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Guest Writers & Interviews

You are going to love the interview I have for you today!

Writing is a "subject" that stresses out many homeschool parents and kids. I get a lot of questions on the blog and in coaching sessions about writing, usually along these lines, "My kids' don't like to write. What do I do?" 

I prefer an interest-led, everyday communication approach to writing instruction. In brief, writing to communicate student-motivated thoughts and ideas. But I have my moments of doubt when I think I should be "requiring" more and that my kids should be "producing" more writing. In these moments of doubt I look to those who have gone before me for wisdom and support. I look to homeschool parents like Patricia Zaballos.

Patricia is an educator, a homeschool parent and writer. She recently published a book called Workshops Work! which is all about creating an audience for your child's writing in the form of a writer's workshop.

Patricia has years of experience facilitating writer's workshops for kids. She has taken that wisdom, plus her personal story as a homeschooling mother of three, and written a fabulous how-to manual for those of us new to writer's workshops. Her book Workshops Work! walks us through the entire process, providing a whole toolkit of ideas, examples, and anecdotes to get us going.

I reviewed Patricia book before publication and I am so happy to recommend it to you as an excellent resource in your homeschool toolkit.

Today I'm interviewing Patricia a bit about her book but also about writing in general.

What I really want to know is how can we teach our children to write without all the angst that often accompanies it?

