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Writing is NOT Calculus!

When we teach a student calculus, we are teaching them to attend to small parts of a larger form. The word calculus comes from the Latin, meaning small pebble.

When teaching our students to write, we should begin by teaching them writing is an art form!

So why have we turned the art of writing into a calculus?

Great writing never begins with capitalization, punctuation, or grammar!

Great writing begins with an IDEA!

This is the rule of art: Form Follows Function

Writers must focus first on the function or purpose of writing—the idea. Once the idea is drafted in rough form, the writer digs back in and applies mechanics—corrects misspelling, capitalization, punctuation, embellishes word choice, improves syntax, and so on. Writing is a process.

So, let me clarify, I’m NOT saying don’t teach capitalization, punctuation, or grammar.  I’m simply saying that primarily focusing on mechanics over and above actually constructing ideas will never produce exceptional writing.

The best way to learn to write is to WRITE.

Who, when asked to write a sentence about an apple, will begin like this: “I will need an interesting adjective, an adverbial phrase, plus a dependent and independent clause,” with a deep dive into grammar and mechanics and rhetoric? NO! You will pick up your pencil and you will write your idea! Once you get an idea on paper, you will, as time permits, reread and polish that idea—improving word choice here and there, possibly rearranging phrases, correcting spelling and capitalization and so on. Writing, like all art forms, requires that the writer engage in a process.

For the past 30 years, in addition to educating my own children (who are now thriving adult readers and writers), I’ve guided countless students through our CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides. And what I’ve learned is this:

The key to success over time?

Choose your battles.

Each week in the CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides, students will encounter a writing prompt inspired by the week’s reading. These prompts will require different types of responses utilizing different types or domains of writing—narrative, observational, imaginary, persuasive, and so on.

The weekly writing prompt will:

1) Allow students to write their ideas in a vast array of writing domains.

2) Move students through the process of constructing ideas, from draft to polished form.

3) Motivate students to engage in the work of idea making.

The best writing teacher is a mentor who encourages the student’s idea. This 4th grade student is responding to the Section 4 prompt in the Pablo and Birdy student guide. You can see by simply reading, that this young writer cares about the idea being constructed. You can see by examining the effort  made to communicate the idea coherently. Like any construction zone, this is messy, there are sections scratched out, there is scribble in the margin, there is darkened in pencil where spelling is being considered by the student writer. This is all GOOD!

How to Conference One-on-One:

During the 5-minute conference (keep it pithy), have the student read aloud what is written on the page. Use your red pen to make edits and suggestions as the work is being read aloud. For this paragraph, I focused on the following 4 topics:


This is something that is a focus each week, teaching students to open their idea with a sentence that moves beyond a “topic opener” toward a sentence that actually HOOKS the reader into the idea. This writer, who had been working in our CORE for over a year, opened this with a really well constructed, informative sentence—a terrific hook! What’s so great about this sentence? Consider that less experienced writers might write something like this:

Birdy left Isla to fly away.

This sentence is a very flat statement, lacking the detail that engages readers to read on. But this type of simple sentence is often where young writers begin. The goal of the teacher is never to re-write the hook, but rather to encourage the student to add details. Why did Birdy fly away? Where did Birdy fly? In the sentence written by this student, there is also a bit of intrigue in the phrase “for the first time in ten years” that makes the reader sense a bit of courage in the act of flying away!

As Birdy left Isla for the first time in ten years, her instincts told her to fly east.


The indentation is a small, but constant reminder.


I typically don’t make writers look up misspellings in a dictionary, but rather create a checklist in one of the white spaces on the rough draft. As the student reads I am checking misspelled words, then, as I discuss what I’ve discovered after the read, I make the corrected spelling list. There are two misspellings in this paragraph.

Twist at the End

The TWIST at the end has a bigger purpose than concluding. The last sentence of an idea should keep the idea in the reader’s mind to ruminate and ponder. With the phrase “in conclusion” at the beginning of this student’s Twist, the reader is jarred from the flow of the lovely narrative. Something about this phrase is out of sync with the rest of the voice. The phrase is formulaic. Simply omitting it transforms the last sentence:

(In conclusion,) Birdy will keep traveling the world for the next ten marvelous years before heading back to Pablo, and, who knows, maybe she will bring back another baby!

This statement is actually a rhetorical question, so the exclamation mark at the end is acceptable.

Imagine now this sentence with different syntax:

For the next ten marvelous years before heading back to Pablo, Birdy will keep traveling the world, and, who knows, maybe she will bring back another baby!

This rearranging was not offered because I felt the student’s sentence (minus “in conclusion”) was lovely as is. However, it’s always good to imagine possibility and to have many tricks up your sleeve!

Ultimately, if you can read, if you can enjoy an idea, and if you can be delighted in the potential of language, then roll up your sleeves and get into the garden!



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Treasure Trove of Words

Exploring vocabulary is so much more than an activity to check off the list! Words are the building blocks of language, are what we humans use to communicate our ideas, and each one holds certain specificity.

Specificity is a pairing of  the word “specific” (clearly defined) + the suffix “ity” (quality or state of being).  So, this word, which arrived on the scene via the French word spécifique back in the 1600s, means  to hold a special quality.

With this in mind, using a handheld dictionary becomes an adventurous treasure hunt. Students working in our CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides will, each week, explore a handful of singular words from the week’s reading. There are many skills embedded into this complex activity beyond the obvious, vocabulary development. The act of searching for a word in an alphabetized catalog reinforces spelling skills, strengthens the ability to problem solve, and fortifies focus. Of course, this process of working for meaning and applying new knowledge, more than anything else, sets this word into stone in the mind’s eye, and places it into a growing treasure chest of words.

This student, who was working in a Level 2 unit tied to Inside Out and Back Again, did a terrific job looking up each word in a held-by-hand Oxford English Dictionary. All of the definitions were copied accurately. Next came the difficult part, using each new word in a new way.

By the time students reach this level (4th and 5th grade), they have worked through Earlybird and Level 1 units and have had this exercise modeled for them. Still, using a word in a new context is a really difficult writing skill. But it is a skill that will empower students to write their ideas with specificity!

Notice the way this student used the word “flecked” below. Even though the definition of the word is correct, the sentence demonstrates the meaning has been confused with the word “flicked” meaning to propel something with a sharp movement. One way to support the student, is to provide an example: flicked the flecked stone. Another trick, is to send the student back to the dictionary to copy the phrase that is used to demonstrate the word in a context. Here the phrase was: whitecaps flecked the blue sea. Encourage the child to craft the phrase into an original sentence. For example: Yesterday at the beach whitecaps flecked the blue sea.

Here’s a peak at the Vocabulary Section from our Level 2 Guide tied to Because of Winn Dixie completed by an end-of-year 4th grader who is delightfully engaged in the treasure hunt and confidently using new words in golden ways!

Using our Earlybird through Level 3 CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides, students will explore more than 100 words per year, adding significant treasure that possesses specificity. This will serve them well as they engage in the work of constructing their ideas!



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Meet Miss Julia

“As a Pages teacher, I consider myself to be an adventure guide, leading my students on a journey through a story, pointing out details and nuggets of advice along the way.” ~Julia LaMonte, Earlybird and Level 1 Pages Teacher

I have written quite a bit about reading with my children when they were young, snuggled up in a nook. Some of my favorite memories are of reading together, talking, sharing, and imagining. I think when things changed for me was when I wanted to take these beautiful conversations we were having and encourage my children to engage in the pencil and paper work of writing their thoughts and ideas. I talked in my previous blog, on Pages classes, about having relationships with the students we teach and building a community of support. I realized I needed this with my own students— my beautiful children—too!  Blackbird and Company was the first ELA curriculum I found that helped me inspire pencil to paper writing through the reading of great literature. My children, like most I have worked with, were much more inspired to write their own ideas from a prompt tied into a great story. But throughout our homeschooling and private school years, I, at times, needed my own community of support which truly enabled me to become an adventure guide for my children!

