A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Poetry Teatime in My Family

Finlay teatime

Poetry Teatime in My Family

by Finlay Worrallo

For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.

‘But why isn’t there anybody there?’ asked my little sister in some consternation. We were reading “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare, and, caught up in the drama of the poem, she was quite emotional about the Traveller’s plight.

My family have enjoyed Poetry Teatime for years. When we began, we had multi-coloured cotton place mats and bone china, and we would read while sitting around the kitchen table. These days we’re more relaxed (and living in a different house) and drink from ordinary mugs and plates on our oak coffee table. We sometimes have muffins or cookies, but cake is always preferred.

We’ve got about twenty different poetry books, from the prestigious The Nation’s Favourite Poems, to the more modern The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry; from the battered Blue Peter Book of Odd Odes that my dad had as a child to a brand new copy of American Smooth that I bought two months ago.

Mum has never been afraid to challenge us with complex poetry, and there are many famous poems which we now greet as old friends. We all adore “The Road Not Taken” which we see as a metaphor for home education, a road that many people chose not to take. My little sister learned to read with the help of “The Owl and the Pussycat”, which she read every week for a good few months. We’ve all got our have favourites poems. My brother and sister are fond of comic poems, my mum reads lots of classics and I love ones full of rhyme and rhythm, so we usually have quite an eclectic mix to enjoy.

Poetry Teatime has always been very flexible in our family and is rarely the same on two different weeks. We’ve worked through entire cookery books and sampled countless muffins, cakes and cookies. We’ve had cake and poems outside on sunny days, and even in a parked car once! After doing a course on Elizabethan poetry, I led Poetry Teatime one week and showed that many famous poems are technically sonnets. We read “Ozymandias of Egypt” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Remember” by Christina Rosetti, “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, and several more.

We’ve had many friends round for poetry tea – mostly other home educating families, but also neighbours and retired friends. It’s been fun to pass on something we’ve enjoyed to other people.

Before we started Poetry Teatime, I quite liked poetry. Now, there are hundreds of poems that I truly adore.

Image by Daniela Vladimirova (cc cropped, tinted)

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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Fall class registration is OPEN!

2015 fall online class registration is open!

Registration is open for Brave Writer’s fall classes!

Trust your instincts. You know best for your homeschool. If a little outside support, gentle accountability, and hand-holding will ease your mind this fall, join us for a fall writing class.

We look forward to making writing a little less daunting for you and your family.


And hurry! Classes fill quickly!

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Friday Freewrite: Take a break


Think of an ongoing activity that you’re tired of doing. Now write a letter sharing why you need a break from that activity. Be convincing! Give at least three good reasons.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by David D (cc cropped, tinted)

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In defense of the writing process

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!


Double your pleasure!



Movie club Animals

The Summer Movie Club
Start your school year in August with
movies about ANIMALS!

August 3 – August 28
The WHOLE family
ONE tuition:

Break into writing this year the easy way:
popcorn and chatting about movies.

FINDING NEMO (2003, G), directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich. A tiny clownfish sets out on a big journey to find his son.

CHICKEN RUN (2000, G), directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park. An escape adventure set on a chicken farm in 1950s England.

A CAT IN PARIS (2010, PG), directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol. A Parisian cat with a nocturnal life as a cat burglar’s aide is called to heroism when the girl he lives with is endangered.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009, PG), directed by Wes Anderson. Mr. Fox really is fantastic, but he can’t help raiding the local farmers’ larders, which leads to a high-spirited adventure.

Starts Monday!

Register now!


Partnership Writing 1

MONDAY August 3, 2015 (Noon EDT)
Registration OPENS
for Fall Online Writing Classes

Mark your calendar!

Image of kids by Patty

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Poetry Teatime: Terrific

Poetry Teatime

We are having a terrific time at our Poetry Tea Parties.

At first, I was having a hard time finding a tablecloth and tea set that I really loved that would make it special. I finally realized we could do it a little less fancy, and still enjoy a delightful time together. We even had Chick-Fil-A as our snacks at one of our poetry tea parties.

Daddy was even able to join for our most recent tea, and we all took turns picking a poem to read from one of our poetry books.

Poetry Teatime

Thank you for the lovely idea!


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 Sweet Spot

Balance blog

In the Homeschool Alliance this month, we’re talking about “planning.” How do you make a plan for your kids that takes into account their creativity, imaginations, interests, and quirky personalities, all while hitting academic objectives?

The traditional model of school is tempting and many of us attempt to bring it home (calendars, time slots, lesson planners). The toddlers are less amenable to the schedule and often times the flu or carpet cleaning or pregnancy messes with the schedule anyway!

The flip side is our wish to see learning flourish without our heavy-handed directing—children learning in a pool of light by the window. An “unschooling” vision of learning—as if by magic!

Somewhere between these two approaches to home education is the “sweet spot.” Most parents prefer some evidence they can measure that learning is happening and most kids prefer to pursue their interests (any interests) without interference.

The goal, then, is a homeschool routine—practices that repeat, that highlight or feature particular subject areas, that allow for incremental progress in specific skill sets (like math and reading), and a daily rhythm that everyone comes to know as “daily life together.”

Within the routine is space for flights of fancy, charging down a path to a new insight or experiment, becoming absorbed in a particular line of inquiry for an indefinite amount of time, trips to the zoo and art museum, and time to do nothing but play!

The “Sweet Spot” in homeschool is to toggle between flexibility and structure—but holding both loosely—not gripping either one too tightly as though they will save you from educational shipwreck. Some seasons call for more structure (even outside classes!) and other seasons call for more freedom to explore, unwind, recover, or deeply dive.

You don’t have to balance these two poles perfectly each day or even each week. Being aware of the possibilities that each one offers is enough—and then adjusting your expectations and choices accordingly.

Image by dierk schaefer (cc cropped, text added for pinterest)

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Friday Freewrite: If clothes could talk

Freewrite tie dyed shirt

Today’s prompt comes from a recent Daily Writing Tip!

Most people have a favorite pair of old shoes, or scruffy trousers they’ve worn for years, or faded T-shirts they tie-dyed at summer camp.

What do you think those clothes would say if they could talk? Would they have their own little cultures and communities in your clothes drawer? Would they tire of being worn day in and day out?

Write about an important event in your life from your jumper’s point of view. Or a love poem from one sock to another.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Lindsey Turner (cc cropped, tinted)

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“Writing brings such joy to my life”

Intern_Amyby intern Amy Hughes

Brave Writer has always been a significant part of my homeschooling journey. While from an early age words and stories have been a key part of my life, Brave Writer nourished my writing skills and helped direct them to new levels.

When I was eleven, I took my first Brave writer class. It was Kidswrite Intermediate. I remember loving the online interactions, and the chance to meet people from all over the world. Aside from the social aspect, the class improved my writing skills and confidence. I learned that while I could write well, there were many ways in which I could write better. As a writer, I needed to keep learning and growing: a key belief that I still hold today.

Later, I took the Boomerang class. I loved the books we covered, many of which became my favorites, and the discussions of classic literature inspired me so much that I decided to read classic literature on my own. The year after became the year of classic fiction, as I read my way through classics, including some by the same authors we covered in class (such as reading nearly the entire works of Jane Austen). Classic literature became something that I still enjoy reading and thinking about today.

Film, through the Movie Discussion Club, was also something which Brave Writer encouraged me to explore. My parents would never have offered such a program on their own, so it was wonderful that I had the opportunity to learn about movies and discuss them online. Another fun aspect of the film class was the communal atmosphere that encouraged whole-family participation. While writing can be frequently personal the movie club sparked a number of family discussions around movies, a practice which still continues today.

Brave Writer has also significantly improved my academic writing skills. In high school I took two essay classes, the Expository Essay class and the MLA Research Essay class. Unlike most of my peers, by the time I reached tertiary education I had already written a long essay with a number of correctly cited sources. I had developed note-taking skills, and knew the importance of getting citations just so – something that goes a long way in improving essay grades. Today feedback from written assignments is often accompanied by a compliment on the quality of the writing and the correct use of citations, regardless of the actual quality of the content.

I’m very glad that Brave Writer has been part of my homeschooling journey. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow in the presence of other homeschoolers. Writing brings such joy to my life, and I’m happy that Brave Writer helped this process.

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Poetry Teatime: Redwall celebration

Redwall Tea and Poetry Share

I have 2 boys. One just turned 9 and the other just turned 11. I taught public school for 9 years and it has taken me a while to really go “all in” with The Brave Writer Lifestyle. This summer I decided to read Redwall to the boys. We all loved it!

We did the Brave Writer Arrow to go with Redwall. Each boy is writing his own backyard adventure story and we are working on making a little village to go with their stories. For Science we are studying Animals and the boys have to include some of their knowledge of local animals in their stories.

We just finished the book and to celebrate with a Redwall supper and then a poetry tea. We got out a Redwall cookbook and the boys made recipes from it as well as some of our own creations. We adjusted the names of the foods to reflect our favorite characters.

Redwall supper menu

We enjoyed sharing poetry and I slipped in a little review of onomatopoeia, personification and alliteration.

Next book… Mossflower!


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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