Stuff Every Parent Needs to Know about Reading

Reading: Stuff Every Parent Needs to Know

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.
It should be offered to them as a precious gift.
—Kate DiCamillo

In the recorded broadcast below we look at reading in all its facets:

  • Learning to read
  • Reading aloud
  • Reading poetry
  • How reading translates to good writing
  • Motivating reluctant readers
  • High school reading
  • Reading for pleasure and reading for academics

Want more? Enjoy these Brave Writer blog posts:

Reading Aloud Matters

When Kids have Trouble Reading

5 Ways to Encourage Reading


Ten Tips for Writing Your College Essay

10 Tips for Writing Your College Essay

By Nancy Graham

1. Know what it’s for.

Your college application essay is a way for people you’ve never met to get some sense of who you are—what drives your intellect, what matters to you, what you love most in this world, what you’re doing when you are most engaged and most at ease, and what it will be like to study and socialize with you on campus. The essay that will fit the bill is the one that shares an experience that feels important to you.

2. Read other essays.

Reading other essays will trigger ideas about your own. You’ll get a feel for what kind of story can be told in a few hundred words and how some writers have made the form their own. My favorite site for sample essays is Johns Hopkins University’s “Essays That Worked.” Of course, there’s no need to confine yourself to college essays for inspiration! Check out The Best American Essays series (affiliate link—thank you for supporting Brave Writer!) or spend a weekend with James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Annie Dillard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or your favorite essayist.

3. Make lists.

Before you choose a prompt, try making a few lists.

Some useful lists:

  • everything in your room,
  • your favorite objects,
  • the moments in your life when you felt like giving up.

Or make lists in answer to these questions:

  • What experiences have made me who I am?
  • What do I love?
  • Why do I want to delve into it more by going to college?

Once you’re ready to work with prompts, use them to make more lists. Let your list making lead you into a story you want to tell.

4. Think of your essay as a story.

Once you have a sense of what you’d like to write about, freewrite in 10- to 20-minute bursts. Think of your memories as short stories that build.

  • What obstacles arose and how did you overcome them?
  • What were the twists and turns in the story?
  • What surprised you?

These can be subtle rather than big and dramatic, but they’re important because they show how you changed: how you succeeded in solving a problem, how you matured, how you transformed a difficulty into a learning experience. This will dictate the shape of your essay.

Luxuriate in the freewriting phase. Give yourself a week or two of successive freewriting to find your strongest material. The furthest thing from your mind during this phase should be your word count. You may generate thousands of words to find the nugget that will be your 650-word essay.

5. Give us the detes!

Details, details, details! Details is the word I type most often in our College Admission Essay class. Sensory details allow the reader to picture you in your life. The reader can’t do that if you only share abstract ideas. As you freewrite, connect to your five physical senses and ask yourself what sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells you can remember. Be as particular as you can—“I worked hard” is a start. More specific: “I rose in the dark and ran ten miles by sun-up.”

6. Remember that there are many paths to a good essay.

If you choose a story with meaning for you, and you relate it with sensory details, you will be on the road to sharing some aspect of yourself that will have relevance for the admissions committee.

Some elements that shine in successful essays:

  • your character traits (your winning sense of humor, your curiosity or perseverance, your enthusiasm),
  • a sense of why you have picked the school you are applying to,
  • a picture of you living your life and following your interests,
  • a discovery about what is true for you,
  • an offering—what you intend to bring to the college community.

7. What’s the big idea?

After you’ve done loads of freewriting and expanding (adding more sensory details and bits of dialogue), see if you can boil your topic down to one sentence. How about one word? Let it guide you as you continue drafting.

8. Grab a friend or family member and spill!

As you draft and revise, if you need a boost, take along a notebook and pen and pour your heart out to someone else about why your topic matters to you. Reminisce, tell stories from your life related to your topic. When you go back to drafting, think of your essay as a gift to yourself, a capstone for the early part of your life. Make it count for you.

9. Hook and release your fish—um—reader.

Your opening should pull the reader in by arousing our curiosity or cutting in on action that will sweep us along. A good opener surprises or provokes.

Your conclusion should be just that—your conclusion. It couldn’t conclude anyone else’s essay. It leaves the reader with your sense of possibility and expansion, or the feeling that a shift has taken place in you. Resist the temptation to generalize in your conclusion. Anyone can write, “Whatever happens I never give up, because being persistent is the key to making my dreams come true.” Stay specific, even while placing your experiences in a wider context. Release your readers with a clear picture of you in their minds.

10. Buff it till it shines.

  • Check the shape of your essay. Does your story include obstacles that you overcome, or move through changes that lead you to a discovery?
  • Check your word count and if you need to, cut. Reread and take out repetitive phrases. See where you can condense words. You want to pack as much into your word count as you can, and you can do this in small ways (“return” is one word, “go back” is two), medium ways (“I was totally and completely foamed ing from my ears”), and big ones (do you really need that whole paragraph about how never giving up is important, when the story about how you shaved seconds off your racing times until you finally won the national meet demonstrates that to the reader?).
  • Run the spell check in your computer as well as the one in your brain. Use a dictionary.
  • Find the mot juste—just the right word for what you are trying to say.
  • Attend to your punctuation.
  • Make sure your sentences are complete and clear.
  • Think about adding a title. If you have leftover words in your count and you want to, a title can be a way to add meaning to an essay by giving the reader a little something extra to think about.

Let your essay sit a few days and read it again before uploading: you may catch something new.

Brave Writer Online Classes


Friday Freewrite: Snail’s Pace

Friday Freewrite: At a Snail's Pace

Pick an action that doesn’t take long, like ringing a doorbell or sneezing. Now describe it in s-l-o-w motion at one second (or less!) intervals. Drag it out as long as possible!

For example:

My nose twitched. I crinkled it while slightly opening my mouth. I looked for a nearby tissue. There was none. I raised my arm and crooked my elbow in front of my face. My eyes closed. My head tilted back. My mouth opened wider. Wider. Wider. There was a pause. “Achoo!!”

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.


Partnership Home Education: Finding Friends for You

Partnership Homeschooling: Finding Friends
Image taken at the 2016 Brave Writer Retreat by Alli Parfenov

Let’s find friends for you!

Homeschooling is much easier when you do it with a friend. Trouble is, sometimes it’s tough to find the right fit. How can you cultivate a homeschool community right in your neck of the woods that meets your need for friendship, support, and practice? What do you do if the only homeschoolers around have very different belief systems or homeschool philosophies?

And what about co-ops? How can you find or start one that allows you to be the you that YOU are?

Let’s talk about it. Grab a cup of tea, put your feet up, and watch the video below.

Find Support and Community in The Homeschool Alliance


Movie Wednesday: The Great Gatsby

Movie Wednesday: The Great Gatsby

[This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Brave Writer.]

Written in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby is widely considered a masterpiece. Over the years it’s been adapted into ballets, plays, and several films; and in 2013 it was made into a film again, a luscious extravaganza directed by Baz Luhrmann  and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (in order to evaluate whether or not this PG-13 movie is appropriate for your family, we recommend watching it first and/or using the Kids-in-Mind website).

Plot Summary

In the 1920s, Nick Carraway spends a summer on Long Island, experiencing the wild lifestyle of the East and visiting his beautiful cousin Daisy. Nick’s neighbor, Mr Gatsby, throws the most expensive and exciting parties in the country, even though he himself is never seen. All these parties are held for one reason—to attract Daisy, whom Gatsby has loved for years. But is there any hope for Daisy and Gatsby when they finally meet again? And what will happen when Daisy’s brutal husband Tom finds out?

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the film compares to to the book?
  • Which character do you sympathize with the most and why? Do you think any of them are irrefutably right or wrong in what they believe and do? Explain.
  • The film is full of visual metaphors—the clock Gatsby nearly breaks, doors banging open, Daisy’s pearl necklace and the green light at the end of the dock. What do you think these represent?
  • The ending of the film is extremely downbeat, with none of the main characters ending up truly happy. Do you prefer happy endings in films? Why or why not.

Additional Resources

Great Gatsby Fried Chicken – How to make Great Gatsby fried chicken!

How to plan a Great Gatsby themed party – Tinsel chandeliers, table settings, and flowers—everything you might need for your Great Gatsby themed party.

Boomerang The Great GatsbyLearn language arts with the Great Gatsby Boomerang!

The Boomerang is a monthly digital downloadable product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. It is geared toward 8th to 10th graders (ages 12—advanced, 13-15) and is the indispensable tool for Brave Writer parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.