Think back to two books you’ve read recently. Which did you like better? Why?
New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.
March 7th, 2014
Think back to two books you’ve read recently. Which did you like better? Why?
New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.
March 6th, 2014
A couple quick thoughts for today:
1) Speech before writing. Attend to the original speaking voice of your child. Really hear it. Respond to it. Make big facial expressions that show you are paying attention. In fact, pay attention! It’s too easy to seem like you’re listening when in fact you are rummaging through the pantry in your mind for tonight’s dinner ingredients. Listen, respond, engage (ask for “more” – “Tell me more about X,” “What else happened?”, “I want more details! This sounds __________ –exciting, scary, nerve-wracking, calming, wonderful, crazy, fascinating”).
The habit of attending to your child’s spoken voice creates the best foundation for writing. As you listen, sometimes you will want to jot down what is being shared. Do it! Write it down and share it later in the day with an interested party (other parent, grandparent, sibling, friend).
2) Writing is exploration, not performance. Use writing to explore thoughts and ideas, impressions and hunches. Kids need to know that the context for their written thoughts is a safe place to explore those partially formed ideas. It is not a place where they must prefer accuracy to risk. Risk is valued. Accuracy, not so much. Accuracy and technique are “value-added” features that come at the end of the writing process. They must never govern the process or control it. Rather, the experience of writing (particularly that initial burst of language through the hands) must be that risk is exhilarating and valuable.
If exhilaration is not available as a legitimate reaction to writing, the minimum ought to be that risk is permissible. Give permission, take risks, shock your kids and write your own risky, free, un-bound exploration of a word, idea, thought, belief, impression, experience, conversation. Share it. Model what it may look like to really let loose. You are the permission-giver and catalyst in your homeschool. Break your own rules, if you need to, to free up space for written exploration.
Cross-posted on facebook.
March 5th, 2014
Tonight we watched the movie, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, with our girls. What an inspirational story of faith, determination, and courage! Not to mention, it was just a good family friendly movie.
Our girls were a little dejected when we decided to watch this instead of something with more comedic value. The funny thing about it all though is that my youngest daughter was trying to work out the timeline taking place in the movie. It started out in 1987 but flashed back to his life story beginning when he was about ten (1961). Then towards the end it picked back up where it left off in the beginning. I was trying to explain that and I said, “Eureka!” It was just like you had discussed a few days prior in one of your daily emails. I had forwarded that particular email to her and her sister.
Start with the end in mind.
The most dramatic story-telling starts with the ending, or near the ending. The story recreates the events leading to the ending, illuminating it as they do. Try it!
She immediately understood and I believe more clearly understood the story line then. I would like to suggest this movie as a “must see.” I’m attaching a picture of us watching it. Thanks for all you do to educate, encourage, and inspire us homeschoolers. May God bless you and yours!
Tell us about a film you and your kids watched together (along with a pic if you have one) and if we share it on the blog you’ll receive a free copy of our Movie Guide (once per family).
March 5th, 2014
Scheduling is a necessary tool for dental appointments, piano lessons, and date nights.
It is less useful for homeschooling. Here’s why.
When you create a schedule, you attempt to control time in a space designed for “escape from time.” Home is where we let go, let down, and live in a relaxed, unhurried, no pressure state. It’s where we go to get away from time’s demands. We unconsciously unwind at home (or at least, we certainly want to unwind at home).
Along come your “school-at-home” notions, built from your memories of traditional schooling; we bring the clock and bell into this relaxed, “be myself” environment. We decide to structure things like breakfast and teeth-brushing so that we can “start” the day of schooling.
We try to monitor the length of time spent at one subject area so that we can move to the next. We manage naps for babies and DVDs for toddlers to free time for the focused attention our olders’ need. We pick a time for lunch and try to hit it consistently.
Some parents are brilliant schedulers, and make this uncomfortable fit of time measurement and home, work. But for those who fail (or believe they are failing), there’s a good reason for it. Not only do your children resist being marshaled to accommodate the artificial imposition of time constraints on home activities, but at some level, so do you.
You know it’s artificial.
You do answer the telephone or respond to a text in the middle of the math lesson.
You do sleep in some days when the baby kept you up all night.
You are likely to flop on the couch and take a micro nap after the read aloud, because you literally can’t stay awake.
You walk around in pj’s long after breakfast, and suddenly remember you need to go online to pay a bill or reserve a space or change an appointment.
Home is a fabulous space because you actually can do all those things! You can’t in an office. You certainly can’t in a school!
Home is that place where you maneuver through the waves of activity like a skiff—quick, sharp turns, at full speed. You aren’t an ocean liner, needing ample warning to avoid icebergs, monitoring every engine, taking huge quantities of time to make small adjustments. You are navigating your day freely, weaving and bobbing around the interruptions, taking advantage of an open sea of time when it arises, and then shutting it all down when 3 out of 4 kids get sick. You do this even after you’ve created a schedule! That’s what’s so odd. You know that you aren’t truly tied to that schedule, which is why you violate it.
If you are living (and dying) by a schedule, sick children produce resentment: they are messing with your project for efficiency!
If you live by a schedule, the day you sleep in means you are behind all day (when I’m behind all day, I’m not as nice a mother or person).
The conflict between home and schedule can be resolved by dumping the schedule and admitting the nature of home.
Home is a space where each person has a certain amount of freedom to just “be.” Within that “beingness,” it’s possible to learn an enormous quantity of information. That’s why we brought our kids home from traditional schooling—we believed that the homey-ness of home was not antithetical to learning. Rather, we believe that home is even more conducive to learning than school with its clocks and bells.
That’s because it happens to be true: tutorial-based, interest-driven, time-unbound learning is effective—supremely so.
Home creates a space for that kind of learning to flourish. Why ruin it with a schedule?
What I propose is the homeschool routine. Rather than trying to schedule the days, set up a routine (a spare one—with a few reliable practices) that can be returned to when you have “one of those days.” Follow inspiration whenever possible. She is not a lengthy visitor.
But on the rest of the days, we can know that after we wake up, we eat breakfast (no matter how early or how late in the morning). After breakfast, we move to the family room for read aloud and I read until we are done (a single chapter or four, depending on the mood and happiness of the family).
After reading, we do copywork (at least a couple days a week). We pick the days based on everyone’s energy level for writing (if it’s a heavy writing day, we don’t do copywork and addition). We move to math after reading and writing. The math pages are chosen based on progress and effort. If a child struggles with a concept then more time is given with fewer problems to solve. If the concept is easy, the page is completed quickly and perhaps only alternating problems assigned.
An on-going history lesson or project follows lunch, picking up where we left off before (no assigned pages, no “place to get to by the end of February” in mind). History can continue this way…forever. Who said there’s a certain amount you must finish by June? My family got stuck in Ancient Greece and Egypt for two years. We loved it! We wanted to camp there.
Perhaps you have other library books to read to the little kids (picture books) later in the day. These are done before naps, as many as everyone wants.
Other activities can be included in the routine (scrapbooking, the Red Herring series, Tuesday Poetry Teatimes, an ongoing game, computer play, Rosetta Stone, birding, building a model, art and piano lesson practice). But each of these is given time (without a constraint) to be done as the child has the capacity to sustain interest.
It’s nearly impossible to schedule energy and interest level. That’s why school feels dull so frequently. The assigned hours have nothing to do with a student’s attention span, curiosity, energy to perform well, and the peacefulness of the atmosphere. Regardless of how a student feels, he or she is expected to perform in hard chairs, with small desks, surrounded by others, facing a teacher who is examining their eyes for attentiveness, while (perhaps) remembering being bullied at recess.
At home, kids have the benefit of being themselves. They can make themselves comfortable—lying prone on the floor, lounging on the couch, sitting at the kitchen island. Of course this kind of freedom produces two effects: keen concentration and absolute sloughing off! Both occur when we are allowed to “be” rather than feeling pressure to “perform.”
We create the conditions of excellence and quality performance when we honor the rhythms of life at home, when we value the hot white fire of passion when we see it (rather than remarking, “But that’s not on the schedule today”). We sustain growth when we return to the comfort of the routine when all other energies are subdued. And we honor our human frailty if we toss routine, schedule, or structure when we are falling apart (sick, irritated, frustrated, in pain, exhausted, or bored).
Schedule is tempting. It holds the promise of “getting it all done” which we translate into our heads as “completing our children’s education.” Don’t be seduced by that promise. Mostly what I hear from parents under the pressure of schedule is “I’m behind” and “I feel like a failure” and “I’m terrible at staying on schedule.”
