Tag Archives: partnership writing

School Projects

Back more than two months ago, I promised the blog that there would be another post about projects and school.  Then, for some reason, I stalled.  It’s not that I didn’t think about it.  I started this post a half dozen times, but I have really struggled to figure out what I wanted to say about this exactly.

Here is what I know.  I know that we’re going to leave formal curricula behind for content subjects to be more project based.  That means math stays and if we decide we need to pick up grammar or logic or anything again, which we have done off and on, then we will, but goodbye to having history, geography, art, and science plans.  We’ve always been loose and living book based with those, but we’re headed out into the sea without a rough map for at least a couple of years.  Some of that will be more kid driven than learning we’ve done in the past, not so much because I didn’t believe in child-led learning before, but because I had two kids who were previously much less interested in engaging in it.  I think having a bit of that rough map in their heads now has made them feel they can at least pick a general direction in which to head.

I also know that pushing forward with some level of standards for learning is also important to me.  It’s important to me that the kids keep practicing writing, keep practicing revising, and keep improving their organization.  I know that while I want learning to be process oriented, I want it to have rules and boundaries.  Life has rules and boundaries.  I believe that “do whatever” is a dead end of a guideline for most people.  People on the whole do better with challenges and the greatest creativity can come from having more rules, not less.  So where this all leads me is that I want there to be a sense that some projects have to be revised and changed and remade sometimes to fit the rules.  Not that every project must fit in a neat box or even be completed, but that some must.  Stories must make sense, imaginary worlds must seem believable, science experiments must follow the scientific method, technology projects must have an end goal.

One of my biggest inspirations in heading more into projects for school has been Partnership Writing from Brave Writer.  It’s not so much more than suggestions for writing projects, most of which we’ve now completed.  However, in implementing these, we’ve always taken several detours and side trips.  The kids have had their own interpretations and we’ve had to negotiate the end products.  It’s been mostly a positive experience for all of us and I’d like us to be focused around that sort of learning, with the kids slowly taking the reins more and more, over the next couple of years.

photo (1)I’ve blogged about some of our Partnership Writing projects in the past, such as the secret codes, the timeline, the homophones, and the mythology lapbooks.  I’ll add here some images of the catalog sales project.  This was a perfect example of how the kids took the project and really took charge of it.  It was originally designed to be about an historical period, but Mushroom decided his catalog was going to be for many thousands of years in the future, when the sun was about to become a red giant and humans were fleeing to one of the moons of Saturn with the help of special portal technology.  BalletBoy decided to do his catalog for an undersea world where fish apparently shop in catalogs.  I was happy to accommodate these creative ideas.

photo 2 (10)On the other hand, the imaginary
islands project was actually much more difficult for us.  We used the book
Where on Earth?
as inspiration for drawing maps of the imaginary island chains the kids invented.  However, we repeatedly ran into trouble as the kids drew their maps.  You can’t have average lifespan be 25, or, at least, not without an explanation.  And you can’t have extremely rich areas woven in with extremely poor ones all over your island, at least, again, not without an explanation or a story to tell about why.  It’s your imaginary world, but it has to make sense and tell a story.  Getting to that story without feeling like I was just outright overruling them was incredibly tricky.  This was by far the most difficult of the Partnership Writing projects.  Not only was it a supersized one (the schedule allows for it to take an extra month) but it presented more thinking problems than any of the other projects.

photo 1 (10)

We encountered a lot of the same problems when we took on another project that wasn’t a Brave Writer one, this time focusing on math.  We drew from the book Designing Playgrounds from the Math Projects Series in order to study playground design, then propose and design our own playgrounds.  In the end, this was a really fun project.  I liked the build up steps suggested in the book, in particular going to an actual playground and keeping track of what types of activities kids engaged in most often as well as using pattern blocks to think about space on a grid before actually doing any freehand drawings or designs.  There was a lot of really great complex measuring involved in this project, as well as a lot of creativity.  It was really perfect.

photo 2 (11)

Except that we struggled again when things needed to make sense.  The final step of the project involved making models, but it was very difficult to understand that a tiny block was a pretty large piece of play equipment and BalletBoy in particular seemed to feel that building any element to scale was going to completely squelch his creativity.  But if the models didn’t represent semi-accurate scale, then one of the goals of the project, since it was so focused on math, seemed to have gone out the window.  I didn’t feel like letting that go was acceptable in this case.  I got a very good suggestion for guiding the kids through this in the future, which was to think of it like writing and do more first drafts before making the final project.  We did do a good bit of playing around, but more in two dimensions than with modeling, so I think we should have given more time for that.  In the end, we all came to agreement and the final products looked really impressive.  The kids wrote up project proposals as if they were the contractors submitting their bids and they made little drawings and wrote headlines for imaginary newspaper articles about the opening of their new playgrounds.  As you can see above, BalletBoy’s featured a play village, a shallow water play area, and a large climbing feature inside a pretend mine.  Mushroom’s, which is below, was focused on ziplines, a climbing feature, a sandpit in the center, and a huge maze which would have puzzles on the walls and multiple entrances.

photo 1 (11)




I know I keep posting about Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing, but it has been so much fun and such a good purchase.  If anyone out there is new to Brave Writer or got The Writer’s Jungle and has no idea what to do next, it’s a really practical set of projects for kids who can write a little, but aren’t yet able to just sit down and churn out something without help.

We tackled the second project, making a personal timeline, and it ended up taking a month and then some.  That’s because from the first moment that I introduced the project, the kids had their own ideas about what sort of things they would ask the grandparents and put on their timeline.

