Archive for the ‘Young Writers’ 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!


If your child is in the Jot It Down stage

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Jotting down what your kids tell you isn’t a short cut to writing. It IS writing.
~from The Writer’s Jungle

Does your child excitedly share stories and experiences but is blocked when she tries to write them down? Does his writing not reflect his sophisticated vocabulary? Does she refuse to pen more than a word or two? Does he struggle with handwriting or spelling?

If you answered yes to any of these then your child may be in the Jot It Down stage.

Kids in that stage are often between the ages of five and eight, but age doesn’t matter so much. What matters is where they are in the Natural Stages of Growth.

If your child is in the Jot It Down stage then:

Forget all the scopes and sequences.

Focus on love, joy, and self-expression.

Read books together.

Watch movies together.

Have big, juicy conversations.

Play with words.

Catch your child in the act of thinking or storytelling and write down what he says.

Let her dictate with you acting as secretary.

With your child’s permission, share some of his thoughts and stories with family and friends.

This is how you slowly help your child see the value of putting thoughts into writing.

So, each time something happy happens, jot it down. Pay attention to your kids—as in, pay attention to their happiness quota. Play games, have tea, laugh at jokes, record the clever things your child says, have her write one beautiful word a day instead of a whole passage, use gel pens and brightly colored paper sprayed with perfume!

Continue to learn handwriting and spelling but do that through copywork not your child’s original thoughts.

For more information about this stage, listen to the free Jot It Down! podcast.

You might also consider our Jot It Down! product. It gives you ten original writing projects you can do with your children. These are activities (one per month) that enable you to focus the original writing impulse in a specific direction (fairly tales or writing letters or issuing party invitations). They are delight-driven writing activities and cover a range of writing skills. And your child never has to lift a pencil!

Or check out our Jot It Down! bundle and save. Includes:

Image © Photographerlondon |

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Keen Observation

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

TomatoImage by Steve Hankins

Here’s a fabulous description of the Keen Observation process! This is precisely what is supposed to happen when you use the exercise.

Brave writer mom, Kellie, writes:

Hi Julie,

I’m new to BWL, just printed Writers Jungle Sunday and read through to chapter 6, prowled your website and blog and am now dabbling in some of your recommended pre-free-writing exercises. I’m blown away with the keen observation exercise experience that we had today and felt like I needed to express my gratitude for your insightful, common sense approach to breaking the writing process down into manageable, fun activities.

My daughter 8, and I explored a garden tomato today. She has never been a lover of this fruit mind you. Ketchup and spaghetti sauce, forget about it. But, for some reason she was looking forward to slicing it open and sampling it’s flavor. Maybe it has something to do with the theory she’s subscribing to about how every 7 years you grow new taste buds so your taste in food may change. Whatever her reasons, I’m glad she was a go.

She was so quick to start describing the ruby red tomato with super tiny yellow dots on top that makes it golden red with “green crown  that I didn’t get to ask her the first few questions you supply us with.  Okay, so she was excited to play this “game” but the kicker was after she took a considerable sized  bite out of it and tasted the seeds separate from the flesh. The bite was described as “Yuck it tastes sour and tart”  the seeds as “at first it’s the yuck of the tomato but then it’s a little burst of sweet” There was a goodly amount of juice left on the plate “juice went flying out of it” when sliced, so I asked her to slurp some up.  Moments later she was sprawled on the ground with a puckered up face declaring “I thought it would be bland but it was so powerful it blew my head right off.  My tongue was bursting with strong tart and sour”  She was such a good sport that even after the assault on her mouth she was game for tackling the skin which was “smooth and tough with a bland flavor”.

We thoroughly enjoyed this exercise. We laughed, we joked, we bonded, we praised. Thank you for your courage in sharing.


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The First Developmental Stage: “I Can’t Wait to Start!”

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

The First Developmental Stage in Homeschooling: I Can't Wait to Start!
I’m thinking about the developmental stages of growth in homeschooling; I’m thinking about the ways our growth parallels our children’s and how we forget to account for the fact that we are learning as we go, too.

The “I can’t wait to start” stage: That’s you if your child is 5 or under and you already know you’ll homeschool. It’s as if your child can’t grow up fast enough to let you begin! You’ve done your research, you may already have workbooks lined up, you may have already “played school” with this little tiny kidlet who mostly wants to wear tiaras to bed and climb too-tall walls to walk on—not sit at a table clawing a pencil, dragging it across a page, shaping that frustrating letter ‘q.’

When these moms call, they universally want to know how to “get their kids” to sit still or care about school or make progress. They worry that they are behind (they really do). Their kids are usually “advanced” which often means that they are exhibiting the brilliance that is FIVE YEARS OLD. After all, five-year-olds are incredible human beings. They are developing vocabulary at a rate they will never repeat. They are acquiring information faster than they ever will again. It’s an amazing age for brain development. And it happens whether you homeschool it or not!

Veteran homeschoolers would say to the “I can’t wait to start” parents: “Slow down! It’s like you’re sprinting on mile one of a very long marathon. Save some for later.”

Meanwhile, the best curriculum for the under 5 set (and even up til 7-8, really) is still dress up clothes and face paints.

You’re at home. Stop waiting for a chance to “teach.” You already are! You want your child to learn to write? Write notes to your child. Tuck them under his pillow. Put them in your daughter’s hidey hole where she plays with her Legos. Write riddles on the white board and read them to your kids at breakfast, then solve them together.

Read the ingredients off the back of the cereal box and see if you can spot the same word (“fructose” for example) on each box. Make it a race to find a word that looks just like that on every box in the house…even non-readers can kinda help! And will want to.

Find your daughter’s first initial all day long in every book, on every billboard, in every flyer that crosses your path.

Let your kids dictate emails to you that you send on their behalf to grandparents or aunts and uncles.

Read, read, read to your kids. Not just books on the couch. Not just library books. Read the notice boards at the zoo that describe the animals, read the magazine headlines at the supermarket while you stand in line, read the traffic signs as you drive, read the instructions for how to play a game out loud, read the funny Facebook post you just read, read the text you sent to their other parent…

You want writers and readers? Read and write with your kids, on your way, as you go, all the time. USE these skills. They live in your life right now.

How did you teach your kids to tie their shoes? With a book? With two-dimensional pictures of shoe-tying? No. You got down on the ground and started tying shoes, together. (Or you bought clogs and bypassed the whole thing until your daughter was in tenth grade and finally had to tie a pair of shoes without her mother being present. Yeah, that happened. In our family.)

My point is this: if you can’t wait to start—stop and consider if you haven’t already begun, just by being a parent! If you want to include the conventional subject areas about math and reading and writing, take the same strategy. No need to wrestle a four year old to the kitchen table to “do school.” No need to spend big money on a history curriculum for a five year old.

Live, be, do, share, enthuse, pay attention, play, take trips, dress up, read, write, calculate, take naps, eat food, tickle, cuddle, and be patient.

If you really really really must “start”—whatever that means to you (because you can’t help yourself)—by all means, home educate yourself. Buy books, sit at a table and fill them out, keep records of all you are learning about history, math, science, and language. Teach yourself by the very methods you wish you could foist on your kids. Use those methods, and those materials, in those subject areas, for yourself.

And wait. Save your kids from school a little longer. Include the subjects you want them to learn “along the way, as you go, in the mainstream of your life.”

If you need some support (are plum out of ideas, Family Fun magazine used to be great – may still be, haven’t checked lately, and Jot It Down by Brave Writer seeks to be that kind of resource for you).

Enjoy this phase! It goes too fast!

Join the conversation on facebook.

Image by Brave Writer mom Carmen

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The best curriculum for a six year old

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The best curriculum for a six year oldImage by Jinx!

From a dear local Mom:

“Hi Julie, I’m in Cincinnati and regularly follow your blog posts and was wondering how you structure homeschool so it will fun? My son is six and we’re jumping back into school gradually (using your method of focusing on one thing at a time) but he’s already saying he hates school and sighs when I just bring out the little math book and ask that we only work on it for five minutes.

“I keep reading things about how to make school fun you should use your imagination, go for walks, implement school in all sorts of ways, etc. but my brain doesn’t work like that and I’m not very creative. I like to sit down, go through a structured list, and check the things off that we need to do.

“As a result I feel like there’s a big divide between his learning style and my teaching style and I’m wondering how to get past that…. Do you have any thoughts or blog posts that you can direct me to as to how to bridge this gap? Do you run into parents that are able to find a happy medium without feeling like a failure every time their child complains? Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide. ” (Cincy Mom)

Hi Cincy Mom!

The best curriculum for a six year old is face paints and dress up clothes.

Read aloud to him.

Go to the art museum here. Use this post as a guide to how to enjoy art together.

Sign up for zoo passes and all fall, go once a week.

Visit the library every single week. Let him pick out story books, you pick out books, you create times to read together on the couch, you have poetry teatimes with him.

