A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

It gets better

1300 feet high, no rope… Image by Maria Ly

I’m not one for pie-in-the-sky platitudes (though clearly I’m okay with cliches). Being told that things will get easier, make more sense, or feel better in some time that is not now can feel like a pat on the head, not a rope thrown down a cliff.

But things will get better because you strive toward that end—that’s who you are. You are a responsibility-taking initiator of “good things.” I know this about you because you homeschool. That’s the only kind of person who chooses this life.

I also know that you are an intrepid researcher because you homeschool. Those are the sort of people who take on the education of their children without degrees or training. They’re the kind that tackle Big Huge Risky Tasks because they have such unswerving faith in their abilities—at minimum, their ability to research and apply what they need to know to achieve their ideals.

Oh, I know it doesn’t always feel that way. Some days you feel like curling into a ball on a beanbag chair sucking your thumb. Those days don’t last too long, though, because you won’t permit it.

You’re the kind of person who after a few days of self-pity, looks into the mirror, gives a yourself pep talk, and re-ups the commitment.

You most certainly do have that confidence. People without it don’t homeschool.

This is the rope. Thrown down the cliff to you.

It’s not a list of practices like breathing or running.

It’s not a set of precepts about education and child development.

It’s not the “perfect curriculum” that relieves you of the obligation to teach your children.


The rope –> YOUR own tenacity and audacity. That’s it!

Today’s difficulty is merely one in a long string of challenges that you will attack with spirit and drive. Sure, it’s not always rainbows and licorice in the middle of the muddle.

Of course not!

But you know that. You knew that when you started. It’s like running: you know you’ll get tired and out of breath. Well, here’s that moment. Keep running.

At the core, you can trust that you will be better at this thing called homeschooling tomorrow than you are today. A year from now? Even better. The next to last child? Better than the first two. You will get the hang of it.

Wait. I hear some of you say: “What if I never do get better at it? What if homeschool never feels happy or serene or satisfying the way I want it to be?”

Guess what I know you’ll do? You’ll figure out something else! Your drive to ensure a quality childhood for your children will leave you tireless in your pursuit of a better situation. You may have to change course. You may stop homeschooling after several years. Who’s to say that is the wrong decision or an admission of failure? It might be the most powerful act of self-advocacy in your entire adult life!

I trust you!

You can figure out what to do!

Here’s what I know: homeschoolers are ethical, sincere, committed, hard-working, optimistic, and resourceful.

That’s you!

I trust your choices on the basis of those characteristics alone. Whatever you do, your life with your kids is going to get better and better (even through the messiness of teens or toddlers). That’s how it works for parents like you.


Grab the rope—it’s you! You can pull yourself up, by your own strength of character. It will get better.

I’ve got cookies at the top. See you there.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Tuesday Teatime: Frilly dresses

Tuesday Teatime Becky

For our first teatime the girls got all dressed up. Frilly dresses, necklaces and rings. I didn’t expect them to do this but it was cute. They also invited along a few of their stuffed friends. In the beginning I selected some books of children’s poetry but now they look for books of poetry themselves.

A few weeks ago when we had snow for three days. After playing outside in the snow we changed Tea Time Tuesday to Hot Chocolate Wednesday. The girls loved it.

We do not have Teatime every week but when we do we all seem to enjoy it and learn something in a relaxed and delicious environment.


You can enjoy more photos of Becky’s teatime on her blog, Stain Stick Required.

Image (cc)

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 select your photo to post then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang of your choice! Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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Bohemian Journaling at the Brave Writer Retreat!

bohemian journal cover carmen taggart

At our upcoming Brave Writer Retreat in June the lovely Carmen Taggart will give you the tools to create your own Bohemian Journal!

Bohemian Journaling is the practice of combining words, color and images on a page to connect you more deeply with your intuition or your soul voice. The beauty in the process, created by Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach Carmen Taggart,  is that you don’t need to be artistically gifted to create a meaningful page in your journal. You simply need to come to the page with an open heart. At the Brave Writer Retreat you will play with watercolors, stories, and prompts in order to connect more deeply with your intuition and soul voice as you create your own Bohemian Journal.

Spirit Girl - CarmenTaggart

So join us at our first ever Nurturing Brave Writers Retreat June 27-29, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio! Besides Bohemian Journaling:

  • We’ll test and try the techniques Brave Writer teaches in The Writer’s Jungle together, so you know how to do them.
  • You’ll get to experience copywork and dictation in the same way your students experience it, and learn how to maximize it.
  • We’ll practice nature journaling and art study.
  • We’ll share a full tea with china teacups, handmade scones, flowers, and poetry (and I promise you’ll enjoy the poems—they won’t be intimidating).
  • You’ll have down time to use a planning tool to craft a homeschool routine for the coming year.
  • You’ll have time to take walks or go for a hike or run. You can get coffee with a friend or take a nap.
  • My staff and I will be available to talk to you about your specific worries and children, too.
  • And because I know how hard you work, we have a few pampering surprise gifts in store for all who attend.

Commuter spots are still open! Register today!

Carmen Bio_PicMore about Carmen: She is a certified Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach and ARTbundance Coach whose experience as a recovering perfectionist, sometimes poet and homeschooling mother of three are leading her on an adventure to inspire others to connect to their intuition, and their Spirits as they create their own stories and myths.  Connect with Carmen at her online home or on Facebook: Story Raven Group and Carmen Taggart.


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When do I start to worry?

worriedImage by Jon Rawlinson

Aw yes, the question about worry—reworded it might sound like this:

“When do I have your permission to openly worry about my child’s poor writing?”

If you are asking the question, you are already worrying. Let’s just admit that right up front.

Usually, though, some part of us knows that worry is counter-productive to a trusting happy relationship with our child. We also know that worry ratchets up our level of “schoolmarm-ish-ness.” We become the tougher, harder, “time-to-get-serious” version of ourselves. The thing is, we don’t really like her or him. We want to be the generous, optimistic, creative, relational teacher we imagine in our minds.

Until we have permission to worry, we do a number of things with our anxiety.

We pretend it away.

We cover it up with forced casualness.

We ignore it.

We shift our focus to the other children.

We decide: “We’ll just unschool this subject.”

We find support from other quarters to tell us that our kids are okay.

We become tense and lose our ease of relating.

Our voices become tight and high pitched.

Then one day, we get to the end of our ability to “hold on.” Perhaps a friend bragged about her child’s writing. Perhaps you spent time with a school teacher who talked about what she requires of her students, same age as your child. Perhaps your mother asked you when she might see your child’s writing.

Bam! You can’t keep the worry down. So you want to know: “Can I admit how worried I am? Can I let that guilty feeling bubble to the surface and act on it?”

Permission to worry allows us to shed the guilt associated with becoming the “stern” parent. We feel justified in requiring more, or expecting more. We aren’t as sorry for losing the smile and insisting. We allow ourselves to be mobilized into action after that awkward extended period of quasi-patient waiting.

Rather than give you that permission, let me help you channel your worry (the worry already present, hiding behind your attempts to not-worry) into productive action. Here are five things you can do with that worry, today!

1. Research

You can always google your little anxious heart into more information. Look up symptoms and read what you can about the issue. If it’s writing, then by all means read, read, read on the Brave Writer blog and website. But you might also benefit from reading about the childhoods of famous writers. Find out how many of them struggled and in what ways. Find out how professional writers solve writing problems. Get more information, rather than hand-wringing about phantom fears.

2. Test new practices

It’s never the wrong time to try new approaches to a child’s struggle. Sure, some may fail just as miserably as the previous attempts, but at least you keep the effort fresh (rather than tedious and head-banging). Go outside traditional education to find those strategies. For instance, if your child struggles with math facts, see if you can find practices used by accountants or cashiers that may shed a different kind of light on the issue (rather than endless curriculum research). Check out apps of the iPad or Tablet.

3. Triangle-in help

It’s okay to hand off the struggle to an expert (tutor, therapist, best-friend-with-a-BA-in-said-subject, online class, co-op). Take a break and get a third person’s help and perspective. It helps ENORMOUSLY to involve another party.

4. Take a break (set a date)

The hardest part of worry is doing nothing, but sometimes letting a child mature is the best thing you can do. To ease your guilt, set a date for how long you will conscientiously “do nothing.” You might choose to ignore reading for 3 months before revisiting it. Put it on your calendar. If in the meantime, opportunities to support the task arise, enjoy them but don’t latch onto them for dear life. Allow your “break” to be a real break.

5. Build trust

No child gets ahead in a difficult area without the support of a wiser, older, kinder person. You are that person. If reading or writing or math are particularly difficult for your child, work on building a good relationship in other easier areas. Make sure that you are enjoying art, taking walks, building Legos, reading great books, telling jokes, kicking the soccer ball, training the pet rats, learning magic tricks, etc. Do these with great love and energy, accommodating struggle, supporting challenge. As you do, you build a basis for continued work in the difficult areas. You might, accidentally, discover the issue that holds your child back in the other area. If you can create a loving bond in happy subjects, when you struggle to work on the difficult one, you will have a well of compassion and a bank of mutual regard to support you.

Worry if you must, but be productive with it. Don’t dump it on your child, don’t give yourself permission to become an old school marm, don’t let your fear of failure as a home educator poison the beautiful homeschool life you are creating together.

You can’t pretend worry away. Embrace it. Own it. Do something good with it.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Mouse and the MotorcycleBeverly Cleary is 98 years young this weekend, and to celebrate we’re offering the Arrow based on her book, The Mouse and the Motorcycle:

Half price through Monday at Midnight! ($4.95)

Ralph S. Mouse is not just any ol’ mouse at Mountain View Inn.

He is always looking for adventure. So when a young guest named Keith arrives with a shiny miniature motorcycle, it’s Ralph’s lucky day. Right away, Ralph knows that the motorcycle is special—made to be ridden by an adventurous mouse. And once a mouse can ride a motorcycle . . . almost anything can happen! (HarperCollins)


The Mouse and the Motorcycle is the first book in a trilogy (Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse being the other two in the series). Clearly has written other popular children’s books, as well, featuring the characters of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins.

Also, every April 12th is Drop Everything and Read Day! Beverly Clearly was so inspired by the idea when she learned about it that she wrote about D.E.A.R. in her book, Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Since then D.E.A.R. programs have been held nationwide on April 12th in honor of Cleary’s birthday.

So, drop everything and read plus take advantage of this special Arrow offer!

Also, if you’d like to buy a copy of the novel, it’s available through Amazon: The Mouse and the Motorcycle (affiliate link).

The Arrow is a monthly digital product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. It’s geared toward children ages 8-11 and is an indispensable tool for parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.

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Friday Freewrite: If you were a tulip

Tulips Image by dmil0 (Original image by Mario Granberri)

Imagine you’re a tulip. Write about your springtime experiences (and make sure to describe what you look like!).

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

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Sometimes the writing doesn’t have to be brave

home work routineImage by woodleywonderworks

Sometimes the writing will dribble off the page and puddle around your feet. Spare t’s and floating dots over i’s, unimaginative terms like “good” and “fun,” lack luster sentences of uncertain viewpoint…this is the stuff of regular writing, as much as any brave revelation of a person’s interior or a keenly carefully observed guava—poked, prodded, and tasted.

The days of writing accumulate, just like the days of potty training or balancing on a bike or eating salad.

They aren’t glamorous, and often the contents, particularly of freewrites, feel a bit frightening. I confess: I panic a little each time it’s my turn to read and comment on a freewrite. There’s that moment where the words clack into each other and the sound is unclear—the heart and meaning undifferentiated, and the terms out of tune. I worry that this will be the One Time when I won’t have the right feedback that moves the piece forward or that will support the child’s risky (albeit, bland) self-expression.

To calm myself, I remember that my job isn’t to fix, prop up, or find what isn’t there. My job is to read.

And so I begin.

I read the writing. I notice that it fills the page (or doesn’t). I notice that there are words, lined up—as many as there are. I read them and let myself hear them and feel them. If the words are “unremarkable,” sometimes I ignore the meaning and listen to the sounds—as though hearing English as a foreign language.

I let the writing speak; I do not judge it.

This is the first step in being a brave reader. It is an easy thing to read a piece of writing that pops off the page and entices you forward into its tributaries of well-chosen language and clever ideas. It’s another to accept what is offered and to know that it doesn’t have to shine or sing or stand out above other efforts.

Thank the writer. Be earnest, rather than disappointed (it’s easier to not be disappointed if you go into the reading looking for what to affirm and choosing to find something—one thing!). You can always affirm effort, complete sentences, handwriting, a well-placed piece of punctuation or capitalization, congruence between subject and verb (why not notice that and say “Well done” rather than only noticing when it’s “off”?), and the single best word in the piece. Maybe that word is “I”—how the writer (your child) showed you his or her viewpoint and you appreciate it.

Not all freewriting will delight you or speak to you immediately. Sometimes you must be patient—just like when you go to game after game after game of soccer and your daughter runs along the inside of the sidelines as though she is playing, but really she’s just avoiding the ball. You still cheer, you still hope she’ll bump into it and make contact and be a participant. She still gets the orange slices and juice pack. She sweats and runs and cares.

Then there’s that one day when she least expected it—the ball is right there, right next to her foot and she sees the open net—and out of nowhere, she boots that ball into the goal—no one is more shocked than she is and you cheer even louder!

You loved her no less before, and not more now—you just feel that affection a bit more deeply in that moment. You know she’s a soccer player in a new way.

That’s how it works with writing, too. You can coach, you can share strategies to help ease the challenge. But sometimes it takes a lot of running up and down the sidelines, cowering a bit, avoiding the ball, but hanging around the game anyway, before your child scores.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. Keep finding reasons to cheer. That’s what brave readers do.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Of trophies, ribbons, and medals

Melting into the Stacks Image by kejoli

A popular meme in parent-discussion groups is to trumpet the valuelessness of trophies, ribbons, and medals for participation in sports or the arts. The idea goes that if everyone gets one, no one earns one.

The thought is that kids need to learn that reward comes from achievement, that losses have a real impact on the outcome of a season or effort, and that the reception of a physical symbol for beating other teams (or perhaps, successfully performing to a higher standard that other performers) is meaningful/important, not rote, not cheapened by “everyone gets one.”

Old school parents trot out their memories of coaches who yelled; and practices that beat up their egos; and trophies they finally won; how worth it, it all was; and how they grew impeccable character by only being rewarded for winning.

Winning proved that all that hard work and pain was worth it! The trophy told a story: these kids were better than everyone else. Their work was more impressive at the end. Beating people and having proof in the form of a trophy produced pride: this group of boys or girls could know that they stacked up as superior people, at least in this sport.

Not so fast, schweetheart.

Spare me the lectures about how soft this generation is becoming. We need to ask the obvious question: Is winning the goal of childhood activities? Should it be?

When I was 10 years old, I joined a swim team at our tennis club. Let’s pause to appreciate that I was in a family who could afford swim team and a tennis club membership. Unlike the typical 10 year old, I was small. As in tiny. My last name was “Sweeney” and I was called “Teeny Sweeney.” The girls on this team ranged from ordinary girl to hefty. And then me.

Needless to say, in four years of competing, I never won a single race. Not one. I never even placed, unless you count “7th” or “last.” My times improved! I beat my own times repeatedly because I went to every practice and I tried hard. I had no ability to beat girls six inches taller than me, however.

I finally quit the team in 8th grade. At my last meet, I won my heat in breast stroke (first time ever)! I would get the chance to swim for a ribbon! Oh wait—the loud speaker crackled to clarity—”Julie Sweeney is disqualified for improper strokes.” My feet had come to the surface too many times. Of course. I couldn’t have beat the other girls without that advantage. I slunk away from the blocks.

The last race of my illustrious career found me swimming the third leg of a relay race. If you know swimming, that is the slowest leg. Naturally, going into the 3rd length of the pool, my team was in first place. Coming out of it, we were in 4th—thanks to my tiny body and short legs. The last swimmer had to make up for my lost time, and did, but we finished 3rd—my one and only swimming ribbon to show for four years of swim team commitment.

I remember the drive home. I felt defeated. I wondered why I had bothered to swim at all. Sure, I had loved getting into a pool in the rain, sweating in the sauna, giggling with my buddies, licking dry green jello out of the palms of my hands for energy before races, huddling under towels shivering and dripping wet cheering for each other. But what was the point? I was a terrible swimmer because—biology! I couldn’t control that. I had failed.

Everything I controlled, I did well—showing up on time, wearing the right gear, trying really hard, applying the coach’s advice, improving my speed and form, being a good teammate, taking criticism. “Nothing to show for it”—that’s how it felt.

Of course, there was a lot to show for swimming. It was good for my health and my self-discipline. It was good to be on a team where I wasn’t a star. When I was in gymnastics, I was the girl who got the good scores. In swimming, I learned humility, and what it was like to work hard even when I wasn’t talented, or a part of the “best team.” I learned to appreciate endurance sports. I became a competent swimmer—in pools, in the ocean. No small thing growing up in southern California.

I spent many happy hours in the pool, with friends, working hard, learning about my body and what it could be pressed to do beyond its natural aptitudes.

Would a pizza party and a little trophy at the end of my seasons have robbed me of those lessons? Would it have undermined how I understood achievement and accomplishment, and led me to a life of mediocrity?

Would a participation trophy have meant “nothing”?

I’d like to suggest the opposite! I might have been able to interpret my years on that team in a different light—in the light of commitment, hard work, and shared joy at my teammates’ successes and struggles. I wish someone had said, “Great having you on the team. Thanks for participating!”

Children and teens should be encouraged to participate in all kinds of sports and activities, regardless of their natural acumen and aptitude. Why should piano only be for the prodigy? Why should baseball only be played by kids with great hand-eye coordination? What good is it to reduce all the effort and learning of playing sports to success on the field or in the pool or on the balance beam?

Why should any sports team for kids be about winning, frankly?!

Winning is a happy end result when several factors are in place:

1. Parents have money to spend on the sport. In some sports, the investment is significant!

2. Parents have time to coach, and know how to do it well.

3. The team winds up with a surprising collection of naturally gifted athletes.

4. The team “gels” and they get on a win streak.

That only happens for one team per league. Literally.

Winning can’t Be Everything. For kids, it should barely BE a thing!

Our children are growing—they are discovering how their bodies work, how to play hard, how to show up when they are cranky and hungry, how to take direction and practice skills, and how to adjust to new locations, other teams, and weather. 99% of our kids will not go on with any sport in college.

If we reduce a team’s season’s success to whether or not they got more wins than all the other teams, we are saying that all that effort that went into the sport is not valued. We are forgetting to honor and recognize the achievements that will build self esteem (the real kind of self esteem that comes from team play and hard work, not the kind that comes only from being the ones who “trounced” the other teams).

It’s fine to give an “extra trophy” for winning—go ahead and make it good sized. It’s equally (perhaps more) important to also honor the season’s effort and commitment by the “losers.” Trophies and pizza seem to be doing a good job, in my opinion.

Real life says that there is room for Coke and Pepsi. Heck, there’s room for homemade sweet tea at the local diner, in addition to the big brand names. Not everything any of us does depends on a “will to win” or even “being the best.” Sometimes being “not the best” is the best choice!

In fact, being a team player who loses graciously would be a fabulous outcome of a season. We could use more adults like that.

As home educators, we give our children the gift of valuing their growth, efforts, and curiosity every day—without grades, without measurements that tell them how they stack up with other kids. We do this because we’ve come to believe that their success as people doesn’t depend on being better than others, but being the best people they can be, given their limits and talents.

Their milestones are worth celebrating. Their efforts deserve rewards and respect. Their achievements are respectable whether or not they are at the top of their field, class, grade level, or age. Why? Because their achievements are theirs.

If we teach kids to value their efforts and show them all that they learn when they participate with commitment and energy, besides “winning,” we help them become people who build their self-understanding from the inside-out (rather than outside-in). They will not be dependent on others to tell them who they are. They will have a right, sober, honest perspective of themselves that they’ve built from the myriad experiences they chose to explore that comes from self-awareness, not a Championship Trophy.

That self-understanding is worth an Extra Large Pepperoni and a little gold statue in my book. At least that.

Cross-posted on facebook

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First poem!

Hogwarts Poem_NataliePoetry Teatimes can lead to wonderful, unexpected results!

The following features the acrostic poem (when a word is spelled vertically then words or phrases that start with the same letters are added) of Brave Writer student, Natalie, who is a huge Harry Potter fan!

Hi Julie,

Our second tea time evolved into a poetry freewrite! We had watched a short BrainPop Jr. Video on poetry and this format obviously struck a chord with Natalie.

She proudly read it to me:


Howls echo from Lupin
Owls are coming
Grawp’s learning English
Waves coming from mermen
Amazing spells working
Ron’s daddy dies
Tests are done
Spells perfect.

Funny, just noticed she ended it with a single period. So glad she isn’t intimidated by writing a poem.

You’ve let me know more than anyone else that I’m doing the right thing. I’ve been reading through years of your blog entries and listening to your podcasts – your journey is filling me with the confidence I needed to keep us on our unknown path. I can’t wait to share more with you!


Image (cc)

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 select your photo to post then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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Tuesday Teatime: The Aftermath

Tuesday Teatime Elke

Hi Julie,

I have decided to send you a picture of the ‘aftermath’ of tea time Tuesday! We were in the midst of kitchen tiling and threw together an impromptu tea time, complete with a crepe flower centrepiece compliments of my 7 year old daughter. The tea was bubblegum kids fruit tea, the cookies – oatmeal raisin, the napkins – Bounty, the poetry – Walt Whitman, Robert Louis Stevenson and many more including my poetry journal from when I was a teenager. After the hot tea and warm cookies were enjoyed, pencils could be heard scratching away composing original poetry from everyone including my 13 year old son and also my husband. It was definitely our most ‘dressed down’ tea time Tuesday but a much needed and enjoyed break in a busy day!

Blessings on your day,

Image (cc)

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 select your photo to post then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang of your choice! Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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