What is the goal when teaching writing in our homeschools? Based upon the typical requirements of school writing, you would be tempted to believe it is merely about the number of words and pages produced.
However, writing well is more than producing a mountain of sentences and endless red pen corrections. Writing is more than grammar and mechanics, but we often forget about the “soft skills” of writing.
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Misplaced Expectations in Writing
When I wanted to learn to knit, I bought a book and needles. I helplessly held the yarn and needles waiting for it to magically make sense.
Finally, a friend moved nearby that was an expert knitter. She was able to demonstrate casting on and how continental knitting differs from English knitting. After one lesson, I walked away with all the essential skills of knitting and I can make a mean garter stitch scarf, but that’s about it.
Knitting that same scarf over and over again hasn’t gotten me any closer to being a confident knitter. I need someone to demonstrate stitches, help me decipher a pattern, and show me how to correct my mistakes.
The expectation in the educational world is that children will become better writers simply by writing more. Daily journaling and frequent writing assignments are given in an attempt to get kids writing more, which many believe will ultimately make them better writers.
But just as knitting that boring scarf repeatedly won’t make me a better knitter, prolific writing doesn’t automatically equal improvement.
So what skills need developing for writing to improve? If our goal is to effectively communicate to our reader, we must work on our ability to communicate with preciseness and vivid description.
Chapter 2 of The Writer's Jungle explains the communication game in detail, but I’ll give you a quick idea of its purpose. Have your child look at a simple, yet multistep drawing. Their job is to describe to you how to draw the shapes.
The first time you can see the picture too before beginning to draw. This can help you in showing where their information was lacking. Perhaps there is a circle in the corner of the drawing, but they only tell you to draw a circle. You can put that circle anywhere to show they needed more description.
The goal is to help our children use writing as a tool of communication, yet often that communication is incomplete because they have a lack of direction and description.
You could also play this game with other tasks and do precisely what they tell you. Such as having them describe to you how to:
- Make a bed
- Address an envelope
- Make a sandwich
- Use a household appliance
- How to drive to the store
Even in verbal communication we often assume the other person has the same knowledge and perspective as we do which leads to them not fully understanding our message because we give incomplete information. How often have you been working on a house repair and the person on the ladder asks for the screwdriver? When you look down, there are five from which to choose. The communication was not clear.
When writing, the reader can’t even see the five screwdrivers. Not only do we have to tell them to hand us the tool, but we also have to describe where they are and how they look.
By using the communication game in our homeschools, we can demonstrate to our kids the necessity of ample information. Partial information won’t lead to them adequately communicating their ideas.
Another tool required to communicate effectively is the ability to draw upon our senses. Practicing keen observation can help develop this skill.
Of course, the apple is red, but can we elicit more from that observation? Is it dark or bright red? Is it more pink or orange? Would you say the shape is perfectly round or more oblong? How does it smell?
Chapter 3 in The Writer's Jungle describes keen observation and gives you some great question to use in eliciting a more thorough description from your kids, but this is an easy game to play.
A great starting point is to ask your kids to describe something using all five senses. A piece of fruit would be the most appealing. By doing this, they see that there is so much to say that will add to a reader’s understanding and experience of their writing.
Often, my kids will offer very keen observations about a smell or some random slime video on YouTube, and that’s okay. It’s doesn’t have to be a formal lesson, simply ask another question. Have them dig a little deeper and make you feel like you’re holding that slime in your hands.
Writing Well Takes More than Repetition
Whether knitting a scarf or writing a poem, doing something poorly over and over again rarely leads to improvement.
Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. ~ Vince Lombardi
Now, I’m not saying we need to demand perfection from our children’s writing. Often it’s our focus on perfect grammar and mechanics that leads to our children’s dread of writing.
By focusing on clear communication full of lively descriptions, we can help our children to improve their writing and expression.
One paragraph of well-developed prose is more beneficial than ten rote daily journal entries.
We shouldn’t let them struggle on their own. Our role as their parent and writing coach is to give them the tools needed to express all those wonderful thoughts for the world to read.
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Check out these other fantastic resources about teaching your child to write:
- Why It’s So Hard to Learn to Communicate through Writing by Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate
- Incorporating the Communication Game into Your Child’s Language Arts by Erin at Nourishing My Scholar
- Why Interesting Writing is More Than a Mountain of Words by Bethany at Homeschool Mindset with Bethany Ishee
- Why Brave Writer Is Such A Big Deal by Shawna at Not The Former Things
- Writing and Observing with all of Our Senses by Erin at Nourishing My Scholar