By Kimberly Miller
As a mother of seven children who has been homeschooling since my first child came along, I have faced a range of challenges when it comes to teaching different subjects. Some are better at math, some prefer language arts. One is a history buff who loves to read. I have a son who, at 8 years old is a budding scientist, fascinated with dinosaurs. Some of them are natural writers, others would admit to hating writing. Yet, writing is a necessary skill everyone should learn. So, how do I get my kids to do things they need to do for school (like writing) without making both of us absolutely miserable?
First of all, it's important to remember that not every child is going to be especially gifted at writing. Writing is a skill that must be learned, developed, and honed. For some children, writing comes naturally as a way of expressing their thoughts, but for many others, it is something that must be taught to them. Show them how to form sentences, how to use descriptive words and phrases to create interest in their writing, and expose them to models of good writing, such as well-written literature--"living" books.
Along with teaching the "how" of writing, we should also be sure our children understand the "why" of communication through the written word. Writing, though great mental exercise, is not an end in itself. There is a purpose, or rather there can be several purposes in written communication. In this digital age, much of our communication is done through the written word. Don't let your children become like so many others I see on social media (or even writing blogs these days) who simply cannot express themselves properly in writing. It interferes greatly with communication and leaves a certain impression in the minds of those who are being communicated to.
We find writing ability to be essential not just in daily communication, but also in presenting important ideas or beliefs at specific times. Our children can use writing to share their passions with others. Help them to understand how writing can play an important part in developing and expressing their interests in many subject areas. If they plan on going to college, they need to understand the importance of good writing skills for learning at the college level. Much of the work they will be doing in college will involve writing. They need to have the skills to express themselves well with the written word in order to succeed at that level of education.
Help your children find the joy in writing. Writing can be fun! Don't let them get bogged down in the mechanics to the degree that it is complete drudgery to simply pick up a pencil. Show them the wonderful variety of styles in writing--poetry, prose, satire, technical writing, essays--there are so many types of writing and while some are purely utilitarian, some kinds of writing can be quite enjoyable or expressive.
Now, you may be thinking, "That's fine, but my child hates to write, so how do I get him or her to see the purpose in it and to enjoy it?" Here are some practical tips on helping kids learn to write.
1. Be persistent but patient
Some children just need time to practice what they are learning. It may be that they don't like to write because they don't have the confidence that they can do it well. They may just need some time, practice, and patience to develop their writing skills enough to gain confidence in their own ability.
2. Don't be afraid to change your teaching method or curriculum
I have found over my many years of homeschooling many children that it's not worth trudging through a curriculum that is not working. There are so many writing curriculums available to homeschoolers, don't feel hemmed in to using a certain one. Just because a particular curriculum worked for your friend's child, does not mean it will be the right fit for you or your child. On the same note, what worked for one child may not work for the next one in line in the family. Explore your options and consider a simpler (and many times less expensive) approach before diving into a more intense program that may cause both you and your child to burn out.
3. Encourage them to try something new
As a homeschooling parent, I'm sure you are accustomed to challenging your child to try new things and tackle new projects. Make writing a challenge in the same way. It may take them out of their comfort zone and require some effort, but help them see that the work will be worth it when they have acquired this valuable, life-long skill.
4. Start small and build up
Don't expect your kids to be able to write a perfect 3 page essay in third grade. Have appropriate expectations. Start with the basics, and build up from there. Be sure your children understand how to write a proper sentence before you require them to write a paragraph.
I start my early writers off by having them tell me orally what they would like to say as I write it down, word for word, for them. They then take their own words which I wrote down for them and copy that into their own handwriting. This helps them get their thoughts out and onto paper without having to stop and think about how to spell a certain word or whether they need punctuation in a certain spot. Sometimes their thoughts are faster than their fingers and this method keeps them from becoming frustrated or discouraged with their own developing fine motor skills. As they move into doing more writing on their own without me helping them, I have them write a first draft of almost everything they write. Again, this helps them get their thoughts down on paper first. We then go over it together, correcting any spelling or grammar mistakes and fine tuning things. They then move from that stage into editing their own writing (this stage usually comes at the high school level).
5. Regularly expose them to excellent writing
Read good, well written books with your children. Have them read excellent literature. Show them what good writing really is. It may inspire them to try and imitate the best writers. Copywork and dictation are also very good and effective ways to give children a model for writing. Copywork is simply giving the child a portion of literature or poetry for them to carefully copy out in their own handwriting. After mastering copywork, the child is ready for dictation, which is the parent slowly reading aloud a passage of literature as the child attempts to write it out. Both of these can be very useful ways to develop writing skills.
6. Give them creative ways to use writing skills
Giving your child an interesting and enjoyable project on which to practice their writing may be all it takes to motivate them toward writing. One of my children, who has dyslexia and finds reading and writing a challenge, has recently begun writing to a pen pal, which has been a wonderful way for her to practice her writing without feeling pressured to perform on something school-related. She can express her thoughts to her friend, and I help her as needed with spelling and grammar. It has been a very helpful way to take away the "scariness" of writing and help her build confidence in her abilities in a more relaxed and fun way.
Writing contests can also be wonderful ways to motive your reluctant writers (as well as the more eager ones). HOME is hosting a writing contest this summer, which is an excellent opportunity for your children to write for a purpose with an end goal in mind and the possibility of having their work published and available for others to read. (The possibility of winning the prize of a $25 Amazon gift card could be good motivation as well).
7. Pray for wisdom
I have found that the most important thing to do when experiencing challenges in homeschooling has been to seek the Lord in prayer. After all, God gave you these children. He wants you to succeed in raising them for His glory. Don't forget, in His word, He promises to give wisdom when we ask Him for it. Look to Him, ask Him how you should approach the challenge you are facing, and be open to His leading when He brings the answer. Seems basic, doesn't it? It is easy to forget, however, what an effective tool prayer can be in seeking God's will and wisdom, even in homeschooling our children.
Writing is an essential skill and one that is extremely important to teach to our children. As homeschoolers, we want our children to be successful in life, and good writing skills can be a tremendous boost in the direction of success. Don't get discouraged if your children don't take it writing naturally. Just keep encouraging them and look for opportunities to help them see the need to learn to write, as well as creative ways to make it enjoyable.
Kimberly Miller is the homeschooling mother of seven children (and one more in heaven). She and her husband Gilbert live on a small hobby farm in rural Maine. As a homeschool graduate herself, Kimberly is passionate about encouraging fellow homeschool moms to embrace their calling and raise their children for God's glory.