Homeschooling 6-year-olds; Writing

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Diary writing is a wonderful way to teach writing skills with young children. The topic is relevant and interesting to them (all about themselves!!) and it provides a wonderful keepsake in the years to come. All aspects of spelling, grammar and punctuation etc. can be covered as the child writes and it includes copywork practice which I believe is essential for learning strong writing skills.

If you are not familiar with the concept of copywork and the reasoning behind it, the basic ideas is that children’s writing will best develop as they see excellent writing modelled. As they copy correct spelling, punctuation and other building blocks that successful writers use, they become familiar with these skills and are then able to put them into place in their own writing. (Google Charlotte Mason copywork for more information on this concept.)

The modern idea of children just “having a go” as they spell phonetically means that they are seeing incorrect “pictures” of wrong spelling, reinforcing these mistakes in their memory, rather than the correct spelling that they will see in copywork activities.

Once or twice a week I have my 6-year-olds draw a picture of a significant event that has occurred recently and then tell me about it. As they speak, I write down their words, leaving a line between each line of my writing. As I write, we discuss concepts such as:

  • punctuation; capital letters and full stops
  • spelling (I may have them tell me how to spell a sight word they are familiar with)
  • phonics (I might ask how to write the “sh” sound in a word for example)
  • descriptive words (is there a more interesting way to say “good?”)

Diary writing for children who are not yet forming letters correctly: 

Another way to use diary writing  that also works on reading skills and letter/word recognition is to have the child dictate a single sentence to you about the drawing they have made. You write the sentence into their diary book, leaving a full line blank between each line that you write and also write it a second time onto a separate strip of paper. The child then cuts the separate strip up into single words (word recognition is a concept in itself, as well as requiring scissor skills) which are then mixed around out of order. They must then match these words back up to the ones you have written on the page and glue them underneath, re-reading with your help to ensure it makes sense and is matched correctly.

For my son who struggles with fine motor control, pencil grips are a must. He also cannot copy the words underneath my writing, but traces over the top instead. I let him use good quality gel pens with a pencil grip at times because they make a nice dark line without much pressure being required and he likes them – anything to encourage writing!

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When young children are doing any kind of writing, correct pencil grip is important. The longer they practise writing with incorrect grip, the harder it is to correct later, just like any other habit. For those who struggle, a good quality pencil grip is a must. It should be very soft and molded to keep fingers in the correct place. Our favourite has flaps like wings that spread out over the top of the thumb and pointer finger, stopping children from sliding their fingers up and over the top of the pencil grip in a fist style. Be wary of purchasing cheaper brands. I did so this year, being very happy to find 5 grips in a packet for the same price of just one I had bought previously, however these turned out to be made of a much firmer rubber and the children do not find them comfortable to use.

Other writing activities that my year 1 homeschoolers participate in:

  • handwriting book. (Individual letter practice because learning to make letters the correct shape and starting at the right place is still important. Most children at this age are still making mistakes with this and again, we don’t want bad habits to form and have to be re-learnt later.)
  • copywork. (Bible verses, character related, good quality literature examples.)
  • finger strength building activities. (Plenty of time on activities that require fine-motor skills such as hand sewing, threading beads, Lego, playdough etc.)
  • free time to choose drawing and writing. (They have desks in their bedrooms well-stocked with a variety of papers, envelopes, notepads, drawing and writing tools that they have access to during room time after lunch each day. They are always drawing or writing notes, cards and letters to friends and family. My reluctant writer has spent anything up to 30 minutes a day for several weeks now filling every single line of an A5 notepad with squiggly lines – his “writing.” Nothing I could have set for him would ever have got him to spend this long using a pencil!)
  • writing in family birthday and thank you cards and letters to friends and relatives

 

That’s about it for writing in year one for us. With this foundation in place I know from experience that they will go on to successful writing in the future.

What do you do for writing in your homeschool?

 

Homeschooling 6 year olds – maths

It is fairly well understood in the preschool years that children need many hands-on experiences as the best grounding for mathematical understanding. However, it is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as soon as a child starts school he or she must “hit the books.” There is still a need to manipulate, play and explore concrete materials in the early years and rushing too fast into abstract concepts (ie. “on paper” solutions) to mathematical concepts can hinder a child developing true understanding.

So, with this in mind, do I use a maths programme for my 6 year olds? Yes, but as a spine from which other maths experiences flow. It helps me to know that I am not missing any skills along the way. Those children who have a good grasp of number concepts can skip through very quickly and often will plead to just write out their answers in the book rather than use manipulatives. If I can see that they truly grasp the skills (understanding the why and how of each problem) then they go ahead. Learning styles do differ after all and not everyone needs the manipulatives. However, other children will need to go through basic concepts such as one-to-one correspondence with manipulatives over and over and over and over again!

IMG_9625In the early years we use Math-U-See because it does include manipulatives, has a DVD lesson format which means the children are not dependent on me to give them one-on-one teaching to explain each lesson and has a clean and simple set-out with a good progression from skill to skill. Early writers are given enough space to write large numbers and opportunities to use their manipulatives throughout. When more practise is required, I provide Montessori style hands-on activity trays until the concept is thoroughly grasped before the child continues on in the book.

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Reluctant writers and maths:

When a child has difficulty with fine motor control and writing skills it can slow them down in all their subject areas. Maths however is one area that can be easy modified to eliminate this problem. Ask yourself – “Am I teaching handwriting or maths?” Do you want your child to progress in maths or hate every minute of it because they have to sit there laboriously writing numbers in their painfully slow style?

My son would take ages to complete this page if he had to write the answers down, plus I would struggle to read them anyway! Given this inexpensive box of wooden letters, he can work through the problems, calculating some in his head, putting out manipulatives for others and using the wooden numbers to “write” the answers. Quick and easy and demonstrating his understanding of the subject at hand, rather than his handwriting ability.

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When more experience is needed with a concept, he works on Montessori style trays such as the one above, giving him lots and lots of repeated practise of the same skill over and over again until it becomes second nature. We made up little stories about customers in restaurants who were sometimes greedy (according to the numbers on the spoons) and he enjoyed choosing the food (jewels) to serve.

With the combination of bookwork plus hands-on trays, my 6 years olds feel that they are doing real “school” like their older brothers and sisters and all ability levels are being catered for. One is zipping through the book at a great rate (she LOVES book work!) and the other is taking a more leisurely course with lots of hands-on experiences along the way. Individual children,  individual abilities, individual learning styles. This is one of the reasons why we homeschool after all isn’t it?

Next up: Homeschooling 6 year olds – reading and writing