A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Tuesday Teatime Quotes

Each cup of tea_blog

Chest of tea

Morning tea

Table, chair, and teapot image by Jean L. (cc cropped, text added)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

For Email Marketing you can trust

Stay fit


I’m feeling better each day. I thought I’d pass along a little “doctor wisdom” that I’ve been thinking about all week. One of the things my surgeon told me post-op is that my general good health is helping me in recovery. He said that many people think about diet and exercise as preventative measures—to protect against disease, for instance. But health matters just as much (if not more) for when you are injured or attacked by disease out of the blue! Having a body that is in good shape ensures a better surgery and an easier, healthier recovery. In short, we should protect our health so that we can recover, not just so that we can avoid illness/injury.

I got to thinking about this as a principle for living. Too often we are given measures for how to recover from burn-out or are told how to repair broken relationships. In homeschool, we might find ourselves looking for strategies to cope with overwhelm or special needs. If we face these challenges from a personal deficit (tired, hungry, lonely, depressed, alienated from our primary life partner), we are much less able to cope.

However, if we spend time each day remembering that we matter (our personal well-being, our confidence, our natural optimism that is there for us when there is margin and light in our lives), and we take measures to ensure we are emotionally fit, when we are faced with temper tantrums or an unanticipated demand, when the day goes south or a child is sick, we are more prepared to meet that challenge from a place of peace and trust.

I know for me that if I am exhausted and sad, a child’s whining or the argument happening between siblings sometimes draws my worst self—I might snap or yell or insist. When I am “topped up” emotionally and have some reserves, when I really know that how my kids behave is not a reflection on my value as a person, I can respond from a place of power (being firm and kind).

So today, I thought I’d pass that little bit of advice onto you. Stay fit—emotionally, mentally, spiritually (whatever that means to you), and physically. If you can manage these, when life throws its curve balls at you, you’ll have the stamina to face the challenges and the ability to recover from the blows.


For Email Marketing you can trust

Friday Freewrite: Pin the tail on the donkey

Pin tail donkey freewrite

Imagine you’re at a child’s birthday party. You’re not a guest, though. You’re the donkey in the “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” game. Now write about the party from the perspective of the donkey!

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Abigail Batchelder (cc cropped)

For Email Marketing you can trust

What makes your homeschool work?

Do you ever wonder why your homeschool isn’t working as well as you’d hoped? Here’s an excerpt from the “Fantasy Homeschool” session during the 2014 Brave Writer retreat. Watch it and discover what makes a homeschool function. The answer may surprise you!

To learn more about how to create your dream homeschool, check out the Homeschool Alliance’ FREE webinar: Make Your Fantasy Homeschool a Reality.

For Email Marketing you can trust

What’s a primary part of any good language arts program? Watching movies!

Movies and language arts no text

Surprisingly enough, watching movies with your kids ought to be a primary part of any good language arts program. There is nothing like listening to language used in the right context by different people (especially actors) for vocabulary training as well as growing in familiarity with proper syntax.

Film teaches kids comic timing, irony, key cultural assumptions, and makes use of a host of well-known story archetypes. Additionally, plot and characterization are both easily identified and understood in movies. Quickly kids learn about what makes a good versus poorly drawn villain, they discover what a climax is without even knowing that that is what it’s called, and they can make predictions based on past story experiences.

Comparing multiple versions of the same story (different film versions and comparisons with the original novel) is an excellent way to point out characterization choices, to focus on setting and costuming, etc.

The key to good movie viewing at home is watching with your kids and talking about what you see. Ask questions. Stop the film at a crucial juncture and ask everyone to predict what will happen next. Replay a scene after the movie is over to see if you understand it differently now that you know the whole story. Watch the same movie once, twice, three times.

Watching films together is a far better way to develop language arts skills than all the typical workbooks that talk about plot and/or vocabulary. Movies put the plot on display in about two hours. Can’t beat that!

