Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

The Sweet Spot

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Balance blog

In the Homeschool Alliance this month, we’re talking about “planning.” How do you make a plan for your kids that takes into account their creativity, imaginations, interests, and quirky personalities, all while hitting academic objectives?

The traditional model of school is tempting and many of us attempt to bring it home (calendars, time slots, lesson planners). The toddlers are less amenable to the schedule and often times the flu or carpet cleaning or pregnancy messes with the schedule anyway!

The flip side is our wish to see learning flourish without our heavy-handed directing—children learning in a pool of light by the window. An “unschooling” vision of learning—as if by magic!

Somewhere between these two approaches to home education is the “sweet spot.” Most parents prefer some evidence they can measure that learning is happening and most kids prefer to pursue their interests (any interests) without interference.

The goal, then, is a homeschool routine—practices that repeat, that highlight or feature particular subject areas, that allow for incremental progress in specific skill sets (like math and reading), and a daily rhythm that everyone comes to know as “daily life together.”

Within the routine is space for flights of fancy, charging down a path to a new insight or experiment, becoming absorbed in a particular line of inquiry for an indefinite amount of time, trips to the zoo and art museum, and time to do nothing but play!

The “Sweet Spot” in homeschool is to toggle between flexibility and structure—but holding both loosely—not gripping either one too tightly as though they will save you from educational shipwreck. Some seasons call for more structure (even outside classes!) and other seasons call for more freedom to explore, unwind, recover, or deeply dive.

You don’t have to balance these two poles perfectly each day or even each week. Being aware of the possibilities that each one offers is enough—and then adjusting your expectations and choices accordingly.

Image by dierk schaefer (cc cropped, text added for pinterest)

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Your house is like theirs—imperfect!

Monday, June 29th, 2015

You can't ensure your life will turn out how you plan

If there were one message I could send back to my younger self it would be this one:

You can’t ensure your life will turn out how you plan.

Every time I talk to a parent on the phone, every home I visit, I discover a recurring theme. Parents assume that they are not hitting a mark other parents are hitting. They believe that the struggles they have are being avoided successfully by other parents.

Yet every day, we hear evidence that that is, in fact, not true! The families most stringently attached to a specific model of loving and learning often fall the furthest, which then shocks us!

As my aunt (ethics professor) says, “Idealists are shocked a lot in life.”

No system saves you, no methodology protects you.

We are most sane and satisfied when we pay attention to the details of our current daily lives—not projecting ahead anxiously, not looking backward with regret.

What I mean is this: be more interested in the evidence presenting itself to you right before your eyes than in the strategy you believe will create the life you want. If your child is cranky and bored, wondering why the methods you trusted aren’t creating a happy creative child is not where to start. Blaming the child for not cooperating with the system you trusted is not useful.

Start with the child—what relieves and helps this child in this moment today? Open the possibilities wide—wider than the system or method or strategy that you expected to deliver “boredom free children.”

Avoid shame and blame.

Refuse self-recrimination.

Get with reality. Attend to today.

Pay attention to the people around you and consult them. Let them teach you what they need. Be open to being wrong and learning a new way—this one specific way for this one specific person in this one specific moment.

Be true to who you are, too! When you are relaxed and comfortable in your own skin and home, you are more able to trust that your family and life will teach you how to live together.

When tragedy strikes—that horrible thing that you didn’t count on—know that this isn’t the final sentence in your story. Your family may not have the happily ever after you counted on—it may instead develop resilience, depth, and perspective…and heart! (Psst: every family has tragedy they didn’t count on.)

You’ll be a comfort to others (aka: everyone) who go through the rapids and need a vision of what it means to hold on and survive.

The easiest way forward in your thirties is to attach to a system to help you navigate life (a kind of “life vision insurance plan”). The first thing you discard in your forties is the system that failed you!

So if you want a little tip to help you now—trust YOURSELF. You know more than you give yourself credit for… and what you know and are open to learn is more than enough to have a life that creates good in the world, and meaningful memories for all of you.

