Math–Brave Writer Style!

Math Brave Writer Style


I know you’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger this time of year, but I just wanted to jot a quick e-mail to you about math (of all things! ha!) I asked you about math at the Brave Writer conference, and you mentioned that this is a common question. People who love Brave Writer wish, wish, wish someone out there was doing the same thing with math. Well, I haven’t exactly found that person or that program, but I discovered a few things that have rocked our world. I thought you might find it of help as you counsel homeschool moms desperate for help in all areas of their curriculum…

So, the biggest thing is this — The Brave Writer principles apply to math! They do!! Everything you teach us can be directly or indirectly applied to the teaching of math (but you probably already know that??) Partnership math totally changed my 12 year old’s feelings about the subject. Never again will I send him off with a scary page full of problems, a heart full of fear, and that dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach. When he is learning new concepts or wrestling with old ones, I am there cheering him on and helping him think through the process. There are days when he is independent and days when he is not, and I am ok with that.

Also, the principle of taking little bites of the subject has been such an overwhelmingly successful technique. I had a dear therapist tell me, “Don’t require more than 15 minutes of math exercises a day, unless you want your child to hate math!!” This flies in the face of the common practice of lengthy math lessons that generally take an hour or more per day. Like your suggestion of letting kids write on Post-It notes, there is something powerful about knowing you can stop when the timer goes off & even if it’s hard, it won’t last long!!

Most importantly, I learned what you try so hard to teach through Brave Writer — That writing (and math!) cannot be boiled down to an exact science, a list of do’s and don’ts. If I want my children to love any academic pursuit, I’ve learned that they must have an opportunity to embrace it as an art and not just a science. I no longer follow the traditional “march through the textbook” approach to math. I can’t imagine teaching any other subject that way, so I decided to stop doing that with math. In the same way that you recommend copy work as a foundational practice for learning good writing, we still do practice problems multiple times a week. But that is simply the beginning!! Playing around with problem solving (i.e. math Olympiad style problems) has opened a door to creativity in math that I never would have imagined.

This video from Numberphile explains it best. The mathematician says that so many adults claim that they hated math in school, but what they really hated was what he calls “painting the fence.” The boring routine of memorizing and applying algorithms has historically encompassed the vast majority of math instruction and subsequently sucked the joy out of the subject (as does the scientific approach to teaching writing!). To think that math is so much bigger than that completely blows my mind!!

Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for motivating me to rethink what was happening in my approach to math. The retreat in Cincinnati truly was life-changing for me, for all of us. I walked out of there knowing my approach to math instruction was wrecking my kids, but I didn’t leave empty handed! You gave me the tools I needed to write a different ending to our math story, and I’m so grateful for that. I just want other parents to know that Brave Writer is a lifestyle that can revolutionize any aspect of their homeschool. So the next time you get that “Is there such as thing as Brave Math-er?” question, I hope you’ll confidently tell them that almost every philosophy and method you promote in Brave Writer can be applied to teaching math. It’s just that good.


Image by Bart Everson (cc cropped, text added)

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Poetry Teatime: A bit nontraditional

Poetry Teatime

We had a lovely poetry tea time today. I pulled out my china set that I bought in Hong Kong when I spent a summer there. The girls loved hearing stories of the tea set itself.

We also made Chai tea with honey and added cool whip from the spray can. This ended up being the highlight. A bit nontraditional but loads of fun.

They were having so much fun with the tea that after poetry I read one of their history books to them while they were listening and sipping.

THANKS for that amazing idea.

I’m also on your Alliance website which has been so nice. I appreciate all that you are doing.


Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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Value experimentation AKA Risk

Risk in your homeschool




Such tame words compared to their shadows:

Catastrophe, failure, lost.

I went kayaking recently with good friends. The husband of one of my running partners decided to climb a tree (up the small wood planks nailed to the tree as a kind of ladder) with a rope swing in hand so that he could then launch his body over a river (6 foot depth) and create a big splash. This man is 63 years old.

Needless to say, the five of us on the water watching the scene unfold were double checking our insurance cards, the bars on our cell phones, and how to travel back to the dock quickly, if needed.

Jeff jumped and swung his body across the muddy water, and then let go! Splash! In he went. Fine. No injuries. No mistakes. Sheer joy.

The highlight of our trip that day!

All of us marveled at how up tight we were compared with Jeff. He trusted his body. He took a risk the rest of us deemed unwise. No one stopped him, not even his wife. We all benefited.

I think about our kids who risk, experiment, and explore—all while we hand wring and worry. When the choices they make work out, we sigh relieved, and brag to friends. When their choices fail, we double down in our minds thinking, “Never doing that again!”

Risk in your homeschool

So much energy wasted on worry—when all of life is risk. In that same location, next to the muddy river, is a bike trail. One of the kayakers (another running partner) had slipped and fallen on a flat path, firmly attached to the ground, years before while we were out for a run. She fell into a branch on the bike path, bruising her chest, requiring a trip to the ER. We weren’t taking undo risks, yet still saw injury.

Every day I read homeschool discussion that is saturated in worry—the ever-present attempt to control outcomes, as though we can, as though we are able to shape our children into the people we expect them to become.

We ferret out risk. We compare our anxieties to our children’s activities.

What if we flipped the script? What if we gave up our fantasies of failure? What if we fantasized about success through unconventional means? What if we trusted a little more—that this child has an innate curiosity, sense of self, and power to find out what he or she needs to know?

What if our child is an outlier, after all? Someone whose education comes through unconventional means?

I remember the day Noah said to me, “Mom, you raised me in an unconventional way. Now you want me to become a conventional person?”

It was a moment.

Risk in your homeschool

There are days where I have to sit myself down, feet hanging from my knees, and let them swing easily back and forth, remembering that in the scheme of things, I have little control over outcomes.

My best posture is “porch swing.”

I can watch, wait, whistle, and wonder.

There’s my child doing X.

There’s my child, still doing X.

Wow, look at my child doing X!

How amazing it is, all that my child has learned doing X.

The big splash comes after time spent: imagining, practicing, testing, “over-indulging,” risking, experimenting, exploring, and letting go.

You may not feel brave enough to let go of everything, but maybe today or this week you can step back from one place that flips your switch.

Back up.

Get on the porch swing.

Dangle your feet.

And watch.

Image by Wheeler Cowperthwaite (cc cropped, tinted)

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Friday Freewrite: Fold a blank page

Friday Freewrite: 4 related words

Fold a blank page in fourths.

Pick four related words to put in each of the quadrants. These can be as solid as concrete objects (daisy, dandelion, rose bush, thistle), or as abstract as character qualities (honor, loyalty, dedication, faith).

You could put four characters from one novel in the quadrants, or four game strategy types, or four events from a period of history.

Each person writes to a timer for 3 minutes for each quadrant (take a short break after two freewrites—drink some water or shake our hands and talk a bit).

Then when finished, ask people to share the most surprising insight that came to them.

Finally, collect the freewrites from the group and then later that day, curate the best “quotes” that came from the freewrites in each category (be sure to include something from everyone). Type the page up and hang it somewhere for all to see.

Discuss! If moved to.

The purpose of the freewriting is to help kids push themselves to differentiate between terms—to define, to tease apart, to see the comparisons and contrasts of the items.

Shared on facebook.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by deeaf / fotolia (text added)

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The Three Levels of Learning

The Three Levels of Learning

You will see fruit in your homeschooling if you stay the course, which is:

Level one:

Maximum freedom with oodles of space for risk-taking in writing and conversation. Creating safety for self-expression means not worrying about mechanics or grammar or sequence. Create big language messes, and revel in them!

Level two:

Support for growth in sorting it all out, doing a deep dive into the material, adding information to growing understanding. Using the appropriate vocabulary and helping your kids to use it. Discovering how to sequence, how to sort through, how to get thoughts into some kind of intelligible whole. Partnering with your child.

Level three:

Child takes more initiative and control of both drafting and revising processes, revision is more thorough, and the final product shows polish. Feedback is given with respect for authorship, and is considerate while accurate. Parent child team is satisfied with results because the student is both capable of what is being asked, and the parent is conditioned to being an aid/ally rather than a critic or “grade-giver.”

That’s really all there is to it! Keep going!

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography (cc cropped, text added)

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