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Jan 17

Weekly Wrap-Up

Posted on Friday, January 17, 2014


This week all of our outside activities began and vastly changed our days compared to last week.  Our learning time at home was more rushed, our afternoons busy, and this Mama was beat.

Still, we had some highlights from the week.

Sketch Tuesday

Our four-year-old joined us for Sketch Tuesday this week.  I’m hoping to keep this tradition each Tuesday, as a way to spend relaxed time together as a family after a full day out of the house on Mondays.  Also, I’ve already seen the change in my son’s fear of drawing after sketching through various assignments over the past two weeks.  Slowly, but surely, with the regular practice of drawing, he’s gaining confidence. This week’s theme was “sketch something in a bottle”.







Creative Writing

My two older girls started their writing class with author and friend, Jennifer Trafton.  This is their second year working with Jennifer for creative writing.  In their class this week they talked about the heart of a story, the important elements of a story, how to keep an idea box for stories, and then began filling up their idea box. They were overflowing with energy and imagination after class.

Jennifer offers local classes, but she’s also started online writing classes as well.

Here’s a sample piece of writing from their class last year, written by our 13-year-old:

The Shape of Me

I am a rugged silhouette
of the one whom I long
to be like.
I am a feathery column of compassion,
threatening to fall.
I am an interlaced tangle,
trying to find my way
out of the dark.
I am an eager blob,
exploring the boundaries,
trying to find
my true shape.

 A Ted Talk

We watched a Ted Talk, presented by a thirteen-year-old who calls himself a “Hackschooler”. The kids agreed with his approach to learning and it stimulated us to examine how our family is learning this year and what we want to change immediately or next Fall. But his message that our main goal in life is to “be happy” didn’t sit quite right with them.  They recognized from recent family discussions and sermons at church that our main goal is to glorify God and that can mean hardships and sacrifices.  I was glad to see that message taking root in their hearts.  As for our learning practices, there are some areas that we are happy with, and some that we’d like to tweak or overhaul altogether.


Fueled by the desire to change up our learning a bit, I downloaded a trial of Animation-ish, a program created by Peter Reynold’s company.  We tried this program last year and loved how easy it was to use, even for our  (then) seven-year-old.  This week for history our eldest is reading about an American artist from the 1800′s and instead of writing a notebooking page, she’s going to try animating what she learned instead.  I’ll post some samples next week.

Have a great weekend,

Apr 24

Creative Writing Week 3 and Word-Inspiring Books

Posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Is it really just Week 3 of Ami’s Creative Writing Class? It seems like we are further along than that, because these lessons have been packed with writing principles and activities that are certainly building my daughters’ skills.

“This author uses a cliche right here!” one calls out from the couch.

“This author uses ‘said’ every time the character speaks!” another calls out, a little disappointed.

“Listen to this passage, Mommy, the author was showing, not telling!”

“Oooh, that’s a great word, I’ll have to remember ‘despondent’ as a good word for sad,” the nine year old comments as I’m reading aloud.

This week we focused on building a thesaurus of more interesting words instead of tired words like “said” and “ate”.  We also talked about showing versus telling.  These are lessons I was still learning far into my high school years.  ”Aimee, show that your character is having an epiphany, don’t just tell us that she is, and ‘gentle’ is a very common word, look for a better word to replace it.”

Wonderful Versus Wimpy

Here are some of the “wonderful words” they found to replace “wimpy words”.

Ate-devoured, nibbled, wolfed, gorged, masticate.

Mad-enraged, vexed, boiling, infuriated.

Walk-skip, stalk, tramp, saunter

Sad-sorrowful, melancholy, heart-broken

Show Don’t Tell

After finding a few examples of how the author of our read-aloud, The Dreamer, showed that the father was angry and showed that the main character was a daydreamer, they worked on re-writing a few generic scenarios.

The Scenario 1: Her coat was dirty and small.

