Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of Vitafamiliae
Last semester, I determined my third grade twins should do a writing project. I requested a paragraph from each about their history studies. Simple, right?
A week later, we were all in tears and only after much angst did they eke out their boring four sentence paragraphs. I was baffled. I’m a writer. I love to edit. They like to write. Why was this so painful???
I spent my Christmas vacation evaluating our writing program. Or lack thereof. Apparently, my kids weren’t going to learn to write or to love writing just by living with their blogging mama. I needed something else.
In The Writer’s Jungle, I found the tools to make writing pain-free:
- Relationship is the key. As my children’s teacher/editor, working together on writing projects should strengthen and enhance our relationship, not create discord. When my children view me as their partner in writing, they will trust me with their stories.
- Writing should be intuitive, not mechanical. Children can only write what they know. It’s my job to inspire them to create rather than expect them to simply generate content on demand.
- We learn to write in stages, not all at once. I need to recognize what stage my child is in as a developing writer and teach to their strengths where they are. This will guide them to the next stage and avoid frustration.
Armed with these key points and the myriad of ideas and suggestions from the book, we started fresh with a new semester.
Relationship is Key
I began by earning back my children’s trust. We played several of the games Bogart suggests to get the children to enjoy wordplay and see the importance of communicating thoughts clearly. My kids were wary at first but they quickly saw the fun and willingly jumped in to a new writing Lifestyle with me.
Writing Should Be Intuitive
Working under the assumption that when children copy and write the good works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that others have created and learn to notice different elements of story, they internalize it and add it to their own literary toolbox, we began daily copywork.
I immediately saw the benefit. My older students enjoy the passages I pick for them and I often have to take the book away so they don’t sit and inhale an entire chapter instead of copying their paragraph. My littles enjoy the daily routine and I’ve already seen their attention to detail growing along with their letter formation.
Furthermore, we do this activity together, down to the three year old, and it creates a general feeling of teamwork and camaraderie centered around our writing.
We Learn to Write in Stages
I added in Friday freewriting next. On the first Friday, each child made a list of subjects they loved and knew a lot about. (I typed this out for my younger students so they began to feel like writers, too.) The next Friday, they chose one topic to freewrite about for five minutes. The goal was simply to keep the pencil moving.
I did this exercise with my oldest kids and shared my freewrite afterward so they could see that Mommy made awkward sentences and wrote nonsense, too. Again, I typed the freewrites for my 6 and 7 year old so they would be free to create and not inhibited by their limitations. Their confidence and interest in writing has soared.
Not to be left out, my four year old has begun insisting on her turn to freewrite. I’ve now got a collection of her stories saved to treasure always.
Putting It All Together
After eight weeks of freewrites, we each chose one to edit and turn into a finished product. I took the children’s selections and chose two elements to focus on for each piece.
At our next meeting, I gently suggested those two elements and we dug a little deeper. I ignored spelling and grammar issues and focused on the bigger picture of clarity and interest. (We’ll focus on grammar another time. I quietly fixed any major grammatical errors and we moved on.)
I was amused to discover that several of my kids were instinctive editors. As I read their work aloud, they’d hear something that “wasn’t quite right” and ask me to help them make it sound better. My internal editor did a happy dance. Not only were they picking up editing instincts, they also cared enough about their work to want to make it better. Glory!
After we spent a week tweaking and talking, I typed up the final drafts and we “published” them in a book, complete with illustrations. The children were proud of their work and eager to share with others.
And nobody cried.
A writing victory!
Inspiration For All
The Writer’s Jungle is an inspiring read that was worth every penny even if you aren’t looking for new ways to teach writing. Julie Bogart’s conversational style and positive tone were like sitting down to a cup of coffee with a friend.
As a homeschool mom, she knew how to speak to my frustrations and to encourage me to keep my relationship with my children the priority rather than proper paragraph form or punctuation. This is crucial no matter what subject I’m teaching.
Before, writing was a subject that caused strife and frustration in our home. Now, writing is our favorite part of the week. It strengthens our relationships, incites conversation, and gives us new ways to entertain and encourage each other.
How do you foster writing with your kids? What’s your favorite writing program?