A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Happy Birthday, J.K. Rowling!

Harry PotterToday is July 31st, which happens to be the birthday of both J.K. Rowling and her most famous character, Harry Potter. To celebrate this most magical day, we’re making a special offer! The Arrow for Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is:

HALF PRICE till midnight August 1st! ($4.95)

Most of us know J.K. Rowling’s incredible rags-to-riches story. She scribbled the manuscript of Harry Potter in coffee shops as a broke single mother, not realizing that a few years later she would be the wealthiest author in history. If you haven’t heard the story, look it up!

Here, though, we’d like to take a look at the darker side of Harry Potter—the villains! Villains, after all, deserve their chance in the spotlight. So get out your villainous cape and your evil thinking cap and take the quiz below to see what Harry Potter villain you’d be!

Which Harry Potter Villain Are You?

1. What is your villainous costume?

a. Black and silver robe
b. Pink suit set
c. Ripped prison garb
g. Stylish lime green or magenta attire and two-inch-long crimson nails

2. You hear a kitten mewing for help. What do you do?

a. Send someone to silence it. You’ve got more important problems.
b. Hang a picture of a kitten on your wall.
c. Kill it.
g. Snoop around to discover what exactly happened to the kitten.

3. What is your animagus (animal) form?

a. A snake
b. A cat
c. You don’t need an animagus. You’re already practically an animal.
g. A beetle

4. Your hair is…

a. Nonexistent
b. Short and curly, with a black velvet bow perched on top like a fly
c. Wild and untamed
g. Bleached blonde

5. Favorite ice cream flavor?

a. Fountain of youth
b. Strawberry
c. Triple chocolate death
g. Crocodile-flavored, spiked with a truth telling serum

6. How do you prep for swimsuit season?

a. First, I’ve got to get a body…
b. Issue a decree prohibiting swimsuit season
c. Wipe out everyone wearing a swimsuit with the Avada Kedavra curse
g. Interview witches to learn their swimsuit secrets

The Results: If you got mostly…

a. Lord Voldemort: You’re the Lord of Villains. Also, you might be missing a nose.

b. Umbridge: You wear lots of pink, and if you don’t like the rules you change them.

c. Bellatrix Lestrange: If you can’t use it, you put a curse on it

d. Rita Skeeter: You’ve got great hair and a killer smile, and if you can’t find a good story you make one up.

So dive into the world of Harry Potter with our special Arrow offer!

And if you’d like to buy a copy of the novel, it’s available through Amazon: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (affiliate link).

Also, SUBSCRIBE TODAY to The Arrow (3rd-6th grades) or The Boomerang (7th-10th grades) for 2014-15!

The Arrow and The Boomerang are monthly digital products that feature copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. They are indispensable tools for parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.

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Home not school—The “re-upping moment”

Start Starting Line Americorps Cinema Service Night Wilcox Park

Remember when you decided to homeschool? Remember what you felt about “school” as a concept? As a notion?

You rejected “school.” You said to yourself, “I think I can do a better job, or at least, a more loving job, or possibly a more attentive-to-my-child job, at home, than they can provide at school.”

With that burst of bravery, you stood up to “the man” and said with your actions, “I can do this!”

You swiftly researched education, products, learning styles—a crash course in teaching or facilitating or discipling or modeling or partnering—whatever method you chose—and marched forward with conviction and uneasy confidence.

The first fledgling steps into homeschooling sometimes mirror school (What else do you know?). But usually it doesn’t take long to see that you can relax—pay attention to a child’s interest, not do every page, switch routines mid-week, play with play-doh for an entire morning, and so on.

Somewhere, along the way, however, you go through your first bout of wavering confidence.

  •  She didn’t read at 7 years of age.
  • His handwriting is illegible at 10.
  • She can’t skip count.
  • He isn’t writing full paragraphs like his cousins in school.

That moment shakes you. Your brain flips into reverse. Just like a new tired language learner reverts to grunting in her native tongue, you return to the only educational model you understand: school.

You buckle down.
You buy new books.
You enforce a schedule.
You require more work.
You follow traditional strategies.

The life’s blood of your cozy home slips from view; apples, rulers, yellow school buses, and workbooks crowd your field of vision.

The net effect?

Not progress.
Not joy.
Not home.


School—with its culture of pressure, evaluation, critique, grading, measuring, comparing, forcing a pace, testing, requiring, and shaming—comes flooding past your front door and right into your living room.

