Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Use writing in your lives

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I had a question about what program I would recommend to a child who has recently come out of school and is dysgraphic and a perfectionist. Of course, my first thought is to scrap programs. This kid needs a zoo pass and Legos!

What to do about writing, though. He is struggling and fears it. Of course! We all avoid those skill areas where we are weakest.

To start changing the narrative around writing in your family, even before you buy Jot it Down or Partnership Writing, make writing more interesting, more useful, more fun right now in your home.

Put Post It Notes all over the bedroom door of your child. Fill them with comments about his or her strengths, jokes, silly word pairs, brief memories of their exploits, hints about the fun you will have at winter break, questions of the universe (“Who am I and why am I here?” “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”), aphorisms… You decide. Put these Post-its all over the door after the child is asleep and see when he or she finally notices them. You might leave a stack of Post Its and a pen somewhere nearby. See if the child reciprocates. Some will.

Use lipstick to leave love notes on the bathroom mirror for your kids.

Create a treasure hunt—that rhymes! Send your kids hunting for some treat with clues you design. Then later, ask them to make one for you (on your birthday! or for Mother’s Day!).

Tape words to items in the house—any words. See who notices first.

Play with refrigerator magnets.

Mail letters to your kids. Text your kids. Facebook chat with your kids. Even when you are all sitting in the same room (hilarity will ensue!).

Write margin notes in the books they are about to read—like, “This was my favorite part” and “I can’t believe she did that, can you?” and “When you get to this section, come to me. We must discuss.”

Leave notes in a teenager’s car with cash: “Here’s three bucks for a hamburger! Enjoy.”

USE writing in natural, life-affirming ways. See how it changes the feel of writing in your home.

Go for it! Now Today! It’s far more likely you will grow writers if you live like this than if you tirelessly work on paragraphs. Paragraphs will come, once everyone is friends with writing.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Lefrenchbazaar |

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Care less

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

I don’t mean to be “careless,” but rather, to “care less” (two words). In other words, can you lean back, figuratively put yourself on a porch swing and let your feet dangle as you glide back and forth, not a care in the world—while you homeschool?

Can you relax your jaw, lighten your tone, notice the puffy clouds floating by?

We are so invested in how our kids respond to what we offer them, and how we guide them, that sometimes we jinx the outcome! They stiffen or put up their defenses to avoid having to live up to our expectations.

Think about it: Have you ever felt pressured to like a certain meal someone made for you, or felt you were going to owe such a big show of gratitude for a favor done, you almost wished the person had just not “helped” you?

This may be your kids! It’s tough to know on some intuitive level that my mom’s happiness is contingent on how well I enjoy the lesson, or book, or curricula, or activity, or field trip. The part of us that wants to have our own original experience resists/balks at the pressure to make the “giving person” feel good.

You know what I am talking about—think of your mother or father-in-law or next door neighbor who stands back waiting to be thanked. How do you feel about the service rendered? A little resentful?

Kids have big emotions. They need room to feel and express. It’s never about you—these reactions to books or lessons or strategies for learning. How can it be…really? Who doesn’t want to be loved by a parent, to feel the parent’s approval?

Yet they resist what we offer them when two things happen:

1. They feel they owe you more than they will get out of it for themselves.

2. They feel nervous that they can’t live up to your expectations.

So care less. Unschoolers use a term called “strewing” – the strategic placing of unattended items in the way of a learner—allowing a child to explore the item or book or movie or game—unattended, independently, privately.

Other ways:

Do the activity, workbook, lesson, game without the kids, without announcement. Get involved by yourself, in front of them, without a word.

Ask your child for help—in any arena. Does this sound like a good program to you? If you could be in charge today, what would we be doing?

Openly judge flops with a sense of humor. “That collection of manipulatives must have been created by someone with 12 fingers!”

If the house is filled with tension, try one of these:

Disappear. Go into the other room and read a book or page through a catalog, or make yourself a snack.

Grab a blanket and curl up on the couch and doze.

Head outdoors (put the baby in the backpack). Walk, exercise.