Let's talk to Patricia and find out.

~~~

Patricia, you're a homeschooling mom. How many kids do you have and how old? Have you always homeschooled? If no, when did you make the switch?

My kids are 20, 17 and 11. We homeschooled from the start. I'd been an elementary teacher before that, and I became intrigued with the possibilities of learning outside the confines of a classroom. My oldest homeschooled until he was sixteen, and then decided to go to high school for two years. He is now a junior in college, studying film production. My daughter homeschooled until she was fourteen, and then decided to go to high school as a freshman. She's now a junior. My youngest is still homeschooling.

As you probably know many homeschoolers fret a lot about writing. Your book addresses one very real solution to this - creating a writer's workshop to provide a supportive peer group and audience for our children's writing. What other advice can you give homeschool parents about how to teach writing to our kids? 

I think we often misunderstand how kids really learn to write. School experiences have convinced us that writing is something that must be taught; I would argue that learning to write should not be so very different from learning to talk. It can happen quite naturally and painlessly if we allow it to evolve on its own timetable.

Many parents underestimate how much kids learn to write simply by reading and being read to. Kids who grow up in literature-rich homes naturally develop expansive vocabularies. They seem to pick up how literature works by osmosis, especially if they are allowed to dwell in books and genres that interest them. It's especially useful if families talk about books and stories and films together, so kids can develop opinions and insights about what they like and dislike in literature.

Along those lines, kids learn to write simply by talking. If they grow up in homes where ideas are discussed and debated, where their own ideas are valued, those kids learn how to speak clearly, logically and enthusiastically. That will absolutely carry over into their writing, eventually. I have talked to many, many homeschooling parents of kids who did very little writing in their younger years, yet who somehow magically developed into writers as teenagers. It isn't magic that does it; it's the fact that the kids grew up in literate homes in which the kids' ideas were valued. All the reading and talk of childhood can transition into writing without too much difficulty if it isn't forced.

Of course, the more kids write, the better they will get at it. One of the most important things parents can do is help kids find authentic, exciting reasons to write. By authentic, I mean writing for a real purpose, rather than writing because a parent or teacher has assigned it. It can be a challenge to find real writing formats that excite a kid.

The best place to start is the child's interests. I can't tell you how many parents I've talked to whose kids became enthusiastic about writing for the first time in order to chat online while playing Minecraft! Look for opportunities like that, and don't underestimate their value, even if the writing looks sloppy, error-riddled and unacademic. Once kids understand the power of making words work for them, they will want to keep doing it, and will get better at it.

I wrote a longer article about these ideas called How Do Kids Really Learn to Write? It gives several examples of authentic writing possibilities, based on kids' interests.

(And yes, writer's workshops are one of the best writing motivators I know!)

We parents can do more damage than good if we do too much "teaching" when it comes to writing. Our teaching is likely to be based on our school experiences with writing--and most of us did not receive good, useful writing instruction in school. That's why most adults are self-conscious about their writing abilities!

Most writers will tell you that they had to overcome and forget what they learned in school in order to learn to write well. Kids who grow up in literate homes develop excellent instincts about writing. Don't muck that up! Rather than teaching too much, we should be providing excellent models of writing for our kids: good books on topics that interest them. Then, if we help our kids find authentic reasons to write, those opportunities will provide organic, real reasons to get better at writing.

You have a son in college. What advice can you share with us about preparing our kids for college writing? Many of us (ok, maybe just me) despair that our children will never be ready for college writing and we are tempted to use methods we're not comfortable with just to "see results".

Honestly, I think we should worry less about preparing our kids, and do whatever we can to help them enjoy writing right now. Kids who find a writing forum that they enjoy will dig into it. They will learn what it means to tinker with words, to move them and change them until the words express what the kids are trying to say. It doesn't matter if they develop this expertise by writing longwinded fantasy stories, or reviews on video game forums. Kids who know how to manipulate words for their own purposes will be able to take on any writing format that gets thrown at them by the time they're of college age.

There may be a small learning curve, but they will adapt because they understand how to work with words. Also, they know the joy of saying just what they want to say in writing! On the other hand, kids who are marched through a bunch of writing formulas and formats may never really learn to make words work for them. If the required writing doesn't matter to them, they will put their energy into guessing at what the teacher or parent wants--not what they want to say. They won't learn to write well.

One of my favorite writing encouragements comes from writer and college English professor Thomas Newkirk:

"The good writers I see in college have often developed their skill in self-sponsored projects like journals or epic, book-length adventure stories they wrote on their own." Our task as parents really ought to be helping our kids find those self-sponsored projects!

 

Rather than pushing formal essays on kids, we can expose them to wonderful nonfiction writing on topics that interest them. If they like sports, find excellent sports writing; if they enjoy music, films or videogames, search out well-written reviews on those topics. Just the other day I saw an anthology of the best writing in mathematics! There's something for everyone. If you find nonfiction that your child enjoys, talk to him or her about it. Find out what they like and dislike about it. Help them develop opinions about which writers are their favorites and why. (This is all essay-writing practice, even if it feels like casual conversation!) After reading for a while, kids may feel inspired to try writing similar nonfiction their own. Emulating one's writing heroes is one of the best ways to learn to write.

Teens might enjoy taking part in a research paper workshop, in person with other kids, or online. You could use the book The Curious Researcher, by Bruce Ballenger, as a guide. This is a college-level text, but it could easily be adapted for teenagers. Older versions of the text are quite affordable. I like this guide because it encourages students to write a paper based on a personal interest, and it helps them hone in on their questions and curiosities about the topic, and to structure the writing around those questions. It teaches them to think like writers, and to write work that is both academic and engaging. Hallelujah! Teenagers could meet regularly to discuss and share their work in progress, adapting the text to their needs. Such a workshop would probably be best facilitated by an adult, but eager teenagers might be able to do it on their own.

Any last words of advice or wisdom about writing for parents just starting out with homeschooling?

Try not to worry so much about teaching writing, and instead take up writing yourself! Find a forum that excites you: a blog, a personal journal, even your Facebook updates. Dabble in poetry if you like it, or write about your kids. Consider taking a writing class, or finding a writing group, if that sounds exciting to you. I wrote more about this on my blog. If you experience the joys and frustrations of writing yourself, you will be able to offer better writing advice to your kids. It won't be based on your schooling; it will be based on your real writing experiences. It will be useful.

~~~

I loved what Patricia shared with us here. Thank you Patricia!

This was a long post (and if you are a homeschooling parent I do recommend you read it all) and if you need a recap I've pulled the important points out for you. More homeschoolers need to hear the freedom of this message.

  • Learning to write should not be so very different from learning to talk. It can happen quite naturally and painlessly if we allow it to evolve on its own timetable. If (kids) grow up in homes where ideas are discussed and debated, where their own ideas are valued, those kids learn how to speak clearly, logically and enthusiastically. That will absolutely carry over into their writing, eventually.
  • One of the most important things parents can do is help kids find authentic, exciting reasons to write.
  • Kids who know how to manipulate words for their own purposes will be able to take on any writing format that gets thrown at them by the time they're of college age.
  • Try not to worry so much about teaching writing, and instead take up writing yourself!

