Enhanced – read by the author
by Kay Chance
Teaching Writing Part 2: A Paradigm Shift
Have you ever noticed how great the names of Crayola Crayons are?

My oldest son was writing a descriptive paragraph once. He chose a plastic dinosaur to describe, opened the crayon box, and found an orange color that matched his toy—the name of it was Macaroni and Cheese Orange. Based on that name, I’m guessing you know the exact shade of orange of the dinosaur.

I made that experience into a game we would sometimes play in the car. I’d ask my sons to point to a car or other object we saw and give it a “Crayola” name. One of my favorites was when my youngest announced that the color of an SUV he saw was “melted mozzarella cheese cream.”

Why did we do this? Because I wanted to change my sons’ experience with learning how to write to be different from my own. I wanted them to enjoy being creative and realize that the written word is fun.

I wanted to teach writing differently.

We all come to the subject of writing with an idea about what it is and how it should be taught—often based on our own experiences or the latest, most popular curriculum being used by our friends. It’s a subject often met with groans from our children, and us as well.

Why? We’ve made it a subject that sets our kids up for failure, not success. A subject where everything they write is picked apart, dissected, and corrected.

“If we want our children to grow as writers, we need to take the pressure away and replace it with joy.”

In the Spring Issue, I asked: What if instead, we cultivate an atmosphere in our homes where ideas are encouraged, conversations are abundant, mistakes are opportunities, failure is expected…where all of it is simply a part of the process? What if we took a higher view of the purpose of writing, seeing it as a window into the thoughts and minds and feelings of our children?

It’s time for a paradigm shift—a fundamental change in how we teach writing. And that starts by recognizing our underlying assumptions and changing them.

We started unpacking three assumptions about what it means to teach writing and three paradigm shifts.

Let’s be bold enough to rethink these assumptions.
Number 1

ASSUMPTION: Teaching writing is about teaching the rules of grammar, mechanics, sentence structure, and spelling. If students master each of these areas, they will learn to write well.

PARADIGM SHIFT: It’s not about writing, it’s about the writer.

Number 2

ASSUMPTION: We have to let kids know all of their writing mistakes if we want them to improve. If we let a mistake go, they’ll keep making it!

PARADIGM SHIFT: Writing well is a skill that develops over a lifetime. We don’t need to rush the process.

Number 3

ASSUMPTION: Kids need to learn to write a variety of formats: letters, poems, stories, how-to’s, persuasive essays, and more.

PARADIGM SHIFT: Meaning should determine the format.

You can read the article Teaching Writing Part 1:
A Paradigm Shift in the Spring Issue!

flowers scattered on a light surface
I want to share two more assumptions and shifts:
Number 4

ASSUMPTION: Creative writing is about producing short stories, poetry, plays, and other fictional works. Some people are creative and others are simply not.

PARADIGM SHIFT: Creativity isn’t just for telling stories.

If your education was anything like mine, you probably thought a course in creative writing mainly involved learning to write fictional works and poetry. Those are definitely forms of creative writing, but it goes so much farther than that!

First, we need to think about what it means to be creative. Creativity is really about thinking outside the box. About using our imaginations. It’s seeing things from a different perspective, and making new and unexpected connections. It’s finding solutions to problems and considering the possibilities.

I love this explanation of creativity on vocabulary.com: “We often think of creativity as limited to the arts, but it is a necessary element in all areas of life. Without creativity we would not have the mathematical theories that presented us with fractals, or the technological imagination that could foresee people walking on the moon. It was creativity that harnessed lightning into electricity and later used that electricity to send messages through wires. Without creativity, we probably would never have invented the wheel or domesticated fire!”

As image bearers of a creative God, we were all born with creative minds—they just don’t look exactly the same. Our creativity may be expressed in a variety of ways, but it does exist in every child and is an area that can be developed.

So let’s stop thinking that only some people are creative while others are not. Let’s remember that creativity comes in different forms and honor that. And let’s use writing as a way to strengthen the creative muscles of all our children.

Students don’t need to write short stories or use story starters in order to be creative. Those can be fun if they are interesting