Category Archives: English

Fun with Literary Devices – Opening Hooks

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

How do we teach our kids to write like their – and our – favourite authors? We can start by playing with some of the literary techniques successful writers use. One example is the opening hook.

C(10) and I learned about opening hooks a few years ago from The Arrow (a Brave Writer language arts program for 8 to 11 year olds).

I thought it might be fun to revisit opening hooks, this time involving J(9).

Setting up

We each brought to the table a pile of our favourite books. I quickly typed and printed a table listing the book titles.

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks
I left space for us to give each opening hook a score out of 10

What we did

We took turns reading the first few lines of our chosen books. After each opening we discussed how effective it was in drawing us in to want to read more.  I like that there are no right answers in this exercise – a nine-year-old’s opinion is as valid as an adult’s.

What kind of books can you use?

I didn’t impose any rules about the type of books the children brought to the table. J(9) listens to lots of good quality audiobooks, but for actual print reading he likes series like Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. (I’m just happy that he is reading and enjoying books. I know that eventually his visual reading skills will catch up.) Interestingly, we all gave J(9)’s “The Diary of Dennis the Menace” ten out of ten for its opening hook – the only book which received a perfect score from us all:

“This is the WORST day in the history of the universe ever … EVER!!! It’s so horrible I don’t think I can even write it down.”

The Diary of Dennis the Menace

J(9)’s other choices also scored highly. C(10) and I speculated later about how important it is that books for emerging boy readers have effective opening hooks!

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

Writing our own opening hooks

Next, we all wrote a few of our own opening hooks. Here’s one of C(10)’s:

“Alexander was falling. The wind tore at his hair and clothes and suddenly with a sickening thump he crashed to the ground.”

We played a verbal game of “opening hooks” later, on our dog walk. One person would make up a hook and then everyone took turns to continue the tale. We ended up with some very silly stories!


How does your favourite book begin?


More Brave Writer-inspired language arts posts


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up – Adventures in Homeschool

Finishing Strong #35 – Education Possible

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

A writing game for all ages

Writing game

I don’t know how she does it. Every day Julie Bogart drops into my inbox yet another pearl of wisdom that makes our homeschool more fun. A game, an idea for stimulating big conversations, or simply words of encouragement reminding me to appreciate what’s going well in our homeschool, instead of worrying about what’s missing.

In last Sunday’s Daily Writing Tip, Julie suggested using the game Boggle to generate words to use in stories.

We don’t have Boggle, so I downloaded the free app Popwords to use instead.

How we played

First, we used Popwords to generate a list of words. We let J(9) spot the three-letter-words while C(10) and I searched for longer ones. I wrote all our words on a whiteboard.

When we had 15 words, we grabbed paper and pencils. We each set our own goal for how many words to  include in our piece of writing. J(9) decided on six words, C(10) thirteen, and I tried to use all of them.

The game was so much fun. We all smiled as we wrote, and giggled as we shared our writing. We created such different pieces of writing from the same set of words!

What we wrote

J(9) wrote a movie promo, which he read in his best “big movie” voiceover voice:

“It’s the sun trial – the kills of a pig in a wig … Coming out soon.”

C(10) made a vampire poem:

“I run from the pale animals who never see the sun

With their fangs glinting, ready for the kill

Theirs is the trial which inflicts awe

The dots of blood on the hen – no, pig

No human – yes, human, beware

They are everywhere

In the eggs, in your wig, at the gig


I wrote a silly story, which started:

“It all began the day I came home from my run to discover the hen, Suki, wearing a blonde wig. She’d been quite an ordinary chook when I left home as the sun was rising. And now here she was – dancing on the toaster, with the pig playing on Uncle Solomon’s banjo.”

Games at teatime

Fun writing games are always a hit in our house, and they’re by far the best way to inspire J(9) to pick up a pen. Over the last week we’ve got into a pleasant routine of meeting for afternoon tea while we play a game or enjoy a story. On Monday lunchtime we returned from a long weekend away, and I found myself ignoring the unpacking while I made scones to eat over a game of Consequences. I’m starting the school year as I mean to go on!

Where to find Brave Writer writing ideas

You can sign up for Brave Writer’s daily writing tips on the Brave Writer homepage. Julie has compiled her first set of tips into Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 which can be downloaded for $4.99.  (I’m not affiliated to Brave Writer, I just love Julie’s gentle wisdom and want to share the inspiration with you.)

 What writing games does your family enjoy?

Do you have a favourite teatime snack?


 I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Home Ed Link Up #15 – Adventures in Home Education

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

Unschooling Writing

unschooling writing

We’ve been homeschooling in very relaxed way this year. Surprisingly, I’ve probably put in more homeschooling “hours” than ever – unschooling is more parent-intensive than I’d anticipated. But both the children and I are thriving.

I’ve started dozens of blog posts about what we’ve been doing, so I thought I’d better get around to finishing one. I’ll start with sharing how C(10) and J(9) are learning how to write.

General approach to writing

I don’t require any writing as part of my children’s everyday learning. Nor do we study grammar or spelling as separate subjects. I don’t teach them how to write five paragraph essays, but they love to debate ideas and make reasoned arguments. I never ask for written narrations, but after we read about the slave trade, or how Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church, for example, there’s plenty of spirited discussion. And we read and listen to so many fiction books together that we’re always comparing and contrasting plot structures, analysing character motivations and discussing the use of different viewpoints as we chat about the novels we’ve enjoyed.

Despite – or perhaps because of –  this, both C(10) and J(9) love to write. Here are some examples of the types of writing they’ve been doing recently.


C(10)’s passion for the Divergent books and movie has inspired a ton of learning. She spent most of April reading Divergent fan fiction, and last week she uploaded the first instalment of her own story to An hour later she excitedly announced that 28 people had read it. The following day she added another instalment. Readers left reviews. More people read it. Her story is now over 3000 words long. It’s had more than 1000 views, and it’s been followed and favourited by readers.

I contrast this encouraging, peer-supported writing environment with the writing opportunities I had when I was young. I wrote stories on subjects decided by my teachers. The stories were read and judged by the teachers alone. If a piece of writing happened to appeal to the teacher it might be published in the school magazine. (Mine never were. The teacher liked long descriptive paragraphs filled with adjectives and adverbs. That wasn’t my style.)

Writing, like any skill, improves with practice. C(10) knows her words are going to be read and appreciated by real people. She gets almost real-time feedback. No wonder she spends so much time writing!

Unschooling writing


C(10) has also just started writing a fantasy novel, “Circle of Fire”. (Actually a trilogy, apparently.) The title was inspired by this brilliant name generator site recently shared in Julie’s Daily Writing Tip.

C(10) is at the faltering ownership stage of writing – she often enjoys writing alongside an adult.  Not so long ago, the idea of that adult being me was met with a derisive snort. Then for a year she was mentored in writing by an adult friend of ours, until the friend moved away. So when C(10) recently asked if I could help her write a story “in the way that Gaynor used to” I did a little jig inside.

I like this flipped way of working. Instead of me teaching C(10), C(10) is showing me how to help her. “Okay, so now we set the timer and I do a free-write about the characters”, she says. “Now I read you what I’ve written and we talk about it.” It’s fun being part of her writing process.

Blog posts

J(9) has been writing, too.  He is fiercely autodidactic, so working in the same room as me when I’m busy doing something else suits him perfectly. When he saw me working with C(10) on her story the other day, he grabbed his computer and wrote a review of his favourite DS game on his blog, Video Game Reviewer.  When my attention is elsewhere J(9) can safely shoot questions at me – “How do you spell enough?” – without me getting carried away and subjecting him to an un-asked for spelling lesson (“What other words can you think of that end in -ough“?)

Unschooling Writing
J(9) working on a blog post

Mad Libs stories

“Shall we make up Mad Libs?” J(9) asks enthusiastically, several times a week. We all enjoy Mad Libs, so C(10) and I grab our computers and join J(9). We each write a few paragraphs on any theme we choose, leaving plenty of gaps.

Then we take turns eliciting from the others words to fill our gaps: “Adjective?”, “Verb?”, “Plural noun?”. Plenty of suggestions are offered for each missing word, and the writer selects their favourite. Then they share their story, usually several times, to much hilarity.

Unschooling writing
Writing a Mad Libs story


All the writing I’ve mentioned so far is spontaneously initiated by the children. Copywork, meanwhile, is part of our routine. C(10) loves writing out her favourite poems, and paragraphs from books she loves. She does her copywork by hand, using colourful gel-pens.

Because J(9) struggles with the physical act of writing, I tend to forget that as he copies he is also learning how to spell, punctuate and use good grammar. Although he needs the practice, the laborious process of writing by hand makes it difficult for him to copy more than one short sentence at a time.

I think of his last blog post – beautifully conversational and funny, but with barely a comma or full-stop (period) in sight. “I wish there was spell-check for punctuation,” he said.

“Would you like to type out your copywork sometimes, instead of using a pencil?” I suggested. “That way you might be able to manage longer sentences … even paragraphs. You might remember to use full stops when you’re writing if you put them into your copywork.”

Copywork will help , but I expect J(9) will learn to punctuate when he feels the need, just as he taught himself to read and spell. He knows I’m eager to help whenever he needs me, but he needs to do things his way.

Both  my children choose their own copywork. Sometimes I strew resources, like websites with quotes from their favourite books. Or I buy kindle copies of their favourite audiobooks, like Anne of Green Gables or the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series. Often I do copywork alongside them – writing out great literature is always inspiring.

What are your children’s favourite ways to write?

For more writing inspiration, see 5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love.


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Weekly Wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Unschooling Plans for English and Maths

Unschooling Plans for English and Math

Unschooling plans? Is that an oxymoron? I was going to say “unschooling ideas” but that sounded too vague. Call them what you will – over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting with the children about what they want to learn this term and jotting down ideas in Evernote, and that’s what this post and the next are about.

Today, I’ll share our plans for maths and English. Next time I’ll talk about history, science, projects and extras.


Fourth grade maths

Without a maths curriculum, how do I know what to cover with C(10)?

One place I look for ideas is past SATs papers taken by 11 year-old English schoolchildren. (These are actually quite fun, would you believe.)

When I come across a topic I think C(10) will enjoy learning about (or revisiting) I look it up in our collection of maths books. We especially like the Murderous Maths series at the moment. I usually read aloud, pausing while C(10) – beside me on the sofa –  works through problems on a mini-whiteboard.

I also scan our favourite maths websites for games and hands-on activities relating to the topic. Two new (to me) resources I’m looking forward to exploring this term are Mathtrain.TV (loads of short maths videos, mostly made by children) and MathForum (hundreds of links to maths websites and activities).

Third grade maths

For the moment J(8) wants to continue working through Life of Fred. As we progress with the elementary series I’m inclined to agree with Hwee that this series has a few flaws. This has particularly struck me in our current book, Life of Fred: Ice Cream, which focuses heavily on learning the times tables by rote and introduces concepts like perimeter and graphing in a dry and confusing way.

However J(8) loves the Fred story and as it doesn’t form our entire un-curriculum, I’m happy to stick with it for now.  He prefers his maths a bit less seat-of-your-pants than C(10), so it works for me to try out new things with her, knowing I can do them with J(8) later when I’ve ironed out the wrinkles. In the meantime we include J(8) in any games, stories and fun hands-on activities we do.

unschooling maths and english


English (language arts and literature) is the subject I feel most relaxed about leaving to the children. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the single thing that makes the most difference to their proficiency in the English language is books. Not spelling and grammar workbooks, or learning how to construct a paragraph, but books with stories they love.

Books improve my children’s vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing voice and style, not to mention their debating skills, critical thinking and general knowledge. There’s plenty of time for them to learn to write essays; for now I want to give them time to develop their own voices, inspired by the books they read and listen to. As a former lawyer I’m also a stickler for accurate punctuation; however I believe this, too, will come easily and naturally when the time is right.

What we’re reading/listening to

Audiobooks  unschooling english

As usual we have many audiobooks on the go. Together we’ve just started the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series,  So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (warning: contains some scenes between a man and woman you may not want your kids hearing. J(8) drifts off during the “sappy bits” which in any case are general enough to go over his head, and C(10) is mature enough to handle them, so this doesn’t bother me personally).  J(8) has asked to learn about the world wars this term, so I’ve got The Silver Sword lined up for us to listen to together next.

C(10) and I are listening to I, Coriander (historical fiction/fantasy set in the days of Oliver Cromwell).  J(8) and I are listening to The Once and Future King (a charming classic re-telling of the King Arthur legend). I love finding myself in the car with just one child and being able to flick on our special audiobook (on the Audible app on my phone). (We do talk sometimes too, honest.)

Meanwhile, on their own, J(8) is re-listening to the Kane Chronicles and C(10) has just started reading The Underland Chronicles series (by Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins) while she waits for the fourth Heroes of Olympus book to arrive at the library.

Over the Christmas break we finished an excellent trilogy which prompted some very stimulating discussions about human nature, war and politics. I’m not going to mention the title (it’s not The Hunger Games) because I don’t want you to think I’m recommending it for eight-year-olds, but once I’ve formulated my thoughts I might be brave and write a post about it. Both my kids loved the books, and the listening experience really brought home to me how valuable fiction can be for deepening children’s (and adults’) understanding of complex real-world issues.

Brave Writer Lifestyle

I’m intending to use Brave Writer’s Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 for inspiration, especially as a springboard to write alongside J(8) who has suddenly taught himself to spell (two years after we gave up spelling lessons and six months after we stopped his phonics programme. There’s a lesson for me there).

It’s a joy witnessing J(8)’s emerging written self-expression, not just for its own sake but because his writing is just so funny. Last week I was sitting alongside C(10) as she wrote Christmas thank-you emails. Her messages were polite, well-spelt and punctuated, and followed all the usual thank-you note conventions. Then J(8) joined us. I started out typing for him but he soon seized the computer to stop me editing what he wanted to say. We were soon all snorting with laughter at J(8)’s idea of appropriate greetings and thank-you sentiments. I’m not sure what J(8)’s kind relations and godparents will make of his thank-you notes, but I can be sure they won’t be receiving many others like his!

It won’t take long for J(8) to learn how to formulate his written thoughts into exam-ready paragraphs when he needs to do so. J(8)’s written voice is just beginning to emerge as the perfect expression of his exuberant, off-the-wall personality. To attempt to squash it into a rubric-constrained framework, before it’s had time to fully develop, would be a tragedy.

C(10) will continue her writing sessions with her tutor, the homeschooling mum friend who first introduced me to Brave Writer. C(10)  thoroughly enjoys these sessions and I’ve seen wonderful developments in her writing style since she began them.  I’ve also noticed that she’s been writing more often spontaneously recently – stories, notes and a very detailed dream journal.

Unschooling English and maths

We’ll also continue daily(ish) copywork, poetry teatimes, word and writing games and our read-aloud chapter book. We might read Puddles in the Lane next. I remember loving this story of evacuated children when I was ten, and it will fit well with J(8)’s request to learn about the World Wars.

More on that, and our project plans, next time!


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Entertaining and Educational

Collage Friday

6 Read-Aloud Chapter Books I Loved Reading as Much As My Children Enjoyed Listening To

read-aloud chapter books

Now that it’s possible to buy almost any audiobook for a few pounds*, I’m enjoying the luxury of being more choosy about what I read aloud to my children.

This doesn’t mean we read aloud together any less than we used to, but I love that I can now delegate to professional actors the reading of great works of literature to which I couldn’t do full justice (usually because of a lack of personal interest in the book. I have friends who’ve spent a happy year reading The Lord of the Rings to their children, but J(8) is getting much more from Rob Inglis’s rendition.)

Meanwhile, there are some books I just love to read aloud.  Here are my top six read-aloud chapter books, chosen for the sheer joy they have brought us.

{*with an Audible subscription. Here are some of our favourite audiobooks}

Five Children and It

read-aloud chapter books

The story: Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane and their baby brother the Lamb find a sand fairy – “Psammead” – who reluctantly agrees to grant them wishes under certain conditions. None of the wishes turns out quite as the children intend, but each leads to an exciting adventure.

Date published: 1904

Why I love it: I just adore reading E. Nesbitt’s writing aloud. (Maybe because I have a slightly posh English accent?)

My children’s ages when we read it: 6 and 7

Don’t: let the film put you off. I only managed to watch half of it. The book is infinitely better!

Becky’s Book Reviews contains some wonderful quotes from Five Children and It. Here’s one…


“The people who decide what the weather is to be, and put its orders down for it in the newspaper every morning, said afterwards it was the hottest day there had been for years. They had ordered it to be ‘warmer–some showers’, and warmer it certainly was. In fact it was so busy being warmer that it had no time to attend to the order about showers, so there weren’t any.”

Another favourite by E. NesbitThe Phoenix and the Carpet

The Return of the Twelves

read-aloud chapter books

Date published: 1962

The story: Eight-year old Max finds a box of old wooden soldiers, which come alive. Through the soldiers, Max and his sister discover some fascinating local history and help the soldiers in a quest to return to their rightful home.

