Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Changing the Homeschool Culture

Changing the Homeschool Culture
Image taken at the 2016 Brave Writer Retreat by Alli Parfenov

Are you sick of the homeschool culture where toeing an ideological line is the way to membership in the community?

Ever wish the nit-picking about which words you’re allowed to use to describe how you home educate would stop?

Are you tired of hiding half of what you do (or don’t do!) in order to “fit in” with a specific group of homeschoolers?

Do you feel guilty that you bought into a philosophy and then modified it or adapted it or ditched it? On the other hand, you still want to hang onto the friends you made in that community yet worry what they’ll think of you if they *knew* how things really were in your house?

You can change the homeschool culture. You can be a part of the movement that brings hope, support, and optimism to homeschool.

Here’s how.

1. Welcome the outcasts.

Lots of parents feel like homeschool misfits. They use tutors, or online cyber school. They have one child in school and three at home. They haven’t doubled-down on a religious viewpoint or a specific educational philosophy and want to simply find a few friends.

Make friends with these families! They need you! You need them! You may be them! Keep all educational options on the table as you never know when you may need/want to make a change.

2. Cheerlead your friends.

Be the kind of homeschool colleague that sees the heart behind the effort. We all want someone to see how much we care and how hard we’re trying. It’s painful to share about what excites you only to see the person in front of you wilt or lose the smile. Be the person who says, “I’m excited for you! I can’t wait to see how X turns out!” (even if X is the thing you swore you’d NEVER do with your kids).

3. Read widely.

Expand your own understanding of education. You owe no homeschool guru total allegiance. In fact, it is your obligation to think critically about any educational philosophy you adopt, consider, explore. Know enough about a variety of educational options so that when you do make friends with someone within that belief structure, you can find common ground in vocabulary and in understanding why that particular strain has a contribution to make to the conversation about education.

If you start with these three tips, you will create space for diversity, for personal growth, and for lasting friendships.

Everyone wants to be included in the discussion about homeschooling and we ALL have contributions to make. Be interested, curious, hopeful, supportive, and kind.

After all: aren’t these the virtues we want to cultivate in our own children?

The Homeschool Alliance


We fail our children when we blame them for not learning.

It snuck up on me when I didn’t expect it. I had successfully home educated my kids into readers for years—and then Caitrin didn’t read. She didn’t read, and she didn’t read, and she didn’t read. This child who had been writing since 4 years old—lengthy volumes of cryptograms, flowing loops across a page, odd mixtures of capital letters and lowercase in assorted arrangements—didn’t read. She wrote, not words, exactly. Though not, not words, either. She warned us: “Do not open my notebooks. They are secret.”

Of course they were. Her notebooks were filled with marks on a page that represented real thoughts.

Caitrin thought as she wrote. That’s the essence of writing—hooking up the brain and hand so that the thoughts of the mind travel down an arm into the hand and out onto the page. Was it her fault that she hadn’t cracked the code of word-creation so that others could also read her transcribed mind life?

She was my number five child. The other four were reading and writing. She was just writing.

I tried the phonics programs I had used with the other kids. Letter-sound. Repeat.

I was deluded multiple times into thinking she had broken through, only to discover that Caitrin had simply used her superior memory to store entire books, word for word, in her mind to recite back to us as though she was reading—although in hind-sight, that IS a kind of reading. Matching the visuals, the sentence length to her memory and following the pagination, is all a part of literacy.

A new book would stump her. She stumbled over words like “all” and “the.”

My exasperation boiled over too many times—I exclaimed: “You already know how to read this!” as though that was true. As though she was holding out on me for some unknown reason. As though she enjoyed being a disappointment to me.

We’re so crazy sometimes—the way we believe our kids deliberately wet the bed to spite us (I believed that), that they refuse to apply what we know they know in math just to be ornery (it couldn’t be possible that what they learned yesterday wasn’t quite stored well enough to reproduce it today), that they hate spelling and so deliberately waste time using the wrong spellings in their writing when they know better because…well I don’t know why they would do that honestly, but it sure pisses us off when they do it!

It’s as if our yardstick for growth—academic growth—is tied up in how well we’ve taught them. When they fail to apply what we believe we have taught, it’s such a blow! It’s even worse if we trusted the notion that we could “back off” only to see that they haven’t budged in any direction of progress. We fall into the double panic of “I’m behind!” and “It’s too late!” The failure isn’t theirs—it’s ours. The anger, the fear, the frustration, the doubt—that is all about us.

Kids just do what they do. They remember sometimes and they forget. They are still encoding the properties of reading, writing, mathematics, and a worldview, one moment at a time. Fluency in any of these is on a distant shore called adulthood and they can’t even see an outline of it when they’re 10. All they have is today and that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile Caitrin wasn’t reading at ages 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Please count how many years that is. That’s 5 years. F-I-V-E years.

After four other kids were already reading.

I’ve written before about how she tripped the wire into reading. She was almost ten and once she crossed the threshold, she went right into chapter books and today is a linguistics major in college.

Rather what I wanted to share today is the damage it does to our kids and to ourselves when our focus is on failure rather than on the child. Failure twists us into unkind, anxious, uptight people who lose access to our inspiration, insight, patience, curiosity, and generosity.

Our kids want to please us because they live to be known by us. (Don’t you still want your dad to be proud of you, or for your mom to ‘get’ you?) How much more is this true when your children share square footage with you?

The failure isn’t reading or not reading, spelling or not spelling. The failure is in the disappointment you feel that your child has not lived up to her end of the homeschool bargain by being the learner you need her to be in order to feel good about yourself.

In other words: you fail your child when you blame the child for not learning.

Fortunately there’s a fantastically simple solution to this painful experience.

Turn up the volume on curiosity, kindness, and support.

Run to your child. Turn up the volume on curiosity, kindness, and support. Believe what your child tells you (reading is hard, math is dumb, I hate spelling). Start there. Share your own struggles (remember the times when you weren’t believed, when you found a learning moment really challenging, when someone blamed you for not knowing when you really didn’t know).

Then tell your child you are on the same team and you will work on this together until you both find a solution that brings about the critical epiphany for learning to leap forward…as it invariably does.

Your success hinges on your loving commitment
to your child’s well being,
not their ability to prove to you that they are educated.

Caitrin read at nearly age 10, when I stopped worrying about reading and instead focused on the amazing world of languages and lettering and sounds. We became partners in playing with the Greek alphabet and sounding out. Something clicked. In a family of readers, sounding out had felt beneath her. Once she understood its value, she read.

My victory wasn’t in the reading. It was in letting go of my panic about failing as a parent and home educator.

The Homeschool Alliance

Start With What They Do

Start with what they do

A mom in the BraveSchoolers Facebook Group asked what to do when her son was asked to write a movie review but wrote a summary instead.

Start always with what he did do! A summary is challenging. That he wrote one is a great place to start. Most reviews include a summation of the movie, so notice that. Say: “Great job summarizing the story. That’s a high level writing skill” (it is). Then talk a bit about what he liked and didn’t like about the movie. While he talks, take some notes. Then hand them back to him and say: “I’ve noticed that reviews also include the personal opinions of the reviewers about the movie. You have so many good ones. I jotted a few down. As you take another look at your review, I wonder if you can think about ways to incorporate your opinions as well.”

Don’t do this too quickly after you’ve given positive feedback. Allow him to experience your pride in his work. He can then narrow and expand the content to include opinions. He can give full attention to the opinion part of his thinking and can do some freewriting around that. Then he can take these two pieces of writing and “stitch” them together on yet another day. You might even read some movie reviews together to get ideas about how to do that. Make sense?

Concentrate on how he writes! Start there. Talk about the power of his vocabulary, his ability to grab the reader’s attention, his deft handling of the storyline without boring the reader, or his pacing.

Then talk about the assignment—the purpose of a review. You might read some reviews so he gets a feel for them. Ask him if he wants to take another stab at it, using some of this material, but not giving away the entire plot. Talk to him about how film critics analyze: what are the categories, what are the focal points (Acting? Camera work? Storyline?). Do most reviewers tell the end of the story or do they simply hook you with part of it? And so on. Perhaps don’t even revise this one. Just get to know the genre of reviews, reading them and talking about them. Then he might try another movie with those ideas in mind. Make a list of aspects of film to consider as you write about one when you are reviewing. He just needs more support to do what you are talking about, but his writing is just fine. He’s doing great!

Resist the temptation to say he didn’t do what he was supposed to. Work with what he offered!

The Homeschool Alliance

Burned Out Before You Start?

3 Tips for Homeschool Burnout

I had the fun of periscoping from Catalina Island off the coast of California. My dad and his wife live here and I visited them for the weekend. I spoke on Homeschool Burnout on the first day of school!

Three Tips for Burnout:

1. Feather in the subjects over the course of a month (don’t get all of your homeschool subjects up and running the first day or week!).

2. Add something brand new and fun to the mix right away. (Board game, trip to the zoo, new read aloud, a family movie in the morning…)

3. Selfcare spa: Waste some time each day. You, the parent, spend time staring out a window, paging through Pinterest, listening to your music on headphones, deliberately NOT do something you keep saying you should. Give yourself time to not improve.

The fundamental issue facing those of us who are burned out before the year even starts is the pressure to do EVERYTHING better than you did it last year. You already felt tired at the end of the year. Now you’re supposed to up the ante and do more and better and different this year.

Nope. You don’t have to. It’s okay to maintain the status quo, to do less, to choose not to cover more material…

Like that.

For more about Homeschool Burnout watch the scope below!

Check in to our Selfcare Spa in The Homeschool Alliance!

How to Bring Feeling into Writing

How to help your child bring feeling into writing without asking for writing that shares feelings.

I tell parents not to ask for feelings in writing. We don’t actually want feelings (these are usually label words that don’t get at the heart of the experience). We usually ask for feelings because what we are reading feels wooden or dry. What leads to better writing is a more expanded address—addressing the topic by showing, rather than telling.

So instead of “It makes me feel sad to think of Jews being killed in concentration camps,” write about the conditions of the concentration camps so that the reader is moved to sadness—to the experience of sadness.

What mostly happens is that a child will write: “6 million Jews were killed in World War 2” and a parent will say, “Write more about your feelings” because what the parent really wants to read is writing that evokes feelings (totally reasonable).

So to get there, a better set of questions might be:

  • Tell me more about these concentration camps.
  • Can you describe the conditions?
  • Can you explain how the killing took place?
  • Can you write from the point of view of a person standing in line for a shower?
  • What might that person be thinking, wondering?

Like that.

This is how we bring feeling into writing without asking for writing that shares feelings.

Kidswrite Intermediate helps students apply their unique flair to the academic task.

Brave Writer Online Writing Class Kidswrite Intermediate