A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Complexity is your friend

Complexity is your friend

A few months back, I interacted with a friend who is childless and has never been married. She’s a wonderful person with a number of gifts, not the least of which is her career in banking where she is a skilled, talented, responsible manager of a branch (many people report to her and she does her job quite well). She is smart, a good leader, and a financial wizard. She is also a wonderful auntie and loyal friend.

We got to talking about our families of origin with a couple of my other friends (who had been married or were still, and who had homeschooled their kids). When an issue came up, this unmarried friend gave advice based on her experience of being an auntie and a daughter (both valid sources of information about family relationships, to be sure).

Sometimes her advice felt helpful but sometimes it felt out of tune. I was trying to put my finger on why.

Then she made a remarkable statement: “It always amazes me when someone says that they have changed their ideas about important issues—like how to parent or what they think of marriage or social and political issues. I’ve held the same views for as long as I can remember and I don’t imagine them ever changing. It seems like people would be much happier if they just stopped re-evaluating their beliefs all the time.”

And that’s when it hit me. Untested theories about life can remain peacefully in tact. If you aren’t married, it’s easy to have rules about what would end a relationship… until you are in a relationship with children at stake, intertwined incomes, and shared meaningful history. Suddenly your sense of what is a “deal breaker” can, and often does, change.

If you don’t have children of your own, enforcing a set of rules for etiquette, bedtimes, and schoolwork seems so reasonable, so easy to implement. Adults mis-remember their own childhoods all the time—they pretend to themselves that they liked their parents’ harsh rules or that they were made better people by the discipline of a school principle, or at the least, that whatever befell them wouldn’t have, had the adult authorities in their lives been more stringent or more involved or more kind or whatever.

Complexity quote 1Likewise, it’s not difficult to continue with the same set of basic beliefs about how the world should work, if you haven’t had to face the unforeseen consequences of some of those beliefs, nor had them tested personally.

I say all this for a reason. This is not you. You do not have the luxury of a simple, satisfying worldview.

You are in the murkiest, most-life-testing context of life. When you sign up to be married and to have children, you are volunteering for a mental and emotional overhaul of all you thought you knew to be true. Your theories will now be tested. You will explore ideas and practices you didn’t believe in back when you knew everything.

Your need to “do it right” so nothing bad will happen to you or the people you love, will morph over time as hair-raising circumstances challenge you to reconsider. You’ll discover that “happily ever after” doesn’t exist for you (or anyone).

The competing needs for attention, affection, nutrition, and sleep between people sharing a household is of Olympic scale! Everyone goes all in, and there are clear winners and losers in each category every day. You’ll be pushed to your limits, which will then force you to figure out how to help everyone take better care of themselves a little bit at a time (including that spouse of yours, and yourself – the last one you usually manage to help).

It’s incredible, really, that anyone sharing a home for years on end keeps at it. Really. Truly. Does anyone sync up perfectly in terms of their needs? Married couples can hardly get on the same page about sex and finances—add a couple of kids with high energy, sleep disorders, bed wetting, learning disabilities, and allergies—well, the capacity to match up and have peace is out the window right there.

The Magical Silver Lining

But here’s the magical silver lining to the whole absurd “Get Everyone On the Same Page” project: you all grow. You grow and you grow and you grow. You have to. It’s the requirement of non-monastic life!

You figure out sleep—by sharing and caring and swapping who stays up late and who gets up tomorrow night and how you sleep (co-sleep or using cribs or putting a mattress on the floor in your bedroom for the one scared child who needs you every night). You stop shaming the bed wetter, you take more naps, you require days off, you start exercising and drinking chamomile tea. You keep at it until you get sleep. It might take years, but you work on it every day.

You figure out food—little snack trays, or low shelves with easy to open food stuffs, or six weeks of dinners made and frozen in a freezer, or crock pots, or take out Chinese every Friday night. You handle allergies and learn to cook. You read more books about food than you ever imagined needing to.

You figure out romance—the date night or the one candle that tells the spouse: Yep, I’m open to sexual contact tonight. You swap babysitting with the best friend to have the house alone once in a blue moon, or you read to your honey-bear every night before you sleep. You trade flirty texts throughout the day or you take a few months off postpartum so you don’t have to negotiate “Do you want to?” every night.

You figure out life—how to survive the overwhelming crushing disappointments that come from failed ideals (friends who betray you; religious communities that stumble; the marriage that can’t and shouldn’t make it; the illness you didn’t plan that robbed you for three years straight; the miscarriages; the house fire; the hurricane; the lost job, lost income, and home repossession; the embarrassment of gaining all that weight due to diabetes, after you had been a dancer in college; the heartache at having hurt your own child; the alcoholism or drug addiction that are destroying someone you love).

