Homeschool writing can be very discouraging for many parents, especially if they believe you must be taught to write. However, sometimes we just need to wait until a child has something to say.
This is the tale of a writer.
The year was 1990, and I sat in Mrs. Smith’s* 11th grade Honors English class. (*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.) It was the year of The Crucible, Wuthering Heights, and others.
My first paper was returned to me with a C!
My impressionable teenage-self was devastated. I was a good student. I did not make Cs! Never before had I received such a low grade on a piece of writing. Were all my other teachers wrong?
Maybe she was right; perhaps I just needed to work harder? I typically churned out a paper pretty quick; I guess I just needed to revise more.
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Write and Rewrite
The next paper I worked the hardest I ever had on a school assignment. I wrote, rewrote, and even had my mother proofread and edit. This paper was beautiful; I turned it in knowing I had done my absolute best.
Seriously, B-? What does that even mean? I gave up, I wasn’t a good writer and never would be.
My mother tried to tell me that wasn’t true, that she was just jealous or didn’t like me for some reason, but in my world, grades were everything. Writing became my hated nemesis, and English class was the worst. I remember she had a penchant for correcting everyone’s interpretation of literature, which seemed absurd to me.
Senior year English was a little better, but I never fully recovered from my Junior year.
I threw myself into math. In math, there’s a right and wrong answer, and you could see where you went wrong. It wasn’t open to someone’s interpretation of your interpretation.
College came next, and I gritted my teeth through English 101, but I still had a Literature credit I needed. Being a Finance major precluded me from too many papers, and I held off until my last summer semester to take my required Literature course.
As part of our assignments, we were required to meet with the Professor to discuss one of our papers for the course. I went dutifully at my appointed time, only two weeks from graduation, fully expecting to hear of all the ways my paper could be improved.
Much to my surprise, my Professor praised my essay and asked if I would consider becoming an English major. She never thought that someone about to graduate would have put Literature off until the last minute. I just laughed and said that I would be graduating at the end of the month with a degree in Finance, so no, I would not become an English major.
However, she did write me a recommendation for graduate school!
My attitude didn’t change much towards writing; it was a necessary evil. I completed my graduate degree which required a massive cumulative paper and the relief I felt when it was completed was indescribable. My career before homeschooling required writing, but it was a sequential, rote style that wasn’t prized for its eloquence.
How has all this affected beliefs about homeschool writing?
Ideas About Homeschool Writing
Less is More.
This is my attitude towards most things, including writing. Homeschooling moms tend to stress about two subjects the most: math and writing.
This can backfire on us, because the more we lament about our children being behind or “never” writing, the more stress they feel around putting those fingers to the keyboard. Our goal should be to make writing seem natural and not like some special superpower.
What We Haven’t Done
There are a few things I loathe when it comes to homeschool writing: book reports and required journaling. So those are not things I tend to ignore a bit : )
Book Reports-I confess, my children have never written a book report. Many people will give you endless reasons why you should require book reports, but I just don’t see that much value in them.
We’ll discuss a book as we read it together or they’ll come and tell me all about their latest title. By doing so they are doing the hard work of writing, which is composing thoughts, making connections, retelling ideas in a way the other person can understand.
Required Journals-I once talked with a mom who told me about her kindergartener having a journal they were required to write in every day. That seems like a lot to expect of a 5-year-old. Not only do they have to come up with an idea, they have to perform the physical act of writing while also trying to compose a sentence and spell.
Additionally, I believe a journal should never be required nor graded. If it is, it’s really not a journal, so let’s stop calling it that to try and make it seem more fun.
Scripted Lessons-I’ve tried several, but we never stick to any of them. The assignments are tedious, and the explanations are long-winded. I use curriculum as a starting point—an inspiration. Not a master that defines the way homeschool writing must be done.
What We Have Done
There are a few things that I think contribute helping a child develop into a writer, reading aloud being the most beneficial.
Copywork-This has never been as consistent as I would like it to be, but it does happen. Copywork allows you to study grammar, usage, spelling, and subject matter all at once. Why would you not do copywork?
Don’t stress over those grade levels, these easily work for a range of ages. There are also free guides to try before you make the leap.
Reading Aloud-This has been the cornerstone of our homeschooling for many years and continues to play an important role.
What better way to learn about eloquence, semantics, and tone, than by hearing all types of literature? We sometimes get off track and our read-aloud time will suffer, but we always come back to it with renewed vigor.
Freewriting-We’ve only recently begun more regular freewriting, but my girls have always loved to buy books and write in them.
Whether it be a list, copying some other writing, or putting down their thoughts, I don’t look at these unless they request help and allow them to use them in whatever way they would like.
They’ve also written books for each other and themselves, which makes for some beautiful family memories.
If they get stuck with freewriting ideas (or you do : ), sign up for WriteShop’s free daily email that will send you writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing.
Generous with Time-Our greatest writing success so far has been my oldest daughter’s completion of NaNoWriMo 2017! This was her idea, and she achieved her goal of writing 50,000 words.
During this month, I left her to focus on writing her novel and little else. Sometimes, other things might need to be neglected for the greater good. Call me crazy, but I think composing 50,000 words should count for at least a semester of high school English.
Update: My oldest daughter is now about to complete her AA degree through dual enrollment and has done very well in all of her classes. My third oldest daughter just started a 9th grade English class this year at our co-op and has also surprised me with her ability to write essays. So far so good with my style of homeschool writing.
What I’ve Come to Believe About Homeschool Writing
Hopefully, I’ve learned something from my writing journey, and it won’t be for naught. I intend to give my children the space and encouragement they need to find their writing voice.
Everyone is different and has a unique way of expressing themselves. Grading and red pens used to correct your thoughts can have a lasting adverse effect.
I’ve often wondered if I missed my true calling, maybe I should have been an English major? I’ll never know, but I do know that experience in high school caused a lot of anguish over writing for many years to come. Thankfully, I got old enough not to be determined by those grades, but many people never get over it.
I guess one positive effect of my experience with my writing education is that I don’t put my children in the position of having to “get over it” at all.