Of course you are. You’re at home. Be home. Embrace the properties of home. Love. Live. Be. Learn. Thrive.
We’re so lucky to be home. The best gift you can give your family is to be glad that you are, and to live as though home is the ideal space for learning to occur. Because it is.
Cross-posted on facebook.
March 4th, 2014
The first time I suggested poetry teatime Tuesday to my kids, ages 5 and 7, I was pretty sure I’d get the usual ‘knee-jerk no’ response. But, the allure of treats was enough to pull them in at least for a short get together. Even though I felt like they suffered the poetry just to get a cookie, they were excited to repeat the experience the next week. Now they love the whole process. My 5 year old son likes to choose the tablecloth, put it on, and carefully fold the napkins. If he’s feeling extra fancy, he will put on Beethoven in the background. My 7 year old daughter always makes the centerpiece, and sometimes even the snacks. They enjoy the ritual so much, if we miss it, we’ll just have poetry teatime Tuesday on Wednesday.
Our reading material isn’t strictly poetry. While I do include at least some poetry each week, often the kids bring other books to the table as well. I’ll keep on reading anything they want until the interest level starts to wane. Occasionally, I will ask them to listen to a poem that I love but they are not so interested in. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not.
My favorite teatime was during a big snowstorm. Everything was kind of gray and moody. We had candlelight and deep ruby pomegranate seeds, and I miraculously got them interested in reading Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ They were shocked that a poem could be so dark and disturbing and they were hooked. Afterword, we ended up on YouTube and found a few different readings by Vincent Price and James Earl Jones and a great segment from The Simpsons where the raven’s “Nevermore” is spoken in a hysterical polly-wanna-cracker voice. We still use that silly ‘Nevermore’ as a random inside joke.
Poetry teatime is such a special time for our family. I wish we could make each of our ‘schooling’ experiences as delightful.
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 select your photo to post then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang of your choice! Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.
March 3rd, 2014
ALSO, Six winter classes start this morning! Sign ups still open. Don’t miss them!
Whether you want to start your writing program right now or you want to wait until April, May, and June, we’ve got something for everyone!
March 3rd, 2014
You know your kids and your personality. You get to decide what you like or don’t like, what programs work or don’t work for your family. Anyone who knows me or has spent time with Brave Writer is well aware that I’m not out to convince you to change what you are doing if it is satisfying and working for you.
This page exists to promote a specific vision of writing. It’s not the only vision of writing. It is my vision of writing and it’s one I’ve cultivated for 30+ years. It comes from a wide variety of sources (academic and professional, personal and exploratory). I’ve worked in the popular writing market and I’ve had success in academic writing contexts, both. I’ve spent countless hours (thousands) working with families and adults who want to be better writers.
The main purpose of Brave Writer, all the way back to before the beginning, has been to give parents tools to bridge the gap between their children’s lively conversation and their stilted writing results. This exasperating experience is common to all writing instructors. Entire educator conferences are devoted to finding ways to solve this dilemma in the classroom. Writer’s Workshop is one of the most well known educational tools/programs that approximates the kind of work Brave Writer teaches, but for the classroom (which has its own peculiarity since there are other subjects to teach, student-teacher ratios are higher than parent-to-child ratios at home, and there are academic achievement measurements to satisfy).
Still other programs take a more step-by-step approach, believing if they provide tools and skill in the mechanics first, thought will flow more freely due to confidence in transcription skills. Imitating great writing, applying a set of concepts to the writing (talking about sentence variety and how to raise the eloquence of the “speech-like” drafting to the more sophisticated sound of written language), putting spelling and grammar programs first, are seen as tools that provide a scaffold to a child—these tools, they argue, help the child to write without anxiety.
For many students and parents, the relief that comes from being told what to do, step-by-step, is enormous after failure and insipid, weak drafting. I’ve seen some families thrive or blossom through this approach. It is not morally wrong! It is not objectively bad. For many, it is a way forward and for some (particularly for natural writers), it’s a joy to play with the puzzle of writing in new, directed ways.
If this approach were sufficient, however, schools and writing programs would all adopt it and our children would happily apply those steps and concepts and become the writers we hope they will be. But that isn’t what happens. A large number of children (and adults) are unhappy writing that way. They are not able to connect their personhood to the writing—writing feels external to them in that system. Some children may weather the tedium/challenge of the step-by-step approach to get to the “good stuff” where they find their voices. But a large number don’t get there. In fact, they feel stifled and bored, angry and tearful.
How do I know this? I work with these kids. We’ve had countless families come to Brave Writer when their children are at the end of their wits—so blocked and resistant, they don’t ever want to write again. For some reason, the attempt to make the writing process easier through understanding the mechanics first doesn’t create enthusiastic writers for many many kids (and adults).
Lots of them need to know that what they are writing is meaningful to them before they care about the structure, forms, or mechanical details. To risk the mess that comes from attending to the inner life of a child first takes courage! Parents worry that they will encode bad habits and poor spelling, or that they will teach their children that forms and editing don’t matter.
But what turns out to be true is that when kids get excited about their ideas and thoughts, when they know that what lives inside is worthy of the page, it is far easier (in many many contexts) to be interested in the mechanics and structure of writing. That’s what I’ve found. That’s what professional writers know. That’s what loads of academics are now saying about how to teach writing in college…and on down as the insights trickle to the lower levels of school.
That’s what many of you have told me.
That’s what lots of parents have discovered.
Do you have to jettison the writing programs you’ve already purchased? Of course not! Once you discover how to nurture and nourish your child’s writing voice, you may find numerous ideas and tools to help enhance and enrich the output. I use a wide variety of tools myself when I write, not just one. Being able to adapt to different teaching styles is also a valuable experience for teens, in particular, as they prepare for the variety of demands of college professors.
The bottom line is this: I will promote and protect this space for the writing philosophy that Brave Writer advocates. That philosophy is too often misunderstood or critiqued as not being rigorous or being for ‘creative writing only.’ Parents who take the risk to embark on this program need support so that they can trust the process and not be waylaid by guilt or anxiety that they are “doing it wrong.” Usually the thrill they experience when their formerly blocked writers take to the page is sufficient, though. Happily.
Even so, you must be brave to follow this philosophy when everyone else is following systematic programs with rubrics and rules. I want to reassure you that we address it all in Brave Writer (grammar, format, creativity), just in a different order than traditional models.
Not only that, I want to add: we live in the 21st century, in a globalized world of published writing (twitter, Facebook, comments on news articles, blogs, online journals, texting, and more). Writing strategies have necessarily evolved—we live in a world that requires us to value all kinds of writing voices, even less educated ones, even ones with an “accent,” even ones that fail to spell correctly or type beautifully, even ones that hold diametrically opposed beliefs and values to our own.
To me, the most gracious thing we can do as readers is to hear the content before we rush to judgment over form and format, grammar and spelling. Let’s give each other that gift and make the world safe for writing risks.
Image by Brave Writer mom, Diane (cc)
Cross-posted on facebook.
March 3rd, 2014
Studies don’t show that grammar instruction is bad or wrong—only that the systems of grammar instruction used in traditional education have had a deleterious effect on the freedom of self-expression children feel when asked to write (from scratch- original writing).
A grasp of grammar can be fascinating and useful to anyone interested in the systems of language. Knowing how your language functions is fabulous! It’s like knowing the mechanics of a sport—talent gets you a good distance, but mastering the mechanics takes you further, still.
But if you started teaching sports through mechanical perfection, and never let your kids play the game until they showed mastery of the mechanics for any given position, you’d not see much interest in athletics.
Mechanics in sports enhance talent and contribute to skill, but they do not replace hunger to play, commitment, the willingness to risk, and the energy to win!
Likewise, in writing, creative story-telling, inspired vision, quality vocabulary, and masterful recreation of facts does not come from understanding the structure of a sentence. Native speakers are already quite skilled in sentence construction. Enhancing that skill through an understanding of grammar is fine (good, necessary at some point) , but it is no substitute for the writing voice.
The worst side of grammar instruction, though, is the way it creates snobbery in/condescension toward writing. When people prioritize grammar and pride themselves on a flawless understanding of the system, however, their corrections can produce feelings of insecurity, fear, and even anger which work against the free flow of ideas needed to write well. When we put presentation of the writing ahead of the content, we are paying attention to manners ahead of the person. This attitude is the one from which kids shrink. This is the attitude that curbs risk-taking in writing.
