Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Math–Brave Writer Style!

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Math Brave Writer Style


I know you’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger this time of year, but I just wanted to jot a quick e-mail to you about math (of all things! ha!) I asked you about math at the Brave Writer conference, and you mentioned that this is a common question. People who love Brave Writer wish, wish, wish someone out there was doing the same thing with math. Well, I haven’t exactly found that person or that program, but I discovered a few things that have rocked our world. I thought you might find it of help as you counsel homeschool moms desperate for help in all areas of their curriculum…

So, the biggest thing is this — The Brave Writer principles apply to math! They do!! Everything you teach us can be directly or indirectly applied to the teaching of math (but you probably already know that??) Partnership math totally changed my 12 year old’s feelings about the subject. Never again will I send him off with a scary page full of problems, a heart full of fear, and that dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach. When he is learning new concepts or wrestling with old ones, I am there cheering him on and helping him think through the process. There are days when he is independent and days when he is not, and I am ok with that.

Also, the principle of taking little bites of the subject has been such an overwhelmingly successful technique. I had a dear therapist tell me, “Don’t require more than 15 minutes of math exercises a day, unless you want your child to hate math!!” This flies in the face of the common practice of lengthy math lessons that generally take an hour or more per day. Like your suggestion of letting kids write on Post-It notes, there is something powerful about knowing you can stop when the timer goes off & even if it’s hard, it won’t last long!!

Most importantly, I learned what you try so hard to teach through Brave Writer — That writing (and math!) cannot be boiled down to an exact science, a list of do’s and don’ts. If I want my children to love any academic pursuit, I’ve learned that they must have an opportunity to embrace it as an art and not just a science. I no longer follow the traditional “march through the textbook” approach to math. I can’t imagine teaching any other subject that way, so I decided to stop doing that with math. In the same way that you recommend copy work as a foundational practice for learning good writing, we still do practice problems multiple times a week. But that is simply the beginning!! Playing around with problem solving (i.e. math Olympiad style problems) has opened a door to creativity in math that I never would have imagined.

This video from Numberphile explains it best. The mathematician says that so many adults claim that they hated math in school, but what they really hated was what he calls “painting the fence.” The boring routine of memorizing and applying algorithms has historically encompassed the vast majority of math instruction and subsequently sucked the joy out of the subject (as does the scientific approach to teaching writing!). To think that math is so much bigger than that completely blows my mind!!

Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for motivating me to rethink what was happening in my approach to math. The retreat in Cincinnati truly was life-changing for me, for all of us. I walked out of there knowing my approach to math instruction was wrecking my kids, but I didn’t leave empty handed! You gave me the tools I needed to write a different ending to our math story, and I’m so grateful for that. I just want other parents to know that Brave Writer is a lifestyle that can revolutionize any aspect of their homeschool. So the next time you get that “Is there such as thing as Brave Math-er?” question, I hope you’ll confidently tell them that almost every philosophy and method you promote in Brave Writer can be applied to teaching math. It’s just that good.


Image by Bart Everson (cc cropped, text added)

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Value experimentation AKA Risk

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Risk in your homeschool




Such tame words compared to their shadows:

Catastrophe, failure, lost.

I went kayaking recently with good friends. The husband of one of my running partners decided to climb a tree (up the small wood planks nailed to the tree as a kind of ladder) with a rope swing in hand so that he could then launch his body over a river (6 foot depth) and create a big splash. This man is 63 years old.

Needless to say, the five of us on the water watching the scene unfold were double checking our insurance cards, the bars on our cell phones, and how to travel back to the dock quickly, if needed.

Jeff jumped and swung his body across the muddy water, and then let go! Splash! In he went. Fine. No injuries. No mistakes. Sheer joy.

The highlight of our trip that day!

All of us marveled at how up tight we were compared with Jeff. He trusted his body. He took a risk the rest of us deemed unwise. No one stopped him, not even his wife. We all benefited.

I think about our kids who risk, experiment, and explore—all while we hand wring and worry. When the choices they make work out, we sigh relieved, and brag to friends. When their choices fail, we double down in our minds thinking, “Never doing that again!”

Risk in your homeschool

So much energy wasted on worry—when all of life is risk. In that same location, next to the muddy river, is a bike trail. One of the kayakers (another running partner) had slipped and fallen on a flat path, firmly attached to the ground, years before while we were out for a run. She fell into a branch on the bike path, bruising her chest, requiring a trip to the ER. We weren’t taking undo risks, yet still saw injury.

Every day I read homeschool discussion that is saturated in worry—the ever-present attempt to control outcomes, as though we can, as though we are able to shape our children into the people we expect them to become.