Why I love itThe Return of the Twelves is a beautifully written and original story. I also love that it introduced my children to the Brontë family. After reading it, we named our puppy after Branwell Brontë! (Confirming our status among local friends as those slightly strange homeschoolers. :wink:)

My children’s ages when we read it: 8 and 9


“Gravey howled, stood up, and began hitting everyone at random, even while still wearing an expression of the utmost melancholy.”

{The Return of the Twelves was published as The Twelve and the Genii in the UK.}


read-aloud chapter books

Date published: 1880

The story: Five year-old Heidi is taken high into the mountains to live with a misanthropic  grandfather she has never met. Kind-hearted Heidi’s cheerful spirit thaws the old man’s heart and she settles into her new home well, only to have yet more changes thrust upon her.

Why I love it: Heidi is a delightful character, so positive and trusting that things will turn out for the best. The exquisite descriptions of the Swiss mountain setting are like a breath of fresh air, too.

Daughter’s age when we read Heidi: 7


“I’ll always say my prayers… and if God doesn’t answer them at once I shall know it’s because he’s planning something better for me.”

Understood Betsy

read-aloud chapter books

The story: Nine-year old orphan Elizabeth Ann has been brought up by over-protective aunts who have infected her with their own neuroses and hypochondria. When circumstances change and the girl goes to live with different relatives, she enjoys discovering unsuspected capabilities and a new-found independence in herself.

Date published: 1916

Why I love it: The characters are perfectly captured, the writing is charming, and Betsy’s transformation is a joy to behold.  Understood Betsy is also the perfect read for homeschoolers, showing beautifully the difference between schooling and education.

One scene is so well described I found tears rolling down my cheeks as I read aloud – much to the bemusement of my children, whose empathy capacities are not yet quite as developed as mine!  The book mostly made us smile, though.

My children’s age when we read it: 8 and 9


“Uncle Henry and his father – why Moses or Alexander the Great didn’t seem any further back in the mists of time than did Uncle Henry’s father! … And to think he had been a little boy, right there at that desk! She stopped chewing altogether for a moment and stared into space. Although she was only nine years old, she was feeling a little of the same rapt wonder that people in the past were really people, which makes a first visit to the Roman Forum a thrilling event for grownups. That very desk!”

Charlie and the Cat Flap

read-aloud chapter books

Date published: 2007

The story: Charlie and his friend Henry are good boys with a talent for getting into mischief. In Charlie and the Cat Flap the boys plan the best sleepover ever. Needless to say things don’t go quite to plan.

Why I love it: Charlie is one of those “adorable scamp” type of characters that everyone in our family can easily relate to. Hilary McKay has an enormous talent for setting up comical situations that make you laugh out loud as they unfold.

Also for new readers: My children discovered Hilary McKay for themselves in our local library. She writes for a broad age range. The Charlie series is suitable for fairly new readers, but I couldn’t resist reading it aloud to my son after I peeked at it over my six-year old daughter’s shoulder. We went on to read the entire series together, and many times I’ve given the books as gifts to young friends.

My children’s ages when we read it: 5 and 6

Another favourite by the same authorWishing For Tomorrow, The Sequel to a Little Princess (a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess)

Fattypuffs and Thinifers

read-aloud chapter books

Date published: 1930

The story: Plump Edmund and his thin brother Terry go through a secret entrance and find themselves in the Country Under the Earth, where their different sizes lead to them being segregated. Edmund is taken to live with the fat and congenial Fattipuffs, whereas Terry must go with the thin and cranky Thinifers.

Why I love it: I adored Fattypuffs and Thinifers when my teacher read it to the class when I was seven (it’s one of only two books I remember being read to me as a child).

Reading it as an adult, I was struck by the parallels with French and German history and was astounded to discover that the book was written by a French author several years before World War II, whose events it heavily foreshadows.

My children’s ages when we read it: 7 and 8

What chapter-book do you love to read aloud?


chapter books to read aloud

For more read-aloud ideas, visit:

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Read Along Chapter Books

Every Bed of Roses – Our Top 6 Favorite Chapter Read-Alouds

Highhill Homeschool – Best Chapter Books

One Magnificent Obsession – Our Top 6 Read-Alouds


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop

Weekly Wrap-Up

Entertaining and Educational


This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

6 Favourite Read-Aloud Picture Books

favourite read-aloud picture books

This week’s Homeschool Help topic has been a marvellous excuse to delve through parts of our bookshelves I don’t often visit these days. Many of our picture books have been handed down to my young nephews, so those that remain are the special few that I couldn’t bear to part with.

But Excuse Me That is My Book

favourite read aloud chapter books

I have mixed feelings about Charlie and Lola. Slightly-spoilt, childish Lola is not a good role model. But her conversations with saintly big brother Charlie do make me giggle.

We love all the Charlie and Lola books, but my favourite is probably But Excuse Me That Is My Book  (or “Beetles, bugs and butterflies” as it is known in our house, after Lola’s favourite library book).

If you haven’t seen it, watch the corresponding TV episode to get the cute voices and then have fun reading But Excuse Me that Is My Book aloud to your children. It’s one you won’t mind reading over and over.

A Squash and a Squeeze

A-Squash-and-a-Squeeze.jpgNo list of my favourite read-aloud picture books would be complete without a mention of Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo).

A Squash and a Squeeze earns its place here because the title has established itself so firmly in my vocabulary that I use the phrase almost daily.

The book tells the story of an old lady who grumbles, “There’s not enough room in my house… My house is a squash and a squeeze.”

A wise old man advises the lady to take into her home first her hen, then her goat, her pig and finally her cow. Barely able to move for livestock by this point, the old lady finds her house squashier than ever.  Then, of course, the man instructs her to turn all the animals out, whereupon the old woman revels, “Just look at my house, it’s enormous now.”

