Getting Your Kids to Write

writing helpAt our house, I have children who love to write and children who hate to write. The ones who love to write are easily motivated and find writing an enjoyable experience. However, those who don’t… well, let’s just say, “It ain’t pretty!”

I have tried lots of different methods to get them writing… from tutors, to online tutoring in writing. These have all given them a good foundation, but to make it a part of their real daily life I have to get them writing every day. This daily writing experience can prove to be quite “vexing” for the parent. In fact, some days I almost would rather let them grow up into non writing adulthood. Yet, sadly my conscience prevents me.

I recently started what I call a minute of silliness. I have my kids write about various silly writing prompts (anything from crazy questions to sound alikes) and encourage them to pretend that it is a cartoon in which anything can happen. For example, one morning they wrote about… “If you could change around some of your body parts what would they be and where would they go?”

The silly factor got them interested… yet, I have to say that their imaginations lacked a bit. It took us a while to warm up to the subject and actually feel free enough to write whatever we could imagine. For some reason, they constantly felt confined to reality.

When they were able to get their imaginations working, business began to pick up. We wrote stories that were happy, sad, dramatic, imaginative. Finding ways to encourage your children to tap that inner imagination is the key to creative writing. Over this past year, we have used several resources to help us do just that. Here is an example of the texts we used to inspire us, “Don’t Forget to Write”, and “Rip the page.” Both of them encourage free and creative thinking. We also love the online writing tutor that enabled us to get a firm foundation in the writing process.

Wherever your child lands on the “motivational” scale of writing… it is so vitally important to their development to take time daily to write… and release that creative monster within!

Teaching English in the Homeschool

Whether you are just starting or you’ve been homeschooling a while, teaching English can be a challenging subject. The subject itself has so many sub- subjects… and not to mention variations of rules and variations on those rules. It can be tough… but of all the subjects the Language Arts is the one subject that is key to all learning. If we can successfully teach a child how to read, write, and communicate they have tools that will serve them the rest of their lives. Not to mention giving them a good foundation to learn so much more in the other subject areas.

We’ve traded in some of our long standing Language Arts methods this year. I’ve realized with my Senior daughter that my focus on writing was too weak. We’ve chosen various types of curriculum that help us to focus better on writing skills. We have also chosen various workbooks that enable us to get to the meat of grammar. We haven’t changed our stance on our favorite writing process or vocabulary fill in the blank program. Somethings work great, and these are two of our favorite.

So far, this year has shown me great improvements in my children’s writing. Everyone from the oldest to the youngest is being challenged. Maybe well get an author out of one of them!

Christmas Literature

homeschool christmas literatureThe holidays are certainly a crazy time of year, making it difficult to keep up with any type of routine. Yet, instead of allowing this to stress and give even more insanity to an insane time of year… let the holidays be a good reason to start a thematic reading unit.

I know, it sounds difficult… but really it’s an easy way to incorporate a theme into your homeschool for this month.  You simply choose a book or several books, and your child reads through them. You can integrate this into the other subjects that you are studying as well. For example, to integrate your theme into writing you could have a reading response journal (just a notebook) and have your child record his/her thoughts each day after they have read in their book! For high school students you could have them start a blog (use this easy blog writing course for beginners) and use their blog as a journal for their reading! History and science can be integrated as well by incorporating what they are learning in the book as far as setting or discussion. If the book is set in a past time period, let that be your jumping off place to explore that part of history. It’s easy to make this connect! For the most part, when I use a thematic unit to teach… the kids seem to be more interested and eager to be a part!

Check out this great list of Christmas themed reading books to make finding great books a snap. Some of the books in this list have the complete book itself online!

Making a Case for Spelling

Spelling and Vocabulary is often put on the back burner…

Sometimes, whether you’re homeschooled or not… spelling just isn’t top priority. In fact, many people view spelling as simply a side note to the bigger skill of writing and possibly reading. However, I submit that spelling is actually a study in and of itself. You may wonder why I seem so passionate about this? Well, to be honest when I was teacher I saw how spelling truly interacted with almost every subject. The fact that students could achieve at a higher rate through the study of spelling and vocabulary was simply astounding to me. It didn’t coincide with how most teachers, students, and even parents viewed the practice of the subject. Yet, it made sense.

You see spelling and vocabulary are at the heart of all learning whether it is math, science, or even history. If we can encourage children to understand concepts and meaning of words through the study of vocabulary and spelling then the actual  participation in a subject is easier for the child. They already have an understanding of the concepts. So, my methodology would be to use a spelling/vocabulary introduction to a subject presenting all the vital words and concepts and then have the child use spelling drill and practice with those words before beginning a formal study of the concepts. Your drill and practice could include everything from word analogies, definitions, to segmenting. This method actually aids in comprehension and in building connections to prior experiences.

