Reflect ~ The Brave Writer Retreat

My mind and heart float in a space of contented longing. It has been five days since I steered my empty suburban into the driveway and smooched faces and wrapped arms around the people I missed so much. I had been away for only four days but so much has changed. To tell the truth though, I hadn’t just been away, I had been with my tribe.

I may not be able to remember everyone’s name but seeing each face was like looking into the eyes of a long-lost friend. I may not have even heard each person’s story, but there was a golden thread that united us all: a passion for creating in our families deep, enduring connections. Sitting in the beautiful retreat space, I looked around. “Remembered names or not,” I thought. “This is my tribe none-the-less."


So where was I?
The Brave Writer ‘Be Good to You’ Retreat.

This retreat was about homeschooling and writing, yes. But it was about so much more. It was about connection, collaboration, compassion, communication. It was about being real about what is hard and what is beautiful and how the lines between these blur until we find ourselves staring at the hard stuff, finding it beautiful. It was about finding my own truth and speaking it out loud.


And this is where I really was when I pulled into my driveway. I was in that place of wonder, staring wide-eyed, watching the deep truths of the retreat swirl within me and around me. Wondering how they will change my family and marveling at how they were already changing me. Even the act of trying to pin words to these thoughts feels insufficient. Words too meager. Ideas bigger than life itself, it may take me a lifetime to process them all. But then again, isn’t that the point? When we’re faced with truths beyond explanation, yet so much a part of our being, we’re left in a sort of empty-full space. Our mind tries to compartmentalize to make sense of something that only our soul can fully grasp.

In the days of the retreat, I found myself pondering what it means to homeschool, how home and ‘school’ need to dance with each other to a song unique to each family. How respecting the personhood of each of my children challenges me to respect my own. How trust is the core of it all: trust in the process of learning, trust in the people that make up my home, trust in myself. I found myself simultaneously overwhelmed and grounded by the glorious weight of all that I was taking in.

Re-entering the rhythm of daily life has been slow and deliberate. The contended longing that I feel still lingers like the scent of lilacs in spring, strong and present, holding me in a place of awe as I allow the ideas and intentions of the retreat to seep into my roots and send out shoots of new growth. And even as I write this, I know that the growth will reach far and wide, not just for me but for everyone who attended. On the last day of the retreat, in what felt like a climactic moment, I sat surrounded by all these amazing women, listening to Julie Bogart share her heart in her talk, Invisible Education: Emotional Safety for Learning and Love. In that moment, I saw the truth.

This. The power of this moment and all that it represents.
This will change the world, one child, one mother, one family at a time.

The Big Book Pile-Up revisited

Big Book Pile Up large

*This is a re-post from last year's reading challenge, but it still speaks to me today. * To have the free printables emailed to you, click here.

The Big Book Pile-Up came from my desire to get our read-aloud time out of the rut it is in. Our book choices sometimes feel uninspired. Our enthusiasm waning, not because we don’t love reading aloud together, but because reading aloud with a toddler (and this toddler in particular) has its challenges. I am determined not to let this become an excuse. Reading aloud is too important for the intellectual and emotional development of our children to allow ourselves to become apathetic in our attempts.

With World Read Aloud on March 4thDay coming , I decided to give our read-aloud time a kick-start, to bring it from mediocre to the joyful family time I know it can be. Together with my children, we created a list of book categories to introduce or reacquaint us (and you if you choose to join us and I really, really hope you do!) with books of all kinds. Not only will we meet great books and characters and ideas but we’ll get to know each other better through our discussions and just enjoy spending time together. The list of suggestions offers a variety of genres and topics and is meant to be a spring of inspiration. I am not sure how we will approach the list just yet. Will we start at the top? Bottom? Somewhere in the middle? Use it as more of a checklist and read a selection each day? I do know that we will try to read from a variety of sources; picture books, novels, stories from children’s literary magazines, and whatever else we can get our hands-on. We may add other genres or topics that spark our interest or skip the ones that just don’t seem to be working for us right now. The most important thing is that we’ll read together everyday!

We’ve got a trip to the library planned in the next few days and an amazon cart brimming with some books that I want to make sure we read even if we can’t find them at our local library.

