This is part 6 in a series considering Language Arts
Ahhh! Composition and formal writing! We all know and believe this skill to be necessary, but how.in.THE.world to bring it into our home? And when? And with which of the dizzying multitude of writing programs? And what if I don't have a clue how to write myself, much less teach it? or edit? or both? and what do I do if my child stares blankly and skeptically at me when I ask him to put pen to paper? WHAT IF HE NEVER LEARNS HOW TO WRITE????
Deep breath. You can do this!
As with every other aspect of language arts making use of Charlotte Mason's methods, writing points back to, and is anchored in, the living book.
Provide your child a generous feast of living books and he WILL
write. Encourage and foster narrations in your home, and your child will have almost all the useful and necessary tools of writing in place by the time they are ready to put pen and thought to paper! Think about it - only recently (historically speaking) have we inundated children with writing curriculum containing prompts and rules and guides and lessons...on HOW to write.
Before there was a market for a *curriculum* to teach writing - there were living books
. Great writers and thinkers read books
. You recoil perhaps? Can it be that simple? It can. They read quality writing across a spectrum of subjects. And they wrote. Their styles were formed from their reading. Trust that if you provide a generous banquet of living books and ideas to your children, they WILL WRITE!
Now, before you think that I'm about to eschew any and all writing curriculum, let me say that I am not. Just as I do not NEED a breadmaker on my counter, I consider it a kitchen helper! It's a tool I make use of. I do not NEED a writing program, just as I do not NEED a breadmaker, but there are a couple that have been a help for us, and I do make use of them. They fit with my educational philosophy, and align with Charlotte Mason's methods and that makes them useful and a good fit in our home. I'll review a few of my favorite resources below!
Charlotte Mason didn't believe formal writing instruction was needed for a young child. She believed that a study supply of worthy ideas through living books would feed and nourish a child enough so that when they were ready to start writing, around age 10, it would be a natural extension - just a step forward. Isn't that a lovely thought? I see that again and again in a Charlotte Mason education. Lay down the foundation, give the child room to explore and self-educate within that generous foundation, and he will step out and upward naturally, on his own, without us trying to artificially accelerate or advance him. To me, this is the essence of a gentle, considered education. Ok...tangent over. :) Here's what Charlotte had to say about teaching writing (from Volume I
, p. 247 - read it free at Ambleside
"...lessons on 'composition' should follow the model of that famous essay on "Snakes in Ireland"––"There are none." For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later readily enough; but they should not be taught 'composition.' "
Alright, we've covered the philosophy behind the method - let's talk practicals!
What do you write?
are a natural extension of oral narrations. By the time a child is ready to write their narrations, they have already mastered the process of taking information, processing it and organizing it in their mind, and communicating it. That's the AMAZING benefit offered in being consistent through the years with oral narrations. (By the way, if I were just starting to use Charlotte Mason's methods, I would NOT approach written narrations until we had spent some time really working on oral narrations!
) You've introduced basic grammar gently and naturally through dictation exercises and copywork. The next step is to simply get the child's thoughts on paper in the written word.
There is a transition trick (from oral to written narrations) that I think I learned from The Writer's Jungle
(which I'll review for you below). As the child gives an oral narration, I type it into a word processor, setting the font to a large type and using double spacing. I then print it and have the child cut apart the sentences - one sentence to a strip of paper. Now, we review the thoughts, re-arranging them so they are more pleasing, coherent, and flow better. This is really when a child sees (literally) how many superfluous details are being offered in a narration and this is when I begin to show them how to summarize in narrating. We set aside details that aren't necessary or add too much bulk. After we're done arranging, we type it back in. This process takes place over a week's time.
I don't start asking for written narrations until a child is around 10. The child writes or types his thoughts on paper. I provide a folder in the basket on my desk to collect all the written narrations. After a child finishes a written narration, we read it together, but I do not use this time to bleed all over a beginning writer's papers, and for real beginners I do not want to discourage at all! We read it together, and then we file it in the folder.
I still continue with oral narrations!!! It's important to note that written narrations do not take the place of oral narrations, they just begin to exist alongside them. Initially, I don't ask for many written narrations as a child transitions into writing. Within a year, they are writing weekly.
What are some ideas for written narrations?
There are so many!!! Don't fall into the trap of considering written narrations stale book report-ish things!!!! Here are just a few of the ways we enjoy written narrations here:
- History narratives - ask the child to write a short narration about a historical figure they just read about and include this in their Book of Centuries.
- Newspaper articles - the child writes from the perspective of a journalist, reporting on the material as if it were a significant "current event".
- Perspective of a historical figure - I asked my daughter to write a narration about Queen Victoria once and she just could-not-get-fired-up about it. She struggled to put pen to paper, finding it boring and dry. I asked her to write from the perspective of one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. She was to write a letter home to her mother and detail her perspective of her life with Queen Victoria. It worked, and was probably one of her best written narrations.
- A letter - see idea above. :)
- An obituary - write the obituary for a historical figure!
- A private blog - I'm not looking to solicit a maelstrom of emails detailing the pitfalls of allowing children online or into the blogging world, so if you disagree with this, please do just skip on ahead. :) Having said that, allowing my daughter a private blog to narrate some of her thoughts has proven an amazing way both to collect narrations and motivate them. She enjoys the format, and loves writing like this. Giving her a blog to share with some of her friends and family (still private, but open to some readers) has proven a wonderful way for her to write. She really enjoys this expression of herself and her thoughts. It allows her to experiment a bit with writing, to find her voice without it being "an assignment". We have a few private blogs (blogger blogs are free to set up and use) and I'll list a few ways we use them:
- Just for fun - this is a child's place to share thoughts, experiences, pictures, whatever! Invite grandparents and close friends.
- To collect a child's written narrations - Use the sidebars to record books that are read. Set the notification preferences to notify YOU when a post is uploaded so you know to your child has published a narration and you can read it and even comment on it. This blog is only open to my child and I - there are no other readers.
- For a language arts program like Lingua Mater. A few years ago when my daughter and I worked with this program, I set up a blog specifically so we had a place to collect assignments and writing. She REALLY enjoyed this. Again, this blog was only open to my child and I - we restricted view-ability through the blogger settings.
Still wondering if this is really all that is necessary? Take a look at Lindafay's written narration samples
as her daughter progresses. They're amazing, but not atypical. This is what happens when a child feasts for several years on living ideas and books.
Do you correct written narrations?
Once my child has become accustomed to writing narrations, we meet together after they write and we discuss errors or areas that need improvement ONE
at a time. I do not flood a paper with red marks, especially at the beginning - we take one concept to work on with each narration. Perhaps their sentences are super long. I discuss ways we could shorten the sentence and we take an example from their writing and do that. I always note words that are mis-spelled and sometimes we work on them or correct spelling on-the-spot, using the same tools we employ in dictation exercises, making a mental image of the word. I don't ask for re-writes unless we're walking a narration through the entire editing process. So, with each narration: we meet together, I encourage them in their writing, and we discuss something for the child to work on for improvement. It's a gradual and gentle process that does work! Be patient with it!
How about high school writing?
Ok. I'm reminding you that my oldest is in 9th grade, so I can't speak to this with the same experience or perspective as I can from K - 8th grade. However, I have looked to Miss Mason on this as we form our approach. From Charlotte Mason
, Volume 6, p. 193 (available here at Ambleside
"Forms V and VI: (my note...this would be roughly the equivalent of grades 10, 11, and 12) In these Forms some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life. Perhaps the method of a University tutor is the best that can be adopted; that is, a point or two might be taken up in a given composition and suggestions or corrections made with little talk.Formal writing
is a skill I want to teach at this level. Whatever a child's future vocation, this is the time to begin teaching the elements of formal writing - expository essays, persuasive essays, informative essays, etc. I'm making use of a few resources to help us this year and I'll list them for you below.
Again, much like the grammar resources I offered, I need to say that there are a number of really good writing programs out there! If you're working with one already, please don't assume that I'm implying that the ones listed here are any better! Use what's working for you! I would always encourage you to make use of what is already living on your shelf! I do appreciate when people share with me what works for them, so with that in mind, I'll share:
- The Writer's Jungle by Julie Bogart - This program, while costly, was very helpful to me in understanding how to approach writing. It is not a program written to the child; it is written to the parent. I found this helpful as it put tools in my hands, but I'm mentioning this because if you're looking for scripted lessons detailed out, you won't find that kind of thing with this program. You will find solid examples of different assignments as well as some ideas for assignments. The discernment process Julie walks you through in helping a parent determine just where a child is in the natural stages of writing development was so very valuable because she then takes you from there and helps you form a plan that not only speaks to that stage, but encourages growth. The book is filled with ideas and solutions. There is a chapter detailing the editing process. This book provides the parent with the tools needed to encourage and nurture a child's "writer's voice" empowering the parent as writing coach. (A note - I have only used this home study course; I have not made use of the lessons offered online through Julie's site, so I cannot speak to those or review them, but I would, as always, encourage discernment there.) I really think that this one book provides a parent with the confidence, tools, and vocabulary to encourage and nurture young writers, particularly reluctant writers.
- On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser - I haven't used this yet - this is a book that became mine as part of the home-education-bookshelf-windfall that I was gifted as mom slowly but surely cleared her shelves. I'm grateful I have it though! This will be a part of our high school approach! It's a living book AND a guide to writing! The author has an unmistakable passion for the subject and conveys it compellingly, but simply. The author's perspective is to convey how and why a writer SHOULD write about the world they live in. (A note - I have the 1990 revision, so I don't know what's new in the most current revision).
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White - (also a part of the bookshelf-inheritance-windfall) This is a C-L-A-S-S-I-C, and as used copies can be obtained for next to nothing, it really ought to be on every shelf. This slim book was originally written by William Strunk, a college professor of English, in 1918. He offered it as his text to his English class, and one day in 1919, into Mr. Strunk's class strolled E.B. White (as in Charlotte's Web...Trumpet of the Swan...Stuart Little!!!!!) Some 38 years after taking Mr. Strunk's English 8 class, E.B.White was asked to revise the book for general publishing. What evolved has become a classic and a treasure! I'll let Mr. White tell you in his own words what the book initially set out to do:
"The Elements of Style, when I re-examined it in 1957, seemed to me to contain rich deposits of gold. It was Will Strunk's parvum opus, his attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin."
In this little gem you will find "seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused" (these are Professor Strunk's contributions). E.B. White added a chapter entitled, "An Approach to Style" - and who among us would not LOVE to take a lesson in style from the man that could turn a phrase like no one else -- "Where's Papa going with that ax?" (The very first line from Charlotte's Web).
I've probably gone on long enough about my own appreciation for this little gem. Needless to say, it is a wonderful resource both for mechanics and composition style.
- Help for Highschool by Julie Bogart - My 9th grader and I are using this program right now. This program is written directly to the teen, and could be used at any time during high school. There are writing exercises within, and the program guides the student through writing exploratory and expository essays. The program is divided into modules with specific assignments and each builds on the previous module. My high schooler and I are finding the modules in the first half of the book to be good (and sometimes challenging) exercises for review. The second half of the book is devoted to the formal essay, and there is a helpful rubric for evaluating writing. The website offers the entire first chapter to download for free as well as the Table of Contents and Introduction so that you can get a better idea of whether or not this program would be a good fit for you before investing.
- Format Writing by Frode Jensen - I haven't used this yet, but I plan to. This book can be completed over one or two years. Since I really like the way this book looks, but haven't used it yet, I'm just going to link you to some good reviews of it that helped me discern.
That's it! We made it! I do have a wrap-up post that will follow this because I'd like to show you how all of these language arts methods can
fit in a week of work. See you back here for the final wrap-up post soon!