Freewrite

While I procrastinate a little longer on finishing my elementary homeschool curriculum series, I thought I'd share one piece of our writing curriculum. Freewrite. In that case I guess I'm not procrastinating all that much now am I?

I'm going to tell you right now that my favorite homeschool writing resources are the Brave Writer materials by Julie Bogart. I recommend her stuff all the time (I should see if she has an affiliate program!) Lately, I've been enjoying her podcasts also.

The Brave Writer homestudy courses, language arts programs, and online classes show homeschool parents another way to teach writing. Writing with joy, freedom and enthusiasm (while teaching our children spelling, grammar, etc.) This is a great review of Julie's flagship product, The Writer's Jungle.

Must-do's and must-learn's do not motivate our children to become writers. Letting them write about what matters to them, teasing words out of them, reading and listening to good books, providing an audience for their genius - these and many other tricks are what help us grow writers. Wait, this isn't my in depth writing post!

It seems I can't help myself.

Many homeschool parents figure out how to teach interest-led writing on their own, through trial and error, indeed that's largely been my case. And there is nothing wrong with trial and error - that's real learning. But isn't it nice when we can have less fumbling around in the dark, and have the light of someone's lantern to see by until we feel sure footed on our own path? That's what The Writer's Jungle has given me. A light while I find our own writing path.

Freewrite is a part of the Brave Writer philosophy. Freewriting is nothing new and not exclusive to Julie's teaching. Writers and journal keepers do this all the time. Some people call it a "stream of consciousness" writing.

I direct you to these links for more information about freewriting:

You can also peruse the freewrite tag at Julie's blog for more information.

At first I thought, "my kids are not going to want to do this." They don't even know how to spell! (I know you're all gasping at this point. What, they don't know how to spell?)

But, this is what I've learned. If we don't get hung up on what we see are obstacles in the path of writing (they're not obstacles at all, just the natural course of learning) neither will our kids.

So when I told the kids we're going to sit down and write for 10 minutes (I think we actually started at 5 minutes), we're not going to worry about spelling or punctation, we're just writing whatever comes into our heads - they were cool with that.

It was awkward the first time but ever since then it's something the kids enjoy doing. They ask when we're doing freewrite again. Be still my beating writer's heart.

Here's how it works in our house.

  • I think of a prompt. I take into consideration my kids' interests, the seasons, etc
  • I give them a little advance warning (sometimes they'll ask me a day in advance what the prompt is, and often I have no idea!) so they have time to think about it.
  • When it's time for freewrite (currently Thursday morning) we grab our writing materials - my journal and fountain pen, lined paper and pencils for the kids, the computer for Céline.
  • Ready, set, go. We write for a set time period, using the prompt as our starting point. When we first started I followed the "just write whatever comes to your head" idea. But now I let the kids take time to form their thoughts if they want. Which means they are not always pushing that pencil constantly.
  • At about 10 minutes I say times up. Often they keep writing! How did this happen I wonder? From "I don't know what to write about" to "I'm not quite done Mom".
  • While we wait for people to finish I translate Brienne and Laurent's writing. Remember, I tell them not to worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar. I translate it so I can read it aloud for everyone and not stumble on the spelling. Also, they might actually want to read their writing someday and in that case, will find my translations. I add only the necessary punctuation (so I can read it aloud properly) and correct spelling. I leave the grammar as is.
  • Céline manages her own writing and leaves her incorrect spelling as is. Or, as is the case these days, her computer spellchecks as she goes and she has very few errors. A very quick note about spelling. The older Céline gets the better her spelling gets, without formal spelling instruction. Just spell and teach as we go, with the writing she does. Interesting, eh?
  • After everyone's work is translated I read all the pieces out loud and we all clap for each other and talk about what we've written.

In the beginning there was a lot of "I don't know what to write but I'm still moving my pencil" type phrases but not much anymore. Words come and they write them. They're writing.

I know you might be wondering, "this sounds nice but how will my kids learn spelling and grammar?" I'll get to that... soon. My homeschool elementary writing posts are coming. You could also just read Julie or Patricia's stuff since I share a very similar message.

I'm still in a pleasant state of surprise by how much my kids like this activity. I aim to do it once a week though realistically it happens once every second week in a good month!

The prompt for our last freewrite was fiery leaves.

Céline wrote an opening paragraph for a fantasy novel that left us all begging for more of the story. And honestly, I had no idea she could write something so descriptive and engaging - I didn't teach her that! Laurent wrote about fire elementals from one of the kids' favorite computer role playing games, the weather, and not knowing what he wants for Christmas. I wrote about the leaves, the change of seasons, children growing and the beauty outside our windows. Heart achy mama stuff.

I'm sharing Brienne's fiery leaves freewrite (with her permission).

The leaves leapt up in flame with an arrow below the tree. Orange and yellow and red flames covered the tree. Soon all the trees were in flames except the pines that did not go into flame for some reason that I do not know. An elf leapt away into the flaming forest, with a bow in his hand. But he did not light on fire. Either it was said he was never seen again but he was the next year. He was seen getting all fiery again except for the pines.

We all loved this story of how an elf lights the woods aflame with fiery leaves each fall.

I do look forward to talking more about writing in the coming months and sharing more resources and ideas that might be helpful in your homeschool.

Have you tried freewrite in your homeschool? What about in your own writing or creative practice? Do you use something similar to get the creative juices flowing?

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Kika

    Kika on Oct. 17, 2012, 2:57 p.m.

    Yes, my two oldest kids and I used to do weekly freewrites that we all enjoyed. We bought cute journals from Chapters and nice pens to set the stage. I may have written about this on your blog a couple years ago?! We would choose three parts to the prompt, each of us choosing one, so it usually ended up fun or goofy: a character, a setting and an object. So, for example, one prompt could end up being Mr.Bean in South Africa with a soccer ball. And away we went. At the end of the timer we'd take turns reading aloud and making positive comments about each other's work. We got away from this when my oldest began highschool credit work (soooo busy) and sadly never returned. I have been thinking about it wistfully and now with my youngest 7 ys old she may be interested in joining in :) I agree about Bravewriter being a great resource - even for people who don't want to purchase anything I recommend just reading through the blog archives to get a sense of how Julie inspired writing in her own home. I learned a lot from her blog and we've benefited now from three different Bravewriter courses. With hopefully more in our future.

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  • patricia

    patricia on Oct. 17, 2012, 3:54 p.m.

    Freewriting can be such a great tool, for writers at all levels. I've learned that when I start a new piece of writing, I always begin with a freewrite. It helps me explore my topic in a right-brained way, which almost always leads to interesting ideas or phrases that I probably wouldn't come upon if I sat down and tried to write in an orderly, logical way first. I even freewrite before I write blog posts!

    Have you ever gotten your hands on the book Rip The Page, by by Karen Benke? It's a collection of fun writing prompts that many homeschooling families have enjoyed digging into together. (I know you can't always easily access books, Renee.) Also, this website posts really intriguing writing prompts--although most may be geared toward teenagers. http://writingprompts.tumblr.com

    Writing with your kids, Renee, is probably one of the best things a parent can do to encourage writing. Hope you inspire others to try it too!

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    • renee

      renee on Oct. 17, 2012, 4:03 p.m.

      You know Patricia, writing with my kids is the way it works best for us. Brienne, my natural writer will write on her own. She's the only one who does this. Celine is now growing into her own writing assignments (we are gentling moving this way) but for everything else and laying the foundation for children to take ownership I wholeheartedly believe in writing together - for the pleasure of it and also to ease the effort of it. Because writing is tricky work and is an activity best shared, I think. I have had Rip the Page on my to-buy list for ages. I forget to add it to my last book order. No way I'll find that locally! I want to get a copy for everyone and use this for our freewrite sessions - something fun and different. 

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      • heather

        heather on Oct. 18, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

        we loved rip the page last year. and yes, a copy for everyone is the way we did it too. totally recommend that.

        renee, do you have trouble ordering from amazon too? i thought someone said once they don't have the same selection or something. maybe it was just prime that hey don't do. nevertheless, if there is ever anything you need purchased down here and shipped up i'd be happy to help with that.

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        • renee

          renee on Oct. 18, 2012, 2:13 p.m.

          We don't order hard goods from Amazon.com - the shipping and duty costs are prohibitive to Canada. I order from amazon.ca and indigo - both Canadian online retailers, and I can get a lot of books through them with similar shipping deals (free over $25) but no prime option to speak of. Thank you for your offer to ship stuff. Usually the cost of shipping, plus the potential for duty (we never know when we'll have to pay duty, it seems very random to us) doesn't make it worth it.  This is what I miss most about living in the States and what I feel Americans take for granted - the ease, access and cheap cost of goods and shipping. Although Canada is a bigger country we are much smaller in population and just don't have the economy and consumer habits (not to mention our high taxes - gotta pay for that health care with something) that allows for inexpensive shipping. I miss this most about living in the States, since we are largely online shoppers.  Thanks again for your offer. We may take you up on that someday.

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          • Melissa

            Melissa on Oct. 18, 2012, 6:45 p.m.

            FWIW, the shipping charges from the U.S. have always seemed high to me due to fuel surcharges (fuel is cheap in the U.S. compared to the rest of the west), and charges slapped on for paperwork and process - where a U.S. shipper hands off to another at the border. Sometimes they build in or assume a cost for brokerage...it can feel downright arbitrary. It's a cross-border issue that doesn't exist with same country ordering and shipping, or even to the same extent when I've ordered books from amazon.uk

            On rare occasion I've ordered things from amazon.com that I can't find anywhere here. In the past year or two they've started adding a charge for duties (vs. getting a notice at time of delivery), you don't see it until you check out. In the case of my Magefesa pressure cooker, amazon.com overcharged me for duties and then refunded the difference months later. I chalk it up to the cost of choosing to order from a supplier in another country vs. paying 'for that health care'...

