Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

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

Are you one big happy family?

Are you one big happy family?

Practical Homeschooling Advice for the Frazzled!

You might be running yourself ragged trying to teach to four or five grade levels a day! Pulling out workbooks for four subjects times five kids, leads to math I can’t even do! (Well, okay, I can do it, but it’s too many workbooks!).

What does it take to be one big happy family and homeschool at the same time? We tackle that ginormous subject in the following video!

More Help for BIG Families

If you’ve got a passel of kids

Managing Multiples

Image of children © Oneblink | Dreamstime.com

What about those pesky skills?

What about those pesky academic skills?

“Julie, I’m exhausted already. I can’t enchant every single subject for every single child every single day! What about math?!”

Yes, uncle, true, I get it!…

Not every minute of every day can be a tap dance performance of inspiration, enchantment, and relevance. In the feast of ideas, sometimes all you can put on the table is lunch. Not every serving of educational value has to be a four course French dinner.

Let’s drill down to the essence of how to bring a satisfying, nourishing educational life to our kids.

I like to say that there are two primary goals every parent has when raising children:

1. Keep them alive

2. Fill up their time

When you homeschool, you add a third:

3. Qualify them for college/adulthood

Your daily life, then, is a dance between these three objectives. The route to a satisfying life and education is through connection, inspiration, and skill acquisition, while preventing death, and staying busy.

The best skill development comes when a child (or any person, really) sees the direct correlation between what they are learning and how that information or experience will enhance their lives. For instance, in art appreciation, it is unclear that there will be a lasting benefit beyond personal pleasure. Yet that can be enough! Art is meant to be loved, enjoyed, and admired primarily. The analytic tools necessary for a deeper dive will only be important to the few. Therefore, enjoy art! Don’t kill it through over-study.

When we look at mathematics, however, it is obvious that learning to calculate and use theorems (for instance) will be essential in most of the lucrative fields today.

It is not a violation of the spirit of an enchanted education to simply use a tool that teaches the incremental steps to mastering math or to using it effectively! Sometimes working through a workbook serves a couple of key needs for a parent:

1. It provides a clear pathway to skill acquisition (the parent doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel)

2. It fills time (the child can “do the next 3 pages” while the parent is otherwise occupied)

3. It provides repetition, a key property in mastery of any kind from Tae Kwon Do moves to conjugating Spanish verbs to dividing fractions

Where parents can enhance the experience of the subjects that are taught through rote methods is to find ways to connect what is being learned to the real world. Fractions don’t only live on worksheets! They are active in quilting, baking, origami, and carpentry. Is it possible to explore fractions in the real world simultaneous to the paper abstractions of worksheets? Yes! Do you have to only teach fractions by baking pies? No.

Where we get into trouble is this: we expect our kids to work in workbooks and text books all day every day, addressing each subject for 30-60 minutes, one after the other, using a pencil, sitting at a table. This kind of life slowly deflates curiosity and inspiration.

On the flip side is the life where homeschoolers live from inspiration to inspiration only to realize somehow a child never got interested in learning to read or never bothered to skip count and now he’s 12! That’s a horrifying feeling.

Sometimes parents simply feel paralyzed: like they will ruin their children if they ever use a piece of curriculum to teach a subject. Then they wring their hands while they watch their children wander the house like nomads in search of something to do. “Why aren’t my children inspired to follow their interests,” a parent wonders?

Is it possible the kids are waiting for an introduction to the feast? Perhaps that’s all that’s wanted.

Which leads us back to the main issue. A parent can embrace the properties of inspiration and skill-building by toggling between them. Parents tend to indulge joy in learning more freely when they feel that they are also being responsible to introduce their children to the essential skills of a basic education.

They can rely on the traditional tools for that base-level education and then depart from them periodically as they gain confidence or inspiration. Those flights of fancy away from rote learning will enrich the days when base level skill-building is on the menu in the same way a picnic enhances lunch!

So skill-build with confidence and make sure you sometimes connect it to how those skills apply to life on planet earth.

The Homeschool Alliance

Working on Tone of Voice with Kids

Working on tone of voice

Melissa Wiley was asked in the BraveSchoolers Facebook group about what to do when kids have a snotty-tone or interrupt. Here is her brilliant reply (shared with permission and emphasis is ours).

I think tone is a really fun thing to work on because it gives the kids an opportunity to ham it up a bit. And in truth, we are all prone to lapses in tone now and then, me included. A friend of mine has a great story about having to listen to a message she had left on her son’s voice mail. She was shocked by how brusque and irritable she sounded. I have never forgotten that story!! I bet there are loads of times I would wince to hear a replay of words that came out of my mouth.

I start working on good tone habits by making it 100% a game at first. They don’t know I have an ulterior motive. :) I pick a good moment—and I make sure it’s going to be a good WEEK for practicing. Whenever I’m building a habit, I look at the weeks ahead to think about what opportunities we’ll have for practicing it.

So: when the time is right (we are hanging out together, no high pressure/time constraints/overtired kids), I’ll say:

“Let’s play a game. Pretend you want a drink of juice and ask me in your rudest, snottiest tone.”

Kids think this is hilarious and tend to really get into the acting job. Then I’ll ask them to do it in a whiny tone. And I’ll praise their performance: “Wow!! That is impressively whiny!!” —stuff like that. Then while we’re all laughing, I’ll ask them to ask again in their most beeyootiful manners—or in a sweet tone—or whatever. And again, they seem to enjoy that performance. So that first day, we’re just playing an acting game, really. Sad tone, mad tone, scared tone—we’ll run through a bunch.

After that I’ll watch for opportunities to practice in real life. Usually someone will whine or snap later that day or the next and then I’ll say—in a very casual, no-big-deal tone myself—”hmm, could you try that again in a different tone?” I’m not stern, I’m not scolding, I’m being lighthearted and nudging them toward a different way of framing the question. I try to keep that same game-like spirit about it. In that moment, a really grumpy kid might not want to play the game, in which case I won’t push it. It’s still early stages.

At some point that first week, we’ll (again when the stakes are low and everyone is mellow) have a conversation about tone. If it doesn’t come up organically, I might work it into a read-aloud—like, I’ll read a bit of dialogue and then say, “Wait, I don’t think that sounded right. Should it have a more grumpy tone?” or some such. And this will spark a discussion about what a difference tone makes. I remember one time we got into a kind of group contest to see how many different ways we could say the word “No” —how many meanings we could convey via tone.

So what I’m trying to convey here is that once I have identified a habit I’d like to build, I look hard at natural ways to ‘practice’ it in everyday life, in a light, fun way. And after we’ve had time for playfully practicing it (even if the kids are not aware that’s what we’re doing), I’ll let them know—again, in as organic a moment as possible, when something pops up that makes this relevant—that we’re all going to work on (in this case) using really kind tones with each other. I’ll encourage the kids to try to “catch” me using an impatient or crabby tone. THEY LOVE THIS MOST OF ALL. And if someone is snappish or whiny or snotty or whatever, I’ll ask, as I said above—not reprovingly, just cheerful and matter of fact— “Could you try that again in a different tone?” This stage of habit-building typically lasts 2-3 weeks.

After that, I’ll let them know that I expect them to use a pleasant tone the first time, when asking for a drink or whatever. And I’ll continue to remind as needed. If it seems like the habit isn’t sticking, we’ll go back to the game and keep practicing for a few days. Or if, say, a year passes and I notice people are starting to be short with each other, I’ll reintroduce the game and the expectation. (In our family we call this “boot camp” for reasons dating back about 15 years.)

In the moment—when an annoying tone is aimed at you in the ordinary course of the day—is NOT the time to work on building this habit. In the moment, we’re reacting, one way or another. Don’t beat yourself up for having genuine (negative) reactions in the moment. We all do. That’s how you know the behavior is something that could be improved by working together on a new habit.

Instead of thinking of it as something to remember in the moment, you can plan it, just as you would plan any other activity. It’s a little like potty training or copywork. You set aside a time in your own mind for gently easing into this new thing. Because that’s what it is: a new accomplishment you’re helping the kids master.

Controlling our tone of voice in the emotional moment is hard and takes practice. Years of practice, for most of us! And even though I make a joke with my kids about using a “snotty” tone when we’re playing the game, I’m not thinking of it (snotty tone) as a form of misbehavior. It’s just a placeholder for a more appealing habit that hasn’t been learned yet.

As for the interrupting—I use the same 6 week, gamify-it-first process. I teach them to put a hand on my wrist if they want to say something while others are talking, and I put my hand over theirs to show I’m aware they are waiting to speak. And then I try really hard to give them the chance to talk ASAP! Often I have realized a kid has been holding my wrist for five minutes and I look down to see a big grin because Huck knows he caught ME this time—I’m the one who needs boot camp for that habit. :)

I think the important thing is the overall attitude about habit building. I love that I can approach things from a positive, proactive perspective instead of being critical and reactive. What GOOD habits would I like to see in place of things that irritate me (or others)? How can we build those good habits TOGETHER in a spirit of fun?


Listen to Melissa Wiley’s talk on Tidal Homeschooling!

A little enchantment goes a long way

A little enchantment goes a long way

We see passion in chess tournaments—and applaud it.
We see passion in video gaming—and shame it.

Same skills—same immersive, passionate engagement.
What’s going on here?

Why aren’t our kids more interested in chess (we wonder)? Why are video games so compelling to kids (we hand wring)?

Because video games are enchanting. They are filled with treasure hunts, mysteries, problems to solve, doors to unlock with special keys, magical appearances, plinks and shimmers of sound and visual delight. Video game-makers create passionate fans because they know how to build worlds that enchant children!

Which frustrates the living day lights out of most of us!

I get asked: Is it possible to enchant academics? I say a resounding “Yes!”

Adults need a paradigm shift. We need to refrain from asking if what children are learning will serve them later and instead look at what they are learning right now that they value.

Let me say that again.

Our chief responsibility as parents and educators is to unlock treasure on the other side of the locked academic door. We want to move from “Pages completed” IS the goal of education to asking: What’s the mystery, surprise, risk and adventure inherent in fractions or pronouns or the revolutionary war?

No one learns to read so that they can
pass a test or complete a work book.

We become enthusiastic readers because there are stories —surprises, heartaches, relationships, the keys to becoming a whole healthy happy loved person, the dire mistakes made by others laid before us so we might learn to do better.

We read to become proficient in repairing a lawn mower or to bake a pineapple upside down cake! We read for the playfulness of language—the linguistic gymnastics of poetry and tongue twisters! Why is math different? What is the exceptional experience of becoming mathematically proficient?

The kids who catch on play with math like to play with Legos or video games. They program or build, they apply math to their ordinary lives and you never hear about it (it happens inside).

I remember Noah created a multiplication table that was built from base 12. That means he introduced two new characters into his multiplication system, and then had to actually carry those digits through as he multiplied. And he did it. Himself. No assignment. That little times table lived in his wallet for years.

You should also know that in his math class in high school, he wrote poems during his first math test. Math, poetry—they were friends, not separate subjects.

Learning because you want to know is possible for everyone.

It isn’t just for the few. It isn’t “Well my kid isn’t that interested in learning” or “You haven’t met my kids.”

Learning is so natural, your children are already passionate fans of it. What adults sometimes fail to see is the passion inside the child’s mind.

The passionate interest of a child is invisible to the parent/educator and therefore, it goes unappreciated or even unknown! Sometimes when we find out what’s there, we don’t value it at all.

What we’ve done in the name of education
is strip learning of its magical powers.

I like to say that the least taught literary element in writing is: surprise. Yet everything in writing depends on it. Surprising language, plot twists, unexpected facts, a quote about a topic that is shocking given who said it—this is how writers find readers every day. They say what no one will say or they say it in a way you haven’t heard it before.

You will stop reading if there is no surprise coming. If you think you know what’s ahead, you won’t finish the book or the page or the article.

Take that principle—the element of surprise, the element of subversion, of mystery, of risk and adventure—and right now, apply it to your homeschool.

Is your homeschool surprising?
Is it in any way an adventure?

Make it smaller. Is there anything to look forward to, today, in my home?

Homeschools gone wrong are trying too often to apply systems. Parents are looking to eliminate surprises (like low scores, or unruly behavior, or messes, or distractions). We are literally working against our best ally for education most days.

What if you embraced what you consider an obstruction to your carefully planned curriculum? What if you could see the magic in the mess, in the rabbit trail, in the off-task inspiration? What if you could do that just once this week (not every day, not every time)?

Give your kids the chance to surprise you. You don’t have to create surprises for them nearly as much as you need to be open to the element of surprise in them. The next time someone asks you to look at what they are reading, doing, seeing, STOP—and read, do, see it. Get inside that amazing mind of your child. It is all mystery and surprise in there!

There is enough in the mind of a child to lead to a lasting education for a lifetime.

A little enchantment goes a long way

Check out our Writing for Fun class!