Thursday, February 10, 2011


Every day, I worry about something - big or small - related to homeschooling.  The one thing I worry about more than anything else is writing, in all its aspects. From an educational perspective, I think writing can be broken into three categories: penmanship, grammar and mechanics, and what I call the business of writing - knowing and working with different forms, such as poetry and stories, as well as being able to construct a sentence, and a paragraph and string these together coherently and orderly.

Bean is "advanced" in many areas academically.  (This is a whole other blog post, but as I tell her, she is in Anneke grade).  She is way ahead of where her age-level peers are expected to be in math, history and science.  She is somewhat ahead in reading.  When it comes to writing though, she is, at most, writing as other 7 and 3/4 year olds do.

Her penmanship has gotten better over time, but she persists in starting many letters at the bottom instead of at the top and still reverses some letters.  I have wondered many times about whether occupational therapy was necessary, but keep hoping it will work itself out in time.  At the beginning of our "school year," in August, I was thought some "remediation" might help, so I started having writing in a journal, just concentrating on one letter a day, capital and lowercase, and one number.  I wrote an example at the top of the page, with arrows showing which direction each part of the letter should be written.  She might produce one or two perfect specimens, then fill the rest of the page quickly and sloppily.  Or she might insist on writing every letter her way, not the "right" way.  Even when she was trying, only a few letters out of a hundred might match my example.  My thinking behind this exercise was that doing it the correct way a bunch of times would create muscle memory.  I realized though, that she was either incapable or unwilling to focus on writing the letters correctly.

So I stopped the journal pages and had her start doing the Handwriting Without Tears cursive workbook.  I thought she might take to the more fluid writing style.  She has always disliked the drawings in the HWT books and didn't like them any better in the cursive book.  We have kept up with that sporadically and in recent weeks, she has all but stopped working on cursive.  I do not have strong feelings about her learning cursive, but I do think she needs to be able to read cursive and write her own signature.

I know that if she were in a regular school classroom, she would be doing more writing every day, and that it would get easier over time.  She knows I think it's important and she often comes up with writing projects that are completing of her own making: writing "reports" about things she is reading, writing short letters, copying down song lyrics.  Usually, these are all only a few sentences long, but when she is writing for herself, she has much better penmanship than when I require her to write something specific.

The problem is, we need to provide work samples to our public school consultant teacher as part of the state reporting requirements. Often, these projects are written in scattered journals or on scraps of paper.  I have to hunt them all down to show our consultant.  Sometimes, when she's written things privately and not shared them with us, I feel it would be a violation to show them to the consultant.  She really hates the idea of having to show work to Joanne.  It has nothing to do with Joanne, she just doesn't like having to talk about her work or prove her knowledge about anything - unless it's her idea.

The only part of Language Arts that Bean finds interesting is vocabulary and discovering word origins and meanings.  She loves using  We used to work on grammar and mechanics, but after playing musical workbooks for several months, I stopped pushing it. The curriculum we are using has the language arts lessons embedded within both the literature and social studies activities, but she usually finds reasons for not wanting to do the exercises.  Even though her writing is fairly small, she gets anxious about only having a few lines to complete.  Most of the activities are presented with the expectation that the student will answer in complete sentences.  There are none of the endless "fill-in-the-blank" exercises that I remember and that are common in workbooks.  She doesn't like those either, but at least they would give her more practice and allow her to build up to writing longer sentences.  I have offered to let her write her answers in a journal, but she doesn't want to do that because she knows I will then show it to Joanne.

I go back and forth on the whole writing thing between insisting on a certain amount or type of writing everyday and relaxing my expectations to see how she develops on her own.  Right now, I'm following the latter approach.  I know that she is always more willing if she is interested and if it doesn't seem like pointless busy work.    Sometimes I am okay with this, and sometimes I just want her to do what I think she would have to do in "regular school." I have heard of kids who are unschooled who don't write at all until they are 13, then they enroll in a community college course and they start writing like the Dickens.  I've always thought these were homeschooling urban legends

Lately, I am getting a lot of inspiration and validation from Creative Homeschooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families, in which Lisa Rivero notes that many gifted children have asynchronous development: they can be ahead in some areas while at developmental level in others.  I have not investigated this further, but she also says that many gifted kids lag in handwriting.

My current plan is to keep working through the MBtP curriculum, one unit at a time, and keep offering the activities to her, but not forcing them.  I have been gathering the materials to do a homemade Poetry unit whenever we finish MBtP- or whenever we decide to be done with it.  This will include both reading and writing poetry.  I am also thinking about using If You're Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You've Gotta Have This Book to start using for daily writing projects.

Sketching in the backyard

1 comment:

  1. You might also check out the book Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye. The writing activities in there are great! I did them with a group of 7-8 year olds for a class and they loved them!