Count cracks in the sidewalk, blue houses, red cars, all the jellybeans he can hold in his two hands at once, cups of sugar to bake muffins.

Play with Playdoh – make all the lowercase letters of the alphabet. Now make all the uppercase. Say the sounds as you do and try to make every sound seem like an animal is saying it. Or every Star Wars character.

Buy Lego sets.

Take nature walks in the woods. Find a field guide and look for birds to match.

Jot down the incredibly cute things he says to you and read them back to him later in the day or to his dad in front of him.

Play with pencils and pens and crayons and white boards and paints. See what it feels like to write in big sloppy ways and small careful ways. Using a big paintbrush with water: write names on the hot concrete, and little messages as they vanish in the sun and read them to him. Make pictograms and see if he can guess your messages to him.

Put away the workbooks. Put away the schedule. Be with your son the same ways you have been since he was born. If you homeschool, get rid of “school” and focus on home. Add brownies.

Read as much as you can here.

If you want some support on how to make this journey, try our Jot It Down product. It will be the one thing that may save you from over-schooling at this tender age.

Let go. Relax. Trust. He’s so young. Be curious about the world in front of your son.

Hugs to you, conscientious Mama. You can do this.


Cross-posted on facebook.

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Catch your child in the act of thinking

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

the girl, the wifeImage by Ed Garcia

This is a great time of year to catch your child in the act of narrating—expressing a thought, experience, or the content of a movie. When your child hits the white heat of language (you know it’s happening because he or she is animated and interrupting your phone call), you want to jot it down right then. Stop driving, stir frying dinner, or chatting with Melinda. Grab the back of an envelope or the random super market receipt and start writing, quick as a flash. Get the words as best you can.

If your child asks you what you’re doing, this is what you say:

“Keep going. This is so good, I want to get it down in your own words before I forget it. I want to share it with ________ (Dad, Mom, Grandma, sister, my best friend…).”

Then later in the same day (maybe at dinner when the family is gathered), say this:

“Today Arthur told me the funniest story about Rocky and how he chases the squirrels in the backyard. I wanted to get it right so I wrote it down. I want to read it to you.”

Then read it. Enjoy it. Talk about the contents. Ask Arthur questions related to the story of the contents (don’t talk about writing). Then put it away and eat dinner.

Make this a practice you return to again and again (not every day or even every other day, but when it’s worth it to capture in writing something meaningful your child says). You can even jot down the names of all the Lego men your child makes, or how your daughter explains the instructions to playing Wii bowling. These are also useful and important to write.

Eventually, your child discovers that what’s going on in his or her head IS what you want to see in writing. They start to realize that what is going on inside of them is worthy of print and sharing. They discover that writing is an extension of themselves, not a foreign language or practice to be mastered.

If you keep it up, your kids will take over and do it for each other and you won’t even realize that they’ve picked up the habit until they greet you at the front door saying, “Mom, Mom, Caitrin wrote her first story.” Then your older daughter will hand you the carefully transcribed narrative that her younger sister told her at bedtime.

That’s how it works.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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“Her favorite color is orange and she breathes Legos”

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

I love you

Linda, mom of a very creative Brave Writer student, emailed me this fabulous photo. This is a perfect example of playing with language!

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Partnership Writing is here!

Monday, May 27th, 2013


You wanted:

Developmentally appropriate writing projects for your middlers.

Step-by-step instructions with models.

A weekly and monthly plan that puts it all together.

You got it!

Partnership Writing
The Year-Long Language Arts Plan
and 10 Monthly Writing Projects
(9-10 year olds)

ORDER IT NOW for $29.95!


Partnership Writing is the second in our series of products that gives you developmentally appropriate writing projects for your kids in the partnership writing stage of development. Jot It Down! is the first.

Have you wondered why your writing assignments stall? Do you wonder why your kids give you a blank stare after you ask them to fill a blank page? Do you have a tough time creating writing assignments that are both creative (interesting) and academically sound (preparatory for essay writing)?

And just how do you put together a program that includes copywork and dictation, as well as the language rich environment you hope to foster in your home, while still teaching original writing?

Partnership Writing tackles it all!

It can work alone (as a tool you use to boost the power of your writing efforts with your kids) and it can work in tandem with other Brave Writer products: The Writer’s Jungle (the manual that teaches YOU how to teach writing), and The Arrow (the tool that provides you with great literature to read, grammar, spelling and punctuation help, and copywork/dictation passages).

