Archive for the ‘BW and public school’ Category

Delay grades as long as you can

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014


Unless you are making a transcript for college applications, homeschool is no place for grades.

That’s a strong absolute statement—the sort I refrain from making on this page. If you are using a grading system for a reason that makes sense in your family, please don’t take this post as an indictment of that practice. You do you!

For the rest of us—for homeschoolers who ask me regularly about how to “grade” writing—I offer you the following thoughts.

Letter grades (scores) in years K-8 are irrelevant to your children. We parents are used to the hang-over of traditional school where our parents were able to determine if we were performing adequately by the report card at the end of the semester.

You live with your children as they learn. You know if they know how to read, how to spell, and how to calculate. You know where they get stuck on the times tables and when they surge ahead to mastery.

The goal isn’t to measure and label the achievements of your child with a value judgment (grade). Rather, your job is to identify the areas of growth and to establish a trajectory for continued skill acquisition. If you become concerned that your child is struggling specifically in an area (you see little change in the course of an entire year of consistent, kindly supported effort), you may want to ask your peers or an expert if they would “worry yet” about a learning disability or some other impediment to natural growth.

I still wouldn’t grade that child. Grades forge an “outside-in” identity—either “I’m not as good as others,” or “I’m way better than others.” Each of those identities is flawed and unhelpful to your child’s unique educational path. The child is not evaluating self based on his or her own curiosity and skill strength from within. Rather, grades drive the child to either feel discouraged (I can’t learn this) or sometimes to feel overly self-confident (I already know this; Why do I have to keep reading/growing/studying?).

Curiosity about a subject area is the best feature of a homeschool education. A child can go as far as he or she likes. There isn’t an arbitrary end when a grade has been assigned, as though the study of the subject is confined to a school term and is now complete. Rather, topics and skills blend together, weaving in and out of each other, informing one another, for the duration of the home education lifestyle.

This is why it is difficult to explain to other friends and family how homeschooling works. Your children don’t identify with “going up a grade level” or “finishing math” in the same way traditionally schooled children do. The end markers aren’t there in the same ways.

But this is all to the good! You really can let Ancient Rome take over your homeschool for 18 months because in it, you’ll discover math, science, literature, spelling, grammar, foreign language, mythology, art, religion, and (obviously) history! There’s no “discreet unit” about Ancient Rome that lasts 16 pre-planned weeks with objectives to cover and tests to prove you are finished. There is only learning and exploring as long as Ancient Rome fascinates and gets the job done (leading your children into a glorious “science of relations” between all subject areas).

As long as those connections are happening, you are in the homeschool zone where learning is experienced and validated by how engaged your children are in interesting subject matter.

High school is a time when you may assign grades. But let me throw out a word of caution here. Most colleges/universities have little regard for the grades of a homeschooling parent. They are focused much more on the standardized tests (ACT, SAT) that either validate or invalidate the homemade transcript.


You don’t have to suddenly become a scrupulous parent-teacher where you give unnecessarily harsh grades to your child to “prove” you weren’t biased.

Nor should you become the mom who overlooks a child’s performance in order to give all “As.”

What you want to do is give As for completion of work, and mastery of the material insofar as you can measure that. Don’t labor over it. Bs are fine too.

Then make a transcript that has both grades (GPA) and course descriptions. The transcript should match the SAT/ACT score. In other words, don’t pretend your child did Honor’s level work and is a 4.5 GPA student if the SAT and ACT score are average (in the 50-70%). (If you need help, check out The HomeScholar, and Lee Binz’s excellent transcript services.)

Your child has had an avant-garde education. Focus on that in the application. Don’t try to make your kids look like they went to public school. Major on the unique experiences, reading, and areas of expertise they have cultivated while home educated. THAT’S their ticket to college.

And the essay: make sure it’s a winner!

Bottom line: grades are school’s domain. Homeschool is built from different bricks. Focus on the strengths of homeschool and let go of the tools of traditional school. You’ll be glad you did.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Leslie Banks |

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Heads up! Beware of the “Random Assessment”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

pop quiz

Image by John Spencer – EdRethink

You know the one. Your mother-in-law drops by and suggests that before you serve your son ice cream, you make him spell “ice cream.” (Literally a mom just shared this story with me in email.)

