Writing is an essential component of education and, indeed, life. Many homeschooling parents find the task of teaching their children to write a challenging one. I asked author Julie Bogart, a homeschooling veteran and the founder of the writing program Brave Writer for advice.
The Epoch Times: “Reading, writing, and arithmetic” have long been touted as the fundamental subjects of a solid education. Why, in your opinion, is it so important for a person to learn to write?
Julie Bogart: Writing is experiencing a beautiful surge as a primary tool of communication. More children (and adults!) are writing for “publication” than in the history of the world! Think of social media, blogging, comments on news articles, text messaging, discussion boards, reviews of products and books, even the writing of a quality YouTube video—human beings crave being read and heard. The internet proves that like nothing I could ever have imagined. As a result, having powerful communication skills is more critical to a child’s education than ever. We no longer relegate writing to the halls of academia! Rather, writing lives at the heart of a connected, productive life.
The best way to grow that writer, then, is to take advantage of the myriad natural opportunities that exist for writing. Children love creating blogs that review their favorite online games or that share their passion for fashion or that chronicle their bird-watching habit. They love participating in online discussion about their favorite bands or books. They may even want to join the National Novel Writing Month for Young People, if they secretly harbor a yen for writing the next great novel!
Those who spend a lot of time writing for readers—aka, the internet—grow into the most competent, prolific, and powerful writers. So seize the moment! Teachers of decades past yearned for a chance to see their students value and use writing for its true power—engaging an interested audience. Imagine how far ahead of the game your children will be in any career if they not only know how to write without mechanical errors, but also know how to powerfully hold the attention of readers, too!
The Epoch Times: Many parents will be homeschooling their children this year. How do you recommend parents approach the subject of writing?
Ms. Bogart: The beginning of a writing life is speech. Children access language by imitating their parents and slowly gaining fluency and control over the native tongue. As children express themselves with passion, catch them in the act!
Stop what you’re doing to capture a spontaneous act of self-expression in writing. Jot down their exact words. You may have to stop stir-frying dinner or turn down the TV volume to do it, but do it anyway. When that child tells you about your pet dog chasing a squirrel in the backyard or your teen rants about how lame the new version of a video game is, grab a scratch sheet of paper and jot down that child’s exact words. Listen attentively—transcribe as much of their speech as you can.
If they ask what you’re doing, say: “This is so good, I don’t want to forget it, so I’m writing it down.”
Later that night, read back to the family the words you wrote for your child. Talk about the content and enjoy the re-reading. You might read it again the next day during a read-aloud time. Let your child discover that the writer lives inside already. Written expression is the recording of the child’s or teen’s real thoughts. Begin there. See the child as a writer in search of a secretary, first.
Additionally—read together each day, play with writing by using a variety of implements (window markers to write famous quotes on the sliding glass door, text messages to each other, sticky notes left on the bedroom door to wake up to in the morning). If you want a way to get started that helps get kids on board, check out Brave Writer’s 7-Day Writing Blitz (BraveWriter.com/blitz). It’s free and fun!
The Epoch Times: You have created a very popular writing program for homeschoolers: Brave Writer. How did that come to be?
Ms. Bogart: I grew up around writing. My mother is a published author of over 70 books. I spent my early adulthood working as a ghostwriter, magazine editor, and freelance author.
When I began homeschooling my kids, I discovered that the writing programs available to teach kids to write largely led to resistance from children with very wooden, tedious results. I wanted my kids to feel comfortable with writing, to love self-expression, and to write stuff worth reading.
So I designed a program that would help parents understand how to unleash a child’s love of writing, not just get them to perform for school tests. Writing is not merely about accuracy (proper spelling and punctuation), but power (connection to readers). I wanted to help my kids find their powerful writing voices first, then to work on the mechanics separately. Over time, those two come together to create both beauty and power in writing.
The Epoch Times: You also homeschooled your own, now grown, children. What were some of the most enjoyable writing projects you and your kids took on?
Ms. Bogart: I can think of so many enjoyable writing projects we did together!
When my oldest son was studying California history in fourth grade, we put together an entire party to celebrate the Gold Rush era. Noah and I worked together to create handwritten invitations. He drew a map of California for our game we called “Pin the gold nugget on Sutter’s Creek,” he made signs for the Camp Store for sarsaparilla and licorice, and he wrote individual notecards for all the famous miners of that era and then handed them out to guests as they arrived. So much writing, all around history and parties!
My daughter Johannah wrote her own version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” in seventh grade. She set the scene in the Civil War and retold the story from the perspective of that period in history and in our country rather than England.
I had my kids write their own versions of the “Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling and their own Greek myths (made up, following the inspiration of the Greek myths we read regularly). My youngest two kids built their own fairytale collections. We would read every version we could find of a particular tale (plus any Disney movie versions too). Then they would narrate the story to me and create a drawing or art project for it and we’d put their written version of the fairytale into a book. That was an amazing year-long writing project before these two kids were even fluent readers!
And finally, my youngest daughter wrote a fashion blog for a year every day in ninth grade. These are just a few of the enjoyable projects we did together!
The Epoch Times: What advice would you give a homeschooling parent who dislikes or lacks confidence in writing?
Ms. Bogart: The reason so many parents dislike writing is that they were taught in a way that undermined their confidence in their writing voices. They were led to believe that their ideas weren’t valuable unless the mechanics were accurate.
The way to start, then, is to shed the attachment to a method of writing instruction that led to your own lack of confidence. Try something new. Use the tools and tactics of professional writers to grow as a writer. Brave Writer teaches an entirely different approach to writing than the schools. Be a learner alongside your child and you will get a brand new experience of writing as well.
The Epoch Times: Finally, what would you say to the numerous homeschoolers who are suddenly and unexpectedly finding themselves taking their first steps along this path?
Ms. Bogart: The best place to begin with homeschooling is to be willing to go on a journey—to recognize that there is a lot to learn and you can’t learn it all in a day. The first step to take is a single one. Read a good book on home education (I’ve written one: “The Brave Learner”). Find local homeschoolers. Become a student of your child, more than of curricula. See your home as a place of learning, not a miniature of school. I have developed a community for home educators called the Brave Learner Home to help them grow and find resources. You can learn more about it at BraveWriter.com/special-offer
Bottom line: you love your kids more than anyone. You are capable of being their instructor. You’ve taught them everything from how to eat, how to talk and walk, how to tie their shoelaces, and eventually, you’ll teach them to drive cars! You are more than able to find the resources you need to teach them the academics too. You are a capable, resourceful adult with passion for your children’s well-being. That’s all you need.