Here are some helpful resources:

16 Fancy Literary Techniques Explained by Disney by Adam Moerder

“Because why waste money on an English degree when you can just watch Disney movies?”

Teaching Language Arts with Movie and Book Pairings from Netflix by Colleen

“For older kids, one of my favorite ways to teach language arts with Netflix is to have them watch movie versions of books they’ve read. When I taught full time in the classroom, I’d have my students do this too. It’s a great way to encourage critical watching and reading. Kids can compare the versions, and analyze which is richer and why.”

Read the Book, Watch the Movie by Andrea

“This great list of over 80 wonderful stories that have been made into movies is sure to keep you busy! This is a great way to encourage reluctant readers or bookworms alike! Read them aloud then watch them for a movie night or let confident readers read them alone.”

Encourage Persuasive Writing with Movie Reviews and More! by Danielle Mahoney

“Let a trip to the movies inspire your students to write fantastic reviews that will persuade others to either see the movie — or skip it!”

Top 25 Movies for Writers by Online Universities

“Translate your love of the craft into a night of entertainment with these great movies based on writers. You’ll find intriguing real life stories, movies that show the sometimes frustrating nature of writing, and a great collection of movies about the trials and tribulations of fictional writers themselves.”

Note: Not all film suggestions may be right for your child. Check content using review sites like Kids in Mind.

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

Image by Кирилл Рыжов / Fotolia

For Email Marketing you can trust

Tuesday Teatime: All’s well that ends well

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

Hi, Julie,

This is s fairly typical teatime for us, my youngest reading out of our absolute favorite poetry book, The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist, and my 11 yo waiting her turn.

However, as you can see our almost 2 year old beagle Augustus (Gus for short) decided to join in. He really wanted the treats on the table and nothing, not even the 11yo’s head was going to get in his way! It all ended well. Treats were taken out of his reach, the 11yo was none the worse for wear, and the 9 yo just kept reading!

Teatime Tuesday is our absolute favorite part of our Bravewriter lifestyle.

Sincerely, Laura

Image  © Brave Writer mom, Laura (used with permission)

For Email Marketing you can trust

Focusing on the interior

Paragraphs writing voice

Kids speak in paragraphs. Paragraphs are not magical formulas. In fact, most programs teach the life out of them and we wind up with cardboard boxes of tedious sentences.

What we want—what we aim for—is LIFE in the writing. Paragraphs are the result of indenting when the mood or content shifts—like learning how to stick shift a car. You don’t stare at the gauges, you get a feel for when it’s time to shift. Paragraphing is similar and it’s not difficult to learn once your children feel free to express their natural vocabulary about a topic. You can always read it to see what’s missing or needs to be moved. Far better than preparing the writing by dictating what sequence the ideas must proceed from the mind to the hand (sure to bottle up or rob the writing of its power).

So—in Brave Writer, we focus on that life in the writer—the interior. We help kids discover how to find the writing voice within. As they age, we introduce “containers” for all that robust self expression—sometimes a lapbook, sometimes a journal entry, sometimes a freewrite, sometimes a report. We allow the content to help dictate the shape.

By high school, kids who are used to self expression and exploring their mind lives in writing are ready to learn about the academic containers for writing—the essay forms and research papers. But remember: these only get used for about eight years of anyone’s life. The rest of life requires all sorts of writing!

Kids who grew up knowing that writing was as available to them as speech generally can meet any writing demand with confidence and competence. Kids raised on formats tend to feel they don’t know what to write when confronted with a new “container” for writing.

So that’s how we do it! Every project in our program is one I’ve done with students or my own kids. This process works beautifully. You can trust it.

Originally shared on the Brave Writer Lifestyle Facebook Group.

Image by ND Strupler (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

For Email Marketing you can trust

Friday Freewrite: Airborne armadillos armed with plungers!

What happens next freewrite

What happens next? Go!

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Juhan Sonin (cc cropped, border added)

For Email Marketing you can trust

Returning to the Brave Writer philosophy for high school

More than language arts program

Brave Writer mom, Dona, writes (and emphasis is ours):

Dear Julie,

We started homeschooling in January of 2002. I remember feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as I began the journey of educating our children at home. In some areas I felt competent; in others completely incompetent. Writing was one of those terribly incompetent areas. We tried many different curricula, as well as me just making up writing assignments (oh, my, that was disastrous!). With each attempt I felt like I was alienating my child from the world of writing. I wasn’t much of a writer in school at any level; my undergrad and grad degrees are in a scientific field and my writing was rather bland. I wanted my children to learn how to write and write well. None was working.

Finally when Kimberly, our oldest, was 10 years old, I found you. We signed up for Kidswrite Basic and my eyes were opened to writing like never before. I watched my daughter flourish and begin to like to write. The feedback that you and your teachers give these children is so valuable in drawing out the writer in each of them. You teach them the power of words and language through real literature, their own experiences and by teaching them to observe the world they live in. You are rigorous and hold these kids to high standards, but in such a supportive environment that the kids succeed.

One of the greatest aspects of your classroom is the fact that each student can read the work of all the other students and see the teacher’s feedback. My children have learned about what works and what doesn’t work by reading so many other pieces of writing with feedback. I remember always wanting to see my peer’s work to understand where I fell in the spectrum and to see if I could learn more from others. It was often very difficult to get this kind of information unless my close friends were willing to share. Brave Writer is so much more than a language arts program; it is a philosophy that can be applied across the board…

The high school thing scares me, I’ll admit! Why? I don’t know for sure… I was in a foreign country in a foreign school during my HS years, don’t have a HS diploma, but managed just fine in college and grad school. I’m looking for a much more relaxed atmosphere here in our home. This year, everybody has been glued to the computer all day, tied to strict deadlines in everything. Kimberly thrives on this environment. I’m comfortable with her finishing here next year; she had 2 years of HS at home with a different atmosphere.

Nicole on the other hand, has lost any zeal for learning and is just checking off boxes. Part of online school she likes… interacting with the other kids. But the schedule is killing her. Her passion is her goats. We are just barely into building a real show herd. She has learned so much about the goats and is the best midwife ever! She knows how to go in and find legs that are coming out and arrange them to come out and pull. For her, studying out of a book doesn’t cut it. She needs hands on, an apprenticeship would be so good for her. Why don’t we have apprenticeships for HS aged kids? Why do we have to sit in a classroom or at the kitchen table to learn everything? I am not sure how to fashion a learning environment for her that could lead her to where she wants to be; possibly an American Dairy Goat Association judge, maybe an animal science degree, maybe vet tech or vet school. She isn’t motivated enough yet to do all the tedious study required to be accepted at vet school. I want to restore her love her learning. At the same time I’m afraid I won’t prepare her for college if that’s where she intends to go. I personally don’t think college is the end all be all and it may not be for her. Her father thinks otherwise, though. Mind you, he is very supportive of homeschooling, but believes all paths must lead to college.

I’ve been reading your posts and been feeling nudged to make changes; return to the Brave Writer philosophy I love so much. I’m trying to think out of the box, but that is hard for me! It would sure be nice to toss ideas around with you and those who really know how to do it. I want to bring back Tuesday Teatime, more reading together and still be able to prepare my kids for college if that’s where they are headed. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my brain around how to accomplish this. Is the ACT really the only factor for most schools if you don’t have a HS diploma? We can teach to the test, study for it and probably do well on it. Kimberly has done very well on the ACT. Do we have to have a transcript?

Sallie just finished Kidswrite Intermediate with you. She absolutely loved the class! She is sold on Brave Writer. I need to figure out what my “out of the box” is so I can be prepared for her and the 2 boys who follow her! Sallie loves to write and I don’t want to intimidate her or squash that love at all. She loves reading your daily writing tips. I’d like her to take Expository Essay next fall or winter. Do you think she is ready for that? Would that be your recommendation for her next course?