You’re at the Thanksgiving table, and your Aunt Bev springs a pop quiz on your daughter: “What’s 6 times 8, darling? Surely by fifth grade, you have covered the 8s.”

Your best friend who isn’t a homeschooler looks at your child, standing off to the side during the soccer practice break, singing loudly to herself—arms extended to the sky, and says, “Kylie isn’t comfortable with large groups of kids her own age, is she?”

Sometimes your spouse who works for an education establishment (professor, principle, junior high counselor, fifth grade teacher, AP Psych instructor) blindsides you: “Haven’t you taught Evan the essay? All the eighth graders in our district learned it by Christmas. What curriculum are you using anyway?”

These are the un-standardized tests of home education. Everyone feels free to quiz your kids, to “catch them” in their particular gap, to discover how you (the instructing parent) have come up short as a teacher. It’s uncanny how universal this intrusive practice is! It’s as though everyone feels qualified to prove to you that you aren’t doing as good a job as the brick and mortar schools.

Imagine doing this to a kid who is in school! The usual conversation is more like this:

Uncle Tom: “What’s your favorite class?”

Kid: “I don’t know.”

Uncle Tom: “You don’t have one?”

Kid: “Um, PE I guess.”

Uncle Tom: “Ha ha. Okay. I get it. You don’t love school.”

End of discussion. They then fall into talking about their favorite NFL teams.

But with homeschool kids, rather than ask: “What’s your favorite subject you are studying?” The intrusive relative or friend decides to find out if the kid is actually learning anything.

Weirdly, homeschooled kids are far more likely to answer the “favorite subject” question because they usually have one!! They usually actually really do like learning the stuff they like learning!

A few ideas to head-off the casual interloping assessor, particularly on anticipated family holidays:

1) Display all evidence of substantial projects and studies. It’s great to have the telescope in the family room, to frame child artwork and hang it on the walls, to bind and publish beautiful copywork or writing and leave it on the coffee table, to hang well drawn maps on the bulletin board, to display science experiments and complicated Lego creations on the mantel, and so on.

2) Ask the sympathetic relative to lead the way with questions about a child’s favorite stuff—don’t feel the need to pretend your kid likes medieval history if what he really loves is roller coasters. Simply let that kid rattle off all he knows about roller coasters. Trust me. It’s always impressive. Homeschool kids are amazingly detailed when they are passionate.

3) Your kids can volunteer what they are good at and know well. Prime the pump. Let them know that Grandpa Eli is skeptical about homeschooling and may randomly test them. They can subvert that tendency by offering some well told stories of their learning adventures (the time they created their own sluice for a pretend Gold Rush, the time they built their own light switch, the book of drawings of WWII tanks…).

You can’t stop the pop quizzing, but you can be ready for it. The best thing to say when the adult is over the top with specific test-type questions is: “We’re on break. No tests allowed!”

Even though this isn’t how you operate, it’s familiar language and usually shuts up the nosey.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Trust, feather in, and prepare

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

CaptivatedImage by Xlibber

The little ghost of public school past may whisper that you are behind at any given moment. She expects six subjects per day, carefully divided into hour-long segments, with lunch dissecting the day at noon.

You, on the other hand, had a busy month. You had a baby; you worked part time; your husband was sent on a tour of duty with the military; your youngest got tubes put in her ears; you found out you were pregnant and now are exhausted and nauseous; the remodel is taking an extra month; your mother-in-law had hip surgery and is staying at your house; a hurricane blew into your city; your car broke down; your dog’s cancer became terminal…

Any one of those could be you right now.

Life exhausts all of us some months and homeschool vanishes. When those months come during the “official” school year, we panic and try to make up for lost time the next month. We feel pressure to “catch up.” We transfer that pressure to the kids, and sometimes short change the subject matter in our hurry to rush ahead to the “right” place in the text book or lessons. Life becomes harried and unhappy very quickly under these conditions.

Let me start with a little demythologizing to help you.

Did you know, for instance, that in school when a teacher leaves due to an imminent birth, the new substitute sometimes puts on a video each day for a week or two before the lesson plans kick in?

Did you know that sometimes schools go through trauma (shootings or vandalism or weather-related damage) that lead to skipping whole chunks of information when the regular school hours return?

Did you know that some teachers are not as effective at teaching as others?

