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Encouraging Writing - Unschooled Teens

Beverley Paine

One of the banes of unschooling life is keeping records that demonstrate, for either registration purposes or to maintain our own confidence that what we're doing is enough and adequate, that the kids are learning what we think they should be. A huge emphasis is placed on the skill of writing in the school curriculum. If your kids are like mine they did very little writing as kids and teenagers.

What I found worked to keep me feeling sane and confident was to come up with a dozen or so examples of writing from 'projects' across each of the curriculum areas. Not entirely in the keeping with unschooling philosophy, but it ticked the boxes and did the trick. And, as I explain later, it actually made sense, in a 'real' life kind of way (remember my post the other day? LOL here I am using that very term again!)
I'd collect any scrap pieces of paper the kids had jotted notes and plans, and added them to any pieces of 'published' (polished, edited) writing that aligned with the projects.

In their early teens my sons, with friends, entered the model solar car challenge, an annual competition mainly entered by school teams here in Adelaide. Part of the competition was to document how they had built their cars. The boys took photos and produced a poster which included a detailed description of the build. The lads were used to writing bits and pieces for the homeschool newsletter I produced - they'd grown up doing that, so although detailing their build as a poster was a bit of a chore it wasn't a difficult task.

I used projects like this to help create and amass what I considered an appropriate amount of written material I could use to demonstrate progress in writing skills.
Using interests as a springboard for coming up with some kind of documentation process - and not hiding the fact that it is to enable registration renewal - is something I encourage home educators to consider.

Coming up with ideas is hard to start with but does get easier. The main thing is to get over the motivation hurdle. For my son the thought of not being approved to home educate and having to go to school (and lose that awesome everyday freedom) would have been enough to grudgingly produce a dozen or so writing projects a year about topics of high interest.

Most teens have interests. It may be a computer game (chart the plot in comic book form). It may be breeding lizards (chart family tree, calendar of breeding program, log book of illnesses, plans for new enclosures, interactions with others on forums, etc). It may be motorbikes. Or archery, football, surfing, skateboarding. A diary doesn't have to be kept every day - it could be a diary of events. It doesn't have to be a collection of words - it can include photos, magazine cuttings, print outs of forum/FB pages. Encourage commenting about the pasted entries. Encourage listing of links, references, etc. These notes build into a comprehensive collection as well as building the skills necessary for success in tertiary education and life beyond.

Too many of us did our school work to please the teachers and our parents but the methods that were used (research, rehash and present for assessment of our knowledge) didn't translate into anything useful in adult life. I think this is mainly because what we asked to write about wasn't of any intrinsic interest to us. Few of us would have chosen to study those topics. What we can do as home educators is use writing to aid us to learn about and do the things we want to do. Add writing to doing those things - use it as a tool to helps us become successful at doing those things.

Writing, like maths and reading, is a tool. School puts so much emphasis on writing for writing sake (a thing only a few people such as journalists and authors do outside of educational institutions). We forget that writing is a tool that helps us do the work we want or need to do and explore the things we want to learn about. Learning how to use tools effectively and safely is part of growing up, part of living throughout life.

Talk about and think about writing and learning how to write well as simply learning how to use a very useful tool. Take the educational stigma out of the whole exercise. And hopefully eventually that contrived motivation driven by the need to jump through bureaucratic hoops, registration renewal!

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since 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. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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