A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Friday Freewrite: Only one suitcase

Suitcase freewrite

Imagine your family had to suddenly leave your home, never to return. You have only one suitcase for your things. What do you pack in it?

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Sydney Treasures Photography (cc cropped)

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They wrote the whole book together

Animal Mini Book

Dear Julie,

We live in Sydney, Australia and my mum, who has a fear of flying, lives in England, UK. She recently flew over to stay with us for a month. This is the first time she has visited us since we moved here four years ago. In those four years I have given birth to my fourth child, and ended up homeschooling all of her school-aged siblings. It’s quite a precious experience to have my mum here in the middle of our lives, when we usually only connect via the internet and FaceTime.

Today my six year old was telling my mum facts about peregrine falcons from his mini book about birds of prey. Both my six year old and ten year old rushed off to find their mini books to show to her. It was only in that moment that I realized how much work they have put into their writing recently, and how proud we all are of what they have achieved.

We worked on animal mini books last October following your suggestions in the Jot it Down product. My 10 year old didn’t finish his book on penguins, but the experience clearly stuck with the children, as this term they decided to work together on a book about badgers. I had very little input, apart from allowing them time in our week on the computer, researching for information and photos. They wrote the whole book together in Microsoft Publisher, printed it out and ‘bound’ it using a hole punch and yarn.

It’s too easy to focus on what my children are not doing yet, and not to notice what they are achieving. My 10 year old has a seeming inability to finish any projects, and complains about writing even on Freewriting Fridays. Yet he managed to go through the whole process of researching and writing his badger mini book from start to finish. An added bonus was seeing the two children working constructively together on a project. I have plenty to add to my documentation for the next time our ‘Authorised Person’ comes to visit.

(We’ve discussed this and worked out the problem with Friday Freewrites – unlike my eldest, my ten year old finds the open-ended nature prevents him from starting. He has said he would prefer more direction. From now on we will try your writing prompts and see how that works.)

I just wanted to share the moment with you. Thanks again for all the help you provide to home schoolers across the world.

Best wishes

Image © Sam (used with permission)

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“He was not of an age, but for all time!”

Shakespeare red

Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare!

by Brave Writer instructor, Susanne Barrett

To mark William Shakespeare’s 451st birthday, (he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and children at that time were usually baptized three days after birth) and the 399th anniversary of his death, celebration is going on in the United States as well as in Stratford-upon-Avon.

When I was in a Shakespeare class in high school, we had a HUGE birthday party for Shakespeare with British food and drink (rather like a high tea). A month beforehand, we had each drawn the name of a fellow student for which we were to make a handmade gift. I remember hemming handkerchiefs in pink embroidery thread with the initials “M.A.” for one student, and I still have the floral wreath strung with ribbons (meant to be worn on the head) hanging on my bedroom wall…although I don’t remember which young man made it for me (or more likely, his mother made it on his behalf, LOL).

So let’s celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday in our home!

Here are three ideas:

Character Party Game

Write the names of famous Shakespeare characters on 3X5 cards with a Sharpie (pick characters that the kids know) and without letting the person see, tape a card to each person’s back. Then each person asks “yes-no” type questions of other players to try to determine which character’s name is on his/her back. When someone guesses their character, tape a different character to his/her back. Several rounds may be played, depending on the number of players. (Sample questions: Am I male or female? Is my father dead? Is a play named after me?)

Quills and Quotes

Make quills from feathers (either dip feathers into ink or insert the innards of a ball point pen into the bottom of a feather and wrap with florist tape if needed; see this link: Instructables) and copy some favorite Shakespeare quotations or insults onto parchment (or regular) paper.

Trivia Games

Sporcle’s Shakespeare Trivia Home Page has games such as “Shakespeare vs. Batman Quotes,” “Shakespeare Threats & Insults,” and “Complete the Shakespeare Quote.” (Note: these quizzes are hard–I missed quite a few!)

And find more ideas here!

So, Happy 451st Birthday, William Shakespeare, from your friends at Brave Writer!!!

“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

~Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Susanne Barrett has homeschooled her four children since 1997. She has a  B.A. in Literature and a Master of Arts in English. Her stories, poetry, and essays have been published in various venues. She is a well-loved, highly gifted Senior Teacher, Staff Writer, and Curriculum Developer with Brave Writer and is currently leading our popular Shakespeare Family Workshop.

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No defense needed


Try not to defend your life to others. It’s tempting to explain your choices, to provide evidence that you did the best you could, or that your convictions are pure and your motives are selfless.

We’re all a bundle of needs, making decisions that are both selfless and self-interested. The only criteria that matters in evaluating how you spent today is the one you’ve chosen to live by––today.

That criteria shifts and changes. Some years you have more energy for self-sacrifice and understanding, and others, you find you need someone to give you a break, to make up for what you don’t have, to be the strength you lack. Some years you find resources and help, and others, it seems no one “gets” what you’re going through and it’s entirely up to you to figure out the way forward.

Some years you’re blindsided by facts you never imagined would be the substance of your life, of your family.

We have our ideals (they matter) and we have our limits (they matter too). One person (you, me) can change the entire dynamic in a home by making better, more emotionally supportive, empathetic choices; but it’s also true that one person can wreck the peace, by not cooperating, asserting a will that is unresponsive to the best care and kindness you can give.

A family is an interdependent system—no one person can carry it alone. There must be give and take, support and nurture for each person, even if in uneven doses at times.

All you can do is become the most healthy version of you that you can be—taking care of your welfare so that you don’t wake up one day and “flip out.”

You’ll be given good advice: Be generous. Give. Share. Listen. Pay attention. Make adjustments. Become a partner to your kids, to your spouse. Forgive. Find the good, the true, the pure. Let go of petty resentments and high expectations.

But you also need to take care of yourself. Be sure that you, the caregiver, receives care too—by someone, somehow, somewhere. It’s how you keep going. You deserve to have someone tell you that you’re doing a great job, or that your emotional breakdown is justified, or that your worries are legitimate.

When you hit your limits, you’ll get advice to give more. You’ll be told what the ideals are. You’ll be reminded of your original goals. You’ll try harder. We women are especially likely to take this advice to heart.

Just remember: in the trying (which is right and noble and good), stand up for yourself too. You matter as much to the whole system, as all the people you love and serve freely every day.

Be good to yourself, no matter what that looks like. You get one life, too. It needs to be a good, peace-filled, lovely one. No Joan of Abeccas here. No Teresa of Calculadders allowed.

Stay connected to your well being while you give to the ones you love. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to do it right.

Image by Alexandra Belink (cc cropped, text added)

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Tuesday Teatime: Shared language

Tuesday Teatime Maura 1

Hi Julie,

Today we had our first teatime in many months. It was a great success for so many reasons: my six-year-old daughter put the whole teatime together from baking the vanilla cake, to setting the table and making the tea to having my husband join us.

Yet, my favorite moment was when both kids recalled how to say no thank you to tea from our read aloud of Felicity an American Girl. I love that we have a shared language from our read alouds. We laughed and then enjoyed our tea and poetry!

Thank you for your inspiration.

Image  © Maura (used with permission)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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A Gracious Space: Spring!

A Gracious Space_Spring

The third installment in the journey of daily encouragements is here!

A Gracious Space: Spring Edition

As you stride to the finish line, keep the good going. These daily readings are designed to support, inspire, and guide you in your homeschooling commitment.

Each of the 50 essays can be read in a few minutes a day.

More than curriculum or a homeschool “how-to” book, this volume offers you perspectives that will help you

establish a rhyme and rhythm in your homeschool
a pace and style all your own

as you create a gracious space for learning and living.

Three formats: PDF, iBooks, and Kindle for $9.95. Print copy available for $14.95!

Buy now!

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Friday Freewrite: Most like you

Kinship freewrite

Are you strong like a tiger, timid like a rabbit, or playful like a puppy? Which animal (and feel free to choose a different animal,  bird, reptile, or insect) is most like you? Explain.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Images by Spencer Wright (tiger), Bosque Village (rabbit), David Goering (dog) (cc cropped, tinted)

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Faltering Ownership is here and ON SALE!

Faltering_Ownership_Blog_ShadowYou’ve waited patiently.
Your 11-12 year olds are ready.
And now, it’s here!

Faltering Ownership is the next product in our Natural Stages of Growth in Writing series. Watch your emerging writers take more and more responsibility for their writing with our 12 month-long writing projects found in this amazing program!

You’ll guide and coach your middlers in writing forms that facilitate growth in skills like summary, reporting, citing sources, letter writing, book reviewing, and interviewing. Projects include a semester long report, writing a diary for a historical person, exploration of literary elements, and a dust-jacket book review.

At the same time, you’ll help your kids emotionally invest in their work by appealing to their creativity, personal passions, and expanding curiosity!

The Faltering Ownership program product:

  • Four color, 150+ page PDF file suited to all screens or can be printed
  • Includes 12 month-long writing projects
  • A month-long, week-by-week plan for each project integrating all aspects of your language arts lifestyle
  • A semester-long guide to writing a report (and throwing a party!)
  • Brand new Brave Writer Lifestyle Tips for each subject area and a few new ones

Promote happy writing in your home with our latest in the series of writing programs: Faltering Ownership.

For our Brave Writer friends and fans:

We’re taking a whopping $20.00 off the retail price!

Thank you for your enthusiasm, your business, and your friendship.

Faltering Ownership is on sale until April 30, 2015.

Regular Price: $79.00
With Discount: $59.00

Use this code at check out:


Get Faltering Ownership NOW!

Congratulations to all of you who are finding joy and progress in writing! We produce the products, but you create the learning opportunities for your children. Well done!

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It’s okay to take it easy


Today’s “while you sip your coffee” thought:

You know that day where everything is going along swimmingly?

This one:

  • The older kids are quietly finishing pages of math and handwriting.
  • The toddler is happily covered in dress-up clothes.
  • The baby is napping.
  • The pre-reader is sounding out the words easily, conquering Frog and Toad.
  • The right library books for the unit study arrived!
  • The most exciting chapter in the read aloud is next.
  • Bodies are healthy and fed. Showers and baths may have been taken in the last week.
  • All the machines and various household systems work: cars, AC, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, refrigerator and ice maker, all four computers, the DVR, the TV, your lawn mower, plumbing, and gaming consoles.
  • No one’s fighting. No one’s complaining. Maybe dinner is already planned.
  • You and your Significant Other are getting along—good conversation, good sex.

Sit in this vision for a moment. The vision of well-being—of the stars, planets, and Cheerios aligned. Can you see it? Feel it?

When it comes, when your life hits that magical moment—what do you do?

Here’s what some of us do:

We toss a homemade hand grenade into the center of the living room. We reject our ordinary happiness. Why?

Because some of us are under the impression that things of value only happen when we’re working hard.
So, when everyone is happily completing pages, reading, and skip counting, when the home is humming and our relationship is peaceful, some of us experience an involuntary panic.

  • This material is too easy. She must not be learning.
  • He whipped through that passage too quickly. He must not be challenged.
  • This book is fun, so it must not be that educational.
  • I better take in the car.
  • I’m going to ask ________ about why (he or she) doesn’t _________ more often.

We move into “anticipate the next crisis” mode. To avoid the surprise attack of the next crisis, we create one—one we can control!

Instead of staying home enjoying this (surely temporary) peace, we take the show on the road—adding the challenge of managing lots of kids out in the world.

Some of us buy brand new curricula so that everyone is suddenly thrust into the learning curve of “new” rather than enjoying comfy and familiar.

We can’t appreciate the joy of mastery—we only esteem struggle to learn the next step/process.

Some of us look around at our friends (in person or online heroes) and decide that what they are doing is better, and judge our happy peace as undisciplined or, conversely, not free enough.

We refuse to allow the feeling of happiness to “settle in,” because it might mean we are not being conscientious enough about educating our young.

What if we were to while away the hours without diligence and pain and struggle and effort? Would that mean we were irresponsible parents/partners/home educators?

Time for a sip of coffee.

That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working. That happy completion of pages, the successful reading, the repetition of skills learned and now mastered? That’s the sound of education taking root.

No one wants to struggle with a new challenge every day. Some of the joy of learning is getting to use the skills cultivated. It feels great to copy a passage without any struggle whatsoever. It’s awesome to rip through a set of math problems, knowing you’ve got it! You get it! You can bury that page with accurate answers and even show your work.

Kids who find their daily groove and rhythm—knowing what is expected and then being able to live up to that expectation—are happy kids.

Don’t wreck it!

Enjoy it! This is the life you are shooting for! Problems will find you again, without you even trying. So for now, celebrate the modest joy of ordinary happiness and success. Let yourself off the hook. It’s wonderful if everyone likes the curricula, finds it a bit “too easy,” and successfully moves through their work with skill. Even professional athletes repeat the same drills at age 30 that they learned in Little League. Mastery relies on practice and practice is all about repetition of skills, not struggling to learn new ones all the time.

You are doing something profoundly right when you feel that whoosh of peace in your home. Pause to notice. Inhale. Then . . . exhale and smile.

Image by Ellen Munro (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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Tuesday Teatime: Tea art!


I have been following Julie for nearly a year and have loved every ounce of wisdom and encouragement she shares with us.

My daughter, Sheliya, loves to cozy up with a book anywhere and anytime. But she especially loves to read with a cup of hot tea and some crackers.

All the best,

Image © Sheliya (used with permission)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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