Archive for the ‘Brave Writer Philosophy’ Category

You are not a teacher

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Melting into the Stacks Image by Laura D’Alessandro

As a career goal, wanting to be a “teacher” is not one I would choose. I might choose to teach (for instance, I love teaching theology at Xavier University, I love teaching writing to my students at Brave Writer, and I loved teaching acting to the homeschool co-op students). But without a specific subject area, teaching in and of itself doesn’t interest me. Being a “teacher” is less interesting to me than participating in the learning process in subjects I care about.

We grew up in schools, most of us. We are aware of adults who choose teaching as careers. Some choose to teach because they love children. Some choose to teach because they love lesson-planning and creating a classroom environment. Many choose to teach because once proficient in their favorite subject, they enjoy passing that information on to the next generation. Of course there are those who choose to teach because they’ve seen teaching modeled as an adult career for 12+ years of their lives, and they can envision themselves in that role in a way they can’t imagine themselves into any other adult field.

In homeschool, we are in an entirely different environment from school. “Teaching” in its school sense is counterproductive to your goals.

You won’t likely stand in front of a dry erase board, poised to lecture your four kids. You don’t consult a set of criteria delivered to you by the board of education and figure out how to squeeze that into your year.

What you can do and do almost effortlessly, though, is model learning. Your enjoyment of the books you read aloud, your passion to track down information about a historical fact, your curiosity about nature and art create an appetite for learning in your home. This lifestyle of learning starts with you, a learner—not you, the teacher. You don’t teach kids to value learning. You learn. You value it. You live it.

I like to say that we should live our passionate curiosities in front of our kids. If reading about Charlotte Mason’s advocacy for art appreciation has piqued your interest in art, dive in. No lesson plan. No script for exciting children about art. Simply get interested in art. Buy the books with large photos of paintings and pore over them while you sip your morning coffee. Leave them on the coffee table and page through them while you nurse the baby. Load the DVD player with Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting and watch the DVDs—right in the middle of the morning, when “school” should be happening.

Get out the charcoal pencils and try your hand at drawing your hand. You can do this while a child is working on math. At the same table.

Likewise, if reading a book about the Sioux tribe to your children sends you on a wild goose chase for more information about what happened to Native Americans in South Dakota, Google it. Read the information to yourself, for yourself. You can share it, if a child is interested. But you be interested. Live it for yourself.

Sometimes what matters to your child will overlap with what matters to you. Reveal how connections (the science of relations) creates a tapestry of education. Perhaps the artwork you are looking at depicts an era in history that is a current fascination of your son’s. Show the paintings as snapshots in time of the very era being studied in text. Discuss. Perhaps several different painters (in different eras) depict the Greek myths according to the tastes of their time. If you and your children are enjoying reading the myths, these paintings could be a wonderful companion to that study. Compare. Consider.

You might be passionate about much more mundane subjects, too. I spent about a decade obsessed with the rock band, U2. I read daily articles, books, watched films, went to concerts, listened to their albums. My kids watched me develop a passion that led to so much in my life (from music to politics to theology to geography to published writing—mine about the band!).

What sets homeschooling apart is the ability to lead a life of learning with your children (not in addition to, not instead of, not on purpose to “teach” something). You get to pursue what interests you, and in the process your children will see a real living model of learning. THAT education is worth dozens of textbooks. You are giving your children a template for how to be self-teaching, how to cultivate a curiosity, how to pursue a passion.

That’s the real education. That’s the best kind of teaching.

Cross-posted on facebook. Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms.

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Just how foreign is writing?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

WBWW 118- Image by Lisa

A debate exists about writing: is it related to speech? If so, how much? If not, why not?

One camp says that learning to write is akin to learning to speak a foreign language. Writing is as foreign to native speakers of any language as Amharic is to you or me (unless you are Ethiopian!). That’s why children struggle to become fluent writers, so the thinking goes. Children are naturally wired for speech and are frustrated trying to translate those words into language suitable for writing (the style of it, the vocabulary of it, the spelling of it, the punctuating of it, the organization of it, the handwriting or typing of it). Even my guru, Peter Elbow, says that some people feel as if they are translating speech into something else when they write. Have you ever experienced the “Hmmm, how shall I say this?” thought as you sit down to actually write the thought you are having?

That’s what this camp is getting at. There’s a weird translation process between speech and writing. Because so many of us have experienced that moment, there’s a sense in which it must be true: writing must be so different from speech, we are prone to writer’s block as a result.

There is a bit of truth in this perspective. The brain is not wired for writing, like it is for speech. Writing is a learned activity. Speech, however, is hardwired into all human beings.

The other camp sees writing as related to speech. Dr. Peter Elbow, again, recently published an entire book, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing(affiliate link), that attempts to make this case to a resistant academy. Writing is the extension of speech, he argues. If we can understand speech first, and then see how it informs and creates writing, we will wave a wand of release over thousands of frozen would-be writers. The mechanics are only one aspect of writing—writing actually sits inside each of us as native speakers already.

What is fascinating is that in the world of homeschooling programs, both views rely on copywork, dictation, and two varieties of narration (oral and written) to help students gain fluency in “writing.” But their starting points of view are polar opposites.

What I’ve noticed in my work with thousands of families is that children are more inclined to put in the effort of learning the skills associated with writing when they can see that it relates to a skill they have already mastered: the English language.

When we talk about putting their thoughts into written words, we are asking them to identify thoughts! In Brave Writer, I suggest you “catch your child in the act of thinking.” Help your child discover that he or she is having thoughts worthy of record: write them down when they least expect it, when you hear those thoughts tumbling out of their mouths!

Every single day your children are not only thinking thoughts, but using those thoughts to generate oral language. That language can easily become written language when they have a transcriptionist (you!).

Once the connection is made (“what’s inside my head and comes out of my mouth can also be what shows up on paper and is read to others”), teaching the mechanics of writing becomes much more interesting to children. They get it—writing is about their mind lives and they love sharing those thoughts with others.

Are there style differences between writing and speaking? Of course! Are there pesky rules of grammar and syntax that prefer one over the other (sometimes we allow in speech what we prefer not to use in writing)? Naturally.

But if we start by seeing writing as foreign (as a foreign language), if we begin from a mental space that says that writing is “hard work” and that the “discipline” of writing requires rote work with someone else’s words first, if we suggest that what is inside your child is not yet suited to the page until some kind of mastery is achieved in handwriting or spelling, we literally alienate the fluent native speaker from writing—from believing in his or her writing voice before it has uttered a written peep!

That alienation, time and again, manifests as writer’s block or not caring. The spark of individuality that is your child is lost in all this “hard work of precision and accuracy.” Accuracy matters, but it is not more important than originality of thought. Accuracy can be added; originality can be lost.

What studies are showing to be true is that children are far more likely to take writing risks when they believe that their content is valuable, and when they trust their thought lives to be adequate to self-expression. They are more likely to work on their mechanics if they experience the mechanics as supporting their original thoughts, rather than having to show perfect mechanics before they are permitted to have original thoughts.

If we value our children’s thought lives, help them to express themselves in Big Juicy Conversations, if we transcribe some of their ideas and read them back later to our children, if we ask for expansion of thoughts and show curiosity, if we model language choices that are more likely to be associated with written language models, our children will, absolutely, discover writing in much the same way they found speech!

They will risk, test, try, show off, back away, make huge silly errors, make huge leaps of logic, express vocabulary beyond their years, will imitate and create, startle and master, and sometimes mess with you and act like they don’t have a thing to say. But they will grow! This is what growth looks like.

The approach we use in Brave Writer does not see writing as a foreign or antagonistic process that requires painful hard work. Rather, we see writing as the opportunity to take speech further—to enhance, expand, and nourish speech (oral language, inner thought), and then to preserve and share it with interested audiences.

Kids respond well to this vision of writing. They love to read, to be read to, to talk and converse. Writing, particularly in today’s dialogical world of the Internet, is another conversational tool. We can learn how to wield writing for a variety of audiences, but why not start with the one closest to home? Why not let them write for themselves? Then for you, and then for their friends, and finally for “academic purposes.” This is the progression that works.

I hope you feel reassured. You are not teaching Hindi to your kids, with a whole new language structure and vocabulary. Writing in one’s native tongue is built from the English already spoken and understood. Writing is simply gaining mechanical skills to transcribe one’s own fluent thoughts, and learning how to develop these thoughts into the flow of written language.

Brave Writer has created oodles of tools and tactics to help kids “get it.” We’ve got more in the pipeline.

You can help your kids learn to write well. Start from the idea that your children are writers already, learning mechanical skills, in search of a supportive editor/reader: you.

You can do it!

And so can they!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Lisa (cc)

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Peace and progress

Monday, March 24th, 2014

hand print projectPeace: you all get along with each other, the house is humming with happy energy, projects and play are in full flow, there’s enough food in the cabinets, a satisfying mess reassures you that your kids are engaged, not bored and dissatisfied.

Progress: today is a little better than yesterday, you got a little further in the plan, someone understood what was not understood yesterday, someone else applied a new skill, you kept calm when you wanted to yell, one child helped another child when asked.

Peace: you trust your instincts, you listen to the feeling messages your children express and are open to them, you put connection ahead of expectation, you turn away from standards imposed on you, you pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a single goal, you offered help rather than scolding.

Progress: you measure new aspects of education—concentration, effort put forth, attempts, risks, asking for help, trying again after failing, initiative, creativity, originality, problem-solving, attention to detail, making connections between subject areas.

Peace: you remember that you love who your children are today more than your vision of who you hope they will become.

Progress: you note and praise the achievements your children value in themselves—the new soccer skill, the ability to hiccup 60 times in a row, the block tower, the house of cards, beating a sibling in Yu-Gi-Oh cards, sliding down the stairs headfirst like a luge-ist.

We want peace and progress. Let those be the measurements. How might you foster peace, and facilitate progress in your homeschool? How might you measure newly?

soccer challenge

Cross-posted on facebook.

Images by woodleywonderworks

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You have time

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

More than enough. No matter where you are in the journey, time is on your side.

Your child should be reading? How does rushing help? How does panicking about time enhance the quality of the work you do together? How does adding pressure to the mix create space for your child to grow and learn and discover?

Your child is at the critical age (7, 10, 12, 15, 17! 19 gasp!). You can’t let the child slide any more. It’s TIME to get serious about X, Y, and Z because it all counts now….So what will you do? Buckle down? Press harder? Generate more tension and resistance? Put the child in school, ground the teen, remove computer privileges? This strategy will yield learning, and will make up for lost time, how? This pressuring and panicking will prepare your child for life after living at home, how?

All you have is time. There’s no law in the book that says your child has to be in college at 18, or ready for high school at 14, or reading by 9. These are made up, to suit a big bunch of people passing through an impersonal system.

You are at home.

Take your time. You have oodles of it.

If you are truly concerned about a child’s progress, pick one area and focus on it. But focus on it not in a panicky, “We are behind; you are resistant and willful” kind of way. Focus on it like a tangled necklace that requires your reading glasses, full concentration, and patience as you really see the threads, one at a time, and you slowly, gently tease them apart until Voila! The whole chain slips free of itself.

Your child needs your patience, not your urgency. Your child needs your reassurance that you will take whatever time necessary to solve this puzzle. Your child needs you to look into resources and references that train you to be a better parent during this challenging season. Your child needs you to tease apart the threads—the details of what isn’t working, not just the general panic that says, “Oh my word! He is so behind!”

You may also need to examine whether the timeline in your head is even realistic or necessary. It is difficult to let go of our traditions around education. I remember when I realized that Liam needed four years of junior high level work, not three. It was a great decision to step out of “grade level” and simply focus on learning and enjoying that year together.

He is also taking a year and a half off between high school and college, just this year, meaning he’ll start college in the fall at age 20. What’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t we be okay with that choice? Ironically, this is the kid who learned to read the earliest of any of our kids (age 6). So being “ahead” back then didn’t mean he was ready to go to college more quickly or even when most kids go.

We home educators need to stop being so enamored with the educational framework we inherited from traditional school. What is required, is being tuned into your child!

Have you heard the phrase: “Go slow to go fast”?

If you slow your pace to really grasp the details, the meaning, the skill set required for your child—if you practice and master those aspects of the subject area that are essential rather than brushing by them or giving them cursory attention or whizzing through a workbook without total comprehension or mastery—in the end, you will be a whiz at performing using those skills and tools. You’ll know what you are doing and you won’t be stopped by ambivalence, confusion, hesitation, and uncertainty. You will “go fast” because you “went slow” at the start.

Reorient your clock to human being time, not school time. Help your children to “go slow, to go fast.”

If your child is not interested in writing, turn your attention to your child’s interests. Capture some of them in writing for your child. Use writing in your child’s presence and be interested in what your child says (what words come out of his or her mouth). Be an advocate for your child’s limits—give the tools and resources, carve time from the full schedule to “go slow” with writing. One letter or one word at a time, for a good long while, may be the best way forward. No pressure, just care and consistency.

If you are lying awake at night worried about a child who is showing chronic lack of progress in a specific area of education, you will want to consult an expert for assessment. This is good parenting. Be careful not to push the panic button, though. This is a step you take after having gone slowly. Spend unhurried time getting to know your child’s specific struggle rather than rushing to judgment. You might discover the key that unlocks the gate through your own patient work.

For instance, it was when I paid closer attention to Johannah’s struggle with reading that I finally saw what was happening for her. She was unable to recognize the alphabet when the fonts varied or changed (it was like trying to read 7-10 alphabets for her, rather than a single one). Once I “caught” what was happening, I tailored our phonics work to mastering the alphabet first, as it showed up in cursive, manuscript, serif and sans serif fonts. Next thing you knew, she read!

She was nearly 9, but that hasn’t limited her in a single way as an adult.

Read the manual, understand the instructions, fine tune your philosophy, test the practice yourself (can you follow the instructions? can you work the problems? how does it feel to do copywork in another language?). See if you can approximate what is happening for your child. Become a student of your students.

Your job isn’t to push your children through a body of information by 18. Your choice, as a home educator, is to take the time required to get to know each of your children intimately so that you might facilitate the best, tailor-made education for each one that you can. You are supposed to take time to do it, and you are not responsible to ensure that it all happens at the same speed as traditional schooling.

