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A Word from Miss Clare

Products – Blackbird and Company

What parents are saying about Pages:

“Thank you for making class so enjoyable and personal. My daughter’s writing has really expanded since being in classes with you.”

“I really appreciate you going through the different areas of reading and writing in class as opposed to having him do it all on his own at home. It sets a good example of what to do (i.e. what to look for and pay close attention to as he reads) and how to do it (i.e. organize his thoughts and get ready to write into paragraphs).”

I’ve been overseeing and teaching Pages online literature + writing workshops for two years now.

I’ve homeschooled for over 15 years plus taught in the classroom along the journey. I’ve gone to Homeschool Vendor fairs as a parent and a teacher. And I talk to many parents and teachers. I often get asked what makes our curriculum or our classes different. I’m  never sure where to start. But a word that often comes to mind is relationship.

This word makes a difference. I can see this difference when we’re at conference and a parent comes to our booth. Or I get a phone call, or a parent sends in an email with a question. Parents don’t seem to worry as much about finding a child’s history program or science materials. Parents even seem to worry less about pairing math. But reading, and even more so writing, is a whole different story. Reading and writing are essential to understand the world, to communicate with people, understand culture and are vital to learning and exploring all the other subjects. When parents contact Blackbird & Company, they tend to share stories of their triumphs and struggles with reading and writing. For someone who has children who learn differently, or are simply not motivated to read or write well, the work of reading and writing can lead to worry, frustration, sadness, and many a day in tears. I was one of those moms for many years until I discovered Blackbird & Company Curriculum and my very own community of support.

Pages classes are, first and foremost, a Community of Support. We take a great piece of literature and walk students through it for 5 weeks using the curriculum as guide. We break up the reading each week and dive into Character Traits, Setting, Plot, Vocabulary, Plot Questions and Discussion. We end each week with a personal writing prompt that ties into the book. The teacher becomes your student’s editor, teaching all the form needed to become a successful writer while, at the same time, protecting and valuing the student’s great ideas. The time and support we give each student are something I have never seen before in other classes. We communicate with both the parent and student regularly forming a strong relationship based on mutual respect. Both parents and students share their hearts and, consequently, writing skills soar.

Students might begin in a Pages class timidly writing just a few sentences, but by the end they are courageously writing multiple paragraphs. Their ideas are valued and that is motivating. We learn in collaboration and that is encouraging. On the last class of each session, each student presents a final project that they created inspired by the book. This project always involves creativity and might be something built, crafted, written, or researched. this opportunity gives students a creative outlet to dive deeper into application and an opportunity to participate in public speaking.

When parents have their students take a Pages class, both will learn how to pace and structure the work. Parents will learn tips to support their student, and both will experience the rhythm of the guides. Students form relationships with the teacher and their cohort of students, relationships that are long lasting. They engage in meaningful and challenging discussions of literature. They learn tools to write quality, original ideas. They learn to read closely and write authentically.

I am really honored to be the Lead Teacher of the Pages team of teachers. You will find bios of all our amazing teachers on our website soon. Please take a look! We are all excited for this year’s offering which we have expanded to multiple times and multiple days hoping to accommodate more of our families’ varying schedules. We have printed a sneak-peak of our session a year in advance so you can plan!! Come July 5, enrollment will open!

We hope to form a relationship with you and your student(s) and, come fall, become your Community of Support. We look forward to the journey and hope to give your student the needed tools to fill their blank canvas, one idea at a time!

I’m certainly looking forward to reading well, writing well and thinking well with your students!


~Miss Clare

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Pages Online Coming SOON!

This coming year we will be offering 5 Sessions of Pages Online, FIVE! We hope that Pages classes, led by our exceptional teachers, will inspire your students to pick up their pencils and share ideas. A sneak peak of Pages at-a-glance is available on the “classes” landing page.

Here’s what we are offering:

  • We will, of course, be offering classes focusing on our CORE Literature & Writing units—Earlybird, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4. And we’ve added a variety of titles and class times for your convenience.
  • This year we will be offering historical insight tied to select novels via our “History Add-on” option. During this add-on hour, students will be guided to go deeper into the world of the story in real world history.
  • Our 3-week compositional writing classes, scheduled during Session 1 and Session 2, are designed to help students get started with our introductory or intermediate composition units.
  • During Session 3 and Session 4 we will offer our 2-week creative writing classes focusing on the wonder of words and poetic forms.
  • Our research writing classes will, each session, walk students, each step of the way, through the one of our Research Discovery Guides.
  • Our NEW Arts Discovery! Our brand-new Arts offering will not only introduce students to exciting poets of art history and the techniques employed by great artists but will involve students in art making! Get ready to enjoy the process of telling visual stories!
  • Our NEW Music Discovery! Our brand-new Music offering will introduce students to the language of music. Students will enjoy learning about the voice of a singular musician as they discover the techniques that make the music unique. Get ready for some exciting listening and lively discussion.

Here’s how your students might participate:

Students may enroll in as many classes as they are interested in this coming year, but we will limit class size to a maximum of 10 students. Enfollment will begin July 5, so stay tuned for details.

Our recommendation, when it comes to our CORE offering, the Literature and Writing Discovery Guides, is that students complete 6 per year. We are offering 5 sessions which means students participating consecutively will only have to complete one more unit independent from Pages! But some students may only participate in one or two CORE classes, choosing to take what they learn from the group and complete the remaining units on their own.

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Let’s Talk Grammar

Grammar is simply the study of how words combine to form sentences. Words are like putty, they can change purpose depending on how they combine with other words in the context of a sentence. Grammar is complex and essential.

But grammar does NOT come first.

So let’s talk grammar.

Once upon a time I had a conversation with a fellow educator who believed that, if we simply gave young children quality art supplies—Windsor Newton paints, sable brushes, stretched canvas—and let them explore, they would create little masterpieces. Certainly not the kind that would hang in the Louvre, but she truly believed children would learn art-making via materials. This is NOT the case.

Learning an art form involves work.

Work is the only path to beauty.

There is no shortcut.

Visual arts, music, dance, woodwork, knitting, weaving, and more fall into this category. Each art form is founded with unique elements of grammar. Line, shape, texture, value, and color are the grammar of visual art. Melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, timbre, and dynamics are the grammar of music. Body, action, space, time, and energy for dance. Within each art form, the artist who has mastered the grammar, is able to use that grammar to bring shape to an original idea. Think Mona Lisa. Think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Think Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Think Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet. All these works of art began with an original idea. Writing is an art form that always begins with an original idea.

Art is never born of grammar first.

Art is always idea first.

Grammar is simply at the disposal of the artist. Form follows function. Function is rooted in the idea itself. Function is the reason the art maker is motivated to make art. Form, or grammar, simply enables the artist to bring shape to the idea.

When it comes to writing, who of us, when we want to write an idea in sentence form, ask: “Which preposition should I begin with and which verb would best demonstrate the action of the noun?”

No one, right?

Rather, being honest to our idea, we writers grab hold of its ethereal nature and courageously lift our pencil, scribbling the shape of our idea as best we can. Because we have read widely, learned to appreciate words, have a good understanding of grammar as tool, we can courageously craft. Once we have a sentence on paper, we are able to re-read, edit, and polish. This is the process of writing. This is art making.

Elements of English Grammar:

The Alphabet / Phonics – the building blocks, 26 letters that independently and in combination imitate the 44 sounds of spoken English

Words / Parts of Speech – noun, verb, adjective, adverb, article, preposition, conjunction, pronoun

Clauses – both dependent, independent

Punctuation – period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, semicolon, colon, em dash, en dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, apostrophe, double quotation marks, single quotation marks, and ellipsis

Syntax – The way that writers arrange words and phrases in a sentence adds poignancy and pleasing poetic flavor.

The moon whimsically sang as the stars twinkled a tune in the night sky.

