A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Friday Freewrite: Dogs and cats (and llamas!!)


This writing prompt was originally going to focus only on our canine and feline friends, but in light of the “llama  drama” yesterday…

Imagine that the dogs (and the llamas!!) are upset because they can’t roam as freely as many cats can.

For instance, the law in Ohio states that dogs must be “physically confined or restrained or properly leashed and controlled by a person, except in cases where the dog is hunting with its owner or keeper.”

But, it’s not always the same for cats (see section II. D.)

Now imagine you’re a dog (or a llama!!) and write down the arguments you might use to show that you deserve the same freedom as cats.

Then imagine you’re a cat and share reasons why it’s purrfectly fine to have different laws for cats and dogs (and llamas!!).

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Images by Dave Fayram, KamrenB Photography, Jeff Turner (cc cropped, tinted)

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You have time to prepare


Do you remember how to divide fractions? I didn’t. I had a 4th grade math book whose page I turned and discovered, “Oops! We are up to division of fractions. I can’t remember how to do that.”

I whisked myself away to the garage to teach myself. My kids made messes in the living room.

I returned ready to show Noah how to divide fractions. He performed the task easily. At the end of the page, he commented, “So I don’t have to really remember this? I won’t need fractions as an adult? I only need to know them for today, right?”

Ha! He took a different lesson than the one I meant to impart. My inability to remember how to divide fractions stood out, naked and then ashamed. I countered that my handicaps in math were just that—skills I didn’t get to use when I needed them. I hoped for better for him, and I told him that I would do a better job of preparing to be his teacher in the future.

It’s with this experience in mind that I make the following recommendation. It is wise to prepare. In fact, it is essential to learn how to home educate your kids. It is entirely on task to read blogs, Facebook groups, books, and the directions that precede any lesson you expect your kids to complete.

In fact, it is so on task, may I make a bold statement? I know you don’t have time to study “learning” by yourself, in some ideal context of private, quiet, peaceful hours in the day. I know this.

So, here’s my advice: just do it—right in the middle of the day with kids all around you, “off-task” in dress up clothes, acting out Frozen one more time. Tuck your feet under you, snuggle up to the corner of the sectional, and read, scroll, page. Use headphones if you need to. Highlighter in hand, read. Take notes. Absorb.

It is so much better to let go of today’s and tomorrow’s lessons in order to drill down to the essential ingredients of math or writing, or to understand a period in history, or to get a glimpse of how the science experiment should go and what its objective is, than to muddle forward with doubt and your child’s resistance.

Prepare quoteIt is not better to just “get it done” and hope for the best. There is no “automatic” method for any learning. It just doesn’t happen that way. Depth, immersion, exploration, and guidance are the core values of education.

We are concerned with completion of pages or curricula, and then we worry that our kids aren’t making progress, and we hope for a quick fix—some solution that won’t require us to take valuable time to understand before implementation.

But this approach is backwards. You didn’t go to college (most of you) to get a teaching credential. You’re becoming educators on the fly (even unschoolers are embarking on a huge new project of how to be that parent who facilitates learning or invests deeply in a child’s passions). These choices necessitate information that informs how you spend time with your kids, and what you impart.

You will feel so much better if you have a handle on the contours of a subject area, than if you plod through a book hoping for magic (that the lesson leaps from the page without you knowing why or how it works).

You do have time. For all the hours you don’t spend in preparation, you will find yourself frustrated with basic problems. Why isn’t my child of 10 spelling well? This is answered quickly in a book that explains the natural stages of growth in writing. 10 year olds don’t spell well. Here’s why, here’s how to foster the continued growth.

Without that bit of knowledge, you will be tempted to push your child or to shame him for not spelling well. I know. I’ve done all of that. I’ve pushed, I’ve shamed, I’ve blamed, I’ve plowed forward in a curriculum expecting it to teach and finding out it did not.

Then a new day dawned. I saw that my home life was fluid—we didn’t have set school hours, we didn’t have a teacher’s lounge for me. We had the mixed up mess of living and learning and all my insecurities about parenting and educating—together in one living room, at one kitchen table. It finally occurred to me: If I was unsure about how to impart a specific skill set for them or share about an area of passion for me, I could spend daytime looking into it. Right when I wanted to.

I wanted my kids to have an art education, but had no idea how to go about it. We spent time in the library where they read books they wanted, and I checked out books about art. I read them. I bought some. I started hanging prints on the wall. Finally, I ordered the 6 video set of Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting. I put them on every day for a couple of weeks, right after breakfast. My kids were free to come and go, but I took notes. They remember this period of our homeschool.

The foundation from that season was laid in me. I couldn’t wait to go to museums with the kids. They were excited to see paintings we’d already viewed in the video series.

I didn’t set out to make this a lesson for them. It was a lesson for me. I didn’t “go to another room” to understand it and then come back with the pretense of “Aha! Here’s the lesson you have to learn now.” Rather, I learned, in front of them.

