Home school teachers are uniquely qualified to teach their kids because they know their kids so well, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Sometimes we think our kids won’t do something, like writing, when actually they just can’t.
I did that.
What Happened at Our House
Anna, my little curly blond first-born, was all eagerness with her schoolwork from preschool through third grade. She was compliant, eager, happy, prompt, and thorough. I was happy too because I was so obviously doing school “right.” As she grew, her schoolwork reflected her good attitude and my obvious teaching skill (I’m laughing as I write this). Then she hit fourth grade, and we had a total paradigm shift because I thought, “now it’s time to get serious about writing.” What that meant to me, of course, was that it was time for her to write essays. I dished out essay assignments at every turn. I assigned them for literature, history, and science, and required recaps in essay form for every field trip. But after months of this, to my surprise, Anna started going through a teary phase, which turned into a sort-of bucking phase, and then an “I don’t really feel like doing school phase,” which in turn made me switch to a “tough love” phase. Oddly though, with all the tough love and threats of groundings – she never improved in her writing. Go figure.
Then one day I heard a businessman give a talk on turnover in the workplace. He said that the number-one reason why people leave their jobs is that they’re given the responsibility to do things they can’t do. He said that they leave not because they are uncooperative, defiant, depressed, lazy, or half-hearted – they simply can’t do the work within the parameters they are expected to do them in (not enough time, not enough money, and/or not enough training).
Kids Are Just Little People
“Could this be happening with Anna?” I wondered. As I thought about her behavior in terms of the big picture, it occurred to me that she didn’t usually shut down or complain about anything but writing. “What if she just doesn’t know how to write an essay and that’s been the problem this whole time? Do any of her English books even teach composition?” “She’s making straight A’s in grammar, so what’s wrong here?” I realized that yeah, she had been given the responsibility of writing without the ability to do it. She needed step-by-step, sequential, logical instructions.
Believe it or not, that whole scenario changed the way I parented. I realized that – as little people – kids will behave like adults when they are given a task they’re not able to do, but they can’t “quit” homeschooling, so how else can they cope? They’ll shut down, fight, and eventually stop trying. They don’t want the humiliation of seeing honest efforts shot down, marked up, and analyzed for everything that’s wrong with it any more than an adult would. And what’s worse, is that many kids start to believe they’re not smart enough to “just write” when all they need are specific directions.
The Recipe for Success
Most of the time kids will write when these happen (and of course these apply to any subject):
- When kids know exactly what is required in their writing assignments
- When the skills are broken down into manageable portions
- When the categories are taught thoroughly, one at a time, in a logical sequence
- When they’re given the chance to master each skill one at a time
- When they are given a model to follow
- When writing (and reading, the product of the writing) are valued in the home
- When the victories and progress are given honest praise
- When the kids are given an environment in which they’re free to fail and to start again
- When developmental readiness for the task has been displayed
- When kids are not scolded for not writing or reading before they’re developmentally ready
- When kids are not scolded for forgetting what they’ve already studied
- When they feel that they’ve pleased the most important people in their lives, us.
If you give your kids step by step instructions in writing, with models, presented in a logical sequence, according to their unique writing needs, they can learn to write. Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen this work a thousand times. It’s a whole lot better than giving abstract instructions like, “just write how you feel.” And please don’t give snarky instructions like those I gave, such as “you were there – just write down what happened.”
Note: there are other good reasons for kids’ not wanting to write, such as visual difficulties, too many carbs before school (the cuprit behind my son’s writing trouble), or just a learning style thing, which is most common with kids who are math-science oriented or those who want to be in a tree somewhere rather than at a table doing school work. These cases notwithstanding, they’ll write when we tell them that they’re good at it.
The Last Chapter
So how’d it all work out? Anna stopped crying, she stopped fighting, she did learn to write, and she sailed through college writing. That was her happy ending.
My happy ending was realizing that inability is not defiance. It’s not that Anna wouldn’t write, it was that she couldn’t write. Sometimes the secret of our kids’ success depends on how well we parents learn our own lessons, like the importance of little victories, how to re-boot when something’s not working, and most importantly, how to read between the lines.
To teach writing with a step-by-step approach check out A Sequence of English Writing Skills, at www.cathycanen.com/shop.
We’re stronger together,
Carrie is the owner & operator of Homeschool Giveaways. She has been homeschooling for over a decade and has successfully graduated her first homeschooler. She has two girls and works side by side at home with her awesome husband. She has been saved by grace, fails daily, but continues to strive toward the prize of the high calling of being a daughter of the Most High God.