Image by woodleywonderworks (cc cropped, text added for social media)

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“They fight me on everything”

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

How do you know that your kids are having a satisfying homeschool experience? Listen to this brief message on creating your own Fantasy Homeschool. It’s an excerpt from a talk given at the 2014 Brave Writer Retreat.

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Do the math!

Monday, June 15th, 2015

How to plan for the upcoming school year and keep your sanity

As your “I’m so done with this year; so now I’ll think about next year” brain kicks in, let’s help it to plan in a sane way! The temptation is major overhaul and doubling down on the subjects that got short shrift this year.

Writing is often in that category. You look back at the scraps of freewriting and the incomplete report that your daughter wrote, but never copied over and you resolve to not let THAT happen again.

So you begin. You plan to have each child complete a single project per month, the way I tell you to. Or so you think.

Brave Writer DOES recommend that you only complete a single writing project per month. We know that it’s important not to rush through the writing process, to allow time for research and revision. This once-a-month scheme sounds sane compared to curricula that suggest writing an essay every week, or a paragraph a day including drafting and revision!

However, what if you have five kids (like I did)? What if all five are capable of writing?

Let’s do the math. There are ten months in a school year. Five kids. Each doing one writing project per month. Even I can make that calculation: 50 writing projects, in a single school year.


Do you think I supervised successfully 50 writing projects in a year? Do you think any home educator is supporting the production of 50 completed writing projects at five different levels in a single school year?

I’m here to tell you: we are not. I talk to home educators all the time. What leaks out in their moments of desperate confession is that they fear they are not doing enough writing. Some are not doing any writing, because of the paralysis that results from staring at a curriculum that requires even MORE writing than ten projects per child in a year.

So here’s my rule of thumb.

You want each of your kids to experience your hand-holding, super kind, invested involvement in one or two big writing projects per year

  • where they have a start (original draft, freewrite, list, notes, dictated narration to you),
  • a middle (rereading, adding new stuff, research, taking out stuff that doesn’t fit),
  • and an end (editing the grammar, spelling, and punctuation, typing it up, reading it to interested readers),
  • all accompanied by your availability and caring.

The rest of the time, attempt lots and lots of writing projects or pursue lots and lots of writing opportunities. It’s totally fine to, for instance, start any writing project in our materials and NEVER finish it! Maybe the meat of the project was simply attempting, or collecting, or getting an initial draft, or working through the research but never writing. Maybe the fantasy of the project was enough—talking about what it could be, or what your child wished he or she could do. Kids are developing—they are not complete themselves. Sometimes you have to have lots of fantasies about what you might be able to do some day before you get the cajones and courage to try!

Maybe you decide to do a group writing project where one kid does the artwork and another does the writing and a third edits it and lays it out on the computer. That counts! For everyone!

Freewriting weekly is a great practice and never requires revision, unless you and the child want to.

Reading books, playing with words, watching TV, language games, poetry tea times, listening to books on CD, memorizing song lyrics, telling jokes, leaving Post-it Notes with love messages on the doors of bedrooms, having Big Juicy Conversations, going to the movies…

This ALL counts as writing program.

You can certainly work through a writing project or two from start to finish with your kids this year (with each one)—and it will be enough if you actually do it and trust that it IS enough. Too often in our defeat, we give up completely or do a half job and then entertain ourselves with guilt.

Give up the guilt. Plan to get through the process with your kids 1-2 times a year (more is a wonderful bonus—and I promise, as you get better at supporting the complete writing process, it will be easier to do and more enticing). Not only that, as your kids understand the writing process, they will need you less!

So let’s get realistic about the coming year.

Lots of writing and reading and word play and conversations.

Some fantasizing, starting and stopping, trying and abandoning of writing projects.

A few start-to-finish supported writing project completions.


You got this.

