Archive for the ‘Brave Writer Philosophy’ Category

Why we use writing to teach writing

Monday, September 1st, 2014


An email question from Lisa:

“I love your curriculum but really do not like the Format for the online classes. Please look into live Online instruction. Most students are not going to Read through all the post of others in the class. This Really doesn’t give the group interaction live Instruction does.”

My response, in case you are wondering the same things:

Hi Lisa!

Thanks for your feedback. We welcome it! I’d like to explain to you a bit about our style of instruction. It’s a deliberate choice on my part, not an accident, not because I haven’t “updated” to the current style of online instruction. In fact, what we do mirrors what colleges offer in Blackboard, Coursera, and Canvas. It is my belief that reading and writing create the best writers, and that lecture (while it can be enjoyable and even a short cut at times in explanations given) is not as effective in growing writers.

We’ve taught our online classes using this technique for 15 years. We’ve taught more than 15,000 students worldwide. It’s a deliberate decision based on pedagogy. Students are trained to read, understand, interpret, and apply what they read to their writing. All the interaction in our classroom is reading and writing—reading feeds writing and enables growth and development that lecture cannot/does not impart. Even the questions students ask are written and the responses are written. This helps writing growth in the following ways:

  • Students learn to clarify their thoughts in the written word, and have a record of those thoughts as they develop so that the words they create don’t “vanish” into the thin air of spoken language, but remain visible to the student for continued reference.
  • Students read the assignments and processes, which gives them vocabulary that will become useful in their own writing. They are able to scroll back through, re-read, and assimilate the language, structure, and ideas from the written word. Writing is necessarily just enough different from speech that it is of enormous help to read rather than listen.
  • Reading skill (the ability to analyze and process meaning and content from the written word) is the key skill in writing development. No other process has been more strongly linked to writing growth than reading.

We’ve discovered that our students do, in fact, read most of the posts (some can’t get enough of them—they read and reread!). What happens is that our students wade into the waters of writing gently. They are not distracted by hairstyles, tone of voice, personality, and their own fatigue or boredom or hunger. They come to the classroom when they are ready to concentrate and read and reread if they need to.

They have ample time to form their thoughts and consider what they are reading. There’s no “pop question” type pressure to respond in the moment over audio-visual equipment. They have ample access to the instructor for her feedback which is carefully crafted and thoughtfully given.

I’ve taught at the university level, and in many in-person contexts for writing (with homeschoolers). I am never as satisfied with the writing growth in those class environments as I am with my online classes. We use reading and writing to teach reading and writing. it works.

I hope you’ll try us!


You can still sign up for fall classes now!

Image by Brave Writer mom, Renee (cc)

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How I conceive of learning

Monday, August 4th, 2014

little hand has butterfly

I’ve been working tirelessly on the new products, thinking about what Brave Writer does—how I conceive of learning, what priorities I have for our model of education.

Most of us decide to homeschool because we have a hunch, an inkling if you will, that we might recapture the sheer joy of learning and discovery if we would only keep our kids close and spend our days exploring the world together. The simplicity of this natural nurturing vision hits a snag the first time you hear words like grade level, scope and sequence, and common standards, let alone the monolith of mediocrity: Common Core.

It’s not that the ideas expressed in grade level or scope and sequence, or even identifying what ought to be commonly held core aspects of education are inherently “evil.” It’s that once someone creates a rubric, human beings, with their bent toward achievement, competitiveness, and measurement, hurl themselves headlong at those standards and forget to actually learn along the way.

A deadening of curiosity, natural exploration and discovery, and practice occurs. Application and expansion of the ideas is short-circuited with stamps of approval (A, +, Credit, and smilie stickers).

We’ve turned the corner—no more do children need to become repositories of information (information is everywhere, in millions of forms, accessible to billions of people in thousands of languages). Our educations are supposed to help us know what to do with information—how to creatively make use of it, how to manage and transmit it, how to analyze and evaluate it.

I read a terrific article today that resonated so strongly with what I think about education, I thought I’d share it here. This line jumped off the page at me since it is the crux of how I envision home education. When we talk about smarts, this is what I mean. The writer is challenging the notion that Common Core is any kind of educational salvation. He goes on to ask what methods will we use to make truly educated children:

“Instead of trying to codify information from past centuries, we better be looking at how students will handle the incoming flow of traffic. Or how to stimulate creative design thinking. Or how to make them smart enough—meaning curious, resilient, persistent, empathetic, and open enough–to live and perform in today’s world.”

