Fall 2022/Matthew McDill

In another world, in the land of Skree, a boy struggles with his writing assignment.

Janner sat on the front steps with his journal in his lap, staring out past the trees. Nia [his mother] had asked him to write a book report on In the Age of the Kindly Flabbits, but try as he might, Janner couldn’t make it past the first few words without thinking about Oskar’s map. . . .

“Janner, are you almost finished?” Nia’s voice startled him. She stood behind him, frowning at the mostly blank page on his lap.

Janner’s cheek reddened. He’d been sitting there for most of the morning and had nothing to show for it. “I just have . . . too much crammed in my head to write about flabbits and the Jungles of Plontst,” he stammered. He stared at the ground, wondering why he suddenly felt the need to cry. He waited for a rebuke of some kind, but instead felt his mother squeeze his shoulder.

“Then write about that. It’ll do you some good,” she said, turning to go. “And I promise not to read it. . . .” 

By the time he finished relating the details of the last two days’ adventures—the head full of questions they had raised, and the heart full of emotions they had awoken—his hand ached and the ink bottle was almost dry.

Nia called for lunch of henmeat salad and roundbread, and Janner closed his journal with a feeling of lightness in his chest, as if he had been carrying a feed sack on his shoulders for two days and had just heaved it to the barn floor.

This scene is from the book On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. It is the first book in The Wingfeather Saga series. I share this excerpt with you for two reasons. First, I’d like to recommend this book series to young readers. Adults will enjoy it too (I’m reading it for the second time)! Peterson has created a hilarious and moving fantasy adventure set in another world with relatable characters and God-honoring values. This story is also a fantastic read-aloud for the whole family.

Secondly, I’m sharing this excerpt because it contains some helpful insights for writing. For many of us, this scene of a student on the verge of tears over a writing assignment is quite familiar. Janner’s mother handled the situation beautifully, so let’s look at a few reminders and tips we can gain from this story.

Sometimes writing is frustrating. When writing becomes frustrating, don’t let it bother you or your student. It just comes with the territory of learning a new skill. Sometimes we push through it; sometimes we shift gears; sometimes we take a break.

Sometimes a great way to get kids to write is to let them write about whatever is on their minds. They can write the book report tomorrow. Even when it is not edited, turned in, graded, or shared, the practice of writing will always help the student move forward in their skill.

The last point can be expanded into a larger principle: sometimes the most effective educational strategy for the day is to ditch the curriculum. This kind of freedom and flexibility is one of the most powerful benefits of home education. Our goals are to capitalize on teachable moments, build strong relationships, develop character, create a thirst for knowledge, and teach the skill of learning. These are more important than finishing assignments.

When you have a lot on your mind, writing will “do you some good.” You may even feel that you’ve heaved the feed sack you’ve been carrying around for two days onto the barn floor. Writing isn’t just a skill. It is important for our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. God made us as communicators and creators. Putting our thoughts into words helps us to process and sort things out.

Because writing our thoughts is so helpful and healthy, journaling is a wonderful practice and habit for your children to form. Give them space and opportunity to do it. And for the kids to journal effectively, you may have to “promise not to read it.” There are lots of great resources that provide writing prompts for your students to use for journaling. These help keep ideas coming when their minds may not already be full of thoughts.

While I’m glad that Janner was able to find relief in writing out his thoughts, I’m curious what a report on the book In the Age of the Kindly Flabbits might contain. I hope you will enjoy The Wingfeather Saga as much as our family has and find other nuggets of insight as you read.

Matthew McDill and his wife, Dana, live in Clemmons, NC, with six of their nine children. Matthew has been in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years and is now the executive director for North Carolinians for Home Education. He earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and authored the book Loving God: A Practical Handbook for Discipleship. Matthew loves to teach from God’s Word, especially on topics related to family relationships, discipleship, parenting and home education.