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Building Writers for the NEXT Millennium
Raising Writers at Home
(and living to tell about it?)
by Barbara Smith

As you settle back into your chair, scrolling down this post, which you hope will help to motivate your lackadaisical students into becoming Pulitzer-prize winning authors, imagine this: An imperturbable voice instructs you to take out a paper and pen and begin writing about an assignment you should have studied more about. "Explain in three sentences why the United States drifted into the War of Northern Aggression in 1861."

Yikes! Fear grips your stomach; you *know* shortly all the world will see your ignorance. Remember this feeling, for it afflicts more than readers of imaginary introductions to suggestions on how to teach writing. Writing is an instant index on how well one grasps an idea. It is scary endeavor because spoken words go by so fast, others may miss our ignorance by the speed or flourish of our words. However, when we commit words to paper we commit to exposing a part of our souls, a part of ourselves that will remain that others can judge our proficiency. Remember this gut-level response because many children who face their writing assignments feel the same way.

How do we teach our children to *do* the very thing that paralyzes us? Memories of endless, cheerless grammar lessons, bewildering writing assignment and deadly topics for monotonous research papers flare up and scorch us. So, we succumbed and bought expensive and clever-looking work books and predigested writing assignments hoping to protect our children from the monotonous inscrutable language arts lessons that zapped us. And what is their response?

    "Ma-a-a-a-a-a-m, I ha-a--a-te this!"
    " I don't wanna do this!"
    "I don't understand this."
    " Why do I have to do this?"
    "UH! This is so-o-o-o-o-o-o boring!"

Not that I am quoting MY children, you understand; this simply what *other* mothers report.

Getting ON with It.
It is again my privilege to "facilitate" a great group of young people writers for the coming millennium who are homeschooled. Last year they produced a literary journal, of which I am quite proud! (And with their permission, I will include appropriate examples of their writing for your reading pleasure.)

This teaching opportunity has led to the point of this post: "How to Teach Writing and living to tell about it." Most of what I will say is intended for parents whose children are 10 years old and older. After you finish wading through this "tome," I will also post the writing assignments I am suggesting that the literary club participants pursue.

Now . . . before we continue, may I ask why you want your children to write well? What do you think you need to know to teach your children how to write well? The success of our homeschooling rests on understanding our motivations and lining them up with the Word of God; the mastery of difficult subjects such as writing and math also rests squarely on an honest appraisal of our strengths and deficits and *believing* that God, who called us to homeschool will equip us for every GOOD work.

When you are praying for guidance in your academic program, do not use meaningless repetition, such as O God make my kid smart so I look good or, please get them into a good school so I don't have to support them for the rest of their lives. Parents who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior only fear for their children's well-being, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. We who know YOU as Father can ask boldly for our children's academic preparation as we trust YOU for their salvation. Therefore we will not pursue the world's education goals but yours. And you, precious Father, know what we need, even before we ask So we ask Father for wisdom, ability, humor, encouragement and perseverance. We give YOU the Glory in Christ's name. (See Matt 6:7-8)

I. Reasons for writing well It MAGNIFIES God.
Writing well is a privilege and responsibility for each Christian. A privilege and responsibility for each Christian? Yes! God gave use the gift of language so that we might KNOW Him and tell others. ** Is that why you want to teach your young children to write well?

God first committed Himself to speak and then to record what He said -- so we couldn't forget -- or misconstrue His message. He thinks writing is important so we can take the cue from Him in stressing good writing to our children!

Few of us write creatively, but we can all write competently. God gave us the gift of language and therefore we can boldly ask Him to help us teach our children, for we are created in His image. (Gen 1:26-27) He expects parents to teach their children to speak and how to read, and then to write.

In Deuteronomy 11:19-21 God outlined how we can teach effective writing: Pass on what you know -- your love of God and then learning; after you have talked about important ideas with your children help them to write about them.

A Word or Two About I Believe as a WRITER about Writing:
A Christian writer, whether discussing Scripture, explaining a chemical reaction or telling a story relies upon several attributes that he or she is always polishing.:

  1. Awareness: Look at your world, listen to its sounds, taste, touch, experience the world that God Almighty spoke into existence! Most of the world is too busy, distracted, wounded or unwilling to see the Creator's hand. The Christian writer reveals, magnifies GOD with their words!
  2. Imagination: *Think* about people, places or ideas from another point of view that your own. Imagine. Most of the world never breaks out of its ruts. "We've always done it this way!" is the reason so few writers can touch the hearts of readers with a fresh appreciation of who God is and what He does. The Middle Ages put Him in a stained glass window, and that's how we have been content to continue describe Him. The Christian writer can think about how others see Him and excite others to think about God in fresh ways.
  3. Wonder: Review what God created with just a few words, "In the beginning . . . " Think about what God allows people who speak and write English to do with twenty-six letters of our alphabet. Ponder what God does with a little rain and wind and a few rays of sunshine or a handful of dust. Most people never take the time to look up and see the heavens. A Christian writer takes the time to wonder, to marvel, to consider to worship -- and builds upon that impulse in his or her readers.
  4. Courage: Put blinders on and seek first His Kingdom and HIS righteousness and all these things like writing ability will be added to you. Most of the world's writers are too busy keeping in step with their companions in the downward cultural spiral and so are content to produce garbage because that's what sells. Most readers are dull and unwilling and content with garbage to read, because that's what others buy. The Christian writer writes what God is teaching him or her and looks to the Author for material and approval -- and does not obsess about sales or popularity.
  5. Dedication: Think. Read, research, discuss, debate, define. Write, rewrite, polish, refine, rewrite. Work sweat, struggle, plod, persevere. You are producing a work to delight first the heart of God and then edify the audience HE gives you.
  6. Enthusiasm: Love the Lord your God and all that He shows you about yourself and others and your world. Never be so consumed with the tragedies that you are blind to the God who ordained them.

II. Reasons for writing well It makes an exact man and woman.
Francis Bacon said, "Reading makes a full man; conference, a ready man; and writing, an exact man." [Note: Ask your high school students to explain this quotation in 750 words, including a discussion of whom Francis Bacon was.]

If reading is receiving language, then writing is producing it. Writing is thinking on paper, revealing our selves in black and white. Reading written words is how we learn; writing words is how we show how much we know about what we have read. Reading well and writing competently are important components of education. Reading another person's words are how we learn -- how are brains "grow up." It is important, then, what we feed our brains and our children's brains. If you are discouraged about your children's writing abilities, make sure you are feeding them: G-I-G-O.

SWEEPING GENERALIZATION #1: You Must THINK intelligently, before you write intelligently!
If you are thinking intelligently you have fed your mind with useful information and are trying to explain what you have learned. Writing sharpens thinking thinking intelligently of course depends on good circuitry in the brain, BUT thinking intelligently depends upon reading good stuff. If you write well, you are exercising the brain circuitry and building appetites and muscles to keep thinking well. What parent of a 9-year-old would demand he or she run in the Boston Marathon, or compete for National Merit Scholarships? We know physical and mental skills to run such races come after years of careful exercise and academic preparation. Writing well is also an ability that requires careful and diligent cultivation. As children's reading skills improve and expand, their writing skills will develop. As their small motor coordination matures, their handwriting improves when they master holding a pencil and making it write they drop some of their confounded resistance to writing!

If your little child cannot string one or two verbal thoughts coherently together, don't freak because they can't write two or three connected thoughts! Intellectual maturity takes time -- the one thing we frequently overlook in the education rush to excellence. This growth may seem imperceptible but real progress does take place -- that is what your writing assignments should document -- not just for a portfolio or transcript -- but for your child to see how far God is developing their brains!

Thinking critically is a skill that they develop over time and through experiences If you short-circuit the time, you short-circuit the processes that produce thoughtful writers.

Where do any of us get an extra hour? Check the TV time and start shaving! Hang-up the phone and log off the computer. Go to the library at least once a week and spend an hour roaming with your kids for years we made weekly trips to the library.

Pudding Proof
One Student's View of Reasons to Write Well
Reasons for Learning to Write Well

"Aw mom, do I have to?"

"Yes honey. Just write something, anything!"

Casey flounced up to her room, brought out the paper and began to doodle. After racking her brain for a possible short story scenario, she gave up and started studying the contour of her fingernails. Realizing the writing assignment must be done, she quickly wrote a story that could be comparable to a paragraph.

The next day her mom came to her and said, "Casey, this kind of work is not acceptable. Do over, and do it WELL."

Casey stormed up the stairs, flopped on her bed and looked at her work with disgust. She thought writing was pointless!

Is this scenario the case at your house? Do you have the dread of writing that possesses many people today? Is the thought of rewriting even more dreadful to you? Do you wonder how writing can do anything more for you than give you gray hairs? Well, consider this response:

Writing well actually benefits you, is enjoyable, and can help others.

Writing is definitely for your benefit. One way writing well benefits you is it helps to accomplish school assignments. Assignments usually call for some sort of writing. When one has developed the art of writing, school assignments become easier and easier to do and in less time with less stress. When the quality of your writing goes up, so do your grades.

Also, when you write, for example a persuasive paper, you have to examine your beliefs so that you can communicate them accurately. You have to find out exactly what you believe and why. You also might have to find references to prove your beliefs. This benefits you for you learn information that you did not have before and you become more confident about your beliefs.

Writing well also benefits your speaking skills. When you have mastered the practice of outlining and of having to write often, you learn how to organize your thoughts. For example, a sports writer came and talked to the AHSG literary club. He could talk for thirty minutes on one topic and he had your attention the whole time. You see, he has had to come up with 1000 words in thirty minutes for his column at times. So he had to learn to organize his thoughts, come up with points and how to communicate them in a minimal amount of time. This helped him when he was asked a question and had to answer it.

Writing is also for your own enjoyment. One way it is enjoyable is that writing exercises your creativity. You can be anything anywhere and control the circumstances. You also learn to stretch your creativity to come up with the perfect introduction and conclusion. Writing is in fact refreshing. It is a great feeling when you have a finished project that you can be proud of and people can literally read and enjoy.

You also need to write well for other people's benefit. You can make their day better by a humorous essay or a piece describing Christ's grace. You can also write pieces aiming for the secular crowd, on topics such as Christ's grace, his church, and His peace, presenting them in a way that makes them desirable. If published, others could read them and be drawn into the church.

So you see, writing is not pointless. It benefits you, it is enjoyable and it can help others. So the next time your mom asks you to write something, joyfully do it and do it well.

(Sara Smith, age 15)

© Barbara W. Smith 1998, all rights reserved
Permission is given to reprint any of Barbara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and Web site address.

Please send a copy of the publication to:
Third Floor Publishing
PO Box 827
Arnold, MD 21012

We hope our thoughts encourage you in the Lord Jesus Christ who has enabled us to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could have asked or imagined -- please let us know what YOU think. E-mail us at workbook@toad.net. (Please don't forget to include your e-mail address with in the body of the message--we've had some of our responses returned due to insufficient e-mail addresses.)


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Barbara & Douglas Smith
"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul ..."
Hebrews 6:19

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