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Writing in Our Homeschool

My Early Failures in Teaching Writing

Writing was one of the subjects that I pushed too hard on, back in the early years of homeschooling. My daughter had loved her writing workbooks during her preschool years. Nonetheless, after being required to do writing practice at least 3 times per week throughout homeschool kindergarten and first grade, she had grown to dislike writing. When I finally realized that I needed to stop pushing in our homeschool, and instead focus on creating a love of learning in my kids, I was dismayed to see that my daughter did not write, at all, for months on end.

I was committed to the ideas of Leadership Education (TJEd), and that meant I would no longer require her to practice writing. Leadership Education aims to produce children who love to learn and know how to work hard, so that they naturally move into their teen years ready and willing to put in many hours of daily study time. In order for this to happen, the children have to be given the freedom to fall in love with learning, and they have to know that they are in charge of their own educations. I knew that I wanted to give my daughter these ideals, and yet it took a big leap of faith for me to be able to watch her not even pick up a pencil for months. I watched and waited, somewhat anxiously.

Changing Our Environment

In the meantime, while I was giving my daughter her much-needed-detox from all academic requirements, I got to work on changing our home schooling environment using the TJEd 7 Keys of Great Education. Two of these keys, in particular, became my focus: "Inspire, Not Require" and "You, Not Them." As described in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, by Oliver and Rachel DeMille,

While I was trying to reform my homeschooling methods, these two keys became foundational for me in being able to re-create our home learning environment into a place where my children could fall in love with learning and pursue their own interests. Instead of trying to force or coerce my daughter to write, I focused my efforts on creating an environment where she would be inspired to want to write.

Over the last four years since I started implementing TJEd principles into our homeschool, I've seen that this educational philosophy really works!  Both of my children are enthusiastic about learning and truly love our schooling. And for me, being able to focus on my own studies has been transformational. It goes a long way towards filling my cup to the brim.

Inspiring My Children to Want to Write

I purposely inspire my kids to write in the following ways.

  • I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. Young children naturally desire to emulate their parents, so this makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.

  • Instead of expecting my children to write just to develop that skill, I give them real, meaningful opportunities to write.

  • When we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write (and draw) in their Nature Notebooks.

    • My children have penpals in Nevada, Florida, and Canada. My children love receiving letters in the mail, so having penpals has been one of the biggest motivators for them in practicing their writing regularly.

    • Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children. This allows my children to have a voice, to develop their own literary style, even when they are not practicing writing on paper. 

    • I seek out writing contests that my daughter, especially, enjoys participating in. I take the time to type the stories for her while she dictates them. I can then walk her through the editing process, allowing her to see how to fine-tune her writing.

Methods and Resources for Writing

Through using the following methods, I am able to create an environment where my children naturally develop the skills to write.

  • Reading aloud often -  Read-alouds are a crucial part of our writing curriculum. Because they've heard so many classics read out loud, my kids are able to naturally develop the skill of grammatically-correct writing. For instance, my daughter dictated to me a ~4500 word story for a contest, complete with preface, chapters, and epilogue. We've never talked about how a story should be formatted (nor how paragraphs or sentences should be formatted), but nonetheless she decided upon all of that on her own, and pointed out where she wanted parentheses inserted into the story.

  • Reading aloud while they trace letters - During our read-aloud time, my kids are encouraged to work on tracing their penpal letters (or other compositions). This helps keep their hands busy while I'm reading aloud, and gives them an opportunity to practice writing on a regular basis if they choose to do so.

  • Refraining from correcting their writing - My tendency to over-correct my daughter during the early years of homeschooling created in her a fear of failure and a tendency to back away from figuring things out on her own. It doesn't come naturally for me to not point out my children's mistakes, but I have purposely learned to bite my tongue. This gives my children a safe space to learn without feeling that their self-worth is somehow tied into whether or not they make writing mistakes.  

Within the context of inspiring my children to write, the following resources have been helpful in allowing my children to enjoy the process of developing the fine motor skills that are necessary for writing. My children are not required to use any of these; nonetheless, these are the writing resources they have chosen to use most often.

  • Maze and tracing workbooks - Both of my kids have enjoyed using maze and tracing workbooks from around 2-6 years old. We used Kumon workbooks, and both of my kids loved using these books. (Note: I only like the Kumon workbooks for preschool work; I don't like them at all once they get into grade-school type work as they are too repetitive and suck the fun right out of school.) 

  • Dot-to-dot books - Now that my kids are a little older, they seem to enjoy dot-to-dot pages more than mazes. There are many dot-to-dot printables on the internet, but so far the best resource I have found is The Greatest Dot-to-Dot Book in the World. Both of my kids love this book.

  • Tracing pages - For penpal letters and other correspondence that my children want to send, it works well for me to type while my children dictate. I then print the letters with a light-colored font to allow for easy tracing of the letters by my children. They have enjoyed using both a printing font as well as a cursive font. I use the following fonts for this activity: 

    • Print Clearly - This is a nice, basic printing font.

    • Learning Curve - This is a cursive font that works fairly well. Because of the way the letters are designed in this font, there is a small amount of correction needed after printing (such as inserting the leading swoop at the beginning of a word), but nonetheless this is the best font I have found for cursive. 

  • Madlibs - These fun, fill-in-the-blank worksheets have given us lots of entertainment. My daughter enjoys filling out the Madlibs and then entertaining us all by reading the silly story she has created.

  • Hangman - Both of my kids enjoy playing Hangman, where one of us comes up with a word or phrase, and the other person has to guess the right letters to solve the puzzle before the man gets hanged.

  • Writing game - My daughter likes to play a game where we pretend we cannot hear, so that we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter references a chart of words to help in spelling the words she wants to write.

Overcoming Her Dislike of Writing

So how is this all working out for my daughter, who disliked writing by age 6? She is now 10-years-old, and doesn't seem to have any strong feelings one way or the other about writing. Considering how much she used to dislike writing, I see this as a win! 

My daughter definitely loves creating stories and entering story contests. She is starting to set goals for herself to practice writing more because she has identified that as an area she would like to improve upon. So, instead of tracing all of her letters to penpals and relatives, she is choosing to handwrite some of them. She also writes little notes to herself or to me, as needed in her day-to-day life.

After seeing me write in my commonplace place book over the last several years, my daughter decided to start her own commonplace book. She uses this book as a place to copy down her favorite poems. She is also creating a handwritten book out of the ~4500-word story that she dictated to me earlier this year. Because I stopped myself from correcting her handwriting, she has had the freedom to develop her own beautiful handwriting style, which she based upon the font in one of  her favorite books.

I am so thankful that I learned there was a better way for my children to learn how to write, so that my 10-year-old daughter has been able to grow past her dislike of writing. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old son hasn't had any of the negative emotional baggage that his sister had, so he has been free to learn writing in a natural, unpressured way. Learning from my mistakes and finding a better path has been well worth it. 

What has been your experience with teaching writing to your children? What do you remember about your own writing education?

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Jan 10, 2018

Here are comments from when this was originally published on my old blog.

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