Confession: an area which I feel laziest about teaching in our homeschool is writing composition.
Why? Because I have a good handle on how to write but don't know how to teach it. I can do it but don't know how to teach it and so many writing curriculums are so stupid and insulting that I refused to use them, including after hearing rave reviews and buying them. I let them sit and gather dust on the shelf. Besides, we have always been busy doing other good stuff with our time to always use the curriculum I bought.
I procrastinated on teaching this as my oldest is one of those kids who is highly verbal but struggled with penmanship handwriting. He resisted writing composition both using pencil and paper and using the computer keyboard. He could dictate and tell you a long fantastic story or a nonfiction narrative from a young age. I didn't see the point in me doing a lot of dictation as he seemed to be a never-ending well of stories, what did it matter if I wrote them down? I didn't need written proof that my kid has a great imagination. I wanted him to be in control of the process by having him do the writing. He is a very stubborn child and he also resisted using the keyboarding skills software so he was doing hunt and peck with two index fingers. He resisted me on all fronts regarding writing composition. I only had so much energy to expend since he sapped up my energy in other ways that were more critical.
In the early years with my older son I had shifted from radical unschooling to the Charlotte Mason method. One easy alignment with the CM method was to immerse in living books - very good books rich in language - which we actually were already doing. I kept hearing that reading good books helps a person become a good writer, and I hoped that was true.
My older son takes more of my time and energy. He is a lot of work. I was so sapped of energy from dealing with him that many times I benignly neglected my younger son's homeschool lessons. My younger son did a lot of piggy-backing off of my older son. If I wanted the older to learn Ancient History I'd read aloud to him and the younger son would listen in. If I was going to do a hands on activity they both did it.
What happened was when I finally would decide that the younger one had to learn something he learned it in a snap with zero effort. So I may have worried for months that he was behind in an area but procrastinated about it because I didn't want to put the energy into it that my older one had taken, then I'd teach him once and quickly he'd get it and it was over. This has repeated over and over in our "home school".
I also had the last couple of years of being over-scheduled with homeschool co-ops and we ran around a lot and they did their lessons with other people four of the five weekdays.
So my younger son continues to be a precocious learner. He absorbs things by osmosis that he overhears me and his older brother discussing. He learns what I teach him directly quickly. He also loves to work with total autonomy on assignments. He hates self-directed learning and instead wants to be told what to do. He thrives on knowing his expectations and loves fulfilling goals and feeling the satisfaction that comes with knowing you finished something up and did it correctly and well.
It has been about three years since I began using writing composition techniques and activities from Brave Writer. I first used the teacher manual Writer's Jungle and picked and chose activities from it. I had fantastic results when using various techniques to teach two homeschool co-op classes. At home I didn't have my kids focus on writing fiction as the class had done. For most weeks of one year (grade 7 and 4) my kids did a weekly freewrite. That really loosened them up.
I believe my older was in grade seven when he did a one month long class with Brave Writer which focused on rich language that started by analyzing the poem Jabberwocky. We all did one together on Nature Journaling.
When my younger was in grade five (last year) he took a half year homeschool co-op class that taught all the various kinds of writing and without complaint he banged out the assignments and got compliments from the teacher. What I found was he seemed to have a unique voice which is something that I love about the Brave Writer philosophy. I don't want my kids sounding like robot formula writers.
For my son's grade 9 and grade 6 year (this year) I had them do the Institute for Excellence in Writing's Student Writing Intensive (home course via DVD).
I have been teaching my 9th grader to write pursuasive essay by myself. I have been using some info in the book 501 Writing Prompts (see my blog post here).
Yesterday I blogged a story Learning Writing by Reading that happened last week when I taught my younger son to write a five paragraph factual essay.
Today I am more reassured that indeed reading a lot has helped my son's vocabulary grow and to see that it also is helping them realize what is good writing and what is not.
I still am not happy with my sporadic and poorly planned out writing lessons for my kids. The older one has about a year to get his act together before scores start really matternig (i.e. the SAT essay) and he's the one who resists and is intense to deal with. The younger one I am not worried about as whenever I get my act together and buckle down myself he will just do what I say (maybe with a few grumbles) and he will bang it out and do just fine. He is my Mr. Opinionated and Mr. Logic right now so the pursuasive writing will be a snap, I know that.
I think one of my struggles is knowing how much to push it.
If you have a kid who learns easily should you give a basic level of writing to get it done quickly or load on the work to have it be challenging and maybe push them to become an excellent and very confident writer not just a "good enough" writer?
If you have a struggling writer who is great at verbal communication do you let them scrape by with the minimum they need to just get through it with your sanity intact or do you push hard against their resistance to give them a huge workload?
At the end of the day the kids and the homeschooling mother only have so much energy to expend on learning one subject. Choices have to be made about priorities. It's not always clear-cut. This is another example of why trying to put every child through a standard curriculum to spend X amount of time learning Y subject and trying to get them all to perform at an A+ grade level is just not possible. Some kids work faster and with ease while others need to spend a lot of time on something. Sometimes kids will just always hate a certain subject and sometimes doing the minimum seems okay.
I just can't imagine not homeschooling with flexibility in order to give each kid what they need. What kids need is sometimes rigorous in one area, moderate in another area and "just good enough to meet the minimum" in other areas. If we try to teach everything both a mile wide and a mile deep we'll run out of hours in the day and we'll stress ourselves out to burnout or to a breaking point.
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