At the beginning of our homeschool journey, I realized that things were not going the way I wanted. I had envisioned this happy homeschool full of fun, field trips, learning, and togetherness. I had researched all the homeschooling methods, read dozens of curriculum reviews, and bookmarked page after page of homeschooler bloggers. I spent hours that summer putting all the lesson plans into a software program I had used during my teaching years. I had each day laid out with breaks smattered throughout.
I had a plan – a beautiful, detailed, typed-out plan.
It was fail-proof.
That is – until it failed.
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I wasn’t going to let a little failure derail my happy homeschool vision. So, I threw out half the curriculum and started over. I jumped back on the horse and came up with a NEW beautiful, detailed, typed-out plan. This plan was destined to succeed. And it did – sort of.
We managed to get through the year, but some days were touch-and-go. We had fun, field trips, learning, and togetherness, but they weren’t often, and they weren’t always at the same time. I realized I had lost my joy in the idea of homeschooling and I feared my children had, too.
So, I did what any determined homeschool mom would do, and I began to research how to solve my problem. I came across the Home Education Council of America‘s Not Back to School Summit. As a member of HECOA and a fan of webinars on homeschooling, I was looking forward to hearing the different speakers. Little did I know that one seemingly simple idea by a writing expert would turn my thinking upside-down (or perhaps right-side up).
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The Brave Writer Language Arts Program
The speaker was the fabulous Julie Bogart, the founder of Brave Writer. I was initially interested in her talk because I have a “reluctant writer.” I say reluctant, but that sounds a bit mild. She refused to write more than one or two sentences for any assignment. I was frustrated and convinced I was failing at keeping my child from becoming an illiterate adult who would live with me into her 30’s and never be able to hold down a job. But, I digress.
I had already decided that I needed to toss our grammar program for a new, more relaxed, lifestyle approach to language arts. Brave Writer seemed to be the answer to my problem. So, I began following Julie on Periscope and absorbing everything she said. I purchased The Writer’s Jungle, the centerpiece of the Brave Writer program, and read it cover-to-cover. We began implementing Free Writes and adding the Arrow as our new grammar and spelling.
Julie Bogart and the amazing Brave Writer team brought new life to our language arts. But, slowly I began to realize that more than our language arts program had changed — our entire homeschool had changed.
The Brave Writer Lifestyle
You see, Brave Writer is more than just a language arts program. Julie designed it to be an encouragement to other homeschooling moms, and she came up with 16 different ideas that make up the philosophy. They are:
- Poetry Teatime
- Reading Aloud
- Big Juicy Conversations
- Literary Elements
- Nature Journaling
- Writing Projects
- Art Appreciation
- Movies and Television
- One on One Time
- Jot It Down
- Language Games
- Sharing Your Writing
The 16 guidelines are not meant to be implemented all-at-once or even all-at-anytime. They are suggestions to help you add some joy to your homeschool; to help you relax and reconnect with your kids.
But what does this lifestyle look like in daily life?
How can you add this philosophy to your life and bring back the joy that has been stifled from you homeschool?
There is no right way to implement the lifestyle. Each family has to come up with a plan that works for them. Some enjoy adding movies and television. Others add games to their daily life. Some moms concentrate on spending plenty of one on one time with their kids. The truth is that you have to try each out for yourself and see what sticks. Maybe your kids simply don’t love Poetry Teatime. That’s ok. However, they may love Freewriting. And while you’re finding out all these amazing things about your kids, you may discover a few new things about yourself.
My girls love Poetry Teatime. They enjoyed it when it was just us, their cocoa, and a few snacks. But when they discovered they could invite friends, Poetry Teatime jumped to a whole new level of awesome.
It all began when we decided to invite the homeschool cousins to Poetry Teatime. The problem? They lived two states away. But with modern technology, we were able to circumvent this issue and meet anyway. Thank you, FaceTime.
We met at least once a month to sip on cocoa or lemonade, eat some fun treats and read our favorite poetry. Then one day we went to visit the cousins in South Carolina, and a new magical world opened up to us — tea that was delicious and properly served.
Having Poetry Teatime in a Tea Room was beyond exciting for the girls (even those of us who are a tiny bit older). We learned what tea we actually liked, how to properly brew and serve tea, how to properly wear a hat and even, how to sit when addressing the Queen.
