Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

Your secret weapon

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

You thought I’d tell you what it is in the first sentence? Oh heaven’s no. You will have to read a bit to find out.

You know how you have kids who don’t want to “do school” or resist a new curriculum or say they hate assignments or projects? You know how you keep telling them that at some point they will just “have to learn to write” or they “can’t write fiction forever” or they “can’t play all day”?

It’s one of those things where you kinda sorta freak out a bit when that resistance really gets going—in the form of fights, tears, refusal to even write one sentence, a willingness to outlast you.

So, are we on the same page?

The tendency is to view yourself in those moments as a teacher who deserves respect and authority by virtue of being the home educator. You think you have the right to expectations because you are in charge. You can’t understand why that sweet little munchkin is becoming such a curmudgeon!

Here’s the thing, though. You’re at home. You’re the mother or father. Your kids know that there is negotiating space. That’s what home is. It’s the one place where “have to’s” have less power. Home is supposed to be a relief from the stress of the outside pressures of life. Enforcing “school” at home feels so contrary to the natural untidiness, lack of schedule-ness that home is supposed to represent in life.

You need to embrace home as a home educator first—really allow yourself to notice and enjoy its properties (you know, like waking up when you want or wearing pj’s until lunch, or cuddling with a blanket on the couch for read aloud time).

For those formats and practices and programs you wish to see flourish in your home, then, you need to embrace them through that lens.

You ready? Here’s your secret weapon:

Stop talking, start doing.

In other words, if you want a child to write in a new form, stop telling your child to write in that form.

Wake up, gather paper and pencil, and after breakfast, without a word (that’s the key here), start writing. Write the kind of thing you are expecting your child to write. You might be writing a thank you note. You might be writing a short essay on paper dolls. You might be copying a quote from a book you love. You might write a non-fiction paragraph about Pocahontas.

Simply start.

Your kids may hover around you saying, “What are you doing? When do we start math? Mom, can I have more orange juice?”

You might respond: “I’m writing about Pocahontas. In fact, I can’t remember: does anyone remember the name of her tribe? Can someone get me the book we were reading?”

Keep writing.

Someone asks, “Mom what am I supposed to do while you are writing?”

You reply, “I don’t know. What do you feel like starting with today? I’m going to work on this. You’re free to help me. Or you can get going with math. But I’m doing this.”

Then do it. Keep going.

You’ll be shocked. Some will join you. And because YOU are doing the assignment, you will discover just how difficult it is, too. You’ll have some raw direct experience of just what it is you are asking your child to do!

At some point in the next few weeks of doing a couple of these, you will see that your kids start to participate. You don’t simply flip over to telling them to take over, but you can say, “If you want to work on your own version of this, I’m happy to help you while I complete mine.”

Be open to collaboration, to multiple children doing one project, to everyone helping you with your project. This is HOME. Not school. Not about grade levels. This is about giving your kids a chance to watch a process before they have to engage in it or learn how to do it. This is your chance to model and lead by silence, rather than lecture and enforcement.

Try it!

Stop talking. Start doing.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Sergey Khakimullin |

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Focus more on the subject and less on the child

Monday, October 27th, 2014

NaaD 34 Ariana blog

I want to let you in on the fruit of a lot of late night reading and middle of the night insomnia. The question pawing at me like a nocturnal kitten: What works in parenting? I’m plum worn out from the sad accounts of kids who are clearly bright, sharp adults who rendered the verdict on their childhoods: thumbs down.

I know that we parents come into the task completely green. Sure, we were parented, but we rarely feel qualified to be parents on that basis alone. We head off to websites and books, retreats and conferences looking for models that will ensure that OUR children will have good lives and grow up to be responsible, cheerful, good people. We want guarantees, because life is fraught with chaos and surprises (both welcome and unwelcome).

We trust experts and friends and religious leaders and therapists and anyone who seems authoritative and successful in their own right. We trust methods untested. We hope we are doing right by our kids.

What I am starting to see, though, is this odd trajectory.

The kids who claim to have had happy childhoods were not their parents’ projects.

Rather, the children who grow to be successful, happy adults are the ones whose projects were absorbing to their parents.

See what I did there?

In other words—if you focus more on the stuff that you and your kids care about (the big wide world of learning—books, birds, boats, Beowulf, beauty, bobcats, Broadway, battles, buoyancy, bodies, baked goods, Barbies, Bilbo—and those are just some of the subjects starting with the letter ‘B’!), you will create a much more bonded relationship with your children and they will learn how to be competent adults, than all the character training you impose, expect, exact, and create through whatever parenting method you choose.

