Re-Energize Language Arts at Your House with Service Learning

Re-Energize Language Arts at Your House with Service Learning

Maggie has some great ideas for giving your student’s writing a boost with a combination of project-based learning and community service.

Not-So-New Books: The Game of Silence

Not-So-New Books: The Game of Silence

The story of Omakayas continues in this second book in the late elementary/early middle grades series, which focuses on the changes brought about by white settlers in Native American territory.

Library Chicken Special Edition: Short Stories for your Spring (and Summer)!

Library Chicken Special Edition: Short Stories for your Spring (and Summer)!

All that short story reading has paid off: Suzanne has the definitive guide to the best short stories for your middle school or high school homeschool (or for your own personal reading list).

Summer Boot Camp: 5 Ways to Get Excited about Teaching Literature

Summer Boot Camp: 5 Ways to Get Excited about Teaching Literature

How do you go from reading together to talking critically about books? It’s not hard to do, but a little guidance always helps.


Rethink Your Reading List: Get revved up for the coming year by throwing away all your preconceptions about what and how your kids should be reading and focusing instead on creating an environment where reading is a pleasure, using the choice-based method recommended by Nancie Attwell in The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers.



Let Imagination Run Free: Reading is all about imagination, and Mac Barnett’s Ted Talk about letting the magic of imaginary worlds infuse everyday reality. If you’re longing for more whimsy and play in your literature studies, this talk is a great place to start.



Brush Up on Your English: It’s possible to study literature without digging into the English language, but it’s really not as much fun. Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue is a witty reference guide to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the language we speak, from the origin of swear words to weird syntactical tics.



Shift Your Emphasis: Sometimes, you feel like you should be doing more as a reader—how do you teach your kids to read critically, intelligently, and thoughtfully when you’re not really sure how to do that yourself? How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading walks you through adapting your reading to a more rigorous bent—without sucking all the fun out of it.



Make Poetry a Habit: It’s nice to think about making poetry part of your everyday life—and it’s easy to actually do it, thanks to the Poetry Foundation’s poem-a-day podcast, which features a poem (usually read by a poet) every day. Add three minutes to your routine, and make poetry part of your schedule.


This list is excerpted from our Summer Boot Camp Guide in the summer 2016 issue of HSL.

A Little Hobbit Day Fun

Great roundup of resources and activities for studying The Hobbit

Happy Hobbit Day! Epic adventure, inspired mythology, and compelling characters make The Hobbit a fun addition to your homeschool any time. But Hobbit Day is a great excuse to make time for a little Tolkien in your homeschool. Here’a a little round-up of ideas for celebrating everybody’s favorite Middle Earth-people.



  • Tolkien's World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth:  Just as its name suggests, Robert Foster’s comprehensive, dictionary- style book explains the legends, history, geography, and inhabitants of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between the Maiar and the Istari, this is the book for you.
  • Teacher’s Guide: Teaching The Hobbit:  If you want to take a traditional, literature class-style approach to The Hobbit (complete with discussion questions and vocabulary notes), Random House’s free teacher’s guide is a handy resource.
  • Introducing J.R.R. Tolkien:  There are plenty of biographies of The Hobbit’s creator, but this one from the C.S. Lewis review has some nice details about Tolkien’s relationship with the author of the Narnia books and their shared interest in fantasy literature. 



  • The Tolkien Professor:  Tolkien-obsessed literature professor Corey Olsen’s lectures are delightfully detailed.
  • The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection:  It’s worth listening to these recordings of Tolkien reading his work just to hear Tolkien make the odd, distinctive gulping sound he imagined for Gollum.



  • The Hobbit:  The 1977 animated version of The Hobbit is quirky, charming, and surprisingly faithful.
  • The Hobbit Trilogy: I personally wasn’t a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit (which took out stuff I really liked, added in stuff that never happened, and stretched out a perfectly paced story over three films—but I digress), but even if you’re picking the flicks apart as you watch, a movie marathon is totally fun way to get in the Middle Earth spirit.
  • Modern Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien:  The BBC’s 1968 interview with Tolkien captures the very beginning of the Middle Earth craze and features the author strolling through his beloved Oxford, chatting about everything from the enchantment of the natural world to his fondness for beer.



  • Learn Rune Writing.  The Tolkien Society introduces the runic alphabet. Use it to translate, invent, or just write notes in secret code. I think it’s run to write the characters on river rocks or clay shapes to make a tactile runic alphabet.
  • Keep a Character Diary.  Use Thorin’s diary as inspiration for creating your own character diary as you read.
  • Explore the Hero’s Journey.  Bilbo’s grand adventure falls into a long tradition of epic stories, and ReadWriteThink’s interactive exploration of the hero’s journey is a great introduction to this literary staple.

Jot It Down!: A Supportive, Interest-Driven Curriculum for Young Writers

home/school/life reviews Brave Writer's Jot It Down: a hands-on, supportive writing curriculum for homeschoolers

Julie Bogart’s popular Brave Writer resources are favorites among homeschooling families. One enthusiastic mom told me, “Brave Writer is more than a curriculum; it’s also a guide to maximizing all of the joys and rewards that come with the homeschooling lifestyle.” 