Image by Anssi Koskinen (cc cropped)

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Take Learning Rests

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Take Learning Rests

Sometimes in our efforts to instruct our kids, we push, push, push them to complete books, to go to the next level as soon as the previous one is mastered, to move from easy-readers to chapter books as soon as the child is comfortably reading the easy-to-read book. Sometimes we cram a lot in a day just because the morning felt productive and we think we need to “capitalize” on all this good learning energy before it dissipates.

Other times, we push for different reasons. The end of the year is nigh and we worry we didn’t do “enough” of whatever subject. We see a child struggling with times tables or spelling and we worry that that child hasn’t gone up a grade level so we double our efforts to make that child work harder, to compensate for our worry that the child isn’t making the kind of progress we expected.

Some kids quit working on a difficult-for-them skill—they refuse, won’t budge, complain. We turn the screw and require them to keep trying—to reassure ourselves that the child isn’t going to give up on this subject forever.

Deep breath. You have time for all of it—and you will have more success if you simply let go once in a while.

Skills sometimes magically solidify when you let time go by. Truly. A child who is breaking down in tears over handwriting or reading is not learning. A month or two off strangely allows what was taught to simmer quietly (invisibly). When you return, maturity and rest often lead to a breakthrough (or at minimum, renewed energy to try again).

Rest also looks like time off of everything—not just the difficult subject. Some days deserve to be “wasted”—days where climbing a tree or running around with the dog or watching television are considered “on task.” Concentration is not only given during an individual task. Concentration for the routine of homeschool is a months long commitment of mind and attention. It’s one reason I did enjoy taking summers off with my kids. It felt good to let go of the schedule and to wake up any old time each day with nothing on the agenda but swimming at the YMCA and taking walks and baking cookies and sharing the home space with no particular direction from me.

By August, we were always ready for the return of the routine because by then, we had exhausted the aimless freedom of summer.

Learning rests allow you and your kids to grow, to rest, to mature, and to flourish. It is absolutely on task to take them. You can even say to a struggling child, “Thanks for that painful effort you just put in. I think we all deserve a rest. Let’s put this subject aside for X amount of time and allow your very smart brain to make connections for you while we eat popsicles and run through the sprinklers.”

It’s a great model for kids, too, to learn to pay attention to their need for breaks and a rest. In fact, most adults need to learn how to let themselves off the hook more often—to allow the mind to go fallow, to stop performing, to pause the endless drive to improve self.

Take your shoes off and sip some lemonade. And grow without doing anything.

Image by Leah-Anne Thompson/Fotolia

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Learning through living

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Learning through Living: How to Deschool

First a definition: deschooling is as much for you as it is for your kids. Deschooling is deliberately moving away from schoolish practices—the trappings of school. This means choosing to not grade, or sit upright in a chair while learning. It means not measuring output and finishing the workbook according to a schedule.

Deschooling is letting go of the memory of school and allowing in its place a new birth of learning through living.

Deschooling is scary for parents and it can be scary for kids who have been pulled from the school system. It can feel like you are giving up the security of knowing that education is “happening” even if “learning” may or may not be.

When I hear from parents that some of the Brave Writer strategies we love best aren’t working for them, I wonder if it is because the kids need a serious deschooling period.

For instance, if your child resists freewriting, it is most often because that child is so used to having his or her writing evaluated by you (or someone else), that little kid doesn’t really believe you when you say mistakes are allowed. It may also be that the child has so internalized a need to get it all down correctly in the first draft (to avoid the painful revision process), no matter what you say that child is living with his or her own schoolish perspective and can’t let it go.

Some parents report that their kids hate it when they jot down their ideas, stories, and thoughts for them. In many cases, this is because the child feels tricked (“she’s getting me to write and I said I will never write”). This child doesn’t want spontaneous speech to show up the next day as a paper to revise and edit.

Deschooling, then, is upsetting the schoolish expectations all of you bring to your homeschool. It’s the choice to make your home education about HOME more than school.