Focusing on how to parent your child is less powerful than joining your child in the shared adventure of living, it turns out.

In the end, what leaves the best impression on your kids is your hearty, enthusiastic participation in the stuff of life—and sharing those experiences with your kids as though they are welcome and a constitutive part of your own experience!

Some of that exploration will be parent led, some of it will be child led, but all of it will be experienced with wide-eyed wonder, a lack of judgment (no more—does Minecraft really count? are Barbies dangerous?), and an investment of real time—time you don’t have—time that could go to other stuff like chores, bedtimes, math pages, and baths.

Our homeschools thrive when learning is what we care about more than parenting. Ironically, being a good parent gets tossed into the bargain, when we do. Punishment, teaching responsibility, lectures about character, holding kids accountable to adult standards of behavior—these don’t seem to produce the results we think they will.

But jumping into the middle of an adventure—reading, playing a video game, building a bonfire, hiking, calculating to produce a quilt, joining a dance company, visiting the zoo every week, playing with words, baking cookies, acting out scenes from Shakespeare—these do more to “parent” your kids than you realize.

Go forth and be interested in life…bring your kids along. They’ll thank you for it when they get older.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Brave Writer mom, Ariana (cc).

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Keeping it real at home

Monday, October 20th, 2014

The Silver Mask

I’m about to make a bold statement.

The source of unhappiness at home is pretense.

Pretending in homeschool looks like this:

  • Defending your homeschool to others when you secretly doubt your effectiveness.
  • Showing off the good parts, while hiding the parts that embarrass you.
  • Continuing to use the textbook even though you know it causes pain, just because you paid for it.
  • Endorsing a philosophy of education you don’t actually use (you say you believe in studying the classics, but never read them; you want to believe unschooling is the best way to educate, but you undermine your child’s self-directed learning when it doesn’t match what you thought it would look like).
  • Ignoring a child’s struggles because you don’t want to have to pay for specialists or tutors.
  • Telling yourself that the schools are really really bad so that you can justify your “very bad, no good” year, instead of facing it.
  • Letting your relationship with your kids whither instead of putting in the effort to hear what’s going on for them and making adjustments.
  • Slavish devotion to a method over caring about real learning.
  • Acting as though you are okay with a practice when you really really are not.
  • Ignoring abuse, conflict, disrespect, or volatility in the home, and assuming that those things don’t impact your homeschool.
  • Refusing to consider all options (including the ones you say you don’t believe in) when what you are doing is clearly not working any more.
  • Being more interested in the politics of homeschool (common core, legislation, rights) than in homeschooling.
  • Tweaking your vocabulary to fit the homeschool community’s approved language rather than being true to your own way of thinking.
  • Hiding your child’s behavior or educational failures from others (kids who are dangerous to themselves or others, kids who refuse to cooperate, kids who act out in embarrassing ways—drinking, sexuality, theft, cyber bullying).
  • Withdrawing from “society” to avoid accountability.

I have often quoted a saying for which I have no attribution (in fact, if you google it, I am the one who comes up as the author of the quote!). Let me post it here:

“You can’t cheat the dark gods.”

The truth will out!

Whatever is going on with you is going on with you. No amount of cover-up or smooth-over will fix the problems you face. Moreover, who you are is an essential part of your homeschool. If you hate the classics (no matter how much you persuade yourself that they are essential to education), you will sabotage your homeschool to avoid reading them.

If you do distrust gaming as a way to learn, you will never be happy when your child is on the computer. You will look for ways to manipulate the system to stop your child from doing the very thing you secretly hate and distrust. Which leads to tension and stress in the relationship—inevitably, absolutely, take that to the bank.

If the context of your family is “walking on eggshells” to keep the volatile member from exploding, the energy for learning will be used up by an attempt to control the out of control member—and then you’ll wonder why homeschool is not peaceful or happy or working.

You are not responsible for the reputation of homeschool.

Let me repeat that.

You, sincere-trying-really-hard homeschooler, are not responsible for how other people see you or homeschooling.

You have one responsibility: to create and hold the space for a peaceful environment in which your family can grow and learn.

That’s it.

There are scads of ways to get there and as many as there are families. It is right and good to tell your public school mom friend that sometimes you worry that the work you’re doing with your kids is not on par with the local schools. If that’s a real fear, it’s absolutely humanizing and truthful to say it out loud. It doesn’t mean you will change course or decide to put your kids on the big yellow bus. It means you are facing the depth of your own anxiety—just like the public school mom who wonders if the second grade teacher is any good this year.

