second r: writing

Having read Susan Wise Bauer’s hefty volume, The Well Trained Mind (more than once), I have reaped many ideas for writing possibilities. I love her classically educated focus, everything from latin to sequential historical learning to logic. I defy someone to suggest she’s not got everything covered, except maybe home economics. Having said that, her suggestions amount to forty hour study weeks. Maybe that works in Japan, but I’m not interested for my Canadian children. The ideas she does have, though, are easily incorporated into a breathe-easier, eclectic approach.

After my kids have read something historical, they have often written page reports on their topic. It could be an opinion piece: essay style, for twelve year olds or narrating a paragraph for new writers. The writing could be in the form of a newspaper article. It could even be a newspaper page based on similar characters in that time era.

The reading could also be a spin-off of the character in a fictional story. They could write a brief description of a historical character on a time-line. A story could be written interview-style. An essay could be written comparing two characters in the same historical era determining which ruler the child would rather have lived under. So many possibilities…

For those less inclined to write, or not yet ready to write, having the child narrate the story while the parent writes a summary is a great way to get the child to think in writing. She tells you what she heard; you write it down. She may then draw a picture of that summary. A collection of her summaries are a nice keepsake.

After participating in science experiments, the children can keep a science notebook of what materials were used, their hypothesis, procedure and outcome. Drawing pictures makes a lot of sense in this notebook. There are always summaries of science readings too. Or even clever, quoteable things kids wonder about the world, or think might happen if they performed an experiment.

Creative writing for some children is a natural occupation. There have been days that I instituted a creative writing exercise, from either writing prompt books, story starter books, poetry workbooks, or my mind; they would complete their tasks, and after finishing their prescribed activities, wander off to write their stories. I realized I was handcuffing their time when it wasn’t actually necessary. If they already write, let them write. Marilyn Hahn is a great resource in motivating kids to write if their inclinations aren’t similar to my children.

There are a 1001 ways to develop writing, and it doesn’t have to come from a textbook. Spelling books seem to me like time-consumers with little benefit. I might say that because my children are not deeply troubled by the subject. As they have increased their reading consumption, their spelling ability becomes easier. When the children repeatedly misspell a word in their writings, I have them write the word in a dollar store notebook, and review the words, flashcard-style so that they become increasingly familiar with the correct spelling. Studying word roots, from Greek or Latin, also improves spelling because children recognize them easier.

If one isn’t overly familiar with basic grammar, there’s always an easy memory approach with another of Susan Wise Bauer’s books, First Language Lessons. There’s also Simply Grammar written from a Charlotte Mason approach: short and sweet lessons. Both these books require no advanced planning.

There are oodles of books that detail grammar, but by far, I believe correcting the kids’ written work, explaining the value of a comma, dangling participles, and spelling corrections, etc. are the most meaningful way to learn this rather mundane knowledge byte.

Charlotte Mason has another approach I will use in the coming year. Choose a paragraph to read daily and rewrite in it in the child’s best handwriting or printing. Toward the end of the week, dictate the paragraph and have the child write from memory. Charlotte Mason believes this cements the correct punctuation, grammar and spelling rules. It also sounds like a fun way to memorize passages from our favourite books.

A habit I have instituted from the beginning is to get them to journal, every day. They could write prayers, poems, what they did, their feelings. Early on they just wrote pictures and I took dictation. There is nothing more self-revealing than to write what you feel. Funny how we can feel things from day to day, but not be conscious of our feelings, and not take any effort to change them, or responsibility to change the things that might make us feel what we feel.

Lives are changed by introspection. And introspection isn’t required to write, but all of life is danced in relationships, and all of writing involves communication, so learning to write clearly and think clearly are by far the greatest advantages to a solid education.