A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

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)

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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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Managing multiples

Daddy and His Little Shadow GirlsImage by Pink Sherbet Photography (Sepia tone applied cc )

Grade levels are designed for schools, not home. Children similarly aged (not necessarily similarly skilled) are put into bunches and taught by one teacher, using materials designed for that group.

Home educators typically start their journeys with grade level products. They buy the entire slate of materials for Kindergarten or First Grade. As the oldest gets older, younger kids slide into the K or 1st position. By the time the oldest is in 5th grade, there may be three or four kids who are school aged, all with individual sets of products not necessarily coordinated in any meaningful way for you, the teacher of multiples!

The question becomes: “How do I teach all these levels simultaneously?”

It’s a great question! After all, this is not a one room school house—where children are sent to be away from the home to a teacher in a separate building, while a parent at home makes meals, shops, and earns an income.

Rather, homeschooling families live in houses, condos, and apartments. They have more going on than an education. They’ve got pregnancies to contend with, toddlers and babies, all the necessities of life from food to laundry to dental appointments, and the pressure to figure out how to educate on the fly (very few home educators have any kind of training whatsoever!).

The secret to success is abandoning grade level.

Focus on subject area, not grade level.

You want all your kids learning about the same stuff together. They will automatically perform at “grade level” or according to their skill set. You can talk about Native American tribes with kids from pre-K to 10th grade. All kinds of materials and books can be gathered and used, together. DVDs, historical fiction, personal accounts from living Native Americans, studying maps, visiting burial grounds or Native American landmarks, making foods, weaving facsimiles of rugs or building replicas of their teepees and dwellings—what of this can’t be done on some level by everyone?

The goal is to create a shared family learning adventure. History and science (even literature) can, to a large extent, be studied collectively as you supply skill appropriate challenges within that context. At least everyone will be on the same page in terms of vocabulary, story, and focus. When you learn this way, students contribute to each other’s educations naturally, in conversation, through sharing their work together.

The 3 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) may seem like they are more grade-level bound, but that doesn’t meant you have to stretch yourself thin like a taffy-pull to get them in each day for four or more kids.

Set a time aside for when everyone does copywork. Light candles (one mom literally gives a tealight to each child-they write their name on the candle holder) and tell everyone—this is the time for copywork. You might be amazed that the youngest kids sustain a longer attention span when they are writing at the same time as the older ones. Once a week, kids can pick copywork for each other (knock knock jokes, or riddles, or favorite passages, or quotes from a favorite TV show). A sharing of the burden is possible—perhaps the older kids help the younger ones find passages that they would enjoy. Perhaps the younger ones can offer to decorate the writing of the older kids with stickers or artwork.

When you work on writing, suggest a project and have everyone contribute to it (a family letter, a collective report—each person contributing one page). Conversely, each child can work on producing writing for a family topic (subject area). They will select the kind of writing that matches their skill set, but all will focus on writing about artwork or nature or a response to a Shakespeare play.

Math can be done one at a time, if you need to teach specific concepts. But even then—it’s possible to discuss a math concept with the younger ones that the olders already know how to do. The older kids can demonstrate it in action or they might be partners during frisbee-toss skip counting. They can be asked to work with the younger child in secret and then come back to show off to you, the parent.

Reading time ought to be all together, when possible (memories get made here!). Start with the read aloud novel (whole family), followed by silent reading for older kids and reading library picture books for younger ones.

The idea is to do things together—as much as is possible. When a child needs your undivided attention, pick a time that doesn’t compete with someone else’s similar need. Put your child on the calendar with a date and time—be present. The tendency is to attempt to teach important concepts in the midst of bedlam, and then to wonder why the child isn’t making progress.

If you keep the family together for most of the day, you also build momentum. You won’t be juggling kids who are restlessly waiting for you to help them. There will be productivity happening throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Dinner time will involve talking about the immersion in WW2, rather than each child having a different area of history to discuss and no one to discuss it with!

Home education is about a culture of family learning. Drop your memories of grade level. Focus on shared subject area learning, and group projects when you can.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Friday Freewrite: View from a window

eppnyImage by wonderwoodleyworks (cc)

Quick! Look out the nearest window and describe everything you see. Go!