First, the kids brainstormed and wrote down interview questions, which I typed up for them.  I suggested that they interview the Husband and me and perhaps a grandparent or two, but they insisted on doing all five grandparents as well as one of the great-grandparents.  Not only that, but the questions they had were unexpected, like, “What was the worst job you ever had?” and “What was your scariest moment?”  Not exactly timeline of life events material.  However, the kids pushed through even though it took quite awhile and a lot of slow note taking.  It was very special to see them interview all those people.  When they interviewed their great-grandmother, they discovered that her “best” job was almost the same job that was their grandfather’s “worst.”  It was a job they both had as teens in a local peanut factory.  Even if much of the information wasn’t timeline type stuff, it was really cool to see them ask good questions and hear family stories.

Next, we chose pictures and picked which events would actually end up on the timeline.  I made post-it notes with the events and let the kids arrange them, then write them in.  We had to do some math to figure out the scale for the timeline.  It ended up in three sections with three different colors of paper for each one: before I was born (the past), my life (the present), and what I might do in the rest of my life (the future).

It was fascinating to see what sort of things the kids think their future holds.  Both of them put appearing on Jeopardy! as a future life event.  Mushroom planned to be a movie star, but later in life, perhaps like his father, who only started acting recently.  BalletBoy had his future very mapped out, but couldn’t come up with anything after age 30 except that he plans to die at age 89.

BalletBoy cracked me up many times during this project.  At one point, he told a stuck Mushroom, “You can put anything for the future, even something like invent a time machine.  Ooh!  I’m putting that on mine!”  At age 30, BalletBoy plans to invent his time machine.  Later, as he pasted on photos he asked me if he could include photos of himself making the timeline, just to keep it really up to date.

So yet another Partnership Writing project didn’t go quite as scripted, but was a blast to do and I’m thrilled with the results.  There was a huge amount of writing for the kids with this project.  They wrote questions, their own life events, their future life events, notes for all eight of the interviews they did, and then finally wrote on the final timeline and titled it.  It was an impressive amount of work.

When we come back from break and start fourth grade at the end of September, I’ll be glad to have what looks like a much lower key project with the Homonyms mini-book next.

More Secret Codes

Okay, I promise, my last gushing review of Brave Writer’s new Partnership Writing, but we really did have such fun doing the first project about secret codes.

I checked out several secret code books from the library.  For the most part, they were all the same, just from different eras and with slight variations.  We found Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janeczko to be the most useful.  I liked that there were anecdotes from history about secret codes, several of which we read aloud.  We also found some good extensions for the project in here for once we finished all the suggested avenues in Partnership Writing.

We did two that I thought were worth sharing.  First, I left the kids a message in cipher for them to find in the morning, along with several clues on how to solve it.  It told them where to find special strawberry muffins.  Since this was basically a cryptoquote, I left the book open to a page with this information about the most common letters, short words, double letters and so forth in English.  It took them a long time, but they did decipher it.  I was really proud of their persistence.  And while it was a tough activity and not for every kid at this stage of writing, I thought it involved a lot of good language thinking.  Enough that we might try it again with another baked good and a new hiding place at some point.


Next, after doing a book cipher that was suggested in Partnership Writing, we took it to another level by writing the plain text ourselves.  Mushroom and BalletBoy each came up with a message to hide in a letter.  They wrote the letters and scattered the words for the secret message inside them.  I helped them edit for spelling, then we typed them up.  Then, they carefully cut out a special key for reading the letter.  When you lay the key on top of the letter, it reveals the secret message with carefully cut out holes.


To create the key, I printed two copies of the letter in a nice, large type.  The first one was set aside.  The second one was taped to a sheet of blank paper that would become the key.  We used an x-acto knife to cut out the words of the message from the letter.  When we separated the letter copy from the blank paper, the blank paper became the key and the cut up letter went to the recycle bin.


We never do anything quite the way it’s proscribed, so we didn’t follow the routine in Partnership Writing to the letter.  However, we had a blast.  We’ll take a week or so off and just continue our routine of dictations, poetry teas, narrations, and reading then dive into the next project.

Secret Codes

Some of you probably know that a new Brave Writer product just came out called Partnership Writing.  We got it and dove right in.  It’s on sale until the end of June, at which point the price goes up a bit, so if you’re considering it, then I say go ahead.

It’s intended for kids age 9-10, but I found that my still 8 year-olds are the perfect stage for the projects.  The first half of the book covers some familiar ground to anyone who has already read The Writer’s Jungle.  It explains narrations, poetry teas, movie times and other Brave Writer lifestyle ideas.  The second half lays out ten writing projects.  Some of them involve very light writing, like this first one, but others are more involved.  All of them are creative and fun.

We had just finished a letter writing project, so we were ready for something new and started up on the secret codes project right away and have done several activities with it.  This also allowed us to pull out a fun resource we hadn’t used in a long time: Secret Code cards from Usborne.  These are really fun and have dozens of different types of secret codes for kids to decipher that range from easy to very difficult.

BalletBoy writes a treasure hunt in secret code.

So far, our favorite part of the secret codes project has been making a treasure hunt in a cipher.  Here’s one of those activities that’s made for twins, as BalletBoy and Mushroom made hunts for each other.  Clue treasure hunts have been a learning staple of our household for a long time.  When the boys were small, we used them as a way to practice reading, then as they got older and could write them, we used them as a way of practicing writing.  We moved from reading clues like, “tub” and “hat” to clues like “look inside the coldest place in the house.”  Doing a hunt in a secret code was a new twist though.

Mushroom decodes the treasure hunt.
Mushroom decodes the treasure hunt.

We’re looking forward to tackling the rest of these projects as well.  Earlier in the year, I had said the writing project was the Brave Writer piece that was the most uneven for us.  We got much better about it by using opportunities like letter writing, local essay contests, and stories the kids have started as our projects, but I’m glad to have a set of easy, fun projects for us to do.