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Fabulous Family Friday–wRitin’, Part 2

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I decided to work on “part 2″ this week and do the second R of Relationships next week–I’ve had a crazy busy week and today picked up 3 bushels of peaches that need done right NOW!



I said this would be a much shorter post–well, maybe! 

Grammar…..read Ruth Beechik! ;)  

Did someone say, “Grammar”?! I’m outta here!

Ruth Beechik says over and over (and over and over) that you don’t learn grammar to write, you write to learn grammar.  I wholeheartedly agree.  And quite frankly, life is too short to work on grammar books every single year of a child’s life.  I know some of you may raise an eyebrow at that, but as one who has graduated three from homeschool now, and all three can write fairly well, I feel I have a little experience to make that statement!

I think learning grammar in context is the best way.  A really good resource I’ve used for that is Learning Grammar through Writing.   It seems to be out of print right now, but available used.  I used it more as a resource for me to teach on the spot.   Really, a good handbook would do the same.   Something you could look up and point out why a comma goes here (or doesn’t), whether to use lie or lay, and whether to say their/there/they’re.

Believe it or not, that is primarily the way I have taught my older daughters–and after awhile they learn to use those handbooks themselves! ;)

Hear Ruth Beechik’s tongue-in-cheek but oh-so-true wisdom on grammar:

Did God’s voice thunder from Mount Grammaticus, “These nouns and these verbs which I give unto you shall you use with all the inflections thereof which I declare unto you; and you shall teach them unto  your children and your children’s children unto all generations”?

No one I know believes that such an event occurred, but many people treat grammar as though it occurred.  For over two centuries our schooling has conditioned whole generations to view grammar as an authoritarian system.  Our textbooks contained all the pronouncements about “right” and “wrong.”  Maybe we, personally, didn’t understand some of them, but that was our fault, we thought.  It was clear–to somebody.

                               ~You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully, p. 197

Here is an interesting tidbit that also might shed some light on the “study of grammar”:

Grammar teaching….was closely intertwined with study of the classic poets, and not a means for learning language.  In primary school, Greek children had already learned to write fluently, and then in grammar school they studied the classic writers, and learned grammar in that context.

You would not want to imitate Greek teaching methods, since they were limited.  For instance, because they had no printed books, a great deal of time was spent comparing the students’ written copies with the teacher’s in a critical examination of the text.  As time went on, the Greeks lost all sense of why they were teaching the classics.  Emphasis was on words and details rather than on meaning.  Knowing details of the classics became an end in itself, and lost was the vision of heroism, morals, thinking and other higher purposes in literature. 

Some would argue that we are suffering the same loss of vision about why we teach grammar.  As a scholarly discipline, it is one of the highest uses of the human mind.  But as an authoritarian system, it fails us.  It doesn’t help our children write, as we hoped it would.

                   ~You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully, pp. 165-166


True confessions–I have some that don’t know all the “technical” terms of grammar–but they can write.   As usual, if I’m going to err, I want it to be on this side of that debate!  :D

The Language Lessons books by Sandi Queen I mentioned last week do have some gentle grammar.   If you’re not using them, I suggest finding a good handbook you like (Rod and Staff, Writers Inc., or the aforementioned Learning Grammar through Writing).  I personally do NOT feel you need a separate grammar “program” to work through.  If it is not going to necessarily help your child write better, and it’s taking time away from real writing–why bother?!  

There are a few “Charlotte Mason” type gentle grammar studies out there that I could use, if I were inclined to do something more “official” with grammar.  Karen Andreola’s Simply Grammar is sweet and pretty low-key.   I know it’s written for “elementary age”, and it’s mostly oral, but do you really need a scholarly study of grammar for every child?   If you really, really feel they need “more”, please wait until they are older (I would say 15 or older and writing well) and maybe do Easy Grammar.  But please do NOT buy all the graded workbooks, just the main book and please do NOT make your child do each and every problem on each and every page.   They can go over it, do a few exercises, and if they get it, go on.   The goal is NOT to fill that workbook up but for them to learn it so they can implement it in their writing!

You're not *really* going to make me study grammar, are you?


 Now on to spelling!


With my oldest two, I did the traditional spelling methods.   Leah used to be able to pass her tests with flying colors….then not be able to spell “with” or “white” in her writing!


I became very frustrated with the “traditional method”, and I was blessed to get a good deal on Spelling Power many years ago.    I really liked it for the oldest two daughters.   The next two seemed to get bogged down in it.   We tried Alphaphonics for awhile, and it was helpful, but still didn’t help as much as I had hoped.


