Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

It gets better

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

1300 feet high, no rope… Image by Maria Ly

I’m not one for pie-in-the-sky platitudes (though clearly I’m okay with cliches). Being told that things will get easier, make more sense, or feel better in some time that is not now can feel like a pat on the head, not a rope thrown down a cliff.

But things will get better because you strive toward that end—that’s who you are. You are a responsibility-taking initiator of “good things.” I know this about you because you homeschool. That’s the only kind of person who chooses this life.

I also know that you are an intrepid researcher because you homeschool. Those are the sort of people who take on the education of their children without degrees or training. They’re the kind that tackle Big Huge Risky Tasks because they have such unswerving faith in their abilities—at minimum, their ability to research and apply what they need to know to achieve their ideals.

Oh, I know it doesn’t always feel that way. Some days you feel like curling into a ball on a beanbag chair sucking your thumb. Those days don’t last too long, though, because you won’t permit it.

You’re the kind of person who after a few days of self-pity, looks into the mirror, gives a yourself pep talk, and re-ups the commitment.

You most certainly do have that confidence. People without it don’t homeschool.

This is the rope. Thrown down the cliff to you.

It’s not a list of practices like breathing or running.

It’s not a set of precepts about education and child development.

It’s not the “perfect curriculum” that relieves you of the obligation to teach your children.


The rope –> YOUR own tenacity and audacity. That’s it!

Today’s difficulty is merely one in a long string of challenges that you will attack with spirit and drive. Sure, it’s not always rainbows and licorice in the middle of the muddle.

Of course not!

But you know that. You knew that when you started. It’s like running: you know you’ll get tired and out of breath. Well, here’s that moment. Keep running.

At the core, you can trust that you will be better at this thing called homeschooling tomorrow than you are today. A year from now? Even better. The next to last child? Better than the first two. You will get the hang of it.

Wait. I hear some of you say: “What if I never do get better at it? What if homeschool never feels happy or serene or satisfying the way I want it to be?”

Guess what I know you’ll do? You’ll figure out something else! Your drive to ensure a quality childhood for your children will leave you tireless in your pursuit of a better situation. You may have to change course. You may stop homeschooling after several years. Who’s to say that is the wrong decision or an admission of failure? It might be the most powerful act of self-advocacy in your entire adult life!

I trust you!

You can figure out what to do!

Here’s what I know: homeschoolers are ethical, sincere, committed, hard-working, optimistic, and resourceful.

That’s you!

I trust your choices on the basis of those characteristics alone. Whatever you do, your life with your kids is going to get better and better (even through the messiness of teens or toddlers). That’s how it works for parents like you.


Grab the rope—it’s you! You can pull yourself up, by your own strength of character. It will get better.

I’ve got cookies at the top. See you there.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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When do I start to worry?

Monday, April 14th, 2014

worriedImage by Jon Rawlinson

Aw yes, the question about worry—reworded it might sound like this:

“When do I have your permission to openly worry about my child’s poor writing?”

If you are asking the question, you are already worrying. Let’s just admit that right up front.

Usually, though, some part of us knows that worry is counter-productive to a trusting happy relationship with our child. We also know that worry ratchets up our level of “schoolmarm-ish-ness.” We become the tougher, harder, “time-to-get-serious” version of ourselves. The thing is, we don’t really like her or him. We want to be the generous, optimistic, creative, relational teacher we imagine in our minds.

Until we have permission to worry, we do a number of things with our anxiety.

We pretend it away.

We cover it up with forced casualness.

We ignore it.

We shift our focus to the other children.

We decide: “We’ll just unschool this subject.”

We find support from other quarters to tell us that our kids are okay.

We become tense and lose our ease of relating.

Our voices become tight and high pitched.

Then one day, we get to the end of our ability to “hold on.” Perhaps a friend bragged about her child’s writing. Perhaps you spent time with a school teacher who talked about what she requires of her students, same age as your child. Perhaps your mother asked you when she might see your child’s writing.

Bam! You can’t keep the worry down. So you want to know: “Can I admit how worried I am? Can I let that guilty feeling bubble to the surface and act on it?”

Permission to worry allows us to shed the guilt associated with becoming the “stern” parent. We feel justified in requiring more, or expecting more. We aren’t as sorry for losing the smile and insisting. We allow ourselves to be mobilized into action after that awkward extended period of quasi-patient waiting.

Rather than give you that permission, let me help you channel your worry (the worry already present, hiding behind your attempts to not-worry) into productive action. Here are five things you can do with that worry, today!

1. Research

You can always google your little anxious heart into more information. Look up symptoms and read what you can about the issue. If it’s writing, then by all means read, read, read on the Brave Writer blog and website. But you might also benefit from reading about the childhoods of famous writers. Find out how many of them struggled and in what ways. Find out how professional writers solve writing problems. Get more information, rather than hand-wringing about phantom fears.

2. Test new practices

It’s never the wrong time to try new approaches to a child’s struggle. Sure, some may fail just as miserably as the previous attempts, but at least you keep the effort fresh (rather than tedious and head-banging). Go outside traditional education to find those strategies. For instance, if your child struggles with math facts, see if you can find practices used by accountants or cashiers that may shed a different kind of light on the issue (rather than endless curriculum research). Check out apps of the iPad or Tablet.

3. Triangle-in help

It’s okay to hand off the struggle to an expert (tutor, therapist, best-friend-with-a-BA-in-said-subject, online class, co-op). Take a break and get a third person’s help and perspective. It helps ENORMOUSLY to involve another party.

4. Take a break (set a date)

The hardest part of worry is doing nothing, but sometimes letting a child mature is the best thing you can do. To ease your guilt, set a date for how long you will conscientiously “do nothing.” You might choose to ignore reading for 3 months before revisiting it. Put it on your calendar. If in the meantime, opportunities to support the task arise, enjoy them but don’t latch onto them for dear life. Allow your “break” to be a real break.

5. Build trust

No child gets ahead in a difficult area without the support of a wiser, older, kinder person. You are that person. If reading or writing or math are particularly difficult for your child, work on building a good relationship in other easier areas. Make sure that you are enjoying art, taking walks, building Legos, reading great books, telling jokes, kicking the soccer ball, training the pet rats, learning magic tricks, etc. Do these with great love and energy, accommodating struggle, supporting challenge. As you do, you build a basis for continued work in the difficult areas. You might, accidentally, discover the issue that holds your child back in the other area. If you can create a loving bond in happy subjects, when you struggle to work on the difficult one, you will have a well of compassion and a bank of mutual regard to support you.

Worry if you must, but be productive with it. Don’t dump it on your child, don’t give yourself permission to become an old school marm, don’t let your fear of failure as a home educator poison the beautiful homeschool life you are creating together.

You can’t pretend worry away. Embrace it. Own it. Do something good with it.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Of trophies, ribbons, and medals

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Melting into the Stacks Image by kejoli

A popular meme in parent-discussion groups is to trumpet the valuelessness of trophies, ribbons, and medals for participation in sports or the arts. The idea goes that if everyone gets one, no one earns one.

The thought is that kids need to learn that reward comes from achievement, that losses have a real impact on the outcome of a season or effort, and that the reception of a physical symbol for beating other teams (or perhaps, successfully performing to a higher standard that other performers) is meaningful/important, not rote, not cheapened by “everyone gets one.”

Old school parents trot out their memories of coaches who yelled; and practices that beat up their egos; and trophies they finally won; how worth it, it all was; and how they grew impeccable character by only being rewarded for winning.

Winning proved that all that hard work and pain was worth it! The trophy told a story: these kids were better than everyone else. Their work was more impressive at the end. Beating people and having proof in the form of a trophy produced pride: this group of boys or girls could know that they stacked up as superior people, at least in this sport.

Not so fast, schweetheart.

Spare me the lectures about how soft this generation is becoming. We need to ask the obvious question: Is winning the goal of childhood activities? Should it be?

When I was 10 years old, I joined a swim team at our tennis club. Let’s pause to appreciate that I was in a family who could afford swim team and a tennis club membership. Unlike the typical 10 year old, I was small. As in tiny. My last name was “Sweeney” and I was called “Teeny Sweeney.” The girls on this team ranged from ordinary girl to hefty. And then me.

Needless to say, in four years of competing, I never won a single race. Not one. I never even placed, unless you count “7th” or “last.” My times improved! I beat my own times repeatedly because I went to every practice and I tried hard. I had no ability to beat girls six inches taller than me, however.

I finally quit the team in 8th grade. At my last meet, I won my heat in breast stroke (first time ever)! I would get the chance to swim for a ribbon! Oh wait—the loud speaker crackled to clarity—”Julie Sweeney is disqualified for improper strokes.” My feet had come to the surface too many times. Of course. I couldn’t have beat the other girls without that advantage. I slunk away from the blocks.

The last race of my illustrious career found me swimming the third leg of a relay race. If you know swimming, that is the slowest leg. Naturally, going into the 3rd length of the pool, my team was in first place. Coming out of it, we were in 4th—thanks to my tiny body and short legs. The last swimmer had to make up for my lost time, and did, but we finished 3rd—my one and only swimming ribbon to show for four years of swim team commitment.

