Archive for the ‘One Thing’ Category

You feel better when you get stuff done

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

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The number one way to improve your homeschool experience is to do it.

Do stuff.

Do something every day.

Sometimes your kids will have the best ideas or questions:

“Let’s catch tadpoles in the creek!”

“I want to write a letter to Aunt Anna in Germany!”

“Can we watch Frozen while we eat lunch?”

“How much money do I need to save to buy an American Girl doll and how can I get it?”

“I want to see the moon through a telescope.”

“I can skip count while I jump rope. Wanna see?”

Sometimes you’ll have the best ideas:

“Let’s learn measurements by making cupcakes and pies.”

“It’s a gorgeous day—let’s take the math books out to a blanket in the backyard.”

“I heard the zoo has a discount for kids. Want to go today?”

“How about building a fort with these blankets while I read to you from the history book?”

“Want to play dress up and act out the Boston Tea Party?”

“Let’s call Myra and ask her kids to help us make a Pony Express with bikes.”

Even without inspiration, if you simply do ONE thing each day, you will make progress and pacify the guilt gremlins.

Here are the “ones” that help:

Read aloud one chapter.

Do one math page.

Handwrite one sentence.

Paint one picture.

Build one Lego set.

Eat one healthy meal.

Take one neighborhood walk.

Identify one bird at the feeder.

Make one historical reference.

Have one meaningful conversation with one child.

So here’s your chance! Get to it.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Don’t put it off

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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The nagging issue that you keep avoiding in your homeschool? Go ahead and tackle it tomorrow. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You don’t even need to purchase curriculum.

Get online tonight or early tomorrow morning, and figure out how you might address the one area that’s bothering you a little bit tomorrow.

You might feel you’ve completely forgotten to teach the Pledge of Allegiance, or the names of the states, or your address to your youngest children.

Perhaps one of your kids doesn’t know how to spell her complicated last name and she’s already 9!

Maybe you want to show your kids the continents and you haven’t bought a globe yet. Enter the Internet!

What if your child isn’t reading and you haven’t been successful teaching…so worry is your substitute teacher. You let her babysit the child, and you opt out of figuring it out.

Tomorrow, do one thing that moves you closer to reading instruction. Maybe you spend fifteen minutes doing research. Maybe you spend ten minutes talking to the late reader and find out if she’s ready to try again. You ask her to look at reading programs with you. Maybe you try a totally new approach: you read to your daughter putting your finger under the words and never ask her to do anything but follow along. Maybe you make play-doh from scratch and shape the lowercase alphabet and say the sounds as you do.

Whatever you choose, do a tiny bit of it. Tackle some part of the nagging concern.

Skip count in the car all the 7′s until you get to the doctor.

Listen to your son explain the video game to you.

Have poetry teatime in the middle of the mess with your iPad instead of poetry books.

Spend one hour cleaning the family room so that you KNOW where the math books are and you don’t ignore that problem another day.

Schedule the dentist teeth cleanings.

Fill out the FAFSA (yes, that’s mine!). Drat I hate the FAFSA.

Make one healthy salad and eat it for lunch.

Get the analogue clock and spend 45 minutes with everyone learning how to read it. Or tie shoe laces until everyone can tie their own without help (except the really little ones). Or teach everyone 4 feet tall how to do their own laundry.

There are just those things that nag at you, that you wish you could address; tomorrow can be the day you say, “Enough. I start today. I do a little bit toward that goal today.”

Then do it. Congratulate yourself tomorrow night, and pour a glass of wine or eat a half mango with lemon juice or savor a square of your favorite dark chocolate or go for a run!

Do whatever it is that celebrates your commitment to doing that one thing—whatever it is. Let’s make a big long list of what your one thing is and if you need help thinking of a single day’s way to address it, ask! We’ll help you.

Ready? Go!

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“One Thing” Reprise

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

To Do ListQuick, make a list!

For new-to-Brave-Writer friends, I thought it a good idea to send you into your weekend with one of our core ideas: “The One Thing Principle.”

