Have you ever met a child who can tell you long, detail-filled sagas of their imaginings or rehearse the plot to the last book they read in agonizing detail, yet when you ask them to write the same down you get three short sentences? Mmm-hmm, I knew you would understand.
Have you ever found yourself worrying about it a bit, or frustrated because their brain seems to disengage when you stick a pencil in their hand? I know, I’m preachin’ to the choir, aren’t I? I found it especially frustrating with my oldest child because I’m just not that way.
I remember writing a story about a horse named Lightning with chapter after chapter after chapter in the second grade. Putting thoughts onto paper is how I organize my brain, how I relieve the pressure of too much to think about, and a way I relax. What was so hard about writing?
Fast forward a few years to the present day. I have learned many things as I struggled to figure out what I was doing wrong in teaching my daughter to write. It struck me just how differently I approach teaching writing now with Joseph and Emma (1st and K grades) and I wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve learned.
First, I believe at least 75% of all writing, or composition (putting thoughts on paper), is mental. The other 25% is a combination of physically forming letters with a pencil while remembering the fickle spelling and grammar conventions of the English language simultaneously. The mental aspect of writing is such a huge part.
To be able to arrange thoughts mentally into a sequence there must be something in your head to have thoughts about. Seems simple, doesn’t it? When I would ask my oldest a few years ago to “tell me a story you know” or even worse, to make up a story and write it, she would burst into tears. I had not given her anything to think about or draw from and as a rather literal child she felt retelling a story she knew, like the 3 Little Pigs, was not okay. It wasn’t “her” story.
While Makayla and I struggled through writing lessons, we began working on narration in earnest, a concept I had learned about from Charlotte Mason’s writings but not really implemented. It has made all the difference!
What is narration?
Narration is telling back what you read, heard, learned, or know, with your own thoughts included. This is composition in action. In the early grades narration is oral. After reading a paragraph, page, or chapter to a child you invite them to tell you what they just heard, and, as they get older, what they think about it.
Oral narration is hard work! The child naturally begins to organize the information, selecting which parts are important (main idea and supporting details). They hold that flow of ideas in their mind and share them aloud. Not only that, they must choose the best words to get across their thoughts along the way.
With oral narration children are working on all of those writing/composition skills except the physical act of putting pen to paper. That can even be added in by recording one of their narrations and then having them use that for copywork over the course of the week. As they grow narrating becomes natural, a habit that has such smoothly laid tracks that it is easy to do. It is at this point that asking them to do their narrations in writing is not such a stretch. They already are used to doing all the composing, choosing words, and organizing their thoughts.
What This Means For My Children
My younger children are focusing on oral narration for their writing lessons. They are not expected to do written composition at this point at all. Oh the difference I am seeing in how they feel about writing versus how my oldest felt! At the same time they are working on handwriting skill and stamina through copywork. In a few years their physical writing ability and their mental composition will come together into written composition, a much smoother transition than I gave my oldest.
Makayla is still doing oral narrations daily because we are seeing the benefits of it. Her story organizational skills, her attention to details, her active vocabulary – all are improving through oral narration. She is also expected to do written narrations now at least a few times a week. We then take one of her written narrations and polish it up, taking it through the full editing and rewriting process.
Have there been writing struggles at your house?
Has your approach to teaching writing changed over the years?
Have you tried oral narrations as your writing lessons in the early elementary years?