I remember the drive home. I felt defeated. I wondered why I had bothered to swim at all. Sure, I had loved getting into a pool in the rain, sweating in the sauna, giggling with my buddies, licking dry green jello out of the palms of my hands for energy before races, huddling under towels shivering and dripping wet cheering for each other. But what was the point? I was a terrible swimmer because—biology! I couldn’t control that. I had failed.

Everything I controlled, I did well—showing up on time, wearing the right gear, trying really hard, applying the coach’s advice, improving my speed and form, being a good teammate, taking criticism. “Nothing to show for it”—that’s how it felt.

Of course, there was a lot to show for swimming. It was good for my health and my self-discipline. It was good to be on a team where I wasn’t a star. When I was in gymnastics, I was the girl who got the good scores. In swimming, I learned humility, and what it was like to work hard even when I wasn’t talented, or a part of the “best team.” I learned to appreciate endurance sports. I became a competent swimmer—in pools, in the ocean. No small thing growing up in southern California.

I spent many happy hours in the pool, with friends, working hard, learning about my body and what it could be pressed to do beyond its natural aptitudes.

Would a pizza party and a little trophy at the end of my seasons have robbed me of those lessons? Would it have undermined how I understood achievement and accomplishment, and led me to a life of mediocrity?

Would a participation trophy have meant “nothing”?

I’d like to suggest the opposite! I might have been able to interpret my years on that team in a different light—in the light of commitment, hard work, and shared joy at my teammates’ successes and struggles. I wish someone had said, “Great having you on the team. Thanks for participating!”

Children and teens should be encouraged to participate in all kinds of sports and activities, regardless of their natural acumen and aptitude. Why should piano only be for the prodigy? Why should baseball only be played by kids with great hand-eye coordination? What good is it to reduce all the effort and learning of playing sports to success on the field or in the pool or on the balance beam?

Why should any sports team for kids be about winning, frankly?!

Winning is a happy end result when several factors are in place:

1. Parents have money to spend on the sport. In some sports, the investment is significant!

2. Parents have time to coach, and know how to do it well.

3. The team winds up with a surprising collection of naturally gifted athletes.

4. The team “gels” and they get on a win streak.

That only happens for one team per league. Literally.

Winning can’t Be Everything. For kids, it should barely BE a thing!

Our children are growing—they are discovering how their bodies work, how to play hard, how to show up when they are cranky and hungry, how to take direction and practice skills, and how to adjust to new locations, other teams, and weather. 99% of our kids will not go on with any sport in college.

If we reduce a team’s season’s success to whether or not they got more wins than all the other teams, we are saying that all that effort that went into the sport is not valued. We are forgetting to honor and recognize the achievements that will build self esteem (the real kind of self esteem that comes from team play and hard work, not the kind that comes only from being the ones who “trounced” the other teams).

It’s fine to give an “extra trophy” for winning—go ahead and make it good sized. It’s equally (perhaps more) important to also honor the season’s effort and commitment by the “losers.” Trophies and pizza seem to be doing a good job, in my opinion.

Real life says that there is room for Coke and Pepsi. Heck, there’s room for homemade sweet tea at the local diner, in addition to the big brand names. Not everything any of us does depends on a “will to win” or even “being the best.” Sometimes being “not the best” is the best choice!

In fact, being a team player who loses graciously would be a fabulous outcome of a season. We could use more adults like that.

As home educators, we give our children the gift of valuing their growth, efforts, and curiosity every day—without grades, without measurements that tell them how they stack up with other kids. We do this because we’ve come to believe that their success as people doesn’t depend on being better than others, but being the best people they can be, given their limits and talents.

Their milestones are worth celebrating. Their efforts deserve rewards and respect. Their achievements are respectable whether or not they are at the top of their field, class, grade level, or age. Why? Because their achievements are theirs.

If we teach kids to value their efforts and show them all that they learn when they participate with commitment and energy, besides “winning,” we help them become people who build their self-understanding from the inside-out (rather than outside-in). They will not be dependent on others to tell them who they are. They will have a right, sober, honest perspective of themselves that they’ve built from the myriad experiences they chose to explore that comes from self-awareness, not a Championship Trophy.

That self-understanding is worth an Extra Large Pepperoni and a little gold statue in my book. At least that.