Let me pull those words out:


Those can be the most natural by-products of home education. If we can move beyond thinking of content for content’s sake, and instead see content as an opportunity to expand those aspects of our children’s character and mental agility, we will indeed be giving a rich education to our charges.

The article is written to traditional teachers, but is actually better directed to educators at home—after all, you have no state breathing down your neck. You have the protection of your four walls and your rights.

So go for it!

The concluding thought ought to reassure you that traditional education is in crisis—what you’re doing IS the future of education.

“Untold damage has been done in the last ten years by the relentless focus on dispensing information to students like pills. That approach ignores the deep, magical relationship between purpose, curiosity, and intelligence—the mix that creates ‘openness’ to learning and makes engagement natural. More of the same won’t do anything but dumb us down.”

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Andrea OConnell (cc)

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It’s okay to take it easy

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Two of a kindImage by aussiegall (quote added cc)

You know that day where everything is going along swimmingly?

This one:

  • The older kids are quietly finishing pages of math and handwriting.
  • The toddler is happily covered in dress up clothes.
  • The baby is napping.
  • The pre-reader is sounding out the words easily, conquering Frog and Toad.
  • The right library books for the unit study arrived!
  • The most exciting chapter in the read aloud is next.
  • Bodies are healthy and fed. Showers and baths may have been taken in the last week.
  • All the machines and various household systems work: cars, AC, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, refrigerator and ice maker, all four computers, the DVR, the TV, your lawn mower, plumbing, and gaming consoles.
  • No one’s fighting. No one’s complaining. Maybe dinner is already planned.
  • You and your Significant Other are getting along—good conversation, good sex.

Sit in this vision for a moment. The vision of well being—of the stars, planets, and Cheerios aligned.

Can you see it? Feel it?

When it comes, when your life hits that magical moment—what do you do?

Here’s what some of us do:

We toss a home made hand grenade into the center of the living room. We reject our ordinary happiness.


Because some of us are under the impression that things of value only happen when we’re working hard.

So, when everyone is happily completing pages, reading, and skip counting, when the home is humming and our relationship is peaceful, some of us experience an involuntary panic.

This material is too easy. She must not be learning.

He whipped through that passage too quickly. He must not be challenged.

This book is fun, so it must not be that educational.

I better take in the car.

I’m going to ask ________ about why (he or she) doesn’t _________ more often.

We move into “anticipate the next crisis” mode. To avoid the surprise attack of the next crisis, we create one—one we can control!

Instead of staying home enjoying this (surely temporary) peace, we take the show on the road—adding the challenge of managing lots of kids out in the world.

Some of us buy brand new curricula so that everyone is suddenly thrust into the learning curve of “new” rather than enjoying comfy and familiar. We can’t appreciate the joy of mastery—we only esteem struggle to learn the next step/process.

Some of us look around at our friends (in person or online heroes) and decide that what they are doing is better, and judge our happy peace as undisciplined or, conversely, not free enough.

We refuse to allow the feeling of happiness to “settle in,” because it might mean we are not being conscientious enough about educating our young.

What if we were to while away the hours without diligence and pain and struggle and effort? Would that mean we were irresponsible parents/partners/home educators?

Time for a sip of coffee.

That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working.

That happy completion of pages, the successful reading, the repetition of skills learned and now mastered? That’s the sound of education taking root.

No one wants to struggle with a new challenge every day. Some of the joy of learning is getting to use the skills cultivated. It feels great to copy a passage without any struggle whatsoever. It’s awesome to rip through a set of math problems, knowing you’ve got it! You get it! You can bury that page with accurate answers and even show your work.

Kids who find their daily groove and rhythm—knowing what is expected and then being able to live up to that expectation—are happy kids.

Don’t wreck it! Enjoy it!

This is the life you are shooting for! Problems will find you again, without you even trying. So for now, celebrate the modest joy of ordinary happiness and success.

Let yourself off the hook. It’s wonderful if everyone likes the curricula, finds it a bit “too easy,” and successfully moves through their work with skill. Even professional athletes repeat the same drills at age 30 that they learned in Little League—mastery relies on practice and practice is all about repetition of skills, not struggling to learn new ones all the time.

You are doing something profoundly right when you feel that whoosh of peace in your home. Pause to notice. Inhale. Then…

Exhale and smile.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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The goal of education

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

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 |

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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.


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

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 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

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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