Spelling Builds Good Readers…

Secondly, instead of putting spelling on the back burner it should be an integral part of learning because it not only builds a foundation of understanding it also builds better readers. Yes, we all know spelling is the support structure of good reading. Yet, truthfully it goes hand in hand with it and I would press further to say that a good speller is a good reader. The more a child works with words – whether it is through spelling/vocabulary, writing, reading, etc. the better that person will be able to use words appropriately in speech and language. A systematic approach to teaching spelling is efficient at enabling students to understand our complex language and to become masters at communication. Don’t wait until problems arise – teaching spelling  in a “correct the errors” manner does nothing to strengthen or build the student’s understanding… it simply adds confusion.

Technology to Teach Spelling…

Finally, using multiple methods to teach spelling and vocabulary instruction can make all the difference. Children who are learning spelling through a fun and engaging method will not find the practice dull. The key to motivation is finding a way to enhance learning through meaningful methods.  It is key that as students are practicing vocabulary and spelling that they receive feedback and success. The use of technology in spelling and vocabulary can be a most effective method of teaching for success. Spelling  – in almost every subject area – spells out success!

A few tips to get you headed in the right direction:

1) Spelling in other subjects. – Mathematical spelling lists, science spelling lists, history spelling lists

2) Teaching spelling systematically – usually using a phonics based approach

3) Use interactive spelling games and other fun resources to make spelling and vocabulary rewarding

Teaching a Kindergartner without Losing Your Mind!

kindergarten curriculumI am finally on my last kindergartner… I almost can’t believe it! It seems like yesterday my oldest daughter was struggling her way through kindergarten. One thing I have learned with my six children is that every angle one of them is TOTALLY different. If you think that you can just teach each of your children the same way, you’ll be disappointed. It would definitely be easier… But it just doesn’t work out that way.

I had to learn that lesson the hard way, but I did eventually learn that each of my children would require a slightly different learning regiment and thus I became an eclectic homeschooler. So, as I’ve gone though the last several years we have come across a few great pieces of curriculum that do work for most kids. These are typically our staple pieces, and we add additional resources as each individual child’s needs demand. Resources that allow your child to learn flexibly are perfect.

1.Remember that the kindergartner is still only 5. Their bodies still need lots of movement, and they still learn almost solely from “doing.” If we try to fit them into the same mold as older children – we as well as they – will be frustrated.
2. As your plan your kindergarten homeschool curriculum… Or change it if it isn’t working… Make allowances for lots of activity. Your little one should not be spending several hours sitting in a chair writing or sitting still at a computer. (Though using the computer is a great resource!) Break things up… Fill your day with variety! Go outside for science… Write your letters in the sand… Add with mom while she cooks…
3. Use learning resources that your child ENJOYS! If they constantly say they hate doing something…lay off of it for a while and come back to it after they have a bit of a break!
4. Get to know your child…find their strengths and weaknesses. Plan your learning around what these are.

Motivating Kids to Write

At our house the two biggest school issues always tend to derive from either writing or reading. For some reason, most of my six children just do not enjoy one or the other of those skills. This happens to be why I have recently been studying reading and writing skills and how to motivate my reluctant learners. We have tried many things in the past to get them writing from writing games to learning vocabulary definitions and writing from those…

After all the reading, printing, and studying… guess what I figured out? Motivating a child to read and write boils down to two simple things…

1) To motivate… find something that interests your child and maximize on it! Read a book that they enjoy, and then write a story about what they read. Go somewhere that they enjoy and then come home and write about it. If you can pique their interests… they will enjoy the writing.

2) If you want your child to become a good writer… they will need to write OFTEN! Basically, it’s just like lifting weights. The more you practice, the better you will be!

Two simple things, yet not so easy to put into practice. We have started really playing on the motivation… and that sure does seem to work… which of course in turn helps them write more! So, as we apply these two simple steps (though still grudgingly some days) things are looking up!

Learning to Read…

This year my last little sweety will officially be school age. Which also means that she will be learning to read. I have homeschooled five children already, and even tuaght dozens of children at school how to read yet, somehow teaching my own how to read gives me a bit of anxiety. In my mind, there’s just something pivotal…crucial…or foundational about reading skills that just make me want to be sure to get it right!

She has already completed all of the preschool levels on Time4Learning, and even half of the kindergarten lessons. She seems to know all her letters and sounds, so I know we are close… I’m so excited to be able to help her unlock this door to so many opportunities. Yet… it will still be a challenge.

Here is my simple breakdown of how we start reading at our house…

1) After they know their letter and sounds we usually begin learning blends –  by blending a consonant and a vowel. We’ll practice sounding out these until they do it quickly.

2) Once blends are nicely in hand we move on to special sounds (sometimes these steps overlap). You know those sounds that really have no rules to back them up… like gn in gnat… I have a set of flashcards and little posters that we use to review them…

3) After we master the special sounds or consonant blends we’ll move to blending small words like ca-t and do-g.  Site words (dolch site words are a great list to use) are good to add in while you are working on three letter words.