The rule of thumb is this:

STOP all activities that anyone in the family would consider school. One way to evaluate an activity: would you do it on the weekend or in the summer or in the evening? If you would do it in any of those times, most likely that activity is not schoolish.

If you wouldn’t do it in those off hours, then you are probably trying to “sneak in school” and pretend it is for fun.

Since writing is my gig, let’s look at how to deschool writing.

First, stay away from writing for a bit (days, weeks, months, a year; depending on the level of resistance and damage)—have big juicy conversations, read aloud, enjoy poetry teatimes with yummy snacks that the kids help you bake, go to movies, visit the zoo, play board games and cards.

Instead of writing, try drawing to music for five minutes. Eliminate words completely—only free drawing of shapes, swirls, or items—but free to be whatever it is. Use multi-colored pens, lots of different kinds of music, all different sizes, colors, and shapes of paper. See what happens when you create a variety of intersections all freely, everyone together including parents. Do it on a Saturday morning! While eating donuts!

Finger paint, write on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, leave sticky notes on bedroom doors to discover in the morning—give clues to read and solve to find a treat somewhere at the end of the treasure hunt trail.

Let your kids write on the windows with window markers. Keep several mounted-to-the-wall white boards. Leave knock knock jokes, clever quotes, hard to define words on it randomly, without comment.

Clip words from a magazine (yourself) and assemble them into a love note, glue them to a page, and give one to each family member. Make it a secret the first time. The second time, do it in front of your kids, not even inviting them to help. If they ask to help, be nonchalant and hand over scissors and a magazine without comment.

No need to jot down a child’s words as that child says them (if you have a kid who hates this practice). But you can write the words to the best of your memory after that child walks away. You might do that a few times over the course of the next weeks without even telling your son or daughter that you are doing this. Keep it a secret. Then one day, read one of your favorites back in front of the other parent (if there is one) or an interested listener and the child, and talk about how much you enjoyed that story or fact or whatever.

The goal isn’t to capture the thoughts and show the child that it is writing, but rather for your child to discover that you loved what that child said so much, you were excited to read it again and share it with an interested audience.

Freewriting can wait. When you finally try it out, be sure that you create the same kind of ease. Do it by candlelight at night, or outside on the trampoline, or sitting under a table. Go to a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. Freewrite at the beach (if you are lucky enough to have one!) or in the forest. Use gel pens and black paper.

No more kitchen table torture.

Deschool. Paste this to your forehead: You are at HOME. Live like it. That’s deschooling.

P.S. I wanted to add a little caveat: Sometimes people think of deschooling as “doing nothing”—like, we just ignore our kids or leave them totally alone, hands off. I want to encourage you to simply be a good parent on vacation—that level of involvement is perfect—thinking of stuff to do that fills the time, is entertaining, and low-stress. That’s the feel of what you want deschooling to be. Not neglect or control—ease and connection, plans for fun and new.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Krista

Shared on the Thoughful Spot Weekly Blog Hop

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The nature of living

Monday, June 1st, 2015

The nature of living

Just when you think you’ve figured it out and life is smooth-sailing, some meteor of dangerous size will shipwreck your living room happiness. Illness, hormones, developmental delay, betrayal, changed state laws, secret revealed, learning disability diagnosis, sibling conflict…

Your cherished peace comes to an end and the new challenge sets up camp at the kitchen table. What do you do? The usual response to change (and challenge) is to assume something is terribly wrong and we have to get back to “nothing bad happening in my life” as quickly as possible. I know I usually resist the intrusion pretty strenuously when it first makes an appearance.

But this is the nature of life. No peace is lasting. Challenge and intrusion are the nature of living—witness weather, earthquakes, changing seasons and tides, insect invasions, drought, crime, and floods.

The good news is that when intrusion is here, we can also know that change is right behind that. Peace can and will (and often does) return, once we are able to meet the demands of the new season. We can lean into the challenge and affirm our own coping abilities.

  • My child will spell correctly eventually. We will figure it out, or time will magically heal this limit.
  • My sickness will be treated—or we will find a way to cope with my unending new condition.
  • I will understand the meaning of this emotional pain, and will find a way to change the conditions that make it persist.
  • I can take charge of my life and not let someone else capsize my wellbeing.
  • My children can learn to treat each other with respect, and will, when I know what to do to help support them.
  • These hormones are raging now, but they won’t forever.
  • Math is hard this year. It may not be next year.
  • It’s difficult to concentrate in spring. It’s easier in the fall. I can save this subject, lesson, project for fall.
  • My goal is well rounded, competent adult citizens, not perfectly behaved children. We will get there one year at a time.
  • Experts can help me. I will get their support.

As you think about the current challenges in your life, take a long view. Remember that the current pain will yield to a new season of resources, support, growth, or change.

When you find yourself in a happy, easy space—relish it! Don’t sabotage it by injecting challenge thinking that “hard” is the only way to grow and learn. Ease and happiness are enormously beneficial to growth and learning. That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working. Lean into it, because before you know it, challenge will find you again and you want to be topped up for it when it comes.

Image by Kiran Valipa / Unsplash (cropped, text added)

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What about regulations and requirements?

Monday, May 25th, 2015

What about regulations and requirements?Image by Brandy (an entry in our Where Brave Writers Write Giveaway!)

In response to our popular post, The Best Curriculum for a 6 Year Old, a homeschooling parent asked what to do if one’s state has strict regulations and requirements. For instance, needing 180 days (totaling 900 hours) and covering multiple subjects: arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, geography, United States history, science, health education, music, visual arts, physical education.

So, first, let’s talk about the 900 hours thing. Think back to school. How many of those hours were chipped away by taking attendance, standing in line, school assemblies, time spent waiting for everyone to get out a piece of paper and pencil? How many times did an instructor have to quiet a classroom or gin up the enthusiasm that was absent? How many times does a student sit there already comprehending the information waiting for the one or two students in the class to catch up?

When you home educate, the hours cannot be counted. You must focus on objectives. You get credit for the hours if you are achieving the objectives. It will not take as much time to teach one-on-one as it does in a classroom, so already you can figure that you will do half as much (hours-wise) but equally as much in terms of content.

Arithmetic: For grades 1-6 it is rudimentary. If you want to support that growth with a textbook, feel free. Enhance it, though, with practical application (Family Math, Living Math, Why I Hate Math, Murderous Maths) and baking, sewing, building, constructing, guessing, estimating, and more.

Reading: Go to the library every week and read read read every day. Add poetry teatimes. If you need to teach a child how to read, get a program and do it but stay tuned into your child’s skill level and joy. We do offer one (some people like The Wand as it is immersive and interactive).

Spelling: copywork and dictation will do it for your child. Promise.

Writing: Jot It Down! is our program to help you do that well for a 6 year old and stay true to their skill set at that level. Ignore the school methods and you’ll be okay.

English language: talk to your kids naturally, with your full vocabulary. Watch movies and television. Read aloud. Play word games. Be fascinated by words—look them up, rhyme them, find their opposites, turn nouns into verbs and verbs into adjectives. Count it all.

Geography: If you follow any historical fiction homeschool plan, you will naturally cover this. We used to make foods from around the world—picking a country, learning about it, drawing its flag, then making its food in a big party! The globe was a daily thing for us—spinning it, learning country names.

US History: Read historical fiction, watch Ben and Me and any other US history animated films, memorize the pledge and a few songs, pay attention to patriotic holidays, create a little timeline (but not for 6 year olds—they don’t get time yet).

Science: Explore what interests your child. Go to the non-fiction section of your library and check out books that are interesting—tornadoes, hurricanes, the Herring Gull, How the Human Body Works, plants, kitchen chemistry experiments, planets and stars, weather, birds, animals… Science is so easy to do at home. Just do it! Don’t over think it. Exposure to the natural world and our bodies goes a long long way.

Health: Teach them to brush their teeth, talk about ingredients in foods they eat, get exercise, teach them kitchen safety, show them how to build a fire safely, help them clean bathrooms.

Music: Learn an instrument, play music, sing.

P.E.: Easy! Get outside every day. Sign up for a sport. Play in the backyard.

And so on. Literally you can do most of this without books at age 6 and cover the goals of the school system. If they need to see a “work sample” in writing (we needed this in CA), I dedicated one day a month to “work sample day.” I would print out 6-8 pages of stuff to fulfill the requirement and then we would eat yummy foods and I’d help them fill them out. Then we went back to our true education. It’s what we had to do to stay in good with the system, but also true to our real objectives. You can do this! Promise. They aren’t sitting in your house. You know if your kids are learning.

Think of it this way: 900 hours of anything sounds absurd, really, and I am certain that that is not the true quantity that is being achieved for any school child. Heck, teachers get sick and have substitutes showing videos to classes for days! This is all imaginary. Declare your intention to homeschool, be conscientious, and feel good about what you do.

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Your happiness is the key factor in your homeschool

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Your happiness is the key factor in your homeschool

Yes, you read that right. Not your children’s happiness, but yours. It is critical that you are happy in your life. You can’t fake it, hide it, pretend it into existence either. Happiness (joy, contentment) comes from within and is an involuntary experience. People will tell you to drum it up, to choose joy in spite of pain, to focus on your faith or hope or good fortune when you are disheartened to lift you up. Gratitude practices are often listed as necessary for a happy life.

The truth is, however, that we sometimes use gratitude or “joy” as a denial of reality—of what is actually happening in our worlds. When you are in pain or are feeling a chronic sense of joylessness, no list of blessings will overcome the truth of your emotional state. It is important to face it squarely and to find out what the source is (if you are not yet able to see or admit it).

Your happiness is critical to your homeschool because you set the emotional tone for the home. The stay-at-home parent is the sun, rain, wind, and snowfall. You rise in the morning and create the weather conditions of the day. Certainly a child can whip through the house like a tornado, or on a moody morning another child may cheer you up with a bright sunny smile and spontaneous cuddle.

But on the whole, your disposition sets the tone for everyone else’s experience. You can’t fake it.

This is why I recommend that you have a source of well being that is quite apart from whether or not you feel good about your home education choice (or choices). It matters that you are doing work of some sort that gives you purpose, a goal you can accomplish quite apart from your spouse or children, an outlet that puts you in touch with your best self.

If your happiness is contingent on how well your children approve of your day’s lesson, or the outing you planned, or the poetry teatime you took the trouble to set up, you are likely at some point to become resentful when they don’t supply you with accolades or approval.

If you can come from a lived-happiness that inhabits you, when the teatime fails or the children are cranky, you’ll know to where you can turn to remember that you are indeed a lovely, whole, competent person apart from their cranky evaluations.

In some cases, the blues are profound because of a relationship that is traumatizing you in a daily way. Could be a spouse, aging parent, child, teen. It is critical to admit this and to seek professional help if this is the case. No one person in the family constellation should have so much space that they wreck the experience of living at home—the place that should be the sanest, safest, emotionally sustaining space of anyone’s life.

Ask yourself today: Am I happy?

Then ask yourself what you can do to move in that direction one step at a time. This question and its resolution may be more important than any curriculum decision you make for next year. Don’t put it off, be honest, and get support. Happiness is real, matters, and you deserve it. So do your kids.

Smile quote

Image by Omarukai (cc cropped, text added)

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Don’t hate on TV—here’s why!

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

The following clip is from the “Brave Writer Lifestyle” talk given during our 2014 retreat. See why watching television is an important part of creating a language rich environment in your home.

Learn more about the Brave Writer Lifestyle!

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