Creating a Language Rich Home with Julie Bogart of Brave Writer

When I think of a home where reading and writing is enjoyable and relaxed, I instantly think of Julie Bogart of Brave Writer. She has so much experience and wisdom to share. Every time I listen to her or read her book I am encouraged by how simple and doable it is to get excited about writing. 

When I think of language rich homeschooling with a relaxed enjoyable feel, I instantly think of Julie Bogart of Brave Writer. She has so much experience and wisdom to share. Every time I listen to her or read her book I am encouraged by how simple and doable it is to get excited about writing.  I’ll be the first to admit that English is not my best subject. Coming from a degree in engineering I am more comfortable with math and science.

It was an absolutely pleasure for me to talk with Julie for my podcast. I encourage you to listen or watch the full episode; this blog post shares the highlights of our conversation.

Julie Bogart is the popular voice of common sense and compassion in the homeschool community. She’s the creator of the innovative writing program called Brave Writer and the popular fast-growing practice called Poetry Teatime. She’s the founder of a homeschool coaching community called The Brave Learner Home. She home educated her five children for 17 years who are now globe-trotting adults.

Julie draws from her work with tens of thousands of homeschool families over the last 20+ years, and her own homeschool journey to enrich the homeschool and parenting experience. Her writing program includes award-winning online writing classes and paradigm-shifting writing manuals that allow parents and kids to become allies in the writing process.

Julie is also the author of the best-selling book The Brave Learner and host of the popular podcast “A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief.” She enjoys raising African violets and playing with her brand new granddaughter. Julie lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Can you explain to us a little about what the Brave Writer lifestyle is to our listeners? And also, how did you come up with that?

So back when I was raising my kids, I had five of them and we had an average sized house and it felt like things were cluttered and chaotic all the time. And I am not a natural housekeeper. Some people take a lot of pleasure in getting things organized and clean, and I just get depressed. So I realized one day that I did not have those skills. I didn’t have it as an intuitive sense. And I signed up for a series of emails from the fly lady, which a lot of people know she’s world famous. And I started following her instructions. She’d send an email it would say, stop what you’re doing and do a five minute drawer clean out. And so I would I’d stop what I was doing and clean out a drawer. And then she would say it’s Tuesday vacuum the living room and I would vacuum the living room and then on. In the evening, she’d say, before you go to bed, make sure you shine your sink. So I shine my sink. And over time, those things became habits. And I started to feel like they were more natural to me.

Suddenly it dawned on me that when I was meeting women in my classes that I was teaching or at conferences where I was speaking, they would ask me the question, but how do you create a language rich environment? What does it mean to naturally build a lifestyle where kids are engaged with writing and reading and it’s, it’s pleasurable.  I hadn’t realized that that was natural to me. It came to me naturally I knew what to do. If we had an hour free, I would be thinking of a little Language game. I’d be thinking of a way to play with adverbs or we would be driving down the road and analyzing the sales power of billboards and voting on which one was the most effective. Language games and the thought about writing and reading and quotes and analyzing movies, all of that was natural to me. I realized maybe I needed to set up a kind of tutorial the way the fly lady had done for me with housekeeping. So it started with a Yahoo group, which was an email list. I just started scheduling what I thought were the essentials of this lifestyle. So things like copy work and dictation, reading aloud to your kids, going to the art museum and learning to narrate the art that you see and taking nature hikes.

One of the strategies that we use in what we call the Brave Writer lifestyle, is putting your child in the driver’s seat, letting them teach you something for a change. So get on their video game and be the novice and let them put into language, all the steps you need to be effective. What’s really amazing about that is when you come in as a novice, and your child is the expert, they have to work really hard. They’re not talking to a sibling who knows how to use the A and the B control on the Xbox or the Wii. They literally have to help you know which thumb to use. So they’re actually doing the work of what would be typically a howto make the peanut butter and jelly sandwich kind of paragraph, but they’re doing it in real time with a real outcome they care about.

So it was all these elements poetry tea-time, having a movie afternoon every week, going to the library on a regular basis. I just stuck them into this email list. And I even included things like one on one time making eye contact, being sure to hug a child today and don’t worry that you can’t hug all five in a day. So just hug one today, make a note on your calendar. Remember to hug another one tomorrow, very realistic. What I found was that by putting it in that sort of weekly pattern for people, they found the same thing I did with the fly lady, those habits start to feel natural, you start to see the results. And you’ve built a lifestyle, not just a list of curriculum steps to follow.

I love that because it just makes it so much more practical than many homeschool conferences and things. Often we get just the curriculum and lesson plans but you are getting to the heart of how to actually do this.

I love that comment, because when I first wrote the core manual of Brave Writer, which is called the writers jungle. And so when I first wrote it, I was sitting down I spent a lot of time, I worked as a freelance writer and a ghostwriter in a magazine editor before I started writing, and so I sat down with the burden of a friend, which was, I don’t know how to teach writing, you seem to be able to do it with your children. How can you help me?

So we did a seven week class at the time I attended this one church and they let us do it during Sunday school. So, seven weeks of teaching about writing, all these parents came, it was homeschool parents, school teachers, fathers.  It was shocking the number of parents who came.  It started with 15 and by the end of the seven weeks, we had like 40 people in there. And they all acted like I was giving them information they’d never heard in their lives. And all I could think was, well your kids are in school or you have homeschool curriculum. What on earth are you being taught if what I’m sharing with you is not? what’s in those books?

So I started looking and those books were all organized around what to do. Nobody was showing parents how to do it. So they would say things like have your child write a descriptive paragraph. Make sure it has five sentences, three of them need to be supports. The top sentence is a topic sentence. The bottom sentence is the clincher. You know, a solid paragraph is like a cardboard box as a top supporting sides and a bottom. I mean, none of that helps you find words that live inside your body. None of those help you do an adequate job of delving into description. They’re expecting that all that stuff is already alive and active in the child. And all they had to do was the finished work, which is, you know, putting it in a list situating it in a proper structure, so thousands upon thousands. I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that millions of adults who have been raised in that system today, still don’t think they’re good writers, and some of them have master’s degrees. In other words, that system never got it to help.

So when I sat down to write The Writers Jungle the question I asked myself was, what do you do if you have a child sitting next to you who says, I can’t think of anything to write? I did not sit down and think, okay, what’s a paragraph? Because we speak in paragraphs, we read paragraphs, we know what paragraphs are, that is not the major missing ingredient. What’s missing for a child is one, the courage to expose their inner world to an adult who’s getting ready to criticize it, and then to finding more language than they knew they had. So if you can create a safe space and guide them into finding that language, suddenly they have writing power and they can write paragraphs, they can even like writing.

That is so incredible. And I know that from reading and our family uses some of your things, that you take the like the writing process and how parents are involved, you do that differently from most curriculums. Most just assume that the child should be doing it all alone right from the beginning. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Oh, yeah, for sure. That’s my favorite topic. So when we are raising children, parents are beautiful partners in every way. From the time that baby’s born and you’re changing its diaper and you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding it, you are the chief source of support for that child’s growth and development. I have a brand new granddaughter right now and watching my son and daughter-in-law, engage with that baby, they do everything. Noah picks her up and he’s constantly holding her up to flowers and trees and bark, so that she can touch things that are natural, not just toys in a house. They wear her, they feed her they sing to her they give her things to play with. They’re not waiting for her to someday have the skill of holding things. They’re literally putting things in her hand, so that she will discover, oh, this thing is in my hand. We do this from a very young age, and the baby starts cooing and you coo back and then you start saying words and then the baby makes sounds. Then we record them and send them all over the world to family, because we are so thrilled with this child’s development.

So I remember when my son Noah was, 11 months old, I was washing dishes at the sink. He said the word Nana, just spontaneously, he was in his chair, and I wheeled around and being the writer that I am, I turned to him and I said, Noah, that is brilliant. But you need to know the word Nana is part of a bigger word. The word is banana. It’s a noun, and it fits in a sentence like this. I would like a banana and because it’s request, you need to use the oral format called etiquettes. What I’m going to need to hear from you is some version of I would like a banana please Mama. Do you think I did that with an 11 month old? Of course I didn’t.

I did what everyone does. I yelled for his father to come downstairs, I made an international phone call to my mother. I wrote the date and time in a baby book. And we fed him six more bananas, trying to get him to say Nana one more time, there was never a moment where we thought Nana is insufficient grammar. It doesn’t adequately express. And we certainly didn’t go about teaching him to speak by saying, the first thing you need to learn is what a noun is and a verb and how those work together in a sentence.

And yet, it’s like we get amnesia when we get to writing. So when we start with speaking, we’re so natural. Probably three months later, Noah said something like me want Nana, and I was like, good you get one because you just communicated a full thought. Is it grammatically correct? No, but of course he’s going to become grammatically correct, because he lives with me. And that’s gonna happen. So then a little more time goes by. And I would say things like, do you mean I want a banana? Do you mean, Mommy, please get me a banana? And then he would literally parrot my words. And I didn’t suddenly wonder, are those his words? If he’s copying me do they count as his own words? Maybe I should stop speaking, so that he never uses any of my words in speech, because otherwise I won’t know if they’re his words. We never think that with speech. In fact, when grandma’s coming, we literally give them scripts of how to be polite, how to say thank you for the present. And we never think to ourselves, well, that’s not a genuine expression of gratitude because he’s using my words. No, we think etiquette and training. My child is learning to be a polite human being respectful of his elders. So one day, Noah will be in the other room five years old and he’ll yell, Hey, Mom, get me a banana. Now at the point that he’s so fluid, he can yell from another room. The words make sense. Now I require him to use the format called etiquette. And I yell back to him, Hey, what do you say? And that’s when he can say, Please, because he’s not thinking about his mouth. He isn’t struggling to put words together. He is so fluent in self expression, adding the format Piece of cake.

In writing, then, partnership means the same thing. When your child first picks up that pen, start scribbling on the page the goal isn’t to anxiously worry that those scribbles don’t look like letters yet. That child moves to copying random letters and all different lower and uppercase and does it on your wall. One of our Brave Writers new instructors yesterday said milestone achieved, you know Chloe is writing her name on the door. Now here’s permanent marker, child’s name written on the door. These are developmental milestones, not things to fear. Now, of course, you’re going to show Chloe we have paper for that, or a window marker in a window. But the point is, we are celebrating each risk that the child takes to make a connection to the written word. Eventually, as they are becoming more and more fluent in speech, and when their physical act of writing and reading have not yet caught up, we’re going to jot some of those words down for them. We’re going to be their transcriptionist, their secretary.

So when your child starts telling you the clever little thing about the dog in the backyard, you’re going to stop stir-frying dinner, start jotting it down. Let that child see you catch them in the spontaneous active self-expression. Put some of that in writing, and read it back to the family at dinnerLet your kids see that you value the inner life, the language that bubbles up naturally, that it deserves to be preserved and enjoyed by an interested audience. That is how we start to build writers. And I promise you, if you raise children that way, writing actually feels as natural as speech. But no one teaches it that way.

Julie explains more about her program and how it is unique. I encourage you to listen to the whole episode or visit Brave Write for more information

Let your kids see that you value the inner life, the language that bubbles up naturally, that it deserves to be preserved and enjoyed by an interested audience. That is how we start to build writers. And I promise you, if you raise children that way, writing actually feels as natural as speech. But no one teaches it that way.

I know that right now, homeschooling is exploding due to the pandemic and everything that’s going on. What advice would you have for a family way that is new to this?

Oh, absolutely so challenging. What we’re discovering and we’ve had thousands and thousands of new people come to Brave Writer during this season, it’s just been a wild ride. And what we’re discovering is, in the past, a new homeschooler had friends who homeschool. That’s how she heard about it. Homeschooling is the ultimate viral marketing. You know, you have two friends who are in your church group or your gymnastics class or next door neighbor. And those people have been modeling and talking about it, and then they hand you a book and you read it and then you start thinking about it. And then you find out there’s a group in your area and then you talk to your spouse, and then you sign up. And that takes time. It’s usually either before the kids are school age or pulling them out of school, but it’s a process over time. That is a decision they’re making. This is entirely new this circumstance, because people who’ve been thrust into homeschooling who never consider doing it, don’t have role models or friends. They’re all friends with public school parents or private school parents. And they’ve never imagined themselves being in charge of education. It’s not in their vocabulary to think that way. So they come in, and they’re like, Okay, I’m a homeschooler. Now, how do I sign up for the homeschooling online program? And what they mean is they think there’s some national organization with homeschool videos that you sign up for. And you’re like, no, that’s not really how homeschooling works. Or they say, Okay, well, I just want an all-in-one. And I would like it for all my kids, and I want them to follow this schedule. It’s like, but that’s not what homeschooling is, either. So they’re coming in with really green understanding and very little conviction. So there’s a lot of opportunity there. One of the best things about it is they don’t come in with a strong conviction. So they’re very open to new information resources. They are eager to learn about education. They’re not coming in worried that school was going to ruin their children. So there’s it’s a lot less ideological, it’s a lot more pragmatic, which is where we really like to stay in Brave Writer is at the level of pragmatism.

I created something I call the six week on route to homeschooling with these schoolers in mind and anyone who’s new or looking to sort of revamped their homeschool and follow more of a Brave Writer style of education. And that is going to be the first thing we roll out in our online membership community called the Brave Learner Home and it will walk them through the preparation and how to understand curriculum shopping and how to file with your state and just some of those basics of prep, and then it will take us through four weeks, have an actual homeschool model that they can adapt and make personal to them. So that’s one of the ways that we’re helping those families. Brave Writer also offers the Brave Learner Home program to help parents feel more confident in their teaching. There are also online writing courses.

I love that you are offering so much support. Is there anything else going on in Brave Writer that you wanted to share with us so that we can make sure everyone knows about it?

Well, the brave learner home really is an interesting experiment that we’re conducting right now. So the way it works now is the Brave Learner Home Membership for a lifetime is free with a Brave Writer program purchase or a Brave Writer online class purchase of $198 or more. We are really trying to make that something you never think about again. So if you take it online class with us now you’re in. You can use it during a busy during a light season, and ignore it during a busy season and not feel guilty and wish you had canceled your order. So it’s going to be this platform that is a support. And now there’s like over 3500 members. So we’ve got all these people who clearly wanted that support. And that’s our goal. We have hired staff. It will be really wonderful, particularly if you are new to this way of thinking about education.

The second thing I just would mention is we do offer online writing classes. And our staff are all homeschooling parents who are professional writers, so they understand both experiences. Our classes last anywhere from three to six weeks, some of our classes, enroll you, the parent with the child so that we help you become a great writing team together.

That is incredible. So you’re providing support for the parents to become better teachers?

Exactly. We don’t ever put time for ourselves. But that’s the biggest part is how do we even implement this? And the Online Writing is an incredible opportunity for everyone because often we want to find an expert in a field, someone who can really dig in and help. Having someone else help you with the writing with your kids is a great experience for everyone.

Well, the one thing I love about our online classes in particular, is that they are only three to six weeks. We’re not trying to take over your writing program. This is not semester length teaching, you can dive in and take a Movie Club. You can do Passion for Fiction. You could do the expository essay rhetorical critique and analysis just for six weeks, so your children know this is a deal for a limited amount of time focused on one subject. And then you can take a month off after take a big break. We try to think about writing and teaching the way a homeschooler does, not the way school does. And so even for covid schoolers, what we call these parents are just flooding us for even just six months, you can come in for that six week essay class because it’s not happening effectively in your school. So maybe they’re still doing online school, but you want to make sure they’re still moving towards that outcome that you want to see. Or we’ve got middle school classes that are designed based on passion projects or nonfiction. And so you can keep those skills going without making a year-long or a semester long commitment.

Ways to connect with Julie
My book! The Brave Learner:
Brave Writer Lifestyle:
Brave Writer Online Writing Classes:
Brave Learner Home: