Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

When kids are bored

Monday, June 30th, 2014 © |

Boredom does not automatically create the conditions for creativity. More often it creates conditions for poking, tickling, nagging, arguments about the TV and computer, and needless fuss-budgeting. Don’t be trapped by this myth that if you leave kids alone long enough, they’ll turn into mini-Steven Spielbergs producing films in your backyard!

Creativity is catalyzed by materials that inspire the imagination. Children are concrete thinkers. That means they need tactile involvement (not ideas to contemplate). They don’t create ideas from the thin air, up inside their brains. They create from a pile of Legos, or sticks, or watercolor paint brushes. If they can’t find the tools, if they are told to go get the tools, if they are asked to put in the effort to create the conditions for creativity, they will often give up before they start.

Perhaps you’ve noticed: If you tell a child, “How about painting? You love painting” and the paints are hidden in a cupboard, no painting is going to happen.

Rather, you might notice a bored child and wordlessly walk to the cupboard, remove the paints and brushes and blank white paper. Set them on a cleared table in the same room where you are. Fill a glass with water. Sit at the table and begin to paint. Say nothing. You only have to paint for 2-3 minutes. I promise. Within that time, someone in the bored cluster of children is going to join you. Once that happens, you are nearly there—boredom is about to wave the white flag. When you see the energy rise to take up this activity, you can then separate yourself by a short distance (stay in the room, ooh and ahh, offer suggestions, be enthusiastic about all attempts, add brownies or snacks). You may be able to resume the work you were doing once the engine of creativity gets rolling.

1. When in doubt, add water. © |

Painting is nearly always a winner because it involves one of the three secret boredom busting weapons: Water.

Water play changes everything. Toddlers can be tossed into a bath tub or a literal tub. When I lived in Morocco, we used to use wash tubs for play. You can do that with a small wading pool. Put it right in the middle of your kitchen floor. Fill it about 6-8 inches deep. Dump all your measuring spoons and cups into the middle. Add sponges, squirt bottles, squirt guns, rubber ducks, and if your kids are grimy, a little bubble bath liquid. Swish with your hands.

Indoor water play is magical—on a waterproof surface, under your watchful eye, you can be in the kitchen/family room space doing what you need to do while small ones are happy.

Older kids also love water play. Invest in Super Soakers or sprinklers. Pull your car into the driveway and supply your kids with all the tools to wash your car. The key to making this fun and not a chore is being sure there are cool products to use on the car that soap it up, that squeegee the windows, and so on. Loud music and friends make this activity more fun too. Reward with a trip to an ice cream shop.

Naturally, painting furniture/pictures/flower pots (rinsing brushes in water), writing on the driveway with water and paintbrushes, swimming in a pool, washing windows, Slip n Slides, wading in a creek, walking in the rain with umbrellas, splashing in puddles and curbside gutters… These are all magnetic experiences for kids.

The key, though, is being sure to start the activity wordlessly—you start it. You do it. Say NOTHING. No suggestions, no telling the kids to go outside and play with water. That doesn’t work with bored kids. They need to see the option in action and you are the person to do it! Get it started, then see what happens.

2. If water is not an option, creating hidey holes usually is.

Couch Cushion FortImage by willholmes (cc)

Blankets, sheets, towels, cardboard boxes, small pieces of movable furniture…

The second surefire boredom buster is creating forts! Think outside of your usual “sheet over a card table” idea. You might create one on your deck. Tack a blanket or sheet across the hand railing in a corner (the blanket will be triangular over the space). Put cushions underneath with soft throws and a little low side table. Include a basket with books to read. You might even create a private entrance based on how you arrange the top sheet.

Forts behind couches, in the corner in your kitchen, behind a big recliner in the living room, in the basement, in your master bedroom (feels special to be in there! Never forget that). Bring snacks once it’s created.

3. A treasure hunt!

Treasure HuntImage by Joe Green (cc)

The most overlooked surefire boredom buster creates more work for you. I suggest you prepare this one ahead of time and save it for the day when you are at wit’s end and need something that will absolutely change the tone of the home.

To get the cards in place is the trick because your kids can’t watch you. So you may need to distract them with food/TV/or sending them outside (you can say, “I need you to not come into the room where I am because of a top secret mission. I will tell you when it’s safe to return”).

