By Harriet Yoder, Lamp Post Homeschool Store
Frequently homeschool parents ask about teaching writing. Usually it is based on a fear the child will not be able to write because, well, he is not writing anything wonderful yet. Here is what we suggest for teaching writing – it’s not that complicated.
Young Children and Writing
I believe children learn writing skills from what they hear and read. If your child is hearing good English from you and is listening to or reading great well-written literature, then your child is learning good language patterns and styles. Unless there are specific learning difficulties, your child will become a good writer.
When they were young, we read aloud to our children; taught each one to read; and chose great books for them to read. We did not push them to write/compose papers until they were in junior high and high school. The ones who graduated have gone on to college and are very good writers.
I like the Charlotte Mason method of reading well-written books because hearing or reading a great author’s style and language patterns etches them onto a child’s brain. Children who are well read are usually excellent writers.
Can your child read a story or book and tell you what happened in his own words?
If so, why are you worried? If your child retells the story in the right sequence with accurate facts, your child is composing on the fly as he narrates back to you. It is writing without the worry of spelling, handwriting, and grammar.
In the early grades, I ask the child to narrate something to me while I write or type it. Then I ask the child to copy it in his handwriting. This separates the creative task of composing from the technical tasks of handwriting, spelling, and grammar.
How can you expect a young child to compose and create while remembering how to make letters, spell, punctuate, and so on? I have not seen many who can. That is why it is better to wait until the child is older to combine the technical side with the creative side.
What are the technical aspects of writing?
The technical aspects of writing are the things your child learns by repetition and memorization: handwriting, spelling, grammar. You teach the mechanics of writing with different language arts courses. Your student also learns the technical aspects by “osmosis” through reading good literature. An example of this type of osmotic learning is looking at a word and knowing it is misspelled. Sometime in the past, your brain stored the word from something you read. Each year from kindergarten to twelfth grade, your child is learning the basic technical tools of writing and composing.
How do I teach writing to older students?
I have seen the courses that teach one to take a basic sentence and add beautiful adjectives and adverbs to make it wonderful. Yes, there is a point to using a thesaurus to find better words for what you are trying to say, but teaching writing as if you are putting together a bunch of building blocks seems mechanical to me.
My mother taught high school and college English. She worked with each of us when we were in high school and had papers to compose. Each of her children has a unique writing style and uses it in real life.
To start the creative juices flowing, her method consisted of asking questions about what I needed to write. I stood by her desk as she posed different questions and typed my answers. Then we would refine and edit together. Repeatedly we did this but sometimes she would be busy and ask me to work alone until she could help. Making me write on my own worked. She passed along ownership of the writing process. As if she were standing beside me, I can still hear her voice prompting me as I write.
It’s Not That Complicated.
If your child is reading great literature, narrating to you, and learning the mechanics of writing, it’s not that complicated to teach the writing process. After all, you have twelve wonderful years to equip them with good language skills, listen to their stories, and encourage them to read great literature.
Keep on homeschooling!