Entries from May 2011 ↓

4 ways to promote reading at home

Mariana Ashley joins me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. 

books, Homeschooling, readingHaving homeschooled from age seven until about fifteen, I can say without reservation that the most important thing I gained during my homeschooling years was a love of reading. And I’m convinced that had I not been homeschooled, I would not possess the enthusiasm for reading that I have now.

Here are some tips based on my personal experiences reading at home:

1. Create a book culture at home.

You’ve heard the age-old saying “charity begins at home”? Actually, any life-long habit is always first established among your closest kin—the people you live and learn with every single day. As such, if you want your children to learn to love reading, they will have to see you reading often, too.

If you have a book collection in storage, take everything out and display your books properly. This sends a message that books are valuable and worthwhile! And when children are surrounded by books, you increase the chances that they’ll want to eventually read them.

2. Start by suggesting books based on movies.

I know, I know. The book is always better. But if your child is already familiar with a character or plot after having seen the movie, her interest will be more greatly piqued. This is especially helpful for children who find reading boring or whose attention span is so short they have trouble getting through a book.

3. Make oral reading a tradition in your household.

For many families, story time ends when children reach age five or six; when they don’t have trouble falling asleep anymore; or when other forms of technology begin to entertain them. First, don’t stop reading aloud! That rich bonding time continues to send the message that reading—in all its forms—is held in high esteem in your home. Keeping that oral tradition alive is also important for further developing reading, writing, and comprehension skills.

And don’t forget to include other oral activities. When I was homeschooled, my parents had us memorize poems and short prose pieces, which we’d recite out loud. This is a great tool for helping young children acquire an ear for good writing, and it gives students of all ages a chance to “marinate” in passages of great literature and poetry.

4. Turn it into a game.

Many schools offer reading incentive programs or competitions in which children earn “points” for reading books. You can set up a similar game yourself. For example, my parents assigned points based on book length. Books that were longer or of greater difficulty earned us more points. Whoever had the most points at the end of the month got to spend a day out with mom and dad for pizza and ice cream. Even better, why not set a “points goal” based on age and reading ability? This way, every child who reaches her personal goal can earn the special treat.

Picking up good reading habits can help your child in other ways too. For example, the verbal section on the SAT was so much easier for me because I’d been an avid reader since I was seven. Reading also helps lengthen attention span and generally improves cognitive skills. Reading and writing often go hand-in-hand, and while reading alone won’t turn your kid into the perfect writer, it will surely go far.

Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of a good book.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.

Photo: David Sifry, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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Homeschool conventions 2011: Florida and NC

Two of the largest homeschool conventions in the country take place this coming weekend, May 26-28, 2011. It’s the perfect opportunity to refresh and recharge, learn from great speakers, and browse through curriculum. Look for the WriteShop booth at both the FPEA and NCHE exhibit halls.


If you live in the Orlando area, run—don’t walk—to this year’s outstanding Florida Parent Educators Association (FPEA) Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. On Friday, May 26, Kim Kautzer will be speaking on “Teaching Writing: The Big Picture,” giving an overview of what to teach and when—and sharing loads of ideas!

  • FPEA: WriteShop booth #329


And if you homeschool in North Carolina, don’t miss out on the annual North Carolina Home Educators’ Convention (NCHE) in Winston-Salem.

  • NCHE: WriteShop booth #41

At the conventions you can:

  • See our full line of WriteShop products
  • Purchase the newest WriteShop Primary books.
  • Take a sneak peek at the exciting new WriteShop Junior series (coming soon)!
  • Learn how you can teach a WriteShop co-op class in your area.
  • Receive much-needed encouragement about teaching writing.

Whichever conference you attend, it will be a great time to stop by our booth to ask questions, see what’s new, or browse through WriteShop books in person. Visit the convention sites for workshop schedule, exhibit hall hours, and directions to the conventions. See you there!

And if you live on the West Coast, make sure to check WriteShop’s convention schedule to see where we’ll be next!

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To learn more about WriteShop, visit our website at www.writeshop.com.

Where’s the beaf?

On a recent trip to the UK and Belgium to visit our son and daughter-in-law, I came across some nifty signs for Wordless Wednesday’s “Bad Signage” posts. Really, I do understand that translation from one language to another can be challenging, but an apostrophe is an apostrophe. Plus, some of these are just too humorous to pass up!

Before we head across the English Channel to the Continent, let’s start off with a poster spotted in a British restaurant.

“Excuse me, waiter?”
“I’d like to order an apostrophe.”

Next stop: The train station in Brussels. I’m sure they meant “Scarpino Bag’s Kiosk,” but evidently the signmaker ran out of room.

And continuing on to Bruges, here’s another apostrophe alert at a sidewalk cafe . . .

Here’s some spelling whimsy on a Bruges side street:

Where’s the beef? Apparently, once it’s been “sauted” it turns into “beaf.”

And finally, the pièce de résistance . . .

I’m cuckoo for coockies . . . um, cookies . . . any time. However, I have to tell you that the chocolates and baked goods in Belgium are exquisite—regardless of translations or misspellings. We enjoyed a wonderful visit with our kids, met many lovely people, and had a fantastic time eating our way through two beautiful countries.


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Stop by every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

When writing efforts fizzle

Past writing failures don't have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track

My child is a high school freshman, and thus far, our homeschool experience has not gone well where writing is concerned. Every program we’ve tried seems to fall by the wayside by Christmas break. Normally, she’s an independent worker who does well with most self-directed assignments—except for writing. We just never finish.

Does this sound familiar? If so, let’s see if I can offer some advice to help you and your teen get back on track!

Parent Involvement vs. Student Independence

I’m all for fostering independence. As students enter the high school years, it’s especially wise to train them to become more and more responsible for their own schoolwork. This means teaching them to break assignments into chunks, work on multiple projects, and stick to deadlines.

But even if a self-directed child is successful in most academic subjects, she may still be floundering when it comes to self-directed writing assignments. This is largely because, for most students, writing must be taught. Good writing is the result of a partnership between a parent/teacher and the student.

Get involved!

A child who rarely finishes a writing assignment can’t be left to learn writing on her own; clearly this approach is failing her. If this is true of your child, you may need to step in and become more involved in teaching, guiding, editing, and grading her work. She may not appreciate your “interference,” but if she’s not succeeding on her own, something needs to change.

Begin by working closely with her to introduce, model, and teach new concepts. After that, let her work independently on her assignment. If she continues to struggle, misses deadlines, or fails to give her best effort, recognize that you’ll need to spend more one-on-one time together while she writes. As she throws herself more fully into her writing and gives effort to assignments, you can start backing off again.

Learning to Stick It Out

Sometimes a curriculum just isn’t working and you need to take a different approach. But if you keep abandoning ship—specifically where writing is concerned—it’s time to ask yourself why. This is especially important if you’ve tried several writing programs but find you never seem to finish any of them.

Is it a character issue—or an academic one?

Does your student:

  • Complain about other subjects, sports, music lessons, or chores—or just about writing?
  • Put up enough of a fight (about anything) that you toss up your hands in despair and give in to her complaints?
  • Make such a fuss over writing in particular that it’s easier to give up without finishing the program?

"No Whining" signIf this describes your home, consider working on the character qualities of diligence and perseverance. Students need to learn that sometimes, even though a curriculum is less than ideal, they can’t just quit as soon as it gets too hard.

In the real world, they won’t always have choices, but if they’ve gotten into the habit of abandoning something partway through when the going gets tough, it will be hard for them to practice stick-to-itiveness in the future. (For example, they’ll be more likely to drop a college class the minute it begins to get challenging.)

Even if this stop-start-stop-start habit only applies to writing, I would still encourage you to decide on a course of action and commit to seeing it through. You’ll probably agree it’s time to make follow-through a priority.

Taking a Different Tack

Perhaps you simply need a new approach to teaching writing. It’s a legitimate possibility that your child’s learning style just hasn’t meshed with other writing programs you’ve tried in the past. In this case, WriteShop might genuinely help you overcome the hurdles you’ve experienced.

For one, WriteShop expects parent involvement yet fosters independence. Furthermore, WriteShop promotes the writing process through:

  • Prewriting activities that set the stage for the writing assignment and get creative juices flowing.
  • Brainstorming worksheets that help students develop ideas before it’s time to write.
  • Step-by-step instructions for writing that never leave them wondering what, exactly, they’re supposed to do.
  • Short assignments (rarely longer than a paragraph) so that they can work on sentence and stylistic skills.
  • Activities and assignments that are broken up into bite-size portions over two weeks per writing lesson so as not to overwhelm a student.
  • Detailed, lesson-specific self-editing checklists that enable students to proofread their own work and make corrections before handing their paper in to you.
  • Parent checklists and grading keys that help you give objective feedback.

Have your student’s writing efforts fizzled? Past writing failures don’t have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track—and with time to spare.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

4 benefits of writing warm-ups

Sometimes it’s hard to get started in the morning.

It’s like that with any job, not just writing, but when it comes specifically to writing, how do you get the words and ideas flowing?

Writing doesn’t always begin with a blank page or fingers poised above a keyboard. As a matter of fact, before your child ever writes a word, consider starting off your writing session with a pre-writing activity or warm-up. You can use pre-writing exercises to:

1. Stimulate Thinking

“Just as you would stretch before you go running, you need to warm up before you start writing…. [Pre-writing] exercises …help you stretch your mind.” –Jack Prelutsky, poet

Try these writing warm-ups!

2. Help Kids Overcome Writer’s Block

“Starting with a writing warm-up can get the creative juices flowing, and help you bypass your critical mind that keeps you frozen and staring at a blank page. You can make up your own warm-ups by using prompts, questions, observations that you might keep in a notebook…

“Or you can get your warm-ups from someone else, using books or ‘flash card’ decks designed just for that purpose. Open a page, pick out a warm-up randomly, write it at the top of your journal or notebook page, and start writing.” –Jamie S. Walters, Ivy Sea

Try these printable card decks!

3. Put Aside Distractions and Focus on Writing

Pre-writing activities “aren’t meant to provoke publishable work. They’re meant to get … your brain warmed up and your ideas flowing….

“Put time limits on them if you have trouble stopping. When the time is up, dive straight into your ‘real’ writing no matter where you are, even if you’re in the middle of a sentence.”  –Heather Grove, freelance writer

Try these creative writing prompts!

4. Increase Vocabulary

“Play with sounds and words to discover something new about language and our world. By playing with the order and arrangement of words, repetition, connection, and word choice, we begin to learn how language works….

“By playing with words we often discover new ways of saying old things—we see with new eyes and create a new world that we had not recognized before.” –Andrew Green, former English teacher and author of Potato Hill Poetry

Try these writing warm-ups!

And here are a few more writing games and activities to play:

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“What’s in the Bag?,” sentence-building games, and picture books are some of the many pre-writing activities and writing games tucked into the pages of WriteShop and WriteShop Primary.

Should outside classes be part of your homeschool?

Should you enroll your homeschool students in outside classes or co-ops?

I was a hands-on homeschooler. I loved lesson-planning, teaching, and learning alongside my kids. But now and then, and for various reasons, we participated in outside classes.

Often, I was the one who gathered a group of children and taught a four-week art class, a semester of California history, or a year of writing. For several years, we were active in a KONOS co-op. And when my children were in high school, they took an occasional course in biology or chemistry or speech.

True Homeschooling?

I know the value of teaching my children at home. I also appreciate the fresh perspective they gained from experts in various subjects. But I never lost sight of the fact that we were homeschooling, which for the most part meant—and here’s the shocker!—schooling at home.

Don’t get me wrong—co-ops and other classes certainly have their place. But here’s the caveat: They should not become a substitute for teaching one’s own children, nor do they give parents permission to abdicate their role as primary teacher.

Ab·di·cate v. 1.  to relinquish or hand over responsibility.  2. to give up duties.

1. resign, quit, bail out. 2.  abandon. 3. step down.

Used as a helpful tool, outside courses can be an excellent supplement to your home teaching. However, when one class becomes three, and you’re spending more time in the car than at the schoolroom table, it could be time to question whether you’re actually homeschooling at all.

Falling into the Trap

You are still the primary teacher and the one responsible to oversee the work, so even if your children are taking outside classes, you must know what’s being taught. Believe me, I know it can be a relief to have someone else take over a subject you struggle with, but it’s not the tutor’s or teacher’s job to homeschool your kids; she’s simply in your service.

As a homeschooler, your mantra should always be: I am the parent. I am the primary teacher. But when someone else is instructing your children and assigning homework, projects, or tests, it’s easy to kick back and think: 

  • Ahhhh…I finally get a break. It’s OK to enjoy the time they’re in class, but you’re still the primary teacher.
  • That’s one less subject for me to teach. Someone else may be presenting the material and giving assignments, but you’re still the primary teacher.
  • Julie learns better from other people. Some kids do take direction better from others, but don’t excuse your kids. If they won’t listen to you, it’s not an academic concern, but a character issue. Take the opportunity to work on obedience, respect, teachability, or cooperation. Remember: You’re still the parent AND the primary teacher.
  • Johnny needs to learn to take responsibility for his own assignments. This is true. But whether he succeeds or fails, he must do it under your supervision. You can set schedules and oversee his work, but if he waits till the last minute to write a paper for his class, it doesn’t mean you need to stay up with him till 2 a.m. to finish it. If he gets a poor grade, let it be because you allowed the consequence, not because you were clueless that he was behind. After all, you’re still the parent and the primary teacher.

Availing Yourself of Opportunities

Again, there is nothing wrong with outside classes, so once you accept and embrace your role as primary teacher, you can begin to look around at the many opportunities that exist, including:

  • Homeschool co-ops and classes that teach literature, science, writing, etc.
  • Private tutoring or lessons in art, music, carpentry, etc.
  • Online courses for homeschoolers such as Torrey Academy.
  • Community college for age 16+.

Putting your homeschool students in outside classes can stretch and enrich them, especially when the subject matter is completely foreign to you. Outsourcing:

  • Is ideal when you know you’re weak in a subject.
  • Provides opportunity for group interaction, such as a drama workshop or a speech and debate class.
  • Helps students learn to take instruction from others.

But when choosing an outside course for one or more of your kids, it’s also wise to remember that it shouldn’t become:

  • A substitute for homeschooling.
  • An excuse to get your kids out of the house (or your hair).
  • A purely social experience.
  • The answer to your insecurities about homeschooling.

Keys to Successful Outsourcing

Having made the decision to enroll a student in an outside class, how can you make it work with homeschooling?

  • Meet the teacher and stay in touch. (You’d be appalled at how many parents NEVER ONCE stepped into my home to meet me face-to-face during an entire year of teaching their kids.)
  • Study the syllabus to understand course expectations.
  • Become familiar with requirements and assignments.
  • Plug assigned reading, writing, and studying into your master homeschool lesson plan book.
  • Go over weekly assignment sheets and other materials the teacher sends home.
  • Discuss assignments with your children.
  • Supervise their writing or other work and help as needed.
  • Give feedback.

As with any curriculum you employ in your homeschooling, outside courses are simply tools you work with to enrich and strengthen your children’s academic foundation. Used judiciously, they can expose kids to new experiences and challenge them academically. But remembering that you’re the parent and primary teacher-–and taking appropriate responsibility as such—will ensure that you’re still on top of things, even if someone else is teaching.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape


Photo: Vancouver Film School, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Helping children write about a favorite memory

Lost in Thought

“But I don’t know what to write about!” 

“I can’t think of anything!”

How many times have we heard these cries of anguish when asking our children to face a blank page? And although we may do our best to encourage their creative efforts through the use of topic-specific prompts, sometimes we need to give kids more direction, more of a step-ladder to climb into the clarity of their own thinking.

Smaller Steps

The next time you’re faced with kids who are absolutely convinced the power of the pen has abandoned them, try breaking the prompt itself down into manageable parts. Doing so allows children to concentrate on one task at a time and to experience feedback in developing their ideas for written expression.

The “I Remember” Activity

Let’s use the prompt “Write about a favorite memory” as an example of breaking a writing topic into smaller chunks of ideas. This activity gives a feeling for the writing process approach and works well with any age.

Happy Little Fishergirl

  • Think of five things that have happened to you. Write down each of the five things, beginning with the phrase, “I remember.” When you’ve finished, share your ideas with me.
  • Now, write down one name associated with each of the five things you selected.
  • Write down the most important of the five senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell) that goes with each of your “I remembers.”
  • Now select the “I remember” you would most like to write about. Share the memory with me.
  • Now, writing as fast as you can for ten minutes, see how much of the memory you can get on paper. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling; you can think about that later, if you like what you’ve written.
  • Now, let’s read your story and think of ways to possibly make it even better.

By tackling a topic in this step-by-step manner, students become more confident and skilled in the brainstorming and drafting stages of writing. And as they will discover, fluent writing flows from the power of knowing you have something to say.

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Janet Wagner is a regular contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at www.creative-writing-ideas-and-activities.com.

Creative Commons “Lost in thought” photo courtesy of Flickr.
Photo of “Happy Little Fishergirl” © D Sharon Pruitt. Used by permission.

An “intellgent” post

Phonecam: Misspelled Sign on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Portland

Or for spelling skills, for that matter.

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Stop by every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

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