A Few Thoughts on Writing

Dear Reader,

As my kids and their friends get older, discussion among the moms has changed. We used to discuss reading curricula a lot. Now the kids are all reading, and the subject seems to come around  frequently to writing. This seems to be a subject which causes a lot of angst for many a homeschooling mom. How do I get my child to write anything? How do I teach them to write well? Do they need to write every day? Will they be able to handle the writing portion of the SATs?

A Charlotte Mason approach to education seems on the surface to spend  a lot less time on the mechanics of writing. Grammar and spelling are often done through copywork and later dictation. These are two subjects which I think are particularly prone to generating busy work of which Charlotte was not a fan.

But, in reality, I think Charlotte’s approach does much more than most programs to generate good writers (I say this as someone whose oldest child is 12 so I guess I have yet to prove the truth of what I say but so far I believe it). This is because a core of the CM approach is narration. A child reads or in younger years is read a passage on science or history or some other subject and then they tell back in their own words what it said. There are a lot of skills involved in this process which I won’t attempt to list here. My point is that narration produces articulate-ness and that this carries over from the oral to the written.

This is what Charlotte says:

“To secure the power of speaking, I think it would be well if the habit of narration were more encouraged, in place of written composition. On the whole, it is more useful to be able to speak than to write, and the man or woman who is able to do the former can generally do the latter.” [School Education (Wilder Publications, 2008) pp.69-70]

So what is the answer to all those nagging questions about writing curricula? For myself, I think that daily writing is not necessary, especially if the child finds it burdensome as many, especially boys, do. I also think curricula that break down writing into a million little steps are very off-putting. Narration includes many of these steps but does not isolate them from one another. Now if a child is struggling, it may be helpful for the parent or teacher at least to look through some curricula to get an idea of where the process is breaking down. But tedious exercises are only going to put the child more off of writing.

As for grammar, I firmly believe that it should be in the service of writing. I have never needed as an adult to diagram a sentence. No one has ever even asked me what part of speech something is. We do use KISS grammar which I like because it looks at writing based on the function of the pieces rather than by part of speech (more on that in another post perhaps). But mostly I would say get a child narrating. Then get him writing down his narrations. And if certain problems seem to arise, for example not using commas correctly, then deal with those as they arise.

What do you think? What do you use for writing and grammar if anything?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Patti on September 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Dear Nebby: I agree that Charlotte Mason’s approach to writing is successful and much easier and more sensible than most writing programs. Years ago I used Understanding Writing and it gave me good insight into where I was going with writing. She covers her subject from a Christ-centered and God honoring perspective which I appreciated. Eventually I had the confidence to work on my own. if someone wants a formal program I can recommend it at least as a good starting place but I don’t think it is necessary. There are two parts to writing – the mechanics of getting words neatly on the page. This includes handwriting, punctuation and capitalization. The second part is the content. Oral narration is the foundation of this skill and this is where Charlotte’s method works so beautifully to develop good writers. As their ability to get it down on paper or develop typing skills to keep up with their thoughts they can put this together with the mechanical part. I do like to have my children write something every day whether it is copy work, a letter, a nature journal entry, or a written narration. I think that any type of journaling works well for reluctant writers and used it more when more of my students were boys (only the youngest of my five current students is a boy). I have found that my girls write naturally and voraciously and that my boys tended to be more reluctant but were usually willing to keep a journal of current happenings. They tended to be more concrete and less creative in their writing. Overall I try to keep in mind the two parts of writing – mechanics and composition as I assign writing. Both parts need development. One friend whose children have beautiful handwriting simply has her children carefully color a coloring book picture each day in their first couple of grades developing their fine motor skills. As stated earlier children who compose their thoughts for an oral narration are practicing writing skills. Sometimes I type out my children’s narrations and read it back to them or let them illustrate it and let them keep it in their notebooks. Thanks for the great post and from my experience you can be confident that Charlotte’s method works well to develop writing skills.


  2. […] to teach our kids to write. (And how many times have I addressed this issue already! Here are posts one, two, three, four, five and […]


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