This year we decided to spice things up, and we added a Poetry Teatime with our homeschool group. We meet once a month at our local library. Children are encouraged to bring poems they want to share, but they are always welcome to just sit and listen while enjoying the snacks. Slowly, we have added in poetry discussions and free writes. I am simply amazed at the change that has come over some of these children. The boys who once sat in the corner giving me a look like “Mom made me come” are now sharing poems and free writing them during Poetry Teatime.
By adding themes to the Poetry Teatimes at the library, we have upped the “pixie dust” level and created an atmosphere of anticipation.
What will next month’s Poetry Teatime be like? What will the decorations be like? What type of poem will we be writing?
Now, I have the kids interested in poetry all by adding a little excitement.
Reading Aloud, Copywork and Dictation
In our home, the Brave Writer Language Arts program is implemented by family reading and self-guided reading. Each child has one novel to read that corresponds with the month’s Arrow or Quiver of Arrows. Sometimes they read to me, sometimes I read to them, and sometimes they read on their own. Unless I’m hosting the book club that month, I let them choose. However, we always have at least one, if not several, read alouds in our morning basket. Those vary with our interests. Currently, they are:
As you can see, they don’t have to match a theme, though often they follow a particular interest we have in history or literature.
Each week the children copy passages from their Arrow book into their journals while I discuss the grammar relevant to that passage (which is all very nicely laid out in the instructions). Later that week the girls will transcribe the passage using Dictation or French Dictation (a modified dictation with the passage already copied with keywords and punctuation left for the student to fill in). The girls then review and correct their own work.
This method has worked so much better for us than the traditional spelling list and weekly test. The girls understand the words and grammar in context. It makes sense to them, so they retain what they’ve learned. We still use a separate grammar program, as suggested by Julie, so that we don’t miss anything in Arrows that we might not read.
Literary Elements, Writing Projects, and Freewriting
The Literary Elements instructions included in the Arrows have been helpful to me in teaching these concepts. For example, this month we used the Literary Element of Similes. Using the Arrow, we wrote similes with different settings, characters, and plots. The girls enjoyed coming up with their own similes and trying to out-do each other.
Each month we practice writing projects. These are in Partnership Writing (other levels are Jot it Down and Faltering Ownership) and sometimes included in our Arrows. The projects can last from one to four weeks. Remember that I mentioned I have a reluctant writer? Well according to her she still “HATES WRITING!!”. However, she writes in her Partnership Writing journal each week and doesn’t even realize she is completing a writing project. Some examples include a fabulous project using codes and another with homonyms.
Freewriting has been a blessing in our homeschool. Giving my budding writers free rein over their writing has given them the freedom to express themselves and write for much longer than the mandated “5 minutes.” The rules are pretty simple. Pencils move for the entire 5 minutes (even if you are writing “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.”). You can stop at the end of the 5 minutes or keep going. You are welcome to share your Freewrite, but you also may choose not to share. Both are acceptable. Moms are encouraged to Freewrite along with their children. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are ignored for this exercise. It’s all about the storytelling.
I’m not a writing expert, but something about a timer and the freedom to write her name 100 times has given my daughter a new lease on writing. She frequently writes for much longer than 5 minutes. She has written lengthy stories with colorful descriptions, and all while convinced that she hates writing.
In good weather, we will do Nature Study around once a week. I’ll admit, we don’t do a lot of writing in our journals. We’re more of amateur artists and occasional documentors of pretty leaves and the odd shell.
Art & Music Appreciation and Shakespeare Study
We don’t study art consistently throughout the year. Art books and art cards are “strewn” throughout the house on coffee tables and in our morning basket. My girls love to go to museums and study pieces of art. I strongly encourage “field schooling” to a local museum or art gallery to expose your children to beautiful and interesting art.
Studying opera and then attending a performance of La Boheme is something we all enjoyed (well maybe not Dad as much. He hadn’t studied it with us and had to read all the subtitles).
Each spring, we begin our Shakespeare study by picking one or two plays. Since my daughters are young, we have concentrated on more of the light-hearted fare like A Midsummer Night’s Eve. They have also enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and were morbidly fascinated by Macbeth. Because the language is a bit difficult, we read excerpts from the original plays and then read abridged versions like Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers. Then we attend a live production of the play, if possible, or watch a movie version. We have also used How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.
