September 25, 2015

No Busywork, Worksheets or Workbooks? (‘Riting)

One does not need a curriculum or workbooks for penmanship or to teach a child to write. Writing is a tool of learning and communication, not just a subject. So, I like to treat writing as a tool. Here are some ways to teach writing without busywork, worksheets, and workbooks:

I. Strategies for Learning to Write (Penmanship).

Strategies for learning to write is helping children who have little or no writing skills, teaching them how to form letters, and helping them to become fluent in their penmanship.

Get a composition book for your child to use as a journal. Let him decorate the cover. If he is not yet writing, have him tell you what he wants to write about his day. You write it for him. Help him see that this is important by letting him see you write in your journal. It can be as simple each day, as a list of things you did in school, caring for the home and caring for each other.

Manuscript letters (printed) have certain basic elements, circles, humps, diagonal lines, and vertical lines. Pour flour on a jelly roll cookie sheet. Tap it on the counter to level the flour. Draw the basic elements of printed letters in the flour. Let your child copy what he sees on the cookie sheet, using his finger tip.

Teach them to combine these shapes to write letters. Write the letters on lined paper and let them copy what they see. Copying uses at least three times the brain as tracing does.

Once they can copy all the letters give them Bible verses and quotes to copy in their journal. Build up to longer and longer copy work. Being able to write a whole page neatly is a process and takes time. This helps them learn good writing patterns and strengths their fingers for essay writing later.

First, keep a Book of Centuries as a family. After learning about a person or event, create a page together for the Book of Centuries. Later, once the child is writing on his own, he can create his own Book of Centuries.

Keep a Book of Nations as a family first. After learning about a nation or a state, create a page together for the Book of Nations, once the child is writing on his own, he can keep his own Book of Nations.

Create a portfolio to track learning. That is the reason the Family Scholar Portfolio, Aspiring Scholar Portfolio, and Personal Scholar Portfolio were created. These are available in the Universal Homeschool Record Keeping System Bundle Here.

II. Oral Composition (Pre-Composition)

Your child needs to learn how to write, develop the discipline of habit in writing at least one page of copy work, be able to organize his thoughts and express himself well, verbally, before he should be expected to write compositions. Self-expression needs to be developed orally. Charlotte Mason had children do a lot of oral narration (several years), before they wrote narrative compositions. Several years of oral composition, beginning at six years old, will lay a foundation for written composition around 11 years old, when coupled with writing strategies above.


Have your child do an oral narration of books experienced (he read or was read to him). To narrate is to retell or summarize the story in his words.

Nature Walks and "Picture Paining"

Charlotte Mason had children do "Picture Painting." While on a nature walk have the child observe a scene and then return to you and and paint an oral picture with words, giving an oral report on what he saw.

Picture Study

This is studying a picture and then without the picture in sight, describing the picture.

Stepping into Character

This is researching a character and then giving a dramatic biographical sketch, speaking in first person, or as a news reporter.

Memory Work

Have your child memorize scripture, poems and quotes.

Build a Book of Centuries & a Book of Nations

Have your child help you build a Book of Centuries and a Book of Nations. You read aloud, he tells you what he wants to add in those books and you do the write up until he is able.

Show and Tell

Let your child show and tell what your child about their favorite subject or something they have created or learned.

Dinner Time Discussions

Parents begin by sharing something they have learned that day and let the children also share.

P.O.W.E.R. Talks Formula (from the Articulate Executive)

Teach your children this easy way to prepare a talk or presentation.

Begin wit a Punch opening statement.

Keep to One topic.

Use Windows or stories to connect the audience.

Catch your audience's Ear, by speaking conversationally.

Help your audience with Retention of your talk, through summarizing key points, challenge the audience

Spelling and Grammar

Spelling and Grammar are very abstract. While younger children can learn some of the rudiments of spelling and grammar, application often lags until later elementary years and improves in the middle school years.

I created a Spelling and a Grammar lesson each week in the Power of an Hour. This way they can become familiar with basic conventions of writing. I include activities for older children to do in both finding and demonstrating grammar concepts.

IV. Composition

Four kinds of essays your child will need to be able to write, to do well in college and business. Children also need to learn how to write correspondence, research and site sources.

A. Narrative Writing

Narrative writing is telling a story, such as writing:

  • A Book Report.
  • A Family History story.
  • About an event they have witnessed
  • A story.
  • A Field Trip Report.
  • About a personal experience.
  • In a Book of Centuries.

B. Expository Writing

Expository Writing is exposing, explaining or providing information about the subject.

  • Write a book report.
  • Keep a Book of Nations.
  • Create a portfolio for tracking their learning. I created the Family Scholar Portfolio, Aspiring Scholar Portfolio, and the Personal Scholar Portfolio for this reason. This is a place to track and for them to explain what they are learning.

C. Persuasive Writing

Persuading someone to your point of view.  Advertisers use persuasive writing.

  • A logical arguement.

D. Technical Writing

Technical writing is explaining how things work:

  • DIY
  • Recipies
  • How to articles.

V. Other Important Writing

A. Correspondence

Correspondence is writing letters. Correspondence can include several different kinds of essays in one letter.

Teach your child how to write thank you notes for gifts they have received.  

Sending a thank you note to someone for expending extra effort for our child is another time we should encourage our child to write a thank you note.

Sending a thank you note to an interviewer after an interview is another time we should encourage our children to write a thank you note.

Teach your child how to address a personal and a business correspondence. .

Encourage your children to write grandparents and share what the child is learning or about things the child is interested in. 

B. Research and Report

In research and report writing, one researches a topic. Then one can use narrative, expository, persuasive, and technical writing, in reporting on the subject.

We have used several forms of research, such as:

  • Research a topic of interest.
  • I like children to research and find out about their progenitors because it makes history come alive. I have done this with 10 year-olds.
  • We assigned a single Gospel topic for everyone to research and then report to the family. I find it is amazing how each one shares a different perspective.

VI. Pre-Writing helps

Prewriting activities help us gather our thoughts, organize, and can help us outline and better express our thoughts.

  • Lists
  • Brain Storming - writing down all ideas
  • Clustering - grouping brainstormed ideas
  • Pros and Cons

VII. Helpful Resources

  • Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series vol. 1 to be very helpful.
  • "Any Child Can Write" by Robert Weiner
    He writes on helpful methods on getting children started on the right foot with writing.
  • "Eagle's Wings: Comprehensive Handbook of Phonics for Spelling, Reading, and Writing" [Mortimer & Smith] 
    I also have found this book has a fabulous Chapter 8 on Learning basic Penmanship. It is really the only chapter I ever use. They first teach lower case with poems to help a child remember how to write the letter. Then the same for upper case. They then teach the Cursive by the strokes and the letter families that use them. My favorite in that same chapter is the list of 600 Sight Words. They are well organized topically and if a child can read, they should be able to quickly find the words they need! I place this in the back cover of their binders for quick reference. I see it as a valuable tool to help them while they are learning to spell. Many of these words break the spelling rules. In anything elementary children are likely to read they will run into the words on this list about 90% of the time.
  • The Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment by L. P. Benezet.
    This is also about a Language Arts- Composition 

VIII. Power of and Hour Languagae Arts Posts 

As you can see, teaching writing does not need to rely on busywork, worksheets, or workbooks! What other writing techniques have you found helpful in teaching children to write?