Do not judge a day or week or month gone wrong. Care less. You have tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow. All you have is time. Take the time you need, trust the process, care less about the minutia of today.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Bialasiewicz |

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You are not alone

Thursday, September 18th, 2014


Homeschooling is emotionally taxing. No matter how many practices you put into place, no matter how much you “let go” or unschool or relax, no matter how well you love your children—homeschooling is demanding. It requires a level of daily investment that for most people depletes them.

You are not alone if you feel that way. You are not doing it wrong, necessarily. It’s important to get relief and to keep working to expand how you homeschool into ways that rejuvenate and support you, so that you don’t end up bored, depressed, or temperamental. But the feelings of significance and investment that you hold in your heart every day are real and carry an emotional toll. I think it’s right and just to acknowledge that.

Just knowing that this is part of the journey of home education sometimes helps. It’s at least a good place to start.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Leo Hildago (cc cropped)

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Take advantage of fall

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Walk in the forest. Autumn.

For those of you in the northern hemisphere, fall is about to be underway. Energy for activity and education surge in the fall. It’s the “back to school,” “new books” syndrome where the re-enchantment of education is awakened.

Take full advantage of this moment. I liked to plan my most ambitious projects for fall—the report, the scaled model of a fortress, field trips, the brand new curricula that requires me to read the notes and learn the system, the long read aloud novel.

Fall energy isn’t just found in you. Your kids have it too. Summer’s heat is behind you and fresh air and bright skies are inviting. Take some of your schooling out of doors. Have picnics, go to parks for recreation, take walks in the woods or on the beach, go hiking in search of birds or to identify trees. Reward hard work with outdoor activity—even kicking a soccer ball in the backyard every day is a great way to keep the energy going in fall.

In our neighborhood, bonfires are popular and a great way to have family time in a fall evening. Memorized poetry can be shared around a bonfire, or someone might play a guitar and sing alongs can be encouraged. Perhaps teach your kids American folk songs like “O Susanna” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

Candle-dipping, pumpkin carving, star-gazing—all awesome in the fall.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Philippe Put (cc text added)

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Avoid the temptation to judge your child’s brain

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Image by Yahiliz-blog
I get calls occasionally from public school parents who want to use Brave Writer to beef up their kids’ skill set in writing using BW as an extra-curricular tool. We’re good with that! We’ve had loads of public schooled kids in our programs.

One distinct feature of these calls is that the parents are highly aware of their children’s standardized test scores, IQ numbers, and grades. The system continually assesses students and gives parents sets of numbers to tell them whether or not to be proud of their kids, or desperately worried about them. All this numerical analysis is so unhelpful to the parent-child relationship!

Whether a child scores well or poorly tells us very little about the human being living in the skin of your precious child. Spelling scores tell you nothing about the child’s mind life. Computers can be programmed to correct spellings—they can’t be programmed to tell stories worth reading.

A child’s IQ should never be known by the child (and it if were up to me, by the parent either). Once you label a child’s mind as smart or average or “good enough,” you subtly shift your expectations (even if you try not to!). You will be temped to think that your child either should be performing at a much higher capacity (according to some arbitrary standard of what “educated” means) or that that child should be steered away from rigorous academics due to limited intelligence.

Both of these positions are absurd! Human beings are more than the sum of scores and school practices. Intelligence resides in social skills, empathy, artistic promise, and athletic ability as surely as it does in nailing the reading comprehension portion of a pressurized, fake, standardized test with Scantron bubbles.

(An aside: homeschool kids routinely perform less well than expected on reading comprehension tests, to the mystification of their parents who know that their kids read more widely and deeply than most of their schooled peers. There’s a reason for this. Reading comprehension tests have nearly nothing to do with pondering themes deeply, seeing connections to broader concerns, or extrapolating powerful lessons from the story itself. Reading comprehension tests concern themselves with retaining picky details under pressure. Triple UGH! Useless!)

The best education you can give your child is one where you value your child’s natural strengths as they make themselves known to you. You can’t know them through tests. You already know them through life—you KNOW your children! You are home with them all the time. You know! Honor and love the socks off those rascals!

