Julie Bogart's book The Writer's Jungle can be used as a standalone resource for teaching children to write or as a jumping off point for using other writing tools from Braver Writer. The Writer's Jungle comes in a binder with 20 tabbed dividers so you can add to the various sections with ideas and examples you might glean from other Braver Writer resources or those you come up with on your own. (You can also purchase a digital version.) While The Writer's Jungle presents a philosophy of writing, it is much more than that. Chapter by chapter, Bogart teaches parents how to teach writing skills, but parents can learn along with their children. You should read the lengthy, 22-page preface plus the briefer introduction and “How to Use this Book” before jumping into the chapters. The preface is not something you can easily skip as in many books; you really should read it since that is where you get the big picture of how The Writer';s Jungle works. It even includes a few entertaining writing exercises that you will likely want to try with your family as well as a description of the “snip and pin” method of revising a written piece.
The entire book is 246 pages long, and that might seem intimidating. However, it seems to me that after you read the preface, you can read chapter one and start teaching. Working with the ideas in that chapter alone could keep you going for years! But you can move on through the other chapters, implementing as you go.
As Julie explains in the preface, a unique feature of The Writer's Jungle is the emphasis on literary elements rather than grammar, structure or other components. These are not ignored, but they play second fiddle. Reflecting the influence of Charlotte Mason and others, Bogart stresses the need to introduce children to quality literature, letting them interact with and develop appreciation for the turn of phrase that delights the reader.
In the first chapter, Bogart develops her ideas by urging parents/teachers to provide children with a language-rich environment as the nourishment they need to develop their own writing abilities. Narration, copywork, and dictation are tools familiar to Charlotte Mason fans that Bogart uses to develop skills at the basic level. She explains, “ I believe that early elementary writing programs are a bit silly. The number one priority of a writing program for kids under 12 should be to guard their enjoyment of writing. If you succeed in keeping them interested and willing, you'll have given them a wonderful gift.” Bogart believes this can be accomplished by having young children do less of their original writing and, instead, have them spend time interacting with “writing that's already written” (p. 6). So she provides concrete procedures and techniques for doing so along with practical advice on scheduling and assessment.
Each chapter continues to educate the parent/teacher while adding more techniques and teaching strategies. Among these are a communication game, freewriting, developing observation skills, overcoming writer's block, developing and narrowing topics, editing, developing a writer's “voice,” the ten most important elements of writing, and learning how to write essays and other structured forms.
Ideas in this book will take you all the way through high school. If you would like more assistance with regular assignments, you might subscribe to one of Bogart's two digital language arts subscription programs: The Arrow (for elementary and early junior high levels) and The Boomerang (for grades 7-9). Each nine-issue subscription includes a nine-month reading list, four passages for dictation for each month with helpful notes, and a writing focus and exercise for each month. The Slingshot , while no longer published on a subscription basis, has back issues available for those working with students at high school level. In each issue of the Slingshot, students study a classic work of fiction plus one poet and his or her work.
Even more helpful for those with high school students is Bogart's Help for High School. This 166-page e-book is written directly to students, although parents should also read it to be able to support and encourage students as well as to be able to evaluate work. Help for High School prepares students for the essay writing that will be required in higher education, but it does so by honing basic writing skills rather than teaching formulaic ways of writing. It is divided into two parts that deal with creative writing and expository writing respectively. However, creative writing is taught for use also as a building block or pre-writing strategy for expository writing rather being treated as a separate entity always distinct from expository writing. The “Keen Observation of an Idea” and “Telling the True Truth” modules in part one are particularly valuable as preliminary steps to essay writing. The first section also includes a great little piece on “apologetics” and writing for school assignments that every student AND parent should read. The second section teaches essay writing, including how to write a thesis statement, introductions and conclusions, citations, and the structure of an academic essay. However, Bogart stretches students to write two different kinds of essays, one “closed” and one “open.” The closed essay follows the traditional format students are commonly taught, while the open essay is an investigative piece for which students explore a question without choosing and defending a particular position. I appreciate this broader approach to essay writing since the latter type essay is closer to the essay writing done by adults in the “real world.”
Students work through the modules in Help for High School, completing the writing assignments for each section. Occasionally, tips for parental evaluation are included. While Help for High School is a natural extension of The Writer's Jungle, it can be used on its own. (Braver Writer sells a “package” that includes digital versions of both books, or you can purchase books individually.)
Students who need more interaction and/or guidance might benefit from one of the Brave Writer online writing courses. These courses last from three to eight weeks and focus on either basic skills or specialized topics. Current courses listed are Foundations in Writing, Kidswrite Basic, Kidswrite Intermediate, Nature Journaling, Mini Reports, SAT/ACT Essay Class, Shakespeare Family Workshop, and Shakespeare: Macbeth. Classes are asynchronous; students can work any time they wish as long as they keep up with the group. They do not have to be online at specific times. They log on, read the instructions, examples and assignment, work offline, post their work, read comments from the instructor on their work AND other students' work, and interact with other students by posting.
All of these resources and others available through www.bravewriter.com are designed to help students develop a love for writing along with the necessary skills. Busy parents are likely to appreciate the tutorial nature of many of these resources since they lighten the parent's teaching load.