The upcoming Traditional Story Telling Night reminds me of some interesting ideas about stories and writing that I’d like to share with homeschoolers.
Many articles that I read about homeschooling state that the best way to destroy a child’s potential to love to write is to require them to do standard school-type writing assignments. While I don’t know if it is true that forcing children to write will create non-writers, I do question the usefulness of most required writing. These school-type assignments tend to lack relevance to the child’s life and often are even disconnected from other subjects that the child is learning about. Worse, at times children are told to write about something that they otherwise love and by being forced to write about it when they don’t care to, their love of an interesting subject may be undermined. (After my son read my draft of this post he cheerily told me “I love to write because you’ve never MADE me write, mom!”) As homeschoolers, we always have the freedom to help our children learn through ways that fit our children and our family. We can think outside of the (curriculum) box. Here are a couple of illustrations of this point.
A friend, Jen H., recently told me about Rory’s Story Cubes. This ‘game’ consists of nine, six-sided cubes (like dice) with a different picture on each face. (Quick! How many possible combinations of pictures are there if you roll all nine cubes?!) Players roll the cubes, either all at once or one at a time, and make up a story using the pictures on the cubes to spark each idea.
My daughter and I played our first game with our new story cubes this morning as we finished our oatmeal together. We took turns rolling one cube at a time and made up a continuous story. Sometimes we ended our turn with a transition statement like “and then…” or “mom picked up the phone and….” Our story got quite silly. Did you know that the letter L grows on trees? And that the L Tree is right across the ravine from the Money Tree, which unfortunately is on our neighbor’s property instead of ours!
My friend that told me about these story cubes mentioned that her son, who is not always particularly keen on writing, asked her if he could use the story cubes to help him with some of his homeschool writing. What a brilliant idea! I am passing this idea on to you and hope that some of you find it to be fun and useful to your family. If you’re feeling creative and resourceful, you can even make your own cubes!
I’d like to share with you one more example of relevant and engaging writing. I’ve noticed that my 12-year-old son seems to enjoy writing if he has an audience, and when he asked recently if he could start a blog I thought it would be a good fit for him (actually what I thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”). On his (private) blog, he writes about whatever he wants to at the moment– books he likes, what kind of day he had, poems, etc. He enjoys his writing and I mostly leave it alone – I want it to be fun for him and not turn it into a chore. But we have agreed that once a week or so I will print off one of his posts so that we can do some editing work together. In this way, writing that he does by choice can also be a means of improving his skills. Is this unschooling? Engaged homeschooling? Interest-initiated learning? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just life. Maybe we are better off without all these labels.
These ‘outside the box’ ideas are examples of a greater message that I wish to convey: Many people feel that it is important for children to learn specific styles of writing (e.g., summaries, book reports, research papers), and they believe that the way to learn to write is primarily through writing in these formats. But what I believe is important is learning the SKILLS of writing, skills which can be learned through a myriad of interesting, relevant, and enjoyable ways. These general skills can then be applied to any situation when they are needed, either now or later in life – in college and work, in creative writing and even writing for enjoyment Happy writing!