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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 20

Meeting Peter H. Reynolds, The Author of ISH

Posted on Friday, April 20, 2012


Glancing around it’s clear that nobody else has brought their kids.  Behind us is a trickling procession of what I assume to be parents and teachers filling the metal folding chairs.

Do they know who we’re about to meet? They seem to be acting so-normal.

Sure, they probably know his name if they’re here, but do they know enough to sit in the front row and make fan signs (okay, we didn’t make fan signs, hopefully our smiles and our sketchbooks convey our feelings).

We’ve been Peter H. Reynolds fans for a couple of years now.  Our two favorite books, Ish and The Dot, still impact us on each new read.  I’d been a recovering perfectionist for years before I began to think Ish-ly.  And I’ve seen his books opens doors to art for both kids and adults, alike.

An older woman next to us turns and starts a conversation.  She seems to know Peter H. Reynolds much better than us, so I ask her, “How do you know him?”

A Glimpse at His Heart

She tells her story:

My husband and I experienced a tragedy, we lost our son.

One day my husband asked me what I needed, what I wanted and I said I wanted to go to the Blue Bunny Bookstore (a store owned by Mr. Reynolds and his twin brother, a fact I certainly didn’t know before that moment).

Right away my husband bought plane tickets and made hotel arrangements and soon after we headed to Massachusetts.  I didn’t have any expectation to meet Peter, and my husband said ‘Buy anything you want’, so off I went.

While I was walking around my husband went to the front desk, ‘My wife would really like to meet Peter Reynolds.’  The person at the desk called Peter up and he offered to come and meet us at the coffee shop across the street.  And so we sat and had coffee with Peter Reynolds! I told him how his books had changed my life and about our tragedy, but he didn’t know any of that before he agreed to meet with a couple of strangers.  Since then we’ve all been kindred spirits.”

Then she showed me her “Dot” heart necklace, painted by Mr. Reynold’s wife, in the style of  his book, The Dot.

Well, I certainly knew a little bit more about the author’s heart from that story.  I already knew he loved art, and opening the doors for kids and adults to do art, but here was something-more.

She went on to talk to me about his books, more books than I ever knew he had written, particularly one that chronicled a moment in an autistic child’s life.  Someone from Mr. Reynolds group had just given her a free copy of it and she handed it to me to read.

Now I knew a lot more and Mr. Reynolds hadn’t even spoken yet.

His Heart Spoke, Our Hearts Listened

When he did speak, he may have used words and shown videos, but it was his heart that spread throughout the room.

It clearly didn’t escape his notice that my kids were in the room and he regularly engaged them with eye contact and words.

Do you think you’ll fly to the moon?” he asked my 11 year old.

And as he talked about kids changing the world he directed the end of that phrase to her.

Again and again he met the eyes of my two kiddos and they remained dedicated to him.

Through stories of his childhood, of how he named his characters, of his involvement with writing the book about autistic children, we knew him a little more.

Eventually we stood in line to get some artwork signed.

We gushed our appreciation when we finally reached him (he had earlier that day signed 300 books, a inscription and doodle in every book, so I knew he must be tired).

The Final Layer

It seems from listening to you tonight, that you’re a Christian?”

Yes, I am,” he smiled.  ”In fact, my brother and I consider all that we do to be our ministry. When I spoke at a school once they pulled me aside and said they were a little unsure what I might say after reading my book The North Star.  ’Good’, I said.

Well, that’s a wonderful layer that we didn’t know about, it great for my kids to see someone who is following the Lord and using their gifts fully as adults.”

Then he took a few moments to look at their artwork, and ask them what their names meant, and finally when they told him how much they loved his tiny watercolors that he had shown during the talk (about 1 by 2 inches), he paused, pulled them out, and gave the tiny set to them.

As we walked out into the dim, almost abandoned parking lot of the school you could hear my girls shouting.

He gave us his watercolors!”

Oh my gosh, they’re mixed, he really used these, he touched these!”

More squeals.

An author and artist to them is parallel to what pop bands were to me when I was 11.  I felt like a grown-up kid myself as we headed to the car.

I think Mr. Reynolds would have enjoyed my 9 year old’s comment as we drove home.

So, did you enjoy it Jellyfish?”

Enjoy it! I loved everything that he said.  It’s good for me to see an adult Christian artist who’s okay with not doing things perfect and making mistakes.  I’m someone who wants to do everything just right and very realisitic.  I think that’s really good for me to meet someone like him.”

She’s decided it’s okay to be perfect-ish.

Books to check out by Peter H. Reynolds


The Dot

I’m Here.

The North Star.

So Few of Me

He has more than what’s listed above and a new series coming out, included a chapter book he’s working on now.

Activities Related to His Books

Ish Art and Ish Notebooking Pages by Jimmie

The Dot activities

Animation Software

During his talk, he demonstrated his animation program that allows kids (and grown-up kids) to draw and the animate their drawings.  All of three of us were itching to get our hands on it.  You can check it out here.

The Blue Bunny Bookstore

Stop by his store The Blue Bunny the next time you get to Massachusetts.

Peter’s Tips for raising creative kids

Apr 15

Art In Time For Summer

Posted on Sunday, April 15, 2012

I have a thing for art.

I’ve always had a thing for art, but sharing the experience with my kids through these homeschool years had increased my love exponentially.

Several days a week we find ourselves with sketchbooks and paints and sharpies during an assignment for Sketch Tuesday, an assignment from Artistic Pursuits, a project for art class in our little co-op, or just many hands sketching while I read.

This year the focus has been slightly narrowed down to drawing and watercolor skills, based on the Artistic Pursuit’s book were doing this year, and because the supplies for these mediums are so easy to grab and use. (We varied things up a bit more when we studied Van Gogh in the later winter/early spring).

A New Art Book

Recently my friend and local librarian sent me a recommendation for DK’s My Art Book: Amazing Art Projects Inspired by Masterpieces.

I’ve always enjoyed DK books and My Art Book contains all of the elements I expect to find in their books : crisp and colorful illustrations, step by step directions, and projects that look inviting and do-able.

Flipping through the pages got my hands itching to mix some paint with ashes and berries and make a cave painting.

Or work in 3d to create a sculptured African mask.

I wanted to think about portraits in a new way as I gazed at the work of Guiseppe Arcimboldo and imagined what we could do with food, some Legos, and a camera.

Along with the overly familiar VanGogh sunflowers(the image from the book cover, which incidentally, is not actually in the book) and Warhol pop art, here are the other artists in the book:

Guiseppe Arcimboldo
Katsushike Hokusai
Edgar Degas
Henri Rousseau
Wassily Kadinsky
Paul Klee
Deigo Rivera
Henry Moore
Kenojuak Ashevak

A Summer Art Plan

This is the perfect book for summer,” I thought to myself. “We can shoot for one project a week (that, of course will change, because summer never goes according to schedule) and even invite different friends over to join us.

Doing these kind of projects regularly at our house along with our daily school schedule, with four kids, including the newly curious three year old, would leave me flustered.  But after a year of trying to get the shadows and shading and realism just right, this looks like a great way to play with art this summer.

What are your favorite resources for art?



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!)


Mar 2

From My Library Bag to Yours

Posted on Friday, March 2, 2012

My very good friend turned to me and said, “Let’s go to your favorite place.”

Did she know the location of my favorite place? Did I know? Two places came to mind.

“What’s my favorite place?” I asked.

“ThriftSmart,” she answered confidently.

It was one of the two.

“Yes, and the library.”

Both places mean surprises.

When I enter Thriftsmart I don’t know if I’ll find a skirt with just the right “me” in it, a favorite author rudely discarded but then lovingly delivered into my hands, or a pair of green rain boots for our three year old. I do know that only one out of fifty times have I walked out without at least one little surprise that put a smile on my face.

When I enter the library I also know there’s a 98% chance I’m walking out with a fresh, inspiring find. And I usually find it on the hold shelf.

I always get my holds first.

I walk to the hold shelf and try to calm my anxious hands as I look for the section with my name. And then I see them, those little white slips of paper addressed to me just like the tags on Christmas presents, and I fill my bag to overflowing.

And then I have to wait.

Maybe I get a peek at a cover, a teasing glance at a cover illustration, as I place them in the bag. And then it’s off to Story Time and keeping tabs on the four kids. Then I endure the drive home as I glance at my bulky bag, wondering what surprises await me. Will they be worth the wait? Will there by one gem to add to my favorites?

Sometimes it’s naptime or night time before I get to sit down with my heavy, promising bag.

But when it finally happens, it’s always worth the full day of anticipation.

I’ve decided I have to start sharing my library bag experience. Then you can put these books on hold at the library and I can feel like I played a little part in the joy of opening your library bag!

In my Library Bag this week (only the gems):

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Stuck is the most recent Oliver Jeffers book in our library bag.

We’ve had one by Jeffers in our bag each week because I can’t get enough of Jeffers’ work. Characterized by animals/people with pencil thin legs, along with a collage of media to create telling illustrations, his art work (and stories) deliver something unexpected.  Unexpected in a really good kind of way.  In Stuck, it’s the scribbled trees (that actually work), it’s his shadows that don’t follow any rules, it’s his monochromatic color schemes, and it’s even in his story which doesn’t take the usual dips and turns.

As an artist Jeffers illustrates concepts that aren’t easily put into the visual.  ”In Stuck the boy has a problem and he tries to throw everything at it” (paraphrase from an interview).  In Heart and the Bottle, he visually expresses what happens when we get hurt and then lock our hearts up somewhere safe, and how much it interrupts our abundant life.

On many levels, and then on the level of my 3 year old who shouts “Read Stuck by Olive Jeff, Daddy!”, I recommend his books for your library bag.  Here’s a  video of the author/illustrator, who seems like an unexpected book character himself.

Here are three of our other Oliver Jeffers favorites from the last few weeks:

The Great Paper Caper

The Incredible Book Eating Boy

The Heart and the Bottle


Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

When I pulled Extra Yarn out of the bag and gave it a first read,  it was difficult to maintian self-control and not order up several copies from Amazon to pass out to friends.

In the story we  meet a girl who finds yarn that never seems to run out so she starts knitting for everyone and everything in the town, including the math teacher and the mailboxes.  Klassen’s ink and watercolor move this story beyond cute to enchanting and finally to the hope that a place like this might actually exist.

Maybe if the knitters of the world unite.  I did see yarn covered trees in Chicago last year.


Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists

Our 9 year old is particularly interested in comic book style art, which can be a difficult genre to find appropriate material for her to enjoy.  This collection offers a wide variety of cartoon art (as the title suggests, 50 different artists) but centers around well known stories.

Though just because these are “nursery rhymes” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re for your 3 year old, because nursery rhymes can actually be quite strange if you think about (three blind mice, see how they run, well you know the ending).  Some of these illustrations may not feel right for your family or at at least for your younger child, take a look for yourself.

Nursery Rhyme Comics would make a great jumping off point for encouraging your child to create his own comic, based on a nursery rhyme, fable, or fairy tale.

Hoping you find something unexpected (the good kind of unexpected) in your bag this week.


Feb 14

Seriously Silly for Art

Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You might want to hop over to my other blog to check out our family’s experience with an online art class by the author of Drawing Lab.

Feb 2

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Posted on Thursday, February 2, 2012

For anyone who’s experienced flight through words….this short animated (oscar-nominated) film is for you.  This was great viewing for our whole family-if your young one is nervous about the storm in the beginning, tell them to hold on, it’s all going to be okay. Be inspired by the film, pick up your favorite book and…fly.  And then make some art, and a movie, and…

(You can download this movie for FREE on Itunes. )

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

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.