What to do with a gifted writer?

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My youngest son is a writer. He has been a writer from the beginning. When he was three he would wander around not so much with a book in his hand, as the twins did, but with a pad of paper and a pencil. I have some of his earliest books that he wrote, cute little Mr. Men inspired books, that have a cover, a story, and illustrations. He was making these at four.

Since this time he has stayed with writing, never straying from it. It is his passion, and it is how he identifies himself. The youngest boy spends hours a day writing, and I try to give him the time and space for this. But I have struggled a little recently with trying to figure out how to cultivate this passion of his.

I have found that it is not as easy to find materials for an advanced writer as it would be for a student advanced in mathematics or the sciences. I think part of the reason for this is that there is not as much material out there especially for gifted writers and part of this is that it is hard for younger students to take advanced language art classes (where writing is usually lumped in) because the material may be inappropriate for younger students. The book choices in many of the high school classes I have looked at would be over a younger student’s head in many ways. The themes and meanings of these books are usually best understood when you are older and have more experience.

So what to do? How should I approach this boy and his passion? Up to now I have mostly been hands-off and let him lead the way. This has worked great, but I do feel he is at a point where he is ready to get to the next level in his writing, and I need to provide him with some resources to help him. I have spent some time these past few weeks looking at what was out there and have put together several resources for him this semester. I am hoping this will be enough for now.

1. Books and lectures about writing – I recently discovered that he enjoys listening to writers talk about writing. I just downloaded the audiobook of Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine and he loves it. Actually we have all been listening to it with him, and we are all enjoying it. It is full of some good advice and listening to another writer talk about the process has inspired him.

Because he is enjoying this book so much I decided to also get some lectures on writing from The Great Courses. These are obviously written for older writers, but I thought we would work our way through them slowly. He is at the same age as the twins were when they began enjoying many of these courses, so I am hoping he will too.

2. Online classes – I signed him up for a Brave Writer class last fall not really knowing what to expect. I wasn’t sure how the class (Just So Stories) would be set up, and I wasn’t sure that he would find the experience enjoyable and challenging. To my surprise he was very happy with it, and although it is a multi-age class for writers of all abilities, he found he fit in as well as everyone else. The boy ended the class writing a story in a genre he never would have if he hadn’t taken the class.

Because of this great experience I have signed him up for two writing classes this semester. One is with Bravewriter again and the other is through Gifted Homeschoolers Online. In this class the students will create a town through writing which is an interesting approach. The boy picked out this class himself, and he is very much looking forward to it.

3. Self-publishing – The boy has gotten to a point where he could benefit from getting his work out there. I am not sure how to approach this yet, but we have decided to start a writer’s blog for him where he can share not only some of his work but also his thoughts on writing. I am going to help him with this over the next few months and hopefully by March or April he will have a little blog of his own.

4. Reading biographical books about authors – I was pleasantly surprised last year by how much the boy delighted in reading several books I picked out about writers when they were young. The books most loved by him were Small Steps and The DreamerThis semester I am going to have him read some more. I haven’t compiled a booklist yet, as I am still researching. Hopefully in a few weeks I will have a list of books.

5. Audiobooks – He has a subscription to Audible, for he loves to listen to books almost as much as he loves to write them. Although he reads every day this was not enough for him. With an Audible subscription and with Overdrive from the library (a free service) he listens to several books a month. To me reading is tied into writing, so I am happy to support this love.

Book Clubs and their importance in the Middle School Years

Cake is also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

Cake also makes for a great book club! Here is a Frankenstein cake that one of our members made for the month we all studied the book.

There has been a good deal of debate on one of the homeschool forums I visit about how to best prep a child for their high school years. Many of the ideas that pop up are, to my mind, over-rigorous and not age appropriate. A middle-school aged child does not need to learn everything a high school aged student will. That is not preparing for high school, that is doing high school work in middle school. That may work for some students, but for many students it will only stress them out or be lost on them.

I understand the pull to do more and more at a younger age. Parents are under so much pressure to create smarter and smarter kids earlier and earlier in the game. But is it really necessary and does it benefit anyone? Many of the skills that parents want to teach their young student can be learned in the first half of ninth grade at a fairly quick pace because the student is ready to learn the skills. The amount of maturity that happens between eleven and fourteen is amazing. If your middle schooler is struggling with writing a good thesis, creating a killer outline, and coming up with amazing essays don’t worry. They will get there eventually.