“We learn more about ourselves when we dive into and discuss the actions of characters in books, and a class like Pages is a wonderful opportunity to do just that.”  ~Miss Julia

If you ever get to sit in on Miss Julia’s classes you will see an adventure guide at work with our youngest of learners. Miss Julia teaches our Earlybird (2nd grade) classes along with our Level 1 (3rd grade). Miss Julia reads rich literature out loud to her students and guides them through the path of discussing vocabulary, character traits, comprehension and writing their own ideas through a personal prompt. I remember watching Miss Julia teach a class to Earlybird students using the book Fedrick by Leo Lionni. She would read aloud, stopping  to point out different vocabulary or to notice the artistic style the author had used. It occurred to me in that moment how much there was to learn from such a simple story. The gift of having an adventure guide is that they have usually traveled the trail before and can show us things we have never seen or never noticed or overlooked or disregarded. During my quest of being a mother and teacher I would want to get things done,  I would bypass the trail for the highway. I appreciated having an adventure guide who I could follow and could slow me and my students down so we could really capture the details, the deeper meaning and gifts of a great story.

“ I really appreciate having Miss Julia as the teacher. It gives me the opportunity to help, but not be the one in charge.”  ~Jessica Heafner                                             

If you ever get the chance to sit down with Mrs. Julia she might share that she was homeschooled for a period of time growing up and that, during that time, she was introduced to Blackbird and Company curriculum. She has often said that it was exactly the support and inspiration she needed to become the writer she is today. Mrs. Julia was my youngest son’s teacher and adventure guide for a year. During that time my son’s writing skills grew and so did my tools to support him.

“Our goal as teachers is to inspire both students and parents in the joy that is Language Arts.”   ~Miss Julia                                                                              

This next year I hope you consider building or adding to your community of support. We want to inspire all students to read well, write well, and think well. By building your community of support you can build the relationships that will teach well, encourage well, and inspire well right alongside you!


~Clare Bonn

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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.” ~Brit Riddle

“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).” ~Paulina Yeung

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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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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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 journaling 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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Campfire: Let’s Talk Marshmallows

Sinking your teeth into a marshmallow is like biting into a cloud!

Let’s make marshmallows! Before we do, let’s ask a beautiful question: Where did the idea come from? Marshmallows, after all, are not naturally occurring.

If we want to encourage our children to engage in the work of writing their ideas, sharing stories of successful idea-making is a terrific inspiration.

Did you know that this treat has a long, sweet history?

Begin by teaching your children that marshmallow is a plant. It has a scientific name: Althaea officinalis. You might point out that scientific names are capitalized differently than names of people. Only the first name is capitalized. It got its name because it is a “mallow” plant and grows in marshy areas. Marshmallow sprouts light pink flowers and grows very tall.

Next share a bit of history. As early as the 9th century, Greeks used marshmallow medicinally by making a balm from the sap. They discovered it soothed wounds, stings, and tummy aches. Later the Romans discovered  marshmallow worked well as a laxative. By the Middle Ages, marshmallow was a treatment for a wide variety of ailments including insomnia! But it was the ancient Egyptians who made a sweet treat by combining marshmallow sap, honey, and nuts. The French took it from here. Their concoction was still semi-medicinal (used often as a throat lozenge), but interestingly it was also advertised as anti-aging cream! Eventually, through France, marshmallows landed as a sweet indulgent treat.

Marshmallows arrived in the USA in the 1800s. And we can thank the Girl Scouts for S’Mores.

Before you begin to cook, share this amazing fact: We consume 90 million pounds of marshmallows every year!

Here is a simple recipe:

For the syrup: Combine in a saucepan with a candy thermometer: 3/4 cup Water + 1 1/4 cup corn syrup + 3 cups sugar + pinch of salt

For the body of the confection: In a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle 3 tablespoons gelatin over 3/4 cup water


  1. Let the gelatin dissolve in the water in the mixer with the whisk attachment ready to go.
  2. Boil the syrup mixture to 240 degrees. Immediately pour the syrup slowly into the mixer. Increase to high and beat until very thick!
  3. Add flavoring—a tablespoon of vanilla, or 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond or peppermint. Here you can be creative!
  4. Now pour the marshmallow mixture into a greased with spray oil 13″ x 9″ baking pan. At this point you can sprinkle sparkle sugar to decorate. Let set overnight.
  5. Turn pan over onto a large cutting board heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Cut the set marshmallow into cubes. Roll each cube in organic powdered sugar—you will need about 1 cup.

Even if you have never made marshmallows from scratch, remember the kitchen is a classroom. Enjoy the adventure creating this campfire friendly confection!


~Kimberly & Sara

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Around the Campfire: Kitchen Tales

Let’s talk kitchen literacy.

That’s right.

Think recipe for fun and for learning!

In the kitchen, reading and writing and thinking is delicious!

Once upon a time we had a little wooden step stool in our kitchen that my four would climb up to help me stir up whatever was cooking. In the kitchen, everything your little ones are learning is applied—counting, fractions, addition, subtraction, reading, writing, sequential thinking and so much more. In the kitchen, children experience the complexities of chemistry. They will witness right before their eyes the difference between a mixture and a compound. They will watch matter change right before their very eyes! Like magic, chemical reactions lead to yummy treats!

Let’s talk kitchen words: measure, cup, spoon, knife, pan, water, sugar, butter. Encountering words in the realm that they belong is an excellent opportunity for students to put their language arts skills to task. I used to make moveable labels on 3 x 5 index cards and place them on kitchen nouns. After cooking (and clean up!) I would have them draw pictures on the back of the cards so they could have fun reading and spelling words using the moveable alphabet. The kitchen list of words is endless and will provide your little ones hours of academic fun. One word that is very important in the kitchen is dozen. This wonderful word is also an important mathematical concept  introduced in kindergarten.

About a dozen years ago, Sara wrote her first post. She imagined cooking from scratch akin to educating a child. This brilliant extended metaphor rings true all these years later:

I believe every child is like a blank recipe card and that our job as educators is to teach them how to bring their unique spice to a bland world. Each child possesses a unique cabinet brimming with flavor. One might be like chili powder (which you really need to make a good pot of chili), another cinnamon mixed with sugar, yet another oregano (which gives a great background flavor to many dishes).

And she left us with a brilliant question:

What if our job is to challenge our children to explore the potential of their flavor? Let’s help our children develop their unique recipe for life

So this winter, let’s get cooking!

~Kimberly & Sara

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Winter Campfire: Let’s Play!

During the primary years, the journey begins…

Tip Number 4.


Play is an opportunity to practice new academic skills.

Play is an opportunity to foster independence.

Play is an opportunity to grow confidence.



Once students understand that each of the 26 letters of the alphabet have unique sounds that can be combined to represent the words we speak, they will be off and running! But this is just the beginning. Use the Hatchling Phonetic objects and corresponding deck for matching games. Utilizing the moveable alphabet, the possibility for “play” is endless. Children will quickly learn that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card. That’s right, the  teacher is built in, and this helps students confidently enjoy their important work.


1st Grade

By the time students have reached 1st grade, they are confidently reading and writing simple three and four-letter short vowel words with consonants, consonant blends, and digraphs—cat, mug, splat, chin, this, shop, and more. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently practice the new phonics introduced each week, matching objects to cards and spelling the playful way. Children will have a longer attention span for this activity that is familiar from their kindergarten year. But even students new to Hatchling, will quickly catch on to the fact that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card.

Second Grade

In the 2nd grade, students have been introduced to the whole of phonics, have spent many hours in playful, multi-sensory practice activities and are growing  in their ability to apply newfound skills of reading and writing. During 1st grade students composed simple sentences—statements, commands, exclamations, and questions. They will have acquired a sizable sight vocabulary, words they were introduced to and practiced during kindergarten and 1st grade. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently review using the phonetic objects and decks from Hatchling. If your student is jumping in to 2nd grade without having utilized Hatchling, we recommend using the moveable alphabet to practice making words. Whether you are a seasoned Blackbird user or new to our program, this is the year to begin our spelling program (it’s free!). Remember, 2nd grade is the year to settle in to ELA skills acquired during kindergarten and first grade. It is the year to begin putting it all together—reading and writing and thinking.  This is the year to begin a word collection, the year to see just how wonderful a word can be!

Writing is an art that takes children on a journey through many, many years. We believe the best way to travel the path towards literacy is to PLAY—especially in the primary years of education! The road to mastery should never be arduous. Idea-making, after all is not boring!


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Around the Campfire: Slide of Imagination

The phrase “summer slide” is one of my pet peeves. This phrase (used for as long as I remember) describes the essential skills that are supposedly lost over the summer when children are out of school.

Summer is the time for hands in the sand, hikes on the mountains, digging into a city garden, swimming in the community pool, trips to the library. Summer is an extended time of experiential learning. And these experiences will provide fodder for learning all year long. These experiences will pay richly into your child’s fund of knowledge, the knowledge that sparks ideas. Think of summer as an opportunity to mostly unplug from electronics, to engage with nature, family, friends, community, and books!

Let’s talk learning loss. Being deprived of something is loss. When it comes to language arts, I’ve sadly crossed paths with scores of children struggling to write who have simply been deprived of the opportunity to imagine their ideas. Is summer the culprit? I think not!

Review Tip Number 2.

What is your BIG idea?

When it comes to writing: Form always follows function.

When learning an art form—and writing is an art form—the rule to follow is: form follows function. This means that language arts should not be approached or taught the same way that we teach math. We can not simply give our children a mountain of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization rules and expect them to compose their ideas eloquently. In this case we are giving children “form” (building blocks) without any concept of “function” (purpose). Function is key to using form effectively.

Without ideas, writing becomes a meaningless chore.

Before the pandemic, literacy levels were in decline. But global shutdowns  pushed close to 1.5 billion students out of school. And these disruptions gave us all an opportunity to see that perhaps our approach to teaching language arts is broken. It gave us an opportunity to make a change. Truth is, on average nationwide, 66% of 4th grade children in the U.S. could not read proficiently in 2013, seven years before the pandemic! And children who do not read proficiently, do not write effectively!

Lacking basic reading and writing skills is a tremendous disadvantage. But lacking the ability to value ideas, well, that is tragic.

Literacy not only enriches an individual’s life, it creates opportunities for people to develop skills that will help them provide for themselves, their families, and humanity at large. Literacy is the ability to read, write, and think in ways that enable us humans to communicate effectively and authentically. Literacy helps us make sense of the world.

Tip Number 3.

Slide of Imagination

If we are to use an education phrase, let it NOT be the “summer slide” or the COVID slide”.

Please let it be the: Slide of Imagination!

When children engage with ongoing spelling lists, endless grammar exercises, and cookie-cutter writing exercises, they will become exhausted and disheartened climbing an endless ladder.

When it comes to writing an idea, at first, children (even adults!) might see the blank page and feel a little frightened, like getting on a two-wheeler for the first time. But with a bit of encouragement: “You can do this!” the pencil in hand will begin to fill the page. The climb up will always be UP, but the slide of imagination will never disappoint.

Try this writing exercise (yes, you):

Look at the photo above. What did the little girl think climbing the ladder to the top of the slide? What did she think when she reached the top and looked down? What was going through her head when the photo was snapped?

You are seeing blank lined-paper, right?  It’s not easy to begin, right? Is your imagination holding its breath?

  1. Sometimes, in this moment, I give my students permission to pretend!
  2. If I were in the room, teaching you, I might encourage you to dictate your idea so that your first draft would simply involve copy work. For reluctant writers, dictation is akin to training wheels.
  3. When students are really intimidated by the page,  I might offer a few “hooks” and let them choose how to begin. Here are some examples: At the top of the slide, she was so delighted by her favorite color that she burst into laughter.  Arms up, feet down, head back, big smile, you go girl!  She’s committed now! 
  4. Sometimes all it takes is getting a first sentence on board for the idea to flow.

Now it’s your turn. Write your idea. Write through all the stages: Idea brainstorming, first drafting, re-reading, editing, polished copy. And once you’ve completed this exercise, teach someone to write through the prompt. You can do it! You be a writing coach!

Encouraging your students to write their ideas is inviting them to climb the ladder into their imagination and slide into the art of writing joyfully.

Instead of worrying about catching up this winter, think about gathering around-the-campfire.  Around the campfire we warm up, roast marshmallows, make s’mores, sing songs, and best of all, we share stories.




Enter to win an easy light up fire pit built for the backyard and beyond from our friends at Solo Stove – plus, a Blackbird & Company Yeti Thermos (2 total)!