Any use of the word “Secret” will yield you big time trust points with your kids.

The treasure hunt can be as lengthy and elaborate as you like, but easy clues and simple treats work just as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Put the clues on notecards. Keep a list of the clues and where you will hide them so that you can help kids who get stuck finding the next clue.
  • The clues can rhyme but don’t have to. For small children not yet reading, a sketch or photo is just fine! They can match the picture to the next location. Another idea is to use word scrambles for the clues. Another idea is that the clue is a task they must complete before you will give them the answer for where to look next. For instance, you might have a clue that says, “Hop on the left foot 10 times then I’ll release the next clue.” Or you might have one that says, “Get the mail from the letter box, bring it to me, then I’ll give you the next clue.”
  • Be careful not to use this activity as a disguised way to get chores done (kids are smart!). But you could include a mixture of silly activities (reciting tongue twisters, looking up a famous saying online, doing a back bend) with household benefitting activities (put away three pairs of shoes, brush your teeth, return the DVDs to their right cases).
  • You want more than 3-5 clues (ends too quickly). Kids do great with 8-10 clues. Too many gets wearying, especially if the clues are difficult to solve.
  • Consider treats midway through the treasure hunt. It’s fun to get partway there and then know that you have been rewarded for that. A plate of grapes, a pair of stickers, a pack of gum, a super ball or pick up sticks make good midway treats.
  • The final item to be found ought to be worth the hunt. I recommend a brand new board game—something no one has played yet. A new DVD works, as does any artsy-crafty activity. Maybe a new water gun (cycling back to the #1 boredom buster)!

To review: When kids are bored—

1. Water
2. Forts
3. Treasure Hunts

See how it goes! Remember—the secret to success is your involvement in the initial phase without ANY words. No words. No urgings, no suggestions, no lectures, no explanations, no hints.

Start the activity on your own and see who joins you. Even the treasure hunt—you can pull the first index card from a pocket and say, “Hmmm. I wonder what this means” and read it aloud. Then see who joins you to solve it.

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Book Fair!

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Book Fair 1 Book Fair 3

The creativity of Brave Writer families is amazing! Homeschool mom, Knelly, writes:

We started out last week with homeschool light on some of our core subjects – this week we are pulling out some stops:)

I couldn’t decide which Arrow books to do this year, and when my 3rd and 5th grader get the “same stuff” you know, there’s usually blowback.

So this year [we had a Book Fair]! I filled the dining room with preselected, Julie Bogart Approved:), Bravewriter Arrow titles (I also put some fairy tales in there for Jot it Down!). Some I grabbed from around the house, a few at thrift stores, the library–and to round everything out, I just printed off a dust jacket and a paragraph from Amazon and called it good. [See above pic on the right]

The catch? They could ONLY pick 9. They can go through their Arrow issues with me in any order, and they can download on Kindle, hard copy or files!

Book Fair 4

The kids also spent time leading up making bookmarks for each other to choose. They could hardly wait for Book Fair Day to come. They waited in the stairwell with closed eyes and giggles.

Book Fair 2

Those cupcake-like things are actually hundreds of broken crayons found around our house that Fiona unwrapped, cut up and melted in muffin tins (use liners! melt for 15 min in a 200 degree oven and cool).   We now have NO MORE broken crayons anywhere and some cool wrong utensils. It also kept my kids busy for hours, over the course of several days.:)

Book Fair 5

The best part? I only had about an hour of prep time into this and EVERYONE is excited to start The Lemonade War!

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Happy Winter Solstice!

Friday, December 21st, 2012


For years, I thought about celebrating Solstice with my kids.

It seemed like it would be a great way to take some of the commercialism out of Christmas and it would give us a chance, as the kids got older, to recapture some of the magic of our homeschooling journey together.

In 2009, we decided to create our own holiday traditions for Solstice. Each year, they vary a bit (for instance, the first year we used hammers and nails to puncture tin cans in pretty patterns to create lanterns to line the driveway—much harder to hammer nails into tin cans than you might imagine! So we recycle them each year and haven’t had to make them again).

    solstice tin cans




There are a few traditions we do every year.

