One of the dangers of philosophical discussion is the hunger we all have for a turn-key method. We hope we can find a set of rules or practices that makes learning natural, magical, and practical. We want to have education be about happiness and ease, natural aptitude and hunger. We want to ensure that the natural method also fulfills state requirements or college application transcripts.
When we see boredom or loss of appetite or struggle, we doubt any method (any!).
Instead of looking at method, look at the child. By tuning in to your young person, you will be given the awareness you need. This is a moment by moment kind of parenting—not a “plan” for X child. Sometimes it feels nurturing to have someone else plan a lesson, sometimes it feels positively liberating to be free to pursue whatever it is that fascinates, and sometimes it is wonderful to join a class under the leadership of an expert.
If we move away from labels (relaxed schooling, unschooling, classical education, Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Project-based Learning, Brave Writer Lifestyle, textbooks, public school) and move toward the child (with our expanded understanding of education and learning based on the research we do for our own satisfaction), we will navigate the landscape of learning according to the map that the child gives us and have a wide variety of options to offer. We can move confidently between them because we aren’t trying to match someone else’s vision. We will instead be aware that it is up to us and our children to evaluate method and practice year by year, subject by subject, interest by interest, sometimes day by day.
When we recognize that learning happens all the time, when we see the whole wide world in all its variety as source material for a rich education, we change the tone of our relationship to education AND our children. To me, that’s its chief gift and one worth revisiting frequently.
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My love affair with Dr. Peter Elbow started in the mid 1980s. My mother, a professional author, handed me his book Writing with Power as one of her chief sources of writing inspiration.
I got midway through the first chapter and my margin notes said things like, “Wait, that’s what I do!” and “I never realized other people wrote this way, too!”
Writing with Power put my writing life into words and identified the processes that came naturally to me. Even more, Peter Elbow gave me new ideas to test and new methods to aid me in expanding and exploring my mind life in writing. Writing with Power popularized the term “freewriting” and Peter’s work cascaded into a revolution of writing practices at all levels of the school system in the 1980s-1990s.
Over the ensuing decades, I’ve studied his writings eagerly adding to my “Elbow book shelf.” In 2000, after I published The Writer’s Jungle, I packed up the three ring binder and shipped it to Peter without pausing to consider the audacity of that move. Peter served as the head of the writing department as a professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I told him how his work had inspired me and shaped what I teach in Brave Writer. I thanked him for his ground-breaking ideas and the influence they had on me.
I never expected to hear back.
A month later, an email arrived from Peter! Imagine my shock (and anxiety). What if he thought I was a hack? Instead, the warm voice I had come to know in his books greeted me immediately. Peter thanked me for the manual and told me he was glad I was taking his ideas to the homeschooling market since he had no access to home educators. He liked what I had written. Satisfaction and a big confidence boost came along for the ride.
A few years later, Peter’s secretary contacted me and invited me to hear Peter speak at Miami of Ohio University. I couldn’t believe he even remembered who I was! I attended a writing workshop for professors as Peter’s guest, was seated in the front row, and got to spend time talking with Peter before and after the seminar.
We’ve since had a few email exchanges, including a recent one where I praised Vernacular Eloquence. The pattern had repeated itself. As I read his latest book, I discovered that what we do in Brave Writer is exactly what his writing theories set out to assert—only in this case, we were successfully practicing the principles long before he had completed his 7 year magnum opus! All I could think was how glad he’d be to know that his deepest, most sacred beliefs about writing and process and reader response were most effectively experienced in the home, not school. I couldn’t wait to tell him!
When I realized that I would be traveling to Seattle (where Peter and his wife, Cami, now live), I let him know. Peter invited me to lunch. Cindy and I joined him at his lovely home and followed the meal with a Periscope (live video) where he and I freely dialogued about our shared writing values and strategies. It is not an overstatement to say that spending time with Peter is on par with meeting Bono in person.
For me, Peter is my writing “rock star” and I feel privileged to know him and call him my friend! We played off one another, I learned more from him, he seemed genuinely interested in what we are doing in Brave Writer, and we laughed and laughed.
His most gratifying comment to me came after we turned off the camera.
Peter said, “I meant to say this while we were filming but we kept moving forward. You articulate many of my ideas even better than I have!”