Schools are not uniformly efficient in following schedules or completing lesson plans every year, in every subject. Know that, so that you can successfully “flick” the ghost of public school past off of your shoulder. You are not a school and you are not required to follow a school schedule or system. Even schools can’t always get it done!

Now TRUST home education! You homeschool for good reasons:

1) tailor-made learning,

2) variety of learning activities and experiences,

3) the ability to speed up and slow down,

4) self-teaching by the kids,

5) flexibility!

When you feel like a month went down the tubes, follow this principle:

FEATHER in the subject areas over the course of a few weeks. You can choose to simply get back to the easy workbooks (like math and handwriting) for a couple weeks while you sort through what else you’d like to do with your kids. You don’t have to resume a full homeschool schedule for every day of that month. Start small and build. It’s okay to not know after a month from h-e-double toothpicks what else you want to do besides those easy lessons. Use the new month to find out.

PREPARE for the other subjects before you expect output from the kids. Rather than racing ahead into the unfamiliar material, take time to read the instructions, grasp the vision, and understand the philosophy of the materials. Get to know the books or guidelines, over tea or coffee, while the kids watch videos or play with Legos or jump on the trampoline. No harm comes to them while they play and you prepare.

All kids benefit from well-planned lessons. Take your time to offer your kids a meaty experience, rather than a rushed one, thrown together by guilt.


A side-note: I have a problem with “open-and-go” as a philosophy of learning. While convenient, particularly with a large family, some of the learning (the rich, deep, invested learning) needs to be the kind that takes consideration and thoughtfulness. What will your kids remember from their homeschooled childhoods? Workbooks that were so easy to use, a parent could open them, give the instructions to the child at a glance, and then return to the computer or the laundry or phone?

Or will they remember the month you took two weeks to think about a month-long writing experience, where you discovered the ideas ahead of time, prepared for the experience with enthusiasm, tools, and know-how, and then executed that experience with lovely, distraction-free, carved-out time and nurturing?

I know you want the latter. We all do. You can create it. Take your time to get there.

Trust that home education works. Because it does.

Feather in the subjects one or two at a time, with space for them to take hold, before you get all the plates spinning at once.

Prepare for the more challenging subjects, consciously, while your kids are busy in the same house, if need be. Plan for rich experiences that take up the entire morning and displace some of those other subjects if need be.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Stegsie

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Show offs!

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Long Before the Third Grade TestImage by welcometolearn

Testing is for school where no one can pay close enough attention to your child to know if he or she has actually read a book or studied math facts or was paying attention during the history lecture.

You don’t live that way. If your child’s nose is stuck in a book, say, Johnny Tremain, you know he’s read it. You don’t have to wonder or prove to him or you or anyone else that he read it. Did he understand what he read? If he is naturally chatting to you about the story, you can assume he did. Standardized tests are designed to “catch” the kids falling through the cracks that no one is noticing in a classroom of 30. Some of those tests are a tad strange, too. They expect kids to read looking to answer a question at the end of the reading, rather than finding out what the child took in, how the child processed the information personally, inside.

As a home educator, you can bypass that rigid, “find-fault” system by being attentive to your children.

Rather than “testing” your kids or assigning book reports and artificial measurements that are school “hang-overs,” encourage your kids to be show-offs! Foster an environment where your kids know they are smart and maturing by how well they use the information and experiences they gather naturally.

For instance, a child who loves a poem by Tennyson can memorize it to share with a grandparent via Skype. She can illustrate it. She might copy it with a fountain pen into a copywork book. She might compare the poem to another poem by Tennyson to see if he uses the same rhyme scheme or poetic rhythm.

A child whose fascination with WWII tanks becomes passionate can be encouraged to share his new expertise through a blog or by drawing each tank and labeling it in a book that is left on the coffee table for others to read. Maybe it’s enough to simply talk about tanks at dinner, asking your son his opinions and deferring to what he knows. Then watch a few old movies that feature the tanks. When WWII comes up in family conversations, ask for your son’s opinion. Let his expertise guide the conversation.

Father SonsThe main distinction between school and homeschool ought to be that the child has the chance to repeatedly express expertise naturally, with flourish. Your goal is to raise kids who will go out into the world (their professional world, families, and online) armed with confidence in what they know and their ability to articulate it. That confidence is built through repeated chances to “show off” not through tests that remind the child of what he hasn’t mastered yet.

