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Homeschooling Interview: Dr. Ruth Beechick

What do you think best prepares a student to become a good writer?
Good reading. And conversation, and all oral language development. This builds an "ear" for language, and that is the best help for good writing.
What role should grammar instruction play in teaching your child to write?
Practically none. The reverse procedure works well. That is, after children write quite wellâ??somewhere in the teen yearsâ??then they can understand grammar. Also, they may actually enjoy it at that time and will not have been burned out on it through the lower grades.
What age should you begin formal writing instruction with your child?
That depends on how you define writing. A little penmanship and spelling begins when a child first wants to write his name. Then the popular copying technique can proceed shortly after that. When the child makes up a sentence and mom writes it for him, that is the beginning of his independent writing. Some people call it creative writing, but I avoid that label for many reasons, the main one being that people think a child can sit in front of a blank paper (with his head also blank) and be "creative."
Many school districts begin formal writing assessments in fourth grade, or around ages nine or ten. Should my child be able to write a five-paragraph paper by this time?
I think a timetable for all children is ridiculous. Some children might indeed be able to write five paragraphs in a letter to Grandma or other simple content. But a coherent paper of five writing-book style artificial paragraphs, each coherent within itself and in relation to the others is a high expectation. Assignments like this get the children to focus on form and not content, and that is not the way to produce good writers.
Many people have asked how to help a child who received a great deal of formal writing instruction at a young age, and now doesn't like to write. What can be done to help this child enjoy writing?
It's too bad they didn't read your web site before they got to that point. They have to try any good ideas that they hear. First, they could tell the child that they will take a recess from writing, and that could be as long as a year. All children, writing-haters or not, can learn most writing in real-life ways and in other content subjects, so they seldom need "writing classes." During the recess, read and enjoy good writing in whatever ways work for the particular child. For instance, if he is not a good independent reader yet, then read to him a lot. Talk about the stories. They can work in real-life writing from shopping lists to recording a baseball game while listening to it. Learning to type helps some children. Participating in group events where other children read their writings motivates most children, especially if rewards are involved. Always be an appreciative audience when children do write something. Focus on the messages they produce and avoid being negative about small mechanical errors.
Many people seem worried about grammar instruction. Is there a good way to teach grammar?
I think much of the grammar problem is that people lump too much into the word grammar. They will find it helpful to separate writing mechanics. Those are the features used only in writing and not in speaking, features such as capitalization and punctuation. As soon as a child writes his name, he learns about beginning it with a capital letter. As soon as he copies a sentence, he learns about periods.

As for grammar itself, children learn most of it as they learn to speak, from before age two and on. That gives them a good ear for language which moms can use when helping children improve their writings. If something sounds wrong, then a child can fix it by its sound. This ear, or meaning, system can carry them into the teen years quite well. At that time they could study grammar in order to be educated about it, and to find that now and then it might help to make a decision in their writing. Even at teen age it is not necessary to study grammar every day for several years. An occasional unit will work better for most children and not bore them. I suggest obtaining one-book grammar references rather than fill-in-the-blank workbooks. Fill-in blanks are ineffective learning devices, and they are useless for trying to retrieve information when it is needed. But a grammar reference alongside the dictionary is always available and useful.

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