When you see a child show generosity, say so!

When your kid scores four times in one soccer match, that’s the time you say, “You have incredible athletic skills.”

When your son brokers peace among fighting factions of siblings, you thank him for being a peace-maker.

When your daughter creates a system that streamlines where homeschool tools and books go so everyone can find them easily, you recognize her superbly organized mind!

If you are worried (a child is “behind” in math, for instance), do not test! You know! Get help. Do not limit your child’s chance of success by pre-determining that that child is not good at math or better work really hard or she’ll never make it to college.

Be positive, believe more in your child’s mind than the test-makers, and add brownies. Make a plan, stick to the plan. You are not behind. Your child is not “dumb” or “damaged.” Your child is your child with a set of experiences and aptitudes. Your job is to nourish and nurture them.

Every brain has a genius. Pay attention to your child’s particular bents and you’ll find it. Stop letting school and testing tell you who your child is.


P.S. I don’t get all “capital letter-y” very often, but this morning, I just had to.

Cross-posted on facebook. Water writing image by Brave Writer mom, Yahiliz.

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The brain–it’s a greedy little banshee!

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


Did you know that your brain weighs 3 lbs, but consumes 10 times more energy than the rest of your body by weight? It’s a greedy little banshee!

Mind-fatigue is hard to identify. It looks like dawdling, procrastinating, poorly executed work, fatigue, a loss of creativity, and wanting to “zone out” with music or movies.

Revive your brain by taking time off from thinking, yes. But avoid stressing it out further with your usual choices for relaxation that still overly involve it (scary movies, intense strategy games, arguing on a discussion board, reading reviews or news).


  1. Connecting with nature (get your hands dirty—plant flowers, weed, mow the lawn). Or take a walk in it with the phone turned off.
  2. Exercise. Let your mind go fallow. Use your body.
  3. Sleep. Exhausted minds need rest. Sleep is good for your brain.
  4. Eat protein. Have a snack that energizes (true mind-food).
  5. Dole out affection and receive it (to a loved one, a pet, a close friend). Nurturing stimulates and lights up different parts of the brain—the emotional center needs restorative input too.

Be good to your brain. As one brain researcher shared, we can design computers to play chess, but we can’t teach them to see. Our brains work hard (mostly outside of our consciousness) just to help us walk, digest, pump blood, and breathe! Add all the tasks we ask our brains to ‘work on’ and it’s no wonder sometimes your mind is simply tuckered out. As are your even younger kids’ little brains.

Food for thought!

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by dierk schaefer (cc)

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Strength and Stamina

Monday, August 11th, 2014


Kids need two capacities in order to build academic skills: strength and stamina. They need to be strong enough to face challenges without collapsing into a puddle of discouragement. They need stamina—the ability to keep trying and persisting, past their natural fatigue.

Instead of measuring your children against a rubric of skills (they should be able to write a 5 sentence paragraph without my help by age 9, you might think), measure your child’s endurance! If your child is finding it difficult to write, the solution isn’t to wring your hands over the fact that your child isn’t at grade level. The solution is to build strength and stamina.

In fact, all of education could be reduced to these two qualities. The mind needs to be able to give focused attention to perplexing problems. Focus, when it is on a brain-stretching activity, is tiring. The mind doesn’t show fatigue the same way a muscle does. Yet it collapses when exhausted by refusing to think new thoughts, by becoming foggy and distracted, and by ignoring useful information.

The mind gives up when it is tired. It wants to take a break and does so by seeking distraction or refusing to process information.

The anxious parent, eager to hit skill markers, will push, will blame, will require.

“Just two more problems. You don’t have it down yet.”

“Don’t be lazy. You have to work harder.”

“If you don’t get this done by dinner, we’re going to do two more pages before bed.”

These strategies are no more effective than telling an exhausted runner that she has to go two more miles at a faster pace because her last two miles were too slow. It’s theater of the absurd!

Reframe how you understand your role in your learner’s life. To build stamina, to increase strength—think like a trainer in a gym. The initial strategy is to do small repetitions of the skills needed, in short bursts of all out effort.

