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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How We Homeschool: Writing (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

Writing.. this can be a tricky topic. Some kids can write, and write, and write... and the story never goes anywhere. Some kids can sit, and sit, and sit... and put only two words on a paper. We had those examples here once!

When we started homeschooling I felt strongly that being able to write well was something our children needed to learn. There are so many people who write online today. The news is online, and our local news has awful writers working for them. I had good and bad feelings about the curriculum used at M and J's charter school. Lucy Calkins seemed to have some good methods in place for teaching children, but it didn't completely sit right with me, and it seemed the kids rushed through it just to say it was done, when they could think of what to write. My son's teacher asked us to send a 4x6 photo book to school so he could look on past family experiences and have some ideas to write about. Even that photo book barely helped.

After reading many books and websites about homeschool writing methods, I began to agree with the ideas presented in Writing With Ease. Children should observe good writing and practice copying it first. Then, they should learn how to pick details out of a story and dictate them to someone because being able to write a complete sentence and being able to form a complete sentence are two very different things, and many early elementary children can't complete both tasks at the same time. Slowly they are taught to form their own ideas and then place them on paper. This seemed like it could help J, and it did! M was soon ready to move on from Writing With Ease to Writing With Skill. This series presented a whole new set of skills for children to learn, all of which I was pleased with but felt they were too advanced for an upper elementary student. Yet, she did great working through the first book that year. I knew, however, that the next year when J would be using Writing With Skill would not go nearly as well. It was just too advanced for him.

We had been homeschooling all the children for 2 years by then, but it was my third year homeschooling E. The entire time I had read and heard a lot about Institute for Excellence in Writing. I downloaded the talks they offered for free, grabbed their Structure and Style Overview DVD, kept an eye on their products and blog posts, and still felt intimidated. The cost of their programs was just too much, and I didn't know how I would fit in the time to teach myself their writing method, homeschool my children, and run my house. But everything was pointing to using this method with my son J. Mr. Pudewa frequently says "You can't get something out of a child's brain that isn't there to begin with!" That was exactly what I was observing.  Fix It! Grammar had turned out to be the solution to our grammar woes, maybe IEW could make writing easier too.

By the way, this talk is one of my favorites. Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day. (to be fair, I have at least a dozen favorite talks offered by IEW)

So I took the plunge. I decided to buy Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and spend the summer learning the method myself. It came with enough material that we would have source texts and ideas for about two years per level (there are three levels). I chose not to purchase the student DVD sets. Last year we did use U.S. History Based Writing Lessons because it went along with what we were studying in history.

Using IEW for writing changed our days so much. Suddenly my son could write a paragraph with no struggles! As we progressed through the 9 units he continued to show improvement. As we neared the end of the first year of using IEW, I began to see how it complemented The Family School. I could give the children a writing assignment based on what we studied in history, geography, science, etc. I would tell them to think about what they learned, or look at this handout you received. Turn in your mini-poster book to Unit 4, it will help you know what to do. This has worked out so well for us that next year M and J will be doing writing completely based on The Family School lessons! When we get to essays I will be letting them use part one of the High School Essay Intensive. They do love watching Mr. Pudewa, and it's nice to let someone else teach occasionally!

We still start out with Writing With Ease in first grade. In third grade last year, E did two days a week of Writing With Ease 3 and three days of IEW. That worked out really well! A child could do that for two years if needed. E will move to only IEW for fourth grade.

If you'd like to learn more about IEW writing programs I suggest watching their Structure and Style Overview, or watching a webinar such as Experience Excellence in Writing. There is a Spelling and the Brain webinar coming up soon. Also, every year they hold a Freedom Shipping promotion to celebrate the Fourth of July. You can get free shipping on domestic standard orders.

Hopkins Homeschool


  1. that was interesting, to read about your success with IEW

  2. Writing has been our one struggle right along. You would think in 4 years of homeschooling my boys would finally (if grudgingly) accept that we must study and practice writing but it is always a battle. We did just find a book called the Pirate's Guide to the grammar of story that they finally seem to actually enjoy and look forward to. Glad to hear you had so much success!

  3. Love to read about successes! Congrats and glad you found a plan that works for you.