Whimsically, the moon sang as the tune of the stars twinkled in the night sky.

Even more, changing the position of even one word, can change the meaning of the entire sentence.

Only Sandra eats oats. 

Sandra only eats oats. 

Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”

It takes many, many years to use the rules like a pro, this does not mean that all those years should be spent entirely memorizing rules. Students of writing should be writing more than participating in grammar exercises disconnected from meaningful ideas. Students of writing should be actively engaged in the art of idea making followed by the exercise of learning how grammar might best serve their idea. Form follows function.



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It’s Spring! Ideas are Blooming…

This time, last year, I was leading an Earlybird Pages session using our Spring Stories thematic unit—such beautiful stories and pictures about spring. Every time we read a new story, we sensed the anticipation in the air. How exciting, to simultaneously see things growing, blooming, changing right around us!

Colors so bright. Food so delicious. Bugs and wildlife transforming.

I planted a garden of my own about the same time. We planted some vegetables from seedlings. We planted some from seed. This garden has been so much fun to watch— from the breaking of ground to the first little glimpse of green as the plant slowly starts to unfurl.

I always research the authors and illustrators before any class I teach. Two of the authors we read about were motivated to write books about their gardens because of memories from their childhood. Monica Wellington wrote, Zinnia’s Flower Garden, and was inspired by her early childhood living in a small town in Switzerland, surrounded by mountains, woods, lakes, orchards fields and farms. Monica writes about subjects she knows about and subjects she wants to know more about. She constantly writes down words and thoughts and collects photos and pictures. She has a big box where she stores her “seeds of ideas”. She rustles around in it when she is thinking of her next book!

Grace Lin wrote her first published book, The Ugly Vegetables, based on her childhood experience of growing Chinese vegetables with her mother, while their neighbors grew beautiful flowers. When interviewed about her ideas for her books, Grace mentioned she travels everywhere with a sketchbook so she can always capture her ideas no matter where she is.

I love this idea of collecting words and pictures from right around us to fuel our BIG ideas! These ideas, once planted, grow inside of us and start to unfurl just like our own gardens. The more we tend to these ideas the more they grow and develop into something bright, open, strong, into something we want to share with the people around us. Our curriculum, over time, helps students collect “seeds of ideas” and supports them in planting and tending them.

Consider our brand new Operation Lexicon Word Collecting. Tied to the workbook, three beautiful books will guide students into the wonder of collecting words. Students learn to tease out word meanings and play with application. Words, like food, can be full of flavor and fun.

Last spring I talked to my students about starting a “seeds of idea” box and carrying sketchpads. I shared with my family my desire to create my own idea box. My son Grady created beautiful flowers on the front. I expanded my idea to include those of my family too! I am excited to continue the work of gardening my ideas this spring and watch them bloom.

There are no limits!

Strong words. Great stories. Beautiful illustrations. May our ideas bloom forth!


~Clare Bonn

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Campfire for High School: Coalesce

Coalesce is a beautiful word. It means: to grow together; to unite into a whole. This word combines the prefix “co” (which means “together”) with the Latin verb alescere (meaning “to grow”).

There you have it.

Grow together. Combine. Unite. Fuse.

When students reach high school, it’s time to put all they have learned about reading and writing and thinking to task. It is time to coalesce.

That’s what high school language arts is all about.


Tip #10

Use a pencil!

First things first. We recommend all journalling and rough drafts be composed by hand with a pencil.  Yes, even in high school. Especially in high school! The pencil is s technology that is much better suited to the art of writing because it is less passive than keyboarding and therefore creates a stronger connection to the processes we use when creating an idea. At this level, students should, of course, be typing final, polished drafts of their essay, but the pencil is primary!


Tip #11

Publish ideas.

Writing is not meant to be brought into shape simply as an exercise on paper, given a mark, then crumpled and tossed to a trash bin! Writing is an idea whose purpose is to be shared. When a high school student composes an essay and moves it to a polished state, its purpose is to be read. Think of publishing, at the individual level, as a beautiful final draft of an original idea. Share this idea with friends, with family. Share the idea via snail mail or electronically. Look for opportunity to get your idea in print! The goal is to find readers.

Tip #12

Jump into your idea!

YOU are ready! High school is the time to  take the plunge. So confidently dive into a novel and come out the other side with an original idea to share with the world…



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Around the Campfire: Essays and Tigers and Poetry, Oh My!


Let’s talk middle school.

In our CORE materials for middle school—Level 3 Reading & Writing Discovery Guides—students will continue the good work of writing ideas  they began in the Level 1 & 2 units.  With Blackbird & Company, your middle school students will develop the skills and confidence that will prepare them for high school reading and writing.

Tip #6

LOVE the red pen.

All writing comes into being through a process:
1. First comes the IDEA. Without an idea, the writer will simply stare at the blank page.
2. Once there is an idea in the mind of the writer, the pencil steps in to translate thoughts to words on the page.
3. When the pencil’s work is complete, the job of the writer is to become a reader. Encourage your students to RE-READ everything they write.
4. Empower students to use the RED pen as they re-read. Teach them to use strong words, to fearlessly re-arrange, and not be afraid to strike through.
5. Polish the draft, preferably in cursive…

Tip #7

Write in cursive!

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs in cursive. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her cursive was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Tip #8

Essays are ideas!

An essay by definition is an attempt or endeavor. An essay is an exploration of an idea, a meandering journey like following a river. An essay is an opportunity to simultaneously explore an idea and to navigate your reader through its wonder. Great essays have the power to encourage, empower, and enlighten. For this reason essay writing should never be treated as a mechanical endeavor, but rather,  a pathway for the writer to communicate the depths of the heart and mind.

BIG ideas can be communicated through a range of forms. The essay is a specific form. But often students hear the word and suddenly experience writer’s block! Some become frozen by fear. This should not be the case! Remind students, an essay is simply an opportunity to explore an idea in more depth.

Introduction to Composition: The Essay, for  middle school students, provides the scaffolding that will enable students to shape meaningful essays.

Tip #9

Read poems // Write poems

T.S. Eliot said: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Poetry is a close cousin to visual art. Poetry is an opportunity to paint—to paint with words. Writing poetry helps students not only learn that words have specificity, but that sometimes less is more. Writing poems help students discover, when it comes to words, possibility is vast. But the best lesson learned is this: it is always better to SHOW versus tell.

The snow is white.


Winter wind gently lifts sparkling flakes, little rainbows floating and drifting around my head.

Your middle school students will discover the delight of reading poetry and the craft of writing poems as they are guided through Exploring Poetry.



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Meet Clare

Clare Bonn

My best memories with my children are of us snuggled up together reading books. We would be on the bed or on the couch, blankets over us. Little bodies breathing evenly in my lap. Little hands touching mine or flipping pages. We would read for hours, baking banana bread, stopping only to eat and sit again.

During these early reading days, I had no idea I was going to homeschool my children. What I did know was that I didn’t want to send them to school, and I couldn’t find an alternate option that could satisfy me! Those days continued and the only thing that changed was that the children sitting on my lap were not only mine, but the tribe we formed along the way. Stories came with us as we journeyed out into the world. Books on CD played on the car radio, King Arthur, Greek Myths, Fables, Dickens….it was endless.

“Another one!” The kids would cry. I never thought of myself as teaching my children but learning right beside them. I loved books as a kid and found myself endlessly daydreaming. Not a good quality when you are in traditional school and the teacher is calling your name!

I loved the choose-your-own-ending books when I was young. I loved that idea of being able to write a story over and over with so many different possibilities. The adventure didn’t have to end—not ever! The Narnia Chronicles transported me to another world where good faced evil and prevailed. I can’t tell you how many times I would go into our closets at home wishing it would open to Narnia as the children’s wardrobe did.