Quick: Grab a pen and write a list of all the stuff you think needs to be done next week with your kids. Doesn’t matter what you use. An old envelope or back of a supermarket receipt will work. Just start writing. List, list, list until you run out. Feel free to include random stuff like “Find Penny’s missing shin guard” and “Remember to buy nail polish remover” because those get in the way of remembering “Study fractions on Tuesday night so I can help Aaron with them on Wednesday morning.”

Your list may include big ideas (Make a plan for writing a year long report on Nebraska) and small ones (Get batteries for the pencil sharpener by Thursday so we can sharpen our new set of Prismacolor pencils in time for the art project that afternoon).

Once you’ve got a list, take a break. Get a cup of coffee or tea. Read a blog or browse the Pinterest newsfeed. Then come back to your list. Before rereading it, add to it. Anything you forgot, anything new that popped into your mind in the interim. Then, reread the whole list and allow it to jog your memory for one more thing. Add it.

Okay—sit back. You’ve got a list! Congratulations.

You’ve likely written a good, long, somewhat exhaustive (and exhausting list!). This weekend, pick one thing to do on that list. Just one. Pick the one that leaps off the page, gets your attention, draws you.

THAT’S the one to do this upcoming week. The other stuff, now that it’s on the list, will circle to your consciousness all week (you’ll be on the alert for that shin guard, you’ll walk by the battery section at the market and remember: pencil sharpener!, Tuesday night will come and you’ll grab the workbook for fractions and take a glance through it before you climb into bed). It’s all there. You can do any of the “lesser” items as they occur to you.

For now, though, pick the one “bigger” thing—the thing that you want to do, that takes preparation to do, that is nagging at you.

This is the week you’ll do it! Focus on that one idea.

Here’s how:

Prepare for it.
Take the time right now to get what you need to do that task. In other words, most activities that we never get to need preparation (supplies, Xeroxed copies, materials). If it means you need to order a book, order the book now. If it means you need to assemble ingredients, get them together and put the missing items on a shopping list you will use today. If it means gathering materials on hand, gather them and put them in a safe place. If this is a task that needs preparation (a step or two must be done ahead of time), create space in your schedule in the early part of the week to get that art of the event completed.

Execute the task.
Once you have what you need, pick a time today (or on the planned day) to follow through and do it. Make sure you protect that time and space from interruptions. That means your laptop is closed, cell phone is on vibrate, and your television is turned off. Don’t answer the door. Text your spouse and tell him or her not to call you during that hour or two. Clear your kitchen table (or your yard or couch or car – wherever this thing is happening). Know that you have a dedicated block of time to do this task and that no other task will crowd it out.

Experience the task/event.
Be there. Don’t allow your mind to run off to dinner or dentist appointments you forgot to schedule. Don’t resent sitting down and “wasting time” doing what your mind resists. Don’t jump up to change a laundry load because the timer dinged. Do listen, pay attention, dedicate your mind and heart to the moment at hand. Listen to your kids. Feed back to them what you hear. Participate. Become interested and fascinated. Live in this moment and no other.

For example, if you are working on times tables, completely immerse yourself in the experience. Recite the tables, play with them, ask questions, find ways to make two times six interesting. Be there! Allow the connections to come that happen when you are involved and calm.

If you are holding a poetry teatime, relax. Sip tea, observe the facial expressions of your children, take in the color of the placemats and the shape of the scones. Stay in that event as long as it lasts and don’t reprimand yourself for skipping your grammar workbook that day.

Reminisce.
Finally, once the event or learning experienced concludes, and you’ve moved on to the next “thing,” allow yourself to fondly remember what worked or was enjoyed. The next hour, or meal, or day, or two days from now, remember the experience you shared with your kids.

Say words like:

“You know, I didn’t realize how often fractions are a part of my day until we spent those two hours on Monday playing with your Cuisinaire rods.”

“I so enjoyed doing copywork with you on Tuesday. Want to read what I wrote? I want to read yours today.”

