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Podcast: Teaching Your Children Shakespeare with Ken Ludwig

Teaching Your Children Shakespeare

On this episode of the Brave Writer podcast, we talk with best-selling author and award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig.

We explore our shared enthusiasm for Shakespeare and how to bring the Bard to life for our children.

Learn about:

  • memorizing soliloquies,
  • examining Shakespeare’s language,
  • and the details of how Shakespeare’s plays have been preserved for us to enjoy (it’s a great story!).

Show Notes

Why is Shakespeare still relevant today… and how do we introduce him to our children?

Memorizing Shakespeare

Knowing a little bit of Shakespeare to recite on a whim makes for a very good party trick, but Ken has taken it to another level. What began as a fun bonding exercise with him and his daughter turned into memorizing whole speeches from Shakespeare.

He started with lines that rhymed so that it seemed familiar, like a nursery rhyme. And then he would explain the meaning of a line and explain any words she didn’t know. If you can make sure that the kid understands every word of every line, it becomes much easier for them to memorize the lines and understand their meaning.


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Sustaining interest in Shakespeare

Shakespeare has an entire world of plays, so it can be easy to dedicate an entire lifetime to studying just his work. There is such depth in his work that you could even spend a lifetime on just one play. It’s no hyperbole to state that Shakespeare may very well be the greatest writer in the world. 

Shakespeare can serve as an entryway into literature or as a lifelong pursuit, but it is undoubtedly timeless and our children can be served well by being introduced to it at a young age. Pick up Ken’s book “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” to learn more about ways to introduce this prolific work to your kids.

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Podcast: Overturning Overwhelm

Brave Writer Podcast: Overturning Overwhelm

It’s a little thing: that one comment, the nudge in the acceptable direction, the calm and carefully-worded reminder. You had the right tone of voice, the best intentions, the least egregious expectation. And then your child flies off the handle anyway. The resistance, the tongue-lashing, the pushing past whatever small boundary you set—putting on shoes to go to Target, taking the bowl to the sink, not licking the jug of milk with his tongue, not making that scooching sound with his chair…

When we face resistance or challenge, it’s so easy to abandon ourselves and declare: I’m overwhelmed!

Today’s podcast episode is all about overturning that overwhelm and reclaiming our power—especially for women (though men are welcome to listen along).

Show Notes

Focusing on Empowerment & Agency

When you are homeschooling, you may become overwhelmed and confused — legitimately so! — and this is doubly true during a pandemic. We hear it ALL the time in Brave Writer, parents that write us saying, “I feel lost. I’m overwhelmed. I’m confused.” And then they ask for help.

It’s not as though our children tell us what they are confused about. The confusion is declared as a state of being—a chronic sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

And believe me, I get it! When your small children and teens are unhappy, an easier feeling to hold is “confusion” rather than the feeling of failing them.

So let’s pivot.

Let’s get away from these two disempowering terms and think instead about what’s missing from our lives when we declare overwhelm and confusion. Rather than addressing the big emotions of little people, I want to talk to you about your super powers of adulthood.

Podcast: What’s Worth Fighting For?

Brave Writer Podcast: What’s Worth Fighting For?

When you signed up for the task of homeschooling, you surely imagined what the ideal homeschooling life would look like. This is the life you are fighting for.

In homeschool, the vision for natural learning is a powerful draw. It’s also worthy of fighting for that vision. But because it is not natural to many of us and we have this controlling memory of traditional school interfering with our new, fragile vision of what homeschool can be, we often wind up fighting about it more than for it.

We’re going to unpack the differences between the two, and how you can focus on fighting for the things you want instead of fighting about them.

Show Notes

I had a question last week that has stuck with me. The homeschool mom told me that she felt overwhelmed by her kids’ constant need for creative ideas. She is running out of them and mostly just wants to settle into that routine that gives the structure and support she needs to homeschool. Meanwhile, her kids resist the routine she has in mind. They wind up arguing about what needs to be done, and how, and by when. Sound familiar?