My kids are older now, two in their teenage years. I still have shelves filled with books from their childhood. We have moved several times over the years, and I have cleaned out many of shelves. Every time I gather them to look through the books to see what they are ready to get rid of we are transported back. We have found ourselves cuddled up, bigger bodies and limbs, reading through stories that make us smile, laugh and yes, have even made me cry. We are not ready to let go of any of our treasured books and maybe we never will be. I still come home weekly with a new book, from the library or a used bookstore or a library box… I can’t help myself! I feel like I am holding a treasure in my hand. I feel the excitement before I even open the book. The possibilities are endless! Where will I go today?


Clare Bonn graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a BA in Sociology. She has worked for 22 years with school age children in childcare, recreational classes and classroom learning. She taught at Waterhouse Guild for 3 years utilizing Blackbird & Company materials. She believes every child’s voice should be heard, unique gifts valued, and learning differences embraced. Clare has three differently-abled children who all learned to tap into their giftedness through writing using Blackbird & Company curriculum. You can find Clare most of the time in her garden or reading a good book.
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Around the Campfire: Writing is a GIFT

Tip #5

Writing is a gift.

I’ve been teaching the art of writing for over 30 years. I DO NOT insist my students wrangle a lasso to subdue their grammar. Remember, Form follows Function. I DO insist they value their ideas, and engage in the art of communicating authentically. I tell them:

Wrap your idea like a gift you would like to receive.

Would a beautiful gift be wrapped in sloppy handwriting? Would it contain run-on sentences with no end marks e-v-e-r?  Would it be tedious to read with holes in the flow that confused the reader?

I don’t think so!

I tell my students: Your writing is a gift!

When it comes to learning language arts much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas. As we moms and teachers value these ideas and challenge them to catalog and craft these ideas over time, literacy skills soar.

Ideas spring from a wealth of knowledge tied to curiosity. During the elementary years students from grade 3 through grade 8 will read 36 (yes, THIRTY SIX!) novels!  Their discoveries from reading tied to their observations and inspired by imagination and curiosity will enable them to engage in the weekly writing exercise—a simple paragraph communicating an idea unique to the writer. Students will compose 144 paragraphs. What is unique about our approach is that the paragraphs being composed will be meaningful to the writer. Unique. Authentic.

Each of our Literature & Writing Discovery Guides is designed to guide students into the art of reading and writing and thinking.  But there is an added bonus, Section 5. Please don’t skip Section 5!

Section 5 sets aside a week to think about, absorb, and apply the story as a whole. The goal of Section 5 of is to create a project to remind readers that stories are gifts that  keep giving.

This project is tied to the story City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. This student used singular words related to the story, themes, and quotes to decorate the outside of a little box. Inside they found an object—a lightbulb vase—and filled it with glow-in-the-dark paint to visually represent the conflict of the story:

What will happen when the generator finally fails?

I love this little project. I love the story City of Ember. The takeaway for this teacher: If we were to reduce writing to mere mechanics, darkness would fall on ideas and we would be sorry readers!

Let then write ideas!



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Around the Campfire: Growth IS robust!

During my 25+ years in the field of education I’ve encountered teachers and administrators throwing around the phrase “growth is not robust” over and over and over again. This euphemism breaks my heart. They are referring to our children after all!

I’m thinking of a young person who became my student when she was in the 10th grade. When well-meaning colleagues found out, they called to give me a heads up: “She’s a nice enough person, but growth is not robust and I’m certain she will not amount to much. Kim, you are a saint for taking her on.”

A saint? Really?

In my eyes, this young person was seeded with ideas that simply needed encouragement, cultivation, to blossom. The end of the story is that she went on to win a National, Scholastic Arts and Writing Award the very next year for a really brilliant poem she composed. I called my friend and gently broke the news: Growth is robust.

All it ever takes for people to write an idea is:

1) a listening ear;  2) ENCOURAGEMENT;  and 3) an invitation to SHARE.

Here is a little secret that I share with my writing students:

Writing an idea is first and foremost a gift.


More on this to come midweek…