A child who finds writing tedious and draining will do better writing two words, taking a break, writing two more words, taking another break, and then two more words. That process may seem unnecessary to you, or you may feel that you could never be disrupted that many times in a row and still complete the sentence being copied. But for a child who gives full focus and intensity to the task, two perfectly hand-written words may exhaust the current store of energy in the brain. To keep going may create conditions for slacking off or doing a half job (sort of like lifting a weight half way).

Taking breaks, building up to more repetitions, shortening the breaks between bursts of effort over time, is more likely to get you and your child where you want to go than requiring more and more output just because some scope and sequence says it must be done!

Ask your child for input:

“Can you handle writing two words now and two more ten minutes later?”

On the next day:

“Shall we try that process again, but add a third pair of words? Want to see how well you can sustain your focused attention?”

And so on.

Put strength building and stamina ahead of measuring output and you’ll see far more growth.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Randen Pederson (cc added text)

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Your teen has interesting thoughts

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

38 / 365 - Life on Azeroth

…even if they are thoughts you have never thought to think!

Sometimes a parent will tell me that their child doesn’t have any interests or passions and that that is the problem. The parents can’t detect the interests of their children to support them in growing those interests.

Let’s back up. Ask yourself first: what thoughts is my child having? What does my child think about?

Do you even know?

At least 12 hours of the day, all of us spend energy thinking—about stuff. These thoughts range from regular, “quotidienne” (daily) stuff like, “I’m starved. I wonder when I can eat lunch” to our aspirations, “Gawd, I hope she texts me back.”

These thoughts take energy and some of them dominate our minds for hours/days at a time.

Your teen “without the interests” is thinking during all those hours of the day, just like your teen “with a passion” is. However, the thoughts of the “teen who seems not to have an interest” are invisible to you. That’s because you don’t know to ask about them. You are looking for evidence of thoughts that you understand, care about, and admire.

If you saw your child playing chess every day, even if you weren’t a chess player, your bearing would show pride and approval. You value chess. You think chess proves intelligence.

Kids pick this up. They know which of their thoughts are “permitted” to be shared, and which must remain “privately” thought.

For instance, if you have a child who is thinking a lot about how to beat the next level of Halo (video game), that pattern of thought is taking up the hours in the day. Halo is the interest. Halo may even be the passion.

For me, a grown woman who never played a video game in her life as a child, Halo is invisible to me. The thoughts about it, the vocabulary that goes with it, the anxieties that attend it, the enthusiasms and achievements that spring from it—I have no way to appreciate, care about, or express curiosity for that world. I mostly ignore it. I literally don’t hear the words the child says when he is talking about it. My mind drifts and eventually it never comes up any more.

As a result, this precious child of mine exists in a privately created world. When asked about his passions, he’s already picked up that the family culture doesn’t see “Halo” as a valid interest or passion so he says he doesn’t have any. But it’s not true, right? He has an “illegal” interest.

Let me interject a little story.

When Liam was in high school, he was a huge Warcraft fan. He played many hours a day. One day I was working on my computer when he called out to me, “Mom I just got to this really high level. In fact, my team is so good gamers in Korea are watching us online.”

I nodded a vague, “Uh huh. Good Liam”—never raising my eyes.

Then he said more loudly, “MOM! Come over here. You don’t understand this but I want to show you. This is a really big deal and I need you to get it.”

Wow! He was right. I didn’t get that I didn’t get it until that moment. I went to his computer and for the next hour he explained to me how difficult it was to rise to this level. He showed me his wins and losses, his teammates, and how the game was played and watched halfway around the world.

It was a moment.

It was so easy to approve of kids who were writing college applications and earning scholarships. It was easy to root for kids who were playing lacrosse or soccer. I could applaud wildly when my older kids performed in Shakespeare plays.

Yet here was Liam, brilliant of course, living in a privately-nourished world of skill and community invisible to all of us, unvalued by most of us in the family, but in particular, his mother—me.

Our job as parents isn’t to determine in advance what we want our kids to care about. Our job is to care about our kids—in all their varied complexity. Your kids can learn everything they need to learn about learning through the stuff that fills their minds right now. We have to choose not to filter their lives through our own value set (rendering what they care about invisible to us).

You want your child to care about spelling? Why not be curious about how the gaming community sees spelling? Is it important? What does it say about a gamer when he is typing his thoughts and they are misspelled? Are there games that are known for being crummy games because the writing about the game is poorly edited? Or does it even matter?

You want your child to be a good thinker? Find out how he uses his mind for his interests. Ask: What is your strategy when you play solo versus when you play on a team? How do you decide who the leader of the team is? Are you ever? Do you want to be? Why or why not? Are you ever troubled by the shooting? Why or why not? How do you decide one game is well made and another isn’t?

The goal of education isn’t to get your kids to like subjects you consider worthy of attention.

The goal of education is to help kids discover how their brains work—so that they can use that brain for anything they choose for their lives.

Subject area information is important insofar as it advances a child’s ability to function successfully in adult life. We can get there by many means, and the chief one ought to be engaging the active mind life that is already busy and curious no matter what is happening between the ears.

Go forth and be curious about your amazing kids!

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Kelly Hunter (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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Home not school—The “re-upping moment”

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Start Starting Line Americorps Cinema Service Night Wilcox Park

Remember when you decided to homeschool? Remember what you felt about “school” as a concept? As a notion?

You rejected “school.” You said to yourself, “I think I can do a better job, or at least, a more loving job, or possibly a more attentive-to-my-child job, at home, than they can provide at school.”

With that burst of bravery, you stood up to “the man” and said with your actions, “I can do this!”

You swiftly researched education, products, learning styles—a crash course in teaching or facilitating or discipling or modeling or partnering—whatever method you chose—and marched forward with conviction and uneasy confidence.

The first fledgling steps into homeschooling sometimes mirror school (What else do you know?). But usually it doesn’t take long to see that you can relax—pay attention to a child’s interest, not do every page, switch routines mid-week, play with play-doh for an entire morning, and so on.

Somewhere, along the way, however, you go through your first bout of wavering confidence.

  •  She didn’t read at 7 years of age.
  • His handwriting is illegible at 10.
  • She can’t skip count.
  • He isn’t writing full paragraphs like his cousins in school.

That moment shakes you. Your brain flips into reverse. Just like a new tired language learner reverts to grunting in her native tongue, you return to the only educational model you understand: school.

You buckle down.
You buy new books.
You enforce a schedule.
You require more work.
You follow traditional strategies.

The life’s blood of your cozy home slips from view; apples, rulers, yellow school buses, and workbooks crowd your field of vision.

The net effect?

Not progress.
Not joy.
Not home.


School—with its culture of pressure, evaluation, critique, grading, measuring, comparing, forcing a pace, testing, requiring, and shaming—comes flooding past your front door and right into your living room.

The choice to follow a school model for writing leads to stifled voice, and plodding progress. Your child’s work may mirror the samples, but it doesn’t sing. You may finish the assignments, but none are memorable beyond the feeling of “getting it done.”

Is this what you wanted? This plodding, replication of school at home?

At some point, you may think to yourself, “I miss cozy. I miss natural. I miss the originality of this family.”

To start again—to screw up the courage to make homeschool more about “home” than “school”—requires a second commitment. It’s what I like to call the “re-upping moment.”

That moment is critical to long term home education.

My products and online classes are all about reinforcing that re-upping moment. You are supported in paying attention to your child’s person, his or her interests, pacing yourself, deep diving into subject areas, less is more, writing that expresses self (imperfectly, a bit like a banging drum initially), doing one invested thing at a time, using your real life as primary teacher rather than canned curriculum.

You can do this, just like you did when you started. In fact, it takes less courage than the first time. You already know you want to! You remember the feeling of joy and freedom of the initial months and years of home education.

Take heart. Your instincts are good.

Be home with your kids. Lead them into short lessons, big juicy conversations, writing voice, curiosity, and interest-led study. Your support and partnership make education a joyful exploration of LIFE not subjects for school.

You can do this!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Steven Depolo (cc)

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