Each day I’ll be sharing what we’re reading and how our adventure is going. I hope that you’ll do the same!

Here’s the reading list!

  1. Read a picture book
  2. Read non-fiction
  3. Read a Newberry award winner
  4. Read a book about a famous person
  5. Read some poetry
  6. Listen to an audio book
  7. Read a newly published book
  8. Read a book you’ve read before
  9. Read an alphabet book
  10. Read a book about food and cook together
  11. Read a classic book
  12. Read a Greek Myth
  13. Read some Shakespeare
  14. Read a fairy tale
  15. Read a version of the same fairy tale from another country
  16. Read about history
  17. Read about math
  18. Read about nature
  19. Read about friendship
  20. Read from a book by your favorite author
  21. Begin a chapter book
  22. Read a book about art
  23. Read a book about music
  24. Read a rhyming book
  25. Read a book by an author you’ve never read before
  26. Read a book about a science topic
  27. Read a fable, folktale, or tall tale
  28. Read a fantasy
  29. Read a wordless book
  30. Read a book that has won the Caldecott Medal

Happy Reading!

Art & Music in Our Homeschool


Art & Music

in Our Homeschool

Art and music are among our favorite "subjects" in our homeschool.  We love learning about artists, musicians and composers, finding new favorite paintings and pieces of music, and trying our hand at creating our own music and art.  The thing is we're not really picky.  We're open to exploring it all.  From classical to rock, from impressionist to abstract, we always find something to appreciate. My husband and I have always been clear that we want to expose our children to as many different forms of art and music as we can (and is appropriate for their age), so that they can form their own opinions and interests.  Other than live performances and lessons and crafts at the kitchen table, we rely on books and recordings to bring art and music into our family culture.  Below, you'll find a whole bouquet of art and music resources that we have enjoyed.*  You'll also find 2 videos, one explains these resources and how I use them, and the second is by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.  It is chock-full of inspiration for bringing art into your family life. I'd love to hear how you bring art and music into your home.  Let's chat in the comment box:-)

m is for masterpiece

m is for masterpiece

story of the orchestra

story of the orchestra

Music Lab

Music Lab

museum abc

museum abc

usborne famous paintings

usborne famous paintings

lives of the musicians

lives of the musicians



lives of the artists

lives of the artists

child size masterpieces cards

child size masterpieces cards

child size masterpieces guide

child size masterpieces guide

famous paintings picture cards

famous paintings picture cards

classical music sticker book

classical music sticker book

famous artists sticker book

famous artists sticker book

museum shapes

museum shapes

museum 123

museum 123

art nature poetry

art nature poetry

m is for melody

m is for melody

*Some of these links are affiliate links.  Purchasing through them, supports the blog and allows me to bring great content to you.  Thanks!

For updates and new posts delivered to your inbox   Subscribe >

Monday Mindset: Some days it just seems impossible

Monday Mindset

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

-It always seems impossible until it's done.-

Human flight, building the Hoover Dam, climbing Mt. Everest, running a marathon, pulling yourself out of bed on Monday morning, finding patience at the end of your rope...these all seem daunting at best and impossible at worst.  The good news?  You have something in common with the Wright brothers, the architects and engineers of the Hoover Dam, and first ascendants of Mt. Everest.  You have a brave spirit, pushing through all that is difficult, all that seems impossible, until it's done. 

I don't know what you are facing today, but I do know that you're not alone.  Everyone is facing a challenge today.  Some big, some small, but each one seeming impossible, until it's done. 

So what can we do?  Put one foot in front of the other. No matter how small the step, move forward with love.  And when it's done, you can look back and know that you conquered what seemed impossible, and that momentum can carry you through.

Don't miss out on updates.   Subscribe here >

A Tour of Our Reader's Notebooks


A Tour of Our
Reader's Notebooks

I recently shared the idea of Reader’s Notebooks  and how my children and I are using them to have meaningful, on-going conversations about the books that we read together and the books that they read independently. Can I just say how much we love these! Not only are we “discussing” books, but my children are learning to put their thoughts onto paper. They are reading with purpose and with more attention to detail than ever before. And best of all, I am able to get a glimpse into their hearts and minds while gently teaching them about grammar, mechanics, and letter format. The few hours I spend each week preparing and responding to their letters is far outweighed by the benefits!

