Archive for the ‘Brave Writer Philosophy’ Category

The goal of education

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

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Your job—provide an education.

Your kid’s job—decide what to do with it.

Next year, five years from now, when he turns 18—these are not important today. Today is important.

Today’s task is to be present to today, with your kids. You can’t know how it will all turn out. You can’t decide now, for instance, that you are training your child to be an engineer simply because she’s great at Legos and math. Just because you think your child has a shot at a scholarship via viola doesn’t mean the child ought to play viola.

When we script the future of our children, we miss valuable learning opportunities today. We might focus on ensuring a set of criteria (check boxes of subjects studied) rather than seizing a moment now, right in front of us.

For instance, one mother shared at the Brave Writer retreat about a kestrel nesting box her son and husband built together. The son became so immersed in this project, he learned how to hook up video cameras for live streaming to the Internet and now a birding organization is coming to “band” the family of kestrels that live in it!

Kestrel nest building, live Internet streaming, and banding take real time away from Latin roots or grammar books or the study of ancient Greek political thought. Not only that, just because this son became a mini expert in one aspect of birding doesn’t mean he is destined for ornithology as his career choice.

The experience of caring about kestrels is quite independent of scope and sequence, college entrance requirements, and grades.

Yet it is inextricably bound up in all the elements of learning—reading, study, planning, construction, caring, pondering, mulling things over, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, anticipation, predicting, sharing results, interacting with real organizations that care about the same material (in this case, birds), and the eventual satisfaction of “mastery” or accomplishment. That meta-experience (meta—meaning, the experience as template over the actual activity) of learning is what IS the education. This child is teaching himself how to learn, he’s teaching himself about the power of invested, sustained, self-directed attention in the direction of his interests and innate powers.

What couldn’t this boy do next?

And who’s to say what that will be?

There’s no need to telescope and think that the content is what mattered here. In fact, the opposite is true. What happened in this activity is that the child moved one step closer to knowing that when he wants something, he has all the powers within to make it happen.

THAT’S the goal of education. It is not the result of most traditional educations. It IS the result of many home educations, when we pause to acknowledge and value what is happening in front of our eyes.

That said: my kids never built a single thing we could photograph and frame. It’s difficult sometimes to see what’s being built.

Maybe your kids are “building” a social network online. Maybe they are “building” a mastery of their favorite book series having read it 13 times.

Maybe they are “building” muscles and skills for soccer.

Maybe they are playing chess or Wii bowling or Settlers of Catan and within each of those games, they are discovering the power of game strategy, calculated risk, the importance of details, the ability to imagine someone else’s perspectives through the possible moves they will make…

Perhaps they use one area of interest as a means to an end in another one (our favorite example: a cookie business to pay for space camp—Jacob did this at ages 11-12). He is not involved in either baking businesses nor space now.

What did he learn? That when he wants something, the power lies within him to find the means to make it happen—as he’s demonstrated through the steady stream of scholarships and opportunities he’s created for himself in his career aim to work in international human rights.

The interest of today is tied to tomorrow’s next step by virtue of the fact that that learning is stored inside a human being. That human being compiles experiences and learning opportunities into the cluster of skills necessary to flourish in the world.

The best way to prepare your child for tomorrow is to care completely about today’s happiness and interests. You do that by smiling, asking good questions, asking for permission to participate, and narrating back to the child the skills you see emerging from the investment being made. For instance, “Your dedication to beating that video game level is impressive. You’ve been steadily focused, willing to try again after repeated defeat, and you kept your cool. Wow.”

Learning is not about getting your child to a preferred future.

Learning is about your child becoming a person who can choose a future for him or herself.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Pavel Semenov | Dreamstime.com

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It’s the process baby!

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 1Johannah and Noah attending a Vintage Dance

Repeat after me: process, not product.

“Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” –Charlotte Mason

Let’s notice what Charlotte did not say.

She did not say:

“Education is meeting the requirements of the Common Core.”

She did not say:

“Education is the successful achievement of degrees—first high school, then college, then graduate school if you have a TRUE education.”

She also did not say:

“Education is mastering Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.”

Moreover, she did not say:

“Education is what someone does to you by teaching Important Information through tests and grades.”

Instead, Charlotte tells us to take our eyes off “end points” and to focus on creating a rich life through shaping the atmosphere (environment), through discipline (intentionality—being conscious of learning opportunities, creating them, acting on them), through life itself (the process of being alive is our best classroom).

You are on the right track when you get off track and focus instead on the feel of your home and family vibe. Ensure that people feel heard, loved, and that their dreams and hopes matter (can be achieved).

You’re on the right track when you ebb and flow—some weeks making a “course of study” a priority in a systematic way, other weeks learning as you go guided by curiosity and enthusiasm.

You’re on the right track when you see all of life as your classroom—that the conversation about recycling plastic bags over bagels at breakfast is as important as the math pages completed before lunch.

No one “arrives” at an end point: Time stamp—EDUCATED.

Rather, we have intermittent markers that let us pause to appreciate this new place (graduated, finished a book, learned to read, understood a principle and can use it). The purpose of education, though, is to LIVE a LIFE—not to idolize the mastery of facts, figures, and theories.

That’s why I return to this mantra: It’s the process, baby. If you can let go of your need to match the state’s expectations, or your schoolish memories, or the pressure of your very academic classical homeschool community, or the stringent requirements of some important university, you can surf the waves of learning as they roll onto your shores.

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 3For example:

You’ll feel freer to put Vintage Dance Lessons (and distributing flyers every Monday for three hours in the snow with kids along for the ride to pay for them) ahead of history for that one six months period. The learning is in all of it—the lessons, being with adults, the history of dance, the bartering work to pay for the lessons, the music, being in the cultural center of our local community, borrowing the fancy gown for the ball, participating in the ball, watching Jane Austen films over and over again to see which dances they are performing and which ones are being learned at class, manners, exercise, being paired with a sibling and learning to work together and love each other through it…

Atmosphere: dance lessons, with adults, people who are passionate about preserving historical dance.

Discipline: weekly lessons, must memorize steps and practice, weekly distribution of flyers to pay for lessons.

Life: siblings dancing together, community supplying costumes for ball, family attending the ball to see how the two students mastered the dances, attending rehearsals with all five kids, distributing flyers with all five kids to pay for two kids, watching and learning by being in the room with the dancers, being a family that loved Vintage Dance.

See?

Did dance go on a single transcript anywhere? No. Yet Vintage Dance still ranks as one of our top educational experiences during the homeschooling years. AND no one still dances! The kids moved on…because it’s the process, baby. Onto the next atmosphere, discipline, and life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Today is a gift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

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I know you know. I know everyone keeps telling you that.

Yet it’s true. Heartbreakingly so.

Family members living with cancer, random bullets shot at optimistic college students in Santa Barbara, martial law in Bangkok, a missing 22 year old in Cincinnati, never-planned car accidents, aging parents losing their words and memories, births with unexpected complications…

The assault on living by the dangerous and dying is relentless.

The best we can do is to make cakes for birthday parties, to have friends stop by to grill on holiday weekends, to root for our teams in the playoffs, to stand in the sunshine and feel its warmth, today.

I spent the other day decluttering more than a decade’s worth of stuff bought with real dollars earned through hard work that brought various levels of comfort, pleasure, and distraction. 20 bags destined for trash.

Nothing lasts, no matter how precious.

Today’s a good day to let go of a grudge, to eat ice cream, to sit a little longer with the needy child, to not take “it” personally, to reach out to the far away suffering person, to share a meaningful memory with the person closest to you.

Homeschooling is merely one way to wander through the years—a rich, layered, intimate way.

I don’t like it when people tell me to be grateful or urge me to be happy on days when I’m on the verge of tears.

Occasionally, though, when I’m going through the motions, it’s good to remember the bargain we’ve all made in life—there is no promised length to our days. Today is it.

So if you are in that place today—doing the routine without much thought, I hope you find a pocket of time to pause and remember. Remember the ones who died and have afforded us this life. Remember the ones who are yet alive and love you.

May today be a good day in the string of days that are your life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Keep doing what works

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Image by Kristen fromTeaching Stars

In all your efforts to create momentum, don’t undermine it when it happens—when joy, well being, progress, and peace are here, visiting your family and home, enjoy them!

If life, learning, and love are setting up shop in your living room, keep going!

Follow my mantra: “Status quo, baby!”

You get points for nothing more than getting up in the morning and doing what you’ve been doing.

It’s easy to be seduced by the fawning of fans over a program you don’t use and its rainbow of promises.

Sometimes your need to create chaos so you have something hard to work on will override and undermine the pleasure and peace you’ve recently achieved. Don’t do it! Stay the course.

Make peace with the peace. That’s the sound of your life working.

Ease and comfort are good for all of you.

Don’t worry, either. It won’t last. Before you know it, another problem will crash your gates so you can sink your teeth into worry once again.

For now, though, relax. Breathe deeply. Appreciate the happy little humans underfoot. Be glad you don’t have to spend more money or learn a new product. Enjoy the workable plan you’ve massaged into being.

“Status quo, baby.”

Sometimes the status quo IS the radical choice for well being. Embrace it. Love it. Live it.

Keep going.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Brave Writer mom Kristen from Teaching Stars (cc)

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Stand by the sink

Monday, June 9th, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-vertical-woman-scrubbing-plate-sink-image38709943If you wish your child had more independence, wean your child off your side-by-side presence. You can do it by sitting with the child for, say, the first three math problems, working them together. Then say, “I need to rinse the breakfast dishes. Keep going. I’ll be right here. If it helps, say aloud what you are doing as you work the problem and I’ll listen. I’ll help you, if you need it, from the sink.”

Some version of that lets the child know you aren’t abandoning him or her, but it also allows a little space for the child to “test” the practice without double checking your facial expressions or asking you to do the work for him/her.

Once the kitchen sink is a safe, reachable distance for your child, try leaving the room for a few moments (to change a load of laundry, to take the mail out to the box, to water a few house plants, to make a bed in another room). Don’t leave to go to a computer screen (you’ll lose track of time). Be gone no more than 3-5 minutes. Then check back and see how the child is doing.

Whenever you leave, rub the shoulders of your child (or gently, affectionately squeeze them or offer a kiss on a cheek or run your hand across the child’s back). When you return, touch your child’s arm and look over the child’s shoulder. Let the child know you are back and interested in what went on while you were gone. Avoid judging and correcting. Validate the independent effort. Then ask if the child needs help. If not, keep going in and out of the room in the same manner.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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It counts, even if you didn’t plan it

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

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Even if the activity didn’t make it to your planner or calendar, it counts.

Even if the thought didn’t pop into your mind until a moment before you acted on it, it counts.

Your child’s impromptu mock-speech given after reading about Abraham Lincoln’s powerful speeches? It counts.

Scribbled notes, skip counting in the car on the way to the orthodontist, the questions and answers about light and reflections while in the bathtub—it all counts!

Give yourself credit. It’s so easy to feel like you did “nothing today”—just because you didn’t follow some pre-planned set of activities and readings. Homeschool isn’t like that…most of the time! You may create a schedule or set of practices you intend to complete, but more often than not, real life rearranges those plans anyway.

On the days when inspiration takes over (you spend the morning making fairy houses out of bark, moss, twigs, leaves, and acorns; you and your kids get lost on the Internet looking at photos of the solar system; your children act out a colonial times trial in the town square), you may be tempted to feel like you got behind.

You might tell yourself that that day didn’t “matter” because you hadn’t planned the activity yourself, hadn’t scheduled it on your day planner.

That’s a “school” mindset. Homeschool is much freer than that—by nature, for its own good, as one of its chief beneficial features!

The best homeschools create a flow of activity, often catalyzed by the parent, enhanced and supported by the creativity of children. This means that even well-laid plans may be waylaid by immersion in the subject area—the desire to spend more time, to explore more intimately, to activate the learning through action, experimentation, and repetition.

Not only that, “rabbit trail learning” is a chief feature of education at home. You can’t always know where a curiosity will lead. You may begin a morning of routine copywork that morphs into a discussion of handwriting styles, which leads to curiosity about fonts, which brings your child full circle to illuminated pages (dove-tailing with the morning’s history lesson from the medieval era). You can’t know that when you sit down to copy the poem. But after an hour of googling, trying different handwriting styles, and finally printing a mock page for illuminated letters, you’ve circled the world of typesetting, handwriting, the value of manuscripts, and have modeled the steps of research.

To feel as though you “got off track” because of that rabbit trail investigation would be damaging to your homeschool self esteem. You mustn’t regret the tangents. They are the chief benefit of “school-at-home.” This is what can’t happen in a classroom (at least, not as easily).

Count it all.

If you must, make your list at the end of the day and then check off each item, with satisfaction that you have indeed spent valuable hours together with your children in pursuit of their educations.

What you can’t know, as you are doing it, is how all these threads weave themselves into the tapestry of a rich and robust education! The tangents, the diversions, the wasted time “trying” an idea, the correlations and connections, the repetition of the same game day after day, the questions without answers, the googling that didn’t lead where you intended, the days you throw away to leave the house and go to the museum or zoo or movie theater…

It all counts! It’s all part of the education you do intend each and every day. It doesn’t matter if you thought of “it” (whatever “it” is) in advance; it doesn’t matter if you planned the activities. What matters is that you value what happens each day.

As you take notes, as you pay attention to the actual education happening in your home, you will come to peace about your lifestyle. If you resist (if you feel guilty for spending an entire morning playing with handwriting styles), you will deaden the potential liveliness of learning. No plan will be as full of life as the spontaneous curiosity that arises from a child’s question or the interconnections you can make through activity and lessons—acting, singing, game-playing, sculpting, eating, museum-visiting, googling, speech-making, dress up clothes, crafting, sewing, knitting, discussing, reading one more chapter, writing because writing feels like the perfect way to respond to all this material…

One last myth-buster: the other home educators? This is how they live too. Everyone is forging a blend between plans and inspiration, certainty and doubt. That’s the nexus of home education.

Home education is a bold, risky endeavor where you plan and relax, where you offer and respond, where you intend and let go, where you lead and you also follow.

It all counts. So count it!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Layers of learning

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

What is Learning? Image by Denise Krebs

In your thirties and forties, the discovery of education as this fascinating study of the world as it is, was, and might be—the inter-relatedness of all subject matter from arts to science to math to music to language to history is intoxicating, liberating, deeply satisfying.

By your mid-thirties, your brain “gets it” about history—so THIS is what time is, so THIS is how it goes by, so THIS is why learning from history matters. You can recall a decade or more of personal lived experience, and you can imagine a decade of more into the future. Centuries now mean something to you.

Suddenly other eras and peoples are real to you in a way that eluded you at 10, 16, and even 20.

The educational renaissance that home education facilitates for parents is spell-binding. You want your children making all those connections you are now effortlessly making. You assume that it was school that prevented you from having these insights and understandings, or that somehow you didn’t study hard enough in college, or perhaps you just didn’t care enough. You are determined: your children will see it differently. They will get the education you didn’t get and will be better for it.

So you begin. The joy of study seizes you. Your kids are curious little beings, and so are energized by your enthusiasm. They will read about art or listen to stories of how math is found in music theory. They will go along with the reading of history texts (especially lovely narrative ones that are designed for your homeschooled children).

Yet that sheer thrill of connected understanding that you’ve got eludes them. They aren’t as excited about reading and writing about history day after day, filling a notebook. They don’t like chapter-by-chapter written narrations of literature, or the quiet work of outlining a century in history. You imagine that you’d have been so happy doing this work, if only some teacher had taught you this way when you were eleven or thirteen…from your wise perch of 38 years old.

And yet…would you have liked it?

An educational model that is reading and writing centric suggests a certain level of maturity (a grasping of the abstract) not yet available to children and most young teens. What we want in the early years isn’t mere recitation of facts either (as though learning facts is the requisite underpinning of all that reading and writing later).

Learning comes in layers and continues over a lifespan (read: beyond 18 years). Learning reflects maturity levels (the capacity for understanding distances in time and space, for making connections that take decades to form, for sustaining one’s attention after one’s energy level dissipates or is distracted) and the quality of the information accessible to the student (experts, materials, practicum).

In the early years, our job isn’t to ensure that kids are mastering information (facts). Our job is to ensure that according to the child’s maturity level, we are introducing (as Charlotte Mason would call it): “a feast of ideas.” No one masters a feast. A feast implies good-tasting, ample variety of foods available to the eater—to be eaten according to one’s appetites.

Variety, deliciousness, and opportunity are key.

In education, we want an ample variety of educational styles, combined with a wide variety of quality ideas (information, literature, tools by which we measure the universe, language, “how-to” exploration, and personal varied experiences). We want ease of access to materials, experiences, and information. We want that material to be tasty—delightful or captivating.

Your job isn’t to ensure mastery, nor is it to require children to act like mini-grown-ups with neatly filled timelines and notebooks of information narrated and transcribed. This is not education. It’s school.

What we want instead is the opportunity for our children to become so captivated by the world in all its facets, they eagerly examine bits and pieces of it with whole -hearts.

Let me rephrase that: exposure to bits and pieces of information that are stirring or memorable are superior experiences in education than mastery of facts perceived to be tedious and irrelevant.

Even the items that require mastery for the “next level” of success must be adapted to the temperament of children—must be made meaningful to them (not necessarily to you).

For instance, reading is not meant to be a tedious excursion into ho hum readers or endlessly trying phonics work (particularly after a child has “caught on” and is reading—why finish the phonics manual?). Mathematics should not be the unending drill of recitation long after the student has come to understand the principles of calculation. Varieties of opportunities to use the skills (reading great books, signs, scripts, texts; baking, quilting, building, calculating interesting distances, carpentry) are essential to children.

Move beyond rote learning to application as swiftly as the child makes it possible. How do you calculate really big numbers (like the distance to Saturn) after you learn how to add single digits? How can a child read a bit of Shakespeare (even a line or two) after learning to read a reader?

Get the child into the vision of what the learning will do for him or her. THAT’S the missing piece from your childhood education, much more than the systematic study of history or writing or math drill. You’ve created the meaning for yourself now in your 30s and 40s naturally, by virtue of time and exposure to the big world around you. Your children must rely on you to make those connections for them, to the degree that it’s possible for children.

We are supposed to expose our children to the wider world, but we can’t hope that they will appreciate the significance of that world until they, like us, get a few decades under their belts. They may find the stories of historical battles intriguing, but most kids can’t even believe the 1970s actually happened, let alone the Battle of Hastings. Wars and insurrections are in the category of “fabulous fiction” for kids, despite being “true.”

Circle back through the subject areas over the course of a child’s lifetime, with greater and greater affection and rigor. You will see growth. You will see appetite and curiosity—some that you didn’t foster at all, but that emerged through the interconnectedness of ideas as they bumped into each other in your home and beyond.

Avoid applying the “I wish I had learned this way” principle to your homeschool, which often is more a reflection of how you wish you could learn now than then. Focus, instead, on your children—what causes their faces to light and their newly-evoked questions to drain you? If they are asking, asking, asking—you’re doing something right!

It’s tempting to validate our homeschools through requiring our kids to complete a course of study that appeals to us now. Use your powers of imagination to think back to your child-self. What did you love? Which teachers inspired you? What hooked your fascination? Use those memories to guide you more than your educational re-birth now.

Trust that each revisiting of a subject area will take your children deeper, and then by 35 or 40, they will have the same level of appreciation for learning and history that you now have. In fact, they will have gotten there sooner, is my bet.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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A little heart-to-heart

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

JulieShoulderHand
My aim in Brave Writer is to liberate parents from their anxieties around home education—to help them foster, nurture, and support the beautiful originality of their children, and to get some of that personhood to paper (or screen). I have compiled in our materials, on the blog, and through Facebook, an extensive collection of tips, tricks, personal experiences, theories, analogies, insights, processes, practices, images, and ideas to help make homeschooling alive, powerful, and satisfying.

My focus—the angle through which I express my homeschooling ideas—is writing (that’s my strength and expertise). Writing is fed by a vibrant cognitive life and rich lived experiences. Homeschooling is THE context in which both of these can occur easily, with great achievement and satisfaction. Quality writing will follow. I promise.

The context is everything…for everything. Truly. The materials are like intermittent signs on the path that are meant to urge you to “keep going” and to trust your instincts, hunches, and inspiration—to allow writing to be more than academic check boxes, but the vehicle through which you preserve the various voices of your children through their childhoods, just as photographs preserve their growing bodies.

Far be it from me to overly script how you live or how you instruct! I want your homeschool to look like your family!

So it pains me (if I’m honest) when I read a description online somewhere of BW materials that talks about them as though they are not rigorous enough or scheduled enough or leave parents not knowing what to do. Part of me wants to jump out of my chair and say: “Read, imbibe, ponder, consider, take a small action, see what happens, then allow your inspiration to be re-catalyzed before you take the next action.”

Home education is not all that amenable to hard-and-fast schedule. I’ve spoken with hundreds (?) or thousands (?) of parents in 14 years (I can’t count). No two want the same schedule. Truly!

I don’t want to be the one to tell you what the mark is that you won’t hit.

Yes, it’s useful to get a lay of the land (the Brave Writer Lifestyle is all about how to establish a routine that is soothing, adaptable, and predictable). But to tell you how many pages to read a day? To explain which day to read the words in the chapter and which day to do the writing project? That’s just destined to undermine you.

I want to be the one who tells you: You are hitting the mark you care about already—by being who you are. Now, if you need catalysts for your imagination, for your aspirations, and for academic achievement—try this, and this, and maybe this too.

I’ll put those ideas into carefully selected words, with maximum space for you to interpret them according to the quirky personalities of your particular family. There just isn’t enough homeschool curricula that thinks about YOU and your uniqueness. Most are focused on subject matter and “getting through” material.

There is no magic bullet here. No “wave the wand” and you will have academic achievement and happy learners.

Those feelings come from the attentive, slow study of your children. Materials aid you in acting on your best intentions so that you follow through (and so that you have ideas in the middle of pregnancy induced memory-loss hormones, breast-feeding let down, small child mind-distraction, and teenage child worry).

This is what I propose in every product—I’m offering aid, help, possibilities, giving you a new way to think to trigger your own creativity and thoughtfulness.

I am producing the next level (Faltering Ownership) for our writing products right now. I look forward to releasing it. My main worry in producing these “writing project” books is that parents won’t have made the paradigm shift around writing first—the ideas expressed in The Writer’s Jungle. Instead, they will bring the same set of suppositions and assumptions to writing that they’ve always brought, producing the same resistance they’ve always gotten, or they will feel that the schedule isn’t “clear enough.”

No schedule can be clear enough. As soon as it is, you wind up in guilt for not living up to it!

I won’t ever give you that “schedule.” But I also hope I will never give you that guilt.

Paradigm shifts are slow…slow…slow…until Ping! You get it. It takes reading and rereading, trying, testing, tasting, and waiting. It takes courage and a willingness to live with the discomfort of trust.

For those of you on the journey, I salute you! Keep going.

Thanks for letting me share.

If you have comments or thoughts, I’d love to hear them. I learn a lot from our BW families, and I hope that this little freewrite might let you better understand me and my aims for Brave Writer.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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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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