Wednesday, February 28, 2007

August 17, 2000 - Writing Assignments

You WON'T be able to finish everything I include if you also use supplements. For example, if you are going to use Spelling Power, DON'T use my spelling! That's too much! The same goes for Wordly Wise - choose one and stick with it, or hop around, but don't do both or you will have rebellion on your hands. You will have to use your best judgment on what to include and what to exclude, cut down on the discussion questions or memory work a little, etc. (Remember - NEVER be a slave to any curriculum. Make sure that YOU rule it and that IT doesn't rule you!) By the way, the melody idea for the Bible passage is excellent - it also works well if you give a verse or passage a certain drum beat - the rhythm helps them remember it better. Regarding the writing, again you will have to include what you feel is best for your situation (which has got to be one of the most extremely unique that I have heard to date, if that makes you feel better). The goal is to have the children writing SOMETHING almost every day. I RARELY require more than a paragraph in any assignment, and I often spend several days having the children go back and see how they can make that paragraph better.

Let me explain my philosophy on that, so both of you will understand it a little better. I hear of writing assignments in certain textbook curricula that require children as young as FIFTH grade to do a long research paper. I think that is RIDICULOUS! Pushing children through pages and pages of writing is not going to help them be good at writing - it only teaches them to write as much as they can - to take up space until the required pages are completed. (Remember counting words in high school and college?) Children get to be good writers by writing something every day. We compile lots of lists in A World of Adventure because they are really good pre-writing activities. When someone asks me to give a workshop or a speech on a given topic, the first thing I do is stare at the computer screen and wonder what I will say (just like most children tell their parents - "what should I write?") Then, I start to make a list of what I want to include. After that, I
organize my thoughts in a logical way. (This is why I stress so strongly that ALL children learn how to type onto a computer screen. It can be learned independently, and once the skill is there, writing will be so much easier, as the child is not so resistant to changing and editing if it is easy and she does not have to rewrite the WHOLE thing again.) I try to take the children through the same kinds of logical thinking and procedural skills in my writing assignments. Very few people start out as good writers. Our writing improves as we are able to look at it with a critical eye and change it for the better. Otherwise, we just keep turning out the same old mediocre work. Children don't know HOW to make their writing better until they are encouraged to go back to it and see how they can add to it, change it or subract from it so that it will be more interesting. That is why I often give an assignment one day and have them begin to look at it the next day, and even give more days to work on just the improving of it. Sometimes they will be given an entire week for just one paragraph. While they are actually writing every day, they are not putting out the same type of creative energy required for a new paragraph, instead, they are learning how to improve the work they have already written. If your child is young, and/or you feel the first assignment is enough, leave it at that and work into teaching the improvement part gradually. When Ryan came home from school in fifth grade, he HATED to write, and was NOT good at it. We began with simple journaling, but every topic I gave him to write about, he would only write about two sentences and then he would use every trick in the book to take up the rest of the page with illustrations, charts, graphs, diagrams, writing double-spaced, writing THE END really big at the end of his two sentences. While I was thrilled he was creative enough to think of these devious methods, the goal was for him to be a better writer. I let him do this for quite a while (about a month) and finally I started requiring that he write a VERY short paragraph. He hated it . . . but he did it . . although he never wrote more than that. After several months I began to require that he write two paragraphs, which he did (under great duress). My goal for him was to be able to sit down at the computer and just be able to WRITE without asking what he would say, etc. If you had been at one of the conventions, I would have shown you his journal and let you compare it to his more recent work, and you would be amazed . . . most people are. It took YEARS for him to get to where he is now, and we are still working on improvements. But the key is, he did improve, largely because he wrote SOMETHING almost every day. We don't want to have our children hate writing, nor do we want to fight with them to get them to do it, but we DO have to have them write or they will NEVER be good at it. They have to start somewhere, and that is what I have tried to do in this book. The reason I never require much more than one paragraph per assignment is because I so strongly feel that if we can get our children to write a really strong paragraph, we have won the battle. Once they can do that extremely well, they can ALWAYS add more paragraphs!!!!! Getting them past that first strong paragraph is the hardest part and it takes lots of time.

All that to say . . . be patient with them and try to follow the assignments where they work for you. Even if you have to start with one or two sentences like I had to with Ryan, then start there. No one wants to fight with their children over any school subject, but the question is, where do we draw the line between being patient and actually making them write? Francie's decision to not have her daughter do more writing on her very good first day paragraph on the second day was the right one. You will both need to be sensitive to the right times to continue a writing assignment, and when to let them be finished. I can give you the daily lesson plans, but I can't do what both of you do best, know your own child's potential, and their breaking point. A World of Adventure is really PACKED with learning, and there are many days you won't be able to do EVERYTHING. With most other unit studies you HAVE to supplement material, and my goal was to not have the parent saddled with searching for which other program they would use to do that in various subjects, but to include everything myself, so that if necessary, you could pick and choose what worked for you each day. Just to give you an idea of the broad range of parents out there, I can tell you that some say "that's all we have to do each day?" and others say "I can't get all that done in a day." Some say "only one paragraph for writing - is that ENOUGH?" and others say "Are you kidding, my child took such a long time writing that paragraph I don't know how this is ever going to work." Your perspective depends on you and your own background, each of your children's learning styles and capabilities, the curriculum you used before, how many children you have, etc, etc, etc.

Julie, you may want to start school earlier, and also assign independent reading for Elli in the Egypt and Desert books later in the day, and have her report back to you on what she read while you are doing something else, like nursing, etc. It sounds like she'd be REALLY good at that, given her verbal skills! She could also read to the other children a little so they could be learning about those subjects, too. Once again, don't be too hard on yourself, as I think you have about the most difficult (and I mean that in a nice way) situation I have heard to date. I met one person in Ohio with triplets, but you get the prize for major undertakings in homeschooling with your kids.

Francie, FYI, bios and logos are included in the unit on Greece when we study the human body. I try to spread the roots out over the year as much as I can, so you will probably come across others I could have included at a particular time, but have chosen to present them at what seemed like a more appropriate time later on in the study. You can do them as you like, though, and then review them when they are presented later. I would also like for you to copy me when you send Julie the WTM sample day - I am curious and like what I have heard about it. This also helps me when people ask if they can incorporate a certain program with mine.

You are both delightful, and I have enjoyed hearing your stories.


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