Here’s a brief map of the parts of our Reader’s Notebooks, but they are explained in more detail in the video below.


Golden Lines

Books I’ve Read

Books I Want to Read

List of Comprehension Strategies
(from Strategies that Work*)
To download this list for your own use, sign up below and it will be sent to your inbox.

Story Chart (from Teaching the Classics)

Post-It Notes



If you have any questions or comments, leave me a comment or send me a message here at the blog or on my facebook page.

*This post contains an amazon affiliate link.  Purchasing through that link, helps support the blog.  Thanks! 

For your free "Strategies for Reading Comprehension" printable   Sign Up Here>

Monday Mindset: Dear Frustrated Mama...,


Monday Mindset

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

Dear Frustrated Mama Trying to Teach Her Boy to Read,

        I am not going to beat around the bush or try to soften the blow. The frustration that you’re feeling because your boy wants to sled rather than sit; it’s positively typical, and typically positive. Try not to take it personally even though it feels like a stab to the heart every time he whines about learning to read even though he asked you to teach him.
        His protest is against the hard work that it takes to learn something new, not against you. But you chose to be the one to teach your child to read, and so you must also face the hard work. Don’t whine in your grown-up way of cajoling him to read a little more, sit a little longer.
       Instead, have a conversation. Talk to your boy. You can do that. Acknowledge that it’s hard work and ask him how much he thinks he can do today. If it’s only a little, then celebrate. If it’s a lot, then celebrate. Your child has asked you to help him learn to read because he trusts you. Don’t blow it. Don’t push so hard that there is no joy left in the learning. He will learn to read on his terms. It is your privilege to support his journey. 
         So get the voices of ‘You’re not doing this right’ out of your head. No one else knows the delicate dance you are waltzing with your boy. No one else knows the gains he’s made in other areas this year; in controlling his anger, taking responsibility for his actions, in putting pencil to paper without tears, in stringing letters together to make words.
        Is there still a long way to go? Yes. Will he get there? Yes. And that is enough. Your boy is amazing and so are you. Together you make a great team if only you keep in your focus the love and respect that you hold for each other. You can do this. Heck, you are doing this! Keep at it, strong mama.


Pssst…this goes for more than just learning to read:-)

More encouragement coming your way...   Subscribe here >

Creative Copywork


Creative Copywork

Engaging Emergent Readers & Writers in New Ways

To say that every one of my children fell in love with copywork right away would be lying. There have been a few less enthusiastic with others. Finding ways to make it engaging and fun has been my creative challenge. Pictured are three of the ways my emergent readers and writers have enjoyed.

A photo posted by @angela_awald on

“Writing on the Wall”

Even though they aren’t really writing on the wall, the larger paper offered a new perspective. No longer was copywork a sit-at-the-table task. Standing and big print. Small, but large changes.

Word Hunt

This one is a favorite of mine. All I needed were some word cards and tape. The boys numbered a page in the copywork books 1-12 and set out on their hunt. Each word that they found, they copied into their books along with a little number. After they were all done, they read the words to me. Then added up the numbers to see how many “points they earned.” So in this little activity, they practiced writing, reading and math. Win! Win! Win!

Black Paper, Gel Pens, and Crayons

Just like the writing on the wall activity, small changes made copywork much more fun for my boys. To extend this a little further, we made up the copywork together learning about verbs, nouns and punctuation.

So, that’s the re-cap! Happy copying! :-)

I'll be sharing more creative copywork ideas.  Don't miss them.   Subscribe here >

Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" Is Not the First Question You Should Ask


Why "What Curriculum Should I Buy?" is Not the 1st Question You Should Ask

“What curriculum do you recommend?” It’s a logical question when you have decided to homeschool or have been homeschooling for a while and looking to make some changes. It is such a common question that it is asked almost daily on homeschool discussion boards. You want to make sure that you are covering all the subject areas and providing your children with the best education possible. That is, after all, one of the main reasons you decided to homeschool in the first place.

