The fabulous thing about homeschooling is that when something isn’t working it is in your power to change it and change it for the better. For a while writing just wasn’t working for us at all. And folks kept saying to me I can’t get my kids to write anything, and I kept thinking, “Well my kids write.” But to be honest, while my kids were writing they definitely weren’t loving it and some of them were digging their heels in so firmly that I did start to think that they might never actually write an entire sentence. However, I did notice that they were happy to write the things they needed for a game they were playing or a letter they wanted to write to a friend. I thought I would build on that.
Some folk’s outing journal over here looked a lot like: “We went to “pick any place” and it was fun. The End.” Every single outing. I knew that I had to make some changes. I decided to add a little writing inspiration to their lives and see where it would go, you know just gently up our writing game… really easy like. Looking for fun books with writing ideas in them in library and just taking them out every other week or two and dipping into them as part of our family school. My kids responded surprisingly well to that.
They loved creating characters and had a lot of fun figuring out new settings and so on. Teeny tiny writing projects, I have a feeling nothing overwhelming is a big part of writing for fun. Everyone was happy, we were slowly beginning to win at writing. The ultimate goal is that my children write for pleasure, so that when they have an idea they will have the skills to jot it down. If they want to develop their story further… then so be it. Honestly, I was so surprised by how much they enjoyed it all.
A Writing Week
I decided to up the game a little more and declared a writing week. Normally when we take a break from school, we have science week and do tons of science experiments. Well a writing week works just the same… just a fun writing project everyday. Honestly a writing week requires very little preparation… a pile of paper, some pretty paper, old photographs and magazines for picture inspiration, and colourful pens and pencils help a lot too. Not to mention stickers. I was very intentional about our goal… the writing was to be pure fun for everyone, and it was to be completely voluntary. And it was to feel, as far as the East is from the West, like anything remotely to do with school. I admit, I made it very arty and crafty and there was tons for them to play with and inspire them to write more. But the point is, they loved it and wanted to write more.
To start our writing week I gathered a few books for inspiration… put all our materials together in one place: notebooks, one or two magazines for pictures, markers and watercolours and such like. Our very first meeting we spent covering and decorating our notebooks… yes, you could buy fancy notebooks and skip that step, but it turned out to be quite fundamental to setting the tone. Firstly, I sat there and created my own sketchbook with them (always a win if I join in) and we spoke about all the things that you could expect in a writing club… writing for instance!!! I am so glad we did that… because expectations are quite important to establish right from the start.
I kept it really simple, and if the only writing they did was one or two words, then so be it. My intention was to keep it joyful and once we had made one page together in our notebooks they were very keen to carry on creating more elaborate projects on their own. They really just needed to get this project started and they were good to go the extra mile. The idea is that they love writing… and of course they will learn how to write a formal letter, and a comparative essay in time… but half of my students are in primary school… it is alright for them to have a playful attitude towards writing, the fact that their older siblings want to join in and play along too is really just a winning situation. One day we turned ink blots into cartoons… and I love how every child has a completely different interpretation of the same project. Another day we pretend we were someone else and created passports.
Another day we created a party cake in a mixing bowl…
And I love these…
Life got a little busy and I forgot about it for a while… and then my kids started to ask if they could write during our family school time in the mornings. Stop. Read that again. They enjoyed writing so much, that they asked if they could do some writing everyday as part of their family school. I said, “I would think about it.” While secretly dancing a jig for joy!!! Anyway, writing week, became writing club and once a week or so we spend time together doing a writing project.
Free Writing… Really?!?
And we have upped our game again and added free writing to our family school routine as well. Quite the most astonishing thing… I told them I would only do writing if everyone arrived at the table with paper and a pencil ready to write and as long as no one complained about it, we would continue with it. After one person’s complete melt down at the start, “I can’t write, you can’t make me, I will never be able to write…” Everyone else was so absorbed with what they were doing, that said person realised the drama was wasted and just got on with it. It has become our favourite part of school time, no-one complains, everyone is busy and from grade two till twelve we are writing every single day. Some people write a page, some people write a line… I don’t mind. I especially don’t worry about spelling and details of that nature. This is free writing in the very free sense of the word.
Free Writing for the Win
All you need is paper and pencils and a timer. And a topic jar… we create our topics by going round the table and giving everyone a turn to drop a topic of their choice into the jar. We begin each day by selecting a topic for the day from the topic jar… and set the timer and off we go… all of us, particularly me. I began with the timer set for two minutes, thinking that any longer would overwhelm some of my frail writers… well it took us a week to build up to five minutes and three weeks later everyone thinks they are still writing for five minutes, but I have steadily built it up to ten minutes a day. My kids are writing, without complaint for ten minutes a day. They are writing for themselves, for their own enjoyment and they are happy with that. Once a week, they each select their favourite peace of writing from the week, prepare it and choose to read it to us.
The key really has been joining them because writing is hard. It isn’t like a workbook where you fill in the gaps, there is a lot going on. Not only do you have to concentrate on penmanship, but you have to concentrating on expressing your ideas as well. One thing you can do to ease the pain is to write alongside them… this has helped my kids enormously. To see me stumped by a topic during our free writing time, or to see me just keep on writing when I have actually run out of things to say. Work through it and write on, write on… it has been good for my kids to see that they can actually do this… it is not impossible. It doesn’t have to perfect, for them to want to carry on with it and keep at it, it has to be fun.
A Couple of Fun Resources
- Usborne has a selection of Creative Writing Books, that we found so inspiring.
- Make a Zine: A kid friendly DIY Guide on Brightly.
- Download some tremendously inspiring printables from Chris Riddell on Booktrust.org
- Follow Bravewriter’s Blog and check out the freebies on the right hand side of her blog. In fact download her 7 Day Writing Blitz for some quick inspiration.
- How to Write the Best Story Ever, by Christopher Edge: We loved this book and worked our way through it, little by little. Full of fabulous graphics and inspiring ideas… the illustrations and and ways to be creative that don’t look like pages and pages of writing… just brilliant!!!
Writing definitely can be fun, and when it is fun it is amazing how inspired your kids will be to try harder things and go the extra mile.