Archive for the ‘The Writer’s Jungle’ Category

In defense of the writing process

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

A little love for the old Battle Axe


When I began Brave Writer (Jan 2000), I had one goal—help parents help their kids to write without fear. My initial scribbled outlines of possible directions for The Writer’s Jungle had notes about paragraphing, descriptive writing, narrative versus expository writing and more.

One morning, I got up to read my notes and wilted. I knew that wasn’t what was needed and I certainly didn’t want to write it. Kids weren’t struggling with writing because parents had yet to read the definitive explanation of what constitutes a paragraph.

Parents weren’t frustrated by their children’s childish errors in spelling, punctuation, handwriting, and grammar because they didn’t know how to correct the mistakes.

Rather, parents were frustrated because all those explanations in the programs they already owned weren’t resulting in lively, enthusiastic writing from their kids, with visibly improving mechanics. Tears, anger, boredom—a lack of confidence about what the results meant (were their kids writing well enough?).

Meanwhile all the books I read about writing for my adult writing life had helped me become a much better writing coach to my own children.

I realized: The murky process of generating writing had not yet been adequately addressed for parents at home working with their own children.

The manuals I read showed “sample paragraphs” that weren’t even well written (organized, yes; but dull, lifeless). They taught methods like “Here’s a sentence in three words. Now add an adjective to make it longer.” Some of them gave such a long script of instructions, any chance for the child’s natural voice to show in the writing was gone before the pen hit the page.

As I wrote more and more about writing and parenting, it struck me that this new writing resource ought to enhance the empathetic connection between parent and child (creating emotional safety for writing risks) while giving the parent-child team tools to help them excavate the inner life of the child and get that to paper.

The Writer’s Jungle is my earliest attempt to express all that information—those goals. I wrote it in my late 30s at a point in my writing career where I was working with non-writers every day—growing and expanding their writing for publication. I spent a lot of energy helping adults find their writing voices. I never once explained what constitutes a paragraph to them.

I didn’t envision The Writer’s Jungle being a “curriculum” in the traditional sense. I assumed parents had scads of writing prompts in their various homeschool curricula for English and history, or school assignments they needed to supervise and support at home.

These parents needed a set of tools (like a corkscrew or can opener) to access the language living inside their kids, without prompting tears, resistance, and pain. I imagined a parent reading The Writer’s Jungle a chapter at a time, even moving around it like a reference book, if they wanted to, using it to help them help their kids write their assignments!

This piece needs revision; I’ll flip open the chapter on revision and work through the suggestions with Charley.

Mary’s vocabulary seems to be evaporating when she goes to writing. Maybe the chapter on word games will help us free some words for writing.

I know the revolutionary war period is too big for writing. We can use the Topic Funnel to scale it down.

It never occurred to me that anyone would find it a challenge to use The Writer’s Jungle!

It was designed so simply!

  • Read, do; read, do.
  • No required time frame.
  • No expected pace.
  • Processes to be used again and again, morphing and changing to support any kind of writing you might explore with your kids, or that might be assigned to them!
  • Chapters that could be used in a variety of sequences.
  • Injunctions to grow as a homeschooling parent by reading for pleasure, too, so that everyone in the family became more and more aware of quality prose and language use.
  • A detailed guide to the developmental stages of growth in writing instead of scope and sequence.
  • Sample schedules of writing projects for 10 months a year, all ages and stages.

When anyone suggests that the “program” is not “organized,” it startles me a bit.

Teaching writing is not a program.

It doesn’t follow a specific set of steps. Programmatic writing instruction is the reason so many kids don’t like writing, and so many adults still lack confidence as writers!

Imagine teaching kids to speak via “program” or “schedule.” Imagine helping a child learn to walk with a curriculum, or learn to sew by tackling a pattern and working through each skill without having ever used a sewing machine!

Writing grows organically first, as would-be writers are introduced to processes that help them learn to express themselves.

Play with the processes; grow as a writer.

Once a writer is freely self-expressing, applying those skills to writing projects is as natural as giving an oral report once a child is a fluent speaker.

It’s been 16 years since I wrote the first draft of The Writer’s Jungle. It deserves a revision (fingers crossed: within the next 2 years) if only to add all the amazing writing and experiences our families have shared with us!

Ultimately Brave Writer has widened and deepened over the years—our offerings are vast and there is so much GOOD FREE information on the website and blog, you can get really far with us without spending a penny!

I felt a need to write a little apologetic for our old battle axe: The Writer’s Jungle. Even though there are passages in it that I’d rewrite in a hot minute (clunkers and overstatements, humor that was funnier in 2000 than 2015), my message hasn’t changed.

Writing is not a linear process of step by step instructions.

It is first and foremost an interior look—pairing language with thought. Writing is about becoming able and facile in this process—with greater and greater linguistic dexterity. It’s exploring the murky, non-linear process of committing ideas to language and language to paper.

Writing benefits from partnerships—with parents or teachers or friends or editors who give content-centered feedback with the heart and goal of enhancing, enriching, and expanding what is there.

There are pain-free processes that support that partnership. These are in The Writer’s Jungle, all of our products and classes, and 100 other writing books written by other writers, not specifically written for homeschoolers.

It’s my hope that you will spend your money and time wisely—taking advantage of all we offer through Brave Writer for free—purchasing what helps you feel brave and competent to facilitate this non-linear process with your kids.

If we can help you in any way, let me know! I still love the heart, message, and methods of The Writer’s Jungle. I stand by them.

Cathy Duffy’s review is one of my favorites. She influenced my homeschool when my children were coming up. I’m honored to be in her list of recommended resources.

To all of you who advocate for Brave Writer and The Writer’s Jungle out there in homeschool discussion board land, thanks for helping to get the real message out. You humble me and move me with your stories.

To sum up—The Writer’s Jungle is a compendium of processes and wisdom to help parents partner with kids and to help kids find their writing voices. That’s it!

I appreciate you. Happy planning! Happy writing!


Why The Writer’s Jungle “costs so much.”

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Brave Writer started with the idea that a family could grow in writing if the mother felt equipped to coach her children in the writing process without damaging their relationship.

I wrote The Writer’s Jungle to fill that gap—to be the one curricula that focused on the process (both of writing and parent-child relating while writing).

The Writer’s Jungle continues to be the key resource that moves parents


    and insecurity


    and compassion for their kids.

Without the shift that The Writer’s Jungle offers (both in how to see writing and how to understand your role in that journey), other tools for writing will continue to lead you down the same paths—writer’s block, messy mechanics, stilted writing products, insufficient development in the writing piece itself, resistance, boredom, and the endless quest to know if you’re doing enough or too much or if your child is “on grade level.”

Not only that, other writing curricula give you a false sense of “writing competence.” Kids may churn out answers to prompts, they may follow the guidelines suggested yet never actually feel proud of what they write (excited by it, invested in it).

Just because a child has written 20 writing products in a year doesn’t mean that any of them are interesting to read.

Somehow the goal of being an original writer with interesting things to say, written with power and panache, has been edited out of many programs on the market today.

I’ve been asked many many times why The Writer’s Jungle (let’s face it—a three-ring binder with 246 pages and tab dividers) costs so much ($97.00 for the binder edition, $79.00 for the digital version). Why charge so much for this information?

One of the key differences between Brave Writer and any other program I know about in homeschooling is that The Writer’s Jungle spans the lifetime of your homeschool. We don’t offer “The Writer’s Jungle: Grade 1″ and “The Writer’s Jungle: Volume 7.” The tools and concepts in it are meant to last you for all your kids, for as long as they are at home with you. I hoped (12 years ago when I wrote the manual) that you would make this one purchase and not have to make any others.

While Brave Writer offers other products too (because so many of our fans have asked for them and appreciate how we teach, and want to marinate in our philosophy and practice), it is possible to simply own The Writer’s Jungle and teach your own kids for the rest of their lives using that one resource.

I did. I used the methods I share with you and never bought a single stitch of writing curriculum. I created my own writing assignments for my kids based on what they were studying and where they showed curiosity. I didn’t buy into the schoolish notion that kids were supposed to produce a “set” of writing assignments at each grade level. I focused instead on the liveliness of their communication, capitalizing on their interests, helping them to express those insights in writing. We fit the form to the content, not the other way around. Over time, they emerged as wonderful writers (all of them, even the resistant ones).

I realize now that not everyone will feel this level of confidence in coaching writing. I also know that what I do naturally doesn’t come naturally to others (you’ve all told me that!)—hence, our 100s of products 12 years later.

But the original thought was that you could use The Writer’s Jungle and be done with this endless quest for “the perfect writing curriculum.”

I still feel that way.

I remember overhearing two moms recently say that The Arrow, for instance, seemed unnecessary because anyone can pick passages for dictation—Why should Julie Bogart do that for us? I laughed. I agree! I say so in Chapter 1. If you open any novel you own, you can use any passage your finger finds, to good effect. They all work. Just do it. Be consistent. Get it done.

The Arrow and The Boomerang grew out of a cry from our customers—they wanted someone (me) to pick the passages and help them know what to say about the literature that would make copying the passage a rich experience in language arts. They wanted an “open-and-go” program. These are busy moms with lots of kids. I understood!

So in 2002, I started creating monthly products with the goal of keeping the instruction simple and easy to use (less is more). Clearly this approach (one small piece of curriculum per month, not overwhelming, not overly demanding) fit that bill beautifully because we’ve had nothing but success with those products.

Likewise, our new line of writing program products attempts to meet the other need—writing projects based on the developmental stages of growth in Chapter 14 of The Writer’s Jungle. You don’t HAVE to use these. But sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the thinking. My goal is to provide HELP—not to replace you and your creativity, your intimate knowledge of your kids, or to hijack your family’s style of education.

When I wrote The Writer’s Jungle, I committed myself to helping families when they get stuck. That’s part of the price—my tangible help.

We have a website with hundreds of pages of free, useful material on it. I answer email, chat messages, and phone calls all day every day giving detailed, personal help to any customer who asks for it. Sometimes I’ve been on the phone with Australia at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday night! (Time zone calculations are tough!)

My point is this: Brave Writer isn’t like other companies. We’ve relied on word of mouth and the laws of attraction, not promotion. I want to grow at a pace that can provide the support families require to be successful home educators. We are smaller than you might think. And to me, that’s a good thing. I love the way we’ve grown and I love our customers. And we’ve grown—tremendously—without sacrificing our commitment to you.

Many of us happily spend $97.00 on

    2 video games,
    1 dinner out as a family of six,
    3 piano lessons,
    a helmet for lacrosse,
    2 hours of tutoring,
    1 boxed curriculum for one single grade level,
    24 cups of Starbucks!

What price would you put on transforming how you understand writing and teaching it? What if you could re-route the trajectory of your homeschool’s future? This is what Brave Writer families tell me—that writing changed for good, once they waded into our waters.

Brave Writer doesn’t sell curriculum. It sells transformation—the essential skills and ideas you need to become the effective writing coach and ally to your kids that you want to be. Not everyone needs what we offer. Some moms are already there, naturally. But for those who do need what we have, The Writer’s Jungle is the place to start and may even be, the end of your search.

My goal is for your family to be set on a new, freeing, transforming path, one that takes you all the way to college with your kids.

We aim to help you get there through timely, generous support, and to keep you writing, however we can.

Brave Writer intends to meet the needs of families who want to create lively, powerful, competent writers while fostering a nurturing home environment.

Peace and progress, in the writing process.

That’s what Brave Writer is all about.

Email: The difference between Brave Writer and other programs

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

I got this email from Hayley, who lives in Australia. She brought up so many good points, I wanted to share my answers to her questions here for others who have similar concerns. We had been in dialog over the last few days so this is my final email to her.

Hi Hayley. Comments within.

On Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 7:43 PM, Hayley; wrote:

Thanks for this Julie.  Will Bravewriter teach him the mechanics of writing, will he understand the formula.  Does Bravewriter teach predicates, topics, starts, middle, ends to a piece of writing?  What I mean by this is, there seems to be a strong emphasis (in all writing programs I have looked at) on learning the procedure of writing a successful piece of work.  Will Bravewriter teach this or teach me to teach it? 

Brave Writer will teach those things, eventually. Brave Writer is about a paradigm shift in how you understand the writing process. Those other programs are following the same tired ideas about writing instruction that have produced decades of flat, lacking-in-confidence, mediocre writers. I know because I talk to adults all the time and the vast majority feel nervous about writing, don’t think they’re good at it, and typically make comments like “I don’t know how to write” despite all the years of having formats pounded into them.


Professional writing instructions starts with a person – not a format. That’s why we are Brave Writer not Brave Writing. The focus of our instruction begins with the idea that people have interesting thoughts and that these deserve written expression to be shared with an interested audience. We work with helping kids access language from within, helping them to feel safe enough to take writing risks. We (you the parent, and our instructors) support them at each stage of development with corresponding help/assistance.


Over time, formats can be introduced and kids with a strong sense of writing voice will learn them easily.


We do teach mechanics of writing through copywork and dictation and have tools to do that so that while the child is learning how to create original writing without a lot of structural pressure, he/she is also learning how to transcribe accurately and also internalizing quality writing with literary style. These skills then flow into the child’s own writing as the two come together around ages 13-15.

Like I mentioned, I have looked at the website many times and I don’t fully understand how the ‘lifestyle’ works.  I would also want my son to be able to transition out of Bravewriter and into another program for example without having to start from the lowest level again, if we felt the need to.  I am having difficulty trying to articulate what I want at the moment (have a flu).  Am I making any sense. 

Yes, you make perfect sense. You should not need to transition to another program. Brave Writer has been able to meet the writing and language arts needs of thousands of families. On the other hand, if you are interested in using another program or joining a co-op, your child will begin at the level he or she is at when that day comes. But it won’t be about whether he or she can write a business letter or a haiku. It will be about command of language—how well can this child access the language within and give it life on a page?

I love that Bravewriter will capture my son’s imagination and ideas, but I would also like to know I am training him from this early age to write with a correct ‘procedure’.  

But that’s not effective. Think back to speech. Did you worry at ages 4-5 that he wasn’t speaking according to formats in oral language? Perfect grammar? Able to give an oral presentation or speech or deliver a business lecture? When a child learns to speak, we support and encourage all spoken words, even the ones that aren’t quite right. We intuitively know that we don’t expect perfect etiquette at 2-3 or before fluency kicks in. We don’t teach a child how to “answer the phone” before that child is capable of talking and interacting naturally in person.


Likewise, if you begin with formats and “procedure” in writing, you stunt the child’s ability to use his or her natural vocabulary, insight, gathered facts, quirky personality, and all that is available to the child to convey. Instead, the child dumbs down his or her vocabulary to suit the puzzle of the writing assignment and loses touch with what he or she wants to say. Perhaps, in some cases, the natural structure of the ideas is also over-written by the canned ideas of the particular curricula as well.

Like you say most other programs concentrate heavily on the formulaic component, however for me, I would like to concentrate on getting him to put words on paper and feeling confident to do so, but at the same time be gently teaching him the correct formula.

There is no one correct formula. There are lots of ways writing can be shaped but it’s harder to learn these if they are taught ahead of fluency in written self-expression.

I hear many good reviews about Bravewriter, but I also hear about parents purchasing the text, reading it, liking it, but then not really knowing how to put it into practice.  From what I understand, an issue is that it is too ‘unstructured’? 

The difficulty with Brave Writer is that it is not a schedule, but a process. That process can be applied to any writing a child does. I do give ideas in the appendix for what kinds of writing a child might do at each level. Honestly, you can google how to write a descriptive paragraph, if you are looking for specific guidance on structure. What is missing is the process. How do you coax out the rich insight and vocabulary of your child to get a quality descriptive paragraph, not just a formulaic response to a wooden question?


It takes time, and trust (courage) to put into practice and I offer to help throughout. Anyone who emails me gets a response (like this one!). So there’s no reason to get stuck, if you’re worried about that.

Sorry if I am rambling and this email is all over the place.  Thanks for listening.

You’re welcome. The last thing you might like knowing is that our next set of products do give specific writing projects to go with the developmental levels. These would be done at the pace of one per month and are meant to be a way to use the writing process with an intended goal at the end. The reason I have resisted writing them for nearly 13 years is that I worry that moms will not make the paradigm shift first—really grasping how important it is for kids to have full access to their original writing voices first.


Hope that helps! Feel free to share it with others who may have similar questions where ever it is you post. :)
Please do share this information on your message boards, in your blogging communities. A paradigm shift takes time. Realizing that writing is not so different from learning to speak, from weaning a child from breastfeeding to food to table manners, from early dependency on you, the parent, to independent living as a young adult is the beginning. Then Brave Writer helps you get there with support to silence the ghost of public school past that sits on your left shoulder. :)

Follow up to yesterday’s post

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Hi everyone.

I heard from two of our instructors yesterday with excellent feedback related to our post and discussion about writing between parents and children. Here’s what Rita has to say:


I think one reason parents freak about spelling is they don’t follow the entire Writer’s Jungle process. They never take a child-selected writing piece once a month and work through the editing process you outline. That is where kids learn about all the picky stuff and they see that they can have a finished piece that people look at and praise.