Testing (that uncomfortable measurement designed to show what a child doesn’t know) has no place in your living room. Showing off does!


P.S. I had a student who earned a 95 on her essay in my college class email me to ask how she might “improve her grade.” She’s got a straight A in my class, wrote a wonderful paper, and is an active participant in class. Yet she is concerned that she didn’t “get a 100.” This is the problem with grading and testing. She couldn’t enjoy her success! She was focused on what fault the grade had found in her.

At home, you don’t have to give grades or scores. You can interact naturally with your kids, affirming them, asking questions that challenge them to dig deeper, and modeling for them what it looks like to analyze, consider, and revise one’s point of view. What a privilege!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image of father and sons © Alevtina Guzova |

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Create question marks

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Question markImage by The Italian Voice

Neil Postman (famous educator) says, “Children enter school as question marks and come out as periods.”

Homeschool gives you the opportunity to resist that trend. While the impartation of our own worldview, beliefs, and values is often part of what motivates the choice to home educate, we must resist the temptation to “download” those ideas onto the heads of our children, blunting their natural curiosity and creativity.

The best educational models rely on the Socratic method of inquiry—asking good questions. Writing depends on the ability to ask yourself good questions. Your leadership at home can facilitate that growth and development.

Here’s how.

1) Ask thoughtful questions (even if you think you know the answer):

“What might have motivated Paul Revere to ride through New England warning ‘The British are coming!’?”

“Why do you think we practice X in our religious tradition?”

2) Ask imagination questions:

“What would it feel like to wake up in the morning and see a green sky and blue grass?”

“If you could fly, what might be a few of the dangers you’d encounter?”

3) Ask personal experience questions:

“What did it feel like to ride your bike without the training wheels? Did it remind you of any other experience?”

“Can you describe to me how the toothpaste tasted so I can imagine it in my own mouth?”

4) Ask factual questions:

“What happened first: the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the writing of the Constitution?”

“How fast can a cheetah go at maximum speed?”

“What is the difference in plumage between a black-capped chickadee and a carolina chickadee?”

Model how to ask yourself questions by talking out loud in front of your children:

“Let’s see. If I’m going to host 15 people at Thanksgiving and each person will eat .25 lbs of turkey, how big does my turkey need to be? I wonder if the weight includes bone. I better find out.”

“I wonder why some people are against ____________ when I am for it. Could it be that they have a different experience than me? I wonder what that might be. I need to find out so I can understand how they see the world differently than I see it.”

Teach your children to ask themselves questions:

“Do you know the reasons for your main character’s choices? As you think about the main character, ask yourself questions about his motivations, his childhood and how that shapes his understanding of the world, and what his goals are. These often tell you why he makes the choices he makes.”

“I hear you: that idea makes good sense to you. Maybe you are thinking that way because of an experience in your life. Can you recall a time in your life where you faced a similar dilemma? Think about what might have happened if that situation had resolved itself in a different way. How does that impact your idea?”

“If you think some historical event makes the people in it seem crazy, it might be because we have the benefit of hindsight. See if you can ask yourself what it would be like to have lived in that era without knowing how the event or condition (war, battle, court case, revolution, institution of slavery, the Holocaust) ended. Does that change how you understand it?”

Your job as a home educator is to be a person who trains children to be quality, effective question marks. Academics (those who make their living at research and teaching) are incurable question marks! To enter that world, we all need to be better at asking questions than providing conclusive answers.

Who better than you to lead your children into that habit of practice?

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Homeschool is not five days a week

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Sunday ExperimentImage by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Remember that homeschool is not five days a week, confined to 8 hours of the day. Home education is a lifestyle that expands past “school” hours and fills up your family’s shared daily experiences.

Pay attention this weekend to the ways in which your children continue their learning journeys without encouragement from you. Seize opportunities to augment interests through field trips or conversations or a new tool or toy.

Pat yourself on the back for what you observe and remind yourself that lots of learning is happening all the time, all around you so that on those days where nothing goes right, you can remember that there are other days (even on the weekend) that do!

Also, this is your chance to involve the FT working parent who is more likely to be home on the weekends. If you are married to a math-whiz, see if that mathematically competent adult can find practical ways to use the math processes you worked on all week in a workbook.

If your partner is great with science experiments, save those for weekends.