We ferret out risk. We compare our anxieties to our children’s activities.

What if we flipped the script? What if we gave up our fantasies of failure? What if we fantasized about success through unconventional means? What if we trusted a little more—that this child has an innate curiosity, sense of self, and power to find out what he or she needs to know?

What if our child is an outlier, after all? Someone whose education comes through unconventional means?

I remember the day Noah said to me, “Mom, you raised me in an unconventional way. Now you want me to become a conventional person?”

It was a moment.

Risk in your homeschool

There are days where I have to sit myself down, feet hanging from my knees, and let them swing easily back and forth, remembering that in the scheme of things, I have little control over outcomes.

My best posture is “porch swing.”

I can watch, wait, whistle, and wonder.

There’s my child doing X.

There’s my child, still doing X.

Wow, look at my child doing X!

How amazing it is, all that my child has learned doing X.

The big splash comes after time spent: imagining, practicing, testing, “over-indulging,” risking, experimenting, exploring, and letting go.

You may not feel brave enough to let go of everything, but maybe today or this week you can step back from one place that flips your switch.

Back up.

Get on the porch swing.

Dangle your feet.

And watch.

Image by Wheeler Cowperthwaite (cc cropped, tinted)

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The Three Levels of Learning

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

The Three Levels of Learning

You will see fruit in your homeschooling if you stay the course, which is:

Level one:

Maximum freedom with oodles of space for risk-taking in writing and conversation. Creating safety for self-expression means not worrying about mechanics or grammar or sequence. Create big language messes, and revel in them!

Level two:

Support for growth in sorting it all out, doing a deep dive into the material, adding information to growing understanding. Using the appropriate vocabulary and helping your kids to use it. Discovering how to sequence, how to sort through, how to get thoughts into some kind of intelligible whole. Partnering with your child.

Level three:

Child takes more initiative and control of both drafting and revising processes, revision is more thorough, and the final product shows polish. Feedback is given with respect for authorship, and is considerate while accurate. Parent child team is satisfied with results because the student is both capable of what is being asked, and the parent is conditioned to being an aid/ally rather than a critic or “grade-giver.”

That’s really all there is to it! Keep going!

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography (cc cropped, text added)

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Milkshake Apologies!

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Milkshake apologiesImage by Judge Pera (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

If your year is starting and you’re feeling sheepish—that nagging sense that you and your child are not on the same page—here’s a practice that can help to “reset” the dial between you.

Take your child out for a shake, or a slushie, or something yummy.

Once you are settled, own up to whatever contribution you’ve made to the icky feelings. One mom I spoke with shared how last year she made a list with her daughter of fun things to do in homeschool—and then never did them. She let “school” rob her of her confidence in pursuing things like baking and sewing. Understandably, the daughter’s attitude toward this year’s curricula is hostile.

Maybe you and your kids are at odds over a particular program, practice, or problem in your family. You can’t begin with the fresh feeling of a new school year if there is distance, edge, or irritation between you.

Children can’t put you in “time out,” they can’t take away your technology, they can’t give you a low grade. What they can do is pick at your bad habits, laugh derisively when you make mistakes, or roll their eyes when you express enthusiasm. This is how they hold you accountable—they resist.

Reestablishing connection has to come first—before algebra or study of the ancient Greeks.

Start with your part.

How have you contributed to the alienated feelings between you? Have you ignored your child’s unhappiness? Not followed through on a promise? Shouted or shamed your child into performance?

Maybe you are teaching a curriculum you don’t even like—yet you expect your child to “like” it. Perhaps there’s a level of admission there that needs to happen—”I don’t like this program, yet I’m requiring you to like it. I see the inconsistency in that. I’m sorry.”

Milkshake apologies

Image by Jim Larrison (cc)

Once you share how you see yourself contributing to the negative energy between you, ask your child what else is upsetting. Is there something else you should know?

Create space for them to add to the list of what is not going well. Apologize for that too—even if it feels unfair.

Sip. Take big slurps of your milkshake to help you hold back from being defensive. Listen. Your child can even be flat out wrong—your only task is to leave space for the child to share his or her perspective in that moment.

Next, talk about what will be different this year. Make it concrete, keep it short. Perhaps you are about to switch to one new program. Or maybe you will follow through on the promise to get your child piano lessons (and will do it that day, when you get home).

Go low. Be the one who apologizes first—who creates space for a renewed connection. Make eye contact. Be open.

If your child does the whole, “I don’t know” and “There’s nothing wrong,” that’s okay too. It could be that your child is still figuring out whether or not you will change—will actually do what you are now promising to do. So do it! Start the change cycle.