Plus we have special bundles on the website for Partnership Writing + The Writer’s Jungle and/or The Arrow.

To learn more about the Partnership Writing stage of development (usually 9-10 year olds, but also good for younger advanced writers and older kids who struggle), you can check out our Getting Started with Brave Writer page. You can also listen to a podcast by me where I explain what Partnership Writing is.

This is the perfect product for you if you need help thinking of writing projects and want to know how to plan them for a month at a time.

Partnership Writing gives you the
step-by-step implementation of
what to write,
not just how to write.

Order it now for a limited time for $29.95 (regular $39.95).


Professor Lena’s Guide to Modern Celery

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Celery fight!

Julie, I have been using your Writer’s Jungle writing activities in my school and the kids loved the drawing activity. Last week we did the senses activity using celery and I was surprised by the change in my 12 year old’s descriptions and her excitement to get started. She got her creative juices flowing and really stopped listening to the instruction but I consider what she wrote a success because she was engaged and interested. She was so proud of herself that she asked me to share it with you after typing it up herself. So here it is. Thank you.

Professor Lena’s Guide to Modern Celery

By Lena Kerley

I am studying celery, and someone else might say green, but I say it looks like layers of white with thin layers of sheer green leaf piled neatly together. On the inside it is bowled up like an Indians canoe, and paler than the outside where the sun reaches. On that side (the outside) the celery has small ridges that go down the stalk long ways. The leaves look like cilantro leaves, the way they appear old and wrinkled but also fresh and new. The smell is not my favorite, it reminds me of freshly cut grass and sweat. Currently beside me my seven year old brother is dissecting celery and showing some of the more hidden features, like if you cut the whole bunch at the base you will see a yellow flowery like piece. That is actually the leaves that have not yet emerged into view. He also describes the celery as feeling like a rubber hose. I have tried celery and don’t like the flavor so to learn about how celery tastes read Katie Kerley’s The Celery on the Table (not published) or Celery Puzzle by Pam Kerley (not published). I am honored that you (the reader) have made it to this sentence.

P.S. Celery is a good tool for annoying big sisters. (I am writing that as a big sister).

For weekend web surfers: tips for young writers

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

64 / 365 ~ 2013

A few tips to remember about your especially young writers (6-8):

1. The best curriculum for this age is still face paints and dress up clothes. Play, exploration, acting out—these teach. Trust the process.

2. Riddles, jokes, rhymes, poems, puns, secrets, mysteries, the alphabet (write it big, write it small, write it backwards, write it with chalk on the driveway, write it one letter per page, fit all the letters on a post-it note, write every other letter – not easy!), names (family, pets, streets, cities, imaginary friends, real friends, favorite characters). Play, explore, write, say, pretend with all of these, often, as much as you can.

3. For original writing: they talk, you write it down. End of discussion. Unless they are choosing to write their own thoughts on their own, you have no obligation to get them to write their own thoughts in their own hand by themselves. If they are writing their own thoughts, hug them—be a fan. Not a word of criticism about spelling, handwriting, story completion, or logic. Just kudos for the surprise of their self-starting joy!

4. For transcription: a handwriting book, very simple copywork (one word a day can be more than enough for some kids), French dictation (explained in BW products), copying their own stories (only have them copy a paragraph, a sentence at a time, or more if THEY choose, but don’t require more in one sitting).

5. Read read read TO your kids OUTLOUD, everything you see—billboards, refrigerator magnets, ads in magazines you are paging through, funny comments on Facebook as you scroll through your feed, the text your husband just sent, the preface to a book, the instructions for the XBox, newspaper briefs, the side of the spice jar, the back of the muffin mix, the clever tag line on the shoe box… And yes, read quality literature aloud too. But read everything aloud… freely, often, commenting, laughing about it, noticing it.

6. Pair odious tasks with brownies and hugs.

7. Get outside, have big experiences, explore the world. For heaven’s sake, don’t worry yet. You’ll get to worry so much in the teen years and pine for these early years. So I’m here to tell you—play, explore, enjoy. Pick a fruit no one has ever eaten and eat it. Go to the zoo 3 times a week or the beach or the woods, if you dare. Make recipes for sludge and slime and baking soda volcanoes. No worrying.

That’s it. Really. Math isn’t my thing, but you can figure that out I’m sure. As my wise homeschool mom friend said to me: “Any math book teaches 1+1. Heck, we can do it ourselves.” :)


Happy Saturday!

The Jot It Down product is perfect for these ages.

Image by Tammy Wahl. Used with permission.