4) You can move to long vowel sound and then longer words…. also adding more “special sounds” that weren’t learned previously. Sounds like “au in faucet” should be introduced as the child begins learning more difficult words!

The stages and steps are not concrete, and often we’ll enter a different stage while still working on a previous one. There are lots of other things I throw in to enrich the learning process… but these few steps are the basic building blocks to learning how to read. They really are simple…you’d think anyone could it… even me!

Tips for Great Writing

The secret to great writing skills isn’t really a secret! It’s just a bit of good hard work. Yet sometimes, this hard work can be a big discouragement. One thing about writing… Motivation is key! If you’re a high school student wanting to be a better writer or a parent wanting to develop good writing skills in your children… Finding the best way to get going can be difficult. Sometimes, we have to take extra measures to really get our children motivated to write. From intensive courses to online tutoring in writing, finding the right motivation can really affect how children get writing. Find ways to get them excited about writing... Online writing ideas, blog writing, pen pals…Once we find the key to motivating them, we can focus on developing their skills. Here are a few tips to get you on your way!
1) Read…read…read… Good readers make good writers. Read quality fiction to your children to instill in them an appetite for good literature.
2) Write. Writing is a skill. Like any other skill, it must be practiced.
3) George Orwells’s 5 rules of writing
-Never use a metaphor, simile, or figure of speech. These are sayings that have become trite. They are used so frequently that they no longer have impact.
-never use a long word when a short one will do.
-if you can trim out words…do it.
-Use the active voice when possible. The passive is too wordy.
-Never use foreign words, scientific words, or jargon if you can find an everyday equivalent.
-Break any of these rules before saying anything outright barbaric. This is a bonus rule, but implies that we must use common sense when writing.

Don’t despair…becoming a good writer is worth it!

Quick tips on learning to read…

Ahhh… the beginning reader… their little minds are so fresh and eager… Most of the time these little ones are so excited about being able to do what mommy and daddy do every day. Their eagerness can be catchy… in fact, it always gets me excited when they learn how to read their first word… what a milestone!!!

Teaching a child how to read isn’t an exact science… it’s simply plodding along. I know that sounds weird, yet it really is a process… and sometimes a slow one. The most reliable method of learning how to read is the phonetically based method. Here are a few quick pointers on how to get started in the right direction.

1. Begin with the letter names and sounds. Focus on the short vowel sounds. I sometimes add human characteristics to the vowels to make it more fun… like “What does Mr. A say?” or “What is this letter’s name?”

2. Once they know the vowel sounds very well… start adding consonant sounds. Begin making blend families with one consonant letter and each of the vowels. D says d… and can be added to the vowels like this… d…a…da!

3. Go through the entire alphabet learning the consonants and adding them to the vowels to make consonant and vowel blends.

4. Begin learning 3 letter words by adding a consonant to the end of these vowel/consonant blends. “C…a…ca…t” Try making words out of all of the blend families that you learned previously. Introduce some small sight words during this time. The Dolch words are great for this. Ie. “the, an, a”

5. Once three letter words are an easy thing, move on to learning four letter words. I usually use this rule to introduce the concept, “When there are two vowels in a word the first one says its long sound and the second one is silent.” I use a pencil to mark the vowels visually so that the child can see this. Begin practicing marking the vowels and pronouncing four letter words with two vowels.

6. Move on to consonant blends such as “ck says ck in duck.” There are several suppliers that make great flashcards of groups of these “special sounds.” They really help make teaching these sounds much easier.

7. Have children practice identifying these special sounds in words by circling them. Pronounce words that contain your new special sound each week.

8. While covering these special sounds, work on improving the reader’s fluency and speed. Also, a focus on comprehension is necessary. The reader should be able to read a sentence/paragraph and then tell you exactly what it means in his/her own words. Using other tools as your child is learning to read can reap great benefits. Practicing letter sounds through online language arts programs or even worksheets is a good way to instill these new principles.

Internet Homeschooling

I love homeschooling, but I love homeschooling using the computer even more. The awesome amount of knowledge that is waiting at my fingertips each time that I turn on the computer really boggles my mind. In fact, this week I ran across a new term for homeschooling using google… homeschoogling… cool huh??
In each area of my child’s education, I can augment it through computer use. Whether they are advanced in a subject or need a remedial reading program… in any case I can access resources on the internet to give them the needed drill and practice. What’s even better, is that most of the time this extra help doesn’t cost me an extra penny… can’t ask for better than that!
Here are some great places to get a little extra help without spending that extra penny…
IXL is awesome for math help…

Reading Rockets helps struggling readers

Primary Games

Learning Games for Kids
Vocabulary Review