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Homeschool writing courses with IEW

“Mom! I don’t know what to write about!”

Have these words ever crossed the lips of your homeschooled students? Do you struggle with the dreaded writing lesson? Does the word essay make you cringe?

Have no fear! For years, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has provided a trusted framework for students and parents to take the anxiety out of writing instruction.

How can I help?

Let me give you a little of my background. I am a homeschool mom located in the Sacramento area. Like you, I desired to teach my children how to read and write, providing them the tools they needed to be successful in their future endeavors. Yet to my dismay, I found that my Bachelor’s degree in English and a lifetime of reading and writing did not seem to equip me for teaching the mechanics of writing. For years, I struggled with how to explain my expectations for my children’s writing assignments. Too often these assignments ended in frustration for all involved.

Enter Andrew Pudewa, IEW…and one of the most profound AHA moments of my homeschool career…

One sunny June day (and those in the Sacramento area know that means one blazing hot day) I decided to attend a lovely little seminar hosted by a local church. I had heard Andrew Pudewa speak many years prior when we lived on the Central Coast, but those talks had been about the importance of reading books to and with our children (of course, I agreed with him on that point) and the significance that music has on brain development (I agreed with him on this as well!). When I heard that he would be speaking locally in Sacramento, I went primarily for the nostalgia because I was missing my old coast home (where a 90-degree day was virtually unknown and caused a mass migration to the beach) and because I thought that I would probably agree with him some more about whatever he decided to talk about.

As I listened to his presentation about writing instruction for children, I became more excited to go home and begin using these simple yet profound ideas with my children. All those years of struggle and turmoil over writing in my homeschool were because I didn’t have the tools, the vocabulary, and the structure to teach them all that I knew about writing.

I bought the Teaching Writing with Structure and Style syllabus that day, and our homeschool was never the same.

After going through the teacher materials and beginning to use them with my own children, I began to get excited about the possibility of teaching in a class environment. Let’s face it. It’s a little hard to simulate the experience of a classroom with only two students. While it can be done, it does help to “add to the intellectual capital of the room,” according to Mr. Pudewa, by having more minds available in the same space to learn from and engage with.

Becoming a Registered Instructor wasn’t enough…

Having completed all the teacher practicums rather quickly, I then decided to become a Certified IEW Teacher. I asked around, and was pleasantly surprised when some friends agreed to allow me to use their children as my “guinea pigs” over the summer. To test whether my success with the program was a fluke or the real deal, I needed to “operate” on other people’s kids. They loved it! We had a blast together, I received my Certificated status, and taught for another three years with IEW theme-based books.

Life does tend to get in the way, though, doesn’t it?

Due to the many stresses, twists and turns of life, including ailing extended family, selling one home and buying another, and beginning part-time work outside the home, I allowed my certification to lapse and, though I still taught informal classes for my children and some of their friends, spent a couple of years away from the trenches.

I’m ready to begin teaching again, and would love for you and your students to join me!

If you are in the Sacramento area, please fill out an interest form. I am looking to form classes along the Highway 50 corridor, near Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

wishtree review


“It’s hard to talk to trees.” With that sentence, wishtree by Katherine Applegate begins a children’s story that is sweet in its simplicity, stark in its reality, and spare in its prose. At the center of the story, Red, a northern red oak, one of the most common trees in America, tells an uncommon tale. Posted in the center of a small, older neighborhood, Red stands sentinel amidst other trees less old and wise. “When you stand still for over two centuries while the world whirls past, things happen,” Red explains, before leading the reader on a journey where past and present intertwine, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and where wishes just might come true.

From the beginning of the story, from the very front cover of the book, in fact, traditional conventions are left behind. Neither the title nor the author’s name are capitalized in the front matter, and the chapters are extremely short. This intentional change of pace leaves the reader a bit bewildered from the start, which only intensifies as the story begins in the voice of … a tree. With the personification of an inanimate object as the voice of the narrator, the reader is prepared to witness magic. For, after all, trees don’t talk in real life. Or do they? However, as the story progresses, the stark realities of life juxtaposed with the quirky nature world brings to mind the rich inner world of a child. One in which a little girl can both be friends with animals (and trees) that talk while ostracized by her own kind.

The animal world is conveyed with a charm and whimsy that make the story worthwhile even if only as a study of nature. Proper terminology is used, such as referencing the binomial nomenclature for the common red oak (Quercas rubra) and groups of animals (a murder of crows, a charm of hummingbirds, etc.). While these scientific facts are interspersed throughout the narrative, they are delightfully woven with a light hand, refraining from feeling burdensome or awkward. In addition, the author provides a glimpse of the delicate balance of an ecosystem that lives as close as one’s front yard, as multiple species make Red’s branches their home. As the reader meets inquisitive raccoons and fearful opossums, cawing crows and confident owls, he is given a small, and yes, magical, glimpse into the inner workings of nature.

However, even this is not without its struggle. “Nature is not always pretty or fair or kind,” Red laments. Animals must fight to maintain their space in the world; hunger, disease, and death are always looming possiblilities. Likewise, a young girl, despite her kind and sweet nature, can be singled out, hated, or even threatened because of her cultural heritage, the color of her skin, or the country where she was born. The girl, Samar, and her family have just arrived in the neighborhood, upsetting some who would rather not have them there. As she struggles to fit in with neighbors and schoolmates, Red and the other furry and feathered inhabitants of the neighborhood become Samar’s friends and refuge. Yet even they are struggling with the looming specter of loss. For the landowner, tired of cleaning up the mess every year from the Wish Day tradition that ends up decorating Red’s trunk and branches, has decided to cut Red down. A simple decision, absolutely, but one that could have far-reaching consequences to the ecosystem as well as the homes nestled underneath Red’s sprawling canopy. Red, saddened at the news, is still willing to focus all energies on finding Samar a friend, as well as making sure that the animal friends living in and nearby will have suitable homes when he is gone.

wishtree is suitable for middle grade readers. Charming illustrations by Charles Santoso add a delightful element as the reader is treated to sweet images of the many animals populating its pages. The lessons presented are both timeless and timely. Through Red’s narration, he portrays first how to “stand tall and reach deep” when bad things happen, and second, what a gift it is to “love who you are.”  At its core, this story is one about acceptance, both of others who are different, and of the inevitable changes of life. It is a story about hope, in one another as well as for a peaceful future. It is a story about friendship and love, sadness and joy. And it is a story in which a wish just might come true.