So what then should your middle schooler be working on? Looking back on the twins time at this stage I believe the biggest help to their high school English studies was being involved in a book club with their peers. A book club that read a variety of books from the classics to non-fiction. A book club that created a safe place were all members could respond to the book with their opinions without being criticized. A book club that asked questions and allowed the kids to debate the answers. A book club that fostered a love for books and for thinking and discussing the books.

Most importantly, a book club that did not ask the participants to do any busy work. In fact besides actually reading the book (or listening to the audio version) there was no pre-assigned work at all. No worksheets to fill out, no questions to answer. Instead the kids were asked to think about what they read, form an opinion on what they read, and then share (and sometimes defend) that opinion with others.

How easy is that? And yet, after being in a book club for a few years, I saw the difference it made. The twins would actively be thinking about what they read. They would figure out their opinion on what they read. They would argue that opinion with examples from what they read.

Today they do much of the same thing except with more maturity and sophistication. Also they now share their opinions in essay form which, in many ways, built upon the skills they learned in their book club.

So if you are looking for something to get your middle-school aged students involved in, something that will help them in their high school years, I recommend a book club. If there is not one around you, form one. It is not hard to lead a book club, and you do not need that many students. A few kids that meet once a month discussing the classics is all it takes.

An Amazing Year

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

After homeschooling for over ten years I have come to the harsh conclusion that every year is not always going to be great. Sometimes the curriculum is a bad match or a child is going through a hard time. Whatever the reason, some years are definitely better than others.

The twins and I still talk about their third grade year. It was an incredibly rewarding year. Decca and I look back fondly on his second grade year when he worked through a whole level of Moving Beyond the Page. He loved every book we read and enjoyed all the projects. Here at TADTown we haven’t had a wonderful year like that for a few years now. We haven’t had horrible years, but they weren’t amazing by any means.

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This year though is going to be remembered as the Great Homeschooling Year of 2014. It has turned out better than I expected, and I am so happy that everything is going so smoothly for everyone. The twins and I have figured out this high school thing, and they are loving all of their classes. They are doing well in them all, and I don’t have to hold their hands anymore. Last year they were transitioning to independent workers who took control of their education, and this year they are managing their classes on their own and are clearly in the driver’s seat. I still teach them British Literature (and I enjoy it so much as it is our only time that we are actively learning together), but for everything else they are learning in online classes independently of me.

The youngest boy is also having a wonderful year. He even remarked to me the other day that this is his favorite year ever. Some of this is due to the curriculum I choose for him, some of this has to do with his maturity, and some of this has to do to the fact that he underwent more testing at the beginning of the year. This testing helped me see a more complete picture of him which in turn aided my choices for the year. Because of his testing I decided to go back to a charter school for him. In addition to financial support for homeschooling, we have been matched with a wonderful ES who is credentialed in Special Education which is incredibly helpful to both of us.

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The curriculum that is working for my 2E kid is a mix of different resources. For language arts we are working through Bravewriter, and this year we added in our first Bravewriter class, Just So Stories. This was a great success for the boy, and we both are looking forward to more classes with Bravewriter. We will probably do two more this school year and alternate them with issues of the Arrow. In addition to Bravewriter, he continues to write his own stories every day. He is a writer and needs hours a day to write in order to feel successful.

For math I had to re-think my plans after his testing. Everything I thought we would do went out the window and was instead replaced with Math Works, a program I found for kids who are behind their peers in math. It is not overwhelming to the boy and is getting done everyday. To me that makes it a success.

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For science he started out watching all the BrainPop videos (again!) and then we started Ferret Ecology from Royal Fireworks Press. This is another winner here, so much so that we ordered Plague! too. I believe the boy enjoys working through this because it is problem-based learning which allows him to research, which he loves to do, to find answers. There is also a good deal of writing required in the program and because this is his strength he is happy to do it.

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My history plans went out the window within our first week of school. First I thought I would let him study whatever he wanted, following his interests and see where that leads us. That did not work at all. Then I decided we would use History Odyssey and study medieval history. This also did not work, at all. Finally we moved on to American History. I have created my own study for him based on all the previous years that I have taught this to the kids. It is a nice, laid back study which for whatever reason he really likes. We found a timeline app, and he works on it everyday. We read through an encyclopedia and visit various websites for topics related to whatever we are studying. He also reads a book or two a week on various topics.

