Category Archives: Parenting


How do you raise a writer?

Here is a recent question from a homeschooling mom of a 6 and 8 year old.

“ I think I have the other subjects figured out, but how do I work on writing? They really don’t like writing.”

My take:

First: Relax.

At these ages all you really need to do is have writing be real, meaningful and FUN!!!! Think about playing with writing rather than teaching writing.

One of our favorite ways to play with writing was making clue hunts. Dale loved to find things, so we would hide a treasure and write clues, a little kind of riddle – sometimes they rhymed – that would lead to the treasure. There might only be 5 clues total, each clue leading to the next clue and the final clue leading to the hiding place. I wrote them for him, we wrote them together for friends and family, and as he got older, he could write them for me. I can’t remember if this started as a rainy day game or a way to make having just a few presents seem like more fun. We would hide the birthday cake and party favors, or the breakfast ingredients on easter morning. We used a small basket and hid all the things to go in the basket rather than having it be filled to begin with.

We loved to play with writing riddles, jokes, silly poetry, Haiku, alternate song lyrics, rhymes for inside of cards and letters, and love notes to hide in a lunch or under a pillow.

Second: Stay present.

Focus on thinking about where they are now instead of the future and whether they will ever be writers. Don’t worry about judging and measuring or comparing their writing.

BTW Dale did not like to write when he was in school, and there were times when he hated writing – which usually corresponded to me pushing it in a “you’re not doing it right” way.

Start a daily writing practice that is fun and meaningful: a gratitude journal. You can have a family journal, but there is great power in each person having their own and writing in it once a day as a daily ritual all at the same time.

It doesn’t matter if they can’t write yet. They can scribble or draw or whatever they can do at their level. This can be for just a few minutes- make it short and sweet and then allow folks to share, if they want to. You go first. They can tell you what they wrote. Please, don’t kill the moment or motivation with praise, which  is unnecessary and counterproductive. Just listen to what they are saying and acknowledge that you hear and see them. You can say, thank you for sharing if you need to say something.

How to  raise a writer? Dale Stephens and his grandpa writing a song
Dale and Grandpa writing a song.


Third: Model writing and reflection.

Demonstrate the joy and purpose of writing: to share our ideas and to connect. Show them that you love to write and how much you use writing to think and do things in the course of daily living rather then as a lesson. Our actions speak louder than words

“Hey, let’s make the shopping list.” “What should we have for dinner this week? Let’s write a menu.” “I miss Grandma, lets write her a letter.”  “I love this _______, let’s write a thank you note.” “Let’s make a plan for what we want to do today.” “I’m going to write a list of all the pIaces I want to go this year, how about you?”

Start a blog and let them see you writing and sharing and getting feedback. Instead of always asking them to participate, try waiting until they want to contribute or start their own projects.

Fourth:Pay attention.

Try to notice, without emphasizing, if they are struggling. Can you pinpoint where the difficulty lies: is it handwriting, generating ideas, or getting the ideas from the heart to paper?

Mea culpa moment:

Once I was running a poetry activity at a nature camp. One little girl was struggling, so I went to help. We were writing about the sitting beautiful old apple tree we were sitting under. I asked her leading questions about the 5 senses and how she felt and took notes as she answered my questions. I congratulated myself as I handed her the paper.  “See, you know exactly what you want to write. There you go. You can write your poem now.”

She shook her head, looked at me with her big brown eyes  and  bravely sighed, “ Well, I’ll try but I can’t read or write.”

I’d totally forgotten that she was the youngest in the group. She was only 4 years old, tall for her age and an incredibly self-possessed younger sister of another camper. All the rest of the campers were 8-12.

I was so in my own head about how the activity was going, I stopped seeing the child in front of me.  Paying close attention to the child will help give you ideas for how you can support your developing writer. Write your ideas down so you don’t forget!

The more you write and provide real, meaningful opportunities to write, the more your kids will see the value of writing and want to join in the fun.

Good luck! What ideas do you have for making writing fun and meaningful? I’d love to hear them. Email me  at learningbeyondschool or tell me on twitter!  Thanks, Lisa.

How Can I Teach my Kids if I’m Not a Teacher?

But what if I’m not a teacher?

I often hear this question from parents.  When we began homeschooling, even though I HAD a credential,  people constantly asked, “But how will you teach high school when you are only an elementary teacher ?” I know how intimidating it feels.  Don’t let it stop you.

how can I teach my kids if I am not a teacher?
photo credit: Suzie, @unschool

Breaking news: Like it or not, if you are a parent you already are a teacher.

Becoming more aware of what you are teaching and improving how you do it will make you a better parent and help your child learn. It’s kind of scary once you understand that how you live and interact everyday is what you are really teaching your child.

It’s okay. Breathe.

I am not trying to denigrate teachers. But I would like you to consider a few points:

  1. There is no reason to teach the way you were taught, and many well documented reasons from brain research to help learners in new ways.
  2. At one point all teachers were not teachers yet. They started somewhere.
  3. The best “teachers” in our lives are not  always a person or necessarily some one person with a degree in teaching.  
  4. Supporting the learner’s needs and the processes of exploration, growth and connection is more important than teacher training skills or subject matter expertise.
  5. The most important quality of a great teacher is the willingness to be learning all the time, along with and from the student.
  6. One of the most important things we can teach someone is to love learning and how they can learn for themselves, without needing us to plan, manage or direct learning.
  7. We teach the most by how we live our lives.

You may have lots that you want to learn. That’s a good thing.

You may need to have courage to stand up for yourself and kids and go against the grain. This is a great lesson to model for your kids.

There will always be challenges. Just because you make the decision to unschool or homeschool doesn’t mean issues, difficulties and challenges will disappear. They may change, They lessen. But life is full of challenges and opportunities. Every problem is an opportunity for learning and adventure. Showing our kids how to deal with difficulties, determine our priorities, and make decisions in line with our values is some of the most important teaching we can do.

I assure you, if you pay attention, are honest, reflect, and are willing to learn, then you can figure it out.

I give you permission to teach.

But what is most important is that you give yourself permission to learn.

Book Review: Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn

front cover of Punished by Rewards, book review at LisaNalbone.comThis book makes me want to get on a soapbox and shout: read this! Think!

I want us to take a look at how we use praise, rewards, power, control and coercion, even inadvertently, on a daily basis.

 I want us to have the courage to take steps to make changes that will truly help our children grow and learn.

I want it to be required reading for every parent, teacher and boss.

Kohn challenges us to question a pervasive mode of operating that many of us have come to accept as normal:

“My premise here is that rewarding people for compliance is not  ‘the way the world works’  as many insist. It is not a fundamental law of human nature. It is but one way of thinking and organizing our experience and dealing with others.  It may seem natural to us, but it actually reflects a particular ideology that can be questioned. I think it is long past time that we do so…” 

Kohn examines the underlying beliefs of behaviorism and the spread of these ideas across institutions and through society.  He looks at the implication of the use of rewards in the workplace, in schools and in the home. Continue reading