A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Friday Freewrite: Three characters


Pick three different characters (each from a book by a different author) then imagine what it would be like to have them all to dinner. Write it!

Image by Pierre Vignau (cc)

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

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We’ve been nominated!


Brave Writer has been nominated for an award in the Writing / Composition category on Homeschool World!

The voting deadline is December 15, 2014, and those who participate are entered to win a prize: Rosetta Stone Language Software!Rosetta Stone

One voter at random will receive one level of the language of their choice from Rosetta Stone – a $159 value!

So, if you’d like to cast your votes for the best homeschooling products – hopefully including ours – then VOTE HERE.


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Be kind, be gentle

Opportunity for a kindness

I spent too much time today reading accounts of child abuse in homeschooling families. I couldn’t stop. It was like watching train wreck after train wreck in slow, horrible, inevitable motion. I didn’t want to keep reading; I couldn’t stop reading.

The dirty little secret in home education is how much control and anger get directed at our sweet young kids (and awkward fledgling teens) in the name of “helping” them to become self-disciplined models of character and academic achievement. Be warned: A habit of hardness leaves lasting scars.

Certainly plenty of parents are the garden variety that offer big love and abundant support mixed with the occasional exasperated outburst and the daily hand-wringing (sometimes turned lecture) about how to ensure a successful education and smooth transition to adulthood—family jostling and bumping into each other as they make their way through the “we all live together” years.

But some of us bring that little bit extra—that zing, that pop, that over-zealous, over-functioning rigidity to our homeschools. We scream, we shame, we blame, we demean, we punish, we prophesy doom, we herald the end of the world… and sometimes, we even succumb to abuse—physical and verbal—in the name of love, in the name of homeschool, in the name of our ideology.

Tonight, I want to say: Shhhhhhhh.

Let it go.

Let your children be children. Let your teens struggle to emerge. Let yourself off the hook.

You don’t owe the world a model family. You don’t have to get it right. Neither do your kids.

Everyone gets better at growing up over time—including you, the parent.

Be the one who stands for kindness in your family. Be remembered for your gentleness. Wait an extra hour before acting and reacting.

Remember the kindness of your parents or significant adult caregiver—the stand-out memories that helped you through childhood. Be that person for your children.

And if you need it: get help. Today’s a great day to heal, to start over.

Your kids deserve peace, and so do you.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Celestine Chua (cc)

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Movie Wednesday: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


We watched the 2005 (Adam Adamson directed) release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with some friends as part of a birthday celebration. The kids who watched are 16, 14, 13, two 9 year olds and a 4 year old. It was a repeat for the older kids but the first time for the younger ones.

It was fun to listen to the discussions between the kids about the imagery and symbolism.  Throughout the movie and after, the younger kids would ask questions like:

How is the wardrobe the entrance to Narnia?
How did the tree get on the door?
Who is the snow queen?
Why didn’t Aslan fight her, he’s a lion after all?

It was a running and continuous conversation! The older kids would respond, surprisingly patiently, with answers often referencing the books. They said more than once that the books are always better. That melted my heart!


Image © Izanbar | Dreamstime.com

Need help commenting meaningfully on plot, characterization, make-up and costumes, acting, setting and even film editing? Check out our eleven page guide, Brave Writer Goes to the Movies. Also, tell us about a film you and your kids watched together (along with a pic if you have one) and if we share it on the blog you’ll receive a free copy!

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Tuesday Teatime: Grandma was invited too!

Tuesday Teatime Tara

We had our first poetry teatime today, and it was a huge hit!

Grandma had said how she hated poetry, so I made sure she received an invitation too. She and my son (8) devoured Where the Sidewalk Ends while Baby mostly devoured cookies. Everyone had a great time.

We are recent converts to BraveWriter. (I’ve read Jot it Down and am making my way through Writers Jungle.) I already see a huge difference in my boys enthusiasm for language arts! Just learning that I don’t need to make him do all the writing has made a huge difference. I can’t wait to read more strategies and suggestions.

Poetry Tea Tuesdays are a keeper for sure! Thank you for sharing the Brave Writer lifestyle!



Image (cc)

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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Keeping it real at home

The Silver Mask

I’m about to make a bold statement.

The source of unhappiness at home is pretense.

Pretending in homeschool looks like this:

  • Defending your homeschool to others when you secretly doubt your effectiveness.
  • Showing off the good parts, while hiding the parts that embarrass you.
  • Continuing to use the textbook even though you know it causes pain, just because you paid for it.
  • Endorsing a philosophy of education you don’t actually use (you say you believe in studying the classics, but never read them; you want to believe unschooling is the best way to educate, but you undermine your child’s self-directed learning when it doesn’t match what you thought it would look like).
  • Ignoring a child’s struggles because you don’t want to have to pay for specialists or tutors.
  • Telling yourself that the schools are really really bad so that you can justify your “very bad, no good” year, instead of facing it.
  • Letting your relationship with your kids whither instead of putting in the effort to hear what’s going on for them and making adjustments.
  • Slavish devotion to a method over caring about real learning.
  • Acting as though you are okay with a practice when you really really are not.
  • Ignoring abuse, conflict, disrespect, or volatility in the home, and assuming that those things don’t impact your homeschool.
  • Refusing to consider all options (including the ones you say you don’t believe in) when what you are doing is clearly not working any more.
  • Being more interested in the politics of homeschool (common core, legislation, rights) than in homeschooling.
  • Tweaking your vocabulary to fit the homeschool community’s approved language rather than being true to your own way of thinking.
  • Hiding your child’s behavior or educational failures from others (kids who are dangerous to themselves or others, kids who refuse to cooperate, kids who act out in embarrassing ways—drinking, sexuality, theft, cyber bullying).
  • Withdrawing from “society” to avoid accountability.

I have often quoted a saying for which I have no attribution (in fact, if you google it, I am the one who comes up as the author of the quote!). Let me post it here:

“You can’t cheat the dark gods.”

The truth will out!

Whatever is going on with you is going on with you. No amount of cover-up or smooth-over will fix the problems you face. Moreover, who you are is an essential part of your homeschool. If you hate the classics (no matter how much you persuade yourself that they are essential to education), you will sabotage your homeschool to avoid reading them.

If you do distrust gaming as a way to learn, you will never be happy when your child is on the computer. You will look for ways to manipulate the system to stop your child from doing the very thing you secretly hate and distrust. Which leads to tension and stress in the relationship—inevitably, absolutely, take that to the bank.

If the context of your family is “walking on eggshells” to keep the volatile member from exploding, the energy for learning will be used up by an attempt to control the out of control member—and then you’ll wonder why homeschool is not peaceful or happy or working.

You are not responsible for the reputation of homeschool.

Let me repeat that.

You, sincere-trying-really-hard homeschooler, are not responsible for how other people see you or homeschooling.

You have one responsibility: to create and hold the space for a peaceful environment in which your family can grow and learn.

That’s it.

There are scads of ways to get there and as many as there are families. It is right and good to tell your public school mom friend that sometimes you worry that the work you’re doing with your kids is not on par with the local schools. If that’s a real fear, it’s absolutely humanizing and truthful to say it out loud. It doesn’t mean you will change course or decide to put your kids on the big yellow bus. It means you are facing the depth of your own anxiety—just like the public school mom who wonders if the second grade teacher is any good this year.

It is right and good to admit that one child’s ADD or behavior problems is impacting the health of the whole family. Once you admit it, you can begin to seek help for everyone. You are not blaming anyone. You are protecting everyone’s well being.

It is right and good to ditch the program that makes YOU unhappy no matter how many people say it is the best thing since frosted cake!

It is right and good to admit that it’s easier to fight for the right to homeschool than to homeschool. Start there.

Be real. Everyone wants to support a person who tells the truth. Everyone hates the person who pretends her way into perfection (right?).

You have a universe of choices—keep them all on the table. Be attentive to the muscles in your body. If you feel yourself tighten, you know something is not right. Find out what it is, say it out loud, do something about it.

Keep it real.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Elliot Bennett (cc cropped)

Friday Freewrite: Chores

Should all family members have to do chores? Why or why not?

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image © Gemenacom | Dreamstime.com

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Mother Tongue

Your alsome

I want to live in a world where the content of written communication is more important than spelling and punctuation.

I want to live in a world where people are generous about typos and the accidental homonym-switcheroo.

I want to write in a world where readers value the risk of self-disclosure that goes into all writing, even blog comments, even Facebook status updates, more than grammatical accuracy.

I want to read in a world where voices very different from mine have access to being published, in their natural writing voices—whether or not they use “prestige English.”

I wish for a world where communication of all forms is regarded as self-expression, and the vibrant ever-changing shape of language is appreciated, not judged as good or bad or in need of protection or preservation.

I like language and people and varieties of spellings and deliberate and accidental misuses of grammar and creative punctuation.

I love seeing the explosion of self-expression that is the Internet—the spontaneous need to share and express and be heard. I love that that hunger overcomes the endless drum beat for perfectly edited copy.

I am less fond of the pride that stems from “being a grammar snob.” But I’m trying to love and understand that impulse, too. After all, I know it takes quite a bit of work to master the prestige form of English, and most people who do so are passionate about language, and have been rewarded for that effort.

If there is one soapbox that I still mount occasionally, it is the one that says, “There’s no officially right way to say or write anything. There is only custom and convention—and these evolve all the time. In the meantime, please—hear the content before you eviscerate the copy.”

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Quinn Dombrowski (cc image cropped)

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What to do if you’ve been avoiding writing


An email I received:

What do you do if you’ve been avoiding writing for a long long time?

The child in question is 14. He is male.

My reply:

First, congratulations! Thank you for not damaging your writer. It is far better to ignore and avoid writing than to require it and create writer’s block due to applying methods that harm the child’s natural ease of self-expression.

Any child who has simply “not written” can be taught/encouraged to find his or her writing voice no matter how old. The older the child, the more swiftly this process can happen. Why? Because older children (12, 15, 17!) have been speaking fluent English for many more years than their younger siblings. They have read more words than new readers. They’ve handwritten or keyboarded to the point of near fluency (spelling, punctuation, how to make that weird cursive ‘r’, where the question mark is on the laptop). They have thought about ideas and have mastered facts that were unfamiliar to them at ages 6, 8, and 10.

When we turn our attention to writing with a child who is already a teen, we are greeted with a person who is truly ready to write! So if your way of avoiding all that trauma that attends most writing programs was to ignore it—well done! You’ve waited for the key moment to make real progress. I’ll help you with that in a minute.

If you are the parent of a teen who won’t write because the programs you used have created writing paralysis (a block that is bigger than “I don’t know what to write,” but is more like “I hate writing and will never use it therefore I will not do it now or ever, forever more”), you have a slightly different issue but no less solvable.

Here are the two strategies.

1. For the writer you neglected to cultivate: Start from scratch! You can. Start by listening to him, having great conversations, jotting down some of the great stuff he says in words out loud to you. Read back what he says to his dad or siblings or to him later in the day, talking about the content of what he said.

Begin with copywork—song lyrics, humor, his favorite quotes from books. Do it at the same time with him, copying your favorite quotes. Read your quotes to each other. Pick quotes for each other as a surprise. Light a candle or eat brownies or use fountain pens or create an entire passage by snipping the words from magazines and gluing them in order on a page. Make a collage of favorite quotes! Make up your own quotes!

Freewrite—about anything, about everything. We have prompts on our blog, but you can get them anywhere. With teens, you want the topics to be interesting to the teen. Provocative positions are often best: What makes X band better than Y band? If you could change one law, which one would it be and why? If 18 year olds can be asked to fight for our country, does it make sense to say they aren’t old enough to drink alcohol? What’s one part of your education you’d like to take control of and how would you do it?

Get into fan fiction or NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or blogging about gaming or online discussion with kids who have similar hobbies or texting or Facebook or whatever drives a kid to write without thinking about “school.”

Play with words—use them, write big ones on a white board to stump each other, recite Shakespeare or poetry or quotes from Seinfeld.

Then, over the course of a year of this kind of practice, talk about moving into some preparation for college. Look at the Brave Writer online classes or local classes in a co-op or junior college. Move one bit at a time, but first, focus on reading, copying, freewriting, and language play. Like you would at any age.

2. For the damaged writer, the same process applies, but you have to rebuild trust and that happens through this little conversation that you need to have.

“Son, gulp. I’m just realizing that the writing programs we’ve used have been really unhelpful to you in becoming a competent, comfortable writer. I feel awful about it! Can we start over? I promise to pay attention when you say something is boring or isn’t working for you. I want us to start with writing that has meaning for you. Here’s a brownie. Let’s talk.”

Some version of this with more or less apology depending on how much damage is there will work. Brownies or going out for Cokes helps.

The goal with any child or teen is to recognize that the writing voice is already alive and well within. It may be hidden from view or afraid to come out, but some attentiveness to your child’s speaking voice and some humility about how difficult writing is for many kids will lead to breakthroughs. Start where your child is. Kids can go from not writing to college level comp between 16-18.


Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Richair | Dreamstime.com

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Tuesday Teatime: Helping a neighbor

Tuesday Teatime Jen blog

I wanted to share what we did today anyway so maybe others will be encouraged to reach out.

Our widow neighbor has been battling loneliness and depression lately. The kids and i picked up donut holes, brought a picnic blanket and invited ourselves next door. With books and donuts in hand, we set up teatime on the floor of our neighbor’s living room.

She relaxed in her comfy chair while we read poetry and sang songs to her. She was soooo thankful! (I found out later that she called her daughter to tell her we were coming. Then her daughter made her promise to call her back when we left because she was so intrigued by this “teatime” we were doing!)

We were able to bless each other using teatime today! I wonder- how have others used teatime to reach out to neighbors, friends, etc.? Think of it – using language arts to make someone’s day!! It was fun!


Image (cc)

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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