Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

The Love of Learning

The Love of Learning

I’m a picky eater, even today. But at 12? Really picky. My friend Pam’s mother was a charter member of the “clean platers” club. Mrs. Citron expected me to eat all the meat loaf and mashed potatoes and limp wet dull metal green beans on my plate. I choked these down with glasses of milk despite the fact that my own family was vegetarian. Mrs. Citron’s friendly glare required it of me.

Then she brought out the dessert. Nuclear waste green pudding. I didn’t even like chocolate pudding. The texture, taste. This swirl of unnatural green in the parfait dish sat in front of me and I knew I would be required to eat it.

I weakly fought back: I was too full. This mother countered that “No one is ever too full for dessert.” I asked for more milk thinking I could drown each bite. She retorted that if I was too full for pistachio pudding, milk would make me fuller, therefore no milk for the dessert.

No escape—the family of four had already licked their spoons empty and my pudding sat uneaten, swirled to inviting perfection.

At this point, Mrs. Citron excused the family, but not me, from the table. They didn’t leave. They all sat staring at me and my uneaten pudding wondering what would happen next.

She got out of her chair, walked to my side of the table, and stood behind me. She put her hands on my shoulders and began to knead them, Delores Umbridge style.

Her declaration: “Pudding is delicious. You’re going to love it. Take a bite.”

I’ve always been a good girl. I want to do what’s expected. But my stomach was a rebel. It lurched. I took one small slippery, putrid bite and thought: I will puke the meatloaf. I choked back the gag reflex.

“Good girl,” she shoulder rubbed. “Now you’re doing it!”

Despite my poor math skills, I quickly calculated that there were likely to be 15-20 bites of pudding ahead of me. Tears flooded my eyes instantly. I was trapped and embarrassed. Everyone was watching.

I took the next bite and the next one, willing myself to not throw up, wishing my sentence would end, hating everyone at the table, and especially hating pudding makers for ruining my sleep over.

As I got near the bottom of the dish, Mrs. Citron’s incessant shoulder rubbing and constant coaxing, “There you go! One more delicious bite honey!” ramped up.

“Wasn’t that yummy? Aren’t you glad you enjoyed your dessert?”

I had no words left—just teeth coated with a green memory.

I ran to the bathroom and burst into tears. I drank water straight from the tap. I rested on the toilet seat. I wished I could magically transport myself out of this hell hole called a family home.

No amount of sugar, sugary sentiment, pretty dishes, colorful pudding, reassuring comments, or gentle shoulder massage could ever EVER coax me to love pistachio pudding. EVER! I promised myself.

I’ve made good on that promise.

Now swap multiplication for pudding.


The Secret to a Happy Homeschool Is…

The Misunderstood “Child-Led Learning” Model

Stealth Attack Learning

The Homeschool Hand Grenade

The Homeschool Hand Grenade

You’ve got homeschool humming along. Pencils flying, kids laughing, toddlers misbehaving manageably, babies napping just long enough.

You look about your petite kingdom and for a moment, allow yourself pleasure—happiness. It’s this rush of well being that says, “I love my life! I love these kids, this work, that mess made by the 2 year old…” You sigh contentedly.

For two minutes.

Or two hours.

On rare occasion, two days.

And then: a triggering event dashes the momentary zen-filled peace.

Your friend raves about a new homeschool product.

Your mother asks why Sydney (age 7) isn’t reading yet.

Or worst of all, you simply feel uncomfortable sitting in that seat of happiness. It’s this comfy bean bag chair by a sunny window and you worry if you fall into it for too long, to sleep you’ll go—off duty, off the watch for the ever present danger threatening to ruin your children (what catastrophe would you wake to!?).

“Happiness is untrustworthy,” the restless mind whispers. Happiness is a sign that someone is not working hard, that something worthwhile is not occurring, that play has taken over where work should be.

Right as mastery is growing, contentment is blooming, the routine is taking root, what do we conscientious mothers do?

We toss a homemade hand grenade into the living room of happy homeschooling.

  • We buy a brand new text or work book that is unfamiliar and a change in the comfortable routine because the one being used is “too easy.”
  • We shift focus because the we’re worried that we aren’t being rigorous enough.
  • We require longer, more, and better results because ease means the child isn’t working at top capacity.
  • We decide that even though homeschool is going well, household chores are a nightmare and so create brand new pressures for everyone—ensuring that somewhere, someone is doing work that causes a little pain (learning IS suffering, isn’t it?).

This homemade hand grenade is designed to detonate with one purpose: to ensure that home education is challenging because we believe that true learning is associated with difficulty and hard work.

So right as you and your kids find your stride, right as your children show they love doing pages of fractions or happily write reams of silly stories about kittens or have watched 12 YouTube videos about WW2 tanks, you yank that comforting floor from beneath their feet and require them to do this most important other thing they are neglecting to prove to yourself and to them that they are actually learning something of value. Right? Right?

And then BAM!

You are back to homeschool h-e-double hockey sticks.

Let’s not do that. Let me help you keep the pin in the grenade (aka the new not-yet-purchased program in the online shopping cart).

Principles to pin to your wall:

1. Ease and joy indicate flow.
Flow is optimal for learning. When a child is happily working on a skill, that means that child is actually doing the very thing you most desire: learning. They are creating the neural pathways that will help the child retain the skill and information. Lean into it and let it roll!

2. Practice creates automaticity.
Understanding is not enough in any field. Repetition/practice that is stimulating and comfortable leads fluency. If a child loves ripping through pages of times tables after demonstrating mastery, let him! When you child learns to ride a bike, we don’t say, “Now you must learn to use a pogo stick or a unicycle.” We let them ride! That’s the privilege of understanding and fluency in a skill. Using it with joy is the reward for having mastered it.

3. When the stars align, do not wake the baby!
The baby, in this case, is YOUR HOMESCHOOL! Let it sprawl all over that bean bag chair of learning. Allow the apparent happiness to last as long as it will, because you and I both know someone will start teething or grow underarm hair and that serene moment in time will end abruptly. YOU don’t need to be the one to wreck the peace. Peace-wrecking is already on its way for you. Let it come.

4. Learning (the true kind) is not pleasure-less.
Banish the notion. Adopt our family policy for going to parties with kids: “Leave while everyone is happy.” Let your son stop working the math problems while he is alert and proud of his work. Let your daughter stop her copywork after a carefully handwritten sentence, before she gets sloppy for an entire paragraph. Pleasure is the fruit of challenge and success, not struggle and stress.

Don’t wreck the peace! Opt for happiness and allow it to run its course. You can keep the happy going by enjoying it when it appears.

Psst. You’re allowed to.

Read More: Make Peace with the Peace

Mathematics & Poetry for All

Mathematics and Poetry Online Workshop

For years, I’ve received emails and phone calls with a common request:

Where is the Brave Writer for math?

Today, I can finally give them an answer! Natural Math is a program designed by a passionate home educating mathematician: Maria Droujkova. She immerses kids in the properties of math, helps them develop a “math-rich lifestyle” (sound familiar!?), and then releases them to become math proficients!

Maria and I are teaming up to introduce you to her strategies and to use poetry to showcase what your kids learn. We’re holding a two part webinar for 50 lucky families. Kids are welcome and expected to participate!

Mathematics & Poetry for All

  • What: An online workshop where participants learn to write math-rich poems.
  • Why: Learn practical techniques for building beautiful word patterns that explore mathematical patterns.
  • Who: 50 parents, teachers, group leaders, and their children (ages 5 and up), with Dr. Maria Droujkova and Shelley Nash of Natural Math and Julie Bogart of Brave Writer as organizers.
  • When: Live meetings November 2nd and 9th at 4:00 PM EST (New York).
  • Where: Online video-talk software Zoom (similar to Skype).
  • Price: Registration is $49. Work-trade stipends are available upon request.
  • Supplies: Paper, markers, scissors, glue, tape, ideas.

Sign up here …and do it soon! It’s already filling fast!

Changing the Homeschool Culture

Changing the Homeschool Culture
Image taken at the 2016 Brave Writer Retreat by Alli Parfenov

Are you sick of the homeschool culture where toeing an ideological line is the way to membership in the community?

Ever wish the nit-picking about which words you’re allowed to use to describe how you home educate would stop?

Are you tired of hiding half of what you do (or don’t do!) in order to “fit in” with a specific group of homeschoolers?

Do you feel guilty that you bought into a philosophy and then modified it or adapted it or ditched it? On the other hand, you still want to hang onto the friends you made in that community yet worry what they’ll think of you if they *knew* how things really were in your house?

You can change the homeschool culture. You can be a part of the movement that brings hope, support, and optimism to homeschool.

Here’s how.

1. Welcome the outcasts.

Lots of parents feel like homeschool misfits. They use tutors, or online cyber school. They have one child in school and three at home. They haven’t doubled-down on a religious viewpoint or a specific educational philosophy and want to simply find a few friends.

Make friends with these families! They need you! You need them! You may be them! Keep all educational options on the table as you never know when you may need/want to make a change.

2. Cheerlead your friends.

Be the kind of homeschool colleague that sees the heart behind the effort. We all want someone to see how much we care and how hard we’re trying. It’s painful to share about what excites you only to see the person in front of you wilt or lose the smile. Be the person who says, “I’m excited for you! I can’t wait to see how X turns out!” (even if X is the thing you swore you’d NEVER do with your kids).

3. Read widely.

Expand your own understanding of education. You owe no homeschool guru total allegiance. In fact, it is your obligation to think critically about any educational philosophy you adopt, consider, explore. Know enough about a variety of educational options so that when you do make friends with someone within that belief structure, you can find common ground in vocabulary and in understanding why that particular strain has a contribution to make to the conversation about education.