I can now die happy.
Dr. Peter Elbow is 80 years old. His commitment to the writing process and to gently holding a writer’s self-expression while giving meaningful carefully worded responses to that writing is inspiring.
With this introduction, I give you my writing guru, Dr. Peter Elbow. (Yes, I gush, blush, and fawn like a fangirl.)
May you find new inspiration for how to support your children in becoming free, brave writers.
The conversation with Dr. Peter Elbow was recorded on Periscope.
As I crawl into bed exhausted tonight, all of you will be on my mind. Today was an extraordinary day for me and our team, and I hope for all of you. As Jeannette and I discussed moments ago, the Poetry Teatime website is a labor of love. We have been captivated by a vision and it is extraordinary to see it come to life!
My heart is full. I feel a shift coming to the way homeschooling can be known and experienced. Homeschooling has, for too long, been about “doing it right” whether the “right doing” came from a rigid schoolish application of text books, or the totally radical version of unschooling.
For decades, homeschooling has been a defensive movement—trying to prove to nay-sayers that it has value, that it is not only as good as, but better than, the public and private school alternatives. That worry/anxiety was necessary in some ways. It caused home educators to take the educations of their children seriously and it gave them the courage to stare down the traditional educational establishment.
Today, though, it feels like we can move on. As homeschooling finds its footing in the mainstream, we can let go of the need to wear sandwich boards and ring bells. Instead, perhaps we can turn our attention to the heart of our homeschool hopes and trust them. And what are those?
Warmth between family members
Eager interest in any subject area
When these two experiences are natural to the family, learning flourishes. When either is absent, no amount of “right doing” fixes the stress and sadness that are beneath the daily drudgery.
Poetry Teatime is that sweet spot—the nexus of warmth and academics, family and learning.
It’s a model of sorts—a felt sense that can be remembered in the body (not just wished for in the mind). When you’ve experienced that deep dive into poetry and shared learning, you will want to find ways to bring that same spirit to other subjects. Your own idea of what it means to homeschool shifts—it’s not about hitting markers or filling in workbooks or passing tests.
It’s this other thing—the thing we thought we were signed up to do only didn’t know how.
Today—it feels like we fully opened the door to “The Enchanted Education.” Your first blush with enchantment may just be poetry teatime.
Enchantment is not the result of mom working hard to throw a party that the kids will like. Rather, enchantment shows up spontaneously—when we “set the table” and enter fully into the joy of whatever topic is before us.
The experience of enchantment, simply put, is happiness.
It’s my wish that homeschooling families would know happiness in all aspects of their lives together. Seems like poetry teatimes are a good place to start.
Thank you, again, for all the love today! It was a bit like a holiday for our team, because you made it so.
Enchantment is not about Pinterest-worthy projects or crafts. The point is this: Academics are better received by children when the properties of surprise, mystery, risk, and adventure attend them. They are better mastered with some level of routine and measurable progress. The nexus of these elements is what creates and sustains momentum in the homeschool.
You can’t be all parties and you can’t be all workbooks. There needs to be some kind of mixture where the routine provides the sustained practice of academic growth, but the surprises and adventures lead to enthusiastic bursts and deeper dives.
Remember: enchantment can be eye contact, time alone with one child, adding a cookie to a math lesson, taking time to do the science experiment rather than just reading about it, reordering the day to accommodate a morning dress up time, laying on your bed to do copywork, sitting outside to read alone, playing with alphabet magnets on the refrigerator, watching a movie about history rather than reading about it, reading historical fiction, triangling in an expert, reading any book aloud, poetry with tea, staying up late to discuss politics on the bed of your teen, changing the tools to new ones (gel pens, iPad, writing on Post it Notes)…
The aim isn’t to create an arts and crafts homeschool, or even an elaborate series of spectacular events! (Remember: I’ve said I could only pull off one or two “parties” in a year, if that!)
The goal is to remember that for kids and teens, rote learning using pen and paper (abstraction) and receptive learning through reading text books is rarely enough to keep the enthusiasm high and the learning applied. Anyone can “enchant” learning because you have heart, connection to resources, and a home filled with space for exploration and coziness.
Take advantage of home (and for teens, take advantage of outside the home)! That’s your best way to think about enchantment.