(The 11 year old) The sleeves of the coat went up almost to her elbows, it was caked with mud from the streets.

Scenario 2:  He was hiding the money he took from his dad’s wallet.

(The 11 year old) He heard footsteps coming toward his room.  Where should he hide the money?  He placed the money inside his shoe and waited.

Scenario 3: He was excited that it was almost time for the birthday party.

(the 9 year old) Joey swung his legs under his chair.  ”How many more minutes?” “Ten.” Ten WHOLE minutes until his friends would get here! He wondered what the presents were, a new car for his collection? A new bike? A piece of candy? Or a guitar? A guitar would be awesome, he thought.

Words, Words, Words

In The Dreamer, Neftali collects his treasured words on slips of paper and placed them in his dresser drawer.  To further bring out the discovery of words taking place in our own home, I bought a small wooden set of unpainted drawers from Michaels and set the girls to painting it.

A tree emerged, along with a bird, a two quotes from this creative writing class.

The girls have plans to sneak their words in and then we’ll read them out loud at the end of each week.

And finally, we happen to pick up a book entitled, 13 Words, at the library this week.  Written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Maira Kalman, this is a picture book about playing with unusual words.  Fifth grade was the magic year that writing captivated my heart and one of the weekly assignments I loved was to take our list of vocabulary words and somehow make them fit together in a story.  A puzzle, a mystery, a chance to play with words.  This books reminds me of that assignment.

Three other books to enjoy:

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown-this is a picture book based on the real life poet that we are currently reading about in The Dreamer.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, Pictures by Giselle Potter

Apr 13

National Poetry Month

Posted on Friday, April 13, 2012

I do love when several elements in life and homeschool collide together and enhance our experience in a way that I didn’t foresee.

Over Easter is happened with our read aloud,  Treasures in the Snow.  Our slow, delayed reading of the book meant that we ended up readng it the week approaching Easter and it fit perfectly into our discussions of sin, hearts, and Jesus.

Last spring, a spontaneous study of birds through a program at the local nature center arrived along side our study of bird and animal artist Charley Harper and study of Poetry, forming a beautiful tapestry of learning.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that these incidences seem to arrive by luck and not intellectual smarts and careful planning.

Ami’s Creative Writing class was a surprise, it certainly wasn’t on my horizon for this spring.  How could I know this past fall, that when I put The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan into our read aloud basket, I would pull it out just in time to coincide with our poetry writing. The Dreamer is  a chapter book about real life poet Pablo Neruda who loved words so much as a child he kept them on little papers in a drawer in his room and eventually his passion for words won out against his father who told him he would never amount to anything because Pablo was so absent-minded, a dreamer. (The audio of this book captures the accent and language of this Chilean poet in a way that I can’t quite do myself, though I try.)

And even though last spring we studied poetry and I knew that April was National Poetry month, I completely forgot about it until I read it on a blog last week.  A perfect fit with our writing and our read aloud!

I’m so thankful for these happy accidents, since often times my labored lists of plans only feel burdensome and forced.  I receive this month’s coincidences as a gift.

If you’d like to celebrate National Poetry Month, here are some resources for teaching poetry.

Resources for Teaching Poetry

Just One More Poetry Resource (Okay, Two)

And here are a few other posts related to poetry/writing:

The Partly Successful Poetry Lesson

When Push Comes to Shove

Creative Writing Week 1

Creative Writing Week 2

Dialogue Detectives: A Writing Exercise

Story Squares: A Project with Possibilities

Calender Idea for Writers and Young Artists

Apr 12

Creative Writing Week 2

Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012

We’ve continued along with our Creative Writing Class, lessons and materials provided by Ami at Walking by the Way, and just finished Week Two.

The girls continue to enjoy picking a quote for copywork.

“Do you want to hear the quote a picked?”


“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. By Hart Crane.”

Exploring Sensory Details

Week Two centered around sensory details.

Ami’s lessons included reading through Owl Moon, a favorite at our house.  Since it’s already a well-loved book I almost looked for a substitute for the girls, something new and fresh.  I’m so glad I was running behind and grabbed Owl Moon instead, because we had never taken the time to go page by page, picking out the words and phrases that Yolen uses to draw the reader into the experience.  It was a rich lesson, and has made subsequent readings (because it’s now on the top of the 3 year old’s list) even more engaging.

We didn’t attempt to duplicate the sensory experience mentioned in Ami’s post (which included music and spray bottles and peppermint patties). I wish we would have done something similar, a hands-on full body and senses experience, after the reading of Owl Moon, before transitioning to the sensory chart.  Instead (because school with a 3 year old present is sometimes time-sensitive) we went right to describing an object.  It took more pulling and prodding to help them make the connection from the vibrant details of Owl Moon to filling out the sensory chart based on an object instead of an event.  If I repeat these lessons with my younger crew one day, I’ll set up something at my house, or have them recall a recent event (a snowy day, a roller coaster, etc) before moving onto objects.

I did help the girls by grabbing some questions from a similar assignment in The Writer’s Jungle to aid them in brainstorming for their sensory charts.  I particularly liked the questions that helped engage their memory.  In describing the peanut butter cups, the taste reminded one child of their brother’s chocolate peanut butter, banana and marshmallow sandwiches from his recent birthday.  It reminded the other of the peanut butter eggs they get at Christmas and Easter.  Both of these details enhanced their descriptions by making them more specific and personal.

Today they each wrote poems after creating a sensory chart for their objects.  Afterward I asked my 11 year old if she would have thought of all the descriptions related to each of the senses if she hadn’t been learning about it and using the chart and she said no, that it had definitely made her poem better.

The nine year old starts all of these assignments frustrated and then she ends up with a big smile on her face at the end, so that takes some Mama Wisdom to know whether to push, and in this case, I know she loves writing and that she needs the nudge to face a challenge.

Poems from Week 2

Here are their (unrevised or edited) poems based on observing chosen objects and recording descriptions for taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight.

(the 9 year old)
Easter Lillies

The breeze blows,
a quiet, sweet, papery voice whispers
“He is risen,
He is Risen.”


Silver moonbeams
curled into Spring.


(the 11 year old)

I open the cover,
but it’s not a cover.
It’s a door leading to a new world.

I rub the pages,
smoothed by all the other hands
that have touched them.
They make a sound
like a pleasant, fluttering wind.

I smell a dusty smell,
But a dusty smell full
of story.

Mar 27

Creative Writing Week 1

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ami, from Walking By the Way and Homeschool Share, recently shared a 9 week Creative Writing course just in time to freshen up the last few months of school.

Finding the Right Way to Write

I’m passionate about writing and it’s a creative process that’s exciting to share with the kids.  I say exciting and I also mean absolutely scary.  ”Writing” and “petrified” find themselves butted together often when I talk to other homeschool moms.  We want our kids to be good writers and because most of us don’t like it or know how to do it or teach it, we turn to curriculum that spits out a very cardboard, yet properly formulated paragraph.

I saw it with my own daughter a few years ago.  We started one of those programs and all of her inventive ideas were quickly inhibited by “Am I putting this sentence in the right place?” and “Let me look at the book, okay, it said 3 adjectives about color in this sentence.”

We ditched the program, but then what?  The fear that maybe if we try this our own way, if we play, if we listen to some of the advice from Bravewriter, maybe my kids won’t learn the PROPER way to write.

Well, so far we’re continuing to hack through these doubts and comparisons and experience the joy of ideas that make it onto the page without a sensor blinking on and off, “wrong!”.

Still, how to teach revision, editing, how to approach non-fiction writing?  Well, we’ll hack down the barriers as we find them.

The First Week of Ami’s Class

Ami’s class on Creative Writing is designed for her co-op of 6th and 7th graders and she hits all of the important topics of writing like using metaphors, including sensory details and working through the revision and edition stages.  This is a completely FREE course with all instructions, activities, famous quotes, poems,and printouts included.

My kids older kids are 4th and 5th, but because we’ve done various writing projects and activities over the last year and half I thought they could understand the assignments and I plan to adjust as needed along the way.

Here’s some of the work from their first week, which focused on avoiding cliches and overly used words and instead using metaphors.  All of this work is unrevised or edited, as we plan to go back in later weeks and take a second look.

Assignment: Read the poem “A Loaf of Poetry” and write your own recipe for something.  You can write it as a poem or paragraph.

(Full Discloslure: The girls hemmed and hawed about this assignment, so we made up some examples together before they tried it on their own.)

(The 9 year old)
Recipe for a Book Birthday Cake

1/2 cup sillyness
2 overflowing cups climax
4 tsp sadness
3 tsp violence
1/4 cup creepiness
2/4 cup weirdness
1  1/2 overflowing cups happiness
1/2 cup adventure

Preheat 325 F.  Lightly grease cake pan.  Mix creepiness, weirdness, sadness, and violence in bowl.  Mix climax, sillyness, adventure, and happiness in separate bowl.  Mix both bowls together.  Pour into pan and bake for 15 to 30 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Serve, in a soft, cozy bed, relax, and read.

(note: her reference for adventure and violence come from books like the Narnia series!)

(The 11 year old)
Recipe for a Summer Day

10 cups of sunshine (the brightest you can find)
15 cups blue sky
1/4 cups of bees and wasps
2 cups birds
1 cup of green grass
1/2 cup flowers

Mix the sunshine and the blue sky together in an extra large mixing bowl.  In a smaller bowl mix the wasps and bees and birds. Mix grass and flowers in another small mixing bowl, stir only until combined.  Let all ingredients sit for one hour.  Next get out a large pan, pour flowers and grass on the bottom, layer on bees, wasps, and birds and lastly the sun and sky. Bake for five minutes.  After baking is done sprinkle on the breeze and enjoy.

Next Assignment: Read the Metaphor Poems.  Go outside and find an object you want to write about, comparing it to something else, like the examples from the poems page.  The object you describe is also the title of your poem.

(Full disclosure: they also hemmed about this assignment as well, often it’s just, “go do it!)

(The 9 year old)
Train Tracks

Mountain of rocks
path of steel
on the top
for the train,
to come over

(The 11 year old)
Flower Pot

A natural tea pot sitting on your porch.
Your tea is not made with herbs
but with the soil of the ground.
When water is added the special seasoning spreads
and gives the tea flavor.

This week we start Week 2 and I’ll be sharing some examples soon.

Georgia Heard has two books that have helpful, explorative, writing exercises.  Check out all of her books, but particularly Awakening the Heart and The Revision Toolbox.   Also, check out this book for combining nature and poetry, A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow.

Does the subject of writing scare you?  Have you found a program that you’re satisfied with, or is there another subject that you find yourself sweeping away the doubts and heading down your own path?

(Thanks, Ami, for this inspired resource!)


Jan 24

Dialogue Detectives: A Writing Exercise

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I had a nice draft going on how we journey through homeschool with a toddler in the house.

For the past few weeks the girls have been keeping a dialogue journal, a little pocket notebook to record the spoken words of the siblings, friends, and strangers. We’ve called it “Dialogue Detectives” (an idea from Julie Bogart, see note at the end of the post). The purpose of the assignment is to recognize patterns, word choices, and inflections that make a two year old sound like a real two year old and a grandmother sound like a grandmother. We’ve talked about writing dialogue in stories that really sounds true to the age and background of the characters they create. We’ve looked at examples in the books we’re reading as family.

On friday we combined the Story Squares and the research they’ve done on dialogue and asked them to freewrite for fifteen minutes, telling most of their story through dialogue.  We decided they should stick with a two year old as the main character in their dialogue since their best research has been with their own sister.

Mookie, the 11 year old, wrote a story about a princess and a castle (she didn’t actually draw the squares because as we were getting them out she said, “Oh, I have an idea” and I let her go with her inspiration instead of forcing the squares since they were only there for inspiration. Though her story ended up using several of the squares since she already had them in her head.)

Here’s an excerpt from her writing:

Sophie the maid was always up and about first in the castle each peaceful morning.  These days they weren’t too peaceful.
“Now if I can only brew the tea without the Princess waking up, ” she said to herself. As she pulled over a chair so that she could stand on it to reach the tea cupboard, she heard, “Need to go pooootty!” from upstairs.

“Ughhh,” Sophie said in disgust.  She walked down the flight of stairs that led to the Princess Victoria’s room.

“Need to go pooootty!” Victoria shouted again, this time more urgently.

“I’m coming, ” Sophie shouted back.

She reached the princess’ room and took her to the bathroom.  Once Victoria was seated, Sophie asked, “Why did you have to wake up already?”

“I don’t know,” answered the Princess, innocently.  ”I’m dooo-ooone.”

Jellybean, age 9, drew the following squares.  A Viking, Mystery Person, Hut, Forest, and Crown.

I think she got a little distracted by the story  brewing from the squares to remember to include much dialogue, but it’s still fun to see how a prompt can get a story started.

Once upon a time there was nothing.  There was absolutely nothing.  But then, as we all know, God created the world and the real adventure began.  Now, I know I’m going forward a little, well, a very long time, I should say. When there were forests everywhere and there was many, many peasants in the land.  My story is about a viking who went to the future, to medieval times, when there were knights and castles, dragons and two year olds.

My story begins on a bright summer day at a peasant’s house when a little girl named Evie and her little sister Sylvia were playing outside. Suddenly…

“Girls! Girls! Girls! Come quickly! Go inside!”

“Why, Why, why? Why must we Papa?” cried little Sylvia.

“Because there is to be a blizzard!”

This week the girls are observing and recording the dialogue of a different person in the family.  (This can be dangerous, mamas, your own dialogue might show up in a story!  Mookie said the Queen in her story would be saying, “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t fall asleep until five in the morning!” when the Princess Victoria went up to see her.  I can’t imagine where she gets these ideas.)

Other Activities with Dialogue:

  • After your child has recorded several days worth of dialogue have her write her observations, such as “run-on sentences, words that aren’t pronounced correctly” etc, on a notebooking page so that she can refer back to it for future assignments.
  • Talk about the purpose of dialogue in a story, such as: it moves the plot along, it develops character, it helps you believe the story really happened.*  Ask your children to find examples of dialogue in their current chapter books and decide what purpose the dialogue fills from the list above.
  • Use story squares (two squares with characters), a painting or picture and ask them to create dialogue for the people in the picture. For an extra challenge, ask them to choose one of the purposes from the above list and show it through the dialogue.
  • Talk about dialogue as you read aloud together.  Point out bad dialogue and ask why it’s bad.  Does it move the story along, does it sound believable to the age and background of the character?

*This list is taken from Julie Bogart’s Grammar and Literature Program, called The Arrow, in the unit on Half Magic.

Jan 20

Story Squares: A Project with Possibilities

Posted on Friday, January 20, 2012

The day of the birthday party arrived and two anxious girls asked me, “Did you find the woooden blocks so we can make our gift?”

“No I didn’t, but I have another idea.”

Disappointed that they couldn’t duplicate the story blocks that we’d made last year for our writing prompts, they took a little while to warm to my idea.

But eventually it caught on and they headed off to the party with a unique gift.

A few days later they followed it up with a similar, but customized, gift for their Dad.

We decided to call the gift Story Squares:

Using my paper cutter, I cut 1.5 inch squares from one full sheet of watercolor paper.

With a sharpie they drew characters, props, and places.

Then they watercolored the pictures.

With the fine point sharpie, they added a one or two word description on their picture in small print.  (If you have young ones helping you with the project, you can do the labeling to help clarify the picture for others.)

After decorating a recycled box with a title,
we put these these directions inside:

Story Game: The first participant takes a square (without looking to see what it is). He/she begins the story, including the character, prop, or setting from their square in the story. The story continues through the circle of players, each participant using the picture they draw to carry the story along. Used squares remain in a pile and participants take fresh squares to continue another round.

Story Prompts for Writing: Draw three or more cards and begin writing a story, don’t stop for correct grammar or to get the right word, just write!

At the birthday party, the newly turned 12 year old opened the Story Squares first.  Then she opened all of her other gifts and when she was finally done she picked up the Story Squares and said, “Can we try these?”.

So we had the chance to see our idea played out with a very large circle of girls. This kept them entertained for about thirty minutes, with several rounds as they mixed the cards and began again.  One aspect that makes this fun is to have elements and characters that wouldn’t normally be found in a story together. There were some very funny moments when snow men popped up in castles or trolls ended up on a viking ship.The only rule I would add for next time is to include at least four to five sentences per turn in order to challenge your players past a dry and less imaginative, “And then the knight came”.


For their Dad’s birthday we brought our squares to our favorite pancake house and dove into stories of Yoda, Vikings, and Wizards (I said it was customized for their Dad right!)


Today the girls used the story squares for their friday freewrite and I’ll share a bit of that with you next time.

My ideas are brewing with variations on the Story Squares:

  • Substitute a line of dialogue  instead of  a picture for some of the squares.
  • Play the story game “Fortunately, Unfortunately” with the squares.  An example: The first person draws a princess and says, “Fortunately, the princess was the most beautiful girl in the kingdom”.  The next person draws an invisibility cloak, “Unfortunately, an evil wizard was secretly following her that day.” And the story continues by alternating “Fortunately” and “Unfortunately” on each turn.
  • Mark the backs of the cards with P, C, and S (plot, setting and character) or color-code them and store them in separate groups for writing prompts.
  • Creating theme sets such as “historical”, “fairy tale”, “favorite book characters”, based on school projects to extend our learning and narration.
  • Mod Podge the squares to give then durability and a finished look.

Whether you make these for a gift or make them for your own family, I’d love to hear about it.

Nov 10

When Push Comes to Shove

Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2011

(The assignment discussed in this post is from A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra.)

One of the challenges of being the teacher is facing the sigh.  The low groan.  The roll of the eyes, when I announce a certain subject or assignment.

Along similar lines, it’s also difficult to watch a child struggle with a lesson and be the teacher who has to keep her on the road through the hard stuff.

By 9:30 our day had ricocheted way off track from our original school plan, punted by outside circumstances with my Dad that couldn’t be avoided. After lunch I gathered the grumpy, out-of-sorts crew (myself included) together to get started with school.

The atmosphere was not ripe for a poetry lesson.  My ten year olds face looked so glum her frown was sliding off her chin like  unset jello.

We’re going to do a poem today about the weather.”  I pointed to window, indicating the autumn day taking place outside.

A heave of the shoulders and then through tight teeth, “Fine.”

“First you’re going to make a list of action verbs associated with people.”

“What do you even mean!”

“Not common verbs, pick interesting ones like ‘swallow’ and ‘erase’.” Picture a lot of enthusiasm in my voice, I was attempting to transfer it with the right intonation.

Then make another list of verbs associated with animals-”

“-I thought this was a poem about the weather!!” my 9 year old cried out, exasperated.

“It is. Just wait and see. Think of verbs like ‘pounce’ and ‘perch’.”

“It sounds hard,” my ten year old mumbled down to the floor.

Reader, this is is when it gets hard for me.  I forget that struggle isn’t a thing to be avoided and the mama in me wants to do something to ease it.  Especially when I’m the source of the frustration!  But I knew they could get this assignment.

“You don’t have to use all of the verbs but use some of them to write a poem about the fall weather.  Here’s an example by an 8 year old-


Wind nibbles
on the walls of the buildings.
When it hunts
in the forest it rubs its chin
on the trees
and wipes its mouth
on their leaves.

There was a slight lift in the frowns.  I grabbed at the moment.

“Grab a sweatshirt and your notebooks and go outside.”

Reality set in, they were really going to have to do this assignment.

The cheer in my voice rose hoping to cajole their spirits up and out of the dumps.

“Here put on Daddy’s warm sweatshirt.  You put on your big sister’s,” and then I added lightly,  ”Guess we better have some hot chocolate in a little while since it’s cold out today.”

I admit it, that last bit was pure bribery coated in chocolate.

Turning to math with my six year old, I occassionally glanced at the girls sitting on the driveway with their notebooks.

Twenty minutes later we heard someone burst through the side door and then my ten year old appeared.  Cheeks the color of gala apples, her dad’s sweatshirt hanging to her knees, and excitement buzzing around her entire body she said, “I’m finished!”

She waited.  She wanted me to ask to hear the poem.

“Can I hear it?”


Dramatic Pause.  A rush of breath-

Sometimes the wind
is a message bearer, whispering
to the trees news of what
I do not know.
But some days the wind
is a wild cat, pouncing
on leaves and dragging
them to its lair.
Some mornings when I wake up,
the wind flies through the window
and burrows under my covers, driving
me out of bed and into my clothes.
The wind is its own person,
changing each day.
To me
the wind is alive.

She’d had that moment.  That moment, determined to fail and yet looking at the wind, and giving it living breath on her page, she found out that with her own words the wind really was alive.


I tumbled into adulthood afraid of things that were hard.  I didn’t want to try anything new, worried that it might take effort or might end in failure.  It’s a fine line to walk as mom and teacher but when I get it just right between the “yes go do it” and  the “let’s celebrate with hot chocolate” the results are worth the earlier struggle.  I can see in the child a little more confidence and little less fear of the next challenge.


Nov 7

Resources for Teaching Poetry

Posted on Monday, November 7, 2011

Last year we really enjoyed our exploration of poetry.  We tried out several poetic forms, read and copied favorite poems, and our 9 year old even won the local NPT story and illustrators contest for her collection of original poems.  You can see a video of her art and poems here (she’s number 2 on the video list, “Jael”).

Although we often keep a tradition of “poetry tea time” that is popular amongst homeschoolers, we’re looking forward to once again delving deeper for the next six weeks.

One outward motivation is the River of Words Poetry and Art Contest which all of the kids would like to enter this year.

Here are some of the resources that already have me feeling inspired and we haven’t even started yet:

At the River of Words website you can download a poetry lesson guide for free.  The guide suggests using a compilation of art and poetry they’ve published called River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things.  It’s twenty-one dollars on the website but I found it used on Amazon for only a few dollars.


Poetry Tag Time is a compilation of great poetry for children.  The collection begins with a poem by Jack Prelutsky and then he “tagged” the next poet and she submitted a poem that was related/inspired by Prelutsky’s poem and so on as each poet tagged the next.  Thirty poems in all are included and there are short explanations between poems as to how they’re related.  If this doesn’t make sense (it didn’t to me right away), just go ahead and take a look.

The book is only published for use on Kindle and such, but I was able to download a free app to view it on my computer instead. I purchased this resource for a grand total of 2.99 on Amazon (no shipping of course since it’s digital). If you go to the Poetry Tag Time Blog, you will find suggested activities for each of the poems.  This resource is going to help our poetry time stay accessible to our six year old. The same women that compiled Poetry Tagtime, also compiled a similar resource for teens called Poetry P*Tag.


A Kick in the Head, edited by Paul B. Janeczko, is an introduction to the main poetic forms, from haiku to cinquain and sonnet, to many other forms I’d never heard of before!  Each page contains a poem along with more information about the form in small print on the page and an illustration by Chris Raschka. Janeczko has many poetry books worth looking at, but I highly recommend his other two books in this series,  A Poke in the I and Foot in the Mouth.


Wishes, lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch has some interesting and simple ideas.  At the end of last year, we wrote “I wish” poems and they revealed the unique hearts of each of us.

Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard is the best book I own on teaching poetry.  It takes us beyond “just copy the form” to teaching the kids about expressing their heart, experiences, and reactions to the world through verse.  Filled with exercises, poetry stations, editing suggestions, it was worth the full price that I paid on Amazon (I think there are used copies available now).


The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan is a story based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda.  It’s a magical novel about words, dreaming, and following your passion.


Poetry for Children, a blog by one of the creators of Poetry Tag Time, regularly posts new poetry books and novels written in verse.  Many of her posts on poetry books include suggested activities to go along with the book.

Poetry at Play includes a Weekly Poet highlight, interviews, and articles on the world of poetry.

Notebooking Fairy, Jimmie’s other blog, has several free poetry notebooking pages.  As a note, Jimmie’s collage is hosting 10 days of Language Arts, go check it out. In two more days, poetry will be the focus of her blog post.

Practical Pages inspires me in many ways, but one area is how her family “plays” with Poetry.  Check her out-you’ll be hooked.

Find a source for nature poetry on this post.

Do you have any favorite poets you’ve studied in your home or other resources that have helped your poetry exploration?

Jul 30

Writing Beyond the Rules-Thornton Burgess

Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2011

I hope you’ve already read some of this author’s work.  If not, let me introduce you to a new friend who will bring nature into your home through stories.  Thornton Burgess is known in a lot of homeschool circles, most often for his books The Burgess Book of Birds, The Burgess Book of Animals, and the Burgess Book of the Seashore.  Though my eight year old most enjoys his thin chapter books such The Adventures of Reddy Fox.

For my own enjoyment I’ve been reading his autobiography, Now I Remember. I plan on marking some passages to read aloud to the kids this year, a bit of an author study as we read the Burgess Book of Animals to compliment our animal study this year.

The passage I want to share with you is less about nature, and more about his writing process.

“Do I make an outline? As I’ve already stated, I do not…

In school I was taught that in writing a story I should first make an outline, a plan or a plot, developing this as I went along.  A good story must have a good plot preceding the writing of it.  I agree with this all but the “preceding”.  When I write a story it has a plot, afterward, not before.  Of course I am wrong, but I am right-for me…

I gather that to the average writer a good preliminary plot is what a blueprint is to a builder or engineer.  To me it is but a stumbling block.  It gets in my way….

One of my greatest disappointments in life was to forego a college education.  With my mother depending on me I had to go to work instead of college.  Now, looking back, I can see that had a gone to college I might have fallen under the influence of professors who would have changed my whole train of thought, leading me to conform to their accepted and unquestionably correct rules governing self-expresssion and good writing.  Thus might have been destroyed, or been sidetracked, such originality as I possess.  As it was I was forced to work out my own salvation in a way.  In doing so I developed a style peculiarly my own.”

(chapter 24, Now I Remember)

His thoughts spur on my efforts to release the voice of my children through the written word.  I don’t have the way fully realized, but I don’t think I’m going to find it in a packaged Language Arts or Writing Curriculum-even though those clear steps seem so satisfying.  If I hold off on workbooks and mechanics, and instead I remain in this place of discovery, a little bit of uncertainty (Burgess didn’t know how his story would end), I’m hoping they’ll end up as writers who write to communicate, rules optional.

So my plan?  We’ll write.  Often.  It’s the same idea if you want to learn to draw-sketch everyday.  Most people can learn to follow five steps to draw a proper bird, but not everyone will discover his or her own style: