Homeschooling answers

I realized that I posted abouthomeschooling mom’s questions and didn’t post my answers.

Concern: My child WON’T write (cries if I ask him/her to write only a few sentences–and I’ve even told them what to write about; or, s/he won’t make the deadlines I set; or, says s/he HATES writing, etc.)

Response: Children won’t learn to write if they don’t have to write. There are several ways to address this problem.

1. Let them pick the topic.

2. Many people have a fear of the blank page and this gets them over that.

Freewriting: Get them a notebook only for writing. (I’d recommend a composition notebook.) Tell them they have to write for a certain amount of time each day. If they haven’t ever written much, use two minutes. If they have written some go up as high as ten minutes at a time. I wouldn’t go more than that with this.

Tell them they can write about anything they want. You will not be grading spelling, handwriting, content, or grammar. All you want is for them to write. Tell them they can write “I don’t know what to write” over and over the whole time, but that they have to keep writing. (Kids will get bored writing that and start on something else if you insist on them writing.) You can also supply a list of possible topics: pets, brothers, best friend, church, Legos…

3. Go to a teacher supply store and pick up a couple of thin writing books appropriate to your child’s age and level. Make sure the graphics are well done. Let them work in the book. Remind them that when they are finished they will have a whole book of their own. An incentive for this is to let them design the cover for the book when they are halfway through. Put it on heavy duty paper, glue it over the front and back, and put contact paper over it to complete the cover.

4. Sometimes having them write in other subjects, maybe something they like more, will help. Instead of having them write a paragraph for English, have them write a paragraph about the science experiment or the Revolutionary War.

5. I had this problem and I will tell you that letting them not write will get you nowhere but farther behind.

–Another mother said that she tells her child it is bedtime, but that she can stay up an additional 30 minutes if she is writing. She said all the sudden her daughter wants to keep writing.

Concern: My child’s writing is TERRIBLE. (e.g., A parent isn’t able to see beyond errors in conventions to find anything noteworthy about the idea the student had, or what s/he was trying to convey; but sometimes the content isn’t really there either & parent doesn’t feel equipped to draw the information out of the student.)

Response: People tend to write like they talk. If your child rambles in discussions, they will ramble in writing. It is probably easier to direct them to succinctness in oral ways before you go for that in writing. Also, sometimes the child will write but doesn’t have a clear idea of where they are going with this writing.

1. If it’s rambling, start working on their conversations first.

2. If it never gets anywhere, work on brainstorming with them before they start writing. This can look like several different things. Clustering, timeline, lists.

3. Ask them questions about their writing. Who is the main character? What was the most important thing you wanted to say? How did you show this (in response to either of the previous two answers)? Where did you put in the information which identifies the importance of the character or facts you were writing about? Why are these facts most important? What examples or details can you tell me about this character or these facts to make them more interesting to read about?

4. If your child is not writing much or is very young, then you can let a lot of conventions go right now in order to emphasize the importance of the process of writing. You can also let them write their paper and then go with them to the computer where you wordprocess their paper. Then spell check and grammar check it. The red and green lines in Word are helpful because then the computer is telling them what they need to fix and you are not telling them what they did wrong. (Need to fix is better than what did wrong.)

Concern: How do I evaluate writing? Many parents feel they are only qualified to correct mechanical conventions, and are completely lost when it comes to evaluating content. (Some know they must correct grammatical and spelling errors, but find when they do the end result is often a student who feels “I’m not any good at writing.”)


To avoid the problem of the “I’m not good at writing” look at your child’s writing and pick the three or four problem areas that are most important to you as the teacher. I figure you can always use a dictionary or spell check for spelling, so that doesn’t bother me as much. I can’t stand subject-verb agreement problems, though. Look for things that your child consistently or mostly has trouble with. Tell them that for the next x number of writing assignments, you will only be checking for those things in mechanics. Stick to that. When your child has mastered those, move on to the next few problems. They don’t really have to get everything right in every paper to be improving.

Give them writing projects which you don’t look at their mechanics. Perhaps buy them a beautiful journal and have them write in it for a certain length of time each day.

You can also have them count the number of words in each entry in the journal when they finish.. As they write more often, their writing will get longer. This is a simple and fun way to encourage their writing. However, if they already can write a lot, don’t have them count the words.

Across the curriculum writing programs have found that content is more important in subject sensitive areas. A paper for biology will be graded more heavily on content than on mechanics, for example. A paper for English will be graded more heavily on mechanics, since often the content is simply a vehicle for assuring that the student does in fact know the how-to’s of writing. That can help you determine evaluation.

When I grade my college students’ papers, I give two grades. One is for mechanical conventions (spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraphing) and the other is for structure and content (type of essay, development, accuracy).

Since I have been grading college papers for over ten years, I have collapsed more elaborate grading schemes into something easier for me to handle. I do have a few samples of evaluation methods which are more specific.

Concern: A few times each year, I talk with a parent who has a child that writes enthusiastically, and she wants to know how to support her child’s interest. (I’ve noticed in a few cases the child does write A LOT, but the writing doesn’t really go anywhere. The parent is afraid that in correcting the student, s/he will become discouraged and stop writing altogether. They begin to wonder, “Can a parent really teach writing at home?)


A great poetry book, for teaching poetry, is Rose, Where Did You Get that Red? by Kenneth Koch. Another is A Celebration of Bees by Barbara Juster Esbensen. (This one is out of print, but I got my copy from the used dealers on Amazon and paid less than a new copy would have cost.) You do not need to know how to write poetry to use these. A child can use them alone, if they are a bit older.

One way to support your child’s writing is to provide them with special books in which they can keep their writing. Maybe a nicely bound lined journal would work.

Another thing to do for children who love to write is to think of ways to incorporate writing into your curriculum. Instead of having them answer the seven questions at the end of their science chapter, ask them to write a summary of the chapter instead. If they like to write stories, have them write the science experiment as if it were a story of the first time anyone ever conducted that experiment perhaps.

If they write well and enjoy it, then you can tell them that you will make copies of their favorite pieces and send them to grandparents with birthday or Christmas cards.

Another thing to do, to encourage re-writing, is to tell them that if they will re-write a piece fixing the grammatical errors, you will print it out to make a book out of the corrected writing. You can even have them bound at Kinko’s in varying degrees of nice covers.

An older child (high school) who is interested in fiction writing can read Orson Scott Card’s Character and Viewpoint and Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Explain that all authors read and most can use pointers. These two books are well worth the cost and can be the start of your child’s library on fiction writing.

Update: A really good post on this topic is at Jeannie’s Journal.