The choice to follow a school model for writing leads to stifled voice, and plodding progress. Your child’s work may mirror the samples, but it doesn’t sing. You may finish the assignments, but none are memorable beyond the feeling of “getting it done.”

Is this what you wanted? This plodding, replication of school at home?

At some point, you may think to yourself, “I miss cozy. I miss natural. I miss the originality of this family.”

To start again—to screw up the courage to make homeschool more about “home” than “school”—requires a second commitment. It’s what I like to call the “re-upping moment.”

That moment is critical to long term home education.

My products and online classes are all about reinforcing that re-upping moment. You are supported in paying attention to your child’s person, his or her interests, pacing yourself, deep diving into subject areas, less is more, writing that expresses self (imperfectly, a bit like a banging drum initially), doing one invested thing at a time, using your real life as primary teacher rather than canned curriculum.

You can do this, just like you did when you started. In fact, it takes less courage than the first time. You already know you want to! You remember the feeling of joy and freedom of the initial months and years of home education.

Take heart. Your instincts are good.

Be home with your kids. Lead them into short lessons, big juicy conversations, writing voice, curiosity, and interest-led study. Your support and partnership make education a joyful exploration of LIFE not subjects for school.

You can do this!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Steven Depolo (cc)

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Movie Wednesday: Epic

Movie Wednesday  Robin

Brave Writer mom, Robin, writes:

I don’t know if this is done all over the US, but our local theater has a Summer Movie program for kids each year. For $5 per person you get tickets for 10 kids’ movies, one a week for 10 weeks. For the most part they are old movies, ones we’ve seen before at home, but when temperatures soar over 105°F all summer long any A/C’d activity is appreciated.

Your Movie Wednesday blog post last week inspired me to make more of our Friday morning moving watching, and I incorporated it for the very next movie we saw, Epic. The 20 minute drive to the theater, plus the 10 minutes to pump gas, allowed us plenty of time for discussing character, plot, foreshadowing, and flashback, pulling lots of examples from recent books we’ve read and movies we watched. Since we had seen this movie before, I challenged my kids to be on the lookout for the things we had discussed so that we could talk about them on the way home.

It was such a success! Can you believe my “attention span of a gnat” 7 year old identified the flashback scene while her 11 and 9 year old brothers were still frowning in thought?

All of the kids could identify the protagonist and antagonist, although only my 11 year old remembered how to say the words. They got into a nice discussion over whether Mandrake was a dynamic or static character too. Did he change at all or was how he acted and what he wanted the same throughout the movie regardless of what happened around him?

The concept of plot was equally easy for them to grasp, although this particular movie didn’t lend itself easily to discussing sub-plots so that didn’t come up.

None of the kids could identify the instances of foreshadowing in Epic, but I really didn’t expect it; foreshadowing is subtle. So I told them about how the narration at the beginning told of “needing help” and how the father said something along the line of, “Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.” These weren’t the greatest examples of foreshadowing, so we ended up referring to the book Johnny Tremain that we have been reading aloud.

All in all, our first foray into mindful movie discussion was a huge success. We will be doing it again, although we may skip this week’s Summer Movie (Smurfs 2, uh) and watch Mulan or Prince of Egypt or something.

Attached is a photo of my three younger kids waiting for Epic to start (my two teens weren’t interested in the Summer Movie program, so they have been staying home each week).

Thank you,

Image (cc)

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: Diamante poems!

Tuesday Teatime Melanie

Hi Julie!

We had such fun with our tea time and poetry share today! We have been talking about diamante poems, so the kids shared some of their creations while we enjoyed herbal tea and snacks. My oldest two wrote synonym poems, using the following format:

Adjective, Adjective
Verb, Verb, Verb
Noun, Noun, Noun, Noun
Verb, Verb, Verb
Adjective, Adjective

The kids started by brainstorming adjectives, nouns and verbs for their poems, which I jotted down for them grouped by word type. Then they went through their lists, chose the words they liked best, and wrote their poems. It was so much fun! Here’s what they came up with:

Minecraft, by Eamonn (9 yrs)

fun, exhilarating
learning, thinking, bonding
mods, stones, houses, blocks
building, exploring, playing
challenging, peaceful

Books, by Fallon (11 yrs)

exciting, hilarious
reading, thinking, imagining
mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, reference
wishing, laughing, hypothesizing
different, fast-paced

I’ve also included a photo of my four kidlets as they sipped tea while big sis read out some favourite poems.

Thanks for always inspiring us with fun ways to create and explore with words!


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 (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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ONE week left before Fall Registration opens for Online Writing Classes!


We’re really excited about Fall!

We have such a great line up this year and more offerings than ever. Don’t forget to consider classes like Nature Journaling, Photography and Writing, and Just So Stories.

We are not your usual writing company offering a school-like program that creates stress and performance anxiety.

We are all about HOME, convenience, personal attention, opportunity for un-graded risk and exploration in writing, support, affirmation, process, and satisfying progress.

Check out our line up of classes!

Also, if you need help with online class decisions, do contact me. I’ve got work to do at my desk and I’ll answer the phone or call you back. If you email me, I try to respond as quickly as possible (within 24 hours max, but often within the same day).

Image © Robert Byron | Dreamstime.com

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No shortcuts to good education

Caitrin High School Graduation 2014Caitrin’s High School Graduation, 2014

Whether you are homeschooling, unschooling, or even supervising a traditional brick and mortar education, you are critical to your children’s success.

There are no shortcuts.

There shouldn’t be.

Study after study proves that involved adults (particularly parents) produce smarter, better educated kids. The goal isn’t independence from you. The goal isn’t for kids to be so self-taught, you become unnecessary.

The goal is singular and true for every educational model:

Prepare children to be capable adults.

Adult-life is an interdependent system of self-reliance and bartering/purchasing services you need. Adults read, learn, attempt, do it themselves, take classes, and then either ask friends for help or hire others to work for them. I don’t provide my own medical care—a doctor does it for me. I pay. I do make my own meals and shop for my own food. I know adults who hire chefs or eat pre-packaged foods. Both work. No one is self sufficient in every area.

This notion that kids have to be “independent” is an illusion.

Adulthood is about becoming responsible for yourself—knowing your strengths, respecting your limits, evaluating options, making quality choices.

Parents/adults model the activities of responsible adulthood (or irresponsible adulthood) every day they are with children. The invested, active parents seamlessly participate in their children’s educations. They aren’t “pushing for independence” as much as they are supporting their children in discovering what it is they need, and then in finding (and sometimes paying for) resources that meet their kids’ needs.

A concrete example helps.

Public school students may give the appearance of independence; they go to school, do homework, study for and take tests away from their parents. But they are not independent of adult interaction around the subjects they study.

A literature class will include 25-30 other students reading the same book with a teacher guiding the discussion, providing context, using literary vocabulary, and issuing instructions for activities that help the students understand the book on multiple layers. The classroom context is designed to facilitate a student’s investigation of the topic so that he or she develops a literary vocabulary.

A homeschooled high school student does not have that opportunity (to sit with an instructor who has prepared a lesson, to listen to the commentary of peers). The homeschooled high school student has parents. The discussion necessary to grow the mental agility to analyze literature must come from somewhere—must be provided. Short of online classes or co-ops, there is one person who can provide that richer context for learning—the parent.

Unschoolers do this naturally (the good ones). The conversations, interactions, and shared learning opportunities may not be on a calendar, but they are happening. Isolation is not good for education. Even if a student shows the ability to read thoroughly and deeply, a child will not glean the subtle layers or the vocabulary of analysis alone with the book. The child cannot see his or her own limited thinking without a dialog partner. These are modeled to the student through reading additional materials, online discussion with others who’ve read, and especially with parents (if possible).

If you can’t provide your teen (or any child) with that level of support—being available to help that student make the cognitive connections necessary for development—it’s your job to ensure that someone is.

Students can learn a lot online in conversation with other adults and teens (discussion boards, blogs, gaming, MOOCs, Kahn Academy, our Boomerang Book Club, etc.). If you aren’t available, turn teens loose to find dialog partners.

Consider rethinking the idea that independence is the highest good for teens. Quality interaction with invested participating adults is the best curricula for high school. The aim? To help teens become well informed, rhetorical thinkers who take increasing responsibility for their own lives.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Friday Freewrite: Don’t Give Up

omenImage by Jonny Hughes (cc)

“Don’t give up.” What does that mean to you? Maybe describe a time when you didn’t give up (or you did!). Or are there situations where you think you or others should give up? Explain.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

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It’s okay to take it easy

Two of a kindImage by aussiegall (quote added cc)

You know that day where everything is going along swimmingly?

This one:

  • The older kids are quietly finishing pages of math and handwriting.
  • The toddler is happily covered in dress up clothes.
  • The baby is napping.
  • The pre-reader is sounding out the words easily, conquering Frog and Toad.
  • The right library books for the unit study arrived!
  • The most exciting chapter in the read aloud is next.
  • Bodies are healthy and fed. Showers and baths may have been taken in the last week.
  • All the machines and various household systems work: cars, AC, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, refrigerator and ice maker, all four computers, the DVR, the TV, your lawn mower, plumbing, and gaming consoles.
  • No one’s fighting. No one’s complaining. Maybe dinner is already planned.
  • You and your Significant Other are getting along—good conversation, good sex.

Sit in this vision for a moment. The vision of well being—of the stars, planets, and Cheerios aligned.

Can you see it? Feel it?

When it comes, when your life hits that magical moment—what do you do?

Here’s what some of us do:

We toss a home made hand grenade into the center of the living room. We reject our ordinary happiness.


Because some of us are under the impression that things of value only happen when we’re working hard.

So, when everyone is happily completing pages, reading, and skip counting, when the home is humming and our relationship is peaceful, some of us experience an involuntary panic.

This material is too easy. She must not be learning.

He whipped through that passage too quickly. He must not be challenged.

This book is fun, so it must not be that educational.

I better take in the car.

I’m going to ask ________ about why (he or she) doesn’t _________ more often.

We move into “anticipate the next crisis” mode. To avoid the surprise attack of the next crisis, we create one—one we can control!

Instead of staying home enjoying this (surely temporary) peace, we take the show on the road—adding the challenge of managing lots of kids out in the world.

Some of us buy brand new curricula so that everyone is suddenly thrust into the learning curve of “new” rather than enjoying comfy and familiar. We can’t appreciate the joy of mastery—we only esteem struggle to learn the next step/process.

Some of us look around at our friends (in person or online heroes) and decide that what they are doing is better, and judge our happy peace as undisciplined or, conversely, not free enough.

We refuse to allow the feeling of happiness to “settle in,” because it might mean we are not being conscientious enough about educating our young.

What if we were to while away the hours without diligence and pain and struggle and effort? Would that mean we were irresponsible parents/partners/home educators?

Time for a sip of coffee.

That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working.

That happy completion of pages, the successful reading, the repetition of skills learned and now mastered? That’s the sound of education taking root.

No one wants to struggle with a new challenge every day. Some of the joy of learning is getting to use the skills cultivated. It feels great to copy a passage without any struggle whatsoever. It’s awesome to rip through a set of math problems, knowing you’ve got it! You get it! You can bury that page with accurate answers and even show your work.

Kids who find their daily groove and rhythm—knowing what is expected and then being able to live up to that expectation—are happy kids.

Don’t wreck it! Enjoy it!

This is the life you are shooting for! Problems will find you again, without you even trying. So for now, celebrate the modest joy of ordinary happiness and success.

Let yourself off the hook. It’s wonderful if everyone likes the curricula, finds it a bit “too easy,” and successfully moves through their work with skill. Even professional athletes repeat the same drills at age 30 that they learned in Little League—mastery relies on practice and practice is all about repetition of skills, not struggling to learn new ones all the time.

You are doing something profoundly right when you feel that whoosh of peace in your home. Pause to notice. Inhale. Then…

Exhale and smile.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Never enough, never enough

Panning for GoldImage by Amber Strocel (cc)

I had this odd little homeschool habit. See if you can relate.

If my kids and I found something wonderful to do in a day, and if that wonderful activity wasn’t already on the calendar for a week or more prior to doing it, and if that something wonderful dawned on me out of the blue—a fresh, bright idea—and we acted on it that day (not scheduling it for a future date so that I could put it on the calendar first), I felt guilty counting that experience toward “school.”

In other words—spontaneous education felt fake (like I was getting away with something, like I was not a serious educator).

I imagined that most homeschoolers had schedules and plans and knew what was coming each week. Certainly school teachers must never lecture on the fly or succumb to inspiration of the moment rather than inspiration that led to a “plan” for some time later.

The cycle looked like this. We had our routine—the practices we usually did each day. Then I’d get internally, unconsciously fed up with the daily predictability. We’d be studying some cool topic like gems or fingerprints or Vietnam. Bam!

Let’s go to Little Saigon!

And off we’d go. Dropping everything. We’d have a fabulous, learning immersed day.

That I didn’t count.

Because it wasn’t planned.

Because I hadn’t thought about the learning values in advance; because good teachers don’t string together a bunch of inspiring moments and call that learning; because the event/activity/outing wasn’t a part of an integrated unit of study—it felt hap-hazard and too dependent on my flights of fancy.

