Writing, Writing, More Writing

A lot of random thoughts about writing from our winter schooling.

BalletBoy has had yet another of his little leaps in skill.  Sometimes I think it’s completely pointless that I even bother teaching this child.  He plugs along seemingly learning nothing then, suddenly, breaks out and has learned all kinds of things, including things I’ve taught and things I haven’t.  Right now, it’s all about writing for him.  It’s mostly rather dull writing, but his handwriting is suddenly so readable!  His spelling is so decent!  His thoughts are all in complete sentences!  He remembers periods (if not capitals)!

As you can see below, he writes something (in this case, about what he would see if he went back to each geologic era) and then we edit it together.  Amusingly, I ask him to chose a color for my edits and he almost always picks red.  Mostly, I ask him to find specific things (“Do you see any letters that should be capitalized?”) and I show him things he may not know.  In the one below, we talked about how the second sentence would actually have made a better first sentence.

Mushroom isn’t there yet, but he’s improving steadily.  It’s with writing that I’m really seeing how he’s never going to be a child who had sudden leaps.  He’ll probably always be a steady improver.  We’re working on some persistent handwriting issues (his “n” and “h” are frequently interchangeable, for example) and his spelling is rather unreadable sometimes, but he has a lot less resistance to sitting down and writing a sentence or two on his own.

As you can see, we do the same thing with editing his sentences (or, usually, sentence, singular).  In the one below, I just asked him to write one thing he had learned about a book we’d just read together about volcanoes.  Then I had him recopy it below.

A friend suggested the book Your Child’s Writing Life by Pam Allyn for our homeschool book club so I downloaded and read the introduction.  To say it didn’t resonate with me is a bit of an understatement.  I’m a writer.  I’ve written for pleasure all my life.  I love writing.  I believe nearly anyone can learn to write beautifully and can find things through writing, essential things for life, both practical and personal.  However, one of the things I believe about writing is that children should not be pushed to write for no reason because that kills the potential to love writing as I love it.  Pam Allyn’s suggestion that children should be pushed to write before kindergarten (and not orally, but actually to write) and required to write constantly in the early grades in order to get better standardized test scores down the road (she mentions various standardized tests repeatedly in the introduction) is exactly the sort of attitude that I believe can ruin that potential to write.  I don’t want to dismiss standardized testing, as one needs it for practical things in life.  However, if that were the only reason to learn to write, I find it an empty one at best.

Not only that, but I’m not sure all this journaling and short story writing by first graders is really all that academically useful.  As a longtime writing teacher, I got students at a completely different stage of the process, beyond the learning to put words on the page time and into the learning to put great words on the page time.  Now, watching my own children struggle to get thoughts on the page, I find that I still think less is more to some extent.  I also find that while I resisted it for a long time, that copywork, narration and spelling have been the things that have helped Mushroom and BalletBoy the most.  That, and patience.

In the end, that rotten book introduction caused me a lot of grief.  I got angrier and angrier as I read it.  Then, despite BalletBoy’s sudden ability to knock out a few sentences cheerfully, I let a book that says children should be able to write before kindergarten or we’re underestimating them judge me as a parent and a teacher.  I ended up having a full on temper tantrum to the Husband (poor Husband!) about how either the kids were inadequate or I was, because there’s no way at a mere four years old my kids could have written stories.  They barely can now.  And then I sank into that horrible morass that is comparing your child to others.

Don’t worry, I climbed on out.  I have to remember that I know the end goal.  I’ve helped other kids get there before.  There’s just something about writing, isn’t there?  And something about taking a different path from the way that kids now learn in public school that makes it harder.  I think maybe it’s because writing is so subjective in some ways, so it can really push your insecurities, or at least mine.

6 thoughts on “Writing, Writing, More Writing

  1. I always find it interesting to read what other homeschooling parents say about writing, because that is the one subject I have never had trouble teaching. I worry about science. I worry about art. I worry about spelling and history/social studies and math. But never writing. I was always the one in school who could write well and spent time helping many of my friends, so I got to see different levels of writing when I was younger. I think that helped because I knew they were still acing their classes even with (what I considered) less-than-superior writing. I don’t think our teachers had low standards, either. Everyone has their own writing path, and I don’t see the point in shoving the kid down a well-paved one when he or she would rather ramble through the woods, as long as the destination is similar. It looks to me like your kids are lucky to have you!

  2. Writing is tough. O is pretty good with spelling but still forgets capital letters and punctuation at least half the time. I also have debated with myself whether to make him keep a journal or do some other sort of structured writing, because writing is one of his least favorite things to do. So he never does it unless he has to, which means he doesn’t get much practice. But then if it’s forced you risk the kid liking it even less!

    What I’m struggling with at the moment is not letting what I want for O overshadow what he likes and is good at. He is a huge sports fan, and even says he wants to be a pro athlete when he grows up, when that would have been the furthest thing from my own ambitions. I’m debating whether to have the decision about letting him play football next fall (on top of soccer) hinge on grades or some other accomplishment. If I’m being honest I just really don’t want my kid to be a football player, but he wants it very badly.

  3. I am the author of Your Child’s Writing Life, and I appreciate you taking the time to take a look at it. I think and hope that if you read past the intro you might be more happily surprised that my definition of “writing” is far more gentle and tender than you might have interpreted it to be from just the early read. While of course I am conscious of standardized testing in this era and in light of parents’ concerns, and I do want all kids to feel fully confident in any venue, I am above all most passionate about the life of the child overall, and I think you will see that developmentally I try to take a very thoughtful approach to what children can handle at different ages. I never ever want you as a parent to doubt yourself, nor to get frustrated by me, in any way, but more, that my book will provide you with ways to be with your children on the literacy journey that feel comfortable for you. I urge you to read on in the book and then write me and let me know what you think further on into the book. I bet we agree a lot more than you think! Thanks for your interest in the subject and for parenting passionately.

    All my best,
    Pam

    1. Wow, an author comment! And after I dissed the (introduction to) the book too. Eek!

      Certainly, from the reviews and the recommendation, I was really surprised by the introduction as it was not at all what I expected. I think what I crave is a book about teaching writing for children that is both gentle and inspiring. I don’t take a lot of inspiration from the classical model, to be honest. However, I have been finding that not doing much journaling or creative writing and focusing on just helping my kids get the mechanics down has helped them a lot more than journal, journal, journal, write, write, write approach in the public schools, which, until very recently, would have just made my children cry. It seemed so strongly that the book had allied itself with that model, a model that we’ve rejected in our homeschool because we’ve found it far too much pressure for very young children to put their own words on paper, that I wasn’t sure I could keep reading without getting annoyed or feeling inadequate. When I am more in my right mind and less in the “so-and-so’s 5 yo is writing a novel!” mode, I don’t actually believe children should be forced to write in their own voice much before fourth or fifth grade.

      However, it may still end up as our homeschool group’s parent book club book, so I may end up reading it anyway and I hope it does turn out to be more helpful and hopeful than it felt when I read the beginning.

  4. That book would give me a heart attack! if it helps, dd12 – who has not been made to write ever! especially not as a little one! though she has chosen to do so at times – won the Year 7 creative writing competition at school this week. As I was bemoaning her spelling and idionsyncratic punctuation to the principal, she stopped me with an ‘all those things are just editing – second order issues to having a fresh voice and unique expression.’ So even schools value children who aren’t burnt out and homogenised by the sort of approach you describe in that book.

    Glad it only influenced you briefly :) I felt much the same way after I read that book you mentioned in a previous post – Skylark ? – totally inadequate for about a day and a half.

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