Good Essay for a Homeschooler? 6 Questions that Help


Hi, Firstly, thank you for answering all of my questions. After a careful look I was able to find all the downloads and have listened to the first 3 lessons. The Essay Course is quite different from your Writing Course.

How would you advise a homeschool mum who has very limited experience with essay writing? I have a reluctant 15 year old daughter who understands the importance of learning how to write clearly but has a fear when it comes to writing essays.Does this program give a step by step guide on how to write a great essay and give essay tasks or do I need to come up with writing tasks? I read that you suggest that my daughter re-write her essay until it is great, do you have some information for me on how I can help guide her or mark the essay? I'm not sure I could even tell her what a good essay or what isn't.​

Homeschool Mom (Nadia)                 


Yes, I do think the Essay Course will give her plenty of direction to become good at essays. I'm assuming she can already write pretty well...if not, she needs to go through The Writing Course and practice some more. There isn't much of a point of working on something formal like essays if the student can't yet manage 'made up' sentences and paragraphs (The Writing Course)

Given what you've told me, I think I might first begin with getting her to do a number of book reports until she gets good at them (at least 5). Of course, I mean book reports done the way we recommend:


From there she will be getting more comfortable sharing her view about something in writing.

Next, move to writing 5 different essays, with one re-write on each.

Finally, make one essay the object of writing and re-writing until it is great and she knows what is needed.

This isn't a 'single day' process for any of the things I mention above (unless she just wants to spend a whole day on something). You are growing a skill which takes a little time.

In evaluating an essay, think about these things and give feedback accordingly.

1. Do I know the author's opinion now that I've read the essay?
2. Is the language and grammar fine or is it distracting?
3. Do I understand the aim of the essay from the beginning?
4. Is the essay organized and easy to follow (using major points)?
5. Does the essay make sense?
6. Is there a good review/summary at the end of the essay?

REMEMBER: Always ask,
"Would this sound a little better with ____________________________?"
when you are making a suggestion or giving feedback (as we teach in our Writing Course).

Well, that should be a good start!

Hope that helps,

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand Jr.

Get The Writing Course + The Essay Course (Click)

At Least Don’t Teach Grammar Before Age 11

As you may well know, I have been an almost-lone-voice in how rediculously useless teaching grammar (to grow writers) is as homeschoolers. Honestly, it's the same with mass education as well. Happily, or sadly, the Brits are figuring this out as well 🙂

​In an article in THE ECONOMIST entitled Rue the Rules, the author (Johnson) is strikingly honest about the problem with grammar instruction at earlier ages:

Explicit and overly abstract grammar teaching before the age of 11 is a bit like throwing seeds, that one hopes will turn into healthy plants, onto thawing early-spring ground yet to be ploughed. At this young age, spelling and punctuation—which are necessary but straightforward memorisable drudgery—can be introduced. But to expect the teaching of the modal verb and the determiner to make good writers out of young students is not “raising standards”. It is making a category error: writing and explaining syntax are related but not identical. Young children should read, then they should write, write and read again. The formal terms can wait for a later age.

Frankly, grammar is only effective for analysis of a text (as in Bible or Literature scholarship). It is all-but-never helpful for encouraging writing. Rudolph Flesch took (the author of Why Johnny Can't Read) us to task about this years ago.

Youngs students need to read and write and read and write. This very approach improves motivation and connects the student to the instinct everyone has for language.

If you are a parent and think doing grammar correctly is the key, please re-think this view. Language is an evolving thing & no Grammarian ever won a Nobel Prize for Literature. We need inventiveness and freshness in writing.

Please help bring about a fresh generation of writers. Please stop with the obsession on grammar. If grammar was the key and given to absolutes, then we'd all still sound like Shakespeare (or Chaucer) wouldn't we?


Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

P.S. We have a writing curriculum that is built on this very idea of instinct over grammar. Check it out:​

Just Admit It – Learning Involves Frustration

When I taught the high school fine arts class at Midland Classical Academy, I used a little phrase— “Everything’s hard before it’s easy, but it’s easy once you know how.” I don’t know if it was Sesame Street or Mister Rogers, but somebody started the silly notion that education should really be fun or children won’t learn. What a terrible thing for a child to believe…and, I might add…have to ‘shake off’ in order to get a PhD!

The fact is that learning involves NEW, and new involves UNCOMFORTABLE. However, just like our emotions, the discomfort doesn’t last. One of the great lessons in education is to looking at the task, admitting you don’t feel like doing it, and then saying, “So what?’—then getting started because learning is a little more important than your momentary feelings!

This makes the difference in college. Recognizing that learning involves frustration because we are trying to reach a goal of knowing something we didn’t know before, everything becomes less frustrating. It may seem to be a paradox, but knowing that learning isn’t ‘a snap’ gives you (and your students) a realistic assessment of what they are facing. Surely you don’t go on a long trip with the kids thinking your just going over to Wal-mart…do you?

So, if you are teaching your children at home (and everyone is!…not just homeschoolers), then realize that you are giving them a real gift in learning some discipline. If they can grasp the lesson and go from ‘not enjoy’ to ‘enjoy’ learning through discipline…nothing will be out there to stop them!


Fred Lybrand

One Word Explains Why Some People Are Learners and Some People Are Not

In the last letter we looked at the fact that FRUSTRATION is a big part of learning, but becoming a good learner isn’t just about overcoming frustration.  There is a second thing that explains what makes a good learner.

What is the One Word that Explains Why Some People Are Learners and Some People Are Not?

It’s definitely not the word intellect!

There are bright people who don’t learn and average people who go on from learning to learning.  If you’ll just pay attention to yourself you can figure this one out!  When have you learned your best?  What was the subject?  Why were you so interested?  Do you think this is any different for children or adults?

My guess is that you are thinking you were ‘interested’ or ‘entertained’, but neither of those explain it.  Let me give you a personal example.  I used to hate music…and I hated musicals even more!  The Sound of Music honestly used to wig me out…but today I love musicals (I’ll tell you why in a moment).  Now, I’m not trying to tell you a secret for liking things you hate, but rather to learning things that don’t interest you.  More importantly, this can a big difference with helping your children learn.

What is the secret?  Well, in the last post we discussed the fact that FRUSTRATION is a key.  Of course, it’s true–unless a student learns to tolerate frustration, there isn’t much of a chance to learn.  Instead, they’ll just blame the teacher, the system, or ‘the man’ (whoever that is in each context).  While learning to tolerate frustration in order to learn is important, it isn’t the reason some of us learn things and others don’t.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to change how you feel about a subject so you could immediately and joyfully begin to study it?  Well, it isn’t only possible, it is likely, if you’ll make use of this one word:


Learning always involves curiosity (the exception might be when fear is forcing someone to learn something he otherwise isn’t interested in).

Curiosity draws us along as learners.  It adds intrigue and mystery and hope to the effort.  If you are curious, then you have the energy to satisfy that curiosity.  You want to know (learn) because that is where satisfaction is…not knowing (learning) is dissatisfaction and angst (the good kind).

With music (and musicals) and me , one day I asked a new question, “Why do so many people like musicals, The Sound of Music in particular?”  So, armed with that question I found the answer… a part of which, is that you must realize the movie’s ‘universe or world’ isn’t the same as our own.  The rules are different there so people can break out into song to communicate (yes, I was missing this point).  There are other reasons, but I’ll leave that to your own curiosity.

Make it Useful

OK, so Dr. Lybrand, what do we do with this info?  Well, if you are a teacher of any kind (and especially if you homeschool), then why not invite more curiosity in your students?  I did not say ‘make it more interesting’ here.  How could you make curiosity happen?  The easiest way is by asking questions.  Specifically, something like, “Who…what…when…where…why…how.”  Or, “What would you like to know about this?”  Who would learning this subject help?  How does this work?  Why is studying this subject valuable?  Where will you use this if your really learn it?”  It’s even better to think of your own ways!