“Watching “Much Ado About Nothing” reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom took me to plays. What was your favorite part? Mine was…”

“I loved that poem about horses you read during teatime. Can you find it for me again? I’d like to reread it.”

Focus on the experience by honoring it in your memories. Retell the story, relive it a few days later. It will stay anchored in your lives as a touchstone if it becomes worth of your investment, dedication, and memory.

This is how you work through the list. You have all the way until June (and of course, beyond) to get through the list. Do it one thing at a time, and only do the one thing when you know you will really devote yourself to it. Let me know how it goes.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Repeat after me: “Less is more; less is more; less is more…”

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

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I love consulting with moms about their curriculum choices. Not only do I get to hear about their kids (who are all amazing, by the way), but I get to help them scale back their expectations and their purchases. The most important thing you can do for your upcoming school year is to do “one thing at a time.”

You want to be sure that you can spin all those plates you’re busy balancing on the top of the tall skinny poles. If you keep purchasing curricula without considering whether or not you have the time in the day to do it all, you will find yourself frustrated and feeling guilty by October!

The best curriculum is the one you use.

It’s okay to feather in your studies as you go. If it takes a bit of time to get used to the new math program, so be it. Let that take your energy and focus for a week or two or a month. Language arts won’t die. It will simply go dormant, taking a little nap before you return to it.

If you want to launch a new project or tackle a new process, give it your full attention. You can skip everything else that day. Sit down with the guide and read it (don’t skim it). If the kids have to watch a video or play with Legos while you do, they won’t “fall behind the curve” in their educations. Rather, you will be preparing to be the best learning coach they can have. You’ll feel competent and capable because you will know what you’re doing.

Read directions, ensure that you have the right supplies, spend time familiarizing yourself and your kids with the methods or practices necessary for the learning experience. Support the activity as your kids get used to it. Follow through with the lesson or new habit for a bit without rushing, cramming, or sandwiching the work between two other demanding tasks.

If you’ve “stocked up” on curricula because of discounts or bundles or what have you, you aren’t required to use all of it at once, or to learn how to use all of it by __________ (fill in the blank official start date). You get to feather in the materials and new books as you become comfortable with them one at a time. It’s fine to not get started on that Word Origins work book, day one of the new year. In fact, might it not be a pleasure to a student to have something brand new to add to the daily tasks about the time the routine becomes a little old hat? Pulling out a brand new offering can energize your child again. Keep something new hidden at all times. Surprise is your ally in home education.

Lastly, you don’t have to do every page, every problem, or every chapter. You don’t. Your children don’t have to complete all their work in one subject before they are “allowed” to do the next one. There is no set order to how you cover the subjects.

You are at home. (Post that somewhere.) Make the experience homey.

Pay attention to flagging energy, inertia, overwhelm, and boredom.

Give quality efforts, in short bursts of time, to one subject area at a time.

Know the material and method before you begin.

Feel free to delay the introduction of new materials until you’ve found your groove with the first set.

Take it one thing at a time.

Less is more.

Check out this section on the blog for more about the One Thing Principle.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Pick one thing

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

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You can’t do ten things, and your homeschool won’t transform itself over night.

What you want and what creates momentum is a series of deliberate, prepared choices that lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You get there one thing at a time.

Pick the subject, practice, habit, or attitude you wish were more present in your home and “do it” or “have it” or “develop it.”

Identify the One Thing that is top of mind—that keeps coming back to you as the one thing you wish you were living.

Then follow the One Thing principles:

1. Prepare (ahead of time). Plan a date, purchase, make copies, organize, think about, read literature related to your one thing choice. Gather materials.

2. Execute (day of). Follow through with enough time to invest deeply without distraction. Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, don’t answer the door. Be fully present.

3. Enjoy (kids and you). Let yourself forget everything else but that experience/lesson. Be here now. Don’t do other things simultaneously, don’t think ahead to what you will do next. Engage.

4. Reminisce (later that day or the next or next week). Talk about what was fun, remember humor, honor connections, recollect what went well. Talk about when you might do it again.

