Teaching creative writing or composition is the scariest academic homeschooling task that I face.
I graduated from college with honors, receiving only three B’s. All three came in English classes. All of them because of my writing or composition grades.
So now you know the truth, I’m not a writer and I have the grades to prove it.
Mark and I have pieced together our “creative writing program” from those who are more qualified than we are.
One of the “light bulb’ moments came when I was speaking with Denise, wife of R. C. Sproul Jr.. I was asking about homeschool writing curriculum and she told me that they had not yet started teaching writing to their children (their oldest was around 10 or 11). It was another moment that I realized that we don’t need to follow the pattern of the government schools.
Creative writing requires a confluence of several complex skills and it’s quite possible that a child may not have mastered all those skills by the time they are 9 or 10. In my first post in this series I laid out the steps that we take to get our children ready to learn composition.
We do have our children write before they are 10-13 (and some of our children have chosen to write long before that age), but when we do, we focus on composition and overlook most of the grammar and spelling errors.
Read, read, read
If children are accustomed to hearing and reading great literature, they will have a pattern to follow to produce good literature. Reading will also give them something to write about.
Read aloud to your kids. Set aside a regular time each day for them to read themselves. (We have one hour each afternoon when our children who are too old to nap have the opportunity to read.)
Write, write, write
Writing is a skill that takes practice, lots and lots of practice. We like to have our children write something several times a week (ideally daily, but that doesn’t always happen).
Give them something interesting to write about.
Often the most difficult part of writing is figuring out something to write about. Having an interesting topic is the first step to enjoying the process of writing.
I often turn questions that they ask into writing their writing assignment. “Good question. Why don’t you look that up and write about it?”
We recently found an Eastern Fence Lizard in the woods and the children decided to keep him for a pet. Their assignment was to write a paper about the lizard and it’s care.
I often ask the children to ‘narrate on paper’ something that we read aloud during the day. Apologia Science is well suited to this type of review and so are descriptive passages from quality literature books and even simple story lines within a complex story.
A couple of my children are excellent pen pals and get lots of practice writing letters. Others enjoy journaling daily or writing stories.
Writing is an art and it is learned through practice.
Do you remember as a child that every paper you turned in had to be a masterpiece. You would turn in a paper with the dread knowledge that you were going to have to spend the next several days to several weeks re-writing that paper until it was ‘perfect’.
We don’t do this with our children. We very rarely require a revision, but rather offer ideas of how they can make the next paper a little better. We also, re-write portions of their paper right on the original, demonstrating how the improvements may look in this paper.
Think of it as teaching art. Would you take a picture that your child turned in, mark all over it showing them how they did it wrong or how it could be better and then hand it back to them expecting them to draw the same thing all over fixing their ‘errors’? Do you think it might quench their passion for art?
Sometimes there is a topic or paper that warrants the effort to revise and rewrite and going through that process occasionally is beneficial practice.
1.) Our children write something. If it’s a ‘paper’ we have them double space to leave room for notes and corrections.
2.) We read our child’s paper and praise them for the areas of improvement. “Good job with varying your sentence structure this time.”
3.) We may ignore ‘appropriate’ grammar and spelling errors. (Errors that are appropriate to our child’s skill level.) Our goal is not to overwhelm the child with negatives. We will work on these grammar and spelling errors during our times of dictation/copy work.
4.) We have the child correct ‘habitual’ spelling or grammar errors right on the paper. If a child tends to struggle with being lazy in their writing we will have them re-write the entire paper, but this is extremely rare as we reserve it for persistent laziness.
Remember, that when your child starts putting all these writing skills together to compose their own papers, you probably will see an increase in errors simply because they are having to concentrate on content. Be patient, the improvement will come.
5.) We point out one or two ways that our child could improve the paper. “I would like to see you using better quality descriptive words. Let me show you how to get ideas from a Thesaurus.” or “This passage seems unclear, how could you have communicated that idea more clearly?”
6.) The next day we assign our child another topic on which to write a paper and we remind them of the improvements that we expect to see.
7.) Repeat. You will have to remind them more than once to vary their sentence structure or use better quality words. However, you will find that they will begin to apply these principles more and more as they continue to practice.
Make use of some teacher training
Years ago Mark and I purchased IEW’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style. This 10 hour seminar teaches the teacher how to teach writing.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not this formulaic approach is beneficial because after all writing is an art. This is my two cents as a non-writer who employs very few of Pudewa’s techniques myself, this training is extremely beneficial and since you can implement as much or as little of it as you like, it need not be formulaic at all.
- Confidence for a non-writer
- Understanding for how difficult the process is (this helps with mommy’s patience)
- Insight into what needs improvement (varying sentence structure, improving the quality of words used)
- Helps on how to help your student with those improvements
- All the types of papers your child should learn how to write and the proper forms for each of them
It’s a fun seminar that your children will probably enjoy going through with you.
IEW offers a lot of programs and student helps, but all anyone needs to teach writing is the course on Teaching Writing Structure and Style. If you are a writer yourself, you certainly don’t need this course. However, as a non-writer, I’ve found it extremely helpful.
How do you teach creative writing in your home?
Visit the other moms of many to read about how they teach creative writing.
For more Moms of Many posts including all of our past topics visit the 4 Moms page.