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Guest Writers & Interviews

Written by Guest Contributor Brienne Tougas.

Two beautiful card sets for sale. A Mountain Ash Berry tree set, and a Winter Birds set.

The berries are a vivid red that contrast against the dark gray of the branches.

The Bird set features a brilliant Blue Jay, bold Cardinal and a sweet soft Chickadee.

Both card sets are perfect for winter greetings, and are blank inside, suitable for birthdays or any occasion. Or they make a great framed picture.

A set of three cards, printed on thick card stock paper, including envelopes, costs $7.50.

If you are interested in purchasing these cards please contact me directly at brienne at tougas dot net.

Renee here again. I am delighted to open the blog to Brienne today.

I mentioned card sales back in late November and many of your were interested in buying some but the kids closed up shop early December as their energies shifted elsewhere.

I'm happy to say, the cards are back on the market!

Laurent has long sold art cards and done private commissions. Recently he teamed up with his sister to be his manager. A working arrangement that allows him to focus on the work he loves - doing the art - and gives Brienne an opportunity to earn money while doing work she's very good at and enjoys doing - corresponding with clients, managing orders, handling finances etc. (You could say she takes after her mom).

For the longest time Brienne has struggled in the shadow of two very talented older siblings who earn money from sewing, drawing, designing, website work, etc. Helping her find "her place" and identify her gifts and ways she can use those gifts to earn money, while supporting our older children as they fly with their pursuits, has been at times challenging.

Watching Brienne and Laurent partner and see them both succeed and their storehouses increase because of working together, well, that makes my homeschool mama heart very happy. And ps. this all "counts" as their curriculum, this is what interest-led homeschooling looks like.

Just a reminder: to get your hands on these beautiful cards email Brienne directly - brienne at tougas dot net - and she'll take care of you.

You are going to love the interview I have for you today!

Writing is a "subject" that stresses out many homeschool parents and kids. I get a lot of questions on the blog and in coaching sessions about writing, usually along these lines, "My kids' don't like to write. What do I do?" 

I prefer an interest-led, everyday communication approach to writing instruction. In brief, writing to communicate student-motivated thoughts and ideas. But I have my moments of doubt when I think I should be "requiring" more and that my kids should be "producing" more writing. In these moments of doubt I look to those who have gone before me for wisdom and support. I look to homeschool parents like Patricia Zaballos.

Patricia is an educator, a homeschool parent and writer. She recently published a book called Workshops Work! which is all about creating an audience for your child's writing in the form of a writer's workshop.

Patricia has years of experience facilitating writer's workshops for kids. She has taken that wisdom, plus her personal story as a homeschooling mother of three, and written a fabulous how-to manual for those of us new to writer's workshops. Her book Workshops Work! walks us through the entire process, providing a whole toolkit of ideas, examples, and anecdotes to get us going.

I reviewed Patricia book before publication and I am so happy to recommend it to you as an excellent resource in your homeschool toolkit.

Today I'm interviewing Patricia a bit about her book but also about writing in general.

What I really want to know is how can we teach our children to write without all the angst that often accompanies it?

Let's talk to Patricia and find out.


Patricia, you're a homeschooling mom. How many kids do you have and how old? Have you always homeschooled? If no, when did you make the switch?

My kids are 20, 17 and 11. We homeschooled from the start. I'd been an elementary teacher before that, and I became intrigued with the possibilities of learning outside the confines of a classroom. My oldest homeschooled until he was sixteen, and then decided to go to high school for two years. He is now a junior in college, studying film production. My daughter homeschooled until she was fourteen, and then decided to go to high school as a freshman. She's now a junior. My youngest is still homeschooling.

As you probably know many homeschoolers fret a lot about writing. Your book addresses one very real solution to this - creating a writer's workshop to provide a supportive peer group and audience for our children's writing. What other advice can you give homeschool parents about how to teach writing to our kids? 

I think we often misunderstand how kids really learn to write. School experiences have convinced us that writing is something that must be taught; I would argue that learning to write should not be so very different from learning to talk. It can happen quite naturally and painlessly if we allow it to evolve on its own timetable.

Many parents underestimate how much kids learn to write simply by reading and being read to. Kids who grow up in literature-rich homes naturally develop expansive vocabularies. They seem to pick up how literature works by osmosis, especially if they are allowed to dwell in books and genres that interest them. It's especially useful if families talk about books and stories and films together, so kids can develop opinions and insights about what they like and dislike in literature.

Along those lines, kids learn to write simply by talking. If they grow up in homes where ideas are discussed and debated, where their own ideas are valued, those kids learn how to speak clearly, logically and enthusiastically. That will absolutely carry over into their writing, eventually. I have talked to many, many homeschooling parents of kids who did very little writing in their younger years, yet who somehow magically developed into writers as teenagers. It isn't magic that does it; it's the fact that the kids grew up in literate homes in which the kids' ideas were valued. All the reading and talk of childhood can transition into writing without too much difficulty if it isn't forced.

Of course, the more kids write, the better they will get at it. One of the most important things parents can do is help kids find authentic, exciting reasons to write. By authentic, I mean writing for a real purpose, rather than writing because a parent or teacher has assigned it. It can be a challenge to find real writing formats that excite a kid.

The best place to start is the child's interests. I can't tell you how many parents I've talked to whose kids became enthusiastic about writing for the first time in order to chat online while playing Minecraft! Look for opportunities like that, and don't underestimate their value, even if the writing looks sloppy, error-riddled and unacademic. Once kids understand the power of making words work for them, they will want to keep doing it, and will get better at it.

I wrote a longer article about these ideas called How Do Kids Really Learn to Write? It gives several examples of authentic writing possibilities, based on kids' interests.

(And yes, writer's workshops are one of the best writing motivators I know!)

We parents can do more damage than good if we do too much "teaching" when it comes to writing. Our teaching is likely to be based on our school experiences with writing--and most of us did not receive good, useful writing instruction in school. That's why most adults are self-conscious about their writing abilities!

Most writers will tell you that they had to overcome and forget what they learned in school in order to learn to write well. Kids who grow up in literate homes develop excellent instincts about writing. Don't muck that up! Rather than teaching too much, we should be providing excellent models of writing for our kids: good books on topics that interest them. Then, if we help our kids find authentic reasons to write, those opportunities will provide organic, real reasons to get better at writing.

You have a son in college. What advice can you share with us about preparing our kids for college writing? Many of us (ok, maybe just me) despair that our children will never be ready for college writing and we are tempted to use methods we're not comfortable with just to "see results".

Honestly, I think we should worry less about preparing our kids, and do whatever we can to help them enjoy writing right now. Kids who find a writing forum that they enjoy will dig into it. They will learn what it means to tinker with words, to move them and change them until the words express what the kids are trying to say. It doesn't matter if they develop this expertise by writing longwinded fantasy stories, or reviews on video game forums. Kids who know how to manipulate words for their own purposes will be able to take on any writing format that gets thrown at them by the time they're of college age.

There may be a small learning curve, but they will adapt because they understand how to work with words. Also, they know the joy of saying just what they want to say in writing! On the other hand, kids who are marched through a bunch of writing formulas and formats may never really learn to make words work for them. If the required writing doesn't matter to them, they will put their energy into guessing at what the teacher or parent wants--not what they want to say. They won't learn to write well.

One of my favorite writing encouragements comes from writer and college English professor Thomas Newkirk:

"The good writers I see in college have often developed their skill in self-sponsored projects like journals or epic, book-length adventure stories they wrote on their own." Our task as parents really ought to be helping our kids find those self-sponsored projects!


Rather than pushing formal essays on kids, we can expose them to wonderful nonfiction writing on topics that interest them. If they like sports, find excellent sports writing; if they enjoy music, films or videogames, search out well-written reviews on those topics. Just the other day I saw an anthology of the best writing in mathematics! There's something for everyone. If you find nonfiction that your child enjoys, talk to him or her about it. Find out what they like and dislike about it. Help them develop opinions about which writers are their favorites and why. (This is all essay-writing practice, even if it feels like casual conversation!) After reading for a while, kids may feel inspired to try writing similar nonfiction their own. Emulating one's writing heroes is one of the best ways to learn to write.

Teens might enjoy taking part in a research paper workshop, in person with other kids, or online. You could use the book The Curious Researcher, by Bruce Ballenger, as a guide. This is a college-level text, but it could easily be adapted for teenagers. Older versions of the text are quite affordable. I like this guide because it encourages students to write a paper based on a personal interest, and it helps them hone in on their questions and curiosities about the topic, and to structure the writing around those questions. It teaches them to think like writers, and to write work that is both academic and engaging. Hallelujah! Teenagers could meet regularly to discuss and share their work in progress, adapting the text to their needs. Such a workshop would probably be best facilitated by an adult, but eager teenagers might be able to do it on their own.

Any last words of advice or wisdom about writing for parents just starting out with homeschooling?

Try not to worry so much about teaching writing, and instead take up writing yourself! Find a forum that excites you: a blog, a personal journal, even your Facebook updates. Dabble in poetry if you like it, or write about your kids. Consider taking a writing class, or finding a writing group, if that sounds exciting to you. I wrote more about this on my blog. If you experience the joys and frustrations of writing yourself, you will be able to offer better writing advice to your kids. It won't be based on your schooling; it will be based on your real writing experiences. It will be useful.


I loved what Patricia shared with us here. Thank you Patricia!

This was a long post (and if you are a homeschooling parent I do recommend you read it all) and if you need a recap I've pulled the important points out for you. More homeschoolers need to hear the freedom of this message.

  • Learning to write should not be so very different from learning to talk. It can happen quite naturally and painlessly if we allow it to evolve on its own timetable. If (kids) grow up in homes where ideas are discussed and debated, where their own ideas are valued, those kids learn how to speak clearly, logically and enthusiastically. That will absolutely carry over into their writing, eventually.
  • One of the most important things parents can do is help kids find authentic, exciting reasons to write.
  • Kids who know how to manipulate words for their own purposes will be able to take on any writing format that gets thrown at them by the time they're of college age.
  • Try not to worry so much about teaching writing, and instead take up writing yourself!

Patricia has a great homeschool blog and make sure to check out her book Workshops Work! Do you want to inspire and support meaningful writing in your homeschool? Consider the role of writer's workshops for kids and use Patricia's book as your guide.

Today I'm pleased to introduce Leah Cherry to FIMBY.

Leah Cherry teaches children and their families how to cook, sew, make and grow – traditional talents that remain essential for living well today.

Her business, Skill It, is founded on the belief that working with your hands nourishes your spirit and connects you to family and community. Her signature online class, Season’s Eatings, is offered four times a year to create joy, fun, and connection around food and family dinner time.

When I heard about the work Leah does I asked her to share with us about her upcoming course, Season's Eatings.


Family dinner can be a sacred, restorative time in our day.  It is a welcome chance to slow down, connect, and nourish both our bodies and our relationships with one another.

How we get our food on the table can be simple and fun. It can make everyone in the house feel useful, valuable, and empowered. Working with our hands nourishes our spirits and connects us to the inherent pleasure of a job well done. And when something is handmade or homemade, we taste, smell, and sense the difference.

At heart, Skill It was inspired by a desire to bring joy to the kitchens and dinner tables of families near and far. We created our online class, Season’s Eatings, to create inspiration and connection around the pleasures of cooking and eating together.

In addition to honoring their skills and abilities, working with your kids in the kitchen instills a deeper appreciation and joy around nourishing themselves. It is also a way to pass on family knowledge and traditions. Whether you’re making a beloved grandmother’s recipe or simply telling stories about your childhood, you are creating memories and forming new traditions of your own.

When give the opportunity, children are focused, competent, and wonderfully independent cooks.

Our journey in the kitchen is focused on how you can nurture that desire to work in your little ones.  Whether they are washing salad greens, chopping up vegetables, or setting the table, little hands thrive when they are occupied with a helpful pursuit. {Big hands do, too!}

Together with your children, you can create meals from simple, seasonal foods in a way that honors their naturally delicious flavors. You can create a rhythm and a routine of working gracefully together. As the head chef in your family, you set the tone with your example.

Creating a peaceful, encouraging and patient approach in the kitchen lets your kids feel comfortable trying, experimenting, and exploring.

For four weeks in November, Season’s Eatings offers recipes, activities, and inspiration to make this vision of family dinnertime come to life in your home. More than just a class, it is community that celebrates the beauty of cooking together as a family. From wherever we happen to be, we gather at one big table, laughing, talking, and celebrating over bowls of steaming soup and plates of roasted vegetables. Bringing joy to our families, one dish, and one day, at a time.

Click here to learn more and register for Season’s Eatings.


Doesn't this sound fabulous? You can see why I asked Leah to join us here today. Leah is also offering FIMBY readers a special discount for the course. Just enter “FIMBY” at checkout. All that course for just $15!

And because what's a food post without a recipe Leah shares her Skill It Beet Soup recipe. Perfect for this time of year.


  • 1 large rib celery, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock
  • 2 medium red beets, julienned or grated
  • 2 small yellow potatoes, julienned or diced
  • ½ small head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 T. herbs de provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup or stock pot and sautee first three ingredients until onions are tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add herbs de provence, pepper, and bay leaves and stir to distribute evenly. Then add potatoes, beets, and tomatoes and enough stock to cover all ingredients. Bring the soup up to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer.
  3. Stir in shredded cabbage and continue simmering until all vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes.
  4. To serve, ladle hot soup into large bowls and garnish with fresh dill. For a traditional borscht, you can also add a little spoonful of sour cream.

Kids of all ages can help by cutting carrots & celery with scissors – adults cut them into thin strips first. You can also cut potatoes into strips and pass those along to little hands to cut with a small table or paring knife, depending on their age & confidence level.

Older children can help with grating the beets and cabbage with a traditional box grater. If you are making a lot of soup, you can also have them help run these through a food processor. {Kids do love pressing the buttons on this piece of equipment!}

Click here to learn more and register for Season’s Eatings.

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