the art of language: having something to say

Language arts implies there is an art to learning language. It is colourful, varied, sometimes off-beat. Sometimes it’s formal, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s reporting, sometimes it’s playing.

This month of November, two of my daughters are participating in NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and writing lessons are on hold, while they write write write. One of them even writes after studies are completed for the day.

My youngest, now nine years old, is less interested in producing a daily 500 word count. Though he daily writes three to five sentences in a kids writing journal that gets him to consider his thoughts on varied subjects. He routinely free writes a couple pages for his MineCraft writing prompts. He writes thank you cards for his birthday gifts, corresponds with his Compassion International sponsor child, practices cursive, builds Bananagrams from his spelling words and plays on-line games with those word lists on Spelling City (thank you Linda, I’m still using this resource after all these years). And he sits with me to do grammar lessons from the Simply Grammar book that I have worked with since our oldest daughter began homeschooling in 2009. (I still ponder the purpose of knowing what a transitive verb is, as I only discovered it existed in that first year of homeschooling, but exposure to parts of sentences is important to me).

I’ve always encouraged personal journaling each morning as they begin their day. I never check grammar, punctuation, or spelling as I almost never come across their journal entries. This is their personal spirit on paper, confidentially theirs. I know what it has done for me all these years, dozens and dozens of journals kept since I began printing: I understand myself better, and have learned to own my feelings and process my thoughts.

In high school, I was an adjective wielding, profuse adverb using, fluffy sentence writer. I thought saying something pretty had more oomph than saying something meaningful. I was told I should write with less flourish. I was told I should first attempt to identify my topic. Instead I wrote pretty, lovely, gargantuan words like loquacious, ironically. I hid behind pretty.

BraveWriter, the program that our third daughter has been studying with the last six weeks, has affirmed my inner intuition about teaching writing. Language arts is indeed the art of writing. But first and foremost, the writer needs to determine what it is she wants to say. Then use the five senses for description, or essay structure for explanation, or sentence construction and word choice to communicate clearly and cleverly.

Sentence diagramming, grammar lessons, spelling and cursive have their place. Now that I’ve had a few years to learn writing with my home educating kiddos, I’ve learned that, by far, the most important aspect about learning language arts is actually having something to say (and then learn to say it artistically, adverb intended).