Hi Tina, I really enjoy reading your emails. This is my first year home schooling and you’ve really helped a lot. My son is 9 & is now enjoying learning.
He loves being home schooled also. I do have a question tho and hope you can help me. When doing projects with my son. He has a lot of ideas. Or when he learns something & it gets his interest sparked.
We have really great discussions. But when asked to put those ideas on paper and summarize a paragraph, that’s where he has trouble. I’m finding that he knows the curriculum, but just can’t compute getting his thoughts down on paper. What can I do to help?? Any suggestions??
Thanks for sending in your questions and I sure try to get to all of them.
This one really struck at my heart because part of my homeschooling journey has always been about helping others and it is part of who I am.
Too, writing can be a subject that strikes fear and makes a young writer’s hand go limp. As parents too we may have been taught that writing can be subjective so that adds to the mystery of this subject.
However, there are basics to writing and it does not have to be subjective to each person’s view.
Some helpful background information to remember is that writing is about many skills being used at the same time.
How to Conquer the Fear of Writing
There are two basic types of writers. You noticed I said writer, not writing. Big difference.
One type of writer is creative and the other type writes about facts. I think if you excel at one, you tend to struggle slightly with the other.
Knowing just that key fact can unravel a lot of the mystery with writing because you can help your child identify his writing self.
For example, does he like to write a lot of stories drawing on his imagination or does he prefer to write about things he already knows about? Identifying his strong points helps you to hone in on his weaknesses.
Creative writers crave to write and sometimes can’t wait to get other things out of the way so they can use the rest of the day to write.
Writing is an art to them and rightly so because they are talented. It has been my experience that talented writers emerge at an early age.
Factual writers are strong writers too because they can use direct and meaningful words to explain and teach points that can impact people’s lives.
A creative writer may struggle to get to the point he is attempting to make.
Giving our children both skill sets equips them for a lifelong love of writing and it does not have to be a woeful experience.
After identifying your child’s strong points, the next point to realize is that the physical act of writing can be painful too.
Not only is writing about using mental skills, but it also is about the physical act of the process.
Looking at this from a new writer’s point of view, he has to use tools like grammar and spelling that you have been teaching him in addition to the physical act of pushing the pencil.
Teaching a Young Writer
All of this can be enough to bring any writer to tears. What is the solution?
Break down the process and do not hold him to all of these standards at one time.
The writing process of draft, edit and publish is a long and tedious process for a new writer to understand.
Let him lounge in his thoughts and you do the actual writing of brainstorming ideas. This breaks the writing process down into smaller pieces.
Boys especially can lag behind girls in the physical process. Give love and praise for any effort that is put forth, but do a little each day.
Working a little each day on the process is key.
Do not work on all of these skills at the same time at this age either.
When he is writing, do not have a mini spelling lesson with him as well. Give him the correct spelling of the word and go on instead of quizzing him on that too.
Thoughts have to be put to paper while they have been ignited. Don’t make him suffer learning to spell alongside writing. Not just yet anyway.
As he gets older, your standards will get higher as you expect him to know how to spell as well. The same rule of thumb applies to grammar. Give him an adverb without explaining that one ends in a -ly so that his focus remains on his noble and beautiful ideas.
Be sure he understands that writing is not a one day event.
This will go a long way in him accepting this as a process. Unlike completing a math worksheet for the day, writing needs to be spread out over several days and even weeks. Make your expectations clear so he does not have a different standard for himself.
Look at these 4 ways to help with the physical part of writing.
- If the struggle is with the actual physical process of writing, then introduce typing at an early age.
Also, cut back the number of sentences to do for the day. Writing is about consistency and quality over quantity. One or two well written sentences are worth more than five sentences where you have not a clue what he is expressing.
- Tiny uses the iPad and still does to this day to type his draft after he pencils an outline.
Typing his thoughts down on the iPad as he moves along keeps the focus on content. Part handwriting, part typing works.
Some children and writers are visual learners and we live in a visual world.
- Visual graphics are sometimes key to helping children understand the process.
This age is not too young to delight in fun graphic organizers.
Houghton Mifflin has some graphics here. Keep the writing varied by sometimes using just a fun graphic organizer like a sandwich organizer instead of always making paragraphs.
Even high school writers need graphic organizers to get a picture of the process, so keep using them.
- Use a voice to type software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking to keep the initial draft at minimal penmanship skills so the focus remains on content.
Realize that sometimes everything doesn’t have to be reduced to writing.
You are teaching a child not a curriculum so move away from the instructions of the curriculum when you need to. For example, I have used a lot of Charlotte Mason tips on narration.
When a child can explain back what you are teaching, it is not always necessary to reduce that to writing.
The most grueling part of the writing process can be recalling information and brainstorming. If your child is doing this well, then as time goes on he will learn to put those thoughts on paper.
Praise the effort and progress so far and employ the Charlotte Mason tips on narration. Click here to read about narration and use some of these ideas.
Though many teachers praise children that are creative writers, a lot of children are factual writers. If your child is a factual writer, change the topic of the assignment.
For example if the topic of writing is about something abstract like emotions or personality flaws or strengths of a character change it to something concrete like how to ride a bike.
Riding a bike is something most boys can explain in multiple steps.
Look at topics that are how-to for him to write about. How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how to play a sport, how to take care of a goldfish, and how to play mindcraft.
If your child is a creative writer, get him to start using a key word outline. This helps him to express his thoughts or words in a few key words.
This is hard to do for a word connoisseur and one who loves to write stories. All words and details are important to them, but it is critical to bring those thoughts from broad to narrow so their art is recognized.
Materials matter for any writer.
Many fancy things come and go in the writing world but there are two basic items that are keepers for me.
There is always a fine point on the pencil and it helps the print to be more neat. Erasing should be omitted all together from a draft copy. Mark out and keep going. This is hard to do for first time perfection seeking writer, but it emphasizes the point that writing is a process.
The writing pads have alternating colored lines that makes skipping lines easier.
From the beginning, teach your child to skip a line.
Errors and spelling can be corrected on the line below the writing and it helps them to visually see that writers take multiple steps before they show their final product.
My kids write on the white lines and save the colored line for rewriting and grammar mark ups.
On regular white paper, you can have them put an X on the next line so they know to skip it, but I find we prefer the notepad for our drafts.
The alternating color pad helps a child who struggles with being neat to stay in one area when writing as well. I have used them for final copies also when the older two boys were younger. So the pads have many uses and are keepers.
Writing is an Art and Should be Taught as an Art
Finding the gem in their writing, expression emotions or not and writing about topics that fire up our children are all ways to avoid tears and to help an aspiring writer.
Help them find their writing voice and the trickle of ideas will flow into a waterfall of graceful words.
I have to share this quote that I heart today since I got all giddy about sharing with you about how to teach writing.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
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