A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Her son refused to write, but look at him now!

Give son a voice 1

From Brave Writer mom Jen:

Thank you for helping me to give my son a voice!

You have given my son life!!!! Thank you!!! I am reading Writers Jungle and that has made me rethink my school day….. My parenting!

My son who has refused to write, who threw fits and cried when it was time now can not stop telling stories is not crying when it is time for writing. He wrote this. From the first arrow exercise.

Give son a voice 2



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What do we talk about AFTER the movie?

Family watching a movie

Have you ever experienced this? You added a regular movie night to your Brave Writer Lifestyle. You carefully selected a quality film you believed your child would enjoy. The credits have rolled, and the conversation goes something like this:

“What did you think?”
“I liked it.”
“What are your thoughts about the main character?”
“I liked her.”
“Did you have a favorite part?
“I don’t know. Could I play Minecraft now?”

The exchange feels stilted and forced. Instead of a Big Juicy Conversation, your child wants to bolt. Next time, keep the following tips in mind.

7 Ways to Encourage Natural, Lively Film Discussion

1. Lead the way. If you get, “I don’t know,” for an answer then share your reactions. “It made me angry when…” “I had no idea that X would happen…” “Were you as shocked as I was that Y didn’t win?”

2. Be specific. “What did you think?” is so open that some children aren’t able to pin down reasons. Instead try, “What surprised you the most?” and “Could you predict the ending? How did you know?!”

3. Dig Deeper. When your child responds with a general, “I liked it,” you might say, “That’s cool. What did you like about it? The story? The songs? The animation? I liked…”

4. Ask probing questions. “If a psychologist looked at the actions of Z what do you think he or she would say?”

5. Encourage connection. “Do you relate to anyone in the movie, or do any of the characters remind you of someone you know? And, if so, how are they alike?”

6. Seize the moment for retelling. Oral narrations can feel stiff and artificial when asked for. However, if the child is retelling to someone who hasn’t seen the movie, then the retelling springs from a natural place of wanting to share. So let’s say you watched a movie in the afternoon, when the non-homeschooling parent arrives home, ask over dinner, “We watched a great movie today. Who wants to tell Daddy or Mommy about it?”

7. Don’t push it. Sometimes the best conversations happen a day or two later! Not everyone is prepared to discuss a film the moment the credits roll! Wait for the drive to the dentist or while giving baths. Bring it up in light conversation and through memories of the film and see how it goes them.

The Bottom Line

Even without a discussion, movie viewing is valuable to your kids as a means of teaching them the structure of plot, characterization, setting, mood, theme, and more. Over time, these are all “going in” and you will find that your children will draw on those memories of movie-viewing to help them as they explore literary analysis in high school and beyond.

Image by Personal Creations (cc cropped and text added)

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

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Tuesday Teatime: Most delightful yet!

Tuesday Teatime AmyReading the poem “Pet Me!” from Dogs Rule! by Daniel Kirk

Hi Julie!

Although her older brother has been homeschooling since August, my daughter just began homeschooling this week, and the first thing she asked to do was Poetry Tea Time!

Tea Time at our house doesn’t usually involve fine china or crumpets. This week it was mugs of hot cocoa, Girl Scout cookies, and a lingering of the holiday mess. No matter! It was our most delightful tea time yet!

Thank you for an idea that inspires.


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

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

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You can only do what you can do


I’ve had a flurry of phone calls this week. One common thread is that January seduces parents into believing they can fly. There’s something about the start of a new year—the blank slate, the brand new, the no-mistakes-made-yet, the intoxicating elixir of “this year will be different.”

Whatever failed in fall is now up for re-evaluation and redoubling of effort. The urgency to “get something done” for year end evaluations, or to satisfy a skeptical spouse, or to appease your own fantasy of what “should” be happening in your homeschool is surging. The temptation is great: to completely change gears or programs, or to load up on one particular subject area, or to revamp your schedule so that the one neglected child who was happily playing Minecraft all day is now required to sit at the kitchen table for two hours straight every morning (to prove to you that he IS being homeschooled).

My caution: Slow down, Bessie.

You can’t change who you are with the snap of your fingers or all the alarms and whistles of your smart phone. No one new curriculum piece will transform your personal style of being or your natural family rhythm. Worse: if you do the “big overhaul” right now, you may upend all that lovely “settling in” that would naturally happen in January, mid-year.

Huge shifts quoteHuge shifts in philosophy or practice midyear feel like whiplash to kids. They sense that the changes mean whatever came before was “not good enough.” (And what if they were reasonably happy doing whatever before? What if they were just getting the hang of the math book or copywork or the system you use to study history?)

It’s hard to commit to an experiment, too. Your children aren’t reading the home education discussion lists and they aren’t necessarily worried about their educations. You worry (that’s your job).

So what should you do if you are dissatisfied with the program or the schedule or the feel of your homeschool midyear?

Pause. Take notes.

Let yourself consider the good of what IS going on in your homeschool before you assume it is all wrong or messed up. I remember one year when I thought we weren’t doing enough dictation (I had some fantasy that we’d do it a couple times per week per child).

Midyear, I pulled out our notebooks where I collected their work. Page after page of dictation. It wound up being that each child (the three who were writing) had practiced dictation 2-3 times per month and by January, that meant they had done dictation practice 8-10 times. These dictations, in the shiny clear page protectors, showed remarkable effort and growth. Did they need more dictation than that?

No. The answer turned out to be no.

But the temptation to revamp the schedule was so strong, I almost did it without that backwards glance. It was a fluke that led me to examine the notebooks and to recognize that with my personality and our busy lives, getting to some form of dictation 2-3 times a month was not only pretty good, it was getting the job done!

This is what I want you to consider. It may actually be true that the practices in place from fall are enough and are a true reflection of who you are, already. It’s good to pause, to look through workbooks, to flip through photos, to remind yourself of all the ways you explored learning and the world in the fall.

To make an adjustment, follow this plan to help you and your kids make authentic reasonable changes.

Change one egregious subject only.

Don’t get swept up into the “change it all” plan. Save that for summer, when you have time to really think through how the new philosophy will work. If the subject getting you down is your awful co-op composition class for 5th grade, drop it. If your daughter despises the Wordly Wise workbook, shred it. If the math text is confusing even to you, a full grown adult, replace it. Overhaul the one truly awful component in your homeschool.

Make logistical changes first.

Practice context quote 2Rather than throw in the towel on dictation, try new tools or a new environment to see if those recast the practice. You might move dictation to a new time of day, or add candles, or add brownies, or use a digital recorder and let the child do dictation alone in his bedroom, or try typing dictation rather than handwriting, or let the child select her own passage, or have the children pair up to do dictation of jokes with each other, or use gel pens and black lined paper. The point is that sometimes the practice is fine, but the context is tedious or unhelpful.

Re-evaluate pace.

Does the child need to work every single math problem if she already understands the concept? Can you skip the odds or a full chapter? Perhaps you’ve been over-doing it on freewriting. Time to take a break and only have experiences, read books, and play with poetry before freewriting again. If you are trapped in Ancient Greece in history (kids are into it and you are sick of it), consider ways to re-hook your interest to accommodate theirs. You don’t HAVE to follow the four year history cycle just because a book tells you to.

Add or take away one regular out of the house trip.

For some families, if you just stayed home one more afternoon or day, you’d find that everything works beautifully. You’d have enough time and space for everything without rushing or hurrying or interrupting the flow. But there are some families who are home so much, the kids are utterly bored of the four walls and need an exit! Add one exciting outing a week (even going to the mall, the park, a coffee shop, the zoo, McDonald’s play land, a friend’s house, the library) to change the vibe of family life, to have something to look forward to!

You can’t fly. You can only do what you do a little better than you are doing it now, until it stops feeling better…and you tweak it again. Be patient, trust the process, and go do something AMAZING that enlivens YOU (take on a big goal like traveling for a weekend away with girlfriends to see the Chicago Art Institute, or running a half marathon, or going to cooking class, or signing up to get your Master’s degree online).

You’re already doing a better job than you realize. I know because I know.

Consider the good

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Friday Freewrite: Steering (or not)

Sledding Mary Waters Park

What are the pros and cons to being the one steering (in control) or being the one going along for the ride, and who would you rather be? Explain.

Image by Steven Depolo (cc cropped)

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

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A tough season

Red tent

An email dialogue with a Brave Writer mom:


I feel bad emailing you like this. I know you’re so busy with all of your Brave Writer things and your actual life. I just know that I find so much comfort in your wisdom. I’ve heard you at conferences and chatted with you and I love your book, A Gracious Space. You’re just so encouraging, and your words always make me feel like everything is going to be okay. So right now, when I feel like I want to cry about all of this—kids, homeschooling, mothering, LIFE—I find myself wanting to cry to a complete stranger via email.

Aw. So glad you reached out!

I have four kids—7, 4, 2, and 7 months. My husband works long hours and has a long commute. He travels overseas frequently and our families live on the other side of the country. Basically, I’m on full-fledged duty around the clock, which is fine. I mostly do just fine with making it through the day. But I feel like I’m not giving my kids what they need. For example, my oldest wants to sew ornaments and sell them to make money. She’s a good little sewer, and I want to be able to help her accomplish her goals. But it’s not something she can do entirely on her own (she needs me to thread the needle and fix little knots and other mishaps). That’s no big deal, except that my 4-year-old has things he’s interested in, too. He’s really bright and curious and wants to learn to read, among other things. My 2-year-old is the real trouble. She’s so stinking cute, but she’s a little tornado that doesn’t quit. Ever.

This is a tough, tough season in your life. There are no easy answers because EVERYONE who has children the ages of your kids finds it impossible to come up with any system that actually works. You are in a kind of “happy-survival” mode and must make peace with the fact that the primary way you will overcome this stage is to wait it out (your kids will get older). Two year olds and three year olds have a way of undermining the space because who they are is in this enormous developmental Hurrah! They want what they want and they don’t have the tools yet to do for themselves. So you are all caught in the vortex of the two year old quite legitimately.

She WILL quit eventually but right now it seems like forever.

Confession: I hate reading to my kids. And it’s because when I do, I feel like I’m always yelling over someone (usually the 2-year-old). She wants on my lap, she wants off my lap, back and forth. She doesn’t nap much anymore, and when she does, she ends up staying awake in her room (coming out frequently, of course) until 9:00-10:00 at night, which is a problem on several other levels. The 7-month-old is…well, a baby. She’s super sweet, but she needs a lot from me, too. On top of it all, there’s the house and the laundry and the meals.

Try audio books. They saved my life when I had babies who nursed and hated hearing me read at the same time. You can even ONLY listen in the car when you are driving somewhere and then you don’t even have to read or calm anyone. They will be trapped in the car!

I just feel like there are so many things that I want to do to help my kids grow, but I can’t do any of them, because I’m so busy just keeping our house (barely) functioning. There are so many books I want to read to my older kids, but I only read a teeny tiny fraction of them, because of everything else. We manage to get the absolutely critical things done almost every day (math, copy work, independent reading),

WOW! Good for you. This is exceptional. Be proud of this.

but beyond that, it’s all about survival. My kids love poetry tea time, but we hardly ever do it. We don’t do free writes. We do history sporadically. I long ago decided that lots of outside play and watching Wild Kratts would have to suffice for science.

There you go! Rather than think you “rarely” do freewriting. Think: Yay! We got to freewriting twice this year! Yay! We had one poetry teatime! Yay! We took one field trip! Change your expectations and celebrate your tiny triumphs. Over a childhood, these will grow and repeat and become meaningful in new ways. Right now it seems you will never do any of these big activities with any regularity. But you will… eventually.

What were your days like when your kids were really little? You seem to have done this parenting/homeschooling thing really well—you seem to have enjoyed it, your kids seem to be successful, and you all seem to really like each other, which is what I’m going for over here, so I kind of look to you as my homeschool beacon.

Because they are full grown. I remember so many “squandered” days where all I could do was survive. I have five kids, all two years apart. I was pregnant or nursing for 12 years. Absolutely know your feelings. There were years where we hardly did dictation (for instance). But when I look at the notebooks from those years, we actually got it done 10 times. Ten is a lot! It’s more than I realized at the time, thinking I should have done it every other week for the whole year.

I realized that some years we were more into history than others. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled.

We had weeks where washing diapers and shopping at the store and laundering clothes and cleaning up toys felt like the only things we did. Yet when I looked back I could see that we built with Legos or I helped one learn to knit or I did manage to get to the library or we learned all the words to the songs on the Rafi album or we enjoyed watching Arthur on TV every night before dinner.

Remember that you are also on a learning curve about what works for you. Be good to yourself and trust that all of it will work together to create a vivid happy family life where learning also occurs.

For the older one who needs special help, help her. Keep her up after the baby goes to bed, or get her up extra early before the baby wakes, or promise her the next time the baby naps you’ll help her. You might consider hiring a mother’s helper (since your husband is gone a lot). She could be another homeschool girl or boy who comes for two hours to the house to play with the little ones so you can focus on the older one. This worked for me when I was working freelance as a ghost-writer. I just worked while the helper was downstairs. If they really needed me, I was available. But I didn’t have to supervise so closely.

Thanks for your time,

P.S. Because I feel like a bit of a mooch, emailing you directly for advice, I have to tell you that I am a paying member of the Homeschool Alliance. I don’t go there much, because I don’t have a lot of time, but I aspire to. Anyway, I’ve always thought you were amazing for being so available to so many people, so I’m happy to pay for my access to you. It’s worth it.

You are quite all right writing to me and I’m so glad you are in the Homeschool Alliance. Keep reading there. It will help you! Keep your chin up. You’re doing far more right than you realize.



Email is shared with permission

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Movie Wednesday: Student films

Resources for Young Filmmakers

For an upcoming Movie Night, instead of popping in a DVD or watching an instant flick on Netflix, you might enjoy a motion picture your child has filmed!

If any of your kids show an interest in making movies then here are some helpful websites* that contain a multitude of resources for future Oscar winners:

Resources for Young Filmmakers is by the Portland Children’s Film Festival and shares a ton of links. They cover the basics, filming and editing techniques, sources for royalty free music and sound effects, and more!

Children’s Guide to Filmmaking is a free 21-page downloadable pdf from Far Out Films, a group of “award-winning volunteer film makers, based in Melbourne, Australia.” It’s a step-by-step guide to making a first film.

How to Master the Structure of Script Writing by Nick Zurko gives introductory advice. The article is part of the New York Film Academy’s Student Resources section which is filled with how-to guides.

Ten Tips For Beginning Filmmakers is an informative YouTube video by DSLRFilmSchool.

If you have younger kids who aren’t quite ready for breakable equipment: Low Tech Cardboard TV project!

For inspiration, here’s an under two minutes film by G (a homeschooled teen) called, “A Short Snow Drama.” Be sure to watch till the end! And read more about how the movie was made on the blog, Almost Unschoolers.

Also, check out Brave Writer’s online Movie Discussion Club. It’s perfect for budding cinephiles! The next class starts February 2nd. Register now!

*Please note: Brave Writer does not necessarily endorse all of the websites’ views or associations

Image © Gunold Brunbauer | Dreamstime.com

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

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Tuesday Teatime: Pleasant atmosphere

Poetry Tea outside

Brave Writer mom, Jennifer, writes:

Hey Julie!

Just a quick note to say thanks. An old email of yours showed up in a search I was doing this morning and I remembered all the fab times my daughter and I had at Tea Time and writing outside and reading poems at breakfast…

You inspired a very pleasant atmosphere in our life.

Marianna is now off at college, an Arabic major with the Air Force ROTC. I still keep my own book of poems I’ve read and loved and copied down, as well as my own writings.

You made an impact in both our lives.

Thank you!

Image © Ivonne Wierink | Dreamstime.com

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

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

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The Brave Writer blog is 10 years old!

Brave Writers Life in Brief 1

We have all kinds of reasons to throw confetti and toss balloons this month!

Not only is Brave Writer celebrating our 15th Anniversary (with a 15% OFF discount on products) but the Brave Writer blog, A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief, is 10 years old!

To commemorate a decade of inspirational and educational posts, we’re going to start sharing past entries every so often.

And here’s the very first post that was published on January 4, 2005!

“Together, we can generate energy and enthusiasm for Brave Living,
not just brave writing.”


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Vehicle or destination?

The kids and the jeep

Don’t confuse the educational vehicle with the academic destination. In other words, it is less important whether you unschool or classically educate—neither of these is inherently superior to the other. They are vehicles that get you to the end goal on the map—an educated, self-reliant adult.

If you become overly enamored with the sleek lines of the Jaguar when you really need an off-road Suzuki Samurai to get to where you’re going, you’ll be enormously frustrated as it gets all banged up and scratched.

Figure out where you want to go first (perhaps even just a trailhead with lots of options spinning from it). Then pick a vehicle (or vehicles!) that get you there. There are no moral absolutes about how, only that you make progress toward the destination in a way that doesn’t damage your child, damage your relationship to the child, or that doesn’t prevent your child from getting where he or she wants to go.

Sometimes we are so attached to “the ride,” we disqualify perfectly good educational vehicles because of pride, a quest for ideological purity, or a vague sense that “this is how I wished I had learned” rather than focusing on what our specific child needs in this specific situation with these goals!

Image by Ron Kroetz (cc cropped)

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