I gave a podcast about this topic a few months ago. Check it out.

11 One Thing Principle

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

One Thing! I’ve written about the One Thing Principle many times on the blog. Today, though, I wanted to share with you in more detail about how to get that fantasy homeschool you imagine into the real world of your routine family practice. Noah shares about our family and what we did that he remembers and I am hoping that my comments will ease some of the frustration and doubt that get in the way of enjoying your time at home with your kids.

And forgive the silly picture. My business photo shoot included these shots of me with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 for possible inclusion in marketing materials. They turned out really silly… but then, maybe silly is a little bit what’s missing for all of us in this serious business of raising, nurturing, and educating our kids.

Please feel free to post questions about your unique family situation below or to share some successes. We don’t have a forum any more and I know your input does help those who are learning this brave new way of living.

Julie

5 tips to get you back in gear

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

DSCN3023.JPG Happy New Year, Brave Writer families!

Too bad we can’t settle into a “long winter’s nap” right about now. January insists that you be productive, so let’s look at 5 ways to do it that I hope are relatively painfree.

If you live down under: You just finished your big holiday and it’s summer vacation. Rock it! Have a great time. We in the north envy you, but we know it’s well deserved.

  1. Coziness first
    It’s winter in the northern hemisphere. Everyone is nicer to each other under cuddly blankets or with fires roaring or with tea and candles. Don’t “hit the workbooks” so much as invite everyone back to the routine with a little attention to snuggling and pleasing natural light. Remember that winter can create a sinking feeling—moodiness, depression, pessimism, loneliness—all due to loss of sunlight. So bring some inside and warm up the space. Keeping tables and counters clear seems to matter more in winter too.

  2. Read alouds second
    Nothing says “gentle return to education” like a new novel to read together. Pick something you loved as a child (not a new novel). This is “comfort food” time. Find the joy in the novels of your youth (pair it with The Arrow, if we have an issue created for it). This month’s issue (Jan 2013) is for Little Town on the Prairie (my favorite children’s book series of all time). You might also love reading Wind in the Willows to help foster the coziness you need (how can you resist Mole’s home?). Check out the Already Published Issues of The Arrow for more ideas.

    For older kids, you might simply designate a time that everyone reads to themselves at the same time. Shared reading time, with a fire, is amazingly intimate. It creates a dynamic of valuing literature and private reading experience, while also giving the home a moment of silence (akin to when a newborn baby is sleeping and a hush comes over the space). The Boomerang Already Published Issues is a great place to find titles to read.

  3. Make one plan
    Plan ahead and execute the One Thing you’ve been meaning to do all fall but never got to it. Check out our blog entry on how to focus on one thing at a time.
  4. Go on a field trip to…
    A nature center, a ski lodge, the library, an art museum, the movie theater, the zoo, a restaurant from another culture, your best friend’s house, McDonald’s playland (yes, sometimes that’s even a good idea in January), a shopping trip to China Town, or Little Saigon, or the Italian Quarter. Pick one. Plan it. Do it. Get OUT of the house.
  5. Add one novelty item to your homeschool
    This could be a new set of watercolors with an easel. You might purchase a whole set of dinosaur cookie cutters to go with your dinosaur unit and you will make playdoh and do cut outs. Maybe you add a bird feeder to the nearby tree and spend some time each day noting which birds show up. Get a new strategy board game or several decks of cards and teach everyone Solitaire. Even a new sled (for outside) or a mini trampoline (for the garage or basement) can inject some lively activity when you start to feel trapped indoors.

The main thing to remember is that January is the middle of the year. You can actually plug along nicely in your traditional education work (math, science, grammar work, reading, writing) because the quieter, slower months are conducive to all of that. Just remember to not let cabin fever take over. In those moments, remind yourself of this list and pick ONE to do!

The One Thing Principle

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I haven’t posted this for awhile, but it’s critical to good home education, good writing practice, good living! Before you read, take a deep breath. Take another. Maybe pour a second cup of tea. Did you know that you are more likely to feel successful in homeschooling if you do one thing really well today (invest in it, spend energy on it)? If you let other things go and are fully present for one thing, you’ll feel like you got a lot done. Conversely, if you do a whole bunch of things in a hurry, covering all the material, you will feel discouraged like you didn’t get enough done.

Depth, not breadth, creates momentum in the homeschool. Here’s how you can shift gears to doing one thing at a time… well.

The discussion of how to create a flexible routine as well as how to create a home context conducive to nurturing relationships prompts me to revisit a plank of the Brave Writer philosophy: The One Thing Principle. Some of you already know it well. Others of you are new to Brave Writer so this will help you begin to shift the paradigm from which you teach and guide your kids. Remember: we are home educators. We are not recreating school. One of the biggest advantages to being at home is the ability to go in-depth when studying or pursuing an interest. This is the key principle to help you do just that guilt free. Enjoy!

When was the last time you really tasted the food you ate? If you’re like me and millions of moms, you wolf down your meals in an attempt to clean your plate before someone in the family needs seconds, needs a face-wiped, needs to be breastfed, needs you on the phone.

It’s easy to run through the homeschool day the same way – Everyone’s doing math. Good. In just ten minutes I’ll get the older two started on spelling. While they’re spelling, I’ll read with the eight-year-old and nurse the baby. Then I’ll make lunch and think about which creative project will go with the history novel.

As you race along, you might even have the strange feeling of not having done anything worthwhile, even though you are exhausted and have been pushing the family at breakneck speed. There’s a sense in which we “hover” above our lives rather than living right inside them when we’re filled with obligations, good ideas, lots of children and the endless demands of email and phone calls that intrude on our best plans.

(more…)

It’s the Little Things…

Monday, October 26th, 2009

A reminder to do the little things that make for pleasantness in your home:

Have you….

    hugged your kids?
    surprised someone with a treat?
    tickled someone?
    made a joke?
    pointed out beauty to someone else?
    stopped to listen to laughter?
    looked out the window and saw, really saw, a bird?
    had an unhurried cup of tea?
    been thankful for good health?
    read something worth reading?
    smiled?
    jumped up and down to get your heart pumping?
    put on lipstick?
    read a poem?
    looked into your child’s eyes while she was telling you something?
    ate tasty food?
    gone for a walk?
    asked for a hug?
    admired a child’s good attitude?
    forgave yourself?
    wrote a few sentences?
    cleared the coffee table and put out something new to read or look at?
    lit a candle, put a flower in a vase, arranged the fruit in a bowl?
    inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly?

Hope so. Do any one of these and let your day unfold.

It’s the little things….

Finding a Rhythm

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

The Brave Writer Lifestyle may be in danger of becoming a group of words that lose meaning. When I first chose the word “lifestyle” to express the kind of language arts and writing environment that I hope families can create, I did so because I wanted to undercut the negative associations with the word “curriculum.”

“Lifestyle” is a routine or habit of being that relishes good books, writing, poetry, language, talking, movie viewing, and listening. These habits of being will foster better spelling, deeper readings, insight into stories and plots, an appreciation for good writing, an ability to translate one’s thoughts into written expression, a sophisticated vocabulary, interest in languages, (especially one’s own), openness to all kinds of writing genres (including poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction), and a general love for the language arts.

Because we use the term “lifestyle” so much around here, it might become just the third word in the trio that substitutes for what others might see as a curriculum.

A writing curriculum or a language arts program is geared toward mastering skills. They may, as a by-product, help you to deconstruct difficult grammar, discover a wonderful book or teach helpful writing techniques. Additionally, a program offers structure and a linear step-by-step measurement of movement forward. This is why curricula and programs will never completely fall out of fashion and have their place! But they are not a lifestyle.

Brave Writer offers a different vision. We have certain practices we recommend that have proven beneficial for grammar and spelling, for writing and narrating. But they are simply that: habits or practices. They can be used to advantage or skipped for a time while a child investigates some other aspect of language or writing. You can use programs and curricula to support you in a targeted area of language arts or writing instruction (like an online class, or programs like the Arrow or Boomerang). But these are supports to the lifestyle, not substitutes for it.

A lifestyle implies habit and fluidity, routine and flexibility. You get to decide what is working and what is not.

For those who are “‘tweens” – between curricula and the vision of a lifestyle – let me offer you a single suggestion for how to embrace the lifestyle as you reorient yourselves.

Start with ONE thing.
Pick one activity or habit or practice or idea that sounds fun to you and do that first. Do it well. Don’t add to it.

So if you want to read poetry with your kids, go to the library and find a good poetry book. Just get a poetry book. Don’t get sixteen other books to read.

Share the book with your kids. Leave it on the coffee table. Read it at bedtime or with tea or during dinner. Let your kids read and hold it. Mark your favorite poems with bookmarks and reread them. Memorize a poem. Write one each morning on the white board. Write a poem in a notecard and keep it in your pocket all day, then reread it in the morning, in the grocery line and before you make dinner. Enjoy poetry.

Too often we rush through the ideas on our list of good ideas and then wonder why nothing is taking hold. Stop. Read the ONE book and see how much you can get out of it for a week.

Maybe you’ll illustrate poems, or copy them over, or read them at the dentist’s office, or memorize one to share with visiting relatives. Maybe you’ll want to write a poem yourself. Maybe your kids will. Maybe this book will lead you to another book of poems or to one single poet. Let it do its work. Don’t force it.

The point is that if you make poetry just one of the many things you must do this week to achieve the “Brave Writer Lifestyle,” you may not enjoy the poetry. You might find yourself thinking about how after you read the poetry book, you ought to be copying quotes into copy books. And what about freewriting? And will that subscription to the Arrow turn out to be worth it? Suddenly your mind is off of the poem and on “curriculum planning.”

Don’t fall for that trap.

Slow down. Start with one thing. You can build on one good experience. You’ll find that one positive language arts experience enriches the whole. Perhaps the poem you read will naturally lend itself to a discussion of theme (Gerard Manley Hopkins), or grammar (Lewis Carroll), or word choice (Jack Prelutsky), or even a historical moment that gives context to the poet’s writing (Langston Hughes).

When you have exhausted the poetry book, pick the next enticing idea. (Don’t pick the one you think you should pick – I give you permission to follow your enthusiasm.) Enjoy it. Live it.

Follow these steps:

  1. Prepare for the experience (get the book, buy the ingredients for a recipe for teatime, read ahead in the novel, order the film from Netflix – whatever the activity is).
  2. Set up the experience for success by picking a date and planning to execute it that day. Clear your day of other burdens. Focus.
  3. BE HERE NOW – while you are in the experience, don’t let your mind wander to math or orthodontist appointments or bills. Unplug the phone, turn the ringer off your cell, close the laptop. Enjoy what you are doing and do it fully, without guilt.
  4. Reminisce. When the experience ends, a few days later, talk about it. Remember what was enjoyable. Say it out loud, to your kids, to your friends. Write it up in a blog or email your mother. Be sure to validate the positive experience so that it becomes a memory to treasure and share.

You might notice that these steps work great for teatimes or trips to the art museum. What about something more philosophical like, listening attentively to your children? Start by thinking of all the ways you can be a better listener. Can you take one child out for coffee, another on a walk, swim with one at the Y, see a movie and then chat about it on the way home with yet another?

Do it! It counts. See where it leads.

Can you choose to sit on the couch for a minute today with one child? Might it work to put one child to bed and to lie on that bed for fifteen minutes to cuddle and converse? Do it! Plan it, set it up for success, be fully in the moment and then remember the good that came from it.

You can’t plan time for listening and then fill up your days with lots of busy work. Focus on listening and let that be the frame of reference for everything you do that week.

Allow this year to be the one where you taste-test all the great ideas. Some will stick. Some will bomb. The ones that energize you and your kids will become natural habits because they make you and your kids happy, and you see fruit in their lives.

After many months, you will find that you have a lifestyle all your own.