I thought about the heart of the issue.

I wonder if her real question is this one: What’s worth fighting for? Or maybe it’s this one: What are we fighting about?

It’s a question of emphasis but a super important one. Let’s unpack it in a moment.

What are you fighting about or for?

We fight for what we want. It’s rare that anyone fights without a reason that is compelling to that person. We fight for human rights, sure. But we also fight about how to organize the garage or whether to allow daily time on screens for online gaming.

Fighting is either for or about something of value to the fighter! And frequently that fight is defined by the fighter. In other words, some vision lives in the imagination of a person and they use their fighting skills to try to bring it into being.

How does this fit into homeschool?

When you signed up for the task of homeschooling, you surely imagined what the ideal homeschooling life would look like: Eager kids trotting downstairs to pop open their grammar book, passionate children who are self-motivated to learn, making grade-level progress each year, or a clearly laid out curriculum with no confusion or resistance from your children.

This is the life you are fighting for. In homeschool, the vision for natural learning is a powerful draw. It’s also worthy of fighting for that vision. It’s just that because it is not natural to many of us and the controlling memory of traditional school interferes with our new, fragile vision of what homeschool can be, we often wind up fighting about it more than for it.

Fighting about vs fighting for

When you fight for something, it usually means you have settled on a vision or cause that is worthy of your dedicated energy. The nature of that “thing” is the 20,000-foot view. It’s not necessarily the implementation yet. When we talk, for instance, about how to support the mattering of Black lives, that’s the fight for. We are saying, “I am fighting for equal treatment under the law for all Black lives.” What too often follows, though, is a fight about. We fight about strategies, policies, politics, laws, and so on.

In homeschool we go from fighting for natural learning or brain-based education to fighting about the daily routine.

We get in trouble when we turn the fight for into a fight about

The warriors in Mulan go from thinking of what it would be like to be in a relationship with a wonderful woman (the fight for a woman) to a fight about what that woman ought to be like. That’s the mistake they make!

A fight for a great homeschool can include:

  • A child’s wellbeing
  • Scaling the work to the child’s skills
  • Providing lots of natural learning resources and opportunities
  • Partnering with a struggling learner
  • Pressure off, appreciation and support on
  • An inviting learning environment

Where it all breaks down is when you and your child have an entirely different idea of what homeschool will look like. When the child is not completing tasks or taking advantage of the routine or is sidetracked by a personal project that doesn’t feel like it’s related to “school,” it’s easy to resort to fighting about what the child is failing to do.

When you are fighting for your vision, you have lots of room for brainstorming, conversations, and trial and error. You’ll be interested in your child’s feedback as part of the process that guides your implementation. You’ll feel brave and curious rather than worried and stressed. You’ll seek alternatives to the only way you know how to do things.

When you are fighting about your vision, you are assuming that the implementation has to look a certain way in order for it to be valid. You’ll find yourself stressed and uptight, careful and irritated.

The vision and the implementation

As you fight for your vision, it’s important to make peace with the idea that the implementation may not match your fantasy. For instance, if one of the visions you are fighting for is your child’s wellbeing, that means when the child is suffering, you are not married to the current practice. If you start fighting about the importance of math and that not everything can be fun, etc., you’ve lost the thread. You’re saying that the “about” is more important than the “for.”

But the other tendency is to give up. It’s like we wanted a child’s wellbeing, but now it’s costing me mine so I am just going to have to use the parental power tool called “my authority” to will you into doing the thing I need you to do despite how you feel about it.

If your vision is a worthy one, though, it’s worth it to put forth that slight bit of extra effort to not give up on it! You can claim for yourself the power of that noble vision. Yes, it may take some work, there may be some bumps and bruises along the way, but ultimately it matters that my child feels good about learning more than completing today’s worksheet.

When you fight about what should or should not be done, at the first sign of distress or distraction, your kids will abandon the requirements. They will see their chance to escape.

In our increasingly polarized world (particularly during election season in the United States), there’s a lot of fighting. Frequently the fighting is about particular policies, practices, laws, leadership behaviors, media coverage, and more.

What is helpful to remember in these fraught times is what each individual is fighting for. Sometimes it helps to scale back the adrenaline rush to ask that question. What vision animates all your passion? Why are you so committed to your struggle? What are you fighting for? When you hear someone’s vision rather than their prescriptions, it’s easier to start a conversation even when you don’t agree.

This fighting for dynamic is one we admire in most cases. Fighting for can have a liberating effect and at least is usually intended to. Fighting about leads to a lot of misunderstanding and anger, judgment, and resistance.

So I give you this final thought:

What are you fighting for? And how has your vision been undermined by falling into the trap of fighting about?

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Podcast: That Pernicious Topic: Chores

That Pernicious Topic: Chores

The number one question I get is not how to prepare kids for college, or what you need to start homeschooling, or even about homeschooling at all — it’s about chores.

  • Should kids be assigned chores?
  • Should they be rewarded?
  • How do we enforce them?

While we’ve got our little ones home all day, we’ve got to keep our house running and sanitary. We’re not necessarily looking for a perfectly presentable home, but we are looking for order and a sense that yesterday’s mess will not impede today’s progress.

Let’s go over three myths regarding chores as well as practical solutions.

Show Notes

What’s the secret to keeping a decent house?

The unsatisfying truth of it is just that “it gets better.” If you have young kids under 8, just know that this is a near impossible task. This is when keeping a tidy house will be most difficult and when it will be hardest to recruit your little ones to help — and even if they do, it won’t be to the level of an adult. If you have small children, give yourself some grace and know that this will not be your life forever.

That doesn’t mean to give up on today! You don’t have to wait until your kids grow up and get shipped off to college before you have a tidy house. But it will get better over time, and you may have to adjust your expectations while your kids are younger. As your kids get older, they will be able to help out more. You will get better at housekeeping and homeschooling. And eventually, you will find a rhythm that works most of the time.

Myth #1: Chores develop character

There’s a belief among parents everywhere that, by learning to wash dishes and vacuum the rug, you are developing a child’s character. The character development that most parents expect to be developed are responsibility, hard work, and teamwork. This is the number one way to require children to contribute to chores guilt-free.

So is it true? Do chores develop character? Does the execution of chores by someone who doesn’t want to do them automatically make someone a better person?

The answer is no!

Your kids can learn the skills, and that is surely valuable. But there are countless examples of people who grew up with tidy parents, who were forced to do chores, but ended up living in messy households as an adult. Just because we teach a child something does not mean it will become a value as an adult.

When kids don’t like something but we need it to be done, it’s hard to admit that we’re just taking advantage of our power and authority within the family. Instead of admitting that we have the power to make our kids perform these tasks, we turn it into a value in order to absolve our guilt. The correlation is just imagined.

And don’t worry, we’ll address how to handle this later!

Myth #2: Kids live here too, so they owe the family a responsibility to maintain it

This supposes the notion that because your children live in your house they have a responsibility to maintain it. It’s an understandable perspective.

Let’s get one caveat out of the way: If a child is a participant in making a mess, it’s reasonable to expect them to clean that up before moving on. This is when your child has created disorder and has to spend their energy restoring order.

But when you’re assigning tasks that the children have no interest in, and which have no relation to their usage of the house, that is where you will run into problems.

Myth #3: You can’t do it all by yourself

This statement is probably true: You can’t — and shouldn’t be expected to — do this all on your own. You just feel stuck. This leads to a feeling of guilt around asking our kids to do this. We all wish there was some way to get our kids to get our children’s cooperation and their happiness simultaneously. But that’s not how it works.

If you impose a set of rules on your children around how they participate with home maintenance, you can’t require a good attitude.

Kids do not have the same standards as their parents when it comes to home maintenance. They aren’t bothered by the mess, and therefore don’t see why it’s so necessary to contribute to cleaning it.

The missing ingredient

The missing ingredient to all three of these myths is the personality of your children. We usually approach this in a top-down manner: the parent decides the standard of home maintenance and assigns the children various roles in maintaining that standard. But if we’re truly going to teach responsibility, teamwork, and group participation, can’t we get there by involving them in setting the standards?

Our children were not involved in many of the decisions adults made regarding the type of yard, house, and standard of maintenance we have. It is not our child’s agenda. So how can we have calm, order, and maintenance, without turning our child’s discontent into a taboo.

Home maintenance, order, and happiness

How do we get all three? Here’s what needs to happen: Have a group meeting about all the things that need to be a certain way in our house. And start with our children’s ideas, not ours.

Ask them: What would you hope the kitchen looked like when you go in to bake muffins, make a sandwich, or blend a smoothie? Most people would say “I hope the counter is clear,” “I hope the dishes I need are clean,” or “I hope the blender was rinsed out.”

What about the family room? What would you hope it would look like if you wanted to play with toys on the floor? Surely you’d hope that nobody else left their toys from earlier, currently unused, just where you were hoping to play!

When we talk to them as if we are problem-solving for their benefit, we are helping them develop the character qualities we want them to have–being considerate, being responsible — while relating them to the activities they actually do. Hold them accountable to the standards they have for the home.

This isn’t really about chores. This is about how parents wield their authority. If you come from a position where you have a right to require chores from your children, you will be taking a big withdrawal from your emotional relationship bank. Think about what goal you are trying to accomplish and get your child’s input so they have a meaningful say in how they spend their lives.

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Podcast: Rigor vs. Relaxed Alertness

Brave Writer Podcast

How do parents ensure that homeschooling is challenging and rigorous enough for their kids to become smart, successful adults?

Many parents are under the impression that rigor is the best version of learning. Education that is rigorous means students are learning more, so many see rigor as a measuring tool for how serious the institution is for learning. But is that really the case?

Let’s deconstruct the notion of rigor and see if there is something easier to implement and more effective for learning.

Listen to the Podcast

Show Notes

The paradox of preparation

What’s the goal of all that schoolish drudgery and hard work, the intensity and pressure of performance? 

Most often cited is a goal to be prepared for whatever the next educational step may be. The way we interpret preparation has a lot to do with our perceptions of the places we want our kids to go next. We treat junior high as a dress rehearsal for high school by making junior high or middle school just as hard as high school. But how do we prepare students for junior high? By making elementary school more rigorous. And how do we prepare them for that?

We borrow worry from the future in the form of “preparing” for challenges yet to come, which leads to a spiraling of preparation that often leads to absurd results. When is it okay to just be where we are instead of preparing for what’s ahead?

Where does this love of “difficulty” and “struggle” come from?

In the United States, we’ve adopted a credo—that to be a person of value, you ought to have a story of struggle to prove your worth. We admire stories of struggle! We love tales of achievement. Some kids are the first in their families to go to college or to become professionals, while their working class parents scrimped and saved to make those dreams possible. We love these stories!

Adversity that is overcome is prized—as it should be—because it proves that it’s possible to lead lives of supreme value despite obstacles thrown in the way. That kind of rigor is the kind we do admire and should. But what about “academic rigor?” What’s that all about?

Because we are a culture that values duty and hard work, we sometimes forget that there is a full human being to consider. We focus on the discipline, the persistence, the demonstration of achievement over and above leading a life of wellness and wholeness. Rigor for its own sake is not valuable. You could work hard carrying a bag of rocks up and down a hill until you are exhausted to prove you can do it, but is there any inherent need to do that task? Does it serve you in any meaningful way? Effort alone does not confer value, does not encode content or information to the memory more effectively.

So if rigor is not the characteristic that ensures the optimal context for learning, what does?

Rigor vs. Preparation

Our goal in learning is not to get more comfortable with difficulty, but to become more prepared for the experience of challenge. Preparation and rigor are not one in the same. We feel most prepared when we enter a particular mind state while learning. What is that state?

My favorite brain researchers, Geoffrey and Renate Caine, tell us that we are best ready to face learning challenges from a state of what they call “relaxed alertness.” They define that state as: “Low threat and high challenge.” Here we have the nexus of the idea. We falsely associate rigor with challenge and struggle, and thereby accidentally create high stakes, high threat conditions for learning.

Relaxed alertness functions in a different way. It’s the state where the child feels he or she has enough skills, enough understanding to meet the next challenge with some confidence. A low threat environment.

In a Stanford study of relaxed alertness, the researchers found that people in this state are apt to describe how they feel like this:

  • “Even though I am challenged and excited (even anxious), I feel capable and trust in my abilities.”
  • “My mind is relatively focused and open to possibilities despite obstacles or potential uncertainties.”
  • “My actions are under my control. I want to respond to this situation.”

When we focus on rigor, students are more likely to respond in these ways:

  • “My body is tense and agitated because I don’t know what to do.”
  • “My mind is distracted or focused too narrowly.”
  • “My actions are not under my control. I don’t really want to act on this.”

Creating a learning environment that is oriented to rigor may lead you to a high threat experience rather than a meaningful challenge.

One of the exciting data points in the research shows that “relaxed alertness” can become a habitual state for any of us. But how do we get there? The brain is adaptable, meaning that it can adapt to experiences that repeat. What I love about this understanding is that homeschooling is the best opportunity we have to help our kids experience preparation and relaxed alertness rather than the shiny distraction called “rigor.” 

Facilitating Relaxed Alertness at Home

Consider this cluster of traits researchers have identified:

  • Self-efficacy—a child’s belief that he or she is capable. It starts there! This is one of the reasons we jot down our kids’ thoughts to show them the value of their thinking that deserves to be in writing. It’s the reason we compliment a child on completing a LEGO build or we admire their elaborate costume they created for play or we notice when they patiently wait for their turn without crying. As we honor the times our kids show their capacities, we reinforce that these skills they possess are a valuable resource to all of us, but especially to them.
  • Resilience—a child’s ability to bounce back from setbacks or failure. Think of the child who goes for the goal in a soccer match and misses. That child gets back out on the field with a belief that next time will be different. Do we cultivate that same sense in learning? Do we say: “So you didn’t read that word correctly, you’ll read many more words in your lifetime. Let’s tackle the next one”? Can we remind our child of their capacity for improvement and regrouping, for problem-solving?
  • Self-Regulated Learners (taking charge of their own learning)—a child who is motivated intrinsically to know whatever it is they want to know! Think about how much your kids can go down a rabbit trail of fascination. Rigor might ask your student to perform better and better on common core standards. Meanwhile your child is on his third read through of the Redwall book series. This child is choosing to take in Redwall at a much more profound level, retaining more and more of the cadence of the language, the story-line, the character development, the moral arc of the message. Why do we see re-reading as not “rigorous” enough when in fact it may be the single best way for a child to become a relaxed, alert, self-regulated learner? Whenever a child gets lost in that rabbit hole of fascination, you know you’ve arrived!

Think of what you are growing in your children this way: “confidence, competence, and motivation grounded in meaning or purpose.” That’s what we can do at home!

When you are worried that you are not giving your kids what they need to become those high-achieving students who go to the special schools whose claim is that they give a rigorous education, remind yourself of this first: you have the opportunity to grow emotionally whole, well-adjusted, relaxed and alert learners who can rely on themselves to learn — not some school’s high stakes, high threat environment that pushes them to become stressed and agitated.

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