Becoming brave writers: A review of The Writer’s Jungle

Becoming brave writers: A review of The Writer's Jungle
Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of Vitafamiliae

Last semester, I determined my third grade twins should do a writing project. I requested a paragraph from each about their history studies. Simple, right?

A week later, we were all in tears and only after much angst did they eke out their boring four sentence paragraphs. I was baffled. I’m a writer. I love to edit. They like to write. Why was this so painful???

I spent my Christmas vacation evaluating our writing program. Or lack thereof. Apparently, my kids weren’t going to learn to write or to love writing just by living with their blogging mama. I needed something else.

I stumbled across the Brave Writer website and the correlating book The Writer’s Jungle by Julie Bogart. By the time I finished it, my copy of the book looked like this:

junglenotes

In The Writer’s Jungle, I found the tools to make writing pain-free:

  • Relationship is the key. As my children’s teacher/editor, working together on writing projects should strengthen and enhance our relationship, not create discord. When my children view me as their partner in writing, they will trust me with their stories.
  • Writing should be intuitive, not mechanical. Children can only write what they know. It’s my job to inspire them to create rather than expect them to simply generate content on demand.
  • We learn to write in stages, not all at once. I need to recognize what stage my child is in as a developing writer and teach to their strengths where they are. This will guide them to the next stage and avoid frustration.

Armed with these key points and the myriad of ideas and suggestions from the book, we started fresh with a new semester.

Relationship is Key

I began by earning back my children’s trust. We played several of the games Bogart suggests to get the children to enjoy wordplay and see the importance of communicating thoughts clearly. My kids were wary at first but they quickly saw the fun and willingly jumped in to a new writing Lifestyle with me.

Writing Should Be Intuitive

Working under the assumption that when children copy and write the good works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that others have created and learn to notice different elements of story, they internalize it and add it to their own literary toolbox, we began daily copywork.

I immediately saw the benefit. My older students enjoy the passages I pick for them and I often have to take the book away so they don’t sit and inhale an entire chapter instead of copying their paragraph. My littles enjoy the daily routine and I’ve already seen their attention to detail growing along with their letter formation.

Furthermore, we do this activity together, down to the three year old, and it creates a general feeling of teamwork and camaraderie centered around our writing.

copywork

We Learn to Write in Stages

I added in Friday freewriting next. On the first Friday, each child made a list of subjects they loved and knew a lot about. (I typed this out for my younger students so they began to feel like writers, too.) The next Friday, they chose one topic to freewrite about for five minutes. The goal was simply to keep the pencil moving.

I did this exercise with my oldest kids and shared my freewrite afterward so they could see that Mommy made awkward sentences and wrote nonsense, too. Again, I typed the freewrites for my 6 and 7 year old so they would be free to create and not inhibited by their limitations. Their confidence and interest in writing has soared.

Not to be left out, my four year old has begun insisting on her turn to freewrite. I’ve now got a collection of her stories saved to treasure always.

favoritefreewrite

My favorite freewrite from my son. I may have it framed, even if he does say I’m “high tempered.”

Putting It All Together

After eight weeks of freewrites, we each chose one to edit and turn into a finished product. I took the children’s selections and chose two elements to focus on for each piece.

At our next meeting, I gently suggested those two elements and we dug a little deeper. I ignored spelling and grammar issues and focused on the bigger picture of clarity and interest. (We’ll focus on grammar another time. I quietly fixed any major grammatical errors and we moved on.)

I was amused to discover that several of my kids were instinctive editors. As I read their work aloud, they’d hear something that “wasn’t quite right” and ask me to help them make it sound better. My internal editor did a happy dance. Not only were they picking up editing instincts, they also cared enough about their work to want to make it better. Glory!

After we spent a week tweaking and talking, I typed up the final drafts and we “published” them in a book, complete with illustrations. The children were proud of their work and eager to share with others.

And nobody cried.

A writing victory!

finishedstories

Inspiration For All

The Writer’s Jungle is an inspiring read that was worth every penny even if you aren’t looking for new ways to teach writing. Julie Bogart’s conversational style and positive tone were like sitting down to a cup of coffee with a friend.

As a homeschool mom, she knew how to speak to my frustrations and to encourage me to keep my relationship with my children the priority rather than proper paragraph form or punctuation. This is crucial no matter what subject I’m teaching.

Before The Writer’s Jungle, writing was a subject that caused strife and frustration in our home. Now, writing is our favorite part of the week. It strengthens our relationships, incites conversation, and gives us new ways to entertain and encourage each other.