Well, you get the idea.  Here’s where to start— Start with being curious about helping others get curious about their own learning.  If you get curious about learning and teaching…you’ll figure it out.

How do I know?  Well, you’re curious aren’t you?


Fred Lybrand

What Should They Study in College?

So, I’m going to be a lone and stupid voice…but I want to save you all the heartache in life I possibly can.

Tiringly, parents incessantly nag their kids into pursuing careers that they are suited to only mildly if it at…and mostly because of money.  Now, before you think about an exception–just leave it there, it is an exception.  The Grand Mistake is Pursing a Job Path in College as Your Primary Goal.

Here’s the truth—when you check it out, you find that about 85% of Americans are not in the career field they studied (for) within 10 years of graduation.  Do you see the problem yet?  100 folks study hard and in 10 years only 15 of them are still in that field (surely engineers are an exception!)  The reasons are likely multiple, yet understandable.  Industries are dying and rising before our eyes—change-and-retooling is the climate in this increasingly face-paced world.  However, another reason is even more likely— most people find out they basically HATE the field they study for!  They were young, they looked at where the money was, and they didn’t give ‘what do I want to do / what do I love?’ a second thought.

That’s too bad.

Here’s a different viewpoint.  Go get EDUCATED, don’t go get an EDUCATION. What I mean here is something to do with developing a particular skill.  The skill is simply ‘learning how to learn’.  Just think about it.  If you can teach yourself anything then you are ready for everything.  Need to retool?  No problem.  Need to advance your career by learning something?  No big deal.

The point of education should really be to learn how to learn.  Learning how to learn is the traditional idea behind ‘Liberal Arts’.  The word ‘liberal’ in education used to be connected to the words liberty and freedom.  Once you have learned how to learn, then you are free to pursue whatever you’d like.

May I tell you the big secret about ‘what to study’–it doesn’t matter. OK, maybe if you are going to be an engineer it will, but for most other things it really doesn’t matter.  If your child will study something he loves in college, then he is likely to do pretty well at it…which means he has a shot at learning how to learn (because he was successful).  It’s even better if he has the goal of learning how to learn in the curriculum he chooses.

My dad wisely told me to study English (we thought I was going to be a lawyer) because, as he said, if you can read and write you can learn and communicate.  What more do you need?  Exactly!

My son, Tripp, finished at the University of Texas (Austin) with a degree in Studio Art.  People used to ask me ‘what can you do with that’?  Nevermind they cool ways artists are used in the design businesses… I simply told them that he loves it and has a goal of learning, not a goal of a particular job.  Also, if you learn how to take nothing (blank canvass) and make something (painting)….well, that seems like a pretty sweet skill for the rest of your life.  Currently he has been employed to study public policy issues and map the causal loops in systems-dynamics presentations.  He’s thinking next is seminary and a Phd across the pond.  Not exactly Studio Art (though he has sold a number of paintings).

Again, what does that have to do with art?  You’d be surprised!  He has learned how to learn.

Focus on learning the skill of learning…you’ll be surprised how valuable (and FUN) that path will become for your student and your life.


Fred Lybrand

On Spelling & Grammar: The More You Know, the Worse You Do

teaching grammar

The Following is an Excerpt from a Yahoo Group I belong to…and my thoughts on why grammar and spelling are not really good subjects to teach.

Hi Gina (and all),

I feel a little like Copernicus (or Noah)…though I assure you a  grandeur-delusion is not in play!

We homeschoolers have so embraced competing with the school systems (and their assumptions) that we drift (or just repeat) all the methods found in schools.  Now, there methods aren’t always wrong, but they are always taught with a team of teachers surrounded by lots of students.  Didn’t we get out of mass-education schools because we thought there might be a better way?

