Writing – Our Biggest Challenge – What’s Yours?

OEFK writingIt’s back to school time again! Have you gotten all of your ducks in a row? I think we are about there… but I’m still working through a few details. One of which includes correlating a creative writing study with our other curriculum. Creative writing, essays, and research paper writing are sadly the bane of our home school existence. Though I would love for my children to be great writer’s, giving them the individual attention that they need to accomplish this is another story. It’s always so difficult when we have multiple children that we are homeschooling, isn’t it?

My typical go to is technology… thus the theme of this blog. Online education helps a homeschooling parent of multiple children and when writing is concerned things are no different. Making great writers requires time, instruction, practice, and feedback…labor intensive for the parent for sure. However, using online resources is a super way to activate this learning without stressing out the parent. Some of my favorite resources include:
1) using online grammar games, parts of speech games, and even analogy games. This helps the creative thought process and ultimately the ability to write creatively.
2) Online writing courses (with individual attention and feedback at an affordable price)
3) Online FREE vocabulary instruction. This is a whole separate post in itself, but vocabulary instruction is fundamental to reading comprehension and ultimately successful writing.

Our 10 Best Homeschool Posts of 2013

It is so hard to believe that it is already the middle of January! Time really flies! To summarize our year of homeschooling in 2013, I thought I would share our best posts! We’ve posted on everything from a weather lesson to High School homeschooling and everything in between! Since, it’s easy to move on and forget exactly what we covered over time I thought it would be nice to have a little reminder! If you have an all time favorite post – I would love for you to vote for it in the comments below!

1) Pain Free Math for Homeschool Highschoolers

2) Homeschooling the Big Family – Just a Few Tips

3) Getting Your Students Writing

4) Using Games to Motivate

5) Top 6 Ways to Organize Your Homeschool

6) Learning History with Summer Exploration

7) Express Yourself

8) Writing for Early Learners

9) Making Independent Learners

10) Homeschool Sports and Special Needs

Writing for Early Learners

Middle School StudentEarly learners are an awesome age to teach. They are always so excited about everything. I enjoy working with this eagerness and, in fact, it makes teaching them so much more enjoyable. When I work with early learners (usually between preschool and first grade) I like to make learning as fun as possible and writing is no exception.

Just because they are young doesn’t mean that they can’t “write.” They usually can do a whole lot more than we give them credit for. I like to see how excited they get when they are able to write their own stories! Here are several fun activities that I enjoy using with early learners while we learn how to write.

1) For non-readers you can always do an LEA (Language Experience Approach) project. I like doing this in conjunction with a field trip or a fun outdoor exercise. Since it is fall right now a great adventure would be to take a nature walk and then return for this writing project. I like to use a large piece of paper and then I get them all excited about writing a story about our recent trip. They help me decide on a title, and then I ask them questions (prompts) from which they make a statement. I write each sentence they give me down on the piece of paper and as we work through what we did on our recent nature walk… we make a story. Once finished, I will read the story to them. They usually love it!

2) For beginning readers, I like to read a story or have an adventure, field trip, nature walk, or even a recent vacation. I’ll put several key words on a board (usually the most difficult words) and then we will work on writing a story together. Wording the statement and then help with writing down and sounding out the words that will make up the story. A fun finish is to draw a picture to illustrate the story.

3) For more accomplished readers, I like to base our story on some recent event just like I mentioned before. I typically start these writers out with a story prompt. It may be something silly or even totally pretend. I like this website for free story starter templates. If you just want to get them writing without an “experience” to base it on, there are alot of great creative writing helps. I really enjoy the books in the “Don’t forget to Write” series.

Preparing a child to write hinges on their phonetical foundation. Teaching a child to read by using phonics method, and building each letter and each sound allows the child to be able to work backward from that and “dissect” or “decode” words in order to write.  As I work with my young learners, I am amazed at how this process works. We typically start with letter sounds, building to consonant/vowel blends, consonant blends, syllables, special rules, and then begin with spelling words.  All of it builds in a spiral effect and hinges upon the mastery of the previous concept. As you teach your child how to read, be sure to include writing practice times as well. This gives them an opportunity to think critically about their reading. Using this method will definitely help alleviate the need for writing homework help, and give your child a sense of confidence in their reading and writing skills.

Getting your students Writing

writingOver the years of homeschooling ups and downs… I realize that one of the most difficult things to get across to my children are good writing skills. I have found that the challenge has many multiples…

1) I have to get them motivated… this is huge. If I can just find the key, find a thing they love, and get them interested in talking about that thing… I’ve got it made. However, finding the “thing” is the issue.

2) I have to get them to practice good grammar, which means teaching grammar skills. (collective groan)

3) I have to teach them fluency, agreement, syntax, etc. All of which takes practice… so just like learning how to play an instrument or a sport… writing takes PRACTICE.

…sigh…which they won’t get unless they write… and they won’t write unless they are motivated…

This past year I had to teach my highschooler how to practice essay writing for standardized tests… in the middle of it I almost despaired and sought out a writing tutor…but we kept at it even though there was very little motivation…essay prompts are really just not fun!

Now you can see my ongoing dilemma. This past year, I purchased several very interesting and very fun motivational writing books. They were responsible for the best year of writing that we’ve had so far. So, if I had to hang my hat on ONE key thing… it would definitely be the motivation! If you can motivate them to write something they are interested in… you have won the battle!

Making the most of writing…

Yes, of all the subjects in our homeschool… writing tops as the most dreaded! I think my children see the blank page and feel like they just can’t measure up. They have this conception that there is a right and wrong way and that they just can’t get it all together.

We started really focusing on essay writing this spring. My 17 year old all the way down to our second grader were learning how to write an essay. We went over the format and structure, and made an outline of what should be included in each essay. Which amazingly is no different as you get older.  I sincerely believe that if I can get my younger children writing essays with ease while they are in elementary school, then when they get to high school… it should come naturally!

To share how we make essay writing easy at our house let me break down our simple format.

1) Most essays are 5 paragraphs long.

2) Before you start writing you should think of 2 or 3 reasons that support or negate the thesis statement. Once you think of these three reasons, think of either an experience, current event, or a book that supports or mentions these reasons.

3) The first paragraph should be your introduction and should have an introductory sentence (ususally a grabber!), statement of the thesis, and then state your two or three reasons.

4) The second paragraph will be about your reason #1. You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

5) The third paragraph will be about your reason #2. You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

6) The fourth paragraph will be about your reason #3 (obviously if you only could think of two reasons – then you would move on to the next point). You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

7) The fifth paragraph will be your conclusion. In this paragraph you will restate the thesis. You will then also refer back to each of your reasons and restate them as supporting your thesis. Finally, you will want a sentence or two that will be your clincher sentence. This will tie it all together and sum up the point that your were trying to get across to your audience.

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!

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!

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!

One of the Most Desirable Skills…


Writing is an essential element of educaiton. Sure, we all know it’s important to be good writers, but do we realize just how important that really is? A good wrtier has the ability to express themselves well. That means that they can get their point across effectively. This is a skill that is required for success in high school, college, and in the workplace.

A 1992 survey stated that executives identified writing as the most valued skill but said 80% of their employees across the board needed improvement.

Writing skills also prepare better communicators. If you can write well you are more than likely able to berbally communicate well. As a homeschooler, one of my greatest frustrations has been this area. Finding a motivating yet challenging writing course that prepares my children for high school, college, and life is reare. Yet, by using a few online tools such as Time4Writing, Blog writing courses, and SAT writing prep I’ve been able to see a distinct improvement. My one major homeschooling goal is to prepare them for their future. If I can produce good writers, I will feel like I have been successful!