As we’ve just had the Easter holidays for two weeks, I have given the children a holiday from their usual routine. Cana (age 5) usually does a specific writing task once a week and this is always for a reason. Usually it is a letter to someone as she has 3 penpals now and plenty of family to write to. Whoever directs this, me or my husband, gives her a few pointers and then leave her to it. We don’t correct her spelling unless it’s a word that we know she has learnt already.
What she does everyday however, is handwriting practise and spellings. Because she can form all her letters correctly, she just has to copy something, often a short nursery rhyme, not more than 4 lines long. This is just to help her improve her speed and neatness and usually takes her no more than fifteen minutes. She has two spellings a day until she learns them and then she gets two more and we have worked through the first 25 high frequency words, then the first 100 and now we’re on the next 200. When she finishes each stage she can choose some sort of reward, which is usually chocolate related in her case (her mother’s daughter!).
I feel particularly strongly that writing should be seen as something positive, not “work” and it is interesting that although Cana hasn’t been following her homeschooling routine for a fortnight she had been very busy writing. Yesterday she sat at the table and made another book, this time Mary Poppins, which she has seen a few times, the most recent being last week at her Godmother’s house. This was completely independent with no prompting from an adult at all. She loves to draw so I thought she was just drawing pictures until she came to show me what she was doing. The only help she had was when she turned to me and said, “Michael has a silent H doesn’t it?” and I said “yes”. She uses exclamation marks, dashes, brackets and question marks, none of which we have taught her formally other than to point them out when she is reading. In fact she calls question marks, “those rainbow signs” which I think is rather cute. Obviously we have taught her full-stops and capital letters and she has learnt some use of apostrophes in her spellings. Check out the final picture too, it’s Jane and Michael looking through the banisters!
When it comes to formally teaching writing I am very much of the opinion that they will copy what they are exposed to. These days we have to specifically teach different writing genres to children from Year 1 up (lists, instructions, letters, poetry, playscripts etc) which, as a lover of words, I find rather repulsive. In fact, I would rather not teach writing at all. I am fortunate as a homeschooler to have an educational background so I am confident enough to follow my gut instinct and so far, Cana is proving me right. She is learning to love words through reading and this is showing in her writing.
As a word lover, I have written poetry for years but have not read much to Cana, apart from nursery rhymes of course, and the odd A.A. Milne poem. She hasn’t shown much interest to be honest so I thought I’d wait until she was older. I don’t like much of the poetry written specifically for children so wanted to introduce her to real poetry from the start. The other day, I was astonished when she brought me a poem she had written by herself. It turned out that a blind friend of ours had read her some of my poems. I had written them out in braille for my friend years ago and she read a few to Cana when she was visiting one day with daddy. I am so proud of Cana’s poem, unsentimental though I am (filing most of my children’s paintings in paper recycling) I will keep it for ever! If you’re not sure, where she’s written “futer”, she means “future”.
I wanted to put some of Jude’s writing in because, well firstly, he’s finally writing, at 4 years and 4 months. Secondly, Cana is a bit of a child prodigy but Jude, though delightfully unique to us, is just your bulk standard little boy, academically speaking. He likes to play trains and pirates, and fighting. He has been at nursery 3 mornings a week so I have not done much formal work with him. We just read every night and do some flash cards but writing has been limited to him practising how to form some of his letters on the whiteboard with Daddy. He has now got to the stage where he knows how to form all of his letters correctly but he usually can’t be bothered anyway. I am quite strict about this as it’s making work for yourself if they get into bad habits with their letter formation. Anyway, he’s started to write random letters quite regularly on his pictures and today he wrote in a card for his cousin’s birthday. I sat next to him but did not nag him about his letters because I wanted to see if he could actually write a sentence and I think he did very well. The first photo shows the front of the card which started out as being a monster but changed into “a chocolate factory” which he tried to write I think.
Ok, what it says is: doi (dear) Ruq (Rupert) i (I) h (hope) Y (you) wiiw (will) h (have) a (a) gud (good) deYy (day) Luv (love) Jude. Not bad eh, for his first sentence. As he has just finished nursery, the next stage is introducing handwriting practise every day so that he consolidates his letter formation properly. You can see it’s rather erratic at present. But this will be 5/10 minutes a day maximum, as he has a very short attention span and we want him to learn to love writing. He was so proud of his birthday card writing as well.
In summary, when teaching writing: the key is short and sweet, keep it regular but meaningful and read, read, read.