After reading, I’ve found that homeschooling parents are most concerned about their children’s writing ability. I understand that. As a writer and homeschool mom, I wanted my children to be excellent writers. When they weren’t, I was worried. But in this episode, I’m going to give you three reasons not to worry about your child’s writing.
Before I do, I invite you to subscribe to Grammar Galaxy’s monthly language arts missions. Each calendar includes seasonal writing prompts along with grammar, spelling, and reading missions–all free.
Now, if your child is not yet in high school and has writing that leaves a lot to be desired, know that I’ve been there. Here is why you shouldn’t worry.
First, children’s handwriting speed hinders writing
I tried so many curricula and tried to get my kids writing with all kinds of fun writing prompts I thought they would love. They didn’t love them. I just didn’t understand it. My kids were fun-loving and game for all of the hands-on learning activities we did in our unit studies. But writing was a no-go. It took me years to figure out that it had nothing to do with the curriculum or the prompts. The problem was they had slow handwriting speed. Their hand couldn’t keep up with their thoughts and it was no fun. In fact, slow handwriting speed was a problem in many subjects.
I did four things that made a big difference.
First, I focused on increasing their handwriting speed. My focus had been on correct letter formation. That’s a good focus when kids are first learning to write. I like two handwriting curricula — Handwriting Without Tears and Happy Handwriting. But if we persist in our focus on good handwriting without teaching speed, we’re in trouble. Imagine teaching a child a proper forehand in tennis and having them so focused on doing it correctly that they never hit quickly enough to get the ball over the net. That was our issue with handwriting.
I found research on handwriting speed and created pages for Grammar Galaxy Nebula that have kids working to increase their speed in writing the alphabet. I also make these handwriting speed forms available as a free download for subscribers. Will increasing handwriting speed in this way result in beautiful handwriting? It hasn’t for my kids, but it has made them more engaged in writing.
The second way I addressed slow handwriting is I allowed them to dictate to me in the early grades. Even if they could write themselves, if they preferred to speak their writing to me, I let them. The learning that takes place from your child giving dictation is immense. They learn to formulate their writing verbally, which is a unique skill. They see you spell, capitalize, and punctuate. And they see how rewarding writing can be when they have the handwriting speed they need to keep up with their own thoughts. So, dictating provides motivation to improve handwriting speed.
The third way I increased handwriting speed is having my kids take dictation with classmates. They took writing from me with their homeschooled friends. I used WriteShop copywork and dictation for this purpose. Students would copy a passage at home. I would then dictate it to them in class. My kids were highly motivated to keep up with their siblings and peers. This practice alone resulted in much improved handwriting speed and willingness to write. I also gave my kids a timed essay exam based on 7 Sisters Cinema Studies course. They were forced to write quickly.
Finally, I addressed slow handwriting by teaching my kids to type at an early age. I used a variety of typing games to develop this skill. They responded well to the digital medium and were motivated to write. Handwriting is important, but typing is even more important for our age of digital communication.
The first reason you shouldn’t worry about your child’s writing is that it may be related to slow handwriting speed. Take steps to address that and your child’s writing will improve.
The second reason you shouldn’t worry about your kids’ writing is their developmental level.
We don’t expect elementary students to do algebra because it requires abstract reasoning. This ability doesn’t develop until students are in at least 8th grade. My eldest was an advanced student yet his writing wasn’t on par with his performance in other subjects because he hadn’t matured.
Many parents complain to me that the grammar lessons their students learn aren’t translated into their writing. There are two main reasons for that. First, most grammar curriculum is taken out of context, using dry, disconnected lessons and sentences. It would be like having your student mix vinegar and baking soda in a lab and expecting them to bake. It’s boring and confusing for kids. That’s why I created Grammar Galaxy to teach the why behind grammar concepts using story.
The second reason grammar doesn’t get translated into writing is because it requires abstract reasoning. We ask students to know the meanings of words and how they’re spelled in addition to knowing the role they play in sentences. This is an advanced skill that many people honestly never develop. Waiting until a student is mature enough to teach grammar is just fine. But most parents believe that children need to be taught grammar and proper writing early. My goal with Grammar Galaxy is to provide a fun, memorable introduction to grammar that will make it much easier to practice when they’ve matured. If students have a positive view of grammar and writing, they are more likely to practice and master it with time.
I took tennis classes for years and one of the things I loved about them is the order of instruction. We started off with short drills. The instructor would teach us how to hit volleys. We would practice them with limited feedback. In other words, I wasn’t critiqued every time I hit the ball incorrectly. I would occasionally get a reminder to use proper footwork. We spent the majority of the lesson playing games. Sometimes the games required us to use the skill we’d just learned. Other times, we just played to improve. This instructional philosophy works brilliantly with writing, too. Provide a short lesson and drill and have your child write for fun without constant critique.
If you’ve addressed slow handwriting speed and your child still struggles with proper grammar, you probably need to give it time. Keep the lessons and practice periods short and provide lots of enjoyable writing practice.
The third reason you shouldn’t worry about your child’s writing is because your child isn’t yet motivated to write well.
If your child doesn’t have a why to write, why should she care if she capitalizes the first letter of a sentence or varies her sentence starters? As adults, we don’t focus on improving things that don’t matter to us, either.
How can we motivate our kids to care about writing well? I’ve hinted at this already. In the early years, we can make it fun. My kids love humor and they love competition. I combined these two aspects into their writing assignments by having a competition for who could write the funniest response to a writing prompt. I participated, too. Want some funny writing prompts? Find some for fall, winter, and spring.
But don’t stop there. Keep the focus of writing on self-expression and enjoyment in the elementary years. One problem with teaching writing is there is there is no way to achieve 100%. Every piece of writing can be improved. Many children feel discouraged by the red marks and corrections on their papers. Don’t get me wrong. That feedback is an important part of learning. But students learn the mechanics quickly when they are developmentally ready. The early years are a time of imperfect creativity. Think of writing the way you think of art. We don’t critique a young child’s stick figures or coloring outside the lines. We praise the work and enjoy it, knowing that the art will become more refined with practice. Writing is the same.
If you have a homeschool skeptic observing your child’s writing and critiquing, you can say that a psychologist who taught developmental psychology and is the author of language arts curriculum says that it’s more important for a child to enjoy writing than to write perfectly in the early years. I have experience teaching my own kids and my friends’ kids who had dyslexia and other learning challenges that bears the truth of this. All of them have become excellent writers because they were motivated. That’s my last suggestion.
Find a way to motivate your student to write well. A class with peers is excellent motivation. In my writing class, students were required to read their writing aloud or to pass it to a classmate to read and review. Teens who text and post on social media need to know how to communicate clearly, even if abbreviations and dropped punctuation are the norm. Teens generally don’t like to look foolish and will be motivated to improve.
Outside of a class and social sharing, your student’s goals may require writing. If your teen wants to get a job, to start a business, to solicit a donation, or to go on a mission trip, he has excellent motivation to write well. Often your student will come to you to have writing reviewed. This is an excellent opportunity to teach and review good grammar and writing when your child will be listening.
Writing is still an invaluable skill that we must teach our students. We shouldn’t hope that they will pick it up on their own. But we don’t have to worry if our kids’ writing skills aren’t excellent at early ages. Instead, we can focus on increasing handwriting and typing speed. We can take their developmental level into account and make writing fun. And when our students are developmentally ready, we can provide students with motivation by signing them up for a class or using writing to help them meet their goals.