If you have a partner who sews or gardens or bakes, why not spend Saturday doing fall (or spring!) projects together?

Enjoy the learning journey and share in the comments the ways learning shows up in your family on the weekends.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Beware the Ghost of Public School Past

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

old schoolImage by alamosbasement

You know her voice. She whispers in your left ear. Her wispy form hovers on your left shoulder. Her name? Mrs. Cox. In her hand? The red pen.

“You haven’t done enough writing with your kids this year.”

“What about grammar? If you don’t teach your children how to diagram sentences, they won’t get into college.”

“Your kids are behind their public schooled peers. Better admit it: the schools are better at creating writers than you are. Give up.”

“Why haven’t you had your children write essays yet? You are so behind.”

“You *still* don’t know how to use a semicolon and you call yourself a home educator?”

“What about structure and assignments? What about year-end testing? You can’t get there just by freewriting every week.”

“Your children are terrible spellers. If they had a spelling program like you had as a child, they’d be better spellers.”

And of course, the worst of all:

“You aren’t good at writing. How can you possibly teach it?”

These whispers come from a memory—a teacher, a schooled lifetime. While you’ve chosen to home educate your children, you yourself (probably) were not homeschooled. So when your confidence flags, the disembodied voice of “official education” pipes up to fill the empty, lonely space of self-doubt.

Here’s what you need to do:

First, with your right hand, bring your right thumb up and over the top of your right middle finger (in a circle). Then raise it to your left shoulder. Now: Flick that ghost right off your shoulder with two flicks! Bam! She gone!

Mrs. Cox is not invited to your poetry teatime. She doesn’t get to correct your children’s freewrites. She’s not allowed to judge your daughter’s spelling while ignoring the content of your precious girl’s original writing.

She’s not allowed to judge your writing any more. Her red pen is dry. Her reach is a ghostly memory. She is no longer real.

Mrs. Cox doesn’t decide for you. You decide for you and your children. Remind the ghastly ghost that you chose to home educate because you didn’t like the rubric of public education—the very whispers she uses to trap and badger you.

The next time you hear her voice, flick the Ghost of Public School Past (Mrs. Cox) right off that shoulder, and say out loud, “School voices are not allowed in my homeschool.”

Strengthen your own voice—your core, that lives inside, making choices, and loving your children.

Feel free to adopt the following messages (or your version of them) to buoy yourself when your doubt swells:

I have chosen to home educate my children because I believe in the values of homeschooling.

I am a fluent English speaker, and read professionally copy edited writing every day. I know enough English to read it with comprehension, and to write it with competence. Therefore, I can lead and guide my children in the art of writing.

My lack (in grammar or spelling or punctuation or academic format) is not insurmountable or damaging to my children. I’m an adult. I can learn alongside them. I am capable of remembering the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect,’ how to use a colon or em dash, how to spell ‘accommodate,’ and how to structure a five paragraph essay. If my children can learn to do it, so can I. If I can learn, so can my children.

I choose not to use a red pen because the red pen has created untold damage in the lives of my peers (and my life). I’m happy that I never have to use one, if I don’t want to.

My goal is to promote and support the natural growth in writing in my individual child, not to hit school scope and sequence for all children.

I is smart, I is kind, I is important.

You chose not to listen to The Ghost of Public School Past when you chose to homeschool. When she says, “Boo!”, flick her off your shoulder! Then carry on.

Please. Proceed.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Tips for the College Application Essay

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

College Essay Notes

From How to Write a Winning College Essay Application
By, Michael James Mason

(Highly recommend buying a copy of this book)

Five elements of a good college essay:

1. Something to grab the reader’s attention
2. Simplicity
3. Realism
4. Sincerity
5. Surprise

As you craft your personal essay, think about the questions and statements below to prompt you. Fit the content to the question your chosen university asks you.

1. Who are the five people who have most influenced you?

2. What do you read?

3. List three virtues that you admire and respect.

4. Discuss three significant lessons you have learned.

5. Tell us about three memorable experiences you have had.

6. Discuss a failure that taught you something.

7. Respond to three quotes that mean something to you.

8. Remember your greatest success.

9. Name five things that you know.

10. Discuss your definition of happiness.

11. What do your parents remember about you?

12. What are your earliest memories?

13. What is an education supposed to provide?

14. List and describe five special things about you.

15. What is your “one sentence philosophy of life”?

16. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

17. What makes the world go round?

18. Picture five places you’ve been that impressed you the most.

19. What is your favorite social activity?

20. What is your favorite intellectual or artistic activity?

21. Describe yourself to a stranger.

22. Tell the story of a fear you conquered.

23. Discuss three goals that you have in life.

24. List ten things you like and ten things you don’t like at all.

25. What do your friends say that they like most about you?

26. What question have you always wanted answered and why?

Keeping the home in homeschool

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

A friend shared her weekly schedule with me. Math tutoring on Wednesdays on one side of town; the twice-per-week biology class her daughter took on the other side of town; Celtic dance lessons; drawing class; piano for two kids; the weekly, day-long homeschool co-op; and three sports teams (with practices and games every week). She confessed to me that she was behind in writing. Of course, who wouldn’t be on that schedule? Then she made the funniest comment: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could get all the classes your kids needed in one building? Like you could get your math, biology, art, music and sports all in one place and not have to drive everywhere to go to them?”

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, we blurted together, “School. They call it school.”

And really, that’s the whole point of school. You get all the experts together to teach your kids all that they need/want to know, in one day, in one place. Parents take care of earning money and managing the home, kids go to a building to get an education. If you want that, school does it, efficiently and in some cases, well!

But most of us who home educate truly do not want that. We want something else. We want a higher quality education. We want relational connections with our kids and between our children. We want to have time for in-depth study. We want to take winter ski vacations and not miss “school.” We want our genius musicians to have plenty of time to practice or we want our star athletes to get enough sleep while they study and do their sports. We want to be the primary influences on our kids’ lives. We want to be the ones who see the lights go on in reading or fractions or Shakespeare. Or we hate the school district we live in, or can’t afford private schools.

It’s a tricky balance. We want to provide our kids with enriching experiences like field trips, tutors, co-ops, and violin lessons. We also want to consistently advance in the core subjects. In an effort to do it all, sometimes the “home” part of homeschool is lost. We bring school to the kitchen table and find it less and less inspired. So we add a bunch of outside activities and teachers, and the next thing you know: We’re car-schooling!

Back in the early days of home education, I read a long treatise on why parents ought to stay home, in the house, with their kids. The writer talked about rhythms and routines, modeling all kinds of life skills (plumbing and baking, creating a shopping list and sewing on buttons, filling the bird feeders and using the drill). She urged long sessions of reading aloud and leaving time for dress-ups and Legos, lying on a couch bored, face painting and knitting. She emphasized how busy-ness leads to a habit of breaking concentration, of not deeply investing in any one moment, project, or playtime because inside the child knows that that activity is about to be interrupted by another trip out the door.

With little kids, I had no trouble taking the “stay-at-home” advice to heart, though. We had one vehicle that I didn’t get to drive on week days, we didn’t own a TV, and the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented. So we stayed in, or we played on the front steps. But the pace of life, even with small kids, was slow. There were hours wasted on diaper changes, walks around the cul-de-sac, making muffins and taking naps. We read tons of picture books (took a laundry basket to the library and loaded up) and made play-doh from scratch.

And then, the world sped up. Cell phones, cable TV, Netflix (DVDs sent right to your door!), the Internet, two cars! The next thing I knew, the options of what I could do in and outside my tiny condominium with or for my kids flooded my life. Some of you only know homeschooling within that context of high-speed, 24/7 connections to All the Great Things to Do Every Day! You see and hear ads, you join email lists, you get calls from friends at any time of day. And of course, homeschooling itself has exploded in popularity in the last 20 years so there are more ways to spend your time and money than ever before (and plenty of advice that if you don’t do X, your child won’t be ready for Y!).

If you choose to homeschool, let’s put the home before school. What is home exactly?

Home. Cozy, pillows on a couch, blankets and a dog. Everyone who should be here is here. There’s a comfortable familiarity between us and I don’t have to figure out how to be. It’s a feeling that I’m not in a hurry or that I don’t have to be somewhere else. Home is what I come back to, not what I go out to. It’s the reset button, the safety net, the place where I know I can be my “self” just as I am and the people in my home will love and support me, will help me, will soothe me. Home is also where I can snack, nap, start a project and leave it out until it’s done. It’s where my secret stuff is hidden, it’s where all my materials are housed (I don’t have to cart anything around because it’s all in my home!). Home is a kitchen table where I eat family meals.

Home is also where I help myself to a drink or go to the bathroom when I want to. Home is a remote control, a telephone, a shower and a mailbox. Home is a hug from a mother and a game with my dad. Home is what I feel when I get off a plane in my city after a long trip and know my bed will feel better than any other bed in the whole world. Home is vanilla candles and cinnamon pine cones and tea in a thermos. Home is where dust bunnies grow and books litter the floor, where everyone watches American Idol and laughs together, and where I can hide in my bedroom to read a long book without having to stop. Some say you can take home with you. But I discovered years ago that home is actually a physical place, filled with people, memories and materials that help me to recharge so I can leave it again. When I lost my home (when my parents divorced in high school), I had to create a new one each new place I lived. Home matters. I can’t take it for granted.

We ask our homes to do double duty when we homeschool. We bring a memory of “school” from a building (that hard-working place) that was not home into our homes. We sometimes take the pressures of school as we remember it and add it into the mix of education at home. The safe space called home (that our kids intuitively know is supposed to be safe and peaceful) is now the competitive, demanding space of school. Grades and achievement happen “out there” for most people and home is the retreat. We’re asking our kids to marry the two, like oil stirred into water.

Awareness that we are, in fact, expecting our kids to work hard at home (when the spirit of home is slower, more restful, not driven to meet deadlines) is the first step. But the second step has to be changing how we understand education! If we truly believe that the competitiveness and the standardized lesson-plans, workbook style teaching of school are inferior to the tutorial-based educational style of homeschooling, then we need to stop hand-wringing about outcomes (progress) and imposing a schoolish format to the work we do with our kids!

For instance, moms call me asking how to help their kids with grammar or freewriting. A child doesn’t like it and isn’t doing it. The only idea the mom has to get it done is punitive (like withholding computer time, or shaming the child into it with prophecies of how horribly her chances for college are if she doesn’t master subordinate clauses, and so on). I try to offer “homey” advice, instead. Tell your child that you know grammar isn’t her thing, that it’s hard and tedious and she would rather not do it. Then make an offer of support that shows goodwill. Rub her shoulders before she starts, or get her a colored gel pen to write with, make her brownies or offer to pour her a cup of tea in her favorite mug. Let her do grammar by a roaring fire. Plug in her iPod and finish the page listening to a favorite band. Consider changing programs or doing grammar for a month on, a month off. Help grammar fit the mood of home.

I remind the mom: “You’re at home. Be homey. Support, nurture, be gentle.” It’s okay to be firm occasionally too (we all have to). But do it in the spirit of protecting the home environment as a safe, peaceful, nurturing space. Don’t undermine the power of home education through yelling, punishment, name-calling, harassment, withholding kindness, blaming, defining (telling your child he or she will not succeed in life unless…). Brainstorm solutions. Be your child’s ally. Always honor pain.

Don’t make an injured athlete play; don’t make a crying child learn.

Start with the premise that everyone in the home is on the same team, that all the resources you need to learn and grow together are in your house. Offer kindness and help as often as you can, even if the only thing you can think of in the moment is to acknowledge that the work is hard and you understand that your child doesn’t want to do it.

Later this week, I’ll post practical ways you can put “home” back into your education. Questions or ideas in the comments section would be great!

Black Friday Coupon

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Hi Everyone!

Last year we offered a Black Friday Coupon for Brave Writer products. It is issued through the email list (what we call “The Zipline”) which you can sign up for on the home page of the website or you can send your email address to and we’ll add you. The coupon enables you to get $25.00 rebate for any purchase of $120.00 or more, or $50.00 rebate for a purchase that is $200.00 or more. The coupon is only good for 24 hours (midnight of November 27 to midnight of November 28, 2009, EST). You can only get the coupon code if you sign up for the email list.

This coupon is good for products only, not classes.

You may share the code with friends, but they need to be on the email list to activate the code. They can add themselves, or they can send their email addresses to me at the above email address.

We will have a few new products to choose from by next Friday too (will send out an email to the list announcing them in the next week). We hope this little bit of holiday help enables you to stock up on all your Brave Writer needs for the coming semester!

Psst: pass it on!