It is right and good to admit that one child’s ADD or behavior problems is impacting the health of the whole family. Once you admit it, you can begin to seek help for everyone. You are not blaming anyone. You are protecting everyone’s well being.

It is right and good to ditch the program that makes YOU unhappy no matter how many people say it is the best thing since frosted cake!

It is right and good to admit that it’s easier to fight for the right to homeschool than to homeschool. Start there.

Be real. Everyone wants to support a person who tells the truth. Everyone hates the person who pretends her way into perfection (right?).

You have a universe of choices—keep them all on the table. Be attentive to the muscles in your body. If you feel yourself tighten, you know something is not right. Find out what it is, say it out loud, do something about it.

Keep it real.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Elliot Bennett (cc cropped)

What to do if you’ve been avoiding writing

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

An email I received:

What do you do if you’ve been avoiding writing for a long long time?

The child in question is 14. He is male.

My reply:

First, congratulations! Thank you for not damaging your writer. It is far better to ignore and avoid writing than to require it and create writer’s block due to applying methods that harm the child’s natural ease of self-expression.

Any child who has simply “not written” can be taught/encouraged to find his or her writing voice no matter how old. The older the child, the more swiftly this process can happen. Why? Because older children (12, 15, 17!) have been speaking fluent English for many more years than their younger siblings. They have read more words than new readers. They’ve handwritten or keyboarded to the point of near fluency (spelling, punctuation, how to make that weird cursive ‘r’, where the question mark is on the laptop). They have thought about ideas and have mastered facts that were unfamiliar to them at ages 6, 8, and 10.

When we turn our attention to writing with a child who is already a teen, we are greeted with a person who is truly ready to write! So if your way of avoiding all that trauma that attends most writing programs was to ignore it—well done! You’ve waited for the key moment to make real progress. I’ll help you with that in a minute.

If you are the parent of a teen who won’t write because the programs you used have created writing paralysis (a block that is bigger than “I don’t know what to write,” but is more like “I hate writing and will never use it therefore I will not do it now or ever, forever more”), you have a slightly different issue but no less solvable.

Here are the two strategies.

1. For the writer you neglected to cultivate: Start from scratch! You can. Start by listening to him, having great conversations, jotting down some of the great stuff he says in words out loud to you. Read back what he says to his dad or siblings or to him later in the day, talking about the content of what he said.

Begin with copywork—song lyrics, humor, his favorite quotes from books. Do it at the same time with him, copying your favorite quotes. Read your quotes to each other. Pick quotes for each other as a surprise. Light a candle or eat brownies or use fountain pens or create an entire passage by snipping the words from magazines and gluing them in order on a page. Make a collage of favorite quotes! Make up your own quotes!

Freewrite—about anything, about everything. We have prompts on our blog, but you can get them anywhere. With teens, you want the topics to be interesting to the teen. Provocative positions are often best: What makes X band better than Y band? If you could change one law, which one would it be and why? If 18 year olds can be asked to fight for our country, does it make sense to say they aren’t old enough to drink alcohol? What’s one part of your education you’d like to take control of and how would you do it?

Get into fan fiction or NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or blogging about gaming or online discussion with kids who have similar hobbies or texting or Facebook or whatever drives a kid to write without thinking about “school.”

Play with words—use them, write big ones on a white board to stump each other, recite Shakespeare or poetry or quotes from Seinfeld.

Then, over the course of a year of this kind of practice, talk about moving into some preparation for college. Look at the Brave Writer online classes or local classes in a co-op or junior college. Move one bit at a time, but first, focus on reading, copying, freewriting, and language play. Like you would at any age.

2. For the damaged writer, the same process applies, but you have to rebuild trust and that happens through this little conversation that you need to have.

“Son, gulp. I’m just realizing that the writing programs we’ve used have been really unhelpful to you in becoming a competent, comfortable writer. I feel awful about it! Can we start over? I promise to pay attention when you say something is boring or isn’t working for you. I want us to start with writing that has meaning for you. Here’s a brownie. Let’s talk.”

Some version of this with more or less apology depending on how much damage is there will work. Brownies or going out for Cokes helps.

The goal with any child or teen is to recognize that the writing voice is already alive and well within. It may be hidden from view or afraid to come out, but some attentiveness to your child’s speaking voice and some humility about how difficult writing is for many kids will lead to breakthroughs. Start where your child is. Kids can go from not writing to college level comp between 16-18.


Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Richair |

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4 essential conditions necessary for a homeschool to thrive!

Monday, October 13th, 2014

If you were unable to see our first Homeschool Alliance webinar last Friday you can watch it now online!

Make Your Fantasy Homeschool a Reality from Julie Bogart on Vimeo.


Please note: the discount code mentioned has now expired.

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It’s a trap!

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Don’t stumble into it! Surely you can see it coming a mile away. As you watch the smudgy shape on the horizon become bigger and more real, you have two choices:

To stand there and let that perfectly coiffed, smart, capable homeschooler with the engaged happy learners and the bright smile dim your shine with the enormous shadow she casts…


…you can step aside, into your own pool of light, and lift your eyes to the sky—its boundless open expanse of reassuring space to grow and evolve and become.

You have that choice every day.

The perennially eager learners are a fantasy—children are like us.

Some days they are engaged and enthusiastic.

Some days they are bored and whiny.

Some days they are content to simply follow the program, too distracted or tired to commit energy to creativity or imagination.

Some days you have so much fun—then you tuck in your darling dear to hear him declare that he never has any fun.

You can’t control how your children respond to your best efforts and conscientiousness.

You can’t manage your children into “model unschoolers.”

You can’t keep up with your best friend or the fantasy homeschooler you think lives in another state, doing it more skillfully and with ease.

What you can do—what you can do right now today—is to be present to the children, home, and life you have. The small moments that accumulate to create the feel and memories of your family are happening all day today.

You can help establish some of the mood of your family simply through paying attention to:

  • a smile directed at you
  • a clutter-free space on a table for lunch or copywork
  • the spontaneous sharing between siblings
  • diligence even if displayed for only 5 minutes at a time
  • humor and little jokes
  • completion of one subject’s demands today (even if all the others fall through the cracks)
  • one line of quality writing in a read aloud
  • picking a flower from the back yard and putting it in a glass of water
  • eating something yummy
  • snuggling a child
  • explaining a concept and seeing the light go on this time!

More goes right than you appreciate.

Keep a record of what goes right today and side-step the visage of model homeschooling. It takes self-will and discipline.

I know for me, I get caught into the snare of comparison when I spend too much time looking at photos of other families. I project my biggest fantasies onto the happy smiles. As my mom says, “Facebook shows us faces, not lives.”

We can’t know the lives behind the images. If the stories we make up in our heads make us feel worse about our own lives, we are literally stepping into the trap and are immediately whipped upside down, hanging by a snared foot, from a tree branch.

Instead, get off the well-trimmed path.

Make your own way through the forest and notice what you notice. It’s quite possible that if you move away from examining what other people do, and pay more attention to the amazing tenacity of effort you give to your family, you will discover much to be proud of.

I dare you!

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Yuyuyi |

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You are the right person for the job

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Rainy Day Inspiration :: You Must Believe In Yourself!

 A mom wrote:

We never feel like we are doing enough, yet at the end of each day, we are exhausted from doing too much.

Do you know that feeling?

That is a crazy-making feeling right there. We are perennially worried that we are not accomplishing enough toward our children’s educations, yet each day is overpowering in its demands on our emotions, time, and mental energy.

This is where you have to rally on behalf of your self.

If you are exhausted and spent, it is because you have used an extraordinary amount of energy toward managing your home and your children with an intention to educate all day!

You can’t do more than that!

Can you channel your energies toward more productive uses? Perhaps. Some days, for sure. Some days, NO WAY.

Trust that…

that output is working secretly, invisibly, on behalf of your children.

your worry is evidence of your profound love and devotion to your children.

your neuroses will drive you to bettering your homeschool little by little, year by year, and that will be enough.

one day, you will be at the end, you will know that it is right to be finished, and it will be time to do something else.

For now, lean into home education and trust yourself. You are the right person for the job. Your kids are lucky that you are their mother. You bring unique gifts to them. Identify them. Celebrate them. Stop looking at your deficiencies. Blaze a different path—the one that is right for your family.

Your homeschool should look like you and your family…and no one else’s.


Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Jennifer (cc)

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Pay day!

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Go Doughboy

Whenever I share about a great moment in one of my kids’ lives, my friend says, “Pay day!” We were homeschoolers together for years. She has 8 kids, I have 5. We have had our share of challenges and doubts, like any parent. Home education is unique in how it puts pressure on us, though. We feel every set back more deeply—after all, no one blames the “school system” when our kids are behind.

We home educators have a hard time not blaming ourselves. When our kids struggle, we assume that it is up to us to figure it out and handle any challenge. We worry—can’t remember that some years are years of struggle for a child who, with a little time and maturity, will figure it out just fine (whatever “it” is)!

Home education doesn’t always show the fruit we want to see in a single year or handful of years. Some kids who say they don’t like home education discover as adults that, in fact, they appreciate having been homeschooled.

Not only that, we don’t get paid. Not in money. Not in credible experience for a resume. Not in vacation days or bonuses. We provide this service to our families out of sheer conviction that this form of education—this method—has a shot at providing our children with a preferred environment for learning and family bonding.

Chutzpah out the wazoo!

So, on those days when a child suddenly surprises you with an achievement or a good report out in the world, THAT’S when we get paid.

Your child tests well on the Iowas? Pay day!

Your child gets into college? Pay day!

Your daughter is chosen to be the lead in a play? Pay day!

Your son builds his own computer from scratch? Pay day!

Your mother finally reports that she is amazed by your 10 year old’s vocabulary? Pay day!

The library selects your child’s poem to display on their wall? Pay day!

Your son’s soccer coach selects him to be team captain because of his maturity? Pay day!

The child who would not learn times tables with the math book suddenly knows how to calculate percentages because of online gaming? Pay day!

You’ve worked for three years to help your poor child to read, who has begged to read every day since she turned 5, and is now going on 9 and finally read her first book aloud to you? PAY DAY!!!!

Your adult child tells you that his scholarship interview went well in part because he shared about poetry teatimes? Pay day!

Your adult daughter uses your methods for appreciating art in a museum with under privileged kids as a social worker? Pay day!

Your kids know how to study when they get to college because they know how to teach themselves anything? Pay day!

Your children are bonded to each other and look out for each as adults because they are close? Pay day!

There are dozens of pay days happening all the time. What are yours? How can we help each other to call them out when we see them?

You do get paid. Pay attention. Then, take it to the bank—your emotional bank—and make a big deposit.

You’re doing it!

Well done.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Bradley P. Johnson (cc)

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What if you ditched the pen and paper?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

NaaD 39 Cheryl blog

The temptation when faced with learning challenges is to set up a system to address the problems—a structure that will take the issues seriously and will create benchmarks for measurable progress. This kind of approach feels quite “teacherly” and valid. We (worried parents) trust a system that is incrementally organized with practices that we can use that promise us good results. We cling to it, sometimes, and follow it to the letter.

What happens, though, when a child balks? Your son or daughter won’t do the practices, hates them, cries or whines that the work is boring or too difficult?

Tension escalates and the relationship between you and your child is at risk.

Certainly professional help for kids with diagnosed learning disorders can be quite useful to language-impaired kids. Some materials built from these methodologies may target issues that you didn’t even realize were constitutive to the disorder or challenge your child faces. Naturally, incorporating these tactics and practices is loving and right!

Still, I want to caution you here. The temptation to get very serious about problems and to follow the protocols to the letter is powerful for parents. We want to believe that if we “do it right,” our child will overcome their disorders or learn to cope with their challenges. Once we “get serious,” the space for risk-taking, joy, play, and imagination sometimes go right out the window! We tend to “clamp down” rather than to loosen up!

The most effective way to make progress with struggling learners is to enhance the parent-child bond, not just turn to systems and structure. With trust and affection between you, any process you use can contribute to growth.

That nurturing bond is created between parents and children when the parent understands the child’s need for a couple of things:

Play. Children need to know that you value play, humor, happiness, freedom to explore, jokes, kinesthetic activity.

Breaks. Kids will try almost anything, but they need to know that if it is too stressful, they get to quit, take a break, move away from the process or activity.

Create playful ways to address the issues that are not systematic at all! Perhaps for handwriting, you will use paintbrushes and buckets of water to write messages on the driveway.

What if your child stood behind you, put his arms through to the front as though he is your hands, and you had him open a jar of pickles or try writing your name from that blind position? What if you get him in touch with his body and hands and uses for hands in new ways?

Can he trace words? Can he trace them better if the two of you hold the same pencil and you move gracefully together over the letters—first you controlling his hand, and then he controls your hand?

We are so quick to think all learning happens on paper, with pen, following a set of assignments.

See if you can get outside of this frame of reference—play, take breaks, build trust.

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Brave Writer mom, Cheryl (cc).

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Use writing in your lives

Monday, September 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play with refrigerator magnets.

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Lefrenchbazaar |

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