For instance, we always light a fire (sometimes outside, sometimes inside). Then we take strips of paper (old Trader Joe’s grocery bags cut into long strips) and we write two things on them:

1) Regrets from the past year
I regret not working harder to help my team…

2) Wishes for the coming year
I wish that my sister and I would get along better this year.


These get read silently by the writer, then tossed into the flames. We usually play a little instrumental Celtic music in the background while we use magic markers to write. It’s proved to be one of our favorite traditions of the year. The kids now like to keep a record of their wishes so they can remember year to year what they wrote the previous year.
Another tradition we love is to make handmade gifts for each person. This means we can’t go to the store and buy someone a CD or scarf. Rather, whatever we give, it must be crafted in some way by the giver.


Some of the items of the last several years have been:

  • Origami cranes colored to look like famous people (based on the celebrity obsessions we each have—from Lady Gaga to Dumbledore to Dietrich Bonhoeffer!)
  • Book marks and popsicle stick picture frames
  • CD mixes (tailored for each person)
  • A lengthy rap, where each stanza addressed a specific family member and the whole thing was performed with accompaniment
  • Photos framed with selected passages from novels (remember the value of copywork?) that went with each person
  • Apple calendars with photos of the kids for each month of the year drawn from my lifetime supply
  • Harry Potter brooms (matching the houses each of my kids believe they would be in)
  • Haiku!
  • Personalized Christmas ornaments
  • Crowns
  • Art trading cards
  • Embroidered initials in small hoop frames


We also eat special foods (in our home, we eat a cashew pasta dish, homemade applesauce, and sliced oranges with sugar and cinnamon on them) and we drink a special wassail (though this year we are trying mulled wine).

The event ends when we make candles from a beeswax kit purchased from Hearthsong (a favorite toy and craft company we’ve loved for 20 years).

Solstice 2011
The most wonderful thing about celebrating Solstice is that I get to see the fruits of all those years of crafting, reading aloud, the celebration of family, and the care for each individual member all expressed in one evening celebration—at the darkest time of the year. For us, it’s been a most satisfying addition to our winter holiday celebrations.

I want to publicly thank Kimmy Certa (Brave Writer mom and online friend) who first put the thought into my head as I witnessed her version of Solstice celebrating.

Happy Winter Solstice to all of you!

Do a little violence to words

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Homeschool tip of the day:
It’s about time we take back our power in language. We are not controlled by Mrs. Cox, the ghost of public school past sitting on our left shoulders. We are free. We are at home. Let’s figure out how to make writing a freeing, liberating, sparkly experience, shall we?

You know how we let our kids take apart an old phone or toaster to see how it’s made, to learn how to use a screw driver, and to have the satisfaction of working on a “real” household item? That’s a great thing, isn’t it? Little screws lying on the ground, bits of wire, the metal tray, the coils that heat… It’s amazing to see it in pieces and to marvel at the fact that someone knew how to put these bits of metal and wire together to make a tool that burns our toast! Taking the toaster apart is more effective to teach us about the toaster than studying it in a book or even making toast, right?

Some of us have rooms dedicated to art exploration—a similar freedom to discover. We might keep an easel, paints and brushes available any time, a tray of pastels or colored pencils, and stacks of scratch paper.

Still others of us will collect musical instruments—percussion and piano, recorders and flutes, and two kinds of guitars! Or maybe we’re the kind of family who has a whole slew of balls, frisbees, hockey sticks, hoops, and goals available to practice a favorite sport or to learn a new one.

We know that play and exploration produce learning.

By contrast, we’re reluctant to play with, take apart, explore, and mess with language. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the grammar hangover from school where teachers are more about accuracy than inspiration.

Flip the script.

What if your house had an accuracy-free play-zone for words? What would be in it? How about a variety of writing utensils (gel pens, fountain pens, markers, sidewalk chalk, calligraphy quills, crayons, lipstick)? How about some unique writing surfaces (butcher paper taped in a big sheet to a wall, dry erase board, chalkboard, clipboard, various sizes of lined paper, cards, notecards, postcards, an iPad, a mirror, colored paper)?

How about making a stack of notecards with all the words you like—a whole big mixture of words you collect for a week, one per card?

How about putting individual punctuation marks on notecards (a comma card, a period card, an exclamation point card, a quotation marks card, a question marks card – or several of each!)? Then use your word notecards to make a sentence and lay the punctuation marks where you want them to go. Walk around the room and lay them out on the floor. If you want, you can use big poster boards rather than tiny notecards.

Begin by punctuating it all wrong, first. See what happens when you start a sentence with a period or an exclamation point? What if you put one in the middle of the sentence?

What new uses of these marks can you think of?

Are you getting the idea? Language is not meant to be treated like an antiseptic vaccine. It’s a toy! Play with it! See what happens. Discover how the pieces of language and writing work together to create meaning and joy, communication and inspiration.

State Slogans

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

My daughter (21) and I got into a little chat this morning about state slogans. Oh my gosh, how we laughed! If you’re looking for a great way to foster discussion around word play or if you want to expose your kids to the various cultural associations with each state, be sure to Google the list. Here are our favorite top ten:

10. TexasIt’s Like a Whole Other Country (Sometimes, it seems they wish they were!)

9. California: Find Yourself Here (If there were ever a state where finding yourself rose to the level of imperative, California would be it!)

8. Delaware: It’s Good Being First (If you say so…!)

7. Indiana: Restart Your Engines (Home of the Indy 500)

6. South Dakota: Great Faces. Great Places. (Can you name both?)

5. Illinois: Mile After Magnificent Mile (Look up Chicago’s shopping district to understand this one.)

4. Kansas: There’s No Place Like Home (Used to be “The Land of Ahhs” – can you identify the irony in this one?)

3. West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful (Awesome! I want to live where people are wild and wonderful!)

2. District of Columbia: Taxation without Representation (snort)

and finally, drum roll please…….

1. New Hampshire: Live Free or Die! (I ask you: who enforces that?!)

These slogans give you a great chance to discuss word play, the history of various states, their selling points and how advertising is a vital part of any state’s economic growth (is the state emphasizing travel? business? historical importance? shopping? buying a home and staying put?). Here’s a link to the Wikipedia page: State Slogans.


Repost: Stuff to do in Summer

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Hi everyone.

I made a list years ago of things to do in summer. We posted it to our refrigerator so that if any child came to me saying, “I’m bored; I have nothing to do,” I could simply point a silent finger at the door and they would know to scan the list before asking for any more ideas. Usually, they found something.

The key to using la liste is making sure that you have the supplies already stocked up in your house. Don’t put “oil pastels” as an option if you haven’t bought them. Make sure everything that they may want to do, can be done.

Before I post the list, here are a few ideas to consider as well:

1. Create an art table that houses markers, paintbrushes, watercolors, glue (of varying styles), paper, pipe cleaners, string, tape, staplers, scrapbooking pages, old magazines, newspaper, construction paper, various sizes of oil paint canvases, and so on. (We use tin cans from beans etc. to hold the paintbrushes or markers.) Purchase colorful clay to bake into novel items. You might add a book or two on art (how to draw, paint, oil pastel, etc.)

2. Create a nature station which includes binoculars, birding guides, seeds, trowels, and a cheap digital camera for photo ops (when the squirrels fight or you see a cool caterpillar).

3. Tune up bicycles (air in tires, brakes that work), purchase a badminton or croquet set, collect water guns and pool toys.

All right, without further ado: here’s the list!

