Tag Archives: bravewriter

More Poetry Tea Books and some Apple Cake

I got lovely suggestions last time I posted about our poetry tea books and have taken more books out so I’m doing another post of them.  In case you’re curious, here’s the first post of books we were using and here’s the first pictures of one of our first poetry teas, where we almost always drink lemonade, by the way.

The Barefoot Book of Poetry
What a great collection!  A couple of people suggested it to me and I’m very glad I found it at the library.  It may be the one we actually buy.  The poems are all serious, classic poems carefully chosen for kids and with lovely art to go with them.  The book just feels lush and fun.

The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry
We kept resisting this collection and I’m not even sure why anymore.  It is a little young looking, but it has a nice mix of “adult” and “kid” poetry and nice illustrations by a variety of famous illustrators.

Soup for Breakfast by Calef Brown
Calef Brown’s illustrations are goofy and detailed and his poetry plays with silly words and amusing rhymes in a way that will appeal to kids to like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but is definitely its own thing.  We also really enjoyed his Halloween and mythology volumes of poetry.

Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom
What a lovely collection this is!  We took it out from the library, but I might have to buy it.  The Meilo So illustrations are lovely and the poems range from amusing to serious in all different styles.  This is just the sort of collection I love because we all enjoy reading from it.  Animals are also obviously a good subject for kids and poetry.

Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
We’ve had a few of these volumes out from the library now and I really like them.  The children are less enthused, but I’m hoping we’ll find more and I’ll keep at them.  Each one has some commentary about the poems, which we don’t need at this stage, as well as a small selection of poems by famous poets chosen for younger readers with illustrations.

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
These are all reverso poems (the poem is read forwards and backwards) about fairy tales, with bright, appealing illustrations.  It was a big picture book hit a few years ago and I had not looked at it since then, but was happy to rediscover it for poetry teas.  The kids were fascinated by the reverso forms.

City I Love by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Forget nature poems!  Sometimes it’s just nice to let my city kids appreciate the idea of urban.  I love the way this book celebrates a variety of cities in a variety of ways.

We have had so many quiet benefits from doing poetry teas regularly.  The table gets cleared off properly.  The Husband joins us for school and food.  I get to hear the kids, especially Mushroom, read aloud and see how they’re reading is going more.

Most importantly, I am forced to bake at least once a week, usually with the kids.  As we picked about forty pounds of apples (yes, that’s right, forty), I’m on my third apple cake, though this week’s was the first one for poetry tea time.  Recipe?  Here you go.

1 1/2 c. sugar
6 oz cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 c. sugar combined with 2 tsp. cinnamon

* Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease or spray a round bundt style springform pan.  This cake is so moist that you need the kind that comes apart.

* Cream the sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla together.

* Add the eggs.

* Add the flour, powder and salt.

* In a separate bowl, coat the chopped apples with about half of the cinnamon sugar mix then add it to the batter.

* Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle the remainder of the cinnamon sugar mix on top.

* Bake for about one hour.


Poetry Books for Tea Time

Since we’ve been doing poetry teas…  or poetry lemonades…  Bravewriter style, we’ve had a lot more poetry books out from the library than ever before.  I thought I’d share the ones that have resonated.  Anything we get has to be accessible because the kids pick up the poetry books and just read whatever.  It has to be something they can read aloud with confidence.

  Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems fo Children an... Cover Art Nonsense Poems (Dover Children's Thrift Classics) (Paperback) ~ ... Cover Art

Obviously, they tend toward the funny poems, but that’s fine as sometimes funny poems are good too.  Some of the funny books we’ve enjoyed best have been Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and the book of his work that was published posthumously last year, Every Thing on It.  Jack Prelutsky’s big compendiums New Kid on the Block and A Pizza the Size of the Sun have also been mainstays.  Finally, if you don’t know Judith Viorst’s poetry, then you absolutely should.  We’ve had Sad Underwear and Other Complications as well as If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries out from the library repeatedly.  Finally, we have some Edward Lear, which has made nice story poems, though so far only the adults have braved reading them.  I think the children are intimidated by the length, but they’ve enjoyed listening.


For more serious fare, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes worked well.  The poems are short but good for ruminating and appreciating language.  Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise, which won a Newbery Award many years ago, is another that’s good.  The poems are meant to be read by two people, which makes them great for a poetry social.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses seems to be an inevitable poetry book in a household.  Finally, we had a lovely old copy of a book called Hist Wist by e.e. cummings that includes several of his poems chosen for children.  It’s apparently very out of print, but it’s a nice one.  I’d like to find more books like this of poems of individual great adult poets chosen for children.


Finally, the collections are important.  We have some little kid ones that the kids keep rereading, which is cute.  Also, I have some from my childhood.  And we keep taking some out of the library, like Sing a Song of Popcorn  and The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, which are both fine.  I haven’t found one we just adore quite yet though.

If you’re also doing poetry teas, what books do you have strewn on your table?

Language Arts

Bravewriter inspired me to make more of a language arts routine, and we’ve been slowly implementing different elements of that.  It’s mostly things we were doing already, but having more of a routine for some elements has really helped me feel like we’re moving forward and “doing something” for writing, in particular.  I’m sure it doesn’t hurt either that both Mushroom and BalletBoy have reached a sort of tipping point with writing fluency and, in BalletBoy’s case, spelling so they can easily write a full page in their composition books.

Language arts is such a gooey, mushy concept with so many different pieces that it’s enough to drive someone crazy.  There’s handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, poetry, literature, reading mechanics, reading comprehension, creative writing, and the list could go on.  There aren’t a lot of programs that cover all the elements together, making it feel like you have to have a dozen different things for it.  I like that Bravewriter has helped me calm that instinct down a great deal.  As of now, we have Spelling Plus, which I have mostly on hold, though we’ll pick it back up again before too long.  Both kids are finishing up formal phonics learning with Explode the Code (though BalletBoy should finish the last book before the autumn).  I might do MCT’s Grammar Island for a short term grammar study in the fall.  But other than that, we’re just following a routine.

Here’s what language arts looks like around here lately:

Monday: copywork or dictation
Tuesday: writing projects
Wednesday: poetry lemonade social
Thursday: written narration, usually for history or science
Friday: freewriting

Everyday: evening read aloud chapter books, independent free reading
As it occurs: Mad Libs, movies, new vocabulary from books, audiobooks in the car, casual discussions about literary elements and plots

As we’ve eased into this schedule, I’m feeling good about it.  We’ve been alternating copywork and dictation mostly and I’ve been taking the passages mostly from our current read alouds.  It’s the thing that is most likely to meet with resistance, though both kids are improving at it.  We’ve been uneven with projects.  Bravewriter suggests one per month and we haven’t quite done that, but both kids are engaged in writing fan fiction (for The Mighty B strangely enough in Mushroom’s case) and have started small blogs about their passions.  Because of our schedule, Wednesday works better for poetry for us, and we’re not really tea drinkers so we have lemonade in wine glasses, which is about as fancy as I can muster.

A picture the Husband snapped of our poetry lemonade social. With brownies. We don’t have nice china, but I do bring out the nice napkins.

One thing I’m trying to work on for myself is bringing conversations about literature and story into a more casual, book club style.  We’ve run through a slew of novels with strong first person voice lately (The Great BrainOur Only May Amelia, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg…) so I’ve been pointing out a lot about voice lately, trying to get the kids to discuss.  And I’ve been trying to let myself pause more and allow Mushroom to share his joy when he recognizes foreshadowing (he’s quite good at realizing that ominous things are about to happen in a novel) and then to name it as such.  I feel like this is the way the kids will really learn how to appreciate literature, by talking about it and learning how to do that in a casual way.

When I wrote a few months ago about Bravewriter, I said I was definitely still in the honeymoon phase with it.  I can’t say if I still am or not, but if so, at least it’s a long honeymoon.  I’m at last feeling like language arts is something that is fun and easy in our homeschool and not something I need to worry about so much.

Poetry Lemonade Social

One of the Bravewriter practices, one that people who don’t even use Bravewriter do, is the Poetry Tea Times.  Once a week, you pull out books of poetry, take out the good china, put out a treat to eat, and read poetry while sipping your tea.  A bunch of blogs I love have done a post like this in the last couple of months and I thought I’d post one of ours.

We don’t have any fancy tea china and we don’t like tea that much, but we do like pink lemonade and have wine glasses, which are automatically fancy if you’re seven years old.  I made homemade cookies and cut up fruit.  It felt like a very summery poetry time.

This happened to be last week and we were all grieving for Maurice Sendak.  Among other things like some ee cummings and plenty of Shel Silverstein, I think the entire Nutshell Library was deemed poetry and read aloud.  I have been getting the kids to pick out a single book of poetry at the library.  Mushroom read several from the book he chose, Monumental Verses, which featured different types of poems about famous world monuments.

The kids have both been begging to do this more often.  Not just for the cookies either, as they can’t stop asking to read just one more poem.

BalletBoy Writes…

Now that we’re finally back to schooling, I had the kids pick photos from our Africa trip they wanted to write about.  BalletBoy chose to write about this picture of us about to zip line across the Zambezi Gorge.

Here’s what he originally wrote:

one day in Zimbobwe we went on a zipline. it was not scary. It was really fun. you have to get in a jacket because the jacket cunexs to the harnes. it was amazing.

We still need to work on that capitalization, huh?  Otherwise, though, I’m so proud of his writing.  It’s readable, the spelling is decent, and it only takes him a few completely drama-free minutes.  The only thing he asked was how to make “really” say “reeeeaallly” and I suggested underlining.

However, he didn’t want to add a thing.  Not only that, but he was resistant to changing anything any of his photo freewrites.  As I didn’t give him a formula, he invented his own.  Every single photo freewriting he did began with some variation on the same phrase, “One day in Africa…” and ended with, “It was amazing.”  When I gently tried suggesting some alternate beginnings for some of the paragraphs he wrote, he said, “But, Farrar, I’m not writing that. I’m a ‘One day’ writer.  You know, one day I did this or that.”  Oh my.

So, trying to follow the Bravewriter system, I worked on revising it with him and we focused on adding details about the senses.  What did he see, feel, smell, taste and hear?  BalletBoy has never loved doing oral narrations.  Me clicking away on the computer as he talks is always an inhibiting distraction that he’s never quite learned to put up with.  However, he was much more okay with me writing on his paper with notes that he could arrange.  Here’s the revised version once we had corrected the capitalization and spelling together and changed just a couple of details:

One day in Zimbabwe, we went on a zip line across Victoria Falls. It was not scary. It was really fun. You have to get in a jacket because the jacket connects to the harness. I heard the waterfall and the river. It felt kind of like falling, but I knew I wasn’t. The zip line you hold is smooth and hard. I held it for the whole time. I heard a click that scared Farrar. It budged me to the side. I felt a breeze. I saw a little bit of the waterfall, the rocks, the shore of the river, and the other side of the zip line, which is in Zambia. At the end, the worker came down the zip line to get us. I’m glad I did it.

It still starts, “One day…” but it’s obviously better this way.  I think it’s rather good for a seven year-old.  He grinned when we read it at the end, so I know he felt proud too.

Hallelujah, I Found a Language Arts Program I Actually Like!

If you know me, you know I’m incredibly, annoyingly opinionated.  I usually know what I think.  And having written and taught writing at the secondary level for years, I had some opinions about writing – how to teach it, what was really important, what my philosophy was and so forth.

Then something dreadful happened.  I had to teach my own young children to write.

And slowly, over the course of the last three years, I’ve become more and more at sea.  I honestly was at the point where I didn’t know what in the world I thought.  I knew that there were some resources that we had tried or looked at that I didn’t like and a few that I did.  I saw, after fighting it for ages, that copywork, narration and dictation were useful for the kids, but I couldn’t fit them into any larger philosophical framework that satisfied me.  There were a lot of things I had believed that I wasn’t even sure were true anymore.

What I really wanted was a book or a curriculum that would make me feel about teaching writing the way something like Bird by Bird or If You Want to Write makes me feel about writing itself.  Yet every time I tried to read anything, it either didn’t resonate with my experiences as a writer or as a writing teacher or it made me want to throw things.

And then, a little more than a week ago, I heard Julie Bogart speak.  Can I just say, I think I have a little homeschool crush on her now.  Julie Bogart is the author of The Writer’s Jungle, which is the foundation of the Bravewriter program.  I had looked at Bravewriter before and couldn’t figure it out (more on that if you scroll down a little ways) and it’s not cheap enough to just try, so it remained something I had heard was good, not something I knew anything much about.

Practically everything Julie Bogart said in her talk and her book is either stuff I used to believe, say and do or new ideas that really resonated with me.  The Writer’s Jungle is exactly that book I was looking for that would make me feel about teaching writing the way good books about writing make me feel about writing itself.  It made me feel more confident in my kids, myself, and in my end goals, which are much more in keeping with Bravewriter’s goals, than any other method or curriculum with which I’ve flirted.  The end goal of the Bravewriter program is to create kids who like writing, aren’t intimidated by it and have lifelong writing skills, which are not necessarily the same as academic writing skills.

I’m still such a jumble of thoughts, that I’m just going to list some of the notes I’ve jotted down as I read her book and listened to her talk.

  • Create routines, not schedules (Advice I’ve always followed and given in regards to practically every other aspect of homeschooling!  Why was this so hard to envision for writing and language arts?)
  • Be your child’s ally and supporter for writing.  Believe your child will be able to write.  Make writing feel safe.
  • It can all be fixed later in the teen years.  (Having taught some abysmal teen writers who were able to turn around and write solid, if not award-winning, essays, I always used to believe this and somehow lost sight of it in the last three years.)
  • Creating a language-rich environment by reading good books and appreciating words is more important that doing grammar lessons for making good writers.
  • Writing daily isn’t important.
  • Getting kids to write about what they’re passionate about is important, but giving them vague open-ended assignments isn’t the way to do it (as in, “write about your favorite…” kinds of assignments, which make kids feel at sea about what to do).
  • Don’t confuse revision with editing for mechanics.
  • Don’t be afraid to help kids.  It’s scaffolding, not cheating!

Before I go any further, let me tell you that I had heard about Bravewriter, looked at the website, and not been able to figure out what in the world you were even buying if you purchased it.  And I’ll just say from the get go that despite how much I am liking this, I don’t know that I can justify the expense at all.  It’s very expensive for a program that relies on you as the parent to do so much of the planning and implementing.  They support the program and Julie Bogart says she emails with parents constantly.  However, other curriculum authors do the same for much, much less.  It does go on sale at HSBC periodically, helping ease the price a good bit.  So to help you out, here’s what I now understand are the purchasable elements that I figured out:

  • The Writer’s Jungle is just a book (though bound in a big binder if you buy the hard copy) about the philosophy of the program, though it contains lots of examples, assignments and even schedules.
  • The Wand is a thin supplement of mostly copywork and narration exercises for K-2nd grade.  If you subscribe, they send you one for each month.  There are three levels in The Wand.
  • The Arrow is a thin supplement for grades 3-8 that shows how to make loose lessons around a single read aloud book.  There is dictation, a literary element to discuss and a writing assignment.  If you subscribe, they also send you one for each month.  However, if you, like me, have already read half the books for the year, you can pick and choose back issues to buy and use instead.
  • Bravewriter also offers a book about high school writing and an ever-changing slate of online courses for kids grades 3 and up.

This is absolutely not an open and go program like, well, practically any of the other writing programs out there.  If you want a strong grammar program, consider Michael Clay Thomas.  If you want open and go copywork and grammar, consider First Language Lessons and Writing With Ease.  If you want a workbook style program consider Evan-Moor’s Six Trait Daily Writing or Winning With Writing.  I could keep going suggesting other things I’ve looked at and been unsatisfied by that fall into these categories.

But if you want an approach that you tailor for your child, then this could be it.  They literally call it the “Bravewriter lifestyle,” which initially kind of turned me off, but having read about it more now, I see what they’re trying to get at.  It’s about making those routines instead of schedules.  The most famous of these is the “Tuesday Tea and Poetry” that has gained popularity among a lot of homeschoolers, but there are others, such as designating days to do different types of writing and reading assignments.

I’m obviously still in the honeymoon phase with this.  I needed something that helped me integrate these old-fashioned basics of copywork, narration and dictation along with the ideas I had formed in my writing and teaching life over the years.  I’ll let you know how implementing it all goes.  However, I feel more assured than I have about anything else we’ve tried with writing.  I think step one in my detox will have to be stopping reading all internet discussions of the “right” way to teach writing.