Teaching writing can be one of the most intimidating parts of homeschooling. As I’ve helped teach our five children to write, I’m grateful for the many wise writing mentors that I’ve been able to glean from. Here are some of the tips I’ve stored up for teaching writing.
Be a scribe for your child.
The physical act of writing and the act of composing are two different skills. Writing for your children allows them to focus on putting words together to say what they want. When my daughter was too young to do the writing in her own nature journal, I asked her what she observed and wrote it down for her.
I even used this method for teaching my son math. I wrote the numbers in his workbook since writing was frustrating for him. That way he could focus on math, which he loved, and we could work on fine motor skills later.
Use oral narration to work on composition skills.
Charlotte Mason considered oral narration the early stage of writing compositions. In the early years, focusing on narration allows your child to work on composition without worrying about the physical process. Narration is simply reading a section of a book to your child and then asking them tell it back to you in their own words.
Oral narration can be used in history, science, reading, or any other subject to make sure your child is comprehending the content. Charlotte Mason says that narration requires a ‘conscious mental effort’ from the scholar. This conscious effort is more effective than filling in blanks in workbooks and helps to solidify what is being taught. In a public school setting, this would not be practical for the teacher, but as a homeschool teacher you can have the luxury of putting aside the workbooks and relying on narration to check comprehension.
“Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and that which he cannot tell, he does not know… ” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 172)
According to Charlotte Mason’s recommendations, you can transition to written narrations around age nine. At this point, your child should have completed many oral narrations and the switch will not be difficult.
Use copywork to work on the mechanics of writing.
Copywork is a simple but effective way to work on writing skills. Choose well-written excerpts form literature and have your child copy them. At the beginning, this may only be a short sentence. In this way, they can focus on capitalization, spelling, and punctuation apart from having to come up with original content.
You can chose passages for copywork from books you are reading, history or science texts, poetry, Scripture, or hymns. If you are using my nature study, some of the copywork could come from the poems, hymns, and Scripture each month. You may also want to add in a few passages from literature, so your child encounters more normal sentence structure. If you don’t want to pick your own passages, you can use an old-fashioned speller. Spellers usually have passages organized according to spelling rules.
Once they are writing, don’t be afraid to help them with ideas for content and style.
It is more than okay to help your child with his writing. It is recommended. You can give your child a choice of subjects to write about, adjectives to dress up a sentence, opening lines for their paper, or other choices of sylistic techniques. “You may have to “spoon feed” some examples many times, but ultimately they will start to think of possibilities on their own.” Andrew Pudewa, Four Deadly Errors of Teaching Writing
Example: I used this technique recently when I was helping my daughter with a poem. I suggested rhyming words and asked her which she would like to use. Even adults consult rhyming dictionaries when writing poetry, so this was not out of the ordinary. The poem was about spring, so when she couldn’t think of what else to write, we looked through recent photos that we had taken outside to give her ideas.
Read good literature to build a sense of what quality writing sounds like.
Children learn writing by reading good examples of literature and then using these techniques in their own writing many times until it becomes a part of them.
I hope these tips for teaching writing take some of the mystery out of how to teach your child. You may also enjoy 20+ Real-Life Writing Ideas.