Entries from July 2012 ↓

Writing ideas for the unstructured homeschool classroom

profondeur des champs / depth of fields

WHENEVER I talk to parents who homeschool, I’m surprised at how many still treat the experience as if their children were in a traditional, structured classroom.

As a homeschooled child myself, I remember my folks being pretty adamant about making the process one of fairly unstructured personal and academic discovery. In terms of writing, my mother took full advantage of the fact that we didn’t have to be glued to our desks while attending class!

No matter your homeschool style, try these four dynamic writing prompts to inspire your kids as they learn the basics of writing and expressing themselves in a perhaps less-than-traditional way:

Have your child pretend she’s a reporter by interviewing people in the community.

It’s important for children to learn early on that the process of writing is deeply connected not just with their own thoughts, but with the opinions of other people. The best way to learn this is by talking to others about a specific topic or issue.

For example, ask your students to interview older neighbors about what life was like when they were children, or talk with a community worker about his or her job, and them compile these interviews into an article, story, or essay.

Go on an outdoor adventure, and then have children write a descriptive essay about what they saw and felt.

Inexperienced writers can forget to include descriptions of scene and setting in their work, often because they’re stuck indoors where they must rely on their own imagination.

To ameliorate this problem, consider taking them to a local park, zoo, or wildlife sanctuary. Have them take notes about their surroundings, and then later write a short essay or story containing details about what they saw, smell, heard, and felt.

Allow kids to choose their own books and write reports or reviews about them.

Too often, kids become disenchanted with writing because they can’t really pick what they’d like to write about. The same goes for reading. While most standard reading curricula are well intentioned, they can’t account for young readers’ diverse tastes.

Qiqi EGR Public Library December 31, 20097Put the ball in their court by encouraging them to pick their own books and write summaries, reviews, or book reports about their selections. If a particular child needs boundaries, you might give him three books from which to choose the one he wants.

Invite children to write a short play and perform it together.

Whether they’re young or old, it can be very difficult for writers to master an ear for spoken language. To improve this specific skill in a fun way, have your kids write and act out a short, five- or ten-minute play.

When they can hear out loud what they’ve written on paper, they start to understand how to make their writing sound more natural and conversational. It’s a great way to improve your students’ speaking abilities as well.

When you aren’t stuck in a traditional classroom, the sky is the limit as far as learning goes. Take advantage of the opportunities afforded by homeschooling, and think of as many different, off-the-beaten-path learning methods as you can!

This guest post is contributed by Barbara Jolie, who enjoys writing about trends in the academic world. Even when she’s not blogging, Barbara is always contemplating and considering issues concerning education and modern society. You can reach her at barbara.jolie876@gmail.com.

Photos: Olivier Bacquet and Steven Depolo, courtesy of Creative Commons.

4 things you’re {already} doing to raise a writer

4 things you're {already} doing to raise a writer

EVERY homeschooling parent hits the skids now and then—and that’s when the questions pour forth: Am I a good teacher? Are the kids learning anything from me? Why is this so hard? 

Writing is a subject that can quickly make the most confident of homeschool moms feel like a complete and utter failure. And when you get into this funk, it’s easy to focus on everything that’s going south and fail to notice things you’re doing well. (And there are things you’re doing well!)

You may have the most resistant or reluctant writer at your kitchen table each morning, but throughout the day and week, that same child is learning from you as you live out these four important actions:

1. Equipping

What homeschooler’s house isn’t happily overrun with writing supplies? Most likely, your drawers spill over with markers, pencils, and crayons. These tools—along with paper, spiral notebooks, blackboards, and dry-erase boards—equip and encourage your children to express themselves in writing.

In pleasant weather, you watch them take to the sidewalk with chalk to draw pictures and write words. Letter magnets invite your littlest ones to begin forming words on the fridge, and older kids enjoy using magnetic word strips to compose sentences and poems. Even your teens type out stories on laptops and pour their hearts into diaries or journals.

A new school year is around the corner. Why not create even more writing buzz simply by investing in some brand-new school supplies?

2. Modeling

We know it’s important to model reading for our kids, but it’s just as important to model writing. When your children see you scratching out a grocery list, planning a camping trip on a legal pad, typing a blog article, taking sermon notes, or penning a letter to your sister, they’re internalizing the importance of the written word in daily life.

3. Cheerleading

Every day, you encourage your children’s attempts at scribbling, drawing, making letters, and using inventive spelling to write new words. This simple act of affirmation tells them that writing is both admirable and fun.

It’s not as easy to stay positive about their writing attempts as they get older (and their mistakes are no longer cute). But don’t stop looking for the good! Correction has its place, but your positive, encouraging words bring blessing into their lives and free them up to try new things when writing!

Encourage children to write

I love that you let your children be themselves—who God created them to be, not who you think they should be.

In her article How to Raise a Writer, author Cathy Lamb affirms: “A squashed spirit will produce a squashed voice. A squashed voice will never write.” In the best way you know how, you’re shaping your kids’ character, guiding their growth, and tempering their will without constraining their spirit.

You may not realize it, but you’re taking steps to call out the writer in your child!

4. Reading

I know this about you: You make reading a priority with your chldren. By reading aloud, making trips to the library, and providing your kids with books at home, you’re helping them make a connection between reading and writing.

Reading opens up new worlds of imagination, mystery, and adventure. Quality literature exposes children to rich vocabulary, vivid description, and engaging narratives. While strong readers don’t always become strong writers, a correlation does exist: Reading can have a powerful effect on a child’s interest in writing.

On the worst of days, you won’t recognize the seeds you’ve planted, watered, and tended. You’re way more likely to see weeds, thorns, and bare spots! But from time to time, whenever a tiny bud appears, you’ll get glimpses of the writer within. Just know that I’m believing with you for the day when that writer comes into full bloom!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy.

Photos: Kate Hiscock and Rolfe Kolbe, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Tickle your punny bone

crazy horses!

pun (n.)  A clever play on words that brings about a double meaning or a comedic effect. “I do it for the pun of it.”

. . . . .

SOMETIMES I just need a laugh. Don’t you?

Well, you happen to be in luck! If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that one of my favorite topics is words and the ways we can use them in our writing.

But words, whether spoken or written, can be just for fun, too! Fortunately for all of us, someone sent me a list of clever puns recently. I hope they tickle your funny bone and add a smile to your day!

  • What do you call a dinosaur with a extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
  • I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
  • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
  • All the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen. Police have nothing to go on.
  • I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
  • Velcro – what a rip off!
  • There was an earthquake in Washington, D.C. It was obviously the government’s fault.
  • Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too.

Your Turn!

Got a clean pun you’d like to share? Post it in a comment!

Motivating young writers with author success stories

I’m pleased to welcome Samantha Gray as a guest blogger today!

Laid Back

WRITING IS a difficult task. Teaching children how to write presents an even greater measure of difficulty. While it’s not necessarily hard for children to learn to write, I do think it can be extraordinarily challenging for them to enjoy it or develop it into a craft.

Children—especially adolescents—can be quite stubborn about writing creatively: either they’re too shy to put their imaginations on paper, or they’re too overwhelmed by the task to know where to start.

Even when they do write, they can become discouraged by critiques in the classroom or from a parent. They don’t see the point in trying harder if their writing isn’t well received. They fail to understand the huge difference between critiquing and ridicule.

Sharing stories about writers’ humble beginnings is an effective way to bring kids out of their writing funk. Learning about another writer’s struggle can really help students realize they’re not alone, and that writing is a hard process for most people, even published authors. These stories give perspective to a sometimes-mysterious art form.

All writers start small

When I was a young writer, I assumed that most famous authors made it big with their first story, or that successful writers were just “born” that way. I didn’t realize all writers start from scratch, and that some of my favorite authors went through seasons of rejection and self-doubt before they ever caught a break.

The sooner kids understand that writing is a process, the less pressure they’ll feel to write flawlessly now.

Gain writing inspiration from real authors

The story of an author’s humble beginnings might inspire your kids more than you’d imagine.

No matter how you feel about J.K. Rowling and her legendary Harry Potter series, your children can learn a lesson from the infamous tale of how her story nearly eluded publication.

The author submitted the first installment of Harry Potter to dozens of publishing houses, all of which turned her down and dismissed her story as unreadable or uninteresting. She was nearly broke with a son to support, yet she persevered because she believed in the strength of her writing. Her book was finally accepted by a small press, and she soon became the sensation that we know today.

Did you know that Kathryn Stockett’s famous book, The Help, was rejected 60 times before it was finally picked up for publication? Millions who now cherish her story would never have read it had Stockett given up on finding a publisher.

Now, The Help is widely regarded as one of the best books from 2009, and we have Stockett’s perseverance to thank for it.

How could stories like these not inspire your kids to write?

Take the fear out of writing

If anything, the stories of writers like J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, and others (nearly every famous writer has a remarkable story about how they started) do a brilliant job of humanizing the art of writing.

It’s unfortunate how many children approach writing with the false belief that they could never write something worth reading, or that they’re not smart enough or good enough.

What they don’t realize is that every writer feels this way before they put their pens to paper. A few anecdotes about their favorite writers may be just the trick to dispel any hesitation. Don’t you think it’s worth a try?

How do you encourage students to write? Let me know!

. . . . .

Samantha Gray, who has attended both traditional and online schools for her college education, is a freelance writer who enjoys guiding readers through the sometimes labyrinthine process of pursuing a college education and a rewarding career. Please feel free to contact Samantha at samanthagray024@gmail.com.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy.

Photo: Amanda Downing, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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