Teaching homeschool writing
Teaching your child to write
We suggest introducing writing in first grade, when your child is six. If you have been following our reading curriculum, your child should read simple books comfortably before starting first grade, and will be well equipped to focus on writing. Also by this age, fine motor coordination and attention spans are better suited to the task of handwriting.
Our curriculum teaches print writing first. Start by purchasing a simple workbook which contains traceable letters and plenty of space for practice, such as the Trace Letters handwriting practice workbook used in our first grade curriculum. Have your child spend five minutes per day practicing handwriting in the beginning, and gradually lengthen to between ten and twenty minutes by the end of first grade.
We recommend monitoring your child's pencil grip and stroke direction closely during this period to ensure that correct habits are internalized from the beginning. It is common for children to write letters and numbers backwards during the first year or two. Correct these and any other mistakes while offering plenty of encouragement.
Early writing practice
Once your child has learned to write all of the letters, purchase a supply of beginner writing paper and have your child use it to write words and sentences. (In second grade, switch to second grade writing paper.) Have your child practice writing daily, for about ten minutes per day in first grade and twenty minutes in second grade.
Writing content doesn't matter much; at this stage, the focus is on correct letter formation and spacing. Depending on your child's preference, you can do dictations (where the child writes down a sentence you narrate or read from a book), write notes or short letters to family members, or make up funny poems.
During the first year, you can ignore spelling mistakes. Instead, ensure your child continues to use the correct stroke order and forms each letter correctly. You should, however, teach the proper use of capitalization and punctuation at the end of a sentence.
Once your child writes sentences easily and correct letter formation is habitual, you can begin to correct spelling. Continue to spend ten to twenty minutes per day practicing writing, but now let your child know how to spell unfamiliar words, and correct any spelling mistakes.
Other than correcting mistakes during daily writing practice sessions, we do not feel it is necessary to drill students in spelling. If you have worked through the The Ordinary Parent's Guide To Teaching Reading as part of our reading curriculum, your child will be familiar with the major rules of phonics. And most children who spend plenty of time reading, as our curriculum requires, absorb a great deal of spelling naturally. We suggest using the time that is traditionally spent on spelling exercises for independent reading instead. This is both more enjoyable for your child, and a more effective way to teach good writing.
We use the Writing with Ease and Writing with Skill series of instructional books for elementary and middle grade writing instruction. Our curriculum commences these books in second grade, but you may start earlier if your child's interest and attention span allows. Writing with Ease is different from other writing programs in that it is literature based, and teaches essential skills thoroughly without requiring large amounts of writing from young children. Lessons progress from narration and copywork to essays and research papers in the upper grades.
In grades two through four, we suggest completing four daily Writing with Ease lessons per week, which will allow you to complete each book over the course of eight months. The Writing with Ease series includes a fourth level, but this is essentially a repetition of skills learned in Level 3 and may be skipped unless your child needs extra practice.
The Writing with Skill series is introduced in fifth grade. In order to accommodate the longer assignments in this series and leave plenty of time to focus on other coursework, we suggest working through these books at half pace, completing two lessons per week instead of four. On this schedule, the student will complete Levels 1 and 2 by the end of middle school, and Level 3 over the first two years of high school.
We recommend introducing cursive writing in the third grade, once your child is writing print easily and well. You can take a break from print writing practice and have your child work through a cursive practice workbook, such as the Cursive Handwriting book included in the third grade curriculum.
Once your child completes the cursive handwriting workbook, return to daily writing practice, this time in cursive. You should require all writing to be done in cursive for the rest of the third grade year (at least six months). Thereafter, let your child choose whichever writing style he or she prefers.
Children often have trouble reading cursive even after learning cursive writing, so make an effort to give your child plenty of exposure to written materials in cursive. Our curriculum includes the Dinotopia book series, with its generous cursive captions, as a fun way to practice reading cursive. Another option is to correspond in cursive with family or friends.
By fifth grade, students have mastered writing mechanics and shift focus to the content of what they are writing. This is an ideal time to introduce creative writing: imaginative pieces composed by the student.
Individuals vary greatly in their affinity for creative writing. If your child enjoys creative writing, allow plenty of time for it, if necessary by reducing time spent on the Writing with Skill assignments. If your child does not like creative writing, there is no need to force it. The expository writing taught in the Writing with Skill series will equip him or her with the writing skills needed for academic and professional life.
Creative writing is greatly facilitated by a selection of writing prompts, such as the 500 Writing Prompts for Kids or Cliffhanger Writing Prompts included in the fifth grade curriculum. These are helpful even for children who have plenty of ideas for what to write.
Many children enjoy using a decorative journal for their daily writing practice. Try to pick out one that includes lined paper and plenty of space.
During creative writing sessions, allow your child free rein to write about what most appeals to him or her. This may include a daily journal of life events, letters to favorite authors, articles about subjects of interest, short stories or even full-length books.
At the end of each session, read through your child's work together and correct any spelling or other mistakes. This is also a good time to reinforce the proper use of paragraphs and other stylistic points. Though review sessions should correct any mistakes, keep the tone enthusiastic and appreciative of your child's work.
Our curriculum introduces typing in sixth grade. We recommend waiting until middle school to introduce typing, so that students have plenty of time to develop comfort with handwriting. Learning to type is a prerequisite for computer programming, which is introduced in the seventh grade.
The best way to learn to type is with a software designed to teach typing, as these develop muscle memory by displaying the location of letters on the screen. Today there are many fun and effective typing programs for kids, such as the options listed in the Learning to Type activity of our curriculum.
Have your child spend about half an hour per day with one of these programs. (You may pause other writing work to allow time for this.) Monitor your child to ensure he or she is looking at the screen instead of down at the keyboard while typing, as this will facilitate the development of muscle memory and greater typing speed in the long term.
It should take three to six months for your child to become proficient at typing. At this point, he or she should learn to use a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word, Pages or Google Docs. Thereafter, some or all of daily writing practice should be done with a computer.