Complexity quote 2In the same ways, you figure out education—one idea at a time, one child at a time, one input at a time. You keep revising your ideas, and then you find new ones that really click. But you know what works and doesn’t because you lived each one sincerely. You know your children—you keep letting them teach you about who they are, and that changes how you understand yourself, in addition to them.

Slowly you expand how you operate to accommodate other personality types than your own. You give up notions of phony perfection between parent and child. There is no tactic that ensures a child will match a parent’s fantasy of who he or she should be by 18. There is only love and trying, over and over and over again—until the child knows he or she is loved, and the parent knows that the child is irrefutably a unique worthy person wholly separate from either parent.

Creating a family is the most exasperating, philosophy-destroying, crash-course in love I know about.

No two families will get there the same way—but the end goal is a shared one (and a worthy one): to like each other as much as we love each other.

It takes a lifetime.

Complexity is your friend. It will make you into a humble, generous, open-minded, caring, attentive human being, if you let it.

Complexity_family

Images: Circuit board by Derek Gavey and family of four by Rebecca L (cc cropped, text added)

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A Story within a Story and Parenthetical Asides

Owl and Tomy

Hi Julie,

Tomy (8years old) wrote a story after reading Navigating Early, and learning about a story within a story. The name of the story is “Owl’s Adventures.”

Owl’s Adventures with Aliens
(First Version)

Owl was walking one day looking for his house, when he walked off a cliff and forgot he could fly.

Suddenly, he disappeared. Next thing he knew, he was in an Alien Ship. The Aliens were taking him straight to the laboratory in Planet X-24, from the Galaxy of X-2000.

Then Owl disappeared again. Next thing he knew, he was in the laboratory XF5. He seemed to be inside a sticky slimy green substance. And it seemed to be making him into a liquid.

Next thing he knew, Owl the Liquid was put in a jar, and labelled Owl the Liquid. He was sent straight to the Alien Pet Store X5-2000.

A VERY strange Alien lady bought him. She was squishing him around. Then she put him back in his jar, and put the jar in her beaming machine, and he was sent straight back to the Cliff where he had been falling (remember, Owl was in a jar, and he was a liquid).

When the jar crushed onto the rocks below, the jar broke, and the next thing he knew, it was that all his liquid was running down the river!

Then Owl was so scared in that river that he yelled, “AHHHH!” That woke him up!

He was in the Raptor Center, with doctors all around him. He had broken his wing when he fell off the Cliff. He had fainted. And that was what this silly story was about.

He then added parenthetical asides to the story and created a second version of the story, while learning about parenthetical asides in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lessons.

Owl’s Adventures with Aliens
(Second Version)

Owl was walking one day looking for his house (Owl is always looking for his house! Read Owl’s other adventures for more information), when he walked off a cliff and forgot he could fly.

Suddenly, he disappeared. Next thing he knew, he was in an Alien Ship (I haven’t told you this yet, but the last thing that Owl has ever wanted in his whole entire life, and after, is to go face to face, or even see, or get a tiny bit of sight of any Alien or Alien activity). The Aliens were taking him straight to the laboratory in Planet X-24, from the Galaxy X-2000 (I haven’t told you yet, but Owl is terrified with laboratories, planets, and space. Although he lives on a planet, Owl is terrified of his own planet!).

Then Owl disappeared again. Next thing he knew, he was in the laboratory XF5. He seemed to be inside a sticky slimy green substance. And it seemed to be making him into a liquid.

Next thing he knew, Owl the Liquid was put in a jar, and labelled Owl the Liquid (Owl is also terrified with liquids, although he needs to drink liquids, so he only drinks a drop a day. He thinks if he drinks too much liquid, he will fall unconscious and die!). He was sent straight to the Alien Pet Store X5-2000.

A VERY strange Alien lady bought him (any time Owl sees a little bit of something strange he faints). She was squishing him around (Owl hates to be squished around!). Then she put him back in his jar, and put the jar in her beaming machine (Owl loves Star Trek, but he skips all the parts where they even talk about beaming), and he was sent straight back to the Cliff where he had been falling (remember, Owl was in a jar, and he was a liquid).

When the jar crushed onto the rocks below, the jar broke, and the next thing he knew, it was that all his liquid was running down the river! (Remember, Owl is terrified with liquids!)

Then Owl was so scared in that river that he yelled, “AHHHH!” That woke him up.

He was in the Raptor Center, with doctors all around him. He had broken his wing when he fell off the Cliff. He had fainted. And that was what this silly story was about.

We have really liked all the books (we are using last years’ Arrow), and we are having lots of fun with the program.

We just wanted to share this stories with you and thank you for your wonderful program.

Sincerely,
Patty

Image (cc)

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Tuesday Teatime: Fun and engaging

Tuesday Teatime_Kelly

My children (ages 11 and 9) were thrilled when they walked into the schoolroom after lunch and saw the table set for Poetry Teatime.  We simply covered our old, scratched-up coffee table with a table runner, some fake flowers from the dining room table, and some poetry books.

We read from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up, and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again.  We drank lemonade from an Asian teapot and cups brought back from Korea by my Korean sister-in-law and baked some pre-made sugar cookies for a treat.  It was really a set-up made from things we already had in the house, nothing overly fancy.

I think it was a wise choice to start our first day of our new Bravewriter Lifestyle with such a fun, engaging activity.  Now they are eagerly looking forward to next Tuesday!

~Kelly

Image (cc)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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The struggle is human, not homeschool

Snapshot Joy

The Pinterest, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram images of happy, successful, engaged, active homeschooled children are snapshots of when all the effort you put in clicks—for an instant, for that one project, one morning, one outing.

I love looking at those images—bright red polka dot teapots, open books on a checkered tablecloth, shell collections with annotations, three kids tossing handmade paper airplanes, the family hike with the dog on a leash, yummy health snacks artistically laid out on plates, even the helter-skelter mess of a long runway of cars and blocks and other obstacles down the hall…

We look at these images and think: “I wish my homeschool looked more like THAT.”

But the thing is: that’s how most humans feel about any collection of images. If you are single and wishing to be coupled, all the married photos and anniversaries and big group outings of pairs make you utterly miserable.

If you are childless and your entire feed is filled with babies and showers and strollers and the little monkey next to a four month old pudgy buster, you’re going to think your life is awful and the sun isn’t out for you.

If you do have love and children and a home—basics that are craved by a huge number of people who would settle for your messy hallways and uneaten treats and the bickering of sleepy cranky siblings—you will still find ways to separate yourself from the feeling of wholeness by simply narrowing the scope of your search for what is missing in your life.

So you notice the types of cozy, livable homes other parents create that you haven’t, or the way someone else’s child is “invested” in learning to play chess or memorizing the constellations unlike your stunted-growth 6 year old boy who only cares about ways to torment his little brother with burping noises and won’t. stop.

We are bombarded with images—images of exercising, yummy food, fabulous home styles, married bliss, celebrations, generations of family members smiling for a camera as though they all get along famously. We crave what they sell and forget what they conceal.

We add homeschool images and do the same—wondering how we can get our lives to match those single moments of time.

You already have these moments, too. You may or may not take a snapshot, but scattered through your busy, messy, not quite what you planned days are those golden moments of yummy food, cozy home, invested learning, and love. If you could take photos (and this is why so many people DO take pictures) of those moments and then scroll through your own feed, you might begin to see that you actually are doing it—living the life you always wanted.

It’s just that the life we always wanted comes with mess and hardship and heartache, like every other version of life ever lived. You won’t get a pass. There’s no special key that will end the challenge of raising children so that it is a seamlessly joyful experience start to finish.

It is stupendously joy-filled! We are compelled to have these offspring no matter how many people tell us it will cost us all our life savings, life points, and good looks. The joy—the single moment snapshot joy—outweighs ALL else.

When you start to wonder if you’ve got the stamina to keep going, know that you do. You will. What other option is there?

Within that certainty that you will keep going (whatever that looks like, however your children are schooled), choose deliberately to be alert to snapshot joy. Be a contributor to the stream of happy out there that helps others get ideas, and the hope to keep trying. Include snapshots of when it goes hopelessly wrong so we can comfort you or laugh with you or stand with you.

The struggle to feel good about your life is useful to you. It motivates you to keep at it, to want to improve, to care about outcome. This proves to me and everyone else that you are not depressed and are doing it right.

The next step is proof for yourself: please prove to yourself that you are making a happy life for you and your kids. One snapshot, one moment at a time, even if those moments are a week apart. It all counts! And they all add up to the wonder of your family.
Golden_Moments_quote
Also, if you feel inclined, post some photos (or word pictures) in the comments below or on our facebook page where this was shared originally. Let’s talk about the one moment in the last week that helped you peek out from behind worry to see the good in your life and in your kids.

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Friday Freewrite: Lost in the woods

Woods

Imagine that you and a friend got lost in the woods and then the sun set. What would you do?

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Leo Hildago (cc cropped)

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Remember this next time you flounder

Kids_cant_not_learn_blog

Let’s play a game: Tell me one thing one of your kids knows that you don’t know—that the child learned or discovered or understood that you can take NO credit for having taught or informed or instilled in him or her.

Ready? Go!

We got over 100 responses to this on facebook! Here are a few of them:

My middle guy knows HTML language–I know absolutely nothing about this and couldn’t help him if I tried. —Paula

The ratio between femur length and tibia length can help paleontologists make estimations about stride length and how fast a dinosaur could run. —Ellen

How to play Minecraft! —Laura

Stop start animation. —Leah

Aerospace engineering. He is 16 and takes online courses because his mama never learned anything about engineering! —Jean

How to set up and maintain fresh water fish tanks, and how to knit. —Nikki

Egyptian mythology. —Courtney

Computational biophysics. —Rick

My 17 year old always-homeschooled student won the national mandolin championship at Winfield this past year. Mostly self-taught and certainly not something I know anything about! —Susan

Yesterday my daughter told me that MLK jr was born in Georgia. I told her I didn’t think so and she told me she’d read it a couple years ago. I checked and she was right. —Rachel

Chess. They ALL get it and I am just like “my brain hurts!” —Colette

Photo editing, music editing, oh so much Shakespeare. —Sarah

Everything. He is 15. —Anne

So, remind yourself that your kids are learning. They can’t not learn!

And feel free to add to the list!

Image by Brave Writer mom, C (cc)

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Creativity is contagious

Creativity_is_contagious_background

Hi Julie,

I attended your sessions at the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers last March, and I came away very inspired. I wanted to drop you a quick note to say thanks for your encouragement in meeting my child where she is at in writing. We casually used (and are using) Jot It Down last year and this year. After the conference, I added into our program a 5 minute free-write once a week. As you talked about in your presentation, my daughter was very resistant. But, I offered to have her dictate to me, and she became more agreeable.

This morning she begged to start working on a story on our home computer, by herself. I’m attaching what she’s written so far. I’m so grateful for your advice in your presentation to not edit her creative work!!!! Thank you!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Her excitement about her creativity in her story is contagious, and, had I not heard you speak, I’m afraid I would have accidentally squashed it by editing her work or by being resistant to helping her spell words as she went.

Without further ado, here is her (un)edited story (she’s 8.5):

Chapter 1

Then I saw it the castle the hunted castle. I opened the doors and saw that frankenstein was down under me. I was scared. I tiptoed past where I can see him. Then there was many other doors in the room. I opened a door and there was ghost! I was scared. The next door I opened there was potions. I saw one potions that gave you a horse! I tried it out. It worked! I got a black painted horse. You can travel with it if you keep the glass bottle with it. I read it of the note by the way. I figure out how to put it in and out of the glass bottle. I put the horse in the glass bottle. Then I went to the next room. It was a jungle! I moved to the next room. It was where you can try your new horse! I got my horse out and went riding. It was so much fun! Once I put my horse back in the glass bottle then I went to the next room and it was a winter wonder land! I played for a while. The next room I went in there was chocolate chips! Big and small!

Thank you again for your guidance,
Renee

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A wealth of wisdom and experience

Tightrope

Brave Writer mom Amy writes:

The Homeschool Alliance has provided a wonderful safety net for this new-to-homeschooling family. Making the leap to homeschooling was nerve-wracking for me, especially without a strong homeschool community in my area. This community has offered such a wealth of wisdom and experience that I’ve had the support to navigate some of the twists and bumps of the first months of homeschooling.

Julie is an active presence within the HSA, providing a constant stream of wisdom and perspective. I’ve copied bits and pieces of what’s been shared in the HSA onto post-it notes that dot the insides of my kitchen cabinets, keeping me centered and goal-oriented.

I’ve both expanded and refined my own home education philosophy and priorities through the Master Class in Learning. The Just One Thing thread provides me the accountability and inspiration to keep homeschooling interesting.

I’d enthusiastically recommend the HSA to all new home educators.

~Amy

Learn more about The Homeschool Alliance

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Tuesday Teatime: A good learning environment

Tuesday Teatime Katie 2

Hello Julie!

I am a new homeschooling mom and I am so thankful for the poetry tea idea. I have two boys, almost 11 and almost 8, and they were not too sure about the idea at first. But now, as I discuss making changes for our new semester, they have made sure that our poetry tea is part of our week—every week. We will have to change our day due to other classes they are taking, but we are all hooked!

Last semester, we read poetry from Caroline Kennedy’s book, “Poems to Learn By Heart” for several weeks and that was a favorite. Recently I picked up “A Child’s Introduction to Poetry” by Michael Driscoll at a garage sale. (Yay for garage sale finds!). My kids are digging the nonsense rhymes and I really like that they teach about different types of poetry—since I don’t have much recollection of that from my youth!

Sometimes we pull something to eat out of the pantry that we already have, and sometimes when I get the opportunity, I make them a special treat to surprise them. They have both learned to enjoy herbal tea and the fancy tea cups I’ve kept locked up in the china hutch for too many years. It’s been a delight to share something “feminine” with my two boys—who knew they would enjoy it so much??

Tuesday Teatime Katie

We have also added our read aloud time to the tea, thus adding more literature and crossing off one more subject they don’t have to “suffer” through. All in all, it’s been a good learning environment and I’ve learned not to expect perfection from them in their habits or decorum! I have promised a trip to a “real tea house” at the end of the school year where they can practice the habits of gentlemen I am trying to teach them to appreciate.

Thanks again for the grand idea that was relatively simple to employ and now something we all look forward to each week—even their two year old sister who begs to join us for our “tea party.”

Blessings,
Katie

Image (cc)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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“You had ONE job.”

Rubiks_cube

It feels like you have dozens of jobs and that you might not be doing any of them well enough. But the truth is: you have one job. If you’re doing this one job well, everything else will fall into place.

Pinkie promise swear.

Engage the brain.

That’s it. Your task, as a home educator, isn’t to cram a bunch of information into your kids’ heads. It isn’t to get them to master detailed facts, formulae, or figures. You don’t have to have read the entire western canon by the time they turn 18.

The Internet has changed everything—schools are not doing their jobs if all they offer our kids is a plethora of facts and methods that are easily located online.

At home, we have an opportunity to solve the education crisis, one family (one child!) at a time. You know what is causing educators to wring their hands? How to update education to the current technologically drenched world we’re in now!

Learning needs to be about fostering thinkers.

A thinker is marked by these characteristics:

  • curious
  • able to pose meaningful questions
  • correlates information from one discipline with another
  • involves personal experience in academic contexts
  • willing to take risks
  • collaborative
  • postulates “what if…?”
  • generates multiple possible solutions (not one right answer)
  • observes and narrates own process during investigation
  • knows how to approach research
  • can identify credible versus not credible sources
  • open to creative solutions
  • expands the utility of the information into other arenas
  • interdisciplinary approach to any subject
  • skillful in current technologies

You can use any old content to work on these from rocks and geologic formations to Mr. Bingley and vintage dance! The content is no longer the primary goal of education.

THINKING—risky, exploratory, curious, probing thought—is!

Rubiks cubeImage by Doug Aghassi (cc)

What does this look like?

What if instead of opening the math book and teaching your child how to divide fractions based on the three sentence instructions on the colorful page, you put out a variety of objects with knives and scissors and asked your kids to do some dividing?

Perhaps you hand them a pie and tell them you need one-sixth of it on a plate.

Ask them how to go about it. Use the language: one-sixth. Examine the term. Ask them what they think one-sixth means or might be. Ask them for clues in the words themselves. We have the word “one” and we have a version of the word “six.” What might that mean? What is our experience of pie? How many ways are there to cut pieces? Should we always make skinny triangles? Are there other ways to cut it up? Are there other situations that called for dividing things into smaller pieces? Can we apply what we know about pizza?

Keep going. Let them make mistakes. Let them solve the problem incorrectly. Have several pies ready to go.

Before you swoop in with the right answers for how to create fractional parts, let them get the feel of the problem. Let them articulate the problem. Let them explore solutions.

You can even solve problems that are quite mundane: “Toothbrushes are all over the bathroom sink and on the floor. I need problem solvers! Let’s figure out the solution.”

Get out the white board and go to work. Or put the kids in the bathroom (one or two) and let them discuss how they will handle it.

Same thing can be done with any subject. Let’s look at a historical event: the Civil Rights era. It seems incomprehensible that there was ever a time when black Americans were not equal to white Americans.

So let’s explore that—are there groups of people in our world today that make us nervous? (It takes some real courage to have this kind of conversation, but there are possible answers—for women, it could be encountering men at night alone, for kids it could be bullies who leave you out of games in the neighborhood, it could be the people one perceives as “stealing” the right to homeschool…)

Ask questions about history—have there been other times in the past where groups have discriminated against other groups? Why might they?

What in any of us wants to be exclusive? How did skin color make civil rights an especially thorny problem?

And so on.

The goal here is not to run through information and then to master it, but to create space for exploration of the mind’s capacities!

If you’re engaging the brain regularly, you’re on the right track. Information can be found anywhere and offers you plenty of chances to engage the brain. Information alone is no longer enough.
The goal
Image at the top of the post by Gundars (cc cropped and text added)

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