Oblique Strategies

In 1975 the musician Brian Eno was in the studio feeling blocked.  Ideas for new music just weren’t flowing.  He came up with a collection of Oblique Strategies.  Ways to come out the problem from a new angle.  Instead of facing the issue head on or worrying about what writer’s block meant for the rest of his career, he took a sideways approach.  He added whimsy and lightness.

I first heard about these ideas from the poet Holly Wren Spaulding.  (By the way, today is the last day to sign up for her current poetry class–21 days of poems and prompts and at the end, it’s Spring!)  She encourages her students to create their own set of Axiom Cards, simple ways to access the heat of our writing.

Homeschoolers don’t exactly experience writer’s block, but we do face roadblocks.  The reading lesson, the writing assignment, the math pages.  When even one of our kids is facing a tough learning day, it can make the mood of the whole house tense and unpleasant.  Not an ideal learning environment.  Hard work is good, but only if it’s producing the results we want.

What if we took a different approach?  What if we developed some oblique strategies for dealing with homeschooling angst.

  • Take a walk
  • Take a nap
  • Make muffins
  • Turn on some music
  • Read a poem
  • Go to the library
  • Forget the routine
  • Read to the dog
  • Focus on rhythm
  • Play a game
  • Give a backrub
  • Make a pot of tea
  • Pet the cat
  • Light a candle
  • Sing a song

Brian Eno’s strategies are written on cards so there’s an element of chance involved.  You don’t get to choose your strategy!  It’s one more way to sidestep our judging, fearful brains.  I glued index cards to some pretty rice paper and then cut the cards in half.  Sturdy and cute!

None of these ideas is going to magically teach your daughter fractions!  That’s not the point.  The idea is to lighten our touch, and see what can happen when we make even a small shift.


  1. What a great idea! I’ve used a similar, though, less refined method in my classroom. I’ve projected a wheel from http://wheeldecide.com/ and put in the activities for that class session and let the wheel decide what we would do as a class for the next 20 minutes. It was eye opening because even the most difficult student, who fights me everyday, was resigned to do the task because the wheel and not the teacher decided. That element of chance made all the difference. I hadn’t thought of using it for writing, those moments of angst with the family, etc. Very helpful.


  2. Whimsy and lightness…and dragons! I love these ideas — I’m working on a list myself and will add some of these.

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