When I first started teaching my children to write, I think I truly forgot that “Writing is very hard to do well.” I found myself so removed from learning it myself that its challenge was forgotten. While it is hard to do well, The Core provides a simple plan to teach it well.
Continuing today with the At Home with The Classical Method series, we are talking about writing in two ways: 1) the technical act of putting pencil to paper and 2) the technical and creative act of composition.
In teaching your child to write well, it is important to begin with the basics.
1) Ease him into sitting quietly and concentrating on the work of copying for short amounts of time, gradually increasing.
2) Teach correct pencil grasp. (I found this and this very helpful.)
3) Focus on neatness, spacing, and proportion. It is better to do just a few letters well, then to do lines and lines of so-so letters. Also know that children typically copy the last letter they did, rather than the first letter. Keeping them neat is key.
4) Teach the rules of English grammar: punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, sentence structure, paragraph structure, etc.
A key part of classical education is forming a strong foundation of basics to prepare children for a lifetime of learning-anything-freedom. A rough outline from The Core (p.114) on what the development of these skills could look like is as follows:
4 years and younger — Children learn to love words through reading with their parents.
5 years — Children learn to sit still and manage their hands, arms, and papers through coloring or drawing.
6 years — Children learn to sit and copy words.
7 years — Children learn phonics and spelling rules.
8 years — Children learn to write a complete sentence.
9 years — Children learn to diagram a sentence.
10 years — Children learn to form sentences into a paragraph.
11 years — Children learn to “dress up clear, concise sentences.”
12 years — Children learn to form a coherent essay using beautiful words.
Through these years, you can see the development from technical writing alone to writing with technical + creative skills. Since the technical skills are learned well during the grammar stage, it frees the mind up to be creative in the logic and rhetoric stages. Rather than expecting the child to write creatively at a too-young age, the foundation is formed for him to be creative when developmentally ready.
Another trademark of classical education is teaching the child to recognize quality through exposing him to the best this world has to offer. That applies to the work given to a child to copy. Give him the best the writing world has to offer, because through that you are teaching him not only the technicalities of writing, but the beauty that can be too.
A few tips that have worked in our home —
* Mix up the medium when doing copywork. We’ve used chalk, dry erase markers, colored pencils, etc while using personal sized work surfaces. Sometimes just trying with a new pencil one day is enough to add a touch of excitement to the copywork.
* When done on paper, storing the copywork in a 3 ring binder helps to mark the child’s progress through the year. My guys love looking back to see how they were writing before to how they are writing now.
* Occasionally snapping a photo of them with their best work to send to Daddy, Grammy, or Aunt Laura with pride. They love capturing their work and the encouraging responses they receive back from loved ones.
What about you, homeschooling friends? What works well for teaching writing in your home? We’d all love to hear, so please share!
(p.s. – There are even more writing specifics, in The Core, including teaching the structure of English, a punctuation and capitalization checklist, and correct paragraph structure.)