Everyone claims their curriculum is more unique, more effective, and more usable than everyone else's. It's like writers of curriculum think there's a magic key to education which, once found, can unlock everything a child needs to know about a given topic (or in some cases, every subject). And incredible numbers of educators think they've found that key.
Most of these claims are bogus or exaggerated. Not only does such a key not exist, but there's rarely a discipline of any kind that is best taught in only one way, or educating problems that can be fixed with a single book or methodology. When someone claims to have all the answers, skepticism is the best approach.
Which is what makes Julie Bogart's The Writer's Jungle: A Survivor's Guide to Writing with Kids so good. She certainly explains why other writing programs fail, but she doesn't present her approach as an end-all for everyone, or even as the only writing program you'll ever need. We think it is if used right, but she's surprisingly open-minded for an author.
How Does This Work?
Available in both downloadable and hardcopy format,The Writer's Jungle is aimed at parents of kids ages 8-18. Like many writing programs, this isn't one to hand to your kids; it's one parents study themselves, then relay the information to their kids. It's also not a curriculum in the traditional sense—it's truly a guide, with no definite lesson plans or syllabus, but able to take kids from pre-writing to final revision with clarity and ease.
In fact, Bogart seems to assume parents will use a separate writing curriculum, and includes a chapter called "Dumb Assignments" in which she helps parents weed out assignments that are unhelpful, too difficult, too easy, or just plain dumb. While you certainly can useThe Writer's Jungle as a supplement, you can also use it by itself.
Seventeen chapters combine Bogart's philosophy of writing education with writing instruction and a variety of assignments meant to help students develop both their ability to record their thoughts and a personal voice. Topics include communication, observation, freewriting, editing, words, and a reading list for moms.
The emphasis is on the writer, not on writing per se. While most writing curricula try to reduce writing instruction to a checklist of skills to master, Bogart believes writing is all about drawing out the personality, thoughts, desires, and observations of the writer, and that therefore developing the writer is crucial, whereas memorizing a bunch of facts is secondary or harmful.
To useThe Writer's Jungle, parents read the chapter (neatly tabbed in the 3-ring binder version), do the writing assignment, then guide the student through the same assignment. This means that parents are able to tailor information and activities to kids specifically, helping them learn to express themselves economically yet distinctly.
Most people will likely find this course perfect for one year of writing instruction, though a good argument could be made for using it repeatedly, perhaps updating the assignments as students progress. Bogart covers the main points of writing, though not in the ordinary fashion.
She also excludes some things from "the main points of writing." For instance, she dismisses spelling instruction as a necessary separate study, or even as important to writing as such. Students will learn to spell through copywork and dictation exercises, just don't expect it to happen overnight.
Famous myths about writing are smashed with vigor. Should kids be encouraged to imitate famous writers? Not in the way they often are, says Bogart. Kids should feel free to imitate their favorite writers, but when they're instructed to do so their unique voice will be affected and quickly stamped out as they try to squeeze their ideas into foreign styles.
The focus of The Writer's Jungle, after all, is the writer. Writing is the expression of one's personality, ideas, and imagination, not rigid adherence to rules that tend more to straitjacket kids than liberating them to write well and clearly. Bogart's emphasis on this point makes her program unique among writing curricula—she's not out to create cookie cutter writers, but to help all kids discover their own voice.
One of the most common myths concerning writing is that to succeed kids must write every day. Bogart amends this to, in order to learn to write well kids must interact with writing every day. This means sometimes they only need to read a good book, but that kids should not be expected to and often cannot produce new writing each day.
Nor can professional writers—Bogart's opinions are compelling because she's a professional writer. With many publications to her credit, she provides a perspective most home school writing curriculum authors lack. She's also a home school mom with years of experience, and writes this course with an eye to home school usability.
Our Honest Opinion
If that last paragraph seemed like it belonged in this section because it wasn't objective, just know that's a rare honor we grant programs we're very impressed by. The Writer's Jungle probably isn't entirely one-of-a-kind, but we haven't found the course to which it can be compared. It's unique, but it's unique because it will get kids writing and enjoying it.
Some parents will no doubt want a more systematized approach, with lesson plans, extensive assignments, etc. If that's you, you can use The Writer's Junglewith another writing program. If you don't mind the free-form approach, use this by itself for kids in any age group from 3rd grade and up.
This particular course is part of a larger series, and belongs to a family of products which include online classes taught by Bogart and her team of home school-experienced, published writers. For information on these courses, visit www.bravewriter.com. But if you use none of these, we still strongly recommend The Writer's Jungle.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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