How do you foster writing with your kids? What’s your favorite writing program?

About Lora

Lora Lynn earned her stripes becoming mom to seven kids in seven years. She’s lived to tell about it and shares her mothering know-how with comedy, common sense, and a whole lot of chocolate at Vitafamiliae. Through infertility, high-risk pregnancies, adoption, and life as a homeschooling, twin-raising, stay-at-home mom, Lora Lynn writes with humor and honesty on what’s most important in all the crazy – a life defined by family.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this review – I’m always looking for ways to incorporate writing in my child’s life. This book looks like it has some great tips to get the kids excited about the process. I would also recommend Rip the Page by Karen Benke (you can see my review of the book and activities here: http://fillyourbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/rip-the-page-by-karen-benke/) for creative writing activities.
    Natalie’s latest post: Shadow Touch by Marjorie Liu

  2. What freedom! I love this idea of Friday Freewriting — it makes me think of the “Five Minute Fridays” Lisa-Jo Baker has on her blog that I am a part of for my own writing. This focus on idea generating is much more exciting, meaningful and impactful to me. What a breath of fresh air! (Thank you so much for the recommendation to check out this site as a valuable resource!)
    Amy Hunt’s latest post: after

  3. I also recommend anything by Lucy Caulkins or Lind Reif, teachers extraordinarie when it comes to writing and reading. Though not a homeschooler, I used their approach while teaching: quantity leads to quality, teacher-directed topics but also a lot of student-selected work, and not all rough drafts need to become final drafts (it’s the way true writers operate, too).

    With little room to experiment with words, there is little time to find one’s voice. The more opportunities to write, the more room there is to grow as one.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Poetry is to Share: Paul B. Janeczko

  4. Lora, I’m so happy you wrote this post. I have my binder for Writer’s Jungle on my kitchen table right now. I’m about to get started with my kiddos also. I have really enjoyed Julie’s blog over the past year. She has great tips and inspiring ideas to get the whole family writing.

  5. Which version Of the Writer’s Jungle did you end up getting, there are so many choices and it is pretty expensive so I wanted to get your thoughts on what you thought was best. I am a very poor writer due to a learning disability and so I struggle to work with my kids with it since its such a frustration for myself. I just don’t want to waste money if the higher price item isn’t needed.

    • Angel – Assuming your kids are not in high school, I would recommend just the Writer’s Jungle. (It’s listed under “Silver.”) I bought the digital version (like you, I wanted to save pennies) but I found the book so helpful, I ended up printing it out and making my own binder. I would have been better off just purchasing the printed version that comes with a binder and chapter dividers already. Just my opinion… And it was worth every cent in terms of inspiration and information.

      • I should have mentioned my kids ages, I have a rising 9th grader and a 8th grader, do you think I should go with the higher version to use the copy work already put together and ready to go. I have a special needs child 3 yr old(medical issues, Mitochondrial disease) that takes up time so many of our homeschool things we have had to switch to be as independent as possible for the older ones. In that change over I feel like writing has been really neglected. I need something that I can work with them but then they can run with it afterward without a lot of hands on from me. Do you think this will work?

        • Hi Angel!
          Lora told me about your question. I do think your older kids could do well working independently with the HHS material (Help for High School) and the Boomerang for language arts. Check out our new “Getting Started” page to see what seems like the right fit for you and for them:
          http://www.bravewriter.com/getting-started-with-brave-writer
          The HHS is designed for independent work and is written **to** the teen. So you have the right idea about it. :)
          Julie

  6. Writing should come naturally as it’s simply an expression of your thoughts. Going through public schooling, I think that free-writing was possibly the most helpful method because of this, even though I hated it at first. It’s easy to view writing as formulaic and teach it that way if most of your exposure consisted of cramming all the rules of grammar and sentence structure. Anyway, those are just my thoughts.
    Justin Gregoire’s latest post: Calculating the Costs

  7. This looks fantastic! I love that it uses real books and I think I will lean as much as the kids. Thanks for the sharing your experience with this!

  8. Very interesting and timely for us. We were just struggling with writing today AND I have this book and haven’t busted it out in ages. I will do that!

  9. Wow! I love this. Some of my kids LOVE to write and others would rather lose a limb. This sounds like a wonderful way to make writing painless and actually fun. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Mindy’s latest post: Coming to a Homeschool Group Near You!

  10. I love Brave Writer materials. They are my writing resource of choice. Julie’s approach has inspired many happy and painless ( and tear-free) writing experiences in our home.
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: A letter for a tough season

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