  • Paint
  • Make play-doh
  • Create a collage
  • Take a walk
  • Swing
  • Climb a tree
  • Listen to music
  • Read a book
  • Read a magazine
  • Legos
  • Playmobiles (or whatever toys you have that your kids love)
  • Reorganize your bedroom (moving furniture around)
  • Sew
  • Learn a new recipe
  • Hammer nails into scrap wood (for some reason, this is always satisfying)
  • Jump rope
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Fill the wading pool and splash
  • Shoot each other with water guns
  • Blow bubbles
  • Sidewalk chalk the driveway
  • Inventory the house (count windows, steps, pillows, door knobs, mirrors, paintings, photographs) Use a clipboard to record findings.
  • Write a poem
  • Make a phone call to grandma
  • Email Dad/Mom at work
  • Play a board game
  • Make a picnic under a tree
  • Lie on your back and look at clouds
  • Watch a movie
  • Play a video game
  • Create fairy houses with twigs, moss, leaves, acorns. Make fairies out of scrap fabric, pipe cleaners and wooden beads.
  • Create shoe box houses for little dolls
  • Catch tadpoles (in a local stream)
  • Catch fireflies in a jam jar
  • Do something for someone else (vacuum a room, empty the dishwasher, fold clean clothes)
  • Sort clothes that are too small and give to charity
  • Alphabetize the spices in the spice cabinet
  • Learn to do a cartwheel
  • Run through the sprinkler
  • Play HORSE with the basketball
  • Play jacks
  • Play pick up sticks
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Dress up in dress up clothes
  • Face paint
  • Draw with oil pastels or charcoal
  • Roast hotdogs in an open fire; make s’mores
  • Collect wild flowers for a centerpiece at dinner
  • Memorize riddles, poems, rhymes
  • Act out a favorite play or story
  • Polish nails
  • Rub on temporary tattoos
  • Learn to braid hair
  • Make a fort in the living room
  • Study a tide pool (if you’re lucky enough to live near one!)

Please add to the list in the comments section! I’m sure you’ll have ideas I haven’t included.

One Mom’s Lapbook Success

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

This summer we offered a Custom Writing and Language Arts Planning Program to moms who were interested in having me help them create a tailor-made writing and language arts curriculum for the year. The projects they’re completing are rolling in and I wanted to share this one as an example of how a lapbook can be used as a way to foster writing. Thanks Teresa and Joshua (10) for your permission to share your wonderful work!

Joshua’s lapbook features what he learned about sharks, a passion of his. Teresa and I discussed what to do about spelling errors, etc., via email. The basic idea is to slowly develop the skill of self-editing (kids edit their own work) and I gave her strategies for how to foster that practice successfully.


Hi Julie,

This is for Joshua’s (10) September assignment – a mini report on Sharks.

I have attached 3 photos and retyped his text below.  This is completely his design and content.  What is interesting is that he wrote more about sharks in his freewrite, but he did not want to include it all in the report.  He knows SO much more than he was willing to put in there.   I am typing the text exactly as on the report, errors and all…

Photo “Sharks1″:
He designed it so that the photos are numbered and on a slide.  When you open the book, the center writing area has the corresponding number for that photo with a blurb about it.


Photo “Sharks2″:
Center text:

News flash, this just came in about sharks

1) One of the five most dangeres sharks the Great white.

2) Sharks have a sixth sence of sencing energy, this shark is sencing the fishes moovment or energy.

3) This picture is about how sharks find there food.

Right flap text (fictional story):

The dog and the shark
by Joshua Youngblood

There once was a dog and shark and this is the story of how they became friends.
One day John went on is boat whith Jack his dog. They went out into the ocean, but John forgot to poot the boat tale gate up so when he made a sharp turn and Jack slipped and fell into the ocean. When John got home he realised that Jack wasn’t there, meanwhile Jack was swimming around when he saw a shark coming at him Jack thought he was going to be eatten but he was not eatten, Jack asked the shark if he could bring him home and the shark said yes and they becaum friends. The shark took Jack to John and they lived happely ever after. THE END!


Photo “Sharks3″:
Left flap text (Prelutsky poem copywork):

In the middle of the ocean,
In the deep deep dark,
Dwells a monstrous apparition,
The detested RADISHARK.
It’s an underwater nightmare
That you hope you never meet,
For it eats what it wants,
And it always wants to eat.

Its appalling, bulbous body
Is astonishingly red,
And its fangs are sharp and gleaming
In its huge and horrid head,
And the only thought it harbors
In its small but frightful mind,
Is to catch you and to bite you
On your belly and behind.

It is ruthless, it is brutal,
It swims swiftly, it swims far,
So it’s guaranteed to find you
Almost anywhere you are.
If the RADISHARK is near you,
Pray the beast is fast asleep
In the middle of the ocean
In the dark dark deep.


It’s Autumn! Time to do fall stuff.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

We made a list of things to do in the summer and one of our BW moms asked me to make one for fall. Please feel free to add to the list in comments.

  1. Of course buy pumpkins and carve/decorate them. You can use those big quilting pins to pierce the pumpkins so that you can cut colored paper and pin ears, eyes, mouths, if you prefer (a Mr. Pumpkin Head ala Mr. Potato Head).
  2. Make a chart that tracks the color changes of leaves on one of your trees. Sharpie mark several leaves with numerals. Then each day, record how the colors change for each one. Do you see speckles? Streaks? Shading shifts from left to right or top to bottom? Bring your colored pencils and compare colors to the leaves and then name the colors (goldenrod, chartreuse, ruby).
  3. Serve hot apple cider during your teatime/poetry for the months of October and November.
  4. Rake leaves for a neighbor while that neighbor is at work. Leave pumpkin muffins and an anonymous note. Don’t ever say who raked the yard.
  5. Jump on the trampoline and take flying photos.
  6. Hike to a creek with your dog.
  7. Stay out late and look at the moon once per week. Draw it and notice how the shape changes over the course of a month.
  8. Borrow a telescope and find Saturn.
  9. Create a nature’s table where you collect and display fall-ish items: acorns, acorn hats, moss on bark, dried colored leaves, scented candles, little pumpkins or gourds, blond hay stalks, dried corn, pebbles. We like to add little figurines like Half Penny Dolls. Lego figures work too.
  10. Read and write poems about the fall.
  11. Use sidewalk chalk to create hopscotch (look up various versions on the Internet and try them all).
  12. Volunteer at a homeless shelter and serve.
  13. Roast marshmallows in the fireplace.
  14. Peel an apple in one long peel using a pocket knife.
  15. Bake pies (try new ones like rhubarb, or old ones in a new way – pumpkin using a real pie pumpkin, not canned).
  16. Shake whipping cream in a glass jar with a marble until it become butter. Take turns shaking during read aloud time.
  17. Dye fabric with natural foods: beets to make purples, red onions for reds, tumeric for yellows. Muslin works great. You can make bean bags or little quilted pot holders with the resulting fabrics.
  18. Find out how to play cornhole. (Cincinnati specialty!) Then make one and try it.
  19. Take a bird watching hike (bring binoculars and a field guide). You can sometimes sign up at local nature preserves or parks too.
  20. Toss the old pigskin around!
  21. Buy a candle making kit and make the candles (or paper making or soap making).
  22. Clean the messiest space in your house, then scent the room with lavender.
  23. Spend an evening eating popcorn, drinking cider, and reading silently as a family in front of the fire. Turn the TV off.
  24. Go to a local festival.
  25. Invite college students or adults living alone to an evening of soup, bread and games (like Apples to Apples). Fall is a great time to care for shut ins or kids who have moved away from home.

Can you think of more?

How to break old stuff!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Yesterday, Liam and I sat together in the living room while I worked and he read Living Bird (a magazine put out by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). He started giggling. Then he chuckled. Next thing you know, his body shook while he laughed out loud. Now it’s nearly impossible to get any work done when someone is enjoying a good joke in a piece of writing that is only feet from where you sit! So I had to know the source of such good humor.

Pete Dunne: How to Destroy Your Binoculars

Nobody could have anticipated this problem. Only a few decades ago birders took pains to keep their binoculars in good working order so they would provide years of service.

No longer. Now, with new-and-improved, super-whiz-bang binoculars appearing every other week, birders who already own quality instruments that don’t have the latest technological innovations—coatings that deflect images of European Starlings and House Sparrows; squishy gel-packed bodies as squeezable as toilet paper—are crying for an excuse to ditch their built-to-last-a-lifetime glass so they have an excuse to buy the latest and greatest.

But they can’t. Their current binoculars work just fine. Replacing them will mean hours of negotiation with their conscience, their spouse, or both.

So here, for the benefit of birders suffering new binocular envy, are several proven ways to destroy the binoculars you are using now. I have personally tried every one and will attest to their success.

With that introduction, Dunne then reels off six detailed methods for deep-sixing your aging binoculars. And they are hilarious! Here are two:

1. The ol’ bioncular left on the roof of your car trick. Although this used to be the binocular abuser’s default setting (the equivalent of the dog eating your homework), unfortunately this is not the fail-safe technique it used to be. There are instruments out there now that can take a standard tumble onto tarmac and survive. In order to achieve maximum damage levels as defined by the new, enhanced, bino-destructo scale, you must place your instrument with barrels parallel to the car roof (i.e. not standing upright) so that you can achieve freeway speeds before the instrument goes airborne. If possible, when backing up to retrieve the wreckage, (for insurance purposes) run the instrument over with tires of your car…


5. While scanning for hawks, consume a New-York-deli-sized roast beef sandwich (making sure that half the mayo lands on the glass), then introduce the binoculars to a six-month old Labrador retriever with the counsel, “Now be a good dog, Armageddon, and leave those binoculars alone.” Leave the room. Make sure the instruments are within reach and remove all doggy toys from the vicinity.

And if all else fails:

6. Loan them to me. I guarantee you’ll need new instruments by the time you get them back.

We laughed so much reading about the destructive methods of cleaning the lenses using the equivalent of a brillo pad and packing the binocs in a backpack, on a hot day, with a loosened jar of honey to ooze and lubricate the working parts of the instrument.

It occurred to me that this format would make an ideal writing exercise. How many of us have kids who want the latest X Box or Wii or the best saddle for a horse or the newest bicycle or the most recent iPod (the iTouch!) even while the stuff they have works perfectly and used to entertain them for hours? I see that show of hands. Everyone!

So turn them loose. Let them write about how to destroy that old stuff in order to justify the expense of the new stuff.

Hmm. Am I’m unleashing criminal activity against otherwise still-in-good-condition stuff? For the record: I said write about it. Don’t actually do it. :)

Thank you notes

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Writing thank you notesImage by eren {sea+prairie}

Hi Julie,

I’ve only just started reading my Writer’s Jungle so perhaps this question is already addressed somewhere in there.

How do I help my 10yo son improve his vocabulary choices while writing? He is a voracious reader and can comprehend vocabulary words way above grade level. However, pulling descriptive words out of him during writing is another story.

Here is how a recent session writing thank you notes went:

(Proofreading) “The (gift) is fun. You are very nice.”

Me: Hmmm…I think you can select words that pack a more descriptive punch. Let’s think of another word other than “fun”.

Him: Uhhh…okay, how about “good”?

Me: Well, “good” is also a bland word. Let’s think of the (gift). What words can you use to describe it?

Him: Fun. Good. Nice.

Me: Let’s do this…get the Synonym Finder and we will look up a new word.

Him: (Big Sigh, rolling eyes) NOOOOO! I want to use the word “fun”!

Me: Okay, let’s move on. How about finding a replacement for the word “nice”. (In my mind, I am thinking of words like “generous”, “thoughtful”, “kind”, etc.)

Him: Uhhhh….I can’t think of anything.

Me: You can’t think of anything?

Him: Okay, how about “good”?

And so on…

Help! Do you have any tips for me?


Hi Linda!

Your request likely feels like a very big challenge to your son as he is not thinking in specifics but vague generalities.

The best thank you notes tell a little anecdote. So rather than asking him for a summary word, ask him about playing with the gift. What did he do the first time he played or did he have a big win or did he beat the computer or whatever?

Help him to remember the thing as it is used, not as it is described in terms of adjectives.

Fun is a great place to start. Now help him to show the fun he had (rather than summarizing it).

How about:

Thanks for the really fun gift! My brother and I played with it for four hours. I ________ until my brother tried to _________ and then right when I thought I would lose I __________ and whipped his butt.

Something like that.

The point is, don’t write about the gift in general. Try to put it in a specific context and the words will more likely come forth.

Also, words like generous, thoughtful, kind are parent words. Nice is a meaningless word. So perhaps you can help him to say what he really means:

I love that you knew to get me that gift because….


It’s so cool that you would buy me the thing I’ve been wanting forever…

That kind of thing rather than generalizations.

I hope that helps a bit!

Hi Julie,

Your tips helped!

Here is his latest thank you:

Thank you for the Key Card Door Alarm. I rigged it to my drawer. I put my favorite Christmas presents in the drawer. Now they are safe from sneaky monkeys!

I love you very much!

What I love about it is that it captures a bit of his personality, which is what Brave Writer is all about!

Thanks, again!

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