Did our Sister Wendy odyssey take time away from math? Yes, yes it did.

It also showed me the value of taking time to prepare the feast of ideas I hoped would be my children’s education.

The benefits were life-changing:

  •  To understand—to be prepared.
  • To get behind the lessons to why the lessons.
  • To discover the germ of value in the material.
  • To grow as an educator.
  • To fuel my creativity.
  • To spark my enthusiasm.
  • To feel competent.
  • To hold realistic expectations for each age and subject area.

These are the benefits of preparation. You deserve these benefits. Take the time to get them.


Image by Pedro Ribeiro Simões (cc cropped)

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How to use a movie for dictation practice

Movies and dictation

Today’s post is from the February 5th FREE Daily Writing Tip:

Use a favorite scene from a well-loved film for writing dialog from dictation. You should have kids who are already skilled in copywork of dialog first.

Then, try it like this:

  1. Load the DVD.
  2. Cue it up for the dialog scene (no more than 2 speakers, only back and forth 4-5 times).
  3. Go over basic punctuation conventions for dialog (remind kids how to use quotation marks, that periods and question marks go inside the quotes, that each new speaker starts on a new line, indented, etc.).
  4. Play the scene through.
  5. Then play it a bit at a time, pausing as your children write. Do this for as long as it takes.
  6. Finally, play the scene all the way through, while the child compares their work to what they hear, making adjustments.

You will be the one to correct the finished product, but do it alongside the child in conversation – “Good job here. I think you need an apostrophe for the possessive here. Oops! Changed speakers. What do you do? That’s right. Indent, new line.”

Have fun!

Image by Francis Bijl (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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Tuesday Teatime: On a Wednesday or a Friday or a Saturday

Poetry Teatime

These clowns LOVE Poetry Tea Time Tuesdays! Sometimes I’ll come downstairs and they’ve set the table and put the kettle on – on a Wednesday, or a Friday or a Saturday! It is the most consistent homeschool routine we have – we love Tuesdays.

As for our choice of poems we ALWAYS read Shel Silverstein – along with a collection of others old and new – I try to pick some that are fitting to the season or month – as for treats – I used to try and make cookies the day before but found that if that didn’t happen we would miss poetry tea time – so now I just buy a package or two of store bought treats! It is also important that the cream goes in the glass creamer – if I try to just put the carton on the table someone always mentions it! We have a candle that usually sits on our dining room table and the oldest rotate turns lighting it.

I used to stress a bit over tea time – wanting it to be perfect – Julie had posted something about this on her blog once – about keeping it simple – so I took her advice to heart and we now enjoy tea time very regularly – sometimes more than once a week!

Thanks for all you guys do over at Brave Writer! Our family sure appreciates you all.


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 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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Five Magic Words


Get a dose of at least one of these per day and see if your home environment doesn’t improve.

I’ve provided two possible examples of each one to get your creative juices going. Build from these! Please post your own ideas for how to apply these to your homeschool in the comments section.

1. Surprise

  • A margin note in the math book
  • Cake for breakfast

2. Chance

  • Roll of the dice—numbers represent “how many” of whatever work for the day (number of math problems, number of letters traced, number of pages or sentences or words read…)
  • Flip a coin—heads means working independently for ten minutes; tails means working with a partner for ten minutes (child chooses which subject for independence or partnership)

3. Mystery

  • Handwritten clues leading to a new board game or snack or treat
  • Invisible ink to reveal a new copywork or dictation passage

4. Secret

  • Provide a lock n key diary for secret entries
  • Tell a child a secret plan to spend time with them (that day, later in the week…)

5. Discovery

  • Walk, bike, kayak somewhere new
  • Explore little known works of authors or poets you love

Good luck!

Image by StephaniePetraPhoto (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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Friday Freewrite: Happy ending

Sad clown

Should fictional stories always have happy endings? Why or why not.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Shawn Campbell (cc cropped, tinted)

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Conversations in the car count

So much good education

You’re driving along discussing how far the sun is from the earth when one of your kids wants to know if the song on the radio is by One Republic, another one then asks if you can stop by the store to get a starfruit because she heard about it from a book she’s reading, and then another one declares that he knows a shortcut home. The toddler then throws his pacifier to the floor and the 9 year old steps on it while trying to pick it up. Of course.

In the span of fifteen minutes, you’ve covered all kinds of interesting information, as well as have heard snippets of what is filling your kids’ heads all day, in addition to the inevitable interruptions of life with kids.

Count it all.

Write it down.

It’s okay that you have incomplete discussions. You’ll circle back to them over time. Remind yourself that conversation is the homeschool equivalent of classroom lecture. These conversations are often best had in a car, anyway. It’s when you’re all trapped in one space and talking is the main thing that can be done in that space. Use it well! Ask a provocative question: “How many whole chickens could we fit in that semi? How might we figure it out?” Brainstorm ideas, take guesses, figure it out when you get home.

Ponder other questions: I wonder how long it would take to ride a horse to the store rather than drive a car. Discuss.

You might discuss the pop star or the lyrics of a song. You might comment on the birds on the telephone wire, wondering which ones they are. You might ask about a game recently played or a book being read.

Talk in the car! Count it. So much good education happens, literally, along the way.

Image by M_AIPhotography (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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First 5 minute freewrite!

photo 1

Hi Julie,

Above is Garrett’s first 5 minute free write!

This is his descriptive paragraph. He dictated and I typed. These are his words.


I just can’t get over it! Really. I am jaw dropped! These were both done willingly and with excitement! I just can’t say thank you enough.

This has really been an eye opening experience for me. This had taught me I was stifling my son not his ADHD. That is a hard pill to swallow as I tried for 3 years to get a particular writing program to work when it just was not a fit for us.

Now he is writing because my thought process changed.

Thank you

Image (cc)

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Tuesday Teatime: The show must go on!

Tuesday Teatime Shawna

Poetry Tea Time Tuesday. There isn’t one place in my house that doesn’t need picked up, scrubbed, or sand blasted, but my baby boy asked if it was Tuesday yet, so the show must go on.

In lieu of Shel Silverstein today, Goodnight Moon is the theme. I’ve had a really crappy past 2 days so I’m going to post some “happy fluff” OK? Plus, you can’t bicker with your siblings if your face is stuffed with Moon Pies, eh?

So, I’m feeding this crew moon things. Mush like in the book (grits), nighty night tea, circle crackers with circle cheese, Oreo Moon Phases, boiled eggs, grapes, marshmallow “moon rocks,” pepperoni slices, and moon pies!

Oh, and there are helium balloons! Yippee.

Next week we’ll be back to tea and toast. Ha!

Much Love, Shawna

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 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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Stick up for yourself inside

Julie Rearview Mirror Rainy Day

15 years ago, I started an online discussion board for (mostly) homeschool mom friends called The Trapdoor Society. The concept was this: Because our days were filled with small children and home-keeping demands, we needed an escape—a trapdoor through which we could pursue our own self-education: art, literature, film, politics, religion, poetry, and more. We’d be friendly and supportive when we disagreed and we’d help each other expand our worlds together…

In other words, Internet Utopia.

In other words, good luck with that.

We did become incredible friends (there are still about 40 of us in touch today). But those friendships also survived some truly painful clashes of personality, belief systems, emotional meltdowns, and even a version of trolling (though that word didn’t exist back then).

I remember spending hours crafting response posts in my head when I felt maligned or judged or misunderstood. Years later, this xkcd cartoon captured my feelings of compulsion to respond online perfectly: “Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

Underneath that surface reason, though, was an invisible-to-me-at-the-time one. Fear. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. I didn’t want to have made an irrevocable choice.

When criticism came my way, I wanted to fight back—to not take it. I fought back on the outside.

If I could get everyone out there to agree that I was okay, then I would finally allow myself to feel okay in here.

The benefit of aging is the increasing awareness that it is nigh to impossible to get all the people out there to all agree that you are perfectly wonderful as you are. (I know, I’ve tried.)

No one likes you enough to do that for you. They’re all too busy trying to get you to tell them that they are okay, as they are.

One of the reasons it’s tough to hear our kids tell us that some of our choices were painful to them is that we especially want their approval—after all, we are “sacrificing” careers, manicures, a good tennis game, grad school, hobbies, and beautifully decorated homes to ensure they have the best possible childhoods. How they can’t know that, can’t see that, can’t forgive us for our foibles is incomprehensible.

The only way out is inner confidence—to firm up your shaky insides with your resilient belief that you are conscientious, intentional, and sincere. These three qualities won’t prevent mistakes or over-reach. They won’t guarantee romanticized notions of success. But they can be the firm base from which you continue to grow, revise, and expand your life’s vision.

If you resist the temptation to defend

If you resist the temptation to defend yourself to others, but instead, take any criticism or disagreement as a chance to revisit your personal creed and practice, you will slowly but surely see that you are, in fact, that worthwhile person you wish others could see. You’ll know it from the inside—that your choices, and your vision are perfectly valid for you.

Meanwhile, rather than eviscerate your persecutors with better arguments or lengthy diatribes, go soft on the outside. The old proverb, “A gentle word turns away wrath” may not always work in intimate relationships, but it does provide a neat exit online.

It is often the perfect response to children—respond in the opposite spirit. They come with anger and force, you respond with internal strength and gentle words: “I hear you. That sounds awful. I want better for you.”

Strong on the inside, soft on the outside.

Respond in the opposite spirit.

Stick up for yourself to yourself.

Trust—you don’t know the outcome of this grand risky experiment. The only way forward is one day at a time, with your conscientiousness, sincerity, and intentionality to guide you.

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