I finally had the opportunity to check out Brave Writer for myself, and I’m absolutely hooked! We’ll be using this program in our homeschool this fall, and I can’t wait to get started. 

Brave Writer products include both home-based and online learning resources ranging from kindergarten through to high school. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Jot It Down!, a year-long language arts and writing program for children ages 5 to 8.

Bogart encourages parents to cultivate learning environments in which young writers feel comfortable taking creative risks. By establishing a cozy, supportive space to practice reading and writing, she explains, creativity blossoms and an organic love of language evolves.

Jot It Down! opens with fun ideas to help readers create just the right learning atmosphere—light candles while reading poetry, bake brownies, sing, play, and dance. Bogart’s writing is warm and inviting; it is a celebration of the magic moments made possible through homeschooling.

Before the age of five, writes Bogart, children acquire and develop language skills simply by engaging with others. Family and friends listen appreciatively to toddlers offering them gentle feedback and modeling correct grammar patterns. Throughout this stage of learning, instincts guide us as we help our children master verbal communication. 

Writing skills, the author points out, can be developed using the very same painless methods. We enjoy watching young children experiment freely with vocalization and sentence structure. Rarely do we feel a need to edit their words. We recognize this is a valid part of the learning process. Bogart believes that young writers should be encouraged in the same ways. Resist the temptation to pull out a red pen, she urges. Let kids experiment and play with the written word. 

Jot It Down! is divided into three areas of learning: Language Arts, Oral Language, and Writing Projects. Although Bogart offers scheduling suggestions, parents are encouraged to work through the program in a manner that best suits their child. 


Language Arts

Handwriting, reading skills, and basic punctuation are introduced in the language arts section. To teach these mechanics, Bogart relies heavily on copy work and dictation. Here it is important to note that parent’s must provide all copy work materials as none are included in this resource. For those unfamiliar with copy work and dictation methods, additional research will be required—a guide to these approaches is not provided in Jot It Down! For information about copy work and dictation, the author suggests referring to Brave Writer publications The Wand or A Quiver of Arrows, which are sold separately and as part of a Jot It Down! bundle


Oral Language

Oral language development is an important feature of the Jot It Down! curriculum. Narrating ideas aloud facilitates vocabulary development and helps children develop their “internal writing voice.” Bogart playfully exchanges the term “narration” with “Big Juicy Conversation.” She refers to parents’ transcription as “catching your child in the act of thinking.” Jot It Down! provides ideas to encourage impromptu storytelling as well as worthwhile extension activities that maximize the value of narration activities. 


Writing Projects

Ten writing projects are featured in this final section. These projects can be easily simplified or expanded depending on the needs of the child. One writing project per month is recommended, with each project taking four weeks to complete. These hands-on projects are creative and include appealing project themes such as fairy tales, animals, and art appreciation. Activities include topic selection, research, content development, transcribing, revision, assembling, and sharing projects with friends and family. 


Jot It Down! is a 79-page digital download that is visually appealing and printer friendly. It is available to purchase online and retails for $39.95.

Jot It Down! is the sort of resource that appeals to all kinds of families. It can be easily modified to suit a variety of learning styles and can be used with multi-aged siblings. Bogart’s writing is full of reassurance and warmth that parents will appreciate. Kids will love the program’s emphasis on joyful learning and creative self-expression. 

Online Class Spotlight: Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance

Great homeschool literature class online: Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance

We’re so excited about our new online classes, and we thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at what’s on the lineup for this summer. Today, Jeremy explains how he plans to explore the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. (Registration is open now!)


What is your class about?

This class will introduce students to some of the major poets of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langtston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Jean Toomer. We will read and discuss a selection of these poets' work with an awareness of the complex racial and socio-cultural currents that informed the movement of which they were a part. 


What will students learn?

I hope students will leave this class with an appreciation for the complexity of the Harlem Renaissance as a cultural movement. But this is a poetry class and students will also learn how to read and discuss poetry with an awareness of tone, meter, meaning, and ambiguity.  


What is your favorite thing about teaching this class?

What's so exciting to me about the Harlem Renaissance is that it encompassed so much. It wasn't just a literary movement – those associated with the movement included musicians, dancers, playwrights, political activists, and sociologists. Though we're going to focus primarily on the poetry, I hope to encourage students to explore the other rich traditions of the Harlem Renaissance on their own. 


Why did you decide to teach the class?

We're living through a cultural moment in which African-American culture is flourishing on television, in the movies, and in music, and yet, as the 2016 Oscars showed, questions of race, culture, and the place of African-American culture within the American mainstream still cause frenzied debate and hand-wringing in this country. What interests me about the writers of the Harlem Renaissance is that they were asking the questions we are still asking almost a century later and their answers are often surprising and thought-provoking.