The Written Word

Asalaam ‘Alaikum:

What can I say, I love writing – it is a passion of mine (reading is up there too). I have been trying to help my girls in their writing. It can be difficult some times. Often they feel they don’t have anything important to say. I’m trying to show them all the possibilities. I haven’t been just focusing on creative writing – although I definitely agree that it has an important place in our lessons. I am also trying to help them write better in their school work and in their notes. Sounds boring, no – actually my girls are starting to finally enjoy this part of school – but it took us a while to get there because I wasn’t being creative enough.

By the way – as a side note – I have had days when my kids just had a hard time getting some idea – they just couldn’t grasp it. However, I have finally come to an important realization. If your child fails to understand a concept – it is the fault of the teacher (in this case me) and not the child. You just haven’t found a way to make it understandable for your child. I have seen this on so many occasions since homeschooling my kids. At first I really struggled with this issue and couldn’t understand why they just didn’t “get it” the first time. However, when I started trying to find more creative ways to reach them – we had some real successes. So, if you ever are stuck in a moment where you child just doesn’t understand – try your best to find a way to reach them. Try to find a creative way to teach them what they need to know. Your child will feel successful from the experience – and I might add, so will you.

That being said, we will return to writing. The other day I was working with my daughter on her writing lessons. In the past we have already used the four-square method for writing and I really like it. Strangely enough – being an older person now (ha ha) I don’t often remember how I was taught things, but things just come naturally for me (especially in those things I do well with like writing, alhumdulilah). Anyway, I love this method simply because it allows you to organize your thoughts before wasting your time writing and finding that you have gone off the beaten track (perhaps I should use this method when I blog – then I wouldn’t ramble on – oh well, we can’t always be perfect!).

At some point or another I found a book (probably at a resale shop or the library book sale about 4-square writing. The book is entitled “Four Square Writing Method for Grades 1-3” by the Teaching & Learning Co. It is an excellent (at least in my opinion) book for introducing writing skills for your child. There may be other wonderful writing books out there – or perhaps other great writing methods – but I found this book and I’m glad I did, Alhumdulilah. Essentially, you start your writing by dividing a piece of paper into fourths and then writing your important points (1 for each square). You build from there – adding more information under each section. From there, you can write your paper based on your four square. I definitely like this method and I wondered why in the world our homeschool program wasn’t using something more like this.

I was equally amazed when we had our last writing assignment – and truly saw the benefits of doing it our way instead of their way. My daughter was supposed to write about any topic – through each lesson they guided her through choosing a topic, pre-writing, and amazingly enough – only after the child already writes do they finally decide it is time for making sure (1) that your paper doesn’t have any information not related to your topic and (2) to organize your thoughts. Hello?!? Am I missing something here? This was lesson # 3! I told my daughter not to worry about it because we thought out our writing before we had actually written anything – which is an important lesson.

While our curriculum (yes, we use K12) is heavy on the writing – it doesn’t necessarily teach good writing from the outset (at least, not yet). I guess we are all supposed to either be born good writers or we just have to struggle in writing. I remember our lessons in our first years for History (for example) when you were supposed to read the lesson and then draw one picture about the lesson or write what you had learned from the lesson – hopefully writing at least half of the time. Well, you definitely learn and grow – since this is our third year with the program – I am finding better ways to work with the curriculum. We are very happy for this change as it makes our lessons more interesting.

For each lesson we now take notes (the curriculum is still asking to write down the important parts of the lesson at the end of the lesson – but our method is working wonders for my girls’ understanding of the topics (not to mention their enjoyment). We now use this system with History and Science lessons. Instead of writing word after word – just regurgitating what we have read in the lessons, we are finding more interesting ways of remembering what we have learned. For example, today we are learning about Ecosystems in Science (in particular, Tundra). Instead of writing word for word definitions of everything – we are making our notes easily readable and in my daughter’s definition: “cool”.

For example, there are no trees in the tundra. In my daughter’s notes we drew a tree and put an X through it (near it we wrote simply “no trees”). It is cold and windy there – so, we drew the artistic lines we learned about in Art class to represent wind and wrote beside it simply “cold + windy.” Then we learned where on the map the Tundra is located – we printed off a small version of the map and cut it out and pasted it in her notebook and wrote beside the map “Where is Tundra?” These are just a few examples from our Science lessons.

If you’ve ever done any lap booking – this is pretty much the same, in notebook style. It’s not as fancy or time consuming as lap booking can be – but it is just an easier and more enjoyable way to write down and later recall what you have learned.

This has also been helpful with History lessons. We started drawing pictures instead of text to represent important ideas or events. We even draw our own time lines in the notebook. I am also teaching the girls to use different fancy writing to let important ideas for the lesson stand out. For example, we were learning recently about Venice during the Renaissance. Venice was known as the Queen of the Adriatic Sea. They had ships and it was an empire. So, my daughter drew several ships in a row in her notebook and wrote above it “Queen of the Adriatic” to remember how Venice earned this title. She also drew in large letters in her notebook the word “Empire” (all caps) to emphasize this point. She also drew a picture of a canal and a gondola in order to remember the Grand Canal and how people moved form place to place there. She said the lesson was fun (not something you hear every day). Now, whenever we look over the notebook we can quickly get the main ideas from each lesson.

Anyway, all through school I was never really given the tools to take good notes. I learned things here and there and only in College did we have a course for taking good notes – study skills and the like. I guess I learned something from them – but even then they mostly taught us to regurgitate the information and just write a bunch of text to summarize what we had learned (which still was a lot of writing). I am finding – since kids love to draw anyway – that teaching them to take notes that are more interesting to write and to read is helping their recall greatly. Too bad we don’t learn important lessons like this in school. You’re told to take notes, but not told how to. Strange isn’t it?

I have greatly enjoyed reading a few different methods to teach creative writing. One of my favorite books is 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades by Ruth Culham. She has this book plus another similar book for the upper grades. I really love the ideas behind this methodology but haven’t had the time yet to implement it (my next pet project, perhaps?). She has several books about writing and so far I have enjoyed them. Another that I like is Using Picture Books To Teach Writing With The Traits by Ruth Culham. I really think – if I had the time – we could really benefit from this. The problem is that I haven’t been able to buy the books yet (yes – on a budget!). Instead I have to borrow them from the library and before we get a chance to delve deep into things the books are on hold for someone else. What makes it worse is that these books are not available at our own library – I can only get them through library loan which doesn’t allow you to renew them. Insha’Allah I will be able to get them soon and start benefiting from them. My daughters are eager to get into writing (I think they see Momma really enjoy her self and want to get in on the fun.)

Anyway, there is one last book I really enjoyed – and strangely enough, it was about Nonfiction books. Now – one thing I need to get out there is that my oldest has definitely been a learning experience for me. Just when I think things are going great she will throw me for a loop and I have to relearn all that I have learned. I have benefitted so much by teaching her, masha’Allah. She has hated reading from the start. That was a shocker – especially when I love books and try to make sure we are always surround by good reading materials)! To start, she hated phonics and she always said that reading gave her a headache. No, her eyes are in great condition – in case you were wondering. I took her to the library each week – taking so many books out from the library that I thought any kid her age would greatly enjoy (I finally found out recently that I am not weird – because my middle one loves the books that I thought were great – it’s all about difference in taste!)

We finally got books from the library that were mysteries. She read a few and started to think that things weren’t too bad with reading. Then, she decided she didn’t like them anymore – who knows?!? Then, one day to practice reading I printed off a few magazine articles from kids science magazines. She read it with zeal! I was shocked. I told her if she liked those kinds of stories we could get more from the library. She was excited – and I have yet to pick my jaw up from the ground. She said she loved to learn new things from books and didn’t like the fiction ones we have found. Now she regularly gets non-fiction books from the library and we also enjoy books in a few different ways.

There were some books that I thought she would enjoy but she just wouldn’t give them the time of day. One book in particular was actually one in a series. So, I found the audio for a few of the books. After listing to the story, she was hooked. Now, whenever we go to the library she quickly checks to see if these books are on the shelf. See what I mean?!? You have to be creative in your thinking sometimes. Subhan’Allah! I have also found that some books she just loves hearing – but not reading. So, we usually grab some audio books and non-fiction books that she likes and any fiction stories that catch her eye. Alhumdulilah, now she loves reading but is still particular in her tastes for books.

