I’m finding here at the end of six years of doing this thing called home-based education that I’m a little burned out on the way we’ve been doing things. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe boredom/burnout/stress is inevitable. I don’t know. All I know is that long about the time of the February Slump I found myself just pushing my girls through some of their work. Much of it felt disconnected, too–we had separate writing curricula and separate grammar curricula, and we were always reading aloud a lot, especially just good literature and history, so it seemed like surely some of that could be combined somehow. Additionally, the curriculum I was using with Lulu is excellent, and she was doing okay with it, but she was not engaged with it much at all. Besides that, I truly feel like it was enough above her head that she would benefit from it more when she’s a little older. I felt like they were jumping through my hoops on most days with very little investment on their part, and that’s not what I want for their educations at all.
Enter Brave Writer. I purchased and read The Writer’s Jungle a few years ago and enjoyed it, but ultimately I wasn’t quite brave enough to ditch the curriculum and just go for it. I’ve followed the Brave Writer Lifestyle Facebook page for a while now, and there conversation there is always rich and inspiring. We already do quite a few things–and always have–that are a part of the Brave Writer philosophy/lifestyle, like reading aloud and having poetry tea time. I have a local friend (an IRL friend!) who has embraced the philosophy in her second year of homeschooling, and we bounce ideas off each other frequently. Looking back, I see that this change has been a long time in coming. No matter how much curriculum I contemplate and/or purchase, I sort of do the same things: read, discuss, write. I’ve been a huge fan of Heather’s blog, Blog, She Wrote, for a long time. Hers is the “kind” of homeschool I think I envisioned long ago when I first thought about homeschooling. She calls her method of writing and language instruction “coaching writing,” and it’s very Brave Writer-ish. While I don’t think I can copy what she does exactly, I do think that I can work toward the engaged and authentic learning that I see through her blog posts. (I do understand the nature of blogging– that we only blog the good stuff, that it’s an incomplete picture, etc. That’s one reason I like the whole Brave Writer philosophy–it’s completely realistic in terms of real life.)
After we finished our weekly out-of-the house activities in late April and the girls had mostly finished their formal grammar curricula, I decided to just go for it.
What had we to lose? We had been reading about the Lewis and Clark Expedition for a while, and the girls read a lengthy but enjoyable book about the Corps of Discovery and their adventures. I had them write up a daily list of things they remembered about each day’s readings–a list narration of sorts–so they’d have something to go on once we started our project. I presented them with several ideas: a field guide to the Corps’ discoveries, a newspaper article, even a skit. They both decided to do a sort of field guide, and I let them take the lead in it. They chose to write about animals and native groups the expedition encountered. This led to our use of our state’s virtual library to access the Encyclopedia Britannica to research their topics. They wrote drafts, we reviewed them together, and then Lulu typed her final copy and I typed Louise’s (because she hasn’t learned to type properly yet). Here’s a bit of their work.
Lulu, age just-turned-eleven:
Louise, age nine-and-a-half:
They both ended up with five or six “specimens” in their field guide, as well as a prologue and epilogue. We intended to add illustrations, but alas we were out of color ink in our color printer and I was feeling the need to bring this to a close so we could move on to the next big task, which is moving. I feel very good about this project. I was pleased with the amount of engaged work the girls put into it. Most of all, I am very pleased when both of them cited the project as one of their favorite things from the school year. I call that a win. I don’t intend for all of their writing to be from our history studies, but this is definitely a start.
As far as a formal grammar study, I’m still mulling that over. Both girls, especially Lulu, know a lot about grammar already, having “done” grammar every year since grade one. Brave Writer philosophy says hit it once in mid-to-upper elementary school, again in junior high, and (maybe) again in high school. Something like that. I’m considering subbing Latin for English grammar next year and using The Arrow for our various read-alouds. At any rate, I plan to pick dictation and copywork from our read-alouds and use that to talk about grammar. That’s the way The Arrow works. I love the way Brave Writer approaches dictation. It’s completely stress-free compared to the way we have been doing it (The Well-Trained Mind way).
Right now my plan is to ditch the spelling workbook completely. Both of my girls seem like natural enough spellers, and we can continue working on spelling through dictation. I have Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason, and we might go back to using that.
This is what I know: I can’t keep doing things the way I had been doing them. I know that fatigue is inevitable, but when I’m feeling the strain of not only my own fatigue but my own children’s lack of engagement, something needs to change. It feels good to have the beginning of a plan in place.