Entries from November 2009 ↓

Our winners!

Congrats to the 14 winners of our Black Friday drawing. It was such fun reaching into the bowl and pulling out names!

Grand Prize

Two lucky homeschool moms won the Illuminations, Year 1 program from Bright Ideas Press, a $165 value! Way to go, ladies!

  • Kari O.
  • Carla S.

Gift Bundles

The following ladies won a gift bundle containing products donated by Media Angels, A Journey Through Learning, Art of Eloquence, Raising Real Men, and Beloved Books.

  • Valorie B.
  • Holli B.
  • Liz K.
  • Candee B.
  • Patti H.
  • Mary O.
  • Lori A.
  • Lee S.
  • Jennifer O.
  • Deborah R.

Bonus Gifts

And here are the winners of our bonus gifts!

Congrats again to the winners. Also, thanks to these great homeschool companies for their generous donations. Please take a moment to visit their web sites and browse around!

Stumbling block #5: Perfectionism

Do your kids struggle with perfectionism and writer's block? Creativity is messy! Help them learn tricks to overcome their need to write perfectly.

Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. Each week, you’ll gain more and more ideas for helping your reluctant or struggling writer leap over those hurdles that make writing challenging. If you’re new to the series, Stumbling Block #4 took a look at how limited writing vocabulary can hinder your student. Today we’ll explore:

Stumbling Block #5

Problem: Self-criticism, perfectionism and writer’s block go hand in hand.

Solution: Encourage your child to let go of precision by writing an unpolished rough draft that can be refined later.

The Curse of Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. The phrase itself is enough to banish every creative thought from your child’s head. When he’s in a stare-down with a blank page—and the page is winning—it’s easy to believe he’s the only one who ever wrestles with getting a thought on paper.

It should comfort him to know that everyone suffers from writer’s block at some point. Even famed novelist Ernest Hemingway admitted that the most frightening thing he’d ever encountered was a blank sheet of paper!

Though many stumbling blocks litter the road to writing success, perfectionism—personal pressure to “get it right the first time”—is the mother of them all, and the key contributor to writer’s block.

Face it. Most children—yours included—loathe the writing process. They want to write a paper once at best, and they want you to love it. There’s no room in their world for the nuisance of proofreading, editing, or revising. For many of these kids, then, the first draft has to be perfect in their eyes.

Of course, the irony is that they’re imperfect individuals who believe that whatever they put on paper will never be good enough. So they don’t write at all. “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently,” says author Anna Quindlen.

Writing Tips for the Perfectionist

1. Write, write, write

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the more you write . . . well, the more you write! It’s very much like priming a pump: it takes water to produce water.

So how can you encourage your child to flex his writing muscles? One way is through a simple exercise called freewriting. Author, homeschooler, and writing teacher Dianne Dachyshyn uses free writing to ease the grip of writer’s block:

“The first time you ask children to do this, they will stare incredulously and grumble. They will be hard pressed to meet the time requirement of three minutes. However, after a regular discipline of free writing, they will begin to enjoy this time and it is amazing what they can produce. I often have to force them to stop at the end of ten minutes.”  

Check out The Writing Well for more ways to try freewriting.

2. “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” –James Thurber

Believe it or not, one of the best solutions for a perfectionist is writing a rough draft. After all, writing is a debugging process.

First, your child writes something sloppy. This is the practice draft—the imperfect, flawed rough draft. Later, he goes back and fine tunes it. That’s why I love to call the rough draft a “sloppy copy.” Starting sloppy deals a blow to the blank page as the student puts forth ideas and gets into the writing flow. As author and poet Margaret Atwood so aptly put it: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

3. Learn to let go

Enjoying the process—any process—is one of the toughest hurdles for a perfectionist! I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it is achievable—bit by bit—as he learns to let go of the things that weigh him down.

Perfectionists need to remember that creativity is messy! {10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing}Let go of precision. Creativity is a messy ordeal. Why does your student think it’s fine to make a mess when painting or working with wood or clay, but not when writing?

The creative process isn’t always neat, tidy, and measured, and it’s certainly not perfect. Assure him it’s okay if his thoughts spill out in a bit of a jumble, and it’s to be expected that he or his teacher will add marks to the paper during editing. Cleanup begins during the revising process.

Let go of pressure. Writing can be fixed. James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Even if you’re a famous author, early drafts just won’t measure up. This should come as welcome news to your young perfectionist!

As much as he wants to crumple up his efforts and keep starting over, encourage him to  just get it written. Later, like every other author of great or small renown, he can work on revising until he’s satisfied. After all, writing is a process, not a one-time event!

Let go of perfection and finish the draft. Though it’s tempting for your student to try to correct everything as he goes, have him finish his rough draft without wrestling with every word, phase, and sentence. That’s what revising is for!

And don’t forget to show your enthusiasm and approval when he finishes his assignment. Success breeds more success, and when your child feels successful, he’ll be much less reluctant next time!

Sometimes your kids are perfectionists, true? And this can indeed hold them back from doing their best by seizing them with fear—but not always. Sometimes, well . . . they’re just plain lazy! That brings us to Stumbling Block #6: Laziness, which is the topic of next week’s article in the Stumbling Blocks series.

Share a comment: How does your child exhibit perfectionism where his or her writing is concerned?

2009© Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop builds the steps of the writing process into each level of the program, helping your perfectionists recognize the purpose and value of writing and revising. Train your elementary children early using WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photos: Abhi and D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of Creative Commons

This our hymn of grateful praise

For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

Happy Thanksgiving from Writeshop!

—Kim

Photo: Ecstaticist / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Thanksgiving acrostic poem: I am thankful

Kids' activity: How to write a Thanksgiving acrostic poem

Last year at this time, I showed you how to create a Thanksgiving acrostic poem. Here’s a variation that helps your kids focus on reasons to be thankful.

When you’re scrambling around the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and the children are underfoot, sit them down at the kitchen table with this activity.

Directions

Write the words I AM THANKFUL vertically on a sheet of lined paper. Using each of the letters, make an acrostic

  1. Each line can be one word, a phrase, or a sentence. There’s no right or wrong, as you can see from the examples below.
  2. If children are having trouble thinking of words, use tools like magazines, catalogs, a thesaurus, or word lists to prompt ideas.
  3. Poems can be left-aligned or centered.
  4. Afterwards, illustrate your acrostics or decorate the page with photos cut from a magazine.

Gratitude

I want to thank God for

A ll His wonderful blessings, like His
M ercy and grace and compassion. For simple things like

T oast and cocoa. For big things like
H ope in a dark world. For
A warm, cozy home filled with love. For
N ine fun cousins! For
K eeping me safe. For
F riends that are closer than brothers. I want to always lift
U p praise to You with a thankful heart, knowing how much You
L ove me.

Thanksgiving Acrostic PoemA Thankful Heart

I am thankful for . . .

A ll my clothes and toys . . .
y mom, dad, and brothers . . .

T rue friends . . .
H ome and health . . .
A back yard to run and play . . .
N ana and Papa . . .
K nowing God loves me . . .
F ood on our table . . .
U ncles, aunts, and cousins . . .
L iving in a free country.

I Am Thankful

I am thankful for

pples and pears
M y red hair

T oys
H ot dogs
A irplanes and cars
N ew crayons
K ittens and puppies
F lowers and stars
U nited States of America
L egos

Photos: bigbirdz and Bruce Tuten, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Stumbling block #4 – Limited writing vocabulary

Limited Writing Vocabulary | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing - Students can develop and hone vocabulary by using a thesaurus and word banks.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at writing issues that plague students and their parents. Writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all subject, but certainly there are overarching principles that apply to many students and situations.

In this series, 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, I’ve been focusing on the most common writing hurdles that tend to trip up your children and offering simple and practical suggestions you can use right away. Let’s see what today’s topic has in store for us!

 Stumbling Block #4

Problem: Limited writing vocabulary that inhibits ideas and contributes to weak stories, essays, and reports.

Solution: Teach your student to develop and hone vocabulary by using a thesaurus and word banks.

A student who has a growing supply of words at her disposal learns to express herself just as she intends—using the right word at the right time. Not only that, she allows the reader to grasp subtle shades of description and meaning.

On the other hand, a limited vocabulary can cripple a child’s attempts to produce an interesting piece of writing. If he can’t express himself concretely, his stories or essays end up riddled with oft-repeated words and ho-hum vocabulary. From the comments I’ve read in previous “Stumbling Blocks” posts, this might very well be your child!

Here’s some welcome news—this problem has a relatively simple solution! Let’s take a look at some practical ways to boost your student’s writing vocabulary.

1. Start with a Good Thesaurus

Synonym FinderA thesaurus helps your student find fresh new words to replace tired or overused ones. It’s a necessary tool for every writer and should not be considered an option.

Our all-time favorite thesaurus—and the one our students used when we taught WriteShop classes—is The Synonym Finder. (My own dog-eared copy is now splitting at the seams!) Comprehensive yet easy to use, The Synonym Finder puts every other thesaurus to shame. As one mom put it:

“It’s HUGE. We got rid of all the other ones we had in the house (we got tired of not finding the words we were looking for)! A GREAT resource…. We highly recommend it.” –Patty K.

It’s so much fun to watch your kids begin to use new words. There’s nothing like seeing dazzling, jubilant, and thunderous begin to replace vague words like bright, happy, and loud. And your children will find that as their word choices expand, writing becomes more fun!

2. Choose Shorter Words

Teaching kids to use a thesaurus has its drawbacks, especially when they get carried away with the joy of discovering new words. In these enthusiastic moments, they sometimes end up with unwieldy words that weigh down their writing.

There will always be exceptions, but as a rule, long words are often more formal—even stuffy. On the other hand, short words tend to have force and directness. And as language gets more direct, clarity improves. It’s interesting to note that short, familiar words—typically words with fewer syllables—are more easily understood than their longer counterparts. For example:

  • grit vs. indomitability
  • biased vs. opinionated
  • sharp vs. perceptive
  • forlorn vs. dispirited
  • clutter vs. disarrangement

This doesn’t mean students should never use longer words! On the contrary, it’s great to see their vocabulary blossom. But eagerness to discover new words can result in sentences strung together by too much cumbersome vocabulary. Bottom line: Teach, model, and encourage your children to use more challenging words, but wisely!

3. Use Word Banks

Another excellent source of new vocabulary, word banks provide specific lists of words by category or topic, such as holidays or seasons. When a student is tempted to reuse a familiar word because he can’t think of any others, a word list can remind him of alternative words he already knows but can’t quite reel in from the edges of his mind. It can also provide a wealth of words that will spark ideas in a reluctant writer’s mind. That’s why we’ve include word lists in our WriteShop student books—lists such as textures, colors, and emotions.

So…now that you’ve got some ideas for bolstering vocabulary, get yourself a Synonym Finder, gather a few word banks, and start having fun with words!

Don’t miss next week’s Stumbling Block: Perfectionism. It’s a major hurdle for writers of all ages!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

When looking for a writing curriculum, seek out a program that purposefully teaches children to make stronger word choices. WriteShop Primary helps K-3rd graders develop a meaningful writing vocabulary. For older students, you’ll find that WriteShop I and II include 17 exhaustive word banks that help equip and inspire successful writers!

Creating a writing center

 

Child writingTo encourage creativity and good habits for a budding writer, why not set up a comfortable, low-cost writing center where your young child can work?

Whether you homeschool at the kitchen table or set aside a separate writing area in your home or school classroom, make it as inviting and inspiring as possible. Providing a place that is quiet and organized will help spark the imagination and foster a love for the written word. Here are some practical ways you can build either a portable or permanent writing center.

Storage Suggestions

First, consider how much room you have. Are you homeschooling in tight quarters, or do you have a school room at your disposal?

Portable Writing Center

A portable writing center is perfect when space is limited. You can store writing supplies in a:

  • Large backpack with pockets
  • Cleaning supply caddy
  • Large plastic box with a lid

Semi-permanent or Permanent Writing Center

Having a designated school room or area in your home lends itself to more permanent storage solutions, such as:

Equipping Your Writing Center

Next, gather your writing supplies and store them in or near your chosen writing center. Before buying anything new, look to see what supplies are already lying around the house. It’s a good idea to keep these supplies separate so they’re always handy at writing time.

Alphabet charts posted at eye level to serve as penmanship models.

Chart tablet or newsprint pad for writing out your child’s dictated stories.

  • Chart paper: Primary chart pads come lined or unlined. You can also find them spiral-bound for easy turning. If you have an easel, you can hang your tablet.
  • Newsprint pads can be clipped to an easel or laid flat on a desk or tabletop.

Reference tools like a children’s dictionaryelectronic speller, or children’s thesaurus.

Tools for brainstorming and writing

  • Crayons, markers, pencils
  • Grade-level lined paper
  • Plain white computer paper
  • Correction tape

Tools for publishing final drafts

  • Glue, glue sticks, tape
  • Rubber stamps, stickers
  • Scissors, stapler, hole punch, yarn scraps
  • Solid-color construction or scrapbooking paper
  • Old magazines, calendars, and catalogs to cut and paste

Desk or tabletop workspace (kept clutter-free to aid concentration)

 .  .  .  .  .

Creating a writing center is just one of the many ways WriteShop Primary seeks to nurture a love of writing in primary-age children. Once all your supplies have been collected and put away, you and your child can enjoy a creative workspace that’s quiet, comfy, well equipped, and organized!

Storage cube photo: Ben Ostrowsky. Used with permission.

Thanksgiving special

I hope everyone enjoys their turkey with stuffink next week!

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Stumbling block #3 – Lack of motivation

No Motivation to Write | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing - Offer kids a wide variety of writing experiences and freedom to choose topics. 

Last week we talked about skills and tools a student can use to make his writing more interesting. As we continue this series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, today’s focus turns to a very common writing issue.

Stumbling Block #3

Problem: No motivation to write

Solution: Give kids a wide variety of writing experiences and allow them flexibility to choose topics.

Offer a Varied Writing Diet

Uninteresting or irrelevant topics often produce unmotivated students. One solution? Give your child greater options. Don’t limit him to one kind of writing, like essays or factual reports. Instead, vary his writing diet so he feels more motivated to write!

  • Offer experiences with descriptive, informative, and narrative writing. Let him describe people, places, foods, and objects.
  • To dabble in expository writing, encourage him to explain a process, write short reports or biographies, or write news articles.
  • Teach him to write narratives from varying points of view or in a different voice or tense.

Allow Freedom to Choose Topics

Try give your less-than-motivated student a bit more flexibility of topic choices. Nothing stifles creativity like saying, “You MUST write about THIS.”

I’m not saying your student should run the show. After all, you’re still the teacher! But if you’re teaching a particular kind of writing, such as describing a place, you can give freedom of choice—anything from a baseball stadium to a tea room, from a mountain wilderness to a busy street corner—while remaining within the lesson’s framework. It’s the best of both worlds when you establish some parameters but offer freedom too. When your child feels more “ownership” of the subject matter, you’ll find he’s much more likely to invest himself in the writing.

Tie Writing to Other Subjects

Also, when there’s no motivation to write, consider incorporating writing across the curriculum whenever possible. Instead of teaching writing as a separate subject, writing across the curriculum lets you mesh writing instruction with your study of history, literature, art, music . . . the opportunities are endless.

Write with Delight

And consider delight-directed learning, which allows your student to explore a favorite topic—hobby, sport, historical period, whatever his passion—and write about it in many ways:

  • Using vivid description
  • Explaining a process (“how-to” composition)
  • Writing stories and narratives
  • Writing essays and reports
  • Developing news articles

The beauty of delight-directed learning? Each writing project focuses on a different aspect of your child’s topic of interest, whether it’s Legos, gardening, horses, or antique guns.

No Motivation to Write | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

You may grow tired of reading essays, stories, and reports about choosing a helmet, the history of football,  Tim Tebow, and “My First Touchdown,” but if it means your student is writing . . . well, rejoice!

If limited writing vocabulary is an issue for your student, check out the next article in the series, Stumbling Block #4.

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

If your writing curriculum limits your student’s writing experiences or stifles topic choices, you might want to take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. Each lesson provides the framework for a particular kind of writing but gives the student options to pick his own topic.

Photos: Doniree Walker and Bradley Gordon, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Stumbling block #2 – Weak writing skills and tools

Stumbling Blocks to Writing | Students lack skills and tools

Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing! Last week we looked at Stumbling Block #1 and ways to increase your student’s confidence. What’s today’s hurdle?

Stumbling Block #2

Problem: Kids don’t have the writing skills and tools they need to make stories, essays, or reports fresh and interesting.

Solution: Introduce prewriting exercises, brainstorming worksheets, and checklists.

Whether you’re sewing, gardening, working with wood, or fixing an engine, you can’t do the job properly without certain skills and tools. The same can be said for writing—and I’m not just talking about paper, pens, and a laptop. Let’s look at some practical principles you can apply to begin equipping your children for success!

Pre-writing Activities

ScattergoriesOne of the easiest ways to build writing skills is to have some fun! Pre-writing exercises and writing games act as enjoyable warm-ups to get creative juices Apples to Apples - Vocabulary Gameflowing, build vocabulary, and strengthen sentence development. Games you make up, like sentence-building or concrete writing games, make perfect pre-writing exercises.

And don’t discount the value of purchased word games. Scattergories and Apples to Apples come to mind as two great writing warm-up games our family loves to play. Along with old friends like Scrabble and Boggle, they make ideal family Christmas gifts. Your kids will have no idea they’re learning!

Brainstorming Worksheets

Before your student writes the first word of her composition, she’ll improve her chances for success by brainstorming. Like pre-writing, brainstorming is a skill that stimulates thinking in general. However, it also acts as a springboard for writing about a particular subject. When a student brainstorms:

  • It gets her ideas flowing so she has something to say.
  • It helps her overcome writer’s block.
  • It prepares her for writing as she develops a plan and gains direction.
  • It helps her organize her thoughts.

To further promote thinking skills, you’ll want to teach a variety of brainstorming techniques. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition your student is writing. For example:

  • She might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process.
  • If she’s writing a descriptive paragraph, she should carefully study the subject for interesting details and record her observations.
  • For a narrative, she’ll want to sequence the events.
  • A Venn diagram is especially useful for compare/contrast essay.

There are many ways to brainstorm, but worksheets and graphic organizers are tools that often smooth the way for reluctant writers. If you are using a program like WriteShop I or II, you’ll find brainstorming worksheets already prepared for each writing assignment (see an example here). Alternatively, a quick Google search will yield a variety of brainstorming tools available on the web.

But brainstorming isn’t just for your junior high or high schooler! You can begin teaching this skill in kindergarten, either on your own or with a helpful curriculum like WriteShop Primary. Starting your children when they’re young can help prevent the debilitating case of writer’s block that often plagues older students.

Checklists

A good checklist serves as a guide to help your student identify her own errors in content, style, and mechanics so she can improve and enliven her writing. For instance, if the checklist reminds her to use synonyms instead of repeating main words, she’ll be forced to find more interesting words. This simple tool can help her hone a valuable skill she’ll use all her life. (In a few weeks I’ll be talking about checklists in greater detail when we take a look at Stumbling Block #6: Laziness.)

Other Skills and Tools

In addition to checklists and brainstorming sheets, there are other tools that help breathe new life into writing. For example, skill-building exercises can give a student instruction and practice in new writing skills like choosing titles, writing topic sentences, citing sources, or using sentence variations.

I’m sure grammar is part of your language arts curriculum, but how it can revive writing may be a complete mystery to you. I’d like to suggest that when you require your student to use newly learned grammar concepts in her compositions, the grammar actually makes more sense. So rather than teach grammar in a vacuum, teach it as it applies to writing. That’s where the rubber meets the road!

Writing isn’t an exact science, but you can certainly apply proven principles to promote stronger writers in your home. It’s my prayer that you’ll begin to notice a difference in both attitude and output as you put some of these tips into practice.

Next week we’ll look at Stumbling Block #3: Lack of motivation. You won’t want to miss that one!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Do you wish your writing curriculum offered more pre-writing activities and brainstorming ideas? Then take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. You’ll love the writing games and brainstorming worksheets that equip and inspire successful writers! 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Yoda strikes again

Ah, I see Yoda’s been at it again . . .

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

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