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The goal of education


Your job—provide an education.

Your kid’s job—decide what to do with it.

Next year, five years from now, when he turns 18—these are not important today. Today is important.

Today’s task is to be present to today, with your kids. You can’t know how it will all turn out. You can’t decide now, for instance, that you are training your child to be an engineer simply because she’s great at Legos and math. Just because you think your child has a shot at a scholarship via viola doesn’t mean the child ought to play viola.

When we script the future of our children, we miss valuable learning opportunities today. We might focus on ensuring a set of criteria (check boxes of subjects studied) rather than seizing a moment now, right in front of us.

For instance, one mother shared at the Brave Writer retreat about a kestrel nesting box her son and husband built together. The son became so immersed in this project, he learned how to hook up video cameras for live streaming to the Internet and now a birding organization is coming to “band” the family of kestrels that live in it!

Kestrel nest building, live Internet streaming, and banding take real time away from Latin roots or grammar books or the study of ancient Greek political thought. Not only that, just because this son became a mini expert in one aspect of birding doesn’t mean he is destined for ornithology as his career choice.

The experience of caring about kestrels is quite independent of scope and sequence, college entrance requirements, and grades.

Yet it is inextricably bound up in all the elements of learning—reading, study, planning, construction, caring, pondering, mulling things over, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, anticipation, predicting, sharing results, interacting with real organizations that care about the same material (in this case, birds), and the eventual satisfaction of “mastery” or accomplishment. That meta-experience (meta—meaning, the experience as template over the actual activity) of learning is what IS the education. This child is teaching himself how to learn, he’s teaching himself about the power of invested, sustained, self-directed attention in the direction of his interests and innate powers.

What couldn’t this boy do next?

And who’s to say what that will be?

There’s no need to telescope and think that the content is what mattered here. In fact, the opposite is true. What happened in this activity is that the child moved one step closer to knowing that when he wants something, he has all the powers within to make it happen.

THAT’S the goal of education. It is not the result of most traditional educations. It IS the result of many home educations, when we pause to acknowledge and value what is happening in front of our eyes.

That said: my kids never built a single thing we could photograph and frame. It’s difficult sometimes to see what’s being built.

Maybe your kids are “building” a social network online. Maybe they are “building” a mastery of their favorite book series having read it 13 times.

Maybe they are “building” muscles and skills for soccer.

Maybe they are playing chess or Wii bowling or Settlers of Catan and within each of those games, they are discovering the power of game strategy, calculated risk, the importance of details, the ability to imagine someone else’s perspectives through the possible moves they will make…

Perhaps they use one area of interest as a means to an end in another one (our favorite example: a cookie business to pay for space camp—Jacob did this at ages 11-12). He is not involved in either baking businesses nor space now.

What did he learn? That when he wants something, the power lies within him to find the means to make it happen—as he’s demonstrated through the steady stream of scholarships and opportunities he’s created for himself in his career aim to work in international human rights.

The interest of today is tied to tomorrow’s next step by virtue of the fact that that learning is stored inside a human being. That human being compiles experiences and learning opportunities into the cluster of skills necessary to flourish in the world.

The best way to prepare your child for tomorrow is to care completely about today’s happiness and interests. You do that by smiling, asking good questions, asking for permission to participate, and narrating back to the child the skills you see emerging from the investment being made. For instance, “Your dedication to beating that video game level is impressive. You’ve been steadily focused, willing to try again after repeated defeat, and you kept your cool. Wow.”

Learning is not about getting your child to a preferred future.

Learning is about your child becoming a person who can choose a future for him or herself.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Pavel Semenov | Dreamstime.com

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Movie Wednesday: Singin’ in the Rain

Singin in the Rain“Singin’ in the Rain” in the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Image by Sam Howzit (cc)

by Brave Writer alum, Kyriana Lynch

Singin’ in the Rain, the classic musical starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, was released over sixty years ago in 1952. Since then, it has become a household name as much as “bacon and eggs” (to quote the film).

The trivia about the film is abundant and oh-so-fascinating. Watch—or re-watch—the movie with the family, and discuss the trivia together!

Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds was only 19 when she began filming this movie, and it was her first major film. Prior to Singin’ in the Rain, she was a gymnast and had no dance training.

Gene Kelly, a notorious perfectionist, criticized Reynolds’ dancing ability repeatedly while filming. One day, after some harsh words, she hid beneath a piano to cry. In a twist of Hollywood fate, she was found hiding by none other than Fred Astaire, who gave her some dancing advice.

During the “Good Morning” dance number, she kept up with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor for fourteen hours of dancing, only to be carried off set with bleeding feet. Later, Kelly would say of her, “Debbie was strong as an ox and could work for hours.” However, Reynolds maintained that, “The two hardest things I ever did in my life are childbirth and ‘Singin’ In the Rain’.”

Gene Kelly

Debbie Reynolds wasn’t the only dancer having difficulties in the film. Even Gene Kelly struggled through filming the iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” scene. The scene took seven days to film, with six hours spent in the fake rain each day. Not only was the water mixed with milk to make it show better on camera, but the mixture made Kelly’s suit shrink. Even worse, the whole time while filming Kelly had a cold and a high fever.

Donald O’Connor

Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance has been described as one of the most complex numbers in cinematic history, and has never been repeated perfectly. After working himself to exhaustion filming the number, O’Connor was forced to rest for several days. Then, he learned that the film had been damaged. O’Connor had to record the entire scene all over again!

Other Trivia from the Movie

While recording the speaking voice for “The Dancing Cavalier,” it was decided that Debbie Reynolds’ speaking voice was not rich enough. Instead, the actress for Lina Lamont, Jean Hagen—who in reality had a beautiful voice—recorded the speaking voice in the scene. So in the film, Lina was dubbing Kathy who was dubbing Lina’s voice!

An initial idea for the ending featured Lina Lamont in a movie called “Jungle Princess,” where she would speak only in grunts. Also, she and Cosmo would have married.

Only two songs were written for the film: “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.” The other songs were all taken from previous MGM films. Thus, the screenwriters were given a list of songs and had to connect them into the script for the movie.

Hope you enjoyed learning these trivial tidbits! Do any of them change how you view the movie or the actors and actresses in it? Discuss your reactions with your family!

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: Makes everything better

Tuesday Teatime_JenniferWhen we have tea it is usually with our breakfast. (Notice the crazy bed hair in the pic.) We enjoy powdered doughnuts, and pastries. We do read poetry at times, but this is often when we choose to do our daily read aloud.

The funny thing is that I really intend this to be for my 10 year old, but it’s my 5 year old that begs for tea time! She wants to have tea everyday. I recently went on a family vacation and came across the most beautiful tea set in a little gift shop. I bought it to add to our excitement. Tea time has been such a fun addition to our schooling.

Tea and snacks make everything even better.


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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Top 10 Myths about Writing

Top Ten Myths

1. Writing is entirely different from speech

Not so. Speech is the source of voice—writing voice comes from being in touch with how the writer generates language and insight. These are first experienced in speech and then modified and expanded for writing. Valuing speech (even jotting some of it down for your fledgling writers) helps kids learn to value their thought lives, which in turn helps them to know what should be on the page/screen. Tell your kids that what is in their heads, what they might say aloud IS what you want to see on their papers. Once it’s there, you can mess with it.

2. Formats help kids know what and how to write.

Nope. Formats act like straight jackets. They tell children too quickly what can’t be included. Formats require a well planned outline and the ability to hold sequence and detail in the mind before writing anything at all. The best use of formats is after a period of freewriting and revising (revising the content to make it pop or feel more complete). Then the sentences can be rearranged to suit a format. But start with freedom and revise to format. Never start with format.

3. Write every day.

My revision of this idea is: Interact with writing every day. Some days read it, some days copy it in your own hand, some days use bits for dictation or word play, some days play a word game, some days revise a draft, some days edit a revised draft. And, of course, on some days, write from scratch! It’s exhausting to come up with original thought through original language every single day. Don’t require that of your kids. Engage language every day and they’ll be just fine.

4. Imitate the masters.

Imitation is challenging for 4th graders. And 12 year olds. And grown ups! The pressure to “outdo Aesop” is unnecessary. Read the masters. Use their quotable quotes for copywork and dictation. Allow their writing styles to naturally infiltrate your own. But do not deliberately try to write like your favorites (except for fun, fan fiction, or as a language play tool). You want to sound like YOU in your writing, but you also don’t mind if you pick up a bit of a JK Rowling accent or a little EB White on the side.

5. Use a thesaurus to enhance the vocabulary in a piece.

Please don’t do this for more than a word or two (best to use the thesaurus when you are trying to replace a term that repeats itself). Instead, when you see a word that is weak, consider replacing not just the word, but the sentence. Add detail, include an experience, expand the idea, create an analogy. Weak writing is not improved by better vocabulary. It is improved by more writing.

6. Adverbs add a layer of sophistication (the old “ly” words).

The best stylists advise removing every word that ends in “ly.” The use of adverbs is seen as “lazy writing.” For instance, “Instantly, she jumped from her seat.” The jumping is already an expression of “instantaneous action.” Delete the adverb, add power: “She jumped from her seat!” In academic writing, “ly” words can be covers for an explanation of the fact. “The study positively shows the effects of the drug.” Better to make it clear—are the effects positive or is the study reliable? “The study shows that the effects of the drug are positive when taken with x, y, and z” or “The study showcases the effects of the drug by using hard data, not only anecdotes.” To review: weed out adverbs to enhance the power of your writing. Ask yourself: “What do I want to say with this adverb?” Then say it!

7. There is no place for “I” in academic writing.

Not so! Ever since the revolution of postmodernity in the academy, the humanities (in particular) allow writers to indicate their “social location” (to explain who they are and how they relate to the topic for writing, if relevant). It is commonly understood today that writers bring bias and personal experience to their research. It’s important to be explicit about how those biases and experiences impact the writer’s position. The use of “I” is limited to writing about personal experience, not used for “I think” or “I believe” writing.

8. If you paraphrase, you don’t have to cite where the idea comes from.

Reverse the sentence. Paraphrasing requires citation just like direct quotes require citation. Always give credit—you can’t overdo it.

9. To grow as a writer, start your day by journaling.

Journaling is not necessary for growth in writing. Writing is. Any kind of writing. Facebook, twitter, texting, papers, stories, and journaling. The only people who should keep a journal are those who wish to. Journaling need not be done in the morning, either (what’s happened in the day to write about by 9:00a.m.?). Journaling before bed is a nicer time to record the day’s thoughts. Journaling only about special occasions, or when life is painful is equally valid to the “daily diary.” Let journaling be the individual’s choice.

10. Do not help your child write; it all must come from him/her.

This is my favorite myth to bust! No child learned to speak in isolation or without scripts given to that child to repeat. Likewise, it is entirely too challenging for children to go from barely reading and handwriting to transcribing their own thoughts all the time. It’s perfectly fine for you to jot things down for them, or to dictate their own words back to them as they write, or for the final product to be a mixture of your words and theirs. This is how every other practice in a child’s life happens—your help until they can do it alone. Writing works the same way.

Go forth and support good writing practices!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Friday Freewrite: Risk Assessment

BLM Eastern States Connects America’s Heroes with Public LandsImage by Bureau of Land Management

Lots of activities come with some amount of danger. How do you decide if something is worth the risk?

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It’s the process baby!

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 1Johannah and Noah attending a Vintage Dance

Repeat after me: process, not product.

“Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” –Charlotte Mason

Let’s notice what Charlotte did not say.

She did not say:

“Education is meeting the requirements of the Common Core.”

She did not say:

“Education is the successful achievement of degrees—first high school, then college, then graduate school if you have a TRUE education.”

She also did not say:

“Education is mastering Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.”

Moreover, she did not say:

“Education is what someone does to you by teaching Important Information through tests and grades.”

Instead, Charlotte tells us to take our eyes off “end points” and to focus on creating a rich life through shaping the atmosphere (environment), through discipline (intentionality—being conscious of learning opportunities, creating them, acting on them), through life itself (the process of being alive is our best classroom).

You are on the right track when you get off track and focus instead on the feel of your home and family vibe. Ensure that people feel heard, loved, and that their dreams and hopes matter (can be achieved).

You’re on the right track when you ebb and flow—some weeks making a “course of study” a priority in a systematic way, other weeks learning as you go guided by curiosity and enthusiasm.

You’re on the right track when you see all of life as your classroom—that the conversation about recycling plastic bags over bagels at breakfast is as important as the math pages completed before lunch.

No one “arrives” at an end point: Time stamp—EDUCATED.

Rather, we have intermittent markers that let us pause to appreciate this new place (graduated, finished a book, learned to read, understood a principle and can use it). The purpose of education, though, is to LIVE a LIFE—not to idolize the mastery of facts, figures, and theories.

That’s why I return to this mantra: It’s the process, baby. If you can let go of your need to match the state’s expectations, or your schoolish memories, or the pressure of your very academic classical homeschool community, or the stringent requirements of some important university, you can surf the waves of learning as they roll onto your shores.

Johannah and Noah Vintage Dance 3For example:

You’ll feel freer to put Vintage Dance Lessons (and distributing flyers every Monday for three hours in the snow with kids along for the ride to pay for them) ahead of history for that one six months period. The learning is in all of it—the lessons, being with adults, the history of dance, the bartering work to pay for the lessons, the music, being in the cultural center of our local community, borrowing the fancy gown for the ball, participating in the ball, watching Jane Austen films over and over again to see which dances they are performing and which ones are being learned at class, manners, exercise, being paired with a sibling and learning to work together and love each other through it…

Atmosphere: dance lessons, with adults, people who are passionate about preserving historical dance.

Discipline: weekly lessons, must memorize steps and practice, weekly distribution of flyers to pay for lessons.

Life: siblings dancing together, community supplying costumes for ball, family attending the ball to see how the two students mastered the dances, attending rehearsals with all five kids, distributing flyers with all five kids to pay for two kids, watching and learning by being in the room with the dancers, being a family that loved Vintage Dance.


Did dance go on a single transcript anywhere? No. Yet Vintage Dance still ranks as one of our top educational experiences during the homeschooling years. AND no one still dances! The kids moved on…because it’s the process, baby. Onto the next atmosphere, discipline, and life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Movie Wednesday: Anne of Green Gables

Green Gables Heritage Place, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, CanadaGreen Gables Heritage Place, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Image by Robert Linsdell (cc)

Brave Writer alum, Kyriana Lynch writes:

One of the most delightful movies from my childhood is the film series Anne of Green Gables.

At the beginning of this four-hour saga, the protagonist Anne is a spunky redheaded eleven-year-old orphan. She possesses a dreamy nature and is forever imagining things. She wishes her name was Cordelia, insists that her name should be spelled with an “e,” and abhors her red hair.

As she grows older in the story, from a child of eleven to a grown-up young lady about to begin her first job as a schoolteacher in Avonlea, she comes to accept her own appearance yet still retains her wonderful imagination and childlike faith in the beauty of the world.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the film:

“My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. That’s a sentence I read once and I say it over to comfort myself in these times that try the soul.”

“Tell me what you know about yourself.”

“Well, it really isn’t worth telling, Mrs. Cadbury, but if you let me tell you what I imagine about myself you’d find it a lot more interesting.”

“I wish I were rich and I could spend the whole summer at a hotel, eating ice cream and chicken salad.”

“You know something, Diana? We are rich. We have sixteen years to our credit, and we both have wonderful imaginations. We should be as happy as queens.”

“I promise I’ll never do it again. That’s the one good thing about me—I never do the same wrong thing twice.”

“There’s a world of difference between being called crow-head and being called carrots. I shall never forgive Gilbert Blythe. The iron has entered my soul, Diana. My mind is made up; my red hair is a curse.”

“Marilla, I thought nothing could be as bad as red hair. Green is ten times worse.”

Anne of Green Gables is truly a wonderful movie to watch with the whole family. If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it from the library (or, better yet, buy it to view again and again) and set aside a rainy afternoon to watch the movie. You’ll fall in love with Anne and her sweet sayings and hilarious adventures!

Anne of Green Gables (affiliate link) is a Canadian television mini-series released in 1985. Directed by Kevin Sullivan, Anne of Green Gables is set at the end of the Victorian Era in the early 1900s. It was filmed where its author, Lucy Maude Montgomery, set the original novel—on the scenic Prince Edward Island in Canada.

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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