And see what happens next.

Your tasks? Pay for drinks, apologize, offer to listen, make one or two new plans, follow through.

You can do this!

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I’m so proud of home educators

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Power of story- Jen

From a recent e-newsletter:

We read aloud to our children each day, fulfilling this basic “requirement” that our kids get an education from quality literature often not aware of how deep that education goes just from reading Redwall (again) or The Wind in the Willows. I don’t know if we (as a group) have plumbed the depths of how powerful all that reading is. In fact, I daresay that we mostly have not!

How many of us have associated the pleasure of Trumpet of the Swan with furnishing academic brilliance?

Yet this is precisely what is happening in living rooms strewn with Legos across the country (and globe). Home educators are doing a greater service for their children and the aims of education through the simple practice of immersing themselves in story each day than any other single practice.

You’re providing the education academics DREAM of providing.

Did you know that STORY is the foundation of a quality liberal arts education?

Rudyard Kipling says:

“If history were taught in the form of stories,
it would never be forgotten.”

Story as Education

Narratives, tales, myths, legends, fictions–the ability to see the story
in any subject area is the heart of a sophisticated, multi-faceted education.

Here’s why.

Academics like to talk a lot about the “imagination”–the capacity to imagine oneself into other times and places, cultures and worldviews, value sets and moral dilemmas.

Your child’s academic imagination grows
in direct relation to immersion in story.

Reading aloud, reading fiction, reading poetry, reading biographies, reading non-fiction, reading religious texts: Reading leads to a robust exploration of what it means to be human, sharing a planet.

Story also comes from other sources: film, video games, plays, documentaries, lectures, sermons, artwork, music, and television.

What homeschoolers do better than any other educational tool is plunge their children into the heart of STORY, every day:

moral dilemmas,
enriching cultural detail,
other times, other places, other worlds!

You’re great at it!

As we give our children this gift of STORY from the rocking chair or cuddled on a couch, we create connections in our children’s minds that resurface again and again. Charlotte Mason calls these connections: “The Science of Relations.” In Brave Writer, we call them: “Powerful Associations.”

Modern day stories that make use of ancient mythology are resonant for active readers (Percy Jackson books, Harry Potter, Hunger Games). Historical fiction shows us the world before we arrived and gives us context for our every day experiences (Johnny Tremain, The Master Puppeteer, The Bronze Bow).

Cross-cultural exploration through story shrinks the globe
and creates empathic ties to people who are different from us.

One of my favorite professors (40+ years as a professor, Harvard Ph.D.) said to me last week that what’s missing in too many of today’s in-coming college freshmen is the capacity to imagine richly–with texture, openness, and connection between subjects. Reading and writing in the humanities, in particular, depend on a complex intuitive understanding of the narrative arc:

what creates surprise,
the nature of viewpoint,
power dynamics,
moral right and wrong as they are funneled through lived experiences and confronted by characters/actors through dilemmas,
the underlying mythology of the narrative.

Moral Imagination

One of the core curriculum classes at Xavier University is called “Literature and the Moral Imagination.” The goal of that class is not dissimilar to what you all do every day you read aloud to your children. You are shaping your children’s understanding of morality, intuitively, without lecture. Your kids are forming their values through confronting the moral dilemmas faced by beloved characters!

As I spoke with Professor Dewey, I shared about what we do in Brave Writer. We offer classes that are designed to plunge our children into the juicy soul of STORY.

We not only read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, we ask our students to write them!

We not only enjoy Greek Myths, we explore them for their structure and ask students to produce their own fictional accounts of Gods and Goddesses they create!

Dr. Dewey was thrilled, saying that he wished all schools did this for children.

We’re not just “creative writing” here at Brave Writer.

Our story writing classes offer your students a pathway to
intellectual excellence and moral development.

Hope you’ll take advantage of them!

Just So Stories ClassJust so stories

Every child wonders how our array of extraordinary animals came to be! Why did the rhino get a big horn on his nose? How did the kangaroo wind up with a built-in pouch for babies? Whose idea were those flamboyant feathers in the peacock’s tail?

Rudyard Kipling playfully recounts tales he told his children when they were small about the origins of many animal peculiarities. He makes use of his own literary style to do it (musical language, rhyme, nonsense words, and magical powers). After reading four of these tales together, students in our Just So Stories class get to write their own.

You know what else? One Tuition pays for ALL your kids class! Imagine working with everyone on one writing project for one price! We enroll you, the parent, along with your kids.

By the end of the month, you’ll have conquered a complete writing project for all the writers in your family, and September will barely be over!

Image of child reading by Brave Writer mom Jen

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