Here’s my craziness—

1.  Grammar is a hindrance to writing, hence it is a hindrance to education.

2.  Spelling is mostly an issue of a BAD HABIT.

I’ll write an article on grammar soon, but just check out Rudolf Flesch’s books and articles (this is the guy who brought phonics back from the dead with “Why Johnny Can’t Write.”  He also originated the readability scale (Flesch/Kincaid).  Flesch rightly points out what they’ve known for years…grammar study hurts writing.  The reason is simple—who can write when they are obsessing on correct use of gerunds and participles?  This is the nice thing about RC (sorry he added an item for grammar years later), he understands that education is for more dependent on the student absorbing learning than it is for a teacher teaching learning.

Good grammar comes from good reading and good writing and good speaking—period.  Good grammar teachers (who ‘don’t hardly ever’ win writing awards) come from studying grammar.  Almost no one uses grammar rules in their writing unless they are marginal writers (yes the exception is someone with the personality of an editor…a rare-and-valuable unique character)!

The SPELLING HABIT is addressed below in a note to Lori.


(NOTE 1)

Hi Lori,

Good questions!

First, on spelling, in our writing course ( ) which we have our own children go through each year; we have incorporated spelling-work into our writing process.  I discovered a few years ago that the difference between good spellers and bad spellers is that good spellers NEVER guess.  So, we train the children to refuse to guess.  The way we pull that off is to allow them to mark any words they are not sure about with an ‘sp’.  The ones they mark JODY AND I correct for them!  We do this because it trains them not to guess.  Of course, any misspellings they make on their own without marking… they have to look up for themselves.

(NOTE 2)


I’m glad you followed up.

Occasionally we do have a child make a ‘commonly misspelled’ list unique to their own challenges…and learn them.  Yet, what we’ve found (even with our not-naturally-great spellers) is that they really do learn to spell once they develop the habit of refusing to guess.  Now, part of the trick is that when one is committed not not guessing, then he will naturally do one of two things:

1.  Find out how to spell the word

2.  Pick a different word that he actually knows how to spell

This second point is really crucial because it deepens their flexibility (and speed) in writing.  When someone can pick from many words at any moment, well their speed and style pretty dramatically increases.  Plus…they don’t misspell (so what if they say ‘secure’ instead of ‘ensconced’!!!)

I still must remind you that this is my own radical design on how to teach spelling, but we see it works as well or better than other system that don’t train a child to QUIT GUESSING.  Of course, forgive me, but I’m not a fan of teaching formal grammar to learn to write well either :) [see  me rant: Is English Grammar Really Necessary ?]

Hope this helps,

Fred Lybrand

Is Brainwashing Our Children the Best Protection Against the Brainwashing of Culture?


So I read a blog this morning by the title “Teach Your Children…Or Someone Else Will” by Michelle Horstman.

The basic idea is that most Professors are crazy-liberal in their thinking, with an agenda to promote their radical causes.  Well, the author is right, but I think we often go in the wrong directions.  We act like the cure for the threat of brainwashing in college is to brainwash them while they are at home.  Honestly, it is little wonder so many look at us Christians (and homeschoolers like me to boot) as a little quacky.  I’m not ducking the issue (sorry), rather I think there is a better way to go: LET’S TEACH OUR KIDS TO THINK!

It took me back to why we originally got into homeschooling our kids, and why I helped found Midland Classical Academy.  I have never worried much about what ‘they’ teach in schools— but I have worried about the nature of the education.  We homeschooled our kids all the way to college for PURELY ACADEMIC reasons.  Moreover, I believe an education is a greater defense against brainwashing than ‘counter-brainwashing’ is.

Well, I mean, can’t we face the fact as ‘homeschoolers’—we are often trying to brainwash our kids to not be given over to ‘their’ brainwashing of our kids?  This is the kind of ditch-to-ditch mistake we make when fear tells us what to do and we obey it.  Just brainwashing our kids to the ‘right belief’ (says us) is simply to commit the same kind of crime.

Here’s an alternative: TEACH THEM TO THINK.

How do you do that?  Expose them to LOTS of IDEAS and debrief them all.  Discuss them.  Debate them.  Try to agree with them.  Try to defeat them.  I suppose this is the greatest gift my dad gave me (he was a trial attorney)…he would often say, “Fred, here’s the issue (and name one, like capital punishment).  Which side do you want?”

Which side do I want?  Yep…dad would just take the other side and we were off to the races…it was learning at its finest.  Honestly, education all about learning to read carefully, write well, and get the essentials of mathematics (math teaches that there are absolutes!).  But then all this data has to be reshaped and played with.

Is capitalism predatory?  I think it probably is, which goes against my christian sensibilities.  Yet, on the other hand, doesn’t capitalism honor freedom and work with the essential self-interest of human nature?  Yep there too.

Please, learn to have your kids argue (think through) both sides…then they will know both what and why they believe.  And, it makes them much more gracious in their interactions with others.  The truth really has nothing to fear…and when it is contrasted against a lie, then the truth glares all the more.  This is essentially how I wrote my most recent book (GLAEN)…but considering the truth vs lies in love, romance, dating, and marriage.

Teach you children well…good.  Cause them to learn…better!


Fred Lybrand

P.S.  If you’d like a short-course in logic around a biblical / theological issue…chapter two of Back to Faith is just that (more logic, simply explained, than most professors ever encounter).

What Can We Learn from A Public School President Who Says He Cannot Write a Sentence?

write a sentence

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) president, Otis Mathis, admits he can’t write a coherent sentence.  He further argues that he is a role model as a leader who can’t write.  He’s a math whiz (high school) and can speak cogently…but when it comes to writing, it no worky (see: Otis Mathis Can’t Write)

Now, you may hear a skeptic’s voice in all of this, but my hope is to bolster you as an educator or as a learner.  Otis Mathis says he is a role model because he shows that even if you can’t write, you can become a success (a president of a school system, no less).

Clearly there is something wrong with this picture, but what?  It is easy enough to say that it would be an even better model if he could learn to write (overcoming the obstacle), however, something is more essential here concerning the future for our children.

Here is the question that needs careful reflection:

Do we pursue our talents or do we bend the world to our flaws?

The move is afoot to bend the world to our flaws.  In fact, if you read the articles on Otis Mathis, you’ll find that there are related lawsuits to drop certain competencies for admission in to various academic programs.  It isn’t that academia is nuts, but rather that there is a values shift in play.  The underlying issue is COMPETENCE v. FAIRNESS.  Another version of this dilemma asks if you are SPECIAL or is EVERYONE THE SAME.

The current uproar about healthcare has this issue at the core as well.  On some level there is the notion that things should be equal for everyone…and on another level, we all know that only one person can win American Idol.

I remember when our daughter played soccer as a little girl there was no score-keeping by the referees, coaches, or parents (it was seen as wrong and too competitive); except, the girls on the team all kept score!

Here’s the secret: Nature wins out over Culture.  The culture says let’s make it fair for everyone.  Nature says we are better than others at something.  Culture says bring competitiveness down.  Nature says you’ll survive with your strengths.  Culture says you are a victim who needs help.  Nature says your skill will help true victims.

My personal conviction is that Otis Mathis can learn to write (& if he’ll come stay with me for a week I can show him exactly how to connect his speaking to his writing).  I have a strength here and I’d love to serve him with it.  It was indeed the reason I organized the insights I’ve discovered into The Writing Course.

If you are still helping your children to get educated, please make sure two simple things are in play:

1. They are getting a solid and broad foundation.  This hooks their brain together…yes, reading AND writing AND arithmetic.
2. Encourage them to stretch to their strengths.  When they pursue their talents they make a contribution…which means they are almost infinitely more employable.

If you are still helping others to get educated at any age…what’s the difference?

You think it takes more, but it really doesn’t.  Keep at it…everything is better learned by practice; and, everything that is learned becomes useful.  The best examples are those who play to their strengths and serve others with them.  Don’t buy the whim of culture…just learn it, or admit it isn’t a strength— no matter what ‘it’ is.  Steer clear of trying to bend the world to think you don’t have to be educated to be an educator…it will always smell funny.


Dr. Fred Lybrand


Myth: Grammar Study Makes You a Better Writer


In a recent conversation about grammar and writing, I made the following point. Hope it is helpful.

Often I hear it posed that ‘grammar study is useful’— and, the reason they say it to me is that I basically challenge this educational assumption.
I actually agree with the point if grammar is approached as a study. If I were to ‘cheer’ for a grammar segment, then I’d put it with the analysis of written work (study it with reading). Frankly, I think about every subject one can study is useful.
On the other hand, my conviction is that the study of grammar as related to developing one’s writing skills is actually harmful. Here’s an example of a summary from a 1999 book referencing a definitive summary all the way back to 1963:
Most language arts teachers do not have many opportunities to explore the fascinating intricacies of grammar in their classrooms, but nearly all of them have to teach grammar. The most pressing questions they face, therefore, are the following: What role does grammar play in writing performance? And how does one teach grammar effectively?
One might think that these questions were answered long ago. After all, grammar has been taught to students since the days of the ancient Greeks. But reliable evaluations of the connection between studying grammar and writing performance are fairly recent. One of the more important emerged in 1963, when, summarizing existing research, Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer stated:

In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms that the teaching of formal [traditional] grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing. (pp. 37-38)

From: The Teacher’s Grammar Book. Contributors: James D. Williams – author. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of Publication: Mahwah, NJ. Publication Year: 1999. Page Number: 45.
We have not improved our grammar-teaching methods…and plenty of studies since then point out the same thing. People learn to write better by writing. People learn to read better by reading. People learn to analyze a sentence or paragraph by analyzing (this is where grammar is cool). If we have instructors or tutors who can show us how to write better, read better, or analyze better…well, then all the better! Of course, in our educational approach we aren’t replacing writing with grammar study (like mass education schools often do).
I know what I’m saying in whacky…but that’s what they were saying about ‘homeschooling’ a couple of decades ago! To quote the Lion from The Wizard of Oz, “Imposserous.” We all get stuck in our assumptions and drag them over from old systems. At one time people where saying you can’t teach without training…but homeschoolers do (successfully, I might add)!
I’m saying your child can learn to write better by not integrating linguistics and grammar into your writing process. I’m saying that you as an adult would write much better if you’d dump grammar and write for how it will sound. I’m saying that you will write much better if you will read better material.
All of these point are the same thing (sort of) Art Robinson was saying (especially originally) when he introduce The Robinson Curriculum. In fact, his audio makes the points pretty nicely (Robinson Syntax and Grammar Audio). The comforting thing is that humans can learn no matter what we do to them…but I would say, if you want to grow writers, they’ll have a harder time when they are bogged down in the pursuit of ‘correct grammar’.
Fred Lybrand

How to Homeschool Start to Finish Videos (The Lybrands)

How to Homeschool Start to Finish Videos

Fred & Jody Lybrand

UPDATE: Here’s the First Video: Start to Finish
HERE’S THE LINK TO SIGN UP AND SEE All 5 Videos: Sign Up Here to access ALL Videos on How We Homeschool

To All,

Well, the videos are finished and they are up. Our goal is certainly two-fold:

1. We want to share what we’ve had to learn through trial-and-error as God has shown us his kindness…so right now they are totally free.

2. We hope this promotes our conviction that we need a generation of writers who can stem the tide of our drift away from effectively written English.

Basically, we want you to help this go ‘viral’ if (AND ONLY IF) you find the information that we share helpful. Here’s what you do:

* Send the link to your friends (homeschool or not / Robinson or not). This could be a fair shot at winning support for all of our efforts in home education. Use the ‘share’ button to the left on this page.

* Post it on your blogs, facebook, etc.

* Go to YouTube and post a couple of positive sentences out the videos

Thanks for all your help and encouragement. I don’t need to tell you how important our current success in education is as homeschoolers is…given the likely coming tide against us if the country stays on its current path unabated. Of course, God is big!

Fred & Jody Lybrand

P.S. Yes, we hope this indirectly advertises and supports our efforts…so we can keep writing and speaking.


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