Ideas for Encouraging Writing
Cut a blank exercise book (one that uses recycled paper, of course!) in half, watching out for the staples. One of the now small books should have two staples holding it together - the other will need some extra binding! You can make one narrow and one wide to overcome this.
With your child cover the larger book (or if they are independent, let them do it) using anything you like. I like brown paper and last month's dried flowers, all covered over with plastic (recycled clear bread bag, perhaps). Or one of last week's art masterpieces. Or the birthday wrapping paper from last year.
This can become the child's first daily journal or diary. I like using blank paper for very young children because most of what they record are pictures! Thomas used to draw what happened in his day, and I'd scribe for him. Eventually at about age eight he liked doing most of the writing for himself, with me having to spell most of the words. Sometimes he'd draw lines to write on, and other times he'd used a line card placed under the page.
We have lots of daily journals stored away now, all fantastic records of his journey through life and all showing brilliant progress (over time, his time) in his writing ability. You can find more ideas about getting started with Writing in Beverley's Practical Homeschooling Series .
A journal is a personal history of ideas and activities. We use unlined hard cover books as journals, to allow for illustrations and pasting in of photos, clippings and pictures. My children love to illustrate and decorate their writing page, or doodle creatively around the words. I see this as encouraging and valuing art as much as writing! It is good to encourage the children to see the journal as a record of their lives and thoughts, a place to write, draw, do diagrams and paste in various things - from dried flowers and leaves to tickets. Most children love the increasing bulkiness of the journal as stuff is added.
Adults keep diaries for all sorts of purposes - I've kept a food diary, and a weather diary, to help me track my allergies. Thomas has been most interested in the weather diary and designed his own, keeping track of the temperature, barometer readings, clouds, humidity and wind speed every hour or so for over a week. This became a full blown science project... meticulously recorded in his diary.
You could purchase a Homeschooling Diary for your children to record their home education studies in, especially if you are following regular curriculum subjects. These are good for young children because there is only a small space for each day which allows the children to keep their entries short and sweet. This is really popular with most children. I have used Memo Books for the same purpose - a page a day. It isn't hard for a child to complete a page of that size!
Over the year the diary becomes a comprehensive record of their home learning program. The organisational and managerial skills developed will stand them in good stead as they approach their late teens, and look at tertiary studies or employment.
"I Can." and "I Feel." Books
I cut A4 blank exercise books in half (I needed to add another staple to hold one of the resultant books together). With these A5 landscape oriented books we made " I Can" books. Each page with "I can...". Thomas would fill out the rest, or when he was four to six years he'd just draw a picture and I'd scribe. Sometimes he'd 'write' for himself, filling the space with scribble or sometimes strings of figures that were close approximations of letters and numbers.
As he grew and his skills developed he began to finish the sentence himself. Sometimes a story would evolve out of the "I can" statement, and I would need to record for him, the writing often spilling over on to the next page. I encouraged fiction as well as actual abilities.
These books are always great fun to look through years later as they really trace the development of the child - physically, socially, intellectual and emotionally!
Another great half size book we've made is the "How I Feel" book. This one can be explored forever but does need a creative parent to come up with never ending possibilities, once the usual emotions are done. Start with pictures on love, hate, anger, etc, and then move to frustration, pity, etc. We started with pictures of how he looked when he felt like that, or of some of the things that made him feel like that. But you could explore poetry, song lyrics, compositions, letters, any writing form. You can even review extracts from what the child is reading - and comment on this, or films, television - anywhere where feelings are explored...
Another great writing idea is fostering the love of corresponding with others - pen friends. There are so many pen friend lists available on home education web sites, or in newsletters, but you can start with just writing to your own friends - the people you see regularly!
Children love to receive mail and parcels, and are quite happy to write back, but need some guidance and support until the idea really takes off. I liked to keep it very simple at first, and we focussed on postcards. These have limited space so are quick to write, usually filled with short sentences. Thomas feels less intimidated with the amount of handwriting. The whole exercise only takes a few minutes. We even make our own postcards, reusing old cards with interesting pictures on them that are sent to us, or old photographs.
Over time the children began to send letters, drawings, homemade magazines, puzzles, etc, to their pen friends. The to and for of correspondence naturally reinforced the activity.
Varying Writing Tools
Writing can sometimes be even more enjoyable when the writing implement is varied. We have lots of different implements around, from lead pencils of varying grades and thickness, different types of colour pencils, biros, ink pens (cartridge and nib), chalk, texta (fine and thick felts), charcoal - all the regular art materials plus things like lemon juice and candles for secret stuff!
It is good to vary the colour and texture of the paper too. Our children really enjoyed making paper, and cards and envelopes appeared all over the place, resulting in a lot of letters sent. But just don't stop at paper and card to write on, try blackboards, brick walls, pavements, round surfaces...
Get them into writing signs!
For a while our house was covered in signs - children love creating signs. The first of these echoed the labels I posted on just about everything to encourage early reading, and progressed to a series of strong statements tacked onto bedroom doors. I have a long tradition of posting excellent quotes on the wall, and even messages to myself. My children have naturally picked this habit up, and enjoy using word processing programs to print out their signs.
The computer as a writing tool
The computer offers a whole new array of writing incentives, with a bonus for Thomas of not having to laboriously produce handwriting, which he still finds tedious. His keyboard skills are gradually improving.
The spell checker has a limited, but useful, role to play in his writing. Mostly Thomas uses the computer to compose and send email messages to friends, or to put together pages for the local homeschooling newsletter. He also has several stories going, one with several chapters, and another with illustrations from clipart and paintbrush.
The joy of using the computer is being able to print out books, labels, signs, projects - all of them looking very professional. My children regularly incorporate photographs into their work now.
I like the children using the computer for word processing and drawing as they are becoming familiar with the processes and skills involved. Their innate sense of fun and drive to explore helps to expand their knowledge of the tool faster and more efficiently than I do! I know that mucking about on the computer is giving them the skills and confidence to put together that essential resume or job application later on....
Weaving writing into dramatic play
Role playing games are another great way of introducing writing in our children's lives. I remember one great game that went on for more than a week. The children constructed a shop in our living area, which slowly evolved into a whole street of shops!
I became immersed into the play from the beginning, helping out with props and costumes and making suggestions, like designing and printing play money, forms for the bank and post office, menu cards for the restaurant, travel brochures for the travel agents and a magazine of hair styles for the hairdressers. We even put together a small newspaper. The amount of writing that was done in that week still astounds me!
Our Family Excursion Book and other Home Education Recording Methods
Early in our home education odyssey I learned that the bulk of the record keeping necessary in maintaining a smooth flowing learning program can be done by the children - that we, as parents, don't have to take full responsibility. A lot of the record keeping, charts, diaries, lists, checklists, etc, offer enormous scope for learning skills that will be invaluable later - especially organising personal papers, etc. And it is great encouraging the children to come up with ideas for recording too.
One of the recording tools we use is a folder where I collect up all the stuff they draw or write, over a week or a month. This gets filed away, ready for pasting into scrapbooks, again blank exercise books, for each child. Most often I am in charge of pasting - the children usually aren't motivated enough to do this, but are happy when I do it. I have April's very first 'people' drawings in there, from many moons ago now! The children's scrapbooks are another treasure from childhood.
The Writing Centre
The writing centre also had many examples to follow, and I'd regularly change the displays of types or forms of writing. Whenever I'd come across something unusual, like a different font used somewhere, or texture, I'd show the children and we'd talk about it or have a go for ourselves. I mostly collected samples from 'real' life, or sometimes I would make them up myself, pasting them on card and storing them in a home made card file for easy access by the children.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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