My Mistakes With Writing

When I look back at my 9 years of homeschooling, I can see that most things have worked out well. Oh, there have been trial and error with teaching certain subjects, there has been much research and fumbling around trying to find the right way to teach each child but, on the whole, I can see fruit from our endeavors.

Then there is writing. The bane of my existence. I have fluttered around so many different writing programs and methods and I think that may be part of our problem. We should have just kept with one program and stuck with it. But it always seemed that we would start out swimmingly with a program then hit a wall. I knew that I was doing something wrong in teaching writing to my kids (because it wasn’t just problems with one child, it was with all of them so with process of elimination, the problem here is me) but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I have always been enamored with the progymnasmata–a series of writing exercises used by the Ancient scholars. There are 14 (or 15, I can’t remember which right now) levels of writing for the writing student to accomplish. In keeping with my interest in this way of writing we have used Classical Writing. Woof! That program even took away my love of writing. It is very good in the beginning levels but even the second one starts to become more work than it should. By the time we had gotten to the level of Chrea and Maxim, Emma had had enough, it was just too complicated and plain hard. So we then turned to Writing With Skill by Susan Wise Bauer. This has worked out fine. Emma is finishing up the second level of this program and she has done well with it but her writing is just blah. There is no life to her words. They just sit there on the page, dead. Even before she gets to putting those words on paper, she has difficulty in trying to figure out what words should go on that page. Emma is a ‘just the facts, ma’am’ kind of writer. She puts down only the bare minimum of words, no fancy-dancy flowery words for her. That type of writing does not translate well into essays, especially those that are more than one page.

I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I have been doing wrong in teaching my kids. In a conversation with a friend about my writing woes, the lightbulb blinked on and off. In teaching my children to write, it has always been with the goal of writing essays. The goal of the writing programs that I have chosen has been the same: writing the ultimate college essay. Even in writing narrations (and we have written quite a few of them,) that is a ‘just the facts’ kind of writing. There is no room there for any personality. ( I should say here that when I talk of narration, I am referring to the Well-Trained Mind version of narration. There is a difference between WTM narrations and those of Charlotte Mason.) In trying to get my children to learn how to write an essay, I have squashed their writing voices. I have been all about format writing and nothing about creative writing. Susan Wise Bauer says that you don’t have to spend time on creative writing that it will take care of itself. Well, that is not how it has worked with my kids.

In reading Julie Bogart’s Bravewriter site, I am seeing that I should have started my children on creative writing, on free-writing, on word play fun, on descriptive writing. In taking part in these activities, their writing voices would have had ample opportunity to grow and flourish.

Is it too late? Can I rectify my mistake even though my oldest is already in high school?

I’m not sure but I am going to give it a healthy try. During the past few weeks, we have been playing around with words, writing descriptive paragraphs and playing word games. When we get back to school (it is birthday week here on the prairie) I am hoping to loosen up the creative reins by spending time with freewriting. We will do that for awhile as well as do some imitation work a la progymnasmata. I still think that those exercises are valuable but I am not going to follow the curriculum per se, rather I will take bits and pieces of the various curriculums that I have (one of the pluses of being a curriculum junkie) and work them together in my own way. After Emma is comfortable with that then I will go back to the drawing board and see where we go from there.

Caleb is going through Memoria Press’ Classical Composition. He is doing very well on the narrative level so I will keep him there. He is also playing around with the writing exercises that Emma and I are doing together. I am seeing that his writing voice hasn’t been as severely squashed as Emma’s has been. For that I am truly thankful.

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