Games have been the saving grace of the mundane winter months. The period between Christmas and the first days of Spring can drag any homeschool down. At this point, I’m ready to throw out everything and purchase a bunch of workbooks to make my life simple. Adding games to our curriculum gave us all a bit of a mental break and helped us get through the miserable winter months.
Party School and Book Clubs
But, my favorite parts of the Brave Writer Lifestyle are “Party School” and Book Clubs which aren’t one of the 16 guidelines but are definitely recommended by Julie. It is my firm belief that any time you can add food, decorations, and the occasional costume, anyone will suddenly enjoy whatever you are teaching. We add party school at the end of our history studies to celebrate the time period we just studied. We’ve added party school by simply adding a day to celebrate a holiday.
And we’ve added party school to celebrate the birthday of a beloved author.
We also have “Party School” after each Arrow book we finish. This is in the form of our Book Clubs. One of the most asked questions I get is “How do you plan book clubs?” So, here are the steps to forming a book club.
1. Decide on the type of group
I designed our first group for middle schoolers. Due to the nature of the middle school crowd, I chose to make this group for girls only. In my experience, middle schoolers are more free with their opinions when members of the opposite sex aren’t sitting around the table.
I first chose a few girls from our local homeschooling group. Our first meeting involved seven girls. Most of them had met, but few of them were friends. They gathered for tea and discussion at our Secret Garden Party. From that first book club meeting, these girls became fast friends. My plan to help my daughter build friendships with girls her age worked (and they were secretly learning from amazing literature)!
2. Invite members to join your book club
When I decided to start our second book club, I felt much more at ease with the process. I put a Facebook post on our local homeschool page. Then I started a Facebook group for the book club and referred anyone who was interested in joining.
We also invited friends who weren’t involved in our local homeschooling group to join, too. We’ve had children from as far as an hour away travel to the book club. Don’t be hesitant to ask people to join. After the first meeting, most of the students and their families were completely sold on the idea of a book club.
3. Determine the books you will read
When planning the book clubs, I tried not to specify an age. I told the parents that the book choices would be within a certain reading age level and they could determine if their child would be able to read the book alone or as a family read aloud. To help them make the decision, I refer them to the Arrow and Quiver book lists. We don’t use the current subscription for the Arrows but use the entire list of Single issues.
4. Set up a mode of communication
It’s important to be able to communicate with the parents of the book club members. As I mentioned previously, I started a closed Facebook group and added anyone who was interested in our book club. From the group, I was able to convey my ideas of what book club would be. I posted the book list, a calendar of dates and times and anything else I found relevant (like sales on books we might be using). I was also able to post events to our book club meetings and invite the group to attend.
5. Make a calendar and invite others to help plan
If I had tried to organize every book club, every month, for two groups, I would have burnt out quickly. Instead, I made a calendar of dates and times of all the book clubs for the school year. I chose the first book to read and designated myself as the host of that book club. Then I opened the calendar up to all the other moms. Each mom could choose to pick a book and a month to host. This was not a requirement, but entirely voluntary. I even offered my house as a location if a host mom didn’t want to use her home.
Once the moms who were willing to host chose their month and their book, I filled in the rest of the open spots. My goal is always to keep the book club going strong, so I’m happy to host multiple times in a year. However, I have found that the moms enjoy the “Party School” atmosphere almost as much as the kids and are eager to host.
6. Invite members to the book club
After the books, hosts, and locations were determined, I created events for each book club and invited the members of the groups. I also added a link to the book on the event page to make it easy for the parents to find the correct book. This has been especially helpful since some books have abridged and movie versions that can cause confusion.
7. Create an atmosphere of fun
Book club doesn’t have to be formal or rigid. Our book clubs are a way to have some fun as a group and expand on what the kids have read that month. Usually, the meetings start with snacks and book discussion and then end with an activity or a movie. There isn’t a strict schedule to follow. We just do what feels like a natural extension of learning.
There is no right or wrong way to host a book club. The goal is for the kids to have fun and become excited about the next book on their reading journey.
Inviting a Relaxing Atmosphere into your home with the Brave Writer Lifestyle.
This is how we implement the Brave Writer Lifestyle in our home. In your home, it may not look like this. The most important part of the Brave Writer Lifestyle is connecting with your kids and creating a relaxed, inviting atmosphere in your home. When you connect with your kids, the Big Juicy Conversations come easier and more frequently. The language of your family becomes richer.
Have questions about implementing the Brave Writer Lifestyle in your home? Comment below and I will be happy to answer.