“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation... Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
My children are young, and our writing curriculum has been ... well, messy. I look at all the schoolchildren who loathe writing and wonder what went wrong. I think most of the time the problem is that they were asked to do too much too soon. They are taught that writing is a physical, quantifiable act, and that their thoughts don't matter nearly so much as their technique and whether they filled the quota. I am wary of overly formulaic writing courses. I want them to learn the rules, yes--but more importantly I want them to know that they can break the rules. So our focus in grades K-3 has been lenient. At this stage, I find narration to be perfectly acceptable. They narrate their history reports to me while I type, for example.
Asking a five-year-old to compose creative prose with perfect grammar, style, punctuation, spelling, and handwriting while holding still and holding a pencil correctly is a recipe for overwhelming frustration. My goal is to make the physical parts easy, then the spelling, then the grammar ... and then we can worry about productivity. Expression doesn't need to wait-- I can think of creative ways to help them out until they're ready to do it on their own. Here was our plan for writing this year:
Essentially, we practice handwriting (cursive), write letters to friends, take on a modest number of creative-writing exercises, and study spelling and grammar through a course called Logic of English.
Logic of English
I use a scripted textbook and student workbook for spelling. It is easy to use with a bookmark at your own pace. [A.] isn't quite ready for Essentials yet, so I may try their Foundations program.
The course appeals to me because you are not memorizing lists of words, you are memorizing spelling rules with the ultimate goal of understanding why words are spelled the way they are. For example, Rule 1 states that "C always softens to /s/ when followed by E, I, or Y. Otherwise, C says /k/."
I recommend this 40-minute intro video if you are interested in this rational systematic approach to language arts. (If you click the settings button, you can listen in chipmunk speed.) We are going through it very slowly. The textbook is a one-time purchase that will keep me busy for several years.
Above: Trying to remember the rubber-band trick for pencil grips, and failing. It did pique her interest, though!
I recommend avoiding pencil and paper for a good long while. You can practice letter formation with motor skills from the shoulder and elbow, not from the hands. This way they can learn the shapes, without being chained to a desk.
A lowercase A
Cursive in watercolor. For free printable lined paper, click here.
Even in Kindergarten, we practiced handwriting with other mediums such a salt box, sand, a stick in the snow, a leg in the air while lying on our backs, a flashlight, a magic wand, shaving cream, sandpaper flashcards, and ...
When my kids each started writing on paper to spite me, I hunkered down and began instructing.
We use the Rhythm of Handwriting, and we learn cursive first. Here's why:
"1. It is less fine-motor skill intensive.
2. All the lowercase letters begin in the same place on the baseline.
3. Spacing within and between words and controlled.
4. By lifting the pencil between words, the beginning and ending of words is emphasized.
5. It is difficult to reverse letters such as b's and d's."
6. It is faster.
7. A person, ought to know the proper way to write a love letter.
(Yeah, yeah, I'll teach them to type, too.)
[C.] was about 6 years old when I switched from manuscript to cursive. These two sample pictures of her handwriting were taken around the same time:
(Found on her bedroom door. I appreciated the warning ...)
Cursive sample, age 6.
Now, at age 7, her handwriting is as good or better than mine and faster than than her manuscript.
We have been using Writing Strands, but I don't love it as much as I did when I was a kid. I'm looking for something better. We plan to give IEW a try, but on the condition that we also take frequent breaks from their method and write freely. [C.] and [A.] both wrote, illustrated, and published their own books last year.
We've got a long way to go, and a lot to learn. [C.] really likes writing haiku poetry. Here's one of her poems:
Wind howld nicely
and got caught in a
wolfs fur it howld
I would really like to add this to our routine in the future. I am able to write one sentence in my own journal, but corralling the kids for theirs was too much to take on this year.
This happened every week, perhaps because we moved last summer and miss all our friends so much! It was a really easy way to get my kids writing a little bit without any pressure for quality.
Reviewing our year so far, it's clear to me that we could do better. I anticipate that we will spend more time and effort working on writing when they are a little older.