Julie, thank you so much for all you do. I’ve told you before, but I’ll tell you again… you are a presence in our home in a way that no other homeschooling influence has ever been. I feel like you are our friend and I so appreciate you! Thanks for listening!


Thank you so much for your wonderful kind words of feedback! They mean a lot.

A few things occurred to me:

1) The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewelyn is fabulous for helping you think about things like apprenticeships, preparing for college in a more unschooling natural learning format. So get that. Cafi Cohen’s What About College? is also excellent (affiliate links).

2) Colleges LOVE unique experiences. They see transcript after transcript of AP courses and GPAs. They are far more impressed by stuff a child pursues independently. Noah put Klingon on his transcript for college and they counted it! He spent years immersed in constructed languages and supplied his reading list. They waived his second year of foreign language and second year of science due to that (he attends University of Cincinnati). Remember: becoming a cool person is far more interesting to colleges than ticking off the boxes. You have to do a certain amount of that, but it’s not the only thing.

3) The Expository Essay class would be great for Sallie. She can take it now or in the fall. Either.

4) College is important but it’s also expensive. I made the mistake of paying for Noah when he wasn’t ready. He quit for 3 years and is back now paying for it himself. Liam is not yet decided about college (18, done with high school) so he’s going to Europe for a month just to get out of the tedium of work and life here. He needs to have a new experience so he’s getting one. I told him I won’t pay for college until he knows he’s ready and wants to go.

This is an okay way to live. There’s no rule here that says they have to be ready at 18. Your daughter could be looking at places to work with goats. Why not? Is there a way to become a goat midwife? Or could she be a goat midwife blogger who photographs and records difficult births, regular births etc.?

Caitrin (16) kept a fashion blog for an entire year (13-14). She shopped at thrift stores and wore a completely new outfit every day. We took photographs each day and she wrote a description of the pieces, where they came from, and witty remarks. She subscribed to Vogue, Elle, W and other fashion magazines all year.

It’s good to fulfill basic high school requirements and to be “prepared” for the option of college, but you don’t want to shortchange the chance to do amazing things! This is the time for it.

My oldest two kids were in a Shakespeare Acting company in high school, btw, as one of their “big things.”

I hope that helps a little. You’ve been a wonderful family to work with over the years!


Image by Pat Pilon (cc cropped, text added)

For Email Marketing you can trust

Tuesday Teatime: Poetry Resources


When we come across awesome poetry resources we pin them to our Poetry Teatime Pinterest board. Here are some we’ve shared over the last few months. Enjoy!

How to Keep a Poetry Notebook by Jimmie Lanley

How to compile favorite poems into a notebook.

Memorizing Poetry with Kids by Erica at What Do We Do All Day?

Seven tips for memorizing poems together as a family.

10 Ways to Experience Poetry by Julie Kirkwood at Creekside Learning

Ten great ways to enjoy poetry with your children, such as acting out poems and keeping a journal.

Host Your Own Kid’s Poetry Tea by Pam Barnhill at edSnapShots

Inspirational thoughts and photos plus yummy teatime treat ideas!

Why is Teaching Rhyming Important? by Mary Catherine at Fun-a-Day!

Part one of five in a series about rhyming. Informative!

Riddle Poems by Melissa Taylor

Kids love reading and writing riddle poems. Riddles often give wonderful sensory details and describe something a child knows about. Plus, they encourage critical thinking and engagement in poetry.

Paint Chip Poetry by Mama Scout

All you need are words (cut from magazines or handwritten), paint chips, glue, and imagination!

Tips for Using Pop Music to Teach Classic Poetry by Emily Guthrie

Examples of how to pair a poem with a pop song and discuss the connections. Encourages analytical thought around universal themes, and students dig the contemporary twist.

For Email Marketing you can trust