When I was figuring out how I was going to pull off this whole homeschooling thing, I was most nervous about choosing and implementing a writing curriculum. I knew what I didn’t like about my son’s writing program when he was in traditional school last year and I knew I wanted something more creative, but I didn’t know how to do that or where to go. I am happy to say that we found a language arts program that feels like home and I will be talking about that in this blog post.
Before I get into the details of how we are implementing a rich language arts program I want to share something that weighed heavy on me last year. We went on a family vacation during the regular school year and while we were on our vacation, my son took polaroid photos each day and wrote pages about what we did. The total book was 11 pages! This was not a school assignment to do while we were gone but something he did all on his own. And let me tell you - he was SO proud! He wanted to show his book to his teacher so he brought it in to school when we got back. When he came home it had corrections on EVERY.SINGLE.PAGE. My heart sank. My heart is sinking now just looking at this again. I did express my disappointment to the school but I was told that since it wasn’t a bound book it was acceptable for the teacher to mark it up. I really don’t know how to follow up that last sentence because it still shocks me to this day. As the year went on, I saw my son write less and less on his own. We used to write books together all the time - he would make up stories and write poems and he loved getting his ideas on paper. But I saw he just didn’t have that joy anymore and it’s obvious to me now that it’s because he was afraid. When you are afraid of making a mistake it’s no longer freeing and fun.
Enter Bravewriter. I can’t even put to words how grateful I am for Julie Bogart and her amazing Braverwriter program. With this program, creative writing and a love of literature has come back into our lives. From the Braver Writer website - “Brave Writer teaches parents how to be partners to their children so that a child’s sophisticated verbal language continues to grow even while a child’s spelling and punctuation skills lag behind. We use processes to help children grow as thinkers, and therefore, writers.” One of the most important things I want for my kids is for them to be thinkers - not information regurgitators - so when I read that last sentence I was sold.
In the last couple months we’ve completed so many fun literary exercises. He’s written alliterations, acrostic poems and limericks. We practice writing with the five senses which lead to some very fun and creative paragraphs. He rewrote the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the woodcutter’s point of view and our big project this semester was creating a book of Native American stories with illustrations. I put some of my favorite examples in the slideshow below.
We also do freewriting as part of our routine. This is another Bravewriter concept where kids are given the freedom to write whatever they want for however long they want and as parents we accept and praise that effort no matter how big or small. I don’t set a specific day or time for freewriting. Instead I will catch him in the act of excitingly telling me about a dream, story or idea and offer that as a freewrite activity to him. Usually he is so jazzed about whatever is in his head that when I encourage him to write it down he is very eager to put it to paper. Some of my favorite journal entries he has written these past couple months are
a detailed description of his future house
a spinoff of Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs where he invented a machine that rained LEGO sets and described how it would work, what it would rain on each day, and what the town would do with all the leftover LEGO pieces
a poem about Halloween inside the outline of a flashlight
None of these were assigned by me but with homeschool he had the time/ability to work on it in the moment of inspiration. And I realize it is much the same with me and photography. I create MUCH better work when I am feeling the moment than when I am forcing myself to try and take a photo.
I’m also working hard on catching him in the act of thinking creativly about the world around him. Most recently he made a very cool and creative observation while he and his sister were reflecting light off her handheld mirror. I jumped in and told him how amazingly creative his observation was and how we really should record it. When he saw how excited I was for him he was all about writing it down and then shared it with his dad that evening.
Ok, so all this creative and fun writing is great but you might be wondering about more structured writing. In public school, a lot of time is spent learning how to write an informational paragraph with a topic sentence, a few supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. ZZZzzzzzz….. right? No interesting paragraph ever written is written in that format. I have no doubts that in the future my son will understand and be able to write in that format if need be. But to learn how to write creatively is not something that you can just pick up down the road. So that is my focus with the kids. Here is an example of a paragraph he wrote about the lunar landing during a free-writing session. He wrote this 100% percent on his own from start to finish and I just can’t get enough of it - it has suspense, it’s using creative language and sharing some of the facts he learned about the lunar landing this year. This paragraph would completely fail a state test but that is more than ok with me. I am so proud of him!
“How Armstrong Got to the Moon”
Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin took the Saturn V to the moon. 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… all engines running. Lift off we have lift off. ROAR!! Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin zoom into space. They get closer… closer… and closer to the moon. Soon enough they land on the moon. These were Armstrongs words, one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.
GRAMMAR and Mechanics
I started the year not correcting ANY of his spelling or grammar mistakes in his own righting. At the stage of writing my kids are at, the jump from thinking the thoughts in their head to transferring those thoughts through their hand and onto paper is HUGE. Just like we wouldn't ask an 18 month old baby to speak in complete sentences, we shouldn’t ask a 7 year old to not only get their thoughts transferred to paper but to do it without spelling/grammar/mechanical mistakes. I am just now starting to point out things we can edit when we review his writing - but only when I am certain he knows I value the content more than the mechanics and not on every piece that he’s written. At this stage I am not correcting every mechanical mistake in his writing - I will just point out one or two things each time.
“When beginning to use freewriting in your home, skip the editing phase (mopping up the mechanics) for a while. Begin by affirming any work that is written. If your child chooses to share his or her writing with you, enjoy it and ask for the chance to share it with the other parent or grandparent. Expand the number of people who get to enjoy your child's raw writing. After your child really believes that you value content over the mechanics, that is the time to introduce the notion of editing the writing for accuracy.”
But don’t fret my grammar loving friends! We do talk about grammar and mechanics on OTHER people’s work using the Bravewriter Arrows. In summary, each Arrow involves reading quality literature aloud and doing copywork from the text. Copywork is to be done in his best handwriting and it is there that we talk about all the grammar and mechanics like capitalization, proper nouns, adjectives, punctuation, similes, metaphors, commas, quotation marks, etc. This is mostly done in conversation and little by little things are starting to stick. His handwriting has improved because of this and the grammar lessons are slowly carrying over into his own work - all without me harping on about it.
Bravewriter is about more than just writing though. It’s about creating a language-rich environment where kids feel safe to explore free thought. It’s about letting kids know that their thoughts are valued and important. It’s about giving them confidence. There are so many aspects and ideas for how to create this sort of environment and I think all parents, regardless of how they choose to school their kids, can implement these ideas into their families. I would recommend listening to Julie’s podcast and digging into her website for more information.
I’ve loved bringing fun with language into our everyday lives. Some of the fun things we do to create a language-rich environment are
lots of reading aloud - not just chapter books but I like to read aloud from picture books, non-fiction books, biographies, encyclopedia pages, poetry, folktales, magazines, etc. etc.
poetry tea parties
verbally re-imagining the story line - what if something different happened? what if the story took place in a different setting? we don’t do this for every book we read - just here and there
playing verbal word games - we play rhyming games and my kids current favorite is they each take turns saying one word at a time until they come up with a silly sentence.
playing physical word games like Mad Libs, Bananagrams, and making sentences with word magnets on the fridge
asking lots of questions - “what do you think….?” “would you rather…?” etc
looking up answers to their hard questions together
going to the library… a LOT
listening to audio books
giving them time to freeplay and imagine
going to museums and plays
So far this is really working for us. Most of it doesn’t feel like school at all - or at least school as I knew it. We are truly having so much fun and going into the next semester I’m going to keep a lot of what we’ve been doing the same. Our next big writing project will involve his current favorite things - LEGOS and Star Wars and my polaroid camera and we are really excited about it. I also bought him a nice notebook that he will be using as his “list notebook”. I listened to a recent Bravewriter podcast where Julie talked about list-making and it made total sense to me. He is very excited about this and already got started. My neighbor also gave me a fantastic idea that her and her daughter are doing that I am going to incorporate. They take turns asking and answering questions to each other in a journal. I loved this idea and am very excited to do this with my kids. We are also going to start a very small book club with his friend who loves to read.
I have a very loose schedule in my mind for how I all this into our schooling.
copywork and dictation - 2-3x a week
list entry or Q&A journal entry - 1x a week
freewrite or creative writing exercise - 1x a week
daily reading and daily conversations
word game boredom busters
2x a month have a poetry tea party or book club with friends
This is such a long blog post - if you stuck through to the end THANK YOU! I will be working on a post for our other subjects soon and if you have any questions/comments/suggestions PLEASE reach out!