“Go slow to go fast.”


Cross-posted on facebook. Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms!

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We want good thinkers over good students

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

In our efforts to create a context for learning, don’t be seduced by the idea of raising “good students.” Good students learn the material, pass the courses, obey the rules, complete the assigned pages, move ahead through predetermined increments of “learning acquisition,” and fulfill your objectives.

“Good thinkers,” on the other hand, can be a pain in the home educator’s behind! They will challenge the reasonableness of a particular course of study, will camp on one idea until they’ve exhausted it (and you!), will ask questions (sometimes endless questions with greater and greater detail required to answer them), show persistence in one particular line of inquiry while not giving a rip about any other (especially if the other topics feel unrelated to the current area of fascination), and they appear argumentative.

Good students receive information so they may get credit for the course of study.

Good thinkers consume information so that they generate understanding.

Good students study information to pass a test.

Good thinkers put their findings to the test.

Good students forget the information once the subject is “completed” and credit is earned.

Good thinkers retain what they learned because they know they will need it for use in their real lives.

Good students hope to reduce the complexity of a topic by organizing it into the essential bullet points.

Good thinkers poke at the topic until they find the inconsistency or problem within it, creating a morass of complexity.

Good students read the assignments.

Good thinkers read widely.

Good students don’t argue with experts.

Good thinkers argue with anyone.

Good students master a particular set of terms to use in papers.

Good thinkers develop a rich vocabulary that becomes an organic feature of that student’s language use.

Good students quote the insights of others in their papers.

Good thinkers generate insight.

Good students remember some of what they studied.

Good thinkers remember what they learned.

Good students learn each subject area as though unrelated to the next.

Good thinkers correlate this set of ideas with another set from some other course of study, creating an inter-relatedness of all their areas of interest.

Good students throw away their notes and lessons once they’ve completed the course.

Good thinkers save their work because they might need it again.

Of course there are good thinkers in public schools and good students at home, and vice versa. But the opportunity to be a “good thinker” is much more easily achieved at home!

Do your best to promote “good thinking.” It takes being willing to let go of your approval of “good student” behaviors so that you will notice and affirm “good thinker” ones instead.

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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No one likes to be criticized

Monday, March 17th, 2014

No one.

You don’t. You don’t want someone to come along and examine what you do in your homeschool and tell you that you’ve got it wrong.

I don’t. I don’t like being examined and found wanting.

Writers don’t. They risk putting themselves out there, even if what they risk appears paltry and disconnected from what they care about, and still recoil from editorial feedback.

Yet we all want to grow and become better versions of ourselves. Don’t we? In our most honest moments?

It takes some toughness to be open to criticism. There’s a reason for this. Criticism exposes mistakes. The experience of being mistaken is painful. You feel exposed—there it is, your failure, out there for all to see.

No one likes that feeling. Worse, if you are seeking support and feedback, getting criticism in return can feel like a betrayal of trust. You shared your struggle using the words available to you, and this other person picked them apart or misheard your intention or cared only about her superior understanding and appeared to take pleasure in her reconstruction of the “right way.”

There’s a way to deliver feedback that doesn’t leave the recipient undone, devastated, hurt, embarrassed. It’s the chief feature of our writing instruction, and is at the heart of how I operate in my family and business.

I follow these principles because they ensure emotional safety, while allowing for dialog for growth.

1. Value the person.

Your child, your spouse, your best friend, the member of your email list or discussion board needs to know that you value him or her first. The human being taking the risk to share “self” with you must feel that she is valuable, essentially worthy of care and consideration. That comes from the tedious, time-consuming task of using words, facial expressions, and internal postures that remind you that, in fact, this person is worthy of my time/energy/care. Most people want to be good people, or regarded as such, which is a good enough basis from which to begin.

Your kids want to be good kids, want to please you, want to do what they are supposed to do to become full-fledged adults. They want your guidance, too. Most spouses want to be loved and to give love back. Most best friends want to be trusted allies. Most participants on most lists and boards want to be heard and helped.

Yes, there are exceptions, but let’s start with the rule: Most human beings seek connection, and want a mirror that tells them: “I see you. You matter.”

2. Failure is painful.

The failure to live up to one’s own vision of success (successful living—homeschooling, marriage, career, writing a paragraph, being a teammate, running a household, parenting, managing finances, exercise and diet, calculating percentages in an online game) is painful. All by itself. This must be appreciated before offering a critique. Even the cavalier, halfhearted effort is often a cover for not wanting to risk full commitment to avoid giving a best effort and failing still. Better to only “half-try” and then when criticized you can tell yourself, “I wasn’t really trying.” This half-effort protects the ego because what if you gave a full effort and still failed? That would mean you were fundamentally flawed, unable to grow/succeed. “What more can be given than a ‘full effort,’?” goes the unconscious reasoning.

So before feedback, it’s important to have full appreciation for the pain of failure. Your comments are about to land someone in that pain (particularly if delivered with judgment, anger, or exasperation).

3. Frame your feedback in the positive by giving information, not criticism.

“Looks to me like you wanted the reader to pause here. We use a comma for that.”

Is much better than:

“You left out a comma.”

Or as one of our instructors says, she likes to use “Remember to…” rather than “Don’t forget to…” Even a simple switch to a positive is better received than a negative.

The premise is that everyone is trying his or her best. Even when they aren’t, they can be inspired to try their best when we find the glimpses of effort behind the half-try.

“I’m so glad you answered the question. I look forward to reading more answers from you this week.”

Much better than:

“You aren’t giving me enough material to read so I can comment. I expect more later this week.”

I’ve noticed that homeschool discussion board conversations devolve when the original poster asks a question, not using the evolved vocabulary of the group, and is then challenged for her errant thinking. This experience leads to online flailing: the need to reframe, restate, explain away. The original poster will then try to give some sense of her inner process to justify her poorly worded question, which is batted away by the experts as her not taking criticism/feedback well.

Some people are strong enough for that kind of aggressive help. But many are not. Most children are not.

It helps to receive the intention of the person first, to value the desire to connect, or to ask for help, or to share first efforts in work. It helps to remember that failing is painful, and that having a failure pointed out is exposing and embarrassing. What works at that point is supportive, positive feedback that takes into account the whole person, not just their weakness or failure to perform at the desired level.

You get there through a self-discipline of thinking in a new way. Take time to find it. Your child isn’t lazy. Your child didn’t do the work. Ask yourself why? Think about how you might support a change in atmosphere around the topic, or help your child to see the benefits of effort, even small, short bursts of concentration. Start there rather than a berating of character.

Your child isn’t addicted to video games. He loves playing them. He gets things from them that make him happy. What is he getting? What can you learn about video games to understand why he is so absorbed? What else can you offer him in his life that is also compelling, and could be of interest to him?

Or conversely, is it possible that something “not good” is happening in his world and video games are giving him a way of escape? Can you find out?

Conversations that are non-judgmental, curiosity-seeking, supportive explorations will lead to receptivity more than labels and reactionary anger.

Sometimes we all lose our cool and say mean things or jump to conclusions. Sometimes we’re right—the other person is being mean-spirited or recalcitrant and is not receptive to input from us. Sometimes we are in abusive relationships! No amount of supportive dialog will yield good results.

But on the whole, a practice of this kind will bring about trust, support, and growth. That’s how we grow brave writers, in fact. And it works beautifully.

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The misunderstood “child-led learning” model

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

“Child-led learning” is a misnomer, I think. It implies that your child will take the lead in learning. Mothers, exhausted from prodding and pushing, hand the reins to their children, relieved that the pressure to “teach” is off. What sometimes follows, however, is a swing from well-ordered (if resisted) structure, to unfettered freedom and aimless wandering through the house.

The insight that “child-led learning” generates is that kids learn best when they are invested—when they care and want to learn. We see the unvarnished version of this experience when our kids play an online game or teach themselves to skip count or watch them train a pet rat to jump up the stairs. We hope that this energy for focused acquisition of skills will translate into the 3 R’s…and worry when we can’t make out if that is, in fact, happening.

Unschooling (particularly its “radical” version) sometimes appears so hands off, parents become paralyzed, unwilling to “interfere” with a child’s self-directed education for fear they are undermining the purity of that educational philosophy.

But even the most seasoned unschoolers will tell you that they are involved in their children’s learning adventures. They start by honoring a child’s natural affinities, by stepping aside and not scripting a child’s daytime activities. But that’s not where it stays. Not at all.

The best learning happens in partnership. That’s true everywhere, in every context. Yes, we can teach ourselves thousands of things without school or teachers or tests. But we all depend on tools and resources to support that learning. We read books written by experts, we go to lectures, we Google and find articles or images, we consult our phone apps, we ask our spouses, we join clubs and committees, we talk with friends over coffee, we post to discussion groups, we take classes, we compare our work to the work of skilled practitioners better at “it” than us, we get advice when we are stuck or need more assistance, we practice and then we perform (whether piano, quilting, or a holiday dinner). We get feedback and let that help us become “better at it” (whatever “it” is).

You are your child’s best resource for learning bar none. You provide a link to learning opportunities your child can’t even know exist. How would a child develop an interest in Middle English without a parent who showed him the original text of The Canterbury Tales? How would a child know about The Canterbury Tales without a parent? How would you know about them without having studied them in college or perhaps reading about them in a classical education home schooling book?

The birds in the backyard may catch a child’s interest without you exclaiming: “Oh, look at the male cardinal!” But will your child know to consult a field guide? Will she have discovered local birding groups, or the National Great Christmas Bird Count on her own?

You are the gateway to all that “child-led learning.” Your curiosity, your love of learning, your money and transportation, your decades of experiences, your connections—your kids need these! When a child shows interest in film, it’s your iPhone she can borrow.

Some interests are passing. Some flower into lifelong passions.

Your job isn’t necessarily to follow your child’s interests around. Sometimes your job is to introduce potential interests to your child, or to live your interests in front of and with your child, and sometimes your job is to enhance the interests your child exhibits! I was never curious about the night sky, but Jacob was. We wound up at the Cincinnati Observatory, we purchased a telescope, and I watched meteor showers on blankets in our backyard in the middle of the night with him. I saw Saturn (the real planet! not just a photo in a book, my friends! it exists!) through a telescope after Jacob lined it up for me. He became the teacher, and I, the student! That moment is one of the highlights of my entire life, let alone homeschool.

We are partners to our children. We are learners. We are teachers. We are drivers, companions, cheerleaders, shoulders-to-cry-on, experts, novices, check-writers, friends, and parents.

Be involved. If your child needs to learn to tie her shoes, sit with her and help her. If she loses interest today, buy clogs. A day will come when she gets the motivation to tie her shoes herself, and she will learn.

You are free to talk to your kids, too, about your concerns for their education. Why not? Why not share: “You know, at some point you may need these times tables. Let’s see what options exist for learning them, and how they relate to all the things you care about. I am interested in your input about how we go about this subject area”? Then be interested. Find a way that works for your child.

Partnership learning is the way forward in home education. It accounts for both needs—the child’s need to get an education he or she values, and the parent’s need to participate in it and direct it to some degree.

Some days (weeks, months) will be that joyful, seamless adventure of following a child’s passion. Other days (weeks, months) will be led by a parent’s vision and enthusiasm, caught by the children.

And some days (weeks, months), you’ll trudge along until you hit one of those golden educational jags led by either of you, again.

Trust the process. Be involved. Pay attention. Care. Share. Dance—your child leads, you follow; you lead, the child follows; you both get cups of lemonade and take a break.

Cross-posted on facebook. Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms!

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Once is better than never…

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

…twice is better than once, many times is better than twice, but many many times is not better than many times

Guided Nature Hike ProgramImage by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Yes, that was a long title. Let’s talk about it for a few minutes.

I hear from moms who feel badly that they are not doing more of X (copywork, dictation, poetry teatimes, lullabies before bed, housekeeping, revising freewrites, science, read alouds, nature study, Shakespeare, field trips, math pages, phonics, creative writing, report writing, history, time alone with one child, games, movies…). You name it; someone feels guilty about not doing enough of it.

When I began to develop products for Brave Writer, I had one thought in mind: How do I help moms feel successful without requiring them to do more than they actually will?

In other words: how can I help them to succeed? In reality?

Many programs promise the illusion of success (follow these five steps, keep this 36 week schedule, order your days around this daily lesson). Then you get two weeks in, life happens, and the plan goes out the window.

What follows is this: the big “give-up.” You think the practice isn’t working for you so you quit it and head out in search of the next better thing. But what really happened is life. You couldn’t sustain the pace of the practice as dictated by the schedule or the program and mistakenly thought the practice was to blame.

Brave Writer is organized (I use that word loosely) around the principle that even one time is valuable in the education of your child.

One copywork passage done conscientiously and with care is much better than never doing it. If that is the only passage ever copied in the child’s entire life, so be it. It counts. It matters. It is a part of the whole fabric of education, and created a learning moment. It’s a learning moment that will lodge itself in between all other learning moments—it doesn’t disappear. It’s not wasted simply because your child never copied another passage for the rest of his or her life. It’s not a bad practice just because in your family, you never got to it again.

If you can start with the principle that even once is valuable, you can forgive yourself for not continuing if that’s how it goes. You can celebrate the One Time. You can say with confidence: “We did copywork once. It was an interesting experience. My child completed the passage in her own hand. It looked nice. I saw how it works for learning. I was proud of her for doing it.” End of discussion. No need to denigrate the practice inside yourself to justify not ever doing it again. It may not fit with your life or your child’s current habits. But that one time, copywork was completed and appreciated.

What would happen if that was how you saw each act in homeschooling? Rather than judging yourself, what if you savored and appreciated any single thing you got done or savored or tried and tested?

So you did one poetry teatime in a year…that’s ONE poetry teatime more than you might have done. That’s ONE rich experience of poetry and family. One is WAY better than none.

Is two better than one? Well, find out. After nine months go by and you realize you never did get the weekly idea of poetry teatimes going, why not just stop what you’re doing and have another teatime now? Two! TWO in a year! Wow. Good for you! Two rich teatime and poetry experiences shared by you and your children. Awesome!

You don’t have to nature journal every week. You might only enjoy nature one month this year because it was sunny and you got a new puppy who needed to take walks in the woods. So you enjoyed nature, you hiked, you pointed to unnamed birds, you breathed the clean air, you stopped in the nature center and looked at picture books. Bam! Nature study. One month of four walks with a puppy.

Who knows? Maybe next year you’ll try again and this time bring a field guide and name one of the birds. Maybe in a year you’ll have the toddler walking rather than riding in the backpack. Now you can identify a few trees. But maybe you won’t. Maybe that one year, one month is it. Let that be okay!

I never did a very good job of well-organized science education. Yet when I look back, we hit science (literally due to my recurrent guilt) repeatedly throughout my kids’ childhoods. We used kits, or we’d surge for a month doing some kitchen chemistry experiments, or we’d go to an observatory and use a telescope, or we joined the zoo and studied animals. These were the science lessons of youth. Not structured through a book, but on the whole, at the end, I can see that we did keep “hitting” science and those “single” experiences were rich indeed! They created the tapestry of science in our homeschool. Amazing.

Here’s the thing.

Your children won’t remember what you did every day or how frequently you did any of the plans you execute. What they will remember are RICH EXPERIENCES.

Have them! One is WAY better than none.

Once you have one experience, you may want to have two. If you have two, it’s possible you’ll gear up for a third. If the whole thing starts to feel comfortable or stimulating, you will want to do it a fourth time. Eventually, you may do it a bunch of times. And those “bunches of times” may be every week for two months, then nothing for two months, then every day for two weeks, then every other day for a month. There is no rule here for HOW you hit the practices. Some moms will love the structure of knowing what to do when, but others are positively crushed by that kind of systematic structure.

You get to decide. For you.

Many times is wonderful. Many times looks different in each family. Once you’ve hit many times in any practice:

Stop! Drudgery, dullness, tedium—these are the enemy of home education and learning. When a practice becomes so rote that everyone moans, switch to the next thing. Take a break.

Routine is wonderful, comforting, predictably pleasing (even if not exciting like a brand new shiny toy).

But drudgery is not routine. Drudgery is a practice that lost its luster. Trade it in. Do something else. Do ONE new thing ONE time.

Keep the cycle going: of trying new things, enjoying habits, and affirming your efforts, whatever they may be!


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Whatever works for you, do it!

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Image by Diane

You know your kids and your personality. You get to decide what you like or don’t like, what programs work or don’t work for your family. Anyone who knows me or has spent time with Brave Writer is well aware that I’m not out to convince you to change what you are doing if it is satisfying and working for you.

This page exists to promote a specific vision of writing. It’s not the only vision of writing. It is my vision of writing and it’s one I’ve cultivated for 30+ years. It comes from a wide variety of sources (academic and professional, personal and exploratory). I’ve worked in the popular writing market and I’ve had success in academic writing contexts, both. I’ve spent countless hours (thousands) working with families and adults who want to be better writers.

The main purpose of Brave Writer, all the way back to before the beginning, has been to give parents tools to bridge the gap between their children’s lively conversation and their stilted writing results. This exasperating experience is common to all writing instructors. Entire educator conferences are devoted to finding ways to solve this dilemma in the classroom. Writer’s Workshop is one of the most well known educational tools/programs that approximates the kind of work Brave Writer teaches, but for the classroom (which has its own peculiarity since there are other subjects to teach, student-teacher ratios are higher than parent-to-child ratios at home, and there are academic achievement measurements to satisfy).

Still other programs take a more step-by-step approach, believing if they provide tools and skill in the mechanics first, thought will flow more freely due to confidence in transcription skills. Imitating great writing, applying a set of concepts to the writing (talking about sentence variety and how to raise the eloquence of the “speech-like” drafting to the more sophisticated sound of written language), putting spelling and grammar programs first, are seen as tools that provide a scaffold to a child—these tools, they argue, help the child to write without anxiety.

For many students and parents, the relief that comes from being told what to do, step-by-step, is enormous after failure and insipid, weak drafting. I’ve seen some families thrive or blossom through this approach. It is not morally wrong! It is not objectively bad. For many, it is a way forward and for some (particularly for natural writers), it’s a joy to play with the puzzle of writing in new, directed ways.

If this approach were sufficient, however, schools and writing programs would all adopt it and our children would happily apply those steps and concepts and become the writers we hope they will be. But that isn’t what happens. A large number of children (and adults) are unhappy writing that way. They are not able to connect their personhood to the writing—writing feels external to them in that system. Some children may weather the tedium/challenge of the step-by-step approach to get to the “good stuff” where they find their voices. But a large number don’t get there. In fact, they feel stifled and bored, angry and tearful.

How do I know this? I work with these kids. We’ve had countless families come to Brave Writer when their children are at the end of their wits—so blocked and resistant, they don’t ever want to write again. For some reason, the attempt to make the writing process easier through understanding the mechanics first doesn’t create enthusiastic writers for many many kids (and adults).

Lots of them need to know that what they are writing is meaningful to them before they care about the structure, forms, or mechanical details. To risk the mess that comes from attending to the inner life of a child first takes courage! Parents worry that they will encode bad habits and poor spelling, or that they will teach their children that forms and editing don’t matter.

But what turns out to be true is that when kids get excited about their ideas and thoughts, when they know that what lives inside is worthy of the page, it is far easier (in many many contexts) to be interested in the mechanics and structure of writing. That’s what I’ve found. That’s what professional writers know. That’s what loads of academics are now saying about how to teach writing in college…and on down as the insights trickle to the lower levels of school.

That’s what many of you have told me.

That’s what lots of parents have discovered.

Do you have to jettison the writing programs you’ve already purchased? Of course not! Once you discover how to nurture and nourish your child’s writing voice, you may find numerous ideas and tools to help enhance and enrich the output. I use a wide variety of tools myself when I write, not just one. Being able to adapt to different teaching styles is also a valuable experience for teens, in particular, as they prepare for the variety of demands of college professors.

The bottom line is this: I will promote and protect this space for the writing philosophy that Brave Writer advocates. That philosophy is too often misunderstood or critiqued as not being rigorous or being for ‘creative writing only.’ Parents who take the risk to embark on this program need support so that they can trust the process and not be waylaid by guilt or anxiety that they are “doing it wrong.” Usually the thrill they experience when their formerly blocked writers take to the page is sufficient, though. Happily.

Even so, you must be brave to follow this philosophy when everyone else is following systematic programs with rubrics and rules. I want to reassure you that we address it all in Brave Writer (grammar, format, creativity), just in a different order than traditional models.

Not only that, I want to add: we live in the 21st century, in a globalized world of published writing (twitter, Facebook, comments on news articles, blogs, online journals, texting, and more). Writing strategies have necessarily evolved—we live in a world that requires us to value all kinds of writing voices, even less educated ones, even ones with an “accent,” even ones that fail to spell correctly or type beautifully, even ones that hold diametrically opposed beliefs and values to our own.

To me, the most gracious thing we can do as readers is to hear the content before we rush to judgment over form and format, grammar and spelling. Let’s give each other that gift and make the world safe for writing risks.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Diane (cc)

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Grammar ain’t everything

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 don’t show that grammar instruction is bad or wrong—only that the systems of grammar instruction used in traditional education have had a deleterious effect on the freedom of self-expression children feel when asked to write (from scratch- original writing).

A grasp of grammar can be fascinating and useful to anyone interested in the systems of language. Knowing how your language functions is fabulous! It’s like knowing the mechanics of a sport—talent gets you a good distance, but mastering the mechanics takes you further, still.

But if you started teaching sports through mechanical perfection, and never let your kids play the game until they showed mastery of the mechanics for any given position, you’d not see much interest in athletics.

Mechanics in sports enhance talent and contribute to skill, but they do not replace hunger to play, commitment, the willingness to risk, and the energy to win!

Likewise, in writing, creative story-telling, inspired vision, quality vocabulary, and masterful recreation of facts does not come from understanding the structure of a sentence. Native speakers are already quite skilled in sentence construction. Enhancing that skill through an understanding of grammar is fine (good, necessary at some point) , but it is no substitute for the writing voice.

The worst side of grammar instruction, though, is the way it creates snobbery in/condescension toward writing. When people prioritize grammar and pride themselves on a flawless understanding of the system, however, their corrections can produce feelings of insecurity, fear, and even anger which work against the free flow of ideas needed to write well. When we put presentation of the writing ahead of the content, we are paying attention to manners ahead of the person. This attitude is the one from which kids shrink. This is the attitude that curbs risk-taking in writing.

It’s great that any of us can identify typos and mistakes in published writing, but that skill doesn’t make anyone inherently superior as a human being. Some of the best writing in history is by individuals who cater to their spoken dialects, giving voice to grammatically “incorrect” usage deliberately, and powerfully.

Accuracy is not more critical than power in writing. It matters to see/read/hear the content ahead of the mistakes in spelling or sentence structure. No one reads a book and says, “What a satisfying read—every comma in its right location, perfectly placed modifiers, lovely use of capitalization, not a single sentence ending in a preposition. I hope there’s a sequel!”

Accurate grammar and punctuation serves a purpose—the proper use of mechanics is invisible, supporting the communication intentions of the writer. But mechanics can’t tell a story by themselves. The original thought lives of writers must be free to explore and express their creative impulses, first. From there, we can help enhance the communication power through a gentle, compassionate, supportive use of grammar instruction.

Power in writing comes from the ability to use, command, and manipulate language. Knowing grammar well enough to surprise, compel, and impact readers ought to be the goal of good grammar instruction, not just accuracy. Accuracy matters, but it’s a subset of power in writing.

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