In the early years of homeschooling, teaching writing was my kryptonite. It was a great source of frustration for both my son and I. Not only was I not able to explain to my son what made a sentence sound “good”, but getting him to write was like pulling teeth. Unless– he was writing on a subject he wanted to write about. Well, course I couldn’t allow that all of the time. Or could I?
Isn’t the point of writing learning how to write?
How did this get so complicated?
I never thought about all of the individual foundational skills that go into writing.
- thinking about the actual idea you want to write about
- thinking about how you want to express that thought
- handwriting or typing- the mechanical ability to get what’s in your head onto paper
- spelling the words correctly, or at least close enough to use spellcheck
- using correct punctuation and grammar
- knowing what words to use
- making writing interesting
- organizing your writing into paragraphs
- proofreading and editing
Children are in the process of learning all of these skills, so it helps their writing if they are able to focus on only one or two of these skills at a time. Now I understand why my son was so frustrated, I was expecting him to do things he wasn’t ready for. Writing, just like reading, is a step by step process. Each step builds up to the next one.
I suggest parents work on the mechanics of writing and expressive writing separately at first. Remember you’re developing two separate foundations that will eventually merge as one. We don’t want to overwhelm our children with too much at once.
The Mechanics of Writing
Young children should start off copying someone else’s writing and writing their own little stories or sentences. Don’t worry about about the grammar. Just get them expressing their thoughts and ideas on paper. (Or rewriting someone else’s thoughts in their own words.) For example, copying someone else’s writing allows them to focus on the simple mechanical process of getting words on a page, while looking at the details like punctuation, capitalization, letter formation, spacing between words, and spelling. That’s all they need to focus on.
Start with 3-4 word sentences, and increase the complexity of the sentences they copy as your child is ready. Model for your child what you expect them to do, then have the copy their own sentence. This could also be a great time to teach a grammar lesson.
Sentence dictation is another great way to have students focus on the mechanics of writing without having to worry about expressing ideas as the same time. As students are listening carefully to the sentence and writing it on paper, they are practicing several important skills. Spelling, letter formation, word spacing, listening, memory, punctuation, and Capitalization. Again, start with very simple sentences.
To do this, read a sentence to your child. Have them listen first. Read the sentence again, then have them start writing. After they have completed the writing, have them read their sentence back to you. Then have them do a mechanics check. This consists of making sure the sentence begins with a capital letter, and ends with the correct endmark, and spelling words correctly. Show them the correct sentence and have them find and correct their own errors.
Now move to simple sentences with more structure. The more skills you want to work on, the less writing you want to require. Have your child write a sentence about something. Remind them to do a mechanics check. Then you go back and point out basic errors. Have them correct those errors. This shouldn’t be a painful process.
Move from the simple sentence to a paragraph. Once they are comfortable writing a solid paragraph, move to an essay or report. You’re making baby steps. During each incremental step, your child is gaining confidence and developing a habit of writing.
Have your child write in their journal in order to express thoughts. This writing is focused on getting ideas out of their head onto paper. Don’t worry about spelling, handwriting, or correct grammar. This is practice. Practice getting ideas out of their head onto paper.
One more idea for younger children: If you do decide to have your child write some longer stories, or reports and your child is having difficulty getting the ideas out their head and onto paper, become their scribe. Most young children’s heads are swimming with ideas, but they lack the ability to get those words on paper because of the mechanical process of writing or they don’t know how to spell the words. With you writing for them, they can practice thinking of how to express an idea more easily. Then they can rewrite the final draft in their own handwriting.
As your child gets older, include more and more types of writing. Make writing relevant, and real. Don’t just focus on essays and reports. Here are some ideas on what your child can write:
- formal reports
- facebook posts
- describe results of a science exp.
- give directions on how to do or make something
Don’t forget about proofreading and editing. This is also a writing skill that your child needs to learn. Start with a few basic grammar rules, and as they learn those rules add one to two more. The best way I’ve found to do this is to give them a check list. A checklist will give them direction on what to look for, and you don’t have to mark up their paper with the dreaded red pen. Expect them to still miss errors. If you notice a reoccurring error, a grammar lesson might be needed.
I’ve made the mistake of making all of our writing too formal and I’ve seen it suck the life out of my children. Writing became a chore, and they began hating to write. So we made a big shift in our writing. We stopped all formal writing for a while. This year my 12 year old son focused on writing what he was interested in. He wanted to write an adventure novel, so that’s what he’s been doing. In the meantime, he’s started back writing reports again with a financial incentive. In other words, if he writes me a report on a book he reads, I pay him. Hey, it’s working!
Just remember, the key to becoming a better writer is writing. So if you have to adjust what you have them writing, do it. Just get those kids writing .
The more they write, the better they will write.
Finally, reading is the easiest and best way to introduce your child to writing. They will naturally want to emulate the the writing they enjoy.
I’m including a sample writing checklist for older students. This is what I actually use with one of my children. I’m also including two examples of copy work sheets that my children have used.