Without the whole process over the course of months, parents give up on trusting the freewrite and kids don’t understand that a freewrite is about getting ideas on paper for a selected “big finish.” That big finish is where it all comes together and kids have an opportunity to care about how it looks or how it’s spelled–and to show it to someone with pride! The whole process encourages everyone to embrace and trust the freewrite. Parents whose kids are afraid to write are more afraid of that once a month editing process. Then everyone spirals downward again when the freewrite loses its steam. I hear this over and over again in Dynamic Revision (one of Rita’s classes that she teaches for Brave Writer).

Also, introducing kids to electronic dictionaries–now on phones and easier than ever with Siri–can really help the kid who is picky about spelling. They are more willing to just underline words that they don’t know how to spell, while they freewrite, once they can see how easy it is to go back after and electronically “fix” their perceived errors–before anyone else sees it! Their need to be perfect is easily met, so they are able to trust waiting.

Lastly, be aware of this: kids who can’t deal with the misspelled word may have no strategies for spelling. Kids who rely on how words look and don’t attend to phonemes and the default graphemes have no clue how to “just write how you think it’s spelled.” They may have to be taught how to write what they hear. Again, the electronic/on-line dictionaries help here: write what you hear, then check it by inputting those letter choices into the search. Spell-checkers reward those efforts in a way the old tomes never could.

Just some thoughts.

I would add: The Wand (created by Rita) gives parents the tools to teach spelling strategies to your kids. For older kids, The Arrow and The Boomerang give your kids practice with spelling through copywork and dictation. Use someone else’s writing to work on mechanics.

For kids struggling with handwriting, one of our instructors, Susanne Barrett, recommends Dragon Speech-to-Text Software:

Hi Julie,

Keith bought me the Dragon speech-to-text software; he found it at Costco for half price ($40). It’s wonderful; I can speak into the headset, and my words magically appear on the screen; I can even punctuate, capitalize, italicize or bold, even open files all by voice commands. The advantage for me is that it saves my swollen hands from painful typing.

However, I was thinking that because it’s dictation-based, it might be an option to mention for some of our families, either with kids in the partnership stage of writing or for students with dysgraphia or dyslexia.

It took about half an hour to set it up and train it to my voice. And we’re off and running! I’ve had problems with dictating in e-mails (I’m typing this), but I wrote half my new fan fiction chapter in Word with it Saturday within an hour of opening the box, and I can dictate responses to students within Brave Writer after setting the cursor at the right place. Yay!! My hands have really been bothering me lately, so this software is helping immensely.

Just wanted to let you know….

And there you have it! Our instructors have great ideas to keep you and your families writing. You may want to sign up for a class this spring. Just sayin’! :)


Email: Beginning Writing Advice

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Skip to Second Half of the Story if you’ve landed here from the Brave Writer ZipLine e-letter.

The following is a wonderful email exchange between one of our Brave Writer moms and me. I share it with you because these questions, so beautifully and honestly articulated by Sharon, are common to many home educators. Brave Writer is not like other writing “programs” because it focuses more on the writer, than writing. We are Brave Writer not Brave Writing for that reason.

The paradigm shift occurs when you become more aware of your child and your child’s vocabulary, insights, and stories than rules and formats for writing/narrating. You must start there, or you’ll create a blocked, reluctant, or pedantic writer. If you want to see life and power in the writing, you need to value and activate the original writing voice of your child… today, and every day. Keep reading. Like all paradigm shifts, it will feel unnatural and “wrong” at first. But over time, you’ll realize this is how you always wanted to teach writing.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below.

Hi Sharon.

How great to hear from you! I love feedback and you certainly gave me a lot. Thank you. I have commented throughout your original below.

On Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 10:00 AM, Sharon Jones (MD) wrote:

Julie or bravewriter staff

Want to first say a big thank you – I got the Writer’s Jungle two weeks ago and it is already making a huge difference in our homeschooling.

Music to my ears. Glad to hear it.

My ds is 9 years old and I was beginning to fret about his lack of writing skill – and we have been doing [another writing program] but I was finding the narrations in there were killing both his and my 1st grader’s desire to narrate anything.  I wasn’t listening to their play just worried that they were not with joy telling me a good summary of the short story in the curriculum.

It’s subtle, isn’t it? You think you are “doing something” that is “important,” and then miss enjoying your kids which is THE most important part of narration. Narration (as a word) is such bugger anyway. It feels like it’s from another century (and is). We’re really just talking about, well, talking—what I call “Big Juicy Conversations.”

While my son is able to dictate very well as long as I am there to feed him how to spell the words – he would know what word came next but not how to spell it. [This other program] does say to just spell the word for them.

But even more, he needs to discover that it’s okay for him to misspell the word. Here’s the flip—the change you want him to make in his own thinking. He gets to take writing risks. Just like he took “talking risks” to learn how to speak. Can you remember a funny word he used to use to convey something? For instance, my daughter called our bedroom, the “dreadroom.” She called “magazines,” “mazazines.” One of my kids routinely said, “waterlemon” and “magah” instead of “watermelon” and “Gramma.” We understood them. We even used their funny words as adults because they were “adorable.”

Eventually, over time, our kids self-corrected with exposure to the “conventional” ways of saying these words. Likewise, your son will grow as a speller if he feels free to get his thoughts into writing in any form and continues to read, do copywork, and slowly discovers how to edit his original writing by looking for his own spelling errors. But that comes later. Right now, the original writing impulse is far more important than his proper spelling. You need to let him know that no one ever complimented an author on her “fabulous use of commas” or “perfect spelling.” Editors can supply those. What we are looking for is his fabulous vocabulary, insight, and experience shared in his most natural voice, even if he doesn’t yet quite know how to spell everything.

Have this conversation with him (he’s old enough and smart enough to get it). If he is utterly flummoxed (can’t even find a way to get a word down incorrectly without paralysis), he can then ask you to spell it. But what you want is an uninterrupted flow of ideas to come from him. For a little while, you may need him to dictate to you while you transcribe his original thoughts so he can get back in touch with having them without the frustration of handwriting and spelling getting in the way.

My ds is hitting a wall – where he refuses to study spelling words, and yet wants to spell perfectly to the point where he won’t write anything because he is afraid he will spell wrong.  I am not sure how to address this issue except that through reading the WJ, I realized that we really had not been talking.  We, I should say I, was just saying okay do this, now do this, okay time for this, your (sic) not done with that yet?  Now do this, okay now your (sic) done as soon as you get that done.  Yeah, not much fun!

Look at how much you are already changing your thinking. He hates writing because he can’t spell. But you have been requiring him to write without support and you have him focused on spelling programs as though those will cure his paralysis. It’s the other way around. Drop the programs, focus on talking, jot some of his ideas and thoughts and words onto the page for him, share those with his dad at the dinner table, laugh about his funny jokes, admire his thoughtful ideas, probe his facts, and then do it all again.

Do this for awhile.

Then when you introduce freewriting (a practice we teach in The Writer’s Jungle), make it VERY short and focus all his energy on never stopping the pencil—even if he just writes Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh hellllllllppppppppp across the page for 3 minutes. He needs to breakthrough by letting himself defy the rules. Tell him: You get to be a rule breaker. Write whatever you want, in any way you want, but don’t stop that pencil. Ready set go! (And you freewrite too – at the same time, at the same table, with the same impatience and anxiety.) Stop what doesn’t work. Give permission to take risks. Enjoy whatever results you get (don’t scrutinize them – enjoy them).


I figured I should go slow even though I was very excited and well my children are still very young.  I have a lot of time I realized – so I decided the first thing was to get out of the room that is our “school” room away from the table and the white board.  Oh we might go back there for some things but for now I wanted homeschool to be more about home and less about “school.”

Brava to you! Wonderful.

We have a blanket we lay on the carpet as the wrestling mat – the kids connect it with fun with Dad and time to WRESTLE so I brought it out and said in the day time it is the conversation mat.

You’re clearly a genius. :) I love this in a hundred ways.

 We spent a week just talking.

I hope now you’ll spend a lifetime just talking. :)

 I found out a lot of really neat things about my kids.

Isn’t that incredible? Pause and really notice - you found out a lot of really neat things about your kids. That’s all you need to be a great writing coach and ally—you need to value THEM as they are.

 I also really started to listen to them when they are playing and it is pretty funny the amount of things from school that gets incorporated into their stories.

Because school isn’t separate from life. In fact, at home, it is life.

 After talking and sharing stories and letting my daughters put on a play with pet shops and stuff animals – not all in the same day mind you.  The craft products that were sitting unused suddenly were remembered and they are becoming very creative.

This week I put out a copywork table with books they can choose whatever they want to copy and there is no set amount after the first one.


 My dd in 1st grade has decided to copy a book of poems, my ds 3rd grade is doing random things, my 4 year old is drawing photos which I then write whatever she asks under the photo – she is pretty proud of the books she is making.

Of course! Books, by her? Wow. Put those books in a little basket on the table and read them to her often. Read them to her dad. Have her dad read them back to her. Do this for all your kids. When they share something that you jot down for them, but it in a little book. Later, take that book back out and read it at story time, just like any other book. They will start to value their own writing.

Math is still getting done and Science and History.    I see my kids doing more school willingly then we were doing while I was pulling teeth to get it done.  Only know they seem to think that they are doing hardly any “school” at all.  Funny how that is.

Exactly – because it has to do with them now.

I realize now how much time I have.  One day I think we might take one of your on line classes.
My ideas for the rest of this year is to continue the talking and the copywork.  Adding in a jar of quotes to do at some point to change it up.  I also need advice for what to do with a child who is afraid to write anything least he should spell it wrong?

I think I addressed this above. But stop all the programs. No more. They aren’t working because they are enslaving you. I can hear it in your descriptions of trying to find the right one. The goal you have can’t be fixed with those programs.

His spelling isn’t bad if he tries.  We had been using [another program] – but the time comment for that was just getting too much with two children it takes at least 45 mins per child.  Lots of people are trying to convince me that AAS is the way to go.  (SWR-Spelling to Write and Read and All About Spelling).  I have Spelling Wisdom – I have thought about using that for the quote jar for copy work.  I also have Sequential Spelling – okay so maybe my problem is I want quick results. =)

I guess I am a little afraid to just use the copy work –  well this really teach him to spell.

Yes. Combined with reading, some dictation, and his own writing. But it takes ten (10) TEN years! 9 is so young. Of course he’s an awful speller. All 9 year olds are. Give him time.

 I think it will teach the first grader – she is reading on a 4th grade level if not higher and is my creative, language person – she was using full sentences at 18 months old.  But I am not sure about my ds who is reading a bit below grade level doing math at a higher level.  He is my history buff, loves science and anything factual.  He only got interested in reading through Magic Tree House books.  He is very particular – he likes to put his clothes on the same way each time to the point where it is almost not funny.

I am wondering about how to get someone like him to try to write.

Don’t “get him to write.” Catch him in the act of thinking. The next time he’s explaining something to you, jot it down. Grab any piece of paper handy (even the back of an envelope works) and start writing. THAT’s his writing. No more contrived methods. Capture the real words, real mind life of your child in writing.

Yes, it’s that easy. I mean it.

You can try freewriting once you are at the point where he is not pencil phobic and he really believes you that he can take writing risks. Until then, you transcribe his thoughts for him, you talk to him, you have poetry teatimeswith him, you read his thoughts aloud to his dad, you read aloud to him, he reads…. Get it?

 I was thinking of getting Story Starters and Rory cubes as a fun way to do some oral stories during the mat time.  Then getting something like rummy root cards to work on Latin roots in a fun way for language.  Maybe getting a game like cooking up sentences to help work on some of this fear of writing sentences.  Not that I can get those all at once but over time.  Then maybe by half way through 4th grade my son would be ready for me to start freewriting on Fridays.   I am trying to think outside the box and outside the workbook mode.

Don’t cook up sentences. Your kids are already fluent in the English language. They are amazing sentence generators. Don’t confuse them by making them think they don’t know how to write a sentence. They do. They’ve been saying sentences for YEARS. :)

Any advice or encouragement on this would be well taken. Thank you again the change in my school day has been 100% for the better!

I’m so glad. You are doing an awesome job of changing your paradigm. Keep it up!

Collection of Happy Thoughts

Monday, April 11th, 2011

I know, I know. Why has this blog been so dormant over the last year? Truth be told, in addition to some personal challenges, Brave Writer has been growing! My time and attention had to be turned to other pressing concerns, such as curriculum development (more on that soon, I promise!), website building, improving our online classroom, preparing for and traveling to three conventions in a month, speaking in various parts of the country for workshops, teaching classes myself and all the usual stuff that a kitchen-table-growing-like-gangbusters-into-a-grown-up-business experiences in year 11.

We are improving contact between you and me, and between you and, well, you, too! Here are a couple of ways we are making headway:

  • You can now chat with me via a live chat widget when you visit the website! This live chat function will be open when I’m online. I look fwd to being able to serve you all better, particularly our overseas customers who find the phone a difficult means of communication with me.
  • We are releasing a brand new discussion/message board for the Brave Writer community so that you have a place to talk about the Brave Writer Lifestyle. You can use it to get feedback from other moms and dads who are in the trenches helping their kids, just like you! I’ll pop in to answer questions as well.
  • We’ve just created a twitter identity as well as a facebook page to make it easier for me to send out short snippets of insight and writing support, rather than having to commit to an entire blog post every day. My hope is to update the blog once per week while using the other tools for daily support.
  • We’ve enabled podcasting for Brave Writer as well. Look for my convention workshops to be posted some time next week.

These are all ways I hope to enrich your experience of Brave Writer over the coming months.

In the meantime, listen to these happy thoughts shared by our fabulous families!

Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your seminars. I’ve been homeschooling 22 years, and writing has been one of those things I’ve felt like I never did a good job teaching, because we never seemed to get around to doing any of the “curriculums” I purchased. The kids did write–they wrote what they wanted to write, or type, when they wanted to, so I knew they could write, sort of, but I always felt like I should be doing more. Your seminars reminded me that writing can be just as relaxed and part of our real lives as reading good books. Your ideas about the way to help children write are so much more in line w/ my way of homeschooling, than any of the canned programs I have, that I just felt a giant sigh of relief while listening to you. Thank-you. I feel like your seminars were worth the cost of the conference all by themselves. I purchased the Writing Jungle and read the first chapter that evening in my motel room and enjoyed it so much. I’m looking forward to making writing a part of our lives in a more relaxed and natural way.


Hi Julie!
I met you yesterday at your booth. My son, Luke, is currently in Jean Hall’s expository essay class and enjoying it immensely.

Here’s a little background about Luke (14) and my daughter, Kallan (12). We have been using another program for several years . We struggled quite a bit to get writing done. OK, we struggled a LOT. I believe the things the kids learned do a good job of helping them when they are editing, but the actual act of putting the pencil on the paper and writing something wasn’t happening. I was becoming very worried that my 8th grade son was not going to be ready for high school writing. I was also worried about my 12 year old dyslexic daughter who would not write, because she is self-conscious about her spelling.

I finally bought “The Writer’s Jungle” and proceeded to carry it and a highlighter around for several months. At the beginning of February, we curled up in front of our wood stove in Colorado and I read several of your descriptions of other attempts at freewriting. We discussed how it felt when we sat in front of a piece of paper. It was almost as if a wall would appear and absolutely no words would appear. Even I would have a problem and I love to write. After several years of the other program, I would even freeze. I set the timer for ten minutes and my daughter decided she would write about her new (and first) American Doll, I decided to write about airports (love them) and my son said he would just “write what comes into his head”.

Here is what came out of my gangly 6’1”, 14 year old who is constantly walking around with his nose in a book. I no longer worry about his creativity.

The page is as white as a dove, the plumage snowy white, the subtle wind currents lifting it above the clouds. Perhaps, it is like snow, the glistening water dripping like a faucet, or perhaps like a cloud floating below the stars. The incandescent stars and fluffy clouds matching together in a dance eons old. This is how I think of Blank Page Syndrome. The white abyss of a writer’s block, the paralyzing fear buffeting his brain. The fear of failing making him cry out in frustration. Needless to say, right now this writer has no qualms about such matters for his pencil is light, his mind active, his resolve solid. Blank Page Syndrome is like the Niagara Falls icing over. It’s luster gone, replaced with a blank wall of impenetrable ice. The reader may or may not have experienced this syndrome, but the writer has. This essay has been written in ten minutes and the writer is done. Now there is no more blank page.

This has not been revised other than a couple of periods, one misspelled word, and some capitalization. THANK YOU! They both see for the first time that writing can be fun!


Hey Julie,
I wanted to share something with you. My daughter and I attended the Cincy. convention this past weekend. We were coming from north of Dayton on Friday morning and were planning to attend two separate workshops at 10:30 – I thought! The workshops actually started at 10:00, not 10:30 and we encountered Cincinnati, morning traffic (we’re not used to that out in our boondocks area). So we arrived late. Once inside the convention center we sat down and tried to figure out our plan B for the day. I was planning on coming to your booth at some point. We’ve been using “Brave Writer Jungle” for about a year and a half, but I was feeling a lack of confidence in my ability to go forward.

Well, anyway, we both ended up coming to your workshop – and all I can say is “God was takin care of me that day!” You said exactly what we needed to hear – thank-you for being you. We came to your booth and one of the gals spent quite some time with me. We’re going to start using the Boomerang next year, but have already started to use some of the concepts in our school stuff this week.

I went back and read a blog that you had posted last year in January – I kept it in my emails because, again, it was what I needed to hear, and obviously what I needed to reread now. It was about homeschooling through grief. The last 5 years have been hard years for me – a lot of really sad stuff and some really great life moments. We’ve done: illness, graduation, college, death, marriage, a lot of change and a lot of emotion. Your blog helped me to realize that our family is still trying to get our gears re-machined, and forcing the issue can sometimes end up with a lot of overheating and smoke.

I just wanted to thank-you for doing what you do, to thank the people that help you do what you do, and to encourage you – you do make a difference.

Have a grand spring day!

These last two years have been intense ones for me personally and in the business. I’m grateful whenever I hear from you—sharing how your families are learning to write and love each other every day. Makes all of it worthwhile. You’re all doing brave, meaningful work. Brava to you and your dear families!


New to Brave Writer

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Brave Writer has three components to support your writing and language arts goals:

Home Study Courses

Online Classes

Language Arts Programs

The Home Study Courses are divided into two. The Writer’s Jungle teaches you, the parent, how to be the most effective writing coach in your children’s lives. The principles, exercises, and guidelines apply to every level of writing from beginner to pro. If you like to work at your own pace, need a manual to which you can refer when you get overwhelmed, if you benefit from having your entire philosophy of writing stood on its head and recreated for you, then start with The Writer’s Jungle. It will work for all your kids.

Help for High School is our home study course for teens. It’s written to your student and is intended to be self-teaching. The course is organized around specific modules and in each module, there is an exercise or writing assignment to complete. These can be done multiple times if you swap topics. They are writing processes, not specific assignments geared toward a period in history or a work of literature. Help for High School provides models of how to write expository essays (both open and closed forms) as well as the steps necessary to understand the structure of argument, thesis and points and particulars.

The Online Classes provide moms and kids with instructor support and accountability. They cover a wider range of choices in terms of specific writing genres. If you prefer to be in a classroom style setting with an instructor, other students and the gentle accountability of due dates, start with Kidswrite Basic. This online course transforms your understanding of how to best facilitate writing in your home. It gives you the tools to know how to encourage and foster good writing habits rather than merely editing poor writing for mechanical errors.

Kidswrite Intermediate is the course to consider if you want to make the transition from parent-led writing to student-led. It’s designed for kids just on the cusp of essay writing. The processes in KWI make up the first half of Help for High School. The benefit to taking it as a class is that the online class offers instructor feedback and the opportunity to read other student writing. KWI prepares students for all levels of essay classes, as well.

The other online classes round out writing experiences. We offer fiction, literary analysis, poetry, grammar, freewriting, SAT/ACT preparation, Shakespeare, literary discussion (Boomerang Complete) and more. The courses help you and your kids to widen their writing experiences while giving you the support and modeling that make you a more and more effective writing coach. The courses also prevent a feeling of isolation in the homeschool, putting you in touch with other parents and students from around the world who are embarking on a similar journey.

The language arts portion of Brave Writer supports and enhances the writing programs. The Arrow, the Boomerang and the retired Slingshot are designed to provide you with easy-to-use tools that teach mechanics, spelling, grammar, handwriting and literary elements in the context of great literature. The Arrow works best for kids 3rd – 6th grades. The Boomerang is designed for 7th-9th grades (though some high school students do quite well with the Boomerang). The Slingshot (already published issues) catered to 10th-12th grades. We now offer literary analysis classes for 10th-12th grades instead.

You can either subscribe to the current year’s lists of the Arrow or Boomerang (paying monthly on your credit card), or you can purchase already published issues ala carte and design your own year’s program around books you and your kids want to read. These tools are meant to supplement your writing program, not replace it. When the Arrow or Boomerang are used in tandem with The Writer’s Jungle or Help for High School, or along with Kidswrite Basic or Kidswrite Intermediate, you will be offering your children a complete language arts/writing package.

Jump in. Try not to figure it all out or become overwhelmed at the choices. Pick one thing that you find fascinating. Purchase it or sign up for it. Use it, do it. Experience and enjoy it. See how it goes. Then do the next thing. As you take it one thing at a time, you will build momentum. You’re not in a rush. You don’t have to solve writing and language arts this week, this semester or even this year. You only need to take the next logical step toward the goal of becoming the best writing coach you can be. In turn, your kids will grow into more and more effective writers.

Writing through the tears

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Who can do anything well while crying?

Can you type while crying? Make dinner? Have sex? Probably not.

Tears are an indication that something is dreadfully wrong. They signal pain:  emotional or physical. In writing, emotional pain may be writer’s block or fear of making a mistake. Physical pain may be that the hand hurts from squeezing the pencil too tightly, or eye strain, or physical exhaustion from a poor night’s sleep. Crying is not a sign of laziness or lack of character. Crying is the last release, the final “giving up” and admission of failure. Crying signals: I need comfort.

When the tears come, the writing’s done.

Take a break. Acknowledge your child’s feelings: I see that you’re unhappy. Let’s talk about this later. Offer a hug.

Later, come back to your child and find out what’s going on. Ask:

Are you afraid of making a mistake?

Is it too hard to grip the pencil for ten minutes straight?

Are you having a hard time spelling?

Do you wish you could play outside in the sunshine rather than sit at a table?

Does it feel like you have nothing to say?

Are you sleepy? Hungry?

Be an investigator and a comforter. A cup of tea and eye contact will go a long way toward soothing the hurting writer. Remember, writer’s block is the usual reason for writing paralysis (not strong wills or sinful natures). Writer’s block means the child doesn’t have access to the words inside. The words are hidden behind anxiety, fear of failure, or a vague sense of the topic (not enough depth in the topic to be able to talk about it meaningfully in writing).

Writer’s block is experienced by everyone (pros, professors and prodigies) and at its most acute, produces tears. So give oodles of empathy, hugs, and comfort foods. Then talk about how to make writing less painful. Take some time to remind yourself of the goal – a free, brave writer who is at ease when writing, not gripped with anxiety and fear.


P.S. If you find it hard to know how to get beyond the tears and writer’s block, peruse my website and the archives of this blog for ideas. I also devote a good chunk of The Writer’s Jungle to this subject as well.

Freewriting is one of our favorite tactics for unblocking stuck writers. Another idea is to stop writing all together for awhile and work on building a relationship where talking freely and well is cultivated. That means, of course, that you will seek opportunities to drive your kid to his destinations so that you can chat the whole way, drawing him out, listening to what he knows lots about and encouraging him to share as much as he can as well as he can… so he’ll grow in verbal self-expression.

Writing through the holidays

Monday, December 7th, 2009

This is a great season for capitalizing on natural writing opportunities (rather than relying on contrived assignments). I’ve included some of the most obvious ideas along with ones you may not have thought of! I’ve also organized them to fit with the Natural Stages of Growth in writing (taken from Chapter 14 of The Writer’s Jungle).

Jot it Down (kids who can handwrite and/or copy writing):

  • caption photos in a family holiday letter
  • write out tags for wrapped gifts
  • create placecards for your holiday meal
  • write gift wish lists
  • address envelopes for holiday cards

Partnership Writing (you help with transcription):

  • all of the above in “Jot it Down” works well with Partnership phase too
  • retell and write a short description of the year’s biggest highlight for family letter
  • copying lyrics from Christmas hymns or other holiday music
  • writing a list of holiday traditions to remember
  • putting holiday events on a posted family calendar
  • thank you notes for gifts received

Faltering Ownership (kids who are writing, but are still not high school level):

  • interview family members for holiday letter
  • write your own memories of the year and send in holiday letter
  • journal about each holiday event and bind in a little notebook at the end of holiday season
  • plan and execute a New Year’s party (including invitations, games, food to purchase)
  • copy holiday cookie recipes onto notecards, make cookies

Transition to Ownership (junior/high school level):

  • take control of the family holiday letter (interview family members, organize and execute)
  • take photos of the holiday season, caption and scrapbook as the month goes along
  • keep a notebook of quotable quotes from the family over the month
  • write a meaningful description of what the holiday means to you personally and share on holiday
  • reflect on a significant piece of religious or reflective literature by freewriting or journaling about it

Email: Reports from the front and a question!

Monday, October 19th, 2009


I have been reading the Brave Writer Manual (The Writer’s Jungle) and LOVE IT.  I really like the easy approach you give us to teach our kids.  I’m still waiting for the October book to come into my library to start the Arrow program, so I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

The charter requires everything that the state requires but my rep is also a college Language Arts teacher.  She wants Daniel writing long book reports, essays, and paragraphs when completing school work.  My son, up until Brave Writer “hated” anything that required writing.  He would cringe when constantly reminded that he needed to be able to write an essay for the state tests in April.  Even writing the answers to questions in our history book required my writing the answers he dictated to me and then he would copy them.

Yesterday, we went on a nature walk, in between the rain storms, and collected flowers he wanted to put in a vase and do a writing project on.  We started with using the five senses and listing descriptive words.  When he finished that I asked him to write one sentence (no worries about spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.) and to my surprise he wrote two very good sentences.  He was so proud reading them to us when his dad came home from work.  When he was done, I congratulated him and let him know that he could be done for the day.  To my surprise he asked if he could write more.  Of course I said yes.

Julie, thank you for this great easy to understand writing program.  We are very blessed to have found you.


Thanks Ann! It’s always such good news to know that kids discover the power and pride of selecting words to represent their inner experience. You’re doing a great job!


It’s wonderful to see you up and blogging again. You’re blog has encouraged me greatly these past couple years. I started a blog a couple years ago, because of your encouragement. Writing in it occasionally, my essay like entries reflect upon what I am learning on my journey. Rereading my blog, I notice how much of your philosophy on life (not just writing) has helped me flesh out the things I struggled with through my 19years of home educating. You have also made me realize the importance of example in my life to inspire others. The purpose I have for my blog is to impart to my children as they go through their journey of parenting. Your blog is one of two I come back to, continually. I just want to say thank you for inspiring me to inspire others.  : )

May God shower you with many blessings today!

Wonderful to hear from you Diane. I’m thrilled that my blog has encouraged you, but even more thrilled to know that you are writing your own! That’s what it’s all about.

Hi Julie-

Thanks for sharing at PEACH tonight and for signing your “autograph” on Stefanie’s writing book. :) That will be inspiring for her! I have been using your TWJ (The Writer’s Jungle) electronic since Sept. and we ordered various older electronic Arrows to jive with our TOG readings this year,too.  At any rate, as I told you, it has been going really well. Stef is happier and not as reluctant anymore. She likes the freewriting.   Would you recommend our next step to be just keep doing what we are doing? [buy other Arrows as needed]. I wasn’t sure if doing the Kidswrite Basic would be doing more of the same but with a larger audience and seeing the other kids’ writing with the teacher interaction? Since she is 10, do we just keep going until she gets to middle/high school and use your other essay writing classes, etc? Just wondered your thoughts,


Hi Cindy.

You’re doing all the right things. Glad she is growing and relaxing. Your understanding of KWB is accurate. It’s a great place to get feedback, to see other student writing and to ask your in-depth questions about becoming your daughter’s most effective writing coach and ally. If you want an experience that is similar in terms of level, but that uses the tools of TWJ for a different product, I suggest taking a look at the Just So Stories course. It starts on November 2 and gives your daughter a chance to apply her newly found enthusiasm and skills to a specific writing project. This course is not offered again this year and the instructor is our longest-term writing teacher. In other words, she’s fabulous.

In fact, I hope lots of families sign up for JSS as it will close soon. Your kids get to write stories about animals that make use of Rudyard Kipling’s delightful use of language. You’ll love the process and the results.