For years we have heard that having books available in every room, reading aloud to children often and modeling the habit of reading fosters literacy in children. Writing is the flip side of the literacy coin. Few realize that these strategies apply to both lifelong readers and lifelong writers.
In our family, writing is a part of every day life for children and adults alike. When my family visits, the children witness their aunt writing her “morning pages” before breakfast. They then gather around as their uncle reads his latest poem, inspired by cooking said breakfast:
The Bacon Thieves
The bacon thieves are cunning;
dextrous fingers filled with guile.
And though five pounds before me stands, I see five devious smiles.
A pitter pat of tiny feet a pirouette and then
a slice of bacon disappears to tiny Vivienne.
But she’s so small and I’ve so much
what consequence could be?
A flash of hood, and downturned head
the rarest sight to see
three pieces lost, in a flash
to the elusive Henry.
Behind me there’s a roaring laugh.
Clomping boots make quite a din.
Bacon hanging from the lips
of mighty Madeleine.
GB please I’ll set aside
a plate made just for you.
No thanks she says
and in her grin I see there’s naught to do.
Lovely sweet Olivia picks lightly.
Knowing she should share.
But hither comes Louisa
Louisa doesn’t care.
Like waves upon the rocks
oe’r and oe’r
a crashing tide
Each slice I lay upon the plate
is gone before the next is fried.
And thusly lays before me
bitter desolation’s empty leaves.
No breakfast plate has yet escaped the wily bacon thieves.
good and noble David
asks if bacon I did save?
I hang my head and swear next morn
to hide it all
within the microwave.
Inherent similarities exist between the different forms of composition, such as writing and drawing. Consider the paintings below.
These are paintings of the same goat by two of my daughters. The similarities are obvious, and yet the styles are very distinctive.
Likewise with writing, our cadences and some vocabulary have a family flavor, yet each individual has a clear and recognizable voice. Since writing is a natural part of our everyday life, it isn’t something that we fight, worry, or cry about. It’s a favorite pastime to enjoy alone or as a group. Impossible, you say? Are you dubious that this could become a reality in your home as well? Let’s look at some specific strategies to help make it so.
Consider how children learn to cook or paint. Do you buy a cooking curriculum and fight about spices or cover their paintings in giant red Xs? Why should writing be any different?
- You have to really BELIEVE that there is more than one correct way to phrase a sentence and more than one appropriate style. If you truly value your child’s unique writing voice, that will carry through and make teaching easier every step of the way. One way to demonstrate this respect is by asking questions rather than making corrections.
“Did you mean to put progeny in the third paragraph, or did you mean prodigy?”
“Do you think a shorter sentence here would be more powerful?”
“Is there a specific reason that you want this word capitalized?”
“Is this punctuation here for added emphasis?”
“Is there another word that you would rather use?”
It’s not enough to simply ask the questions. You must accept the answers. Just as my family’s vegetable soup varies from yours, neither is inherently superior. Sometimes the addition of an unexpected ingredient, such as a stone, has a very deliberate purpose.
- I find it easiest to devote the first day of any writing assignment to content only. This is the time for brainstorming and crazy ideas that will probably be edited out later, but may blaze a path that would not otherwise be traversed. This is a right-brain activity. Ideas can be typed, scrawled, graphed, drawn, or photographed; it doesn’t matter. Now walk away, and leave the rest for another day.
I can already hear the naysayers.
“This will never work.”
“The real world has rules.”
“What about college applications?”
I have graduated two children from our homeschool using this method. Both have excelled in their college writing assignments. Our experience has been that professors admire creativity and adore students who love to write. They don’t get enough of them. Does this mean I do not teach writing structures such as the 5-paragraph essay? Of course not. Structures are tools in the proverbial arsenal.
- Revise on the second day. This is the time for moving paragraphs around and asking yourself what needs to be cut and what needs to be added – for finding exactly the right words and phrases. This is not the time to labor over spelling or punctuation.
- Editing ideally occupies the third day. It is very helpful to have the student read their writing aloud.
“Are you happy with how it sounds?”
“Does it convey what you intended to say?”
“Does it sound finished?”
These are questions that only the author can answer.
Just as children who grow up in a family where adults enjoy cooking learn to cook and children who grow up in a family where adults enjoy painting learn to paint, so too children who grow up surrounded by writers learn to write. Writing should be done in a spirit of collaboration rather than condemnation. One way to achieve this is by requesting the children’s help when you are revising your own writing. We try to create the same close, warm feelings about writing together as we do when reading aloud. This is critical because even published authors can find the editorial process stressful and intimidating.
- Of course, in order for your children to help you edit, you’re going to have to do some writing of your own. How can they value something that they do not see valued by others? Writing is not a subject to be checked off of the daily planer. It’s a way of life.
- Finally, the reading of various authors and genres is an often neglected prerequisite of becoming a good writer. How can anyone find their distinctive voice without having found the voices which resonate within them?
So, if you are tired of the fighting and the crying, snuggle down with your child and a cup of hot tea for some special time together.
I’m writing, won’t you join me?
Genevieve–is a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .