9 Tear-Free Tips for Teaching Writing
by Stacey Wolking
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant
Many years ago when I was homeschooling, teaching writing to my oldest child seemed to come fairly easy. Now for my confession: while watching my friends struggle to teach writing to their kids, I am ashamed to admit that I thought I must be a pretty good writing teacher.
Haha . . . not!
After enduring many struggles while attempting to teach his younger brother (and eventually two more kids), I realized that it wasn’t me at all! Turns out, our oldest child had some natural gifting in that area. (So I know I don’t get to take credit for that adult son’s successful writing career whose résumé includes Communications Advisor for Speaker of the House John Boehner, Press Secretary for Senator Marco Rubio, and currently, Communications Director for U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy.)
Unless you or your child are particularly gifted in writing, it can be a real challenge. It’s often one of the most difficult subjects for a parent to teach—and one of the most tear-worthy for a student to learn.
One reason writing may be a struggle is because it requires so many different skills and processes. Not only is a child expected to come up with accurate content (either the correct answer or interesting and creative prose), but he is also expected to remember all the paragraph, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation rules—all while forming each letter correctly and neatly. Whew! That’s a lot to think about all at the same time!
With this in mind, here are my best tips and tricks for teaching writing that I learned through my experiences with talented AND challenged writers —the things that have helped my children go from frustrated tears to actually enjoying the writing process. I hope they’ll be helpful for your children, too!
- Start with some small exercises that will allow your child to taste success. Here are two ideas:
- You do the writing. Offer your child some fun prompts and have him tell you a story while you write it down for him. Then he can proudly read his story to daddy, to a sibling, or even to grandma over Skype. Make this a fun game while you encourage his creative storytelling. You could then introduce very small writing assignments. Make it manageable—maybe just a few words. And when he is successful, be sure to respond with lots of praise!
- Model creativity and the enjoyment of writing. When you think he is ready to try some writing, ease him into it with the silent storytelling game. You write one sentence on a piece of paper, then pass the paper to him so that he can add one sentence, and then he hands it back to you for another—and back and forth it goes. Be sure to keep it light and fun and enjoy lots of laughter over the crazy developing story!
- Step 1: Have your student write down some thoughts and ideas.
- Step 2: Go back and form those phrases into complete sentences.
- Step 3: Arrange those sentences into paragraphs. I learned from Jeanne Mulligan’s Pencil Playground that cutting the paper into strips and manually rearranging the sentences can help a child organize his thoughts.
- Step 4:Once he has a complete paragraph, have your child go back and look at his spelling, punctuation and capitalization, one at a time.
Given the unique challenges posed by teaching your child to write, you may sometimes wonder whether it’s worth so much time and effort (I know I have!). Are excellent writing skills really that important? I’ll leave you with some encouraging thoughts from HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris:
All knowledge uses one of two languages—either the language of words or the language of numbers. With this fact in mind, the lesson I’d like to share with you today is this: strive for mastery in just two areas—language and math. . . .
A good academic education will provide a well-rounded exposure in a broad variety of disciplines that we call the arts and sciences. But your emphasis at this stage should be in mastery of the two languages. I say this because I fear that homeschooling parents have become sidetracked and forgotten some of the basics. . . .
Teach your children to read and write to a level of mastery. Math skills should also reach a level of basic mastery. Emphasize these basics, and all the rest will be added unto you.