I know that you want to jump in and learn how to DO this homeschool thing. It’s our natural tendency to figure out how things work and make it happen. But really, pausing right here in the midst of your questioning will serve you well all along the journey. There is so much more to choosing a curriculum than comparing scope and sequence, price, or reviews. The uncertainty you feel will keep your eyes and ears and heart open to finding the right fit and not simply settling for what others do.

So if “What curriculum should I buy?” is not the first question question to ask, what is? The question and its answers are simultaneously simple and sophisticated. The question is…

What do you believe about education and learning and life?

 Your answers…are as unique as your fingerprints.

You may not know what you believe, where to start, what to ask, or that there are even questions to consider. I had no idea about all the possibilities when we began our homeschooling journey about 12 years ago (and I hold graduate degrees in education!).

The good news is that you don’t need to know all the answers. In fact, you never will. I have spent the past 18 years learning about educational philosophy and I still feel like I have more to learn. I have applied much of what I have learned. Some of it has been somewhat successful and some has fallen raucously downhill. What has finally emerged is my own confidence that I will do what is right for my family (and each of my children) at any given time.

Rather than see this seemingly unorganized way of homeschooling as a hindrance to educating my children, I see it as an asset. With my eyes wide open, looking always for new insight into learning, I am more responsive to the educational needs of my children. So as my children and I grow, we call upon new ways of learning so that their education is truly tailor-made.

But how do you get from where you are, with all your questions and concerns, to a place of confidence? You keep asking questions. Always. To get you started, I made a list of questions for you. It is not a conclusive list, but rather, a compilation of the questions have been helpful to me and to those who I have coached through this gateway. There are links included and a downloadable worksheet to facilitate note-taking as you explore.

    • What do you believe to be true about learning?
    • What inspires learning in you? In your children?
    • What are your children’s primary learning styles? What are yours?
    • What are your strengths as an educator? What are you fears?
    • What approach would serve you best? School at home? A relaxed, organic approach? Something in between?
    • What educational philosophies appeal to you?
      • Charlotte Mason
      • Classical
      • Unschooling
      • Waldorf
      • Project-Based Learning
      • Montessori
      • Democratic Education
      • Outdoor Learning
      • Unit Study
      • Traditional
      • Eclectic

Every homeschooler, new or seasoned, benefits from learning about the educational philosophies. This investment will save you time, money, and maybe a little bit of sanity, maybe:-), in the long run.

Now that I’ve turned your brain upside down and scrambled up where you thought you were supposed to begin, I leave you with this. An anchor for the journey and the answer to all the questions.

No matter what you believe about learning or curriculum, the key to homeschooling is the relationships you build. The best place to start is by looking into your own heart and into the faces of your children.

Over the next month or so, I will be highlighting each educational philosophy, giving you a glimpse into the pros and cons, sharing some resources to further facilitate your learning, and my personal reflections on each one. To have all the posts of this series delivered to your inbox, simply subscribe here. Subscribe here >

Monday Mindset: How do they feel?


Monday Mindset

Because sometimes, a shift in perspective is all you need.

People will forget what you said people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou

So true. Isn’t it? Sometimes our feelings follow us long after an argument of which we cannot remember the cause. And the same is true of times we have felt completely safe and supported. We remember. We remember the warmth of the love and compassion that surrounded us. Now, let’s change the quote just a bit.

Your children will forget what you said,

Your children will forget what you did,

But your children will never forget

how you made them feel.

Isn’t this just as true? When our children look back at the ups and downs of their day, they will not always remember our words or even our actions, but the way that we made them feel.

When they spill a full glass of water just as you finally got everyone seated for dinner.

When they try to help you make cookies by adding half of the box of baking soda.

When they crawl in bed with you in the middle of the night pushing you to the sleep-deprived edge.

How do you react? With love, empathy, compassion?

Our words and actions are important, but what is more important is that those words and actions create a feeling of love that your child will remember. And they can draw upon that love throughout their lives.

Using Reader's Notebooks to Connect with our Kids


Using Reader's Notebooks to Connect with Our Kids

“The author wants us to feel that Cracker and Willie are sort of like siblings. I can see this on page 6 when Willie’s mom says that they are two peas in a pod.” (excerpt from my daughter’s very first reader’s notebook entry)

I began using Reader’s Notebooks during my classroom teaching days. I had longed to have meaningful conversations with each of my student’s one-on-one, but with a classroom of 24 students, all at varying levels of reading comprehension, the task felt impossible. Implementing the reader’s notebook did more for my students’ reading comprehension and ability to articulate their thoughts in writing than all the worksheets I could cram into a school week. The best part was that they could each interact at their own level, free to take risks and try out the reading strategies we were working on at the time.

Fast forward 12 years and into our One-Room-Home-School and the similarities are vivid. Readers at different levels. Time stretched thin.  But sacrificing meaningful conversation is NOT an option. So I made a plan. My two oldest (Ages 12 and 10) and I, will read one book a month and converse via their reader’s notebooks. A few times a week, we will meet to read a chapter together and discuss a reading strategy or literary device. Below I have outlined our first five days of assignments so that you can see how it flows. And I really mean flows. There is nothing set in stone. The outline is more of a brain dump of some of the things I’d like to cover. We’ll see how they go and adjust accordingly. It may take 5-10 days to complete depending on how things flow. The most important thing is facilitate love of literature and critical thinking along the way.

readers notebook

Plans for... Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata

Mini-Lesson 1: Focus: Introducing the reader’s notebook.

Read chapter 1 together and introduce the reader’s notebook. This is a place to gather your thoughts about what you are reading and have a written conversation with Mom about it. Sometimes you will be given a prompt. Other times, the assignment will be open-ended.

Kid’s Assignment: Read chapters 2-3 independently.

In the reader’s notebook, write Mom a letter discussing what you notice about Willie and Cracker’s relationship. What do you think the author wants you to see or feel about their relationship? Find 3 clues in what you have read so far, that show this. Include a quote, the page number and why you think this supports how you view Willie and Cracker’s relationship.

Mom’s Assignment: Read Chapters 2-3, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-Lesson 2: Focus: Author’s choose specific words to set a mood or help the reader visualize what is happening in the story.

Read pages 28-30 together.

Look closely at the scene on page 30 where Rick begins to talk to his parents about Vietnam. “Rick had felt four sets of eyes burn into him…Rick felt his own chest heaving with nervousness but kept his eyes trained on his father’s. Then everyone was talking at once. His parents and grandparents grilled him for hours.”

Kid’s Assignment: finish reading chapter 4. In the reader’s notebook, find another place in the story that the author makes deliberate word choices and helps you visualize the story.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 4, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-Lesson 3: Focus: “Golden Lines: Making reading personal.”

Sometimes we read something that stands out to us or brings forth an emotion. Capturing these lines can help us make personal connections to what we are reading. And later on, we can look back and see how a book touched our hearts.

Kid’s assignment: Read chapter 5. Look back over the first 5 chapters and find a quote that stands out to you. Write Mom a letter that includes the quote and why you chose it.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 5, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-lesson 4: Focus: Let it all simmer

We covered a good amount in the first few days and I believe that resting in new knowledge is important in incorporating it into our own thought-life.

Kid’s Assignment: Read chapter 6 and write to Mom about anything you want to related to the book. Remember to answer any questions Mom asked in her letters to you.

Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 6, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.

Mini-lesson 5: Focus: Keep the simmer going…

Kid’s and Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 7. No writing, just reading.

Other literary devices and comprehension strategies to discuss using Cracker!:

Protagonist/antagonist Story elements, using chart from Teaching the Classics Continue with Golden Lines Asking questions, seeking information to aid comprehension Revisit visualization

I am purposely keeping this list small. Trying to over-analyze and cram too much into our letters will dampen our enthusiasm for the process. As we get more comfortable with this, I will move to 1-2 topics a week, giving the kids more to read and a little bit longer to respond. And we’ll still take time to enjoy in-person chats at the end of the book. Hopefully as the children grow in knowledge and experience of this process, it will become even more organic, with less guidance from me and more from them. That’s the big picture and one I look forward to.

Don't miss out on upcoming posts.   Subscribe here>