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            • renee

              renee on Oct. 18, 2012, 6:52 p.m.

              yeah, it all works out in the end. We're happy to be back in Canada for many reasons. Online shopping is not one of them (smile).

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    • Kika

      Kika on Oct. 18, 2012, 6:57 p.m.

      Writing with the kids is fun but I've found that my middle child has also really enjoyed personal journals with writing prompts ( bought her two from http://www.gadanke.com/ in the past):) One other idea I've used when my son was little: we had a "secret journal", just for he and I, and we would write to each other passing it back and forth at times. So if we wanted to ask about something (or whatever was on his mind he'd like to share) he'd write a little bit and I'd read it and answer another day. Noooo worries about spelling or punctuation - that was entirely beside the point. This felt special to him. I miss those days.

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  • Jenn

    Jenn on Oct. 17, 2012, 5:39 p.m.

    Would you consider sharing your writing prompts here in a list or on another page? I have entirely too many I have found on the web, but would love yours to replace them all. I LOVE the "fiery leaves" idea!

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  • Johanna Hanson

    Johanna Hanson on Oct. 17, 2012, 6:46 p.m.

    Oh, how I love this. I hated writing in high school. In fact, I had convinced myself by the time I was in college that I was just not a good writer. Now, I realize that I just didn't love the assigned topics in high school and therefore, I could never be inspired.

    This is one topic I have said over and over that I want my kids to love writing and somehow it has to be done differently than I learned. So eager to look at these resources and save them for the future.

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  • Mama

    Mama on Oct. 18, 2012, 2:15 a.m.

    Love this! Buddy, who is turning six next week, has been sounding out some words for stories he imagines. More often I transcribe as he tells me a story he wants to remember, but I never correct spelling. I'm just glad he enjoys creating! But I do have one tip. I find if I have a prompt I want to use, but I'm unsure how to follow it, that doing something nonverbal helps me to process my thoughts. Solitaire, gardening, walking, mending, etc. After that the words usually flow!

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  • Jaimie

    Jaimie on Oct. 18, 2012, 2:44 p.m.

    I'm a huge proponent of freewriting, for many different purposes. I'll bet you'd like Peter Elbow's writing. He was a big influence on me when I started teaching college English. He recommends lots and lots of freewriting, and he gives interesting suggestions for what to do with it and how to use it even in the revising stage.

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  • Spring

    Spring on Oct. 18, 2012, 3:07 p.m.

    One thing that has worked well withy kids was letting them dictate their stories and I would be their scribe. As they got older they took over more and more if the scribing themselves. I found that the burden of physically writing would often limit them, and choose simpler, shorter stories so it wouldn't feel so overwhelming. When I started doing it, I was blown away by the stories they began creating! Also, I had one that physically writing was a developmental issue, and when it became to much for me to keep up dictating, we got Dragon Naturally Speaking and the computer became the scribe. Then one day I heard "I'm not going to use dragon. It's easier to write" be still my beating mama's heart. We had gotten there! :)

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    • renee

      renee on Oct. 18, 2012, 3:27 p.m.

      Absolutely, we do the same thing! It's part of my writing toolkit so to speak. I have been the scribe for many things - e-mails, letters, stories, reports, etc. I will be talking about this more in my elementary writing posts. Dragon Speaking Naturally is on my to investigate list (has been ever since you first mentioned it to me) but first we're going to explore the free dictation option on the latest Mac operating system mountain lion. This would be very helpful for Laurent especially.

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  • Heather Caliri

    Heather Caliri on Oct. 18, 2012, 5:40 p.m.

    My oldest is six, and I mostly dictate for her. She's often resistant to anything I suggest--unless she comes up with it on her own. I'm not anxious about her writing, but would love to introduce her to tools when she's ready. I'm thinking waiting on this particular tool might be best, but am wondering what age she might be more open to it. I am thinking that when she can freewrite like me, and the youngest, 3, is able to be involved more (say in a year or two), I can journal more in front of them and have this activity start more naturally, on her own steam. What do you think?

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  • Charity

    Charity on Oct. 19, 2012, 2:51 a.m.

    Yay! I love this post. We do so much creative writing in our house, and it started when Kaylynn (almost 10) was 4. Now each of my kids have their own journal that they write in. The younger ones have a journal that has a blank space for pictures while Kaylynn's is now just lines for writing (which she loves). My 7 year old writes his own stories all the time and asks me to "read" them and spell the words correctly for him. Most of what he writes is written exactly how it sounds and is often misspelled, but I really don't care about that. The content of his stories are amazing! My 4 year old draws a picture then dictates to me the story. I write it down for her. When daddy gets home, she proudly says, "look at the story I wrote!" We have never used writing prompts (Kaylynn has never really been intersted in them), but maybe we will in the future. Right now, though, their imaginations spill out with wonderful stories that we all love reading. I keep all their writing journals so they can look back on their work. Kaylynn will often pull out her very first journal and re-read all the stories (which were often misspelled, but I just wrote the correct spelling directly underneath so she would always be able to read her own stories). Thanks for sharing this, Renee! I love to hear about how other families spend time in creative writing!

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