Back in September I wanted to have a breakthrough in managing our busy schedule.  After a long summer break, I was not looking forward to going back to chauffeuring my children to activities several days and evenings a week. Then … my husband broke his right ankle and my driving load doubled!

One of the consequences of his injury is that we’ve dropped a few activities (a good thing). Another is that when my darling husband is able to help out again, I will really appreciate it! “It’ll be like a squash and a squeeze!” I find myself cheerfully saying (probably far oftener than my family would care to hear).

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

favourite read aloud picture booksI know I’ve already included one Lauren Child book, but what with the Clarice Bean series, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book and Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent, I just couldn’t limit myself to one.

Hubert Horatio is the heart-warming tale of how Hubert’s delightfully random parents lose their fortune and their mansion home, but wind up happier than ever living in a tiny apartment where there’s always someone available for a game of Kerplunk.

Their son is also happy because, “for the first time ever, Hubert Horatio’s cocoa was still warm by the time he had walked the short distance to his parents’ room to say, ‘Goodnight!'”

Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions that Build Success

Arnie and his School Tools

Arnie and His School Tools is a wonderful book for anyone affected by Sensory Processing Disorder whether personally, or as a family member, friend, teacher or classmate.

I ordered the book when I first began to suspect that J(8) had Sensory Processing Disorder. After I read it to him, I asked J(8)  if Arnie reminded him of anyone. “Me!” he replied without hesitation.

Arnie’s “fast motor” used to get him into trouble, but now he uses special tools that help him learn.

In this beautifully illustrated story Arnie uses fidgets, heavy-work, weighted-blankets, ear plugs and other tools to help him focus. The story is helpful without being in any way patronising. In fact, re-reading it just now has given me lots of fresh inspiration for ways to help J(8) concentrate on learning.

Beautiful Oops

favourite read aloud picture booksOver the years I’ve bought my perfectionist-tending children a number of books about the value of making mistakes (another favourite is Mistakes That Worked).

The artistic Beautiful Oops appeals to C(9) in particular. Each new page transforms a seeming mistake or accident on the previous page into something beautiful.

This is another book title that has happily made its way into our everyday vocabulary – “Hey – we could make it into a ‘beautiful oops’!”. It was C(9)’s suggestion that I include it in this list. 🙂

Unstoppable Me: 10 Ways to Soar Through Life

favourite read-aloud picture booksI’ve given Unstoppable Me as a gift to all my Godchildren and young relations, safe in the knowledge that the messages it contains are pure upliftment and inspiration.

Wayne Dyer’s Incredible You: 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through is wonderful too.

favourite read-aloud chapter books

6 favourite read-aloud picture books

For more favourite read-aloud picture books, head over to:

Every Bed of Roses – Our Favourite Picture Book Read Alouds

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Top Favourite Read Aloud Picture Books

One Magnifient Obsession – The Wonderful World of Picture Books

Highhill Homeschool – Best Picture Books


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Weekly Wrap-Up

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal


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5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love

Writing Games

This week’s Homeschool Help topic is “Help! My child hates writing!”

My suggestion whenever a child hates anything is to take a complete break from the current routine and have some fun.

The writing games I’m sharing here are not the kind you find on educational websites or in books of writing “games”. {A quick search of those resources turns up a list of exercises I’d rather gnaw off my own writing-hand than have to endure.}

Here you will find genuinely fun games that adults will enjoy playing as much as children. In fact several have been enjoyed by adults since Victorian times or even earlier. My mildly dyslexic and dysgraphic son adores them too.

Something the first four games have in common is that they cannot be played without writing. (Contrast these with some “learning games” which begin with a reasonably promising premise and then have every drop of joy wrung out of them by the introduction of an inauthentic and completely unnecessary writing requirement.)

writing games

1. Consequences

Each player starts with a blank sheet of paper and pencil. We use A4 (letter) size, portrait orientation.

The game works best with three or more players, but we have played with two on occasion.

How to play

At the very top of the paper, each player writes the name of a male. They might choose a historical figure, a cartoon or nursery rhyme character, a pet, a famous actor or even someone in the room.

Each player then folds down the top of their paper to conceal what they’ve written, and passes it to the player on their left.

Each player then writes down the name of a female on the paper that’s just been passed to them. Then everyone folds over and passes their paper again.

Continue writing and passing papers in this way until each paper contains the following:

  • male character
  • female character
  • where they met
  • he said:
  • she said:
  • what happened in the end (the eponymous consequence)
Once the consequence has been written, everyone unfolds the paper they’re holding and takes turns reading their story aloud (usually accompanied by loud guffaws).

writing games


I’ve described Consequences as we’ve always enjoyed playing it. You can, of course, modify it however you choose.

A popular variation is to add one of more adjectives before each of the male and female characters. You might also add adverbs before “he said” and “she said”.

Personal experiences

I just love it when Ghengis Kahn meets Anne of Green Gables on one of Saturn’s rings and they end up inventing a time machine so they can help build the leaning Tower of Pisa. Or when Little Miss Muffet warns our postman to, “Watch out for low-flying hedgehogs heading this way!”

We played a version of Consequences at my baby shower when I was pregnant with C(9). I still chuckle when I look back on the scenarios my friends came up with for our baby.

writing games

2. Telephone Pictionary

Like Consequences, each player starts with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.

How to play

Each person writes a phrase or sentence at the top of their page, then passes it to the player on their left.

Each player now draws what’s written on the page they’ve just received. Then they fold down the paper so that only their picture shows, and papers are passed to the left again.

Next, each player writes a phrase or sentence describing the picture they’ve just been given. Then fold down papers again to reveal only the last piece of writing, and pass papers again.

Keep going until there’s no room for any more pictures, then unfold the pages.

Have fun comparing each original sentence with the final drawing and then following the metamorphosis in between.

writing games

Telephone Pictionary Tips

Like Consequences, Telephone Pictionary becomes more enjoyable the more you play it, as players intuitively discover what makes for the most entertaining denouements.

Bad drawing helps. Anyone too good at drawing should be sat next to someone with a talent for imaginative interpretation!

Any child who can read and have a go at writing can enjoy Telephone Pictionary. I don’t worry about spelling – children will naturally want to write legibly and spell accurately to communicate their meaning, but if they have to give a whispered translation to the player to their left, it’s okay.

Writing Games

3. Telephone Oracle

This one can be played by all ages but will yield more entertaining results with slightly older children.

Once again, begin with papers and pencils all round.

How to play

Each player writes a question they want the Oracle to answer at the top of their page. Papers are then passed to the left, and each player makes up an answer to the question they have been given.

Players then fold the top of their papers over, concealing the original question, and pass papers round to the left again.

This time, each player makes up a possible question which could be answered by the answer they see written on their paper.

Players fold down and pass papers round again, and answer the question they see written.

Continue to the bottom of the page, ending on an answer.

At the end, each player unfolds their paper and reads out first the original question and final answer, and then the in-between steps.

Telephone Oracle Tips

The more off-the-wall, yet detailed, the questions and answers, the better this game is.

Kids will intuit this as they play and strive to come up with increasingly creative and linguistically complex questions and answers.

Check out Deep Fun’s Parlour Games for a hilarious example from an actual game of Telephone Oracle.

4. Mad Libs

writing games

The template story game Mad Libs involves slightly less actual writing than the above games, but it compensates by requiring players to provide specific parts of speech.

And the resulting stories are equally entertaining.

Handwritten Mad Libs

You can buy books of Mad Libs (we have Kids’ Mad Libs and Best of Mad Libs) or print off your own for free from one of these websites.

Mad Libs online

If you’re not bothered about your kids writing by hand, you can find plenty of Mad Libs online:

It’s a Mad Libs World

Mad Takes

Word Blanks

There’s even a Mad Libs iPad app.

Writing Games

Find out more about how Mad Libs was created, and how an eavesdropped conversation led to its unusual name, at Wikipedia.

5. Love letters

This one’s not a game so much as a simple and lovely ritual.

Write a short note to your child and leave it on her pillow. Thank her for something helpful she’s done recently, acknowledge her for something (tangible or intangible) she’s been working on, or tell her how much you enjoyed doing something with her.

End your note saying that you’d love a reply if your child feels inspired to write one. If you he does, write back in a day or so. If not, write to him again anyway. Show your child how special it can be to communicate by hand-written letters.


Each person could pick the name of another family member to write to out of a hat. Rotate so that everyone writes to each other family member.

writing games
Photo: LittleStuff.Me


Brave Writer’s Julie Bogart wrote this week that, “Format writing teaches kids to solve the ‘puzzle’ of the assignment rather than teaching kids to tap into their writing voices.”

This is one of the reasons I don’t do any formal format writing with my elementary-aged kids. Instead we use freewriting, conversation and games that encourage them to connect with their inner voices.

What I like about the writing games listed here is that the “puzzle” is to have as much fun as possible. This playful state fosters creativity and self-expression – both essential components of writing.

I’d love to hear from you if you try out any of these games.

And do please let me know of any goodies I’ve left out!

For more fun writing ideas see Unschooling Writing.

writing games

To read the other Homeschool Help ladies’ views on writing, head over to:

Highhill Education – Motivating Kids to Write

One Magnificent Obsession – When Writing Brings Tears

Every Bed of Roses – Teaching Composition {Language Arts}

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Cultivating a Love of Writing

Hammock Tracks – Tips to Help Non Writers Lose their Hate


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Collage Friday

Weekly Wrap-Up

Audiobooks for All Our Family

homeschooling audiobooks

In my last post I listed some of the audiobooks C(9), J(8) and I listen to together. Today I’ll share some of the books we’ve been listening to individually, plus some non-fiction audiobooks we’ve enjoyed together.

I also go off on a little tangent about reading and empathy. And I consider the impact of audiobooks on reading.

I’ve titled this post “Audiobooks for All Our Family.”  This is not because I think all the books I mention are suitable for all ages (some are most definitely not). It’s just a selection of the audiobooks my children and I have enjoyed.

Books C(9) has recently listened to on her own

Little Women

Black Beauty

{Notice I lead with the uncontroversial classics 😉 }

My Family and Other Animals (repeat of a family-listen)

The Hunger Games  – We first listened to this sci-fi trilogy together.

Since then, C(9) has listened almost every night. She’s repeated the cycle what must be about thirty times by now. I am reminded of a card from my Unschooling Toolbox:

Your child is getting something important from the 57th viewing of that video. It isn’t important to understand what that is. It is important to understand that it’s important to your child.

Joyce Fetterol

Of course that doesn’t stop me speculating what C(9) could be getting from her thirtieth listen to The Hunger Games. One of the skills C(9) knows she has to work on consciously is empathy. So I was intrigued by this post about how reading builds the capacity for empathy:

Reading fiction – especially when the setting is another culture, another time – has to be the best means of building empathic sensibilities. How do you understand prejudice if you are not of a group subject to discrimination? … How does it feel to be hungry, orphaned, or terrified when you’ve always lived a middle-class life? Harnessing the detail, drama, emotion, and immediacy of “the story,” fiction informs the heart as well as the mind.

Doug Johnson

Whatever she’s getting out of Katniss’s struggles through The Hunger Games’ dystopia, it’s evidently important to C(9)!

homeschooling audiobooks

Books J(8) listens to on his own

J(8) is working his way through The 39 Clues series.

I love how as he listens he shares interesting snippets about historical figures. These have included Ben Franklin, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (“the greatest warrior of all time”) and Marie-Antoinette of France.

Check out The 39 Clues Educator Network for an idea of what kids can learn from these books.

J(8) also listens to The Hobbit and he’s dipped into The Lord of the Rings.

His repeat bedtime listen is The Inheritance Cycle. (We listened to Eragon together.)

homeschooling audiobooks

Books C(9) and I listen to together

When it’s just C(9) and I in the car we listen to the Anne of Green Gables series. It’s so special sharing these delightful books with my daughter. We’re up to Anne’s House of Dreams.

homeschooling audiobooks

I’ve bought the kindle versions of most of the books; I like to linger over the rich language. I sometimes write out  quotes from the Anne books when I join my children for copywork.

homeschooling audiobooks
I remind myself of this quote when anyone questions my choice to homeschool. Will regular school seem the strange idea in a hundred years’ time?

Non-fiction books I listen to and my children overhear

I usually have a non-fiction audiobook on the go which the kids sometimes overhear. I make sure they don’t hear anything inappropriate by discreet use of the pause button.

They enjoyed large parts of Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography. I listened to parts detailing Jobs’ personal life on my own.

C(9) learned heaps about astrophysics from Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos.

And at the moment we’re all enjoying From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet. This audiobook a fascinating listen. It’s  filling in gaps in my knowledge while baffling my children with the inconceivable notion of life without the internet. Empathy can evidently only stretch so far.

Homeschooling Audiobooks

My recent favourite fiction books I listen to on my own

homeschooling audiobooks

I read so much non-fiction, I used not to have time for fiction. Then two things happened: I joined a book group, and we got a dog.

This got me into a habit I now enjoy immensely of listening to fiction audiobooks on my own, at times when I couldn’t read a book. I listen while preparing food, cleaning my teeth, doing housework…I’m sure all you book lovers can relate.

A couple of books I have loved recently are:

The Rosie Project – If you like Doc Martin or The Big Bang Theory you will love this book. The extremely likeable narrator has (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The story is about his quest to find a wife. On his journey he learns – and teaches us – a thing or two about the value of seeing the world differently from the average person.

As a quirky mother of two quirky kids, this was a life-affirming, uplifting read. I laughed out loud all the way through. My husband James – who never usually listens to audiobooks – got hooked in and loved it too.

Where D’You Go, Bernadette? – Another hilarious, laugh-out-loud book about being different.

Do audiobooks hinder reading?

From time to time James and I ponder the effect of audiobooks on our children. We discuss  in particular whether more listening means less reading.

C(9) learned to read early and reads quickly. She read the entire Harry Potter series in a couple of weeks when she was seven. C(9) may read slightly less fiction than she would if we didn’t have audiobooks, but the quality of the books she is exposed to is probably higher overall.

homeschooling audiobooks

Sometimes, only the first few books in a series are available as audiobooks. In this case C(9) won’t think twice about reading the rest of the series.

C(9) also reads a ton of non-fiction I strew or she finds on our shelves. She tends to choose modern tween fiction (like The Cupcake Diaries series) when we visit the library.

J(8), meanwhile, has mild dyslexia. His reading comprehension was assessed last year as five years ahead (thanks to computer games). But he doesn’t enjoy reading long texts. Audiobooks have made a huge difference to him. As he listens he is exposed to  language and literature he almost certainly couldn’t yet read for himself.

I make sure J(8) has plenty of real books available. He loves reading joke books, graphic novels like Stinky, and comics like the Beano.  He also whipped through – and rereads – the Wimpy Kid, Big Nate and Captain Underpants series.

homeschooling audiobooks

J(8) enjoys books,  appreciates quality literature, and knows how to read. That’ll do for my dyslexic eight-year-old for now!

So do audiobooks have a detrimental effect on “real” reading? Not at all. In our house, the two formats happily compliment each other, in much the same way as reading aloud supports children becoming avid readers.

Do you use audiobooks in your homeschool?


I’m happily linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop – 9/10/13

Collage Friday

Homeschool Mother’s Journal


{This post contains affiliate links.}

What We’re Reading {Listening To}

Favourite audiobooks

Our homeschooling has always involved a lot of driving – a side effect of having a daughter with a zillion outside interests and a son who goes to SPD therapy twice a week.

Our car time has been transformed by Audible. The huge range of audiobooks now available means it’s easy to find something that appeals to everyone.

I buy 24 credits at a time, so each audiobook costs about £4.50 ($7). As we don’t spend money on curriculum I see this as a great investment. Many of our purchases are listened to over and over.

We usually have several audiobooks on the go. What we listen to on any particular journey depends who’s in the car. Here are some we’ve enjoyed when all three of us are together:

Current listen

homeschool audiobooksRight now we’re listening to Birds, Beasts & Relatives, a second delightful collection of stories about conservationist Gerald Durrell’s childhood on the Greek Island of Corfu.

We did a mini-geography unit on  Corfu when we listened to the first in the series, My Family and Other Animals.

These books have a special place in my heart because the first overseas holiday my family took was to Corfu when I was eleven, just after I’d read My Family and Other Animals.

I can still remember my excitement at spotting the various villas the Durrells had lived in as we drove around the island. (My own family and no idea what I was doing – they were just looking for beaches!)

C(9) and J(8) enjoy looking at Google images of the people and places from the books. One day I’ll take them to Corfu to see for themselves.

Recent favourites

* The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Swallowdale – second in the sailing and camping adventure series featuring the five Walker children, set in England’s Lake District in the 1930’s.

I read aloud the first adventure, Swallows & Amazons, a couple of years ago. I was mighty relieved when these long books appeared on Audible! We studied diagrams of boats and learned some nautical terminology when we first read this.

* The Inheritance Cycle  – My kids love fantasy – much more than I do. We listened to Eragon together and then they listened to the rest on their own. We often do this, so I can keep an ear on what they’re listening to. I like that Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon while he was a homeschooled teenager.

* The Percy Jackson series – Again, I listened with the children to the first in Rick Riordan’s series based on Greek mythology, and they finished the series on their own. J(8) is now working his way through the Kane Chronicles (based on the Egyptian gods) and The 39 Clues.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy –  I love sharing with my children the books I enjoyed as a child, and C(9) and J(8) love this cult sci-fi comedy as much as their geeky parents did. The third book in Douglas Adams’ “trilogy in four parts,” Life, the Universe and Everything, is next on our playlist.

* The Little House on the Prairie series  {Not on Audible. I bought the CDs from Amazon US}

These are some of the books we’ve enjoyed listening to all together. In part 2 I’ll share those we listen to and read in smaller groups and individually.  I’ll also share my thoughts on the impact of audiobooks on reading.


To see what the other Homeschool Help families are reading, visit:

Highhill Homeschool – Making Connections with Reading – Our Disorganized List of Current Reads

One Magnificent Obsession – Balancing Interest and Challenge

Barefoot Hippie Girl – What’s on our Reading List… Home School Edition

Hammock Tracks – What Are You Reading?

Every Bed of Roses – Our Current Read Aloud and To Read List


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Entertaining and Educational – Highhill Homeschool

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Hip Homeschool Hop – 13/09/03

Homeschool Mother’s Journal – So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler?

TGIF Linky Party #93


{This post contains affiliate links}

How we do Poetry Teatime

Poetry tea

Poetry teatime is my absolute favourite part of the Brave Writer lifestyle.

We enjoyed one this morning.  Here’s what we did.

Setting the scene

I lit a candle and put a posy of summer flowers as a centrepiece. Often we gather flowers from the garden. Today I grabbed the fake flowers that normally live in our downstairs loo!

Food and drink

This morning’s poetry teatime was mid-morning, so I set out raspberries, cherries, blueberries and brioches. I made cocoa for the children, and tea for me.

Choosing poems

Everyone chooses their poems beforehand. They can take as much or as little time as they like over this. There are no rules.

J(8) almost always chooses poems from The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry.  Today he said he was going to make up one of his poems – “I’ve got the first line, I’m just playing with the rest in my head.”

C(9) spent much of last term writing out poems for copywork. She chose to read a few of these.

I selected a few short, funny poems from Read Me And Laugh.

Poetry Tea

Poetry teatime

Poetry teatime usually kicks off with the children commenting appreciatively on how good the table looks (apparently it’s a rare thing!). Then we tuck into food and poems, taking turns around the table to read.

Both my kids adore reading poems aloud; they do it with gusto. For J(8), especially, this is an excellent opportunity – his desire to entertain completely overcomes his reading difficulties, and he amazes us with his fluency!

poetry tea

Reflections on poetry teatime


I love these lines from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur:

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

I memorised them for English O Level when I was fifteen, and I quote them frequently.

When I read The Well-Trained Mind, I loved the idea of my children happily committing long verses of classical poetry to memory.  That was before I realised that I’m not the kind of parent who can “require” my children to do things (even if that were possible).

But… I was so glad I’d learned the Tennyson. Would my children miss out, because of my non-insistence on memorisation, I wondered?

Over time, our poetry teas have given me the answer. Today, for example, J(8) announced that he was going to read one of his favourite poems – Sky In The Pie! by Roger McGough – “because I want to know it off by heart”.  My children can recite plenty of poems, and find dozens more by their first lines. Not because I made them, but for the sheer joy of it.

Poetry tea reading

Will they always choose “easy” poems?

Poetry teatime

I used to wonder, too, whether my children’s choice of poems would mature, without anyone prodding them on to more difficult works. Laughter helped them fall in love with poetry, but would they ever outgrow the limericks and short comedy verses that delighted them when they were six? (And did it matter, anyway?)

My answer to this question came quickly. For a year, we shared weekly poetry teatimes with a slightly older family. It was interesting to observe the poetry choices among the differently aged children. I noticed how the teenager tended to choose longer, more sophisticated works. And over time, I’ve begun to notice C(9) choosing more complex poems – though we all still love limericks.

As for me, I don’t go out of my way to choose poems to extend the children’s repertoire, but neither do I dumb down my choices.  I read long poems and short ones, funny poems and serious ones, straightforward and allegorical poems, poems about spring, or elephants, or war, depending on my mood. If a poem inspires me, my appreciation will speak for itself.

Our favourite poetry books

We were inspired to buy most of our favourite books by the friends who introduced us to poetry teatimes.

* The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry

* Read Me and Laugh – A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year

* Sensational! – Poems Inspired by the Five Senses

* Great Poems – Compiled by Kate Miles

Read Me Out Loud – A Poem to Rap, Chant, Whisper or Shout for Every Day of the Year

I’d love to hear of any other recommendations you might have.

poetry teatime


To read how the other Homeschool Help bloggers teach poetry, visit:

Highhill Homeschool – Studying Poetry with Children – A Poem a Day

Barefoot Hippie Girl – Waxing Poetical

Hammock Tracks – Poetry – How and Why to Teach It

One Magnificent Obsession – Our First Poetry Smoothietime!

Homeschool Mother’s Journal – So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler

poetry teatime

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This post is linked up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop – 08/27/13

Entertaining and Educational – Highhill Homeschool

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

TGIF Linky Party #92

Weekly Wrap Up – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Homeschool Mother’s Journal {September 7, 2013}

Share it Saturday – Teach Beside Me

All Things Thursday Blog Hop {No. 9}

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