If you start with these three tips, you will create space for diversity, for personal growth, and for lasting friendships.

Everyone wants to be included in the discussion about homeschooling and we ALL have contributions to make. Be interested, curious, hopeful, supportive, and kind.

After all: aren’t these the virtues we want to cultivate in our own children?

The Homeschool Alliance


We fail our children when we blame them for not learning.

It snuck up on me when I didn’t expect it. I had successfully home educated my kids into readers for years—and then Caitrin didn’t read. She didn’t read, and she didn’t read, and she didn’t read. This child who had been writing since 4 years old—lengthy volumes of cryptograms, flowing loops across a page, odd mixtures of capital letters and lowercase in assorted arrangements—didn’t read. She wrote, not words, exactly. Though not, not words, either. She warned us: “Do not open my notebooks. They are secret.”

Of course they were. Her notebooks were filled with marks on a page that represented real thoughts.

Caitrin thought as she wrote. That’s the essence of writing—hooking up the brain and hand so that the thoughts of the mind travel down an arm into the hand and out onto the page. Was it her fault that she hadn’t cracked the code of word-creation so that others could also read her transcribed mind life?

She was my number five child. The other four were reading and writing. She was just writing.

I tried the phonics programs I had used with the other kids. Letter-sound. Repeat.

I was deluded multiple times into thinking she had broken through, only to discover that Caitrin had simply used her superior memory to store entire books, word for word, in her mind to recite back to us as though she was reading—although in hind-sight, that IS a kind of reading. Matching the visuals, the sentence length to her memory and following the pagination, is all a part of literacy.

A new book would stump her. She stumbled over words like “all” and “the.”

My exasperation boiled over too many times—I exclaimed: “You already know how to read this!” as though that was true. As though she was holding out on me for some unknown reason. As though she enjoyed being a disappointment to me.

We’re so crazy sometimes—the way we believe our kids deliberately wet the bed to spite us (I believed that), that they refuse to apply what we know they know in math just to be ornery (it couldn’t be possible that what they learned yesterday wasn’t quite stored well enough to reproduce it today), that they hate spelling and so deliberately waste time using the wrong spellings in their writing when they know better because…well I don’t know why they would do that honestly, but it sure pisses us off when they do it!

It’s as if our yardstick for growth—academic growth—is tied up in how well we’ve taught them. When they fail to apply what we believe we have taught, it’s such a blow! It’s even worse if we trusted the notion that we could “back off” only to see that they haven’t budged in any direction of progress. We fall into the double panic of “I’m behind!” and “It’s too late!” The failure isn’t theirs—it’s ours. The anger, the fear, the frustration, the doubt—that is all about us.

Kids just do what they do. They remember sometimes and they forget. They are still encoding the properties of reading, writing, mathematics, and a worldview, one moment at a time. Fluency in any of these is on a distant shore called adulthood and they can’t even see an outline of it when they’re 10. All they have is today and that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile Caitrin wasn’t reading at ages 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Please count how many years that is. That’s 5 years. F-I-V-E years.

After four other kids were already reading.

I’ve written before about how she tripped the wire into reading. She was almost ten and once she crossed the threshold, she went right into chapter books and today is a linguistics major in college.

Rather what I wanted to share today is the damage it does to our kids and to ourselves when our focus is on failure rather than on the child. Failure twists us into unkind, anxious, uptight people who lose access to our inspiration, insight, patience, curiosity, and generosity.

Our kids want to please us because they live to be known by us. (Don’t you still want your dad to be proud of you, or for your mom to ‘get’ you?) How much more is this true when your children share square footage with you?

The failure isn’t reading or not reading, spelling or not spelling. The failure is in the disappointment you feel that your child has not lived up to her end of the homeschool bargain by being the learner you need her to be in order to feel good about yourself.

In other words: you fail your child when you blame the child for not learning.

Fortunately there’s a fantastically simple solution to this painful experience.

Turn up the volume on curiosity, kindness, and support.

Run to your child. Turn up the volume on curiosity, kindness, and support. Believe what your child tells you (reading is hard, math is dumb, I hate spelling). Start there. Share your own struggles (remember the times when you weren’t believed, when you found a learning moment really challenging, when someone blamed you for not knowing when you really didn’t know).

Then tell your child you are on the same team and you will work on this together until you both find a solution that brings about the critical epiphany for learning to leap forward…as it invariably does.

Your success hinges on your loving commitment
to your child’s well being,
not their ability to prove to you that they are educated.

Caitrin read at nearly age 10, when I stopped worrying about reading and instead focused on the amazing world of languages and lettering and sounds. We became partners in playing with the Greek alphabet and sounding out. Something clicked. In a family of readers, sounding out had felt beneath her. Once she understood its value, she read.

My victory wasn’t in the reading. It was in letting go of my panic about failing as a parent and home educator.

The Homeschool Alliance