Writing is one of the areas in homeschooling that can often cause us angst. But like any other area of education, it’s one that really doesn’t require an expensive curriculum to set our kids up for success, and it can be fun! Teaching it can be tricky, especially if you don't feel that you are a good writer yourself, but with a mindset shift and some practical tips, I believe writing can become fun and fruitful for your child.
Writing can be divided into two categories: academic writing and creative writing. While they do overlap, remembering the differences can help us in our approach to teaching our students, so let’s define them. When I say ”academic writing”, I am referring to writing for the purposes of informing, teaching, or explaining. Examples range from academic journals where works and findings are published and explained, to teaching texts like those found in encyclopedias, to a simple email sent out to coworkers or employees that give details of a task that needs to be completed. It also includes speeches, advertisements, and journalism. Academic writing requires your students to know how to convey their thoughts in an organized, clear, concise, and engaging way. We likely all remember our own days of practicing this type of writing- putting together a five paragraph essay, tediously filling out notecards, explaining how a pb&j is made. All of it served the purpose of helping us communicate, inform, and explain our thoughts in an organized way. The other form of writing we will teach our kids is creative writing. This obviously refers to stories, and poetry; but it also refers to some of those things we included in academic writing like speeches, advertisements, and non-fiction texts. We need creativity in all of those writings to hold the reader’s attention. Creativity is present more often than not (or should be), no matter what is being written, which makes it important to work on both sets of skills throughout our children’s school years. How can we do that in a fun and engaging way that won’t leave our kids feeling overwhelmed, though? How can we give them the confidence they need to succeed in their writing? It’s going to take a different approach than the one we likely encountered in our own education, and it starts with changing our mindset.
The first thing to know as we approach writing with our children is that writing is an ART FORM. Sadly, this probably isn’t how we learned it, and we tend to approach it like we do math- trying to memorize facts and rules, quickly leading writing to feel dull and mechanical. Every five paragraph essay ever written is more akin to plugging numbers into a formula than to filling up a canvas with beautiful streaks of colors and textures that captivates the beholder. While there is great value in learning those mechanics, they will probably come with much greater ease than you think, perhaps just not as early as you've been conditioned to believe they should.
Think about how you approach art with your children. When they were very young, you set out a few simple art supplies and let them create. You probably didn't critique their drawings or compare it to Monet. This is because when it comes to art, we tend to see value in the practice, no matter what the outcome. Writing is the same. The first step toward success is letting them practice and create early, praising them for their effort no matter the outcome.
When we see writing in the same way we see art, our priorities shift, and we set out on a path that looks differently than it did for us, but it's a path that I believe is easier, more engaging, and more productive. This path doesn’t focus on reaching certain benchmarks by certain times. Instead, it focuses on readiness, growth, and mindset.
During the early years the focus should be on building a LOVE for writing, keeping your child’s writing and language arts lessons gentle and free of (most) criticism.
No expensive, elaborate curriculum necessary. With a consistent habit of writing daily, in fun and creative way, along with short grammar lessons, you can set your child up with the mindset and skills needed for further success into middle school, high school, and beyond. Most of all, you will hopefully spark in them the joy of writing! Below I’ve put together a list of practical tips that will help you help your young kids achieve these goals, approaching writing like the art form that it is.
You can also follow me on Pinterest to find many of the resources, videos, writing prompts, and more that I mention throughout this post. Check it out here, and look for the boards titled: Early Writing Aids, Writing Made Fun, Winter Writing, and Fall Writing.
THE YOUNGER YEARS
DAILY JOURNALING- Writing prompts are all over the internet. At the start of each school year or season, you can print out a list (or several) with fun, silly, creative writing prompts and place them in a jar. Each morning let your kids choose a prompt from the jar and write about it in their journal. For my kids, this journaling was like that art I talked about earlier. I didn’t correct it. I didn’t make suggestions. I just read it and praised them for their work. Often it was silly, and they liked reading it to me, and the daily habit, along with my praise rather than criticism, led them to complaining less when I assigned other writing work that I did correct (which shouldn’t happen more than once or twice a month at this age).
THEMED TOPICS- Tying our writing assignments to holidays or celebrations makes an assignment more fun and engaging. This is a wonderful way to work on academic writing in a fun, creative way. For example, one December my kids were tasked with writing an opinion piece answering the question: Does Santa need an updated suit? This paper fell in the “practicing academic writing” category as they worked on organizing their thoughts and persuading their reader, but it was definitely fun and creative. It also led to some heated family debates as each kid shared their opinions. :)
BE A GUIDE MORE THAN A CRITIC- In these early years our children’s abilities to write well are limited by their vocabulary, concrete thinking, and their incomplete understanding of grammar rules. Don’t be afraid to give your kids plenty of help, by way of examples and guidance, as they write. Our own patience and praise will likely be our child’s greatest assets as they learn to write. As your kids read more and more great writing, they will naturally become a better writer themselves, but don’t expect results overnight. The process will take years, just as it takes years of practice to become a skilled artist.
SAVE CRITIQUES FOR ANOTHER DAY- For those assignments that you do want to correct, save the corrections for the day after the writing assignment. Reading through it once, praising your child’s work, and putting it away will give your child time to feel proud of their EFFORT. Looking at it together the next day to make corrections will likely be met with less grumbling. It takes a lot of brain power for our little ones to put together sentences and paragraphs. Trying to think through corrections immediately following that task can be too much for their brains and their emotions.
EDITING AND REVISING WITH CARE- The editing and revising process will not be very complex during these early years, but slow and steady is key. The structure we have used with success is as follows: Day 1: Write- On this day, the kids just write a first draft. They focus on getting their thoughts onto the page without worrying about spelling or grammar. They aren’t allowed to stop and ask me how to spell a word, as it breaks their train of thought. The only rule they have for this day is “write”. If the assignment is beyond a paragraph or two, they are given more than one day for this. Day 2: Revise- On this day I sit down with my children and we go over their work. I help them look for ways they can be more clear and concise, and I help them find ways they can be more descriptive. We talk about how their sentences are arranged and make sure their thoughts are well organized. Day 3: Edit- The last day is reserved for grammar and spelling corrections. During this phase, I do not try to introduce new grammatical concepts that we haven’t covered yet, focusing only on those we’ve learned. For example, if we haven’t covered commas before conjunctions yet, I don’t correct that. Also, instead of simply saying, “Correct your mistakes,” be specific. Help guide them to see where they erred by giving instructions such as, “Look for places you forgot to capitalize a proper noun.”
KEEP GRAMMAR LESSONS SHORT- With kids in 6th and 8th grade now, I can assure you, many of the grammar lessons repeat yearly. Many of the rules don’t need to be introduced too early, but there are fun ways to approach grammar that I’ll discuss below. It is helpful, however, to practice the mechanics with short, consistent lessons. Nothing will kill a love for writing like long, lengthy grammar lessons. Short and sweet is the way to go. After trying several programs, I've found that Spectrum workbooks are a great tool for teaching LA in an easy way that is less time consuming but very effective. They're not expensive, and you can check out them out here and here.
WRITE EVERYTHING DOUBLE SPACED- I almost left out this piece of advice, but honestly, this very simple thing has made a huge difference for us! When my kids double space their writing, it makes it easier for me to make corrections, and it doesn’t look as overwhelming for them when they look at it.
NOT WRITING AT ALL- When our kids are still learning to write and spell, the act of writing a story or essay can be very overwhelming for them. It can be too much to try to write out your thoughts while stopping repeatedly because you're unsure of how to spell something or your hand is getting tired. Allowing your younger kids to dictate their stories or essays to you can help them to focus on their thoughts without worrying about the mechanics.
THINK OUTSIDE THE LINES- Writing doesn't have to be sitting down at a desk with a paper and pencil. There are many ways to make writing fun. Here are a few that have been successful for us:
- Printable Story Starters: Pictorial writing prompts and Roll-a-Story games are a very fun way to help your kids practice their creative writing skills. These games are great for kids who have trouble sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper trying to think of what to write. They usually sneak in some grammar practice as well, helping you kids recognize or come up with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
- Read-Aloud Revival Workshops: It requires a monthly membership, but their writing workshops are done by published authors, and they are always fun and engaging. If you're looking for a way to have your kids fall in love with writing, take some of that money you would spend on curriculum and try out a membership! There's a catalog of previous workshops on the website so when you join you will automatically have access to plenty of content. You can check it out here. (I don't make anything off of anyone joining. I'm simply sharing because we love it so much!)
- MadLibs: These books we all remember from our own childhood really are a great way to work on spicing up writing by practicing with nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
These magnetic word kits are so much fun! They're great for increasing vocabulary and putting together creative and funny sentences. My kids will pull these out on their own, which is exactly what I'm looking for in educational games. (Click the images for links to more details.)
- Videos: Teaching young children the basics of grammar (nouns, verbs, complete sentences, etc) isn’t limited to worksheets. Learning through song is helpful for so many kids (we can probably all still sing a few lines of Schoolhouse Rock), and there are some very catchy tunes out there to help our kids grasp grammar rules. I’ve shared some of these on my Pinterest page. There are also great videos available that give wonderful examples and show kids what particular concepts look like in a sentence. These are wonderful if you have trouble explaining some of these rules yourself, or your children are visual learners.
READ GOOD WRITING- Just as an aspiring artist studies and appreciates art in many forms, we need to start our young children out by introducing them to and growing their appreciation for great writing of various styles. The more they are exposed and study writing, through books, poetry, articles, magazine, etc, the more examples they will have in their thought bank as they begin to compose their own stories and such. In their early years, children should spend much more time reading than writing.
Remember, your number one goal is to instill a love of writing in your children. Learning and growing happens best where passion and love exist. If we first help our children fall in love with writing, they are more likely to want to learn the skills and mechanics it takes to improve. Putting together a well written piece will become meaningful and fulfilling, and it will feed their desire to write even more.
Cultivating a love of writing, while setting them up with the basic skills needed for success, will give them a solid foundation as they move into middle and high school.
In my next post, I will share what writing looks like in those years, and I’ll offer more practical tips for helping your child continue to love and succeed in their writing.
*Affiliate links to Amazon do earn me a small portion from purchases, but I only recommend those things that we use and benefit from in our own homeschool journey.