Have you heard of Brave Writer by Julie Bogart? If you haven’t, you’re totally missing out. Julie’s mission through Brave Writer is to not just teach kids to write, but to actually focus on the relationship between a parent and their child through teaching writing. How amazing is that? And who wouldn’t want that to be the focus of their writing program? Julie hasn’t just created amazing writing programs, but also a whole community of like-minded home educators, online classes, and more. Their online membership site (the Homeschool Alliance) is full of inspiration and resources, and Julie’s podcast never fails to encourage me. You’ll often hear Brave Writer referred to as a “lifestyle” because of the way that it ends up overflowing into so many different aspects of your life!
Growing up, I was taught how to write the way most kids are, with spelling tests, grammar worksheets, 5 point essays, and research papers. It wasn’t about my thoughts, but rather the formula I was supposed to follow. Slowly, my love of writing dwindled and I lost my writer’s voice. I was so worried about my writing being “right” that I lost the ability to let go and just get my thoughts on the paper.
When I decided to home educate several years ago, I knew I wanted to do some things differently but I wasn’t sure what an alternative might look like. I searched for “homeschool” on Periscope and clicked on a video of an excited lady talking about home education in a way I’d never heard it described before. Instead of rigor and curriculum and checking all the boxes, she was talking about pixie dust and poetry tea times and being an awesome adult. That was my first introduction to Julie Bogart, and the fact that her own kids are grown and graduated from her home gave credence to what she said. It’s one thing to hope that your kids will be ok if you leave the traditional route for something magical, but it’s another to hear it from someone who has successfully done it! Through Julie and her amazing Brave Writer program, I saw that Language Arts could actually help kids find their voice and grow into amazing writers, and do it in a way that’s gentle and respects them as persons.
I’ve known for a few years that I wanted to use Brave Writer as our language arts program, and this year my kids were finally ready to dive into the wonderful Quiver of Arrows. The Quiver is a series of literature guides for ten different wonderful children’s books. Each guide covers 4 weeks of lessons, and each lesson focuses on a particular passage from the book. For each week there are notes for the teacher on important grammatical features of the passage, copywork, and a guide for French-style dictation.
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty, though, can we talk about the books Julie chose for the Quiver? They’re so good! I remember my mom reading many of them to me as a child, and I think I’ve enjoyed reading them as an adult even more. So far this year we’ve read Mr. Poppers Penguins, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. The Trumpet of the Swan is my favorite so far, and the whole story is just beautiful! We listened to the audiobook, narrated by E.B. White himself, which made it even more special to me. His voice is old and raspy like a grandfather’s, and they included real trumpet sounds that gave me chills! I just adore the little nature notebook Sam keeps for himself, and I think I’ll have to write an entirely separate post about the beautiful way White explores what it’s like to have a child with special needs. The books we haven’t read yet are Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, Secret of the Andes, The Wheel on the School, Cricket in Times Square, and House at Pooh Corner. I can’t wait to read them all!
Notes on Grammar
Charlotte Mason said,
In the first place, grammar, being a study of words and not of things, is by no means attractive to the child, nor should he be hurried into it. | Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 295
As a Charlotte Mason style educator, I initially balked at the grammar notes included in the Quiver. Mason encouraged educators to wait to pursue formal grammar study until children are quite a bit older than what is typically done today. I thought the grammar notes would go over the heads of my kids and not end up being very useful to us. I realized quickly, though, that the notes were for me and reading them helped me better understand things going on in the passage which I might have otherwise missed. We don’t talk about the grammar notes every time, but they’ve been useful in small doses.
Julie Bogart herself said the following about grammar on her blog:
Grammar matters, but not in the way you might remember from school. A sturdy knowledge of grammar gives kids the ability to play with language (turning nouns into verbs or adjectives into nouns). Manipulation of grammar offers writers the chance to subvert reader expectations, which in turn creates delight or surprise! Grammatical accuracy is important but not nearly as elusive to native speakers as some writing programs suggest. Rather, you want grammar instruction to offer your children the higher order skills: grammar as glamour—a gateway to power in writing. | Julie Bogart, Grammar Notes
Grammar is one of the subjects that I struggle with because my own understanding of grammar is strong, but I don’t enjoy it at all. My school used Shurley Grammar and I was diagramming sentences in 3rd grade. I remember countless worksheets and quizzes and tests. I learned the rules of grammar, but I never learned how to manipulate them the way Julie describes. My hope is that my own kids will also have a strong grammatical understanding, but that they’ll learn it in a more natural way that makes grammar a tool that they enjoy using rather than rules they must follow. I think it’s fantastic that the Quiver gives me what I need to start laying that groundwork.
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. | Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
I love that the Quiver centers around short, simple passages for copywork. My kids love copywork (I’m not sure how long that will last, but I’ll take it!), and the passages Julie chose are wonderful. Copywork is an important part of Charlotte Mason style language arts, as Mason used it to gently improve handwriting, expose kids to beautiful thoughts, good sentence structure, rich vocabulary and to introduce basic punctuation and capitalization rules.
The Quiver doesn’t include pages for copywork, which frustrated me until I realized that this actually makes it a more flexible program. When we started out this year, I printed copywork pages for my kids using worksheetworks.com. Since they hadn’t done very much handwriting, I gave them big lines with guides. Now that they’ve practiced writing more, I shrunk the line height so that they can practice writing a little bit smaller. Eventually I hope to have them copy their copywork into a notebook which will eventually turn into a commonplace book for them.
French-style dictation was new to me with the quiver, and before we attempted it, I pulled out my copy of The Writer’s Jungle so that I could get a better understanding of how dictation works. I was struck by Julie’s staunch emphasis on dictation and it’s importance. She says,
Don’t make the mistake of treating dictation as an option. If you must omit a subject for the week, drop the grammar exercise book, or the spelling pages in order to make room for dictation. The fruit is far more substantial even though it doesn’t look like it initially. | Julie Bogart, The Writer’s Jungle, pg. 11.
Dictation is apparently really important! French-style dictation is a gentle approach, and instead of simply dictating while our kids write what we say, French-style dictation starts with a passage that has certain words omitted. Our kids read along with us, filling in the omitted words as we come to them.
When we did Logic of English a few years ago, I was supposed to have my (very young!) kids dictate whole sentences at a time. Cue the tears! It was overwhelming and my kids hated it. With French-style dictation, though, it feels so much more natural and lets me come alongside them and coach them through the few words we’re working on. I don’t feel like I’ve really capitalized on this tool yet, but it’s one that we’ll be focusing on next term (especially now that I know how important it is!).
Each Quiver includes a section of literary elements to explore. I’m personally not very good at pulling literary themes from a book (there’s a reason I wasn’t a literature major!), so I love that Julie has done the hard work for me. Like the Notes on Grammar, these are notes for me to read and then share with my kids in a way that they’ll understand. She even includes ideas for introducing harder to understand concepts to young children in a gentle way.
Every Quiver guide also includes a writing activity based on the literary elements explored. These aren’t writing-heavy, and the writing part could easily be turned into an oral narration that mom copies down for kids who don’t write well yet. The idea is to give kids space to explore the ideas on their own and trying out the tools they’re learning about, which is such a wonderful way to introduce young readers to writing.
One of my favorite parts of the Quiver of Arrows is the last section, which is Party School! We’re so excited that we have friends doing the Quiver this year, too, and we’ve gotten together several times this year for Party School after finishing a book. Mary Wilson puts together the Party School ideas for each Quiver, and they’re so good! She gives lots of options, too, so you can pick and choose what works for you.
When we finished reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins, we went to our friends’ house for a Penguin Party. We ate goldfish, made little penguins out of construction paper, did a science experiment about blubber, and then watched the movie together. It was such a fun way to finish our book and create a memorable experience of it.
After reading Charlotte’s Web, we all went to see a production of it put on by our local dinner theater. It was wonderfully done, and we all enjoyed hearing the story as a musical.
With 5 kids, I tend to shy away from field trips and big outings, so I love that Brave Writer gives us an excuse to go all out once in a while!
So what are the cons?
That was a lot of positives about the program, so I thought I’d take a minute to tell you some things you should consider before buying it.
The first is the cost, which can be prohibitive for families on a tight budget. Right now the program costs $99 for 10 guides. BUT when you actually see how much is included in each guide (they’re all around 40 pages long), and that it works out to around $10 a guide, it’s really very affordable for what it is. If you’re still not sure it’s for you, there’s a free sample available here!
Because of the nature of the Brave Writer language arts philosophy, you won’t find pages of busy work here. If you’re looking for a program that you can put in front of your kids and walk away, this isn’t it. But if you’re like me, and would rather talk about grammar and literary elements and want to learn these things alongside your kids, then this is definitely for you. I highly recommend grabbing a copy of The Writer’s Jungle as well, since there are lots of things briefly mentioned in the Quiver (like how to do French-style dictation and copywork) that are explained in-depth in The Writer’s Jungle.
The Bottom Line
After using the Quiver of Arrows for a term, I’m more in love with Brave Writer than ever. This program has brought beauty and richness to our study of Language Arts. I’m so excited to read the other books on our list and dig into these literary elements and writing projects. What a wonderful way to study literature!
We’ve dipped our toes in the Jot It Down program, but haven’t done a full project yet. I’ll share a review of that specific program once we’ve done a few projects (which I’m so looking forward to!)
If you have any specific questions about Brave Writer, the Quiver of Arrows, or the Writer’s Jungle, please feel free to ask in the comments! I love these programs, but I know they aren’t for everyone and I’d love to help you decide if they would be a good fit for your family. If you use Brave Writer, let me know! I love finding other families living the Brave Writer lifestyle!