Cross-posted on facebook

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You are not a teacher

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Melting into the Stacks Image by Laura D’Alessandro

As a career goal, wanting to be a “teacher” is not one I would choose. I might choose to teach (for instance, I love teaching theology at Xavier University, I love teaching writing to my students at Brave Writer, and I loved teaching acting to the homeschool co-op students). But without a specific subject area, teaching in and of itself doesn’t interest me. Being a “teacher” is less interesting to me than participating in the learning process in subjects I care about.

We grew up in schools, most of us. We are aware of adults who choose teaching as careers. Some choose to teach because they love children. Some choose to teach because they love lesson-planning and creating a classroom environment. Many choose to teach because once proficient in their favorite subject, they enjoy passing that information on to the next generation. Of course there are those who choose to teach because they’ve seen teaching modeled as an adult career for 12+ years of their lives, and they can envision themselves in that role in a way they can’t imagine themselves into any other adult field.

In homeschool, we are in an entirely different environment from school. “Teaching” in its school sense is counterproductive to your goals.

You won’t likely stand in front of a dry erase board, poised to lecture your four kids. You don’t consult a set of criteria delivered to you by the board of education and figure out how to squeeze that into your year.

What you can do and do almost effortlessly, though, is model learning. Your enjoyment of the books you read aloud, your passion to track down information about a historical fact, your curiosity about nature and art create an appetite for learning in your home. This lifestyle of learning starts with you, a learner—not you, the teacher. You don’t teach kids to value learning. You learn. You value it. You live it.

I like to say that we should live our passionate curiosities in front of our kids. If reading about Charlotte Mason’s advocacy for art appreciation has piqued your interest in art, dive in. No lesson plan. No script for exciting children about art. Simply get interested in art. Buy the books with large photos of paintings and pore over them while you sip your morning coffee. Leave them on the coffee table and page through them while you nurse the baby. Load the DVD player with Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting and watch the DVDs—right in the middle of the morning, when “school” should be happening.

Get out the charcoal pencils and try your hand at drawing your hand. You can do this while a child is working on math. At the same table.

Likewise, if reading a book about the Sioux tribe to your children sends you on a wild goose chase for more information about what happened to Native Americans in South Dakota, Google it. Read the information to yourself, for yourself. You can share it, if a child is interested. But you be interested. Live it for yourself.

Sometimes what matters to your child will overlap with what matters to you. Reveal how connections (the science of relations) creates a tapestry of education. Perhaps the artwork you are looking at depicts an era in history that is a current fascination of your son’s. Show the paintings as snapshots in time of the very era being studied in text. Discuss. Perhaps several different painters (in different eras) depict the Greek myths according to the tastes of their time. If you and your children are enjoying reading the myths, these paintings could be a wonderful companion to that study. Compare. Consider.

You might be passionate about much more mundane subjects, too. I spent about a decade obsessed with the rock band, U2. I read daily articles, books, watched films, went to concerts, listened to their albums. My kids watched me develop a passion that led to so much in my life (from music to politics to theology to geography to published writing—mine about the band!).

What sets homeschooling apart is the ability to lead a life of learning with your children (not in addition to, not instead of, not on purpose to “teach” something). You get to pursue what interests you, and in the process your children will see a real living model of learning. THAT education is worth dozens of textbooks. You are giving your children a template for how to be self-teaching, how to cultivate a curiosity, how to pursue a passion.

That’s the real education. That’s the best kind of teaching.

Cross-posted on facebook. Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms.

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A lot depends on you

Friday, April 4th, 2014

This is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that you set the tone, make the choices, create the energy, and foster an environment of peace and learning.

The bad news is that it is up to you to set the tone, make the choices, create the energy, and foster an environment of peace and learning.

Sometimes we all wish we had a little less power and responsibility, right? Sometimes it’s a lot to carry, and we don’t realize it until our shoulders are slumped and we miss scheduled appointments or forget important deadlines.

If this is you—if the work you do to ensure peace and well-being at home is sapping your vibrancy and optimism—I want to be a voice today that says: “I see that. I appreciate you.”

Thanks for getting up in the middle of the night—again—with the baby and bed-wetter.

Thank you for holding back your tired, angry voice.

Thank you for hunkering down with a curriculum you don’t like but can’t afford to replace right now.

Thank you for making magic with vegetables and healthy snacks for reluctant-to-try-anything-new kids.

Thank you for overlooking the insensitive jab from your trusted partner because s/he is stressed and being a blockhead.

Thank you for examining your motives.

Thanks for exercising and/or eating right and/or taking your meds and/or trying hard to be healthy when it’s easier to give up.

Thanks for excusing childishness.

Thank you for celebrating childishness.

Thank you for being childlike with your children!

Thank you for being the chief source of comfort to your teen who sometimes doesn’t even like you.

Thanks for calling that friend, or your mother, or the sibling that wears you out because they needed you today.

Thank you for keeping house as best you can, in spite of the never-ending assault on your house by all the people who love you but love your house less.

Thank you for washing an unending parade of dishes, for laundering every last pair of socks, for cleaning behind the couches once a year, for hanging pretty things to look at on the walls.

Thank you for research, and appointments scheduled, and payments made on time, and performances attended with camera and heart in hand.

Thank you for not falling apart.

Thank you for holding it together long after you thought you couldn’t.

The work you do is invisible to many but well known to all of us who lead the same life you do. Well done!

Life morphs and changes; demands emerge and fade. Pay attention to your life; make choices that ensure the peace and well being of your loved ones.

That responsibility does fall to you, and we can be grateful that it does. With power, comes responsibility. Keep using it wisely.

As I like to say: “Keep going.”

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Take a risk

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 Brave Writer mom asked, “How do I fall in love with homeschooling again when life stresses, sibling rivalry, unmotivated kids make it so hard?”

Sometimes to get what you need or want, you have to take a risk to try something new and foreign that seems like a threat to the old way of living, being, valuing. If you can step back from your guilt at not loving homeschool as much as you used to and think about how you can create a peaceful home that gives you a break and helps your kids to thrive, you will be closer to a solution. It’s very difficult to “recapture” a love for homeschooling when you are in burn out or you are facing challenges that feel bigger than your resources.

You can rekindle it IF you’ve got a very supportive partner, you have the energy to rethink how you home educate (bring in a new direction philosophically or in terms of curricula), and you feel you can find a way to reinvigorate your OWN life with something new and energizing that is NOT homeschool at the same time.

For instance, for me, I tried unschooling after a long season of Charlotte Mason and I started Grad School. Both of these helped pull us out of ruts. At the same time, one of my kids decided to try high school. She went part time to the local public school.

This was a really helpful shift for us (all three) as it took some pressure off of me to teach everyone, it helped me to see learning through a new paradigm (unschooling) but it also helped me appreciate the value of good lesson preparation (ironically) due to grad school. That combination helped us find new ways to learn together that helped me be more enthusiastic about homeschooling again.

That said, if you are in a season where change in homeschool feels like a burden, not like a relief, then consider other options: co-ops, part time public school, full time school, tutorials… Get some of the burden of teaching everything off of you.

If your kids are asking to go to school, hear them. To me, the biggest tragedy of homeschool is feeling that you must keep your kids home or you are betraying your value system. You value education. Homeschool is only one version of it. Traditional school can be an incredible learning moment for everyone and a new thrill. Don’t necessarily rule it out. We loved our involvement (I’ve had a couple kids go to FT high school).

Lastly, I don’t know your personal life situation, but if you are dealing with a painful marriage, chronic long-term illness, or depression, you deserve to take a break from homeschool. That’s a good time to allow the local schools to take up the burden for you and it gives your kids some relief from the painful pressure of home during this season.

Hope that helps!


P.S. I shared this on facebook today about this post:

The [above] blog post was meant to answer a specific set of questions by a mom struggling with homeschool burn-out. It may be surprising to read my recommendations. Your reaction to the article will tell you where you are with homeschool. If the idea of putting your kids in a school environment is painful, you know you still have some energy left in the tank for home education. At that point, you want to look at new models—try new ideas. Don’t rule any out. Give yourself permission to change gears and see where it leads. However, if you are in chronic pain (emotional, physical, existential), just know that your worth as a mother/father and person is not defined by home education. You matter, more than your homeschool.

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The little secrets we won’t say out loud

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

mother and child Image by Nimfolb

We all come to parenting green. There’s no training, no “practice run with pretend children.” You are thrust into the love affair quite unprepared for the consuming demands on your time and heart, even if you’ve read a library’s worth of parenting manuals in advance.

The twin tugs of responsibility to raise a child “correctly” and abject powerlessness in the face of a child’s pain and struggle, leave us ambivalent and self-doubting. Add the privilege and burden of home education to the mix, and you’ve upped the stakes one thousand percent!

As you fashion a philosophy and prepare your practices, your children defy you. They hate your organic, steamed, smashed vegetables that you grew in your garden, they refuse to sleep at convenient hours, they have an endless supply of giddy and slap-happy to express in quiet library lines and doctor’s offices. They bait their siblings into tickle fights, and then scream at you that their brother or sister is mean.

They ruin perfectly good toys—the ones they wanted for half a year.

They leave a trail of food, plates, glasses, and half empty stale boxes of crackers—then complain that there are no clean dishes and nothing to eat (though you returned from the store an hour earlier).

Certainly they cuddle and surprise you with smiles and reward your care with endless entertainment. But the experience of ongoing “otherliness” that comes from parenting creates relentless low-level anxiety that we don’t credit with depleting us. Yes we are physically tired. But we are also living with chronic chaos—nothing stays where it was put, and no child stays the same for long.

Just as you solve one problem or adapt to this stage of development, Bam! The next one is ushered in, with all of its mystery and complexity.

Education—the balance between learning that comes naturally and from curiosity, and the skill-building that comes from direction and an awareness of what that child will need for a diploma or adult-living—becomes the testing ground for your success as a parent.

Enter: frustration, exasperation, exhaustion, confusion, doubt, comparison, assessment, desperation, pressure, tears, arguments, battles, loneliness, fear, worry, and what feels like failure.

Children will lead you to the edge of yourself. Guaranteed. You will say what you promised you’d never say—and usually those words get shouted.

You will require what you never expected to require.

You’ll forget love and feel loathing, and then loathe yourself for letting that feeling come to the surface.

The unfathomable tenacity of a child to resist what you have explained so well, so patiently, so clearly for his or her benefit, even with all your offers of help, will level you. Your feelings will be hurt!

How can this child not hear how much you want to help?

Why can’t this child simply cooperate and try?

How can this request be THAT difficult? Really?

You will be unequal to the force of a child’s unwillingness to do what you ask at some point in your parenting career. Not even spankings and groundings and lectures and the intimidation of a bigger parent will cause the child to reverse course.

The inevitable question follows: Now what?

When every offer of help is refused, when every punishment and reward fails, when you can’t bring the mountain to Mohammed, what should you do? Where do you turn?

I suggest: perspective.

Sometimes the tears and the anger are a necessary part of the growth. Try not to take it personally. So she doesn’t want to get dressed (and she’s 2 years old!). This isn’t about you; it isn’t really about her. She’s 2! She’s going to grow out of this exhausting phase. Some days you can skip dressing and leave her in her pajamas, and other days she will dress. On the days you have to leave the house, you will wrestle her into her clothes. With tears. With your own irritation fully available to you.

And one day it will all stop. You’ll look back and think, “Huh. I wonder when she decided to dress without drama?”

This same feel applies to every area. With writing, it’s much like this. We don’t want to push to the point of tears and anger, but we do sometimes. I certainly lost it with Noah (he was the oldest, after all!). His resistance to being made to do what he didn’t want to do is legendary in our family.

But time and again, with opportunity to grow, with calm conversations about what Noah needed for his future, combined with both moments of requirement and many more moments of easing the pressure, he emerged into his competent writing self, his mature wonderful adult self.

You will toggle! There may be a day where you are certain that writing must happen and your child will throw up an Armageddon of opposition.

Do you battle through to eke out the words, and you wind up exhausted and disheartened yet secretly glad you have something to show for English in your homeschool file?

Or instead, do you wave the white flag and make brownies, telling jokes, tickling him out of his mood?

Do you stop writing all together for a while until you get the nerve to bring it up again, hoping he’ll mature out of this phase by then?

Or do you simply do most of the work for him just to get it over with, and off your back?


All of the above.

That’s what parenting looks like. You will do all of these.

Some magic fairy comes along as the years unwind, and combines these acts with the sincerity of your love for and enduring commitment to that child, and turns it all into an education and a relationship. Memories come from this magical combination. A lifetime of healthy, happy and whole is possible from these raw parenting excursions.

You are learning as you go. Give yourself some grace to push, to pull back, to try again, to do too much, to not help enough. In that mix, with this child, you will find a groove. It’s not too late (never too late). It’s okay to put stuff on hold and let it be for a good while. It’s also okay to push at times when you know it’s the right thing to do.

I remember I wouldn’t let Jacob quit saxophone lessons because I knew he’d love marching band in high school. Since he was homeschooled and not in a band, he had no way of knowing he’d love it so he got bored with lessons. But I knew differently. I knew he would love marching band and kept him going with lessons despite his resistance. I was right. He was glad. In the end.

This is parenting—the push, the pass over, the support, the help, the letting go, the requirement, the acceptance. You’re doing it right, if you are doing all of this, and asking the questions, and modifying your practices, and paying attention to your connection to your children.

You are! Don’t let anyone tempt you into thinking there’s one right way. We try it all, and then…

…keep going.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Just how foreign is writing?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

WBWW 118- Image by Lisa

A debate exists about writing: is it related to speech? If so, how much? If not, why not?

One camp says that learning to write is akin to learning to speak a foreign language. Writing is as foreign to native speakers of any language as Amharic is to you or me (unless you are Ethiopian!). That’s why children struggle to become fluent writers, so the thinking goes. Children are naturally wired for speech and are frustrated trying to translate those words into language suitable for writing (the style of it, the vocabulary of it, the spelling of it, the punctuating of it, the organization of it, the handwriting or typing of it). Even my guru, Peter Elbow, says that some people feel as if they are translating speech into something else when they write. Have you ever experienced the “Hmmm, how shall I say this?” thought as you sit down to actually write the thought you are having?

That’s what this camp is getting at. There’s a weird translation process between speech and writing. Because so many of us have experienced that moment, there’s a sense in which it must be true: writing must be so different from speech, we are prone to writer’s block as a result.

There is a bit of truth in this perspective. The brain is not wired for writing, like it is for speech. Writing is a learned activity. Speech, however, is hardwired into all human beings.

The other camp sees writing as related to speech. Dr. Peter Elbow, again, recently published an entire book, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing(affiliate link), that attempts to make this case to a resistant academy. Writing is the extension of speech, he argues. If we can understand speech first, and then see how it informs and creates writing, we will wave a wand of release over thousands of frozen would-be writers. The mechanics are only one aspect of writing—writing actually sits inside each of us as native speakers already.

What is fascinating is that in the world of homeschooling programs, both views rely on copywork, dictation, and two varieties of narration (oral and written) to help students gain fluency in “writing.” But their starting points of view are polar opposites.

What I’ve noticed in my work with thousands of families is that children are more inclined to put in the effort of learning the skills associated with writing when they can see that it relates to a skill they have already mastered: the English language.

When we talk about putting their thoughts into written words, we are asking them to identify thoughts! In Brave Writer, I suggest you “catch your child in the act of thinking.” Help your child discover that he or she is having thoughts worthy of record: write them down when they least expect it, when you hear those thoughts tumbling out of their mouths!

Every single day your children are not only thinking thoughts, but using those thoughts to generate oral language. That language can easily become written language when they have a transcriptionist (you!).

Once the connection is made (“what’s inside my head and comes out of my mouth can also be what shows up on paper and is read to others”), teaching the mechanics of writing becomes much more interesting to children. They get it—writing is about their mind lives and they love sharing those thoughts with others.

Are there style differences between writing and speaking? Of course! Are there pesky rules of grammar and syntax that prefer one over the other (sometimes we allow in speech what we prefer not to use in writing)? Naturally.

But if we start by seeing writing as foreign (as a foreign language), if we begin from a mental space that says that writing is “hard work” and that the “discipline” of writing requires rote work with someone else’s words first, if we suggest that what is inside your child is not yet suited to the page until some kind of mastery is achieved in handwriting or spelling, we literally alienate the fluent native speaker from writing—from believing in his or her writing voice before it has uttered a written peep!

That alienation, time and again, manifests as writer’s block or not caring. The spark of individuality that is your child is lost in all this “hard work of precision and accuracy.” Accuracy matters, but it is not more important than originality of thought. Accuracy can be added; originality can be lost.

What studies are showing to be true is that children are far more likely to take writing risks when they believe that their content is valuable, and when they trust their thought lives to be adequate to self-expression. They are more likely to work on their mechanics if they experience the mechanics as supporting their original thoughts, rather than having to show perfect mechanics before they are permitted to have original thoughts.

If we value our children’s thought lives, help them to express themselves in Big Juicy Conversations, if we transcribe some of their ideas and read them back later to our children, if we ask for expansion of thoughts and show curiosity, if we model language choices that are more likely to be associated with written language models, our children will, absolutely, discover writing in much the same way they found speech!

They will risk, test, try, show off, back away, make huge silly errors, make huge leaps of logic, express vocabulary beyond their years, will imitate and create, startle and master, and sometimes mess with you and act like they don’t have a thing to say. But they will grow! This is what growth looks like.

The approach we use in Brave Writer does not see writing as a foreign or antagonistic process that requires painful hard work. Rather, we see writing as the opportunity to take speech further—to enhance, expand, and nourish speech (oral language, inner thought), and then to preserve and share it with interested audiences.

Kids respond well to this vision of writing. They love to read, to be read to, to talk and converse. Writing, particularly in today’s dialogical world of the Internet, is another conversational tool. We can learn how to wield writing for a variety of audiences, but why not start with the one closest to home? Why not let them write for themselves? Then for you, and then for their friends, and finally for “academic purposes.” This is the progression that works.

I hope you feel reassured. You are not teaching Hindi to your kids, with a whole new language structure and vocabulary. Writing in one’s native tongue is built from the English already spoken and understood. Writing is simply gaining mechanical skills to transcribe one’s own fluent thoughts, and learning how to develop these thoughts into the flow of written language.

Brave Writer has created oodles of tools and tactics to help kids “get it.” We’ve got more in the pipeline.

You can help your kids learn to write well. Start from the idea that your children are writers already, learning mechanical skills, in search of a supportive editor/reader: you.

You can do it!

And so can they!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Lisa (cc)

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You want to do a good job of parenting?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Family walking on the boardwalkImage by Roy Luck

Think less about how to shape your kids into world changers and more about how to bring a wide world to your family to shape them.

Think less about turning your kids into responsible mini adults and more about how to ensure they have a childhood.

Think more about how much energy your children invest in what they love and less about what they fail to do.

Think more about each child’s natural aptitudes and less about each child’s deficiencies.

Think less about the future and more about today…this moment.

Think less about expert advice and more about your hunches.

Think more of your children than the Famous People who Write about Them.

Think less about disciplinary tactics and more about “live and let live.”

Think less of yourself (your power to impact who your children become) and more about the innate power of genetics, culture, language, and nationality.

Allow yourself to be in awe; disallow anxiety.

Think more about what you can control (your own character and maturity) and less about what you can’t (your children’s).

Think more of your child’s responsibility to grow up to be who he or she is, and less of your ability to make some imagined outcome happen.

Think only of your responsibility to provide possibilities and opportunities, and less of your obligation to guarantee outcomes (to anyone—the state, your spouse, your extended family, yourself).

Let yourself off the hook—you are limited. Celebrate your limits.

Let your kids off the hook—they are limited. Enjoy their limits.

Think about all the signs of maturity, character, intelligence, and heart you do see; think less about the recklessness, slip-shod work ethic, bickering, and lack of academic progress that reminds you they are still minors.

Think more of yourself than you usually do. You are enough, you have the right kids, you know what it means to love and educate them. You do it every day.

Think less of the revered friends and experts. They are not you. They do what they do. They don’t have your kids. They can’t parent for you. They shouldn’t live in your head.

Think more about developing thinkers (people who engage ideas) and less about getting your kids through an education (people who pass classes).

Think more of home education when you are at home, defending it to yourself, and defend it less to other people.

You do know what you’re doing. The tweaks and changes you make are validations of your vision, not invalidations of past choices. You are growing alongside your children, becoming an educator as you go.

Think more of your journey as a homeschooler, and less about what your kids are learning.

If you value your growth, you’ll learn to value your kids’ growth.

If you love what you are learning about education and learning, your kids will find some version of that lifestyle for themselves. It’s contagious.

If you are undistracted by the flaws in your system, personality, finances, and home life and think more about how to become intimate with a subject area that fascinates you, your entire life (including homeschool and children) will flourish.

Don’t over think this one. Stay the course, learn, grow, share, TRUST.

You are less important in the total scheme of things than you realize, and you are far more valuable in the moment-to-moment day-by-day than you appreciate.

Both are true.

Don’t over think it.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Peace and progress

Monday, March 24th, 2014

hand print projectPeace: you all get along with each other, the house is humming with happy energy, projects and play are in full flow, there’s enough food in the cabinets, a satisfying mess reassures you that your kids are engaged, not bored and dissatisfied.

Progress: today is a little better than yesterday, you got a little further in the plan, someone understood what was not understood yesterday, someone else applied a new skill, you kept calm when you wanted to yell, one child helped another child when asked.

Peace: you trust your instincts, you listen to the feeling messages your children express and are open to them, you put connection ahead of expectation, you turn away from standards imposed on you, you pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a single goal, you offered help rather than scolding.

Progress: you measure new aspects of education—concentration, effort put forth, attempts, risks, asking for help, trying again after failing, initiative, creativity, originality, problem-solving, attention to detail, making connections between subject areas.

Peace: you remember that you love who your children are today more than your vision of who you hope they will become.

Progress: you note and praise the achievements your children value in themselves—the new soccer skill, the ability to hiccup 60 times in a row, the block tower, the house of cards, beating a sibling in Yu-Gi-Oh cards, sliding down the stairs headfirst like a luge-ist.

We want peace and progress. Let those be the measurements. How might you foster peace, and facilitate progress in your homeschool? How might you measure newly?

soccer challenge

Cross-posted on facebook.

Images by woodleywonderworks

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