My educational drive came from behind. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with a unit study about the the gold rush until we were knee deep in Levis and fool’s gold. I felt my way. The ideas would come as we read. How could we read about panning for gold and not pan for gold? So we abandoned all our other school work and planned a “panning for gold” party. The kids even tried to build a sluice (failed, but the effort was awesome!). The fake gold collected was traded for sarsaparilla and licorice. That party project sidelined math, science, read aloud time, and copywork for a month.

It was big and disruptive and unplanned. Not in a single one of my books. Just a moment of following this nagging thought: How can we read about the Gold Rush and not try it?

Similarly, I didn’t know what to do about the solar system and my kids—books didn’t quite get it. Small pictures about unimaginable sizes. Once we were reading, though, the scale of the numbers related to planets blew my mind (space is huge!)—I wanted to blow my kids’ minds. I called my next door homeschooling neighbor to help me. We went outside into our cul-de-sac, and attempted to replicate to scale, the space between the planets and the sun. Discovering we’d have to send the youngest child more than a mile away to approximate Pluto’s relationship to the rest of us ended that project—and made its primary point.

And eliminated math pages, phonics, and handwriting time. And nap time. And laundry.

That night, still on a solar system high, my kids and I drummed up the idea to host an impromptu planetary tea party (at night! with the stars!). Our neighbors joined us, and the oldest girl surprised us, dressing up like Jupiter! (Red blotch over her eye.)

But was this learning? I worried about it. I hadn’t made a lesson plan in advance. Were parties and field trips and impromptu experiments enough?

Back to the workbooks and planned curricula we’d go.

However, no matter how many days we logged in the workbooks and planned activities, I couldn’t tell if the kids were making the kind of progress they should be making. I had no measuring device to reassure me. Eventually we’d get bored or restless or the flu would visit and all semblance of the routine would go out the window.

After a holiday, I’d regroup and start again.

What I couldn’t know then that I do know now is that it is MORE than enough and life looks like this stitched together variety of practices, habits, and flights of inspiration. Taken together, you work your way around the circle of learning (planned activities, lessons, incremental worksheets for skills, field trips, parties, spontaneous crafts and experiments, wasted days, child-led days, parent-led days). All of it comes together.

It’s both enough, and never enough.

Learning doesn’t have an end point—you know that because you are still learning almost as much as your kids are while you educate them. Don’t you sometimes wonder how they let you out of college when you can’t remember a stitch of information about Manifest Destiny or the Pacific theater in World War 2 (and you were a history major!)?

Because of your natural home educator neuroses, you will cycle through these various educational styles over and over again, attempting to “hit” the target that keeps moving backward from you.

That’s how it is supposed to be and is. Even the least “schooly” among us are still standing by, alert, seizing those moments when they can support and honor the natural curiosity of their children.

When you feel the anxiety of “never enough” creep up, remind yourself that every day—no matter what you do—your intention is the good of your children and their educational advance. Research and buy curricula, plan amazing experiences, follow your flights of fancy, be inspired by your children’s curiosity and ambition to try things, provide resources, set up a routine…

…and trust the process.

In the end, it’s all learning and it all counts and it’s enough. Your kids will take what you give them and expand it beyond what you ever imagined. They will know how to do that because you will have modeled so many different ways to learn right in front of them for their whole lives. They’ll be comfortable with structure, freedom, exploration, testing, routine, inspiration, abstraction, practical application, curiosity, expertise, practice, performance, and achievement.

The subject areas are merely opportunities to show your kids what it is to learn through a variety of means so that they can continue that journey on their own after they leave home.

So hats off to you! On the calendar or not, it all counts. It’s enough.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Tuesday Teatime: Three for tea

Tuesday Teatime_TiffanyI have 3 kids homeschooling right now- 2 girls ages 13 and 10 and an 8 year old boy.

I have a collection of teacups and everyone loves choosing their cup for the day. My 10 year old likes to plan the treat which has varied from peanut butter and jelly sandwich triangles to freshly baked banana bread. However simple the snack is we always set it out on pretty serving plates.

Our poetry collection at this point is mostly Shel Silverstein and they happily dive in to each choose a poem to share. At first my son was reluctant because it seemed ‘girly’ but he has had a great time and has even helped make up some of the treats.

We have had some great conversations but my favorite thing about poetry teatime is that I feel free to sit down and just enjoy a treat with my children- no guilt.


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 (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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