In addition to the academic work he does, the boy has a good deal of free time everyday to work on his own projects and to listen to audiobooks. He needs this time, for when he has it he does better in the academic work. We probably spend two hours at the most on formal work, the rest of the time is his own. This works for him, and it works for me. It also makes for a great school year. One of the best years we have ever had.

Art Class for Teens

Today I have a guest post by my mom who is teaching the twins an art class at her studio in Laguna Beach. She is having so much fun with it that she is thinking about offering it to more teens in the future which I think would be a great idea.

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I have decided to teach an art class for teens this new year. I have started with my twin 14-year-old grandchildren to see how it goes. One is very creative, loves to draw, and indeed outshines me at her age. Her brother is creative in math and science and CAN NOT DRAW! and has told me so many times. Which is why I have put together a class I think they both will love, at least they get up in the morning without grumbling and that’s always a good sign. Just in case though, we take a short walk to my favorite coffee shop, order some coffee or hot chocolate, and walk back to my studio in Laguna Beach armed with our hot drinks before tackling an hour of art in my studio.

photo 3 (12)My loose schedule for the semester is this: we start each class with line drawings–blind contour, gestural lines, continuous lines. Right now we are doing blind contour sketches which is drawing an object with a continuous line and without looking at your paper. As they have found, it’s hard not to look at your sketch to see where you are and how you are doing. I have found this is a bit more difficult for someone who does a lot of drawing than it is for the one that doesn’t. This exercise loosens them up plus they’re fun; even for the math/science teens out there.

Here are some of their blind contour drawings.

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Autry takes her sketch book wherever she goes and has drawn a sketch of Tru. This is also a blind contour sketch but drawn in the car; a continuous line and I think, a wonderful, fluid pen and ink drawing:

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The next project we are working on is self-portraits (the selfies of the old days). I have shown them self-portraits of artists from the past as well as more modern artists–to show them different painting styles and let them know that there is never a right way or wrong way in doing this:

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We’re in the middle of this project. I am having them do one quickly and then spend a little more time with another one. We will use several mediums in completing these.

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During each class I try to introduce them briefly to a bit of art history (while they’re drinking their coffee or tea) as it relates to what we are doing at the moment and by showing some of the artists works and perhaps a bit about the artist that they may find interesting; for instance, Henri Matisse. When he couldn’t paint anymore he became successful doing cutouts. He called it scissor art.

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We are trying our hand at this process. First we chose colors similar to what Matisse chose and painted heavy paper with these colors.

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Next, we will cut pieces out and put them together and see what happens!

I also have planned a trip to the Laguna Art Museum where we will see an exhibit of Wayne Thiebaud. He is a working artist living in California. A sample of his work:

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This is just some of the things I have planned. I want them to focus on creativity and invention. What I don’t want is to spend time on laborious projects in this first class. My goal is to have fun, look forward to getting together, and learn a little bit along the way.

This post is part of the February 2014 Let’s Homeschool High School Blog Hop.

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Homeschool Philosophy – A Meaningful Education

Last night I was having a great deal of trouble sleeping and, as is common for me, my mind started wandering. I began thinking about our homeschool journey, and I tried to put into words what my overall homeschool philosophy is.

The first thing I have come to realize is that I do not favor the term “homeschooling”. Yes my kids stay home for school, but I feel this term does not completely cover all that happens in the education of my children. They learn at home, at museums, at classes, with peers, with family, online. They sometimes sit at the dining room table, sometimes they are outside on a blanket, sometimes they are at a coffee shop, sometimes they are in the car, and so their education is not tied to home, nor do they always spend a great deal of time home. Also I feel people often hear the word “homeschooling” and a picture comes into their head that is not entirely accurate. I don’t like that.

Instead of homeschooling, I would like others to know that my children are being educated in a purposeful and meaningful way. I don’t simply follow a public school education at home. Instead I purposefully educate my children following a very specific path that I believe offers them the greatest chance at an education that is both engaging and worthy. One that exposes a great many ideas to the kids and allows them the tools to succeed and the time to develop their talents. An education that keeps in mind the child, the teen, the young adult and allows them to grow. An education that pays little heed to standards, public school goals, or the masses and instead thinks about the individual and his or her needs and gifts.

I started out on this path with a classical model, and this was a great way to start. Now I see that I have taken that model and adjusted it to my family and my beliefs. I do see that we have homeschooled in three different stages, but they are not the classical education stages. This model was too limiting for me and not healthy for the kids. For us the stages have morphed into a different model. They are:

Stage 1 – From about age 4 to 9, this is the time of exposure and exploring. Exposure to all the wonders of the world from science and math to art and music and everything in between. Listen to audio books, read together, look at art together, listen to classical music, jazz music, world music. Watch old movies, foreign movies, independent movies. Explore nature, have fun with science experiments, study the night sky, read poetry. Turn your back on the common culture  and instead open up a world of wonder.  This is also a time of short lessons, outdoor play, and free time that allows the imagination to soar. This is a fun stage, enjoy it and don’t stress about their formal education.

Stage 2 – From about age 10 to 13/14 – This is a transition stage and will differ for each child. This is the time to cement a child’s skills, find the child’s passions, and move the child from a free learning environment to a more structured and formal one. My youngest is in this stage now. This year we are working on cementing his math skills and he is exploring his passions which include writing, animation, composing, and cooking. Right now I would guess he is going to be a writer when he is older, but I cannot be positive. He enjoys playing piano, making cartoons, and cooking almost as much as writing, so I am devoting time to all these areas to see where it takes him. He may end up losing interest in one area or discovering a real passion in another. These years give us the time to discover and explore one’s passions and develop the necessary skills  needed to take one’s passions to a higher level.

Stage 3 – From 13/14 to adult – We are just beginning our time in this stage, but it has been so much fun to see the twins spread their wings and take off. I have some great goals for this stage that I have already written about, but I want to articulate in words what the overall theme of this stage is.  This is the stage where passions get developed to a high level, where school is approached in a serious matter, and where the child transitions to an adult. Although the children are transitioning to adults, I am there every step of the way to guide them and help them, but we are now partners in this journey and no longer in teacher/student roles. By this stage the kids know what their goals are for the next few years, they know what they have to do to get there. I give them the tools they need to help them, and I give them the time they need to reach their goals. I do not micro-manage the teens; instead I support them and help them get to where they want to go.

This stage is a wonderful place to be as a home-educating parent. I am enjoying all the benefits of the years past, and more than ever, I am positive that our education journey was the best journey for us to take as a family, especially as a single parent on a limited income.  The kids are motivated, confident, and driven, and I am proud of who they are and where they are in life.

It is not always smooth-sailing though. Some days are harder than others because of the fact that I am a dealing with teenagers who are grappling with hormones, teen issues, and growing up (this is never easy for anybody). I try to always remember what it was like to be a teen, and I often deal with the kids with compassion and understanding (this too will pass is a familiar phrase around here) instead of anger or punishment. This helps all of us navigate this stage and makes it more enjoyable. Before I know it the kids will be out of the house and onto their own lives. I want to enjoy them as much as I can while they are still here.

Of course this is just a quick little blog post about our educational journey and my philosophy. I hope to develop these ideas further in subsequent blog posts, but for now I had to get down in words what was going through my head all night. It may make sense to you or it may seem crazy. Either reaction is completely reasonable. This is our journey, nothing more, nothing less.

Easing back into school

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Right now at TAD Town, Tru is working on honors Algebra 2 through CTY, Decca is going over his Latin vocabulary, and Autry is on her first lesson for the year in Teaching Textbooks. We are slowly easing into school, and I am so happy to be back on our school schedule. Summer break is always needed around here, but after a while our school routine is a welcome comfort to us all.

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Autry was reading a favorite old book today, The Daring Book for Girls, and she came across the section on how to make a flower crown. She decided she wanted to make one, so we went out in the nature preserve searching for flowers. We found a nice assortment and brought them home so we could identify them.

photo (88)After identifying the flowers Autry got to work making her crown, and I arranged the other flowers for our mantle. They smell so wonderful together, especially the Cowboy Sage, and they brighten up the house on this cold, foggy day. Unfortunately we couldn’t identify the small white flowers. We still need to research that.

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photo (84)The crown turned out great, and it made me think about that old book that Autry use to love so much when she was younger. Maybe it would be fun for her to work through the projects now that she is older and can do all of it on her own. Hmm…something to think about.

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Bird Watching

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The kids and I were quite surprised yesterday by a visitor right behind our house. Kingsley was the first to spot the bird, and he let us know with his savage bark (he really wanted to catch the bird for us).

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This Great Egret let us get very close and take lots of pictures. It was a wonderful experience, and I was quite thankful for it. 

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You see I have been feeling very guilty about our lack of nature studies this year. It seems we have been busy with so much else that we have had very little time for nature. And this makes me sad. This beautiful egret was a reminder of what we have been missing. 

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