For Susannah, we found Apples.   Apples 2 was okay, but she liked the first one better.  Then we used (ahem…very minimally!) Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason.   It is basically copywork, and when they are ready, you dictate the sentence or passage to them.  She liked it fairly well, and I don’t know why we let it drop.   She’s “graduating” now, but if she wants to pick it back up, we might! ;)


Cassia started using Andrew Pudewa’s Phonetic Zoo.  I did not buy all the cds–I thought we could make our own tapes!   A bit of work, but doable!  She really liked it, but life got in the way and we didn’t keep up with making the tapes (which is probably why maybe you should buy the cds…).   I looked at AVKO’s Sequential Spelling, and it looks good, but Cassia decided to try Natural Speller by Kathryn Stout.


Now this is not a pull-it-out-no-planning item!   But neither will it take you forever to figure out!  We just got started on this last spring before my mom passed away, so it’s on hold until this fall.    I basically have used a lot of what I’ve learned from other spelling programs and Ruth Beechik about testing the words they miss vs. studying a list and then testing.  So I was going through the lists from grade 1 (sometimes the simplest words trip you up!).   There is a little grammar instruction in there, too.




If you are brave enough to not have a “curriculum”, per se, you can use Ruth Beechik’s ideas in You CAN Teach Your Child  Successfully.  She has Common Word Spelling Lists for grades 4-8 in there (even though Kathryn Stout’s has grades 1-4 in hers, I again don’t think children need formal spelling instruction until 4th grade or older…usually older!).   You could test them until they miss some, let them study those, help with any “rules” that might apply (but don’t get caught up in that too much!), and then retest with another list the next time.


I have actually done this with Diane Lopez’ book “Teaching Children“.  She is a Charlotte Mason advocate, and her book is subtitled “A Curriculum Guide to What Children Need to Know at Each Level Through Sixth Grade” (what a mouthful!).   She has a Spelling section as well as a Dolch Sight Word List in the Reading section for each “grade”.   Again, I don’t advocate worrying too much about spelling too soon.   But going through these lists/ideas as well as using words from their writing (Ruth Beechik advocates writing every day!), will really give you more of a well-rounded spelling program than you realize!


Also, please don’t do 20-30 words at a time!  5-10 are really enough.  If you are just “testing” to see where they start missing grade level wise, you could maybe add more in just for that purpose, but please don’t give them 20 words each week (or whatever time frame) to study!


Barb Shelton  (another favorite!) in her Jumpstart Navigator said that for years her children had only 5 spelling words each week.   Her daughter went on to do well in college, and I believe her son is a well-adjusted adult as well!


Diane Lopez’ book doesn’t have word lists for spelling, but has listings like:


1. Phonetic and structural analysis principles

     Example:  silent letter(s) “ight”–bright  fight  light  might

     night  right  sight  tight


2. Content areas

     Words from the content areas should be used to supplement

     the regular word list. (This is taking words from their

    writing and reading.)


3. Sight words

     Use words from the Dolch list and the basal reader.


4. Calendar-related words

     Review the days of the week, months of the year, and

     seasonal words.


Ideas taken from Second Grade Spelling section


I didn’t list all the ideas, but that gives you a picture of what it’s like.   And again–this is very doable and low-key!  I like low-key!  :)



The bottom line for me is to not stress about “doing it right” or “covering it thoroughly” but working through it gently, in context with real life writing and reading.  


In all honesty, isn’t that what you do when you need to check up on your grammar?   Or spelling?  Do you go do a “course” on it or just look up what you need?


There may be reasons where a formal study of grammar would be helpful, but I honestly haven’t used diagramming sentences since I had to do it in high school.   It didn’t make me a better writer, either.  


I share all this to help you relax–you will find what works for you and for your child(ren). 


And of course, above all, keep the 3Rs of Relationships top priority!   If it’s causing tears (in your child and/or you!) or making you have knots in your stomach, it’s time to change!




If you want some help planning your schedule, head on over to Belinda Letchford’s blog (I love her website, too!).  She has three posts on planning that are very good and realistic. 


Planning Part I:  Getting My Head Around Planning


Planning Part II:  Writing a Study Schedule


Part III:  Prep Time


And here’s a wonderful story from another post, You Are Mine, Twice Over!


 I hope you find her posts helpful during this “planning season”.  



As for me, it’s “canning season”!   ;)







Fabulous Family Friday–wRitin’, Part 1

Friday, July 30th, 2010




Now we come to the second “R” of academics–wRitin’.  (I’m talking about writing to express yourself, vs. handwriting.)


Of the 3 Rs, this one is the most fun, and yet can seem to be most intimidating to “teach”.   It can be as easy or as hard as you make it, really.


Now, language arts is my “thing”.   It might not be yours, but I am going to share some things with you that will help demystify teaching writing.


What is the reason to learn writing?  It’s to be able to express yourself.     Please keep in mind that not everyone needs to know how to write a short story–or a research paper.   For some, being able to write up a quote for a job and maybe a love note to a wife may be all the “writing” they really need!    As in all of education, having a “one-size-fits-all” attitude is not going to work well here.  You may have some children who are trying to write their own novels at 9 and others who seem allergic to anything to do with the subject!    The first axiom in teaching writing is, Know whom you’re teaching and why.


I have daughters who love to write more prosey things and stories, and I have one that is “Just the facts, Ma’am!”.   I have another who thinks she doesn’t like to write, but if you let her do it with the computer vs. pen and paper, does very well.   Had I insisted they all write short stories and novels, or had I insisted they all do research, had I insisted they all use pencil and paper, I would have killed any love of writing in my four oldest daughters.


There are some things I could have done better, don’t get me wrong!   But overall, I’m going to share some very simple ways to teach writing as well as some resources I like.


Teaching to write is as simple as writing a letter.   Really!  The “program” I used with my two oldest was Understanding Writing by Susan Bradrick (here is another review, by Cathy Duffy, and here you can get information directly from Family Discipleship Ministries, the Bradrick’s ministry).    It was the best investment I made!


Basically, you are teaching writing through the medium of writing letters.   Mrs. Bradrick teaches how to evaluate your content and focuses on Christ-honoring writing.   Grammar is sprinkled in throughout level 4 and up (levels do not necessarily mean grade level), and she advises taking the “junior high” years to study grammar using Easy Grammar, while reviewing and honing skills learned in levels 1-5.   I admit right here that we tried Easy Grammar and I thought it was an overkill.  But I have an aversion to workbooks of just about any stripe!  LOL!  


I “taught grammar” in context.   Mrs. Bradrick has you using grammar handbooks, and although you might occasionally need to work on a concept, my oldest two daughters really absorbed a lot this way.  They might not know all the “grammar terms”, but they have proven Ruth Beechik right in that they write beautifully!   By the way I highly recommend first reading everything Ruth Beechik has to say about teaching grammar before you stress about it! ;)


Understanding Writing is not something you can just give to your child and they do with minimal input from you.  The lessons are well-laid out, not twaddly, and really fairly short.   Older children could possibly read it and do the lessons on their own, and sometimes I “doubled” up–while practicing a concept by writing a letter, I would sometimes teach another lesson (depended on what the next lesson was and my daughters’ ability to absorb something new while practicing the previous concept).


The most wonderful part, to me, is that this becomes a ministry!   One of my mother-in-laws lived out of state and loved getting letters from her granddaughters!   We had a neighbor who was dying of cancer, and one of my daughters wrote her a few times before she passed away.   She had told me how much those letters meant to her. 


Shut-ins, grandparents, neighbors, friends far away–what a beautiful way to keep in touch!


It’s also nice that there is a purpose to writing vs. filling in a workbook that only Mom is going to see.  


My girls would make a copy of their final letter to keep in their folder before sending the original off.




Another resource I’ve used is Jill Bond’s “Writing to God’s Glory“.     The first part is for the “teacher” or, if it’s an older student, the student could read this part.   Jill helps get you focused on using your “red pen” for highlighting all the good stuff, vs. marking up what’s wrong with a child’s writing!  Again, this is not a “pull it out and hand it to your child” resource, but I personally found it good!   I did some of the activities in the “teacher section” with my oldest two, then life took over and I just let Jessica finish it on her own.   It’s supposed to take 2 years to work through.  I honestly don’t remember how long with Jessica–we think it was longer.


Some don’t consider this an “in depth” program, but I know I am writing to many young mamas of many.  To be honest, if your older child is really into writing and needs something more “in depth”, then by all means find what will work for them!  But I will tell you that Jessica got started on a sweet children’s character novel simply by the section that had her coming up with a plot, characters, etc. for a story!


It’s considered K-12, with older students able to go through it on their own (although some feedback from you would be nice!).


Writing Well is the first section, talking about the process (mechanics of building a story) and the features (aspects of writing).   The Craftsmen section is grammar, although again, not an in depth treatment of it (not all bad!).   Jill makes it really fun with titles like “Gotcha (“Got” Is Not the Past Tense of “Have”)” and “Love is Lovely” (Overuse of words).    Ideas is the section that has you coming up with a plot, developing characters, setting and research for a book.  Note–you do not HAVE to write a book!   But by going through those processes, you get an idea of what  plot, setting and character are!


Finally is the “Favorites” section, where students will write down favorite things they like in others’ writings.  First lines.  Vignettes. 


Jill gives a couple of “scope and sequence” ideas for working through the book. 


Because I have “different kinds of writers” in this family, my third and fourth daughters did not enjoy this as much.  So the hunt was on, again, to find something for them!



I latched onto Diane Hopkins’ Journal and Language Arts Program, from Love to Learn (K-5).  About half of this binder is filled with papers with different sized lines for writing, with the front page half blank for a drawing.   The idea is that the student draws a picture and “journals” on the lines.  You don’t “grade” their spelling or grammar, although you should encourage good handwriting, you don’t “grade” that either. 


Spelling grows out of their journaling, and she has spelling list pages that you can keep track of the words they need to “study”, gleaned from their writing. 


Next is the “Teach When Needed” Language Arts section!   She has some ideas by grade level (nothing daunting–it all fits on one page!).  Then there are ideas for lessons on everything from Abbreviations, ABC Order, Addressing an Envelope to Prefixes, Suffixes, Roots, Punctuation, and Synonyms (there’s more than just that, but I wanted to list some to give you an idea).  There are even some spelling families listed.


The final section is Dictation Instructions, along with four sections of quotes of various lengths to use for dictation.     This was very gentle and worked well for us for awhile.    Again, to be honest, no, I did not do everything all the time.   But it was a sweet, non-threatening way to get them journaling.  They kept their work in  a binder, which is funny to go back through now!



We found Sandi Queen’s Language Lesssons  series at Queen Homeschool Supply (K-12), and because life had gotten a bit insane for us, they were an answer to prayer!  These are more like traditional workbooks EXCEPT—they are based on Emma Serl’s Language Lessons and are definitely Charlotte Mason and relaxed schooling friendly!  Short, sweet lessons, picture studies, grammar, writing, phonics for the younger set (although not enough to get them reading–but good review), and  poetry.    My girls really like these.   When Susannah and Cassia got to the upper levels, they didn’t care for them as much, but neither of them are prosey fiction writers, and there was more writing at those levels.    I also would say the copywork is maybe a bit overdone sometimes, but that is probably because my children copy daily from the Bible.  So I sometimes excused them from some of the copywork.  I realize copywork is GREAT to teach handwriting and other skills, but use your discretion on this (if you have one with an aversion to pencils, maybe you would cut down how much they did).



The resource we started using last year is Andrew Pudewa’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.   I only have the teacher’s syllabus that I’m teaching from, although I have viewed the dvds as well.  With the dvds you have a very comprehensive course on writing.  I’m not very qualified to tell you how it all fits together, but you do not have to buy the student dvds.   Since I have seen some of the dvds, heard Mr. Pudewa speak and like language arts myself, I am fine using just the syllabus.  It is definitely a more expensive option if you go with the dvds, but many homeschool groups have invested in some to share or a mom who had been through them may teach at a co-op.     I really like Mr. Pudewa’s teaching and he makes it “easy” to write–I was teaching my 9, 11, 12 and 16 year olds, and the 18, 21 and 23 year olds want to be in on it, too!   My one daughter who really dislikes writing the most actually enjoyed it, and my friend who is loaning it to me said her older son is in college and writing essays very well.  Her younger son is severely dyslexic, and HE enjoys them!  That says volumes!


I need to say that they don’t advise teaching it without going through the course.    Of course, I have to be different!  ;)    I had borrowed this to see if it was worth investing in, and I believe it is.   So I will probably be getting my own set of dvds and syllabus this fall.




I realize all of these require a bit of investment.   To be honest, if you are willing to go against the flow, you can teach a lot with Ruth Beechik’s recommendations in her books (A Strong Start in Language–good for K-3, and You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully–grades 4-8).   Another really good resource that is helpful, free, and not too overwhelming (as long as you don’t keep reading all the rest and feel you have to add it in) is “Making the Transition” at Simply Charlotte Mason.  You don’t even have to be a “Charlotte Mason” homeschooler to use these ideas!


The page I linked to first is “stage 1″, basically talking of short lessons, living books and narration.  For younger children, that plus copywork is really all you need!  But if you want to know more, click here and scroll down a bit for spelling ideas, and click here for ideas on language arts.  But don’t try to do it all at once.  “Make the transition”, as it says!


I am mainly covering writing as expressing yourself, vs. grammar and spelling.   I will cover them in wRitin’ part 2 in two weeks!  It will be a MUCH shorter post, believe me!  :D 


If you have any questions about the resources I’ve used, or if you want me to clarify anything, feel free to ask in your comments or e-mail me.   I really love language arts and want to get back to having fun with this with my younger set!   


The bottom line is—don’t stress and have fun!  Teaching “as you go” is one of the best ways—and it works!    :)