration (we forget to drink enough already, which causes headaches and crankiness), the soothing ritual of tea (blowing the steam off, slowing down to sip, adding milk, sugar, or honey, stirring and tinkling the cup), tipping a teapot and being careful not to spill…. rituals that alter the rush and race of life.
TREATS are enjoyed.
Sweet snacks, like brownies or scones or muffins or cookies or sliced cinnamon-sugar oranges or apple crescents or bunches of grapes, equal ‘happy’ smack dab in the middle of the day. The boost of sweet, the chance to munch, the shared pleasure of rare treats guarantees pleasant attitudes.
Poetry is a stealth writing form. It sneaks in through the backdoor and jumps you when you don’t expect it. T. S. Eliot says that poetry is “a raid on the inarticulate.” Rhymes, riddles, verse, ballads, sonnets, villanelles —whether you “get” the poem or not, there are words for pleasure and pondering, tickling and testing in your own mouth. Laughter and puzzlement are part of poetry. Poems enrich vocabulary, imagery, and the pairing of unlikely ideas… which gets a writer’s juices going! Poetry says “Come out and play with me.”
A poem in your pocket, or shared over a bagel, or savored later in the day, once you take time to reread it, is like opening a love letter. There’s a little thrill—What will this set of words show me today that I never thought of before? Next week, and the next, you’ll notice favorite poems recycle and certain poetic forms revisited. Slowly, your family creates a shared poetic language that is uniquely yours. It’s different than story—poetry spans the ages more readily, and more quickly.
Poetry teatimes SHIFT your priorities.
When “learning” shows up as pleasurable and free, undistracted and rich, it’s harder to go back to dead forms of education. Other ideas to enliven the tedious or difficult subjects will dawn on you, as you move toward connection over completion.
Today is Tuesday. By our alliterative standards here in Brave Writer, that means it’s a Tuesday Teatime kind of a day. Find a poem, put the kettle on, lay out a few Oreos on a small plate, and get started. You can add a flower arrangement and table cloth next week. Just jump in.
Life gets better with poetry and tea.
Cross-posted on facebook.
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May 20th, 2013
Remember when you went into labor (or if you adopted kids, remember the stories your mother and friends have told you)? Usually there’s quite a bit of emotion, physical pain, anxiety, and apprehension.
What if your husband or partner joined you during labor and said the following in a “take charge” (perhaps even coercive or condescending voice)?
“Sweetheart, I know this is scary and hard, but you have got to get a grip! Millions of women for thousands of years have given birth to babies. You’re no different. Now you get in there and have that baby. I don’t want to hear another word of complaint from you. I’ve got things to do and when I come back, I expect that baby to be here. Now get going.”
How would you feel? Would you be planning a call to the lawyer? Considering ways to short sheet the bed?
What if, instead, you heard these words, delivered in a sympathetic voice?
“Sweetheart, I know this is scary and hard. I see you are in pain. Millions of women for thousands of years have given birth to babies. They have all felt like you do right now. The baby will come. All you have to do is trust the process. I’ll be here, right by your side, holding your hand when it gets tough, distracting you when it helps. And I promise, at the end of this arduous process, there will be a baby so precious to us we’ll both declare that it was all worth it. No matter what, I’m here to support you.”
Which one do you want at your bedside? Husband A or Husband B?
Which type of parent do you think your children want when they embark on a writing project?
“Kids everywhere have to write and they all complain about it. That’s no excuse. I have things to do. Now you get in there and write three sentences. They had better be written by the time I get back! I don’t care that you hate writing. You just have to do it.”
“Kids everywhere have struggled to put pen to paper while thinking of things to write. You are just like them. It’s okay. I’ll be here with you, holding your hand, helping you think about what to say, how to say it, and reminding you of what you want to write so that you can get your wonderful thoughts out onto the page. We’ll do as much as we can today and take it up again tomorrow. I’m here to help. At the end, the writing product will be so worth it. You’ll see.”
Remember: don’t minimize pain or misinterpret it as laziness. Usually, the dawdling and whinging (love that word) is more about a lack of support in the process. Remind your child that the pain they feel is legitimate and natural, and that there are ways through the jungle to the other side. You are their companion for the journey, have tips and tricks to help, and that you don’t mind at all.
That’s a great place to start.
Cross-posted on facebook.
Image by wolfgangfoto
May 17th, 2013
Has anyone ever talked about you behind your back? Or have you done that to someone else? Write about it.
New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.
May 16th, 2013
You can’t do ten things, and your homeschool won’t transform itself over night.
What you want and what creates momentum is a series of deliberate, prepared choices that lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You get there one thing at a time.
Pick the subject, practice, habit, or attitude you wish were more present in your home and “do it” or “have it” or “develop it.”
Identify the One Thing that is top of mind—that keeps coming back to you as the one thing you wish you were living.
Then follow the One Thing principles:
1. Prepare (ahead of time). Plan a date, purchase, make copies, organize, think about, read literature related to your one thing choice. Gather materials.
2. Execute (day of). Follow through with enough time to invest deeply without distraction. Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, don’t answer the door. Be fully present.
3. Enjoy (kids and you). Let yourself forget everything else but that experience/lesson. Be here now. Don’t do other things simultaneously, don’t think ahead to what you will do next. Engage.
4. Reminisce (later that day or the next or next week). Talk about what was fun, remember humor, honor connections, recollect what went well. Talk about when you might do it again.
I gave a podcast about this topic a few months ago. Check it out.
May 15th, 2013
Liam read the earliest of any of the five kids (age 6). I found out he knew how to read when he came into the bedroom one night and spelled, “Gap: g-a-p.” Apparently the source of this amazing revelation was the Gap shopping bag sitting in the hall… for weeks.
Liam taught himself times tables and percentage calculations through online gaming. He had a knack for math for which his father nor I take credit.
We spent most of Liam’s homeschool youth reading about, observing, and owning animals. He attended the Cincinnati zoo programs, we literally visited the zoo multiple times a month for a couple of years, we owned pet rats, two ferrets, and a dog because Liam researched, located, and promised to love and raise them. He is still my main birding partner. We not only watched them at our feeder, but we joined in the Nationwide Christmas Count one year too, joining other local birders. We rescued an injured sparrow and a disease ridden cat, taking them where they could be treated and healed.
I learned to play Yugi-Oh cards so Liam would have a partner, and I read Redwall aloud because Liam loved the books. You should know something about me at this point: I am not naturally interested in animals, pets, or card games where the cards feature characters with special powers. And I’m ashamed to admit that my mind wanders during outloud readings of Redwall.
But that didn’t stop us, and honestly, I have such fond memories of all of these experiences despite my own reluctance, self-doubt, and concern for carpet and furniture.
While reading, calculating, and animal-loving came naturally to Liam, he had difficulty with handwriting. He’s a lefty and we discovered that he suffered from dysgraphia by the age of 9. At that point, we stopped all handwriting and he dictated to me whatever it was he wanted to write or narrate. He did continue a bit with handwriting pages. It wasn’t until he turned 12 that we turned to tutoring with a specialist.
As a freshman in high school, Liam took two classes at the local public school and the rest at home. He then completed high school fulltime in 2 1/2 years, finishing this last January. Liam would say that traditional style education isn’t for him. He much prefers reading whatever he likes and self-educating. Currently he’s got quite a book list going that he reads on his tablet.
One benefit to traditional schooling for Liam, though, was that he joined their chess team. By his senior year, he was “first board” and their team had a great season. I was the only mom who attended the tournaments and watched the games. A little like watching grass grow, if grass jumped four squares and crushed the queen blade.
Liam will travel to Europe for a month. He’s been working at Steak and Shake, and saving money so he can visit his brother (studying in Paris), many of his online friends, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins who live in cities like Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Zagreb, and Viareggio.
He isn’t sure what his plans are for the fall, but he’s 18. He’s got loads of time to figure it all out. Just glad he got done with high school early enough to have an adventure.
Cross-posted on facebook.
May 14th, 2013
Thank you for the inspiration to take our teatime to another level. My son was so keen on the idea that he baked scones for our first poetry tea, cut and arranged fresh flowers for the table, and even made up his own poetry during the session. Needless to say, I was a happy mummy! Our first trial has been so successful that my son wants to do it every day if possible.
The Tiger Chronicle
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Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience!
Images from The Tiger Chronicle. Used with permission.