Patricia has a great homeschool blog and make sure to check out her book Workshops Work! Do you want to inspire and support meaningful writing in your homeschool? Consider the role of writer's workshops for kids and use Patricia's book as your guide.

(Post two of The Adventure of Learning series).

Written by guest contributor Aaron Myers of The Everyday Language Learner.

As my kids rolled onto the floor in front of the laptop for another episode of one of their favorite cartoons, the Anne of Green Gables animated TV series, I considered the opportunities we have as homeschool parents.

We can take our time. We work to focus on our kids’ strengths, helping them fall in love with the gifts and abilities they’ve been given and develop them to their full potential.

Writing is a chance to express ideas, share thoughts, and tell stories. It is real communication with others, like their cousins with whom they’ve been creating a running mystery, each letter containing a new clue or a secret code. Reading is no longer homework, but something you do for fun, for hours at a time and in your favorite chair, on the floor, or even in your bed.

That’s the goal anyway.

Homeschooling is not always easy. At the end of some days my wife is exhausted from the work of getting the kids to buy in, to do their share and pull their weight. On some days the rewards feel far less than adequate to keep at it. But for us there is another reason for homeschooling and it goes back to what the kids are watching - Anne of Green Gables, the animated television series - dubbed in Turkish.

I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t think that learning another language was a good idea. I suspect that you too - if you don’t already - would like to know another language. And you would love for your kids to know it as well.

Whether you are an individual wanting to learn for yourself or a homeschool mom or dad wanting to add a foreign language to the curriculum, I have a message for you:

Now is the time to begin the language learning journey.

But It’s Hard

As adults we tend not to repeat experiences that were difficult or painful in our past. The unfortunate reality for most of us however is that the foreign language classrooms of our youth were both difficult and painful.

Why would we do that again? I wouldn’t.

But thankfully, we don’t need to. Schools too often treat languages like a frog on the dissecting table. But the place to learn about frogs, at least in the beginning, is out at the pond, in its natural surroundings.

Language is the same. We should experience language before we have it explained to us. We should get exposure before we analyze it. And in the case of learning another language, play should most definitely come before work - for us and especially for our kids.

But I’m Busy

You're a mom. A homemaker. A dad. A homeschooler. A writer. A photographer. A cross country skier. You’re making a living. You’re raising kids. You’re doing your level best to create a life that brings freedom and joy and growth to you and your family.

And the thought of adding “learn another language” to the list seems overwhelming and out of the question.

I want to encourage you - don’t add it to the list. Rather, think about incorporating the language into your life, into your existing activities. Think fun. Think play. Think purpose.

What does that look like you ask?

Here are some ideas to help you wrap your mind around it. Renee and her crew are on the journey to learn French so I’ll tailor the ideas to the Tougas family:

Why should you learn another language?

And more importantly, why should you learn another language with your kids?

Learning another language with your kids offers a rare opportunity for you and your children. When you learn with your children they will:

  • see you as a learner - a real learner working, struggling even, to learn a new language.
  • see you when the rubber meets the road; as a mentor, a model, and as a fellow learner.
  • be able to collaborate and interact with you in ways that other topics just don’t allow - topics that by their standards you are the expert in.
  • be empowered because you are choosing to be dis-empowered, to step down and learn beside them.

The opportunity to learn a new language and to include your kids on that journey is an amazing blessing. You will learn from them and them from you in ways that math and science just don’t allow.

A new dynamic is created, one in which you are no longer the teacher but rather a fellow learner. And in this we can be confident that we will be teaching the lessons of hard work, discipline, problem solving and lifelong learning to our kids because we are with them on the journey.

That is why you should learn another language with your kids.

But I Don’t Know How

There is perhaps no more pressing question for learning a new language than the question of ‘how’.

How do we learn it? And for homeschool moms, how do we teach it?

It's not as hard as you think. I'm going to show you some ideas in a video.

At The Everyday Language Learner my passion is to empower learners from all over the world to know both why and how to learn other languages. I write regular articles to that end but have also created a number of great resources to empower learners on the journey.

Click here to see all the Everyday Language Guides.

I want to give FIMBY readers a special discount. Use the coupon code FIMBY to get 20% off of any guide.

Also, The Ten Week Journey, offered through my blog, is a free email course I developed to help walk ordinary people into the extraordinary life of the independent language learner.

~~~

Renee here again. I invited Aaron to write this post because if you want to learn another language as a personal or homeschool goal, I'd like to help you reach that goal. And Aaron is the guy to go to for help.

Aaron is a language coach, writer, and the author of numerous language guides. There's a lot of stuff on his site (which might overwhelm you a bit, it did me) so I'm personally recommending his Fly First Class package because it includes so much for such a great price, and remember you get a FIMBY discount!

My own language learning journey was really helped along by reading The Everyday Language Learner Guide to Getting Started (which is included in the Fly First Class.)

Aaron's teaching helps you learn another language in a real life, interest-driven context. His guides are written for the adult learner but what he teaches can be applied in a homeschool setting. In fact, the homeschool setting is perfect for the Everyday Language Learner.

This post has affiliate links.

Written by Guest Contributor Kim Wilson of Simply Natural Health.

Too many of us spend too much money and too much time pursuing diet and lifestyle changes that are professed to make our lives radically better yet in the end seem to make almost no difference at all. This is just too discouraging (and costly!).

For years my mother-in-law cycled through diet plans, losing weight and then regaining it in complete defeat. So when my husband developed health issues in his early thirties and suggested we make some diet changes he was very clear in telling me “I’m not going on a diet. I’m not aiming to lose weight. I just want to restore my health and I think some of these changes will make the difference”.

Well, they certainly did! And not only did he find himself relieved of high blood pressure and Meniere’s Syndrome but he “accidentally” lost about 125 pounds as well! And this was a very good thing considering he had been overweight most of his life and his weight was approaching 300 pounds at the time! (check out some of our BEFORE and AFTER photos here.)

So what miracle diet plan did we use? Did we drink nothing but cranberry juice and eat nothing but celery sticks?

Far from it.

What we learned was that if we eat food as close to the way it was created as possible and focus on nutrient-rich foods (i.e. plant-based foods) our bodies naturally restore health and our body weight normalizes. We found we were able to lose weight and gain health on the very same foods.

Now some may think, that’s all good and fine for you, but you probably already had a pretty decent diet and you must have liked cooking to spend so much time preparing all these healthy meals.

Far from it again.

You can read our full story here, but the truth is my husband was a serious junk-food, meat-and-potato guy and I didn’t like cooking at all (plenty of “Hamburger Helper” type meals). My husband had never eaten fresh fruit nor salads prior to making this change and his favorite meal (really!) was 2 hot dogs, a bag of chips and a soda from the local gas station.

So how did we get from there to a whole natural plant-based diet? Gradually. Very gradually.

John had the thought that whole foods would be better than processed and that reducing the amount of animal-based products (meat and dairy) would be beneficial to our health. Now, this was in the 1990’s, so organic and plant-based diets weren’t the popular notion they are now.

I got every book on natural foods I could find and began experimenting. I reworked our favorite recipes into healthier versions and streamlined what were otherwise time-consuming natural dishes. John’s health improved and the weight began dropping off.

Now it’s important to point out that he never reduced the quantity of food he ate, nor did we count calories or worry about the percentage of fat in our diet. We trusted that whole, natural foods (including plenty of raw) would restore our health. And we didn’t even have to suffer through the process. We found that good foods actually taste good. And fourteen years later we’re still enjoying this style of eating and the benefits of it!

The key factors I’ve found for sticking with a more wholesome way of eating is that the dishes are affordable, easy to prepare and incredibly tasty. These are the goals I have with all my recipes and you can find an assortment of them on my recipe blog. You can also order any of my cookbooks through our website.

~~~

Renee here again. I know this is the time of year that many people are trying to make healthy changes to their diet. I invited Kim to share her story and resources with us to inspire and help you along this path. 

Our family has been enjoying her good & easy chili recipe in the last couple weeks. It's included in her cookbook Good and Easy Eats, which at $4.99 I have to say is a steal of a deal. Also, Kim's recipes avoid gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, sugar, yeast, and animal products. And they taste good!