It’s great that any of us can identify typos and mistakes in published writing, but that skill doesn’t make anyone inherently superior as a human being. Some of the best writing in history is by individuals who cater to their spoken dialects, giving voice to grammatically “incorrect” usage deliberately, and powerfully.
Accuracy is not more critical than power in writing. It matters to see/read/hear the content ahead of the mistakes in spelling or sentence structure. No one reads a book and says, “What a satisfying read—every comma in its right location, perfectly placed modifiers, lovely use of capitalization, not a single sentence ending in a preposition. I hope there’s a sequel!”
Accurate grammar and punctuation serves a purpose—the proper use of mechanics is invisible, supporting the communication intentions of the writer. But mechanics can’t tell a story by themselves. The original thought lives of writers must be free to explore and express their creative impulses, first. From there, we can help enhance the communication power through a gentle, compassionate, supportive use of grammar instruction.
Power in writing comes from the ability to use, command, and manipulate language. Knowing grammar well enough to surprise, compel, and impact readers ought to be the goal of good grammar instruction, not just accuracy. Accuracy matters, but it’s a subset of power in writing.
Cross-posted on facebook.
Image © Brad Calkins | Dreamstime.com
March 2nd, 2014
The Brave Writer motto used to have nothing to do with writing, except everything to do with it:
“Joy is the best teacher.”
I still believe that.
Trust it. This one you can take to the bank. When your doubts flair and you wonder if you are “serious” enough or “organized” enough or “doing” enough, pause. Scan your environment. Where is joy happening? What’s causing joy? Chase it! Go after that. See what happens.
Who’s laughing? Has it been a while since you heard laughter? Who’s engaged and deeply involved?
Example: When Liam was small, his passions combined were Legos and Pokemon/Yugi-oh card games. He created his own world of Lego men who held supernatural comic book powers. I got into his world with him. He couldn’t read yet, but I could jot down the names of these Lego men. I could record their powers in a list on a sheet of paper on a clipboard. He could carry that around for a month sharing it with everyone. And he did.
We played those card games (mind-numbing for me; sheer delight for him!) for over a year! Who knows how much this early interest in card-playing helped him read? I just know it did.
An interest in the discovery of gold led my family to a whole new way to homeschool I call “party-school” where we created a full scale Gold Rush party with other homeschool family-friends.
Reading entire series back-to-back, over-and-over; knitting; coloring pages; sewing; Legos; forts made from sheets; fingerpainting; a treehouse-ish structure in the backyard that was built from scrap wood and nails and an abundance of hammers; learning to draw (all together, on the deck, in the sunshine); baking, baking, baking; poetry reading; walks with the dog and strollers and baby backpacks—on the beach, in the woods, up the street of condos; picnics because we could; reading too many chapters because we had to know what happened next and so, skipping math; Googling and googling and googling to find out more, to confirm a hunch, to invalidate an incorrect statement; online video games; the whole LOTR trilogy on DVD for the nth time (extended edition); making candles; dying cloth like they did in colonial times…
Sure a workbook here and there might reassure you that you are being responsible to “educate.” Ask yourself. What do YOU remember from your education? Content can be delivered in many packages. Risk something—find a package that is big and life-encompassing whenever you can.
You are at home. Let joy lead the way. When you see the spark, chase it! Sprint, leap, grab hold, and ski to the learning.
Will you always successfully shake a jar with heavy cream and a marble in it and get butter and see smiles at the end? Not necessarily! Some of the initial passion to “try” an idea will be muted by hard work or a bad fit or a simple debacle of failure. That’s okay! That’s true of workbooks too, by the way. But at least the attempt is in the right trajectory.
Wash your hands of the flawed attempt and move on. Laugh about it later.
Let joy be your guide. Leave guilt in the basement. Flick the “ghost of public school past” off your shoulder.
Let joy be your teacher and your children’s teacher. Joy does it best. She’s so freaking adorable, who can resist her when under her spell?
Cross-posted on facebook.
March 1st, 2014
This lovely poem was sent to us by Brave Writer, Anna:
by Anna Shields (age 12)
The petals of the flower are its ball gown
moving around as it dances slowly in the wind.
Its purple gown shimmers,
reflecting the suns light.
The clouds start to cry tears of happiness
as they watch the flower dance.
Their tears drop to the ground and the flower stretches up
and bows her head to thank them.