Well, where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about non-fiction before I starting rambling on. Yes, this is one of those moments when I should be using a four-square (in fact, my life should probably be put into a four square but that would take all the fun out of confusing everyone (including myself!) Anyway, I found a book at the library that discussed teaching through non-fiction literature. I loved it! Again, we had to return the book to the library and haven’t had a chance to get it back – insha’Allah another “pet project”. Anyway, I couldn’t help mentioning the book though because I thought it was great. Here’s the title:

Of course, it is for helping kids think about non-fiction writing. However, I like how the topic was treated and found a lot of ideas there. A great book to take out from the library – when you get the chance.
Well, I hope you have somehow benefited from this post. It’s not always easy to get all your ideas down into a small blog post (especially without any organization on my part). So, with all the rambling aside,
Asalaam’ Alaikum,
Sumayyah Umm SAA

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6 Responses

  1. DeeN says:

    Subhannallah great info and love the rambling..Felt like I’m right there having conversation with you in person.. A friend’s daughter went through the fiction sucks period until we found “choose your own adventure books” from BN shelves. My question is, my girls learnt to read just by learning the letter sound and lots of reading. I didnt bother much with phonics, grammar, etc. They are 5 and 6 yo but reading at 4th gr level. Do I have to teach them grammar/ the rules before doing the writing skills with them? TIA…

  2. DeeN says:

    Salam again, forgot to list my fave books on writing and reading: Deconstructing Penguins by Nancy Goldstone, Writing Skills Activity for Special Children by Darlene Mannix, and the Kids Book Club Book.

  3. Asalaam ‘Alaikum D:

    I’m no expert – I can only speak from my own experience. With our homeschool program, they first teach the letter sounds – the basics of phonics. They then work with the combination of sounds – things like blends (bl, fl, etc.) and digraphs (sh, th). They keep working through the years on these different concepts and then by second grade they start teaching spelling. This was way difficult for my oldest – but a breeze for my middle child. Learning phonics – in hindsight – has really helped with spelling and reading.

    As for teaching grammar, we have been doing that in school (I believe) since 1st grade – but only the basics. The kids catch on quickly and it is actually their favorite part of the course work. As for writing – one thing that I think is important is to have some type of structured writing (what I mean is, let’s see what’s spelled incorrectly, lets see if we need to use capitals or punctuation.) This all helps with good writing and others being able to read your writing.

    However, I also think it is an important part of writing to be able to express yourself and to believe that what you write is important. With that in mind – sometimes it is important to focus on just writing for fun and not nitpicking about proper spelling and grammar rules.

    In our week – we always try to have a little of both types of writing. Many adult writers also keep a journal and will write for the sake of writing – writing anything that comes to mind – without worrying about punctuation or rules. Some great writing can come as a result of this.

    So, insha’Allah this helps a little!

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum,

  4. DeenDeen says:

    Wa alaikum salam warahmatullah,
    JazakALLAH khair ukhti. Vey helpful, masha ALLAH. I made a blog for her to use as a diary, and that got her hooked on writing masha ALLAH. Although Mommy helped a lot, but she started to got the idea of writing on her own. She has a few of traditional journals, but she is such a perfectionist and the constant erasing often tired her out way before the fun of writing kicked in. WIth blogging, she can just hit the delete button and use the spell checker.

  5. Asalaam ‘Alaikum Deen:

    What a wonderful idea! I spent quite a bit of time today setting up blogs for the kiddos. You can not believe how excited they are!

    They have personal journals that they write in – but they often forget to do so and lost their enthusiasm after a while. However, today I posted two stories they had written in their writing journal for each of them. They also drew pictures to go with the stories, so I scanned them in and put them with the written text.

    They are so excited, masha’Allah. As soon as I turned my back they were gone to another room in the house. When I went searching for them, I found them writing in their journals!

    I might also post some of their drawings they do for art as well. What an excellent way to keep all their work together!

    Jazak Allah Khair for an excellent idea!

    PS: For safety issues, I did block all access to the blogs. This way, the kids can blog away and we don’t have to worry about them. Also, if I decide to, I might set up access for their teacher at school, their grandma or any friends they would like to add. I think it’s going to be great, insha’Allah.

    Asalaam ‘Alaikum,

  6. DeeN says:

    Wa alaikum salam,

    Isn’t it great?? Alhamdullilah. She is writing about her bike now, so cute, she wants me to link the video on her first bike riding to her blog, Subhannallah, kids learn so fast! No worries though, I block almost everything. Now, if I can only have the computer back to write my blog…:O)


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