I want to teach writing in a natural way, because I believe that is the only way to inspire a love of writing and develop confident writers. Throughout nature, we can see cycles. When a plant is permitted to move through its natural cycle, it develops and grows into a beautiful flower, with little interference from us, and absolutely no force.
Natural. Nature. Cycles!
There is a natural cycle to writing, and understanding this can empower you to inspire your children to love writing and grow into great writers. Some home school parents neglect writing in the early years, only to stress highly academic writing as college entrance approaches and they begin to panic. Although we should not force our children to write when they are in Love of Learning Phase (typically before puberty), that does not mean that we neglect the development of writing. So what can you do that will lay a foundation for great academic writing--essays and research papers, and perhaps a publishable novel--when it is needed (later)?
The seeds of the natural writing cycle are stories. Any stories. Stories about dreams. My son loves to tell me about his dreams, and then I record it in a journal with space for him to add a picture. Stories about their every day life. Each evening, sit down together and ask your child about his favorite thing that happened that day. Record his life stories in a journal. Write these stories exactly as your child describes them--verbatim. Do not correct wording or even comment on the stories at this point. You can insert correct punctuation, which is a great way to model punctuation, but don't explain the punctuation unless the child asks.
Have you noticed that you are doing all the writing? Before the child writes, you write for her. Allow her to simply tell her stories. Speaking, narrating, simply forming her life and dreams into words comes before she does any of the writing herself. All children are different, and each child will want to write down her own stories at different ages. Allow your child to be the guide. Do not push and decide for her when she should do the writing herself. If you encourage your children in telling their stories, and then show them the stories in print, they will want to write on their own eventually.
Many children evolve to creative stories, and you can record these as well. As the child and the stories mature, you can ask questions to help the child embellish the stories--question the details of the setting or physical appearance of characters.
The next step in the natural writing cycle is the seed of essay writing. It is the act of encouraging a child to express his opinion in writing. These are not formally structured essays. They are simply the child's opinion, and eventually some evidence to support that opinion. Young children may write a note to their parents to express their discontent with a family rule or situation. Great! They are viewing writing as a tool of personal expression. I don't recommend assigning topics before the age of 12-years-old, and only within the context of a class or project the student has bought into. But we can encourage children to express their opinions and to include their reasoning and any evidence or examples they can think of in writing. They can even incorporate that story-writing to make their opinions more compelling.
According to the California State Standards for Language Arts, children should be writing paragraphs by 1st grade (that's 6-years-old for any home schoolers not keeping track), and essays by 4th grade (9-years-old). The standards then explain how the essay is continually taught for the next 5-6 years of school. What a great way to get kids to hate writing! I disagree with this approach. Students do not need to be introduced to essays until they are 12-years-old (about 6th or 7th grade). And it doesn't take 5 years to teach essay writing (unless you start too early). However, they do need a foundation that is building up to that point. Allow them to tell you stories. Write down their stories, and (very important) show them their stories in print. Encourage them to write down their stories. Encourage them to write down their opinions and then support them with stories and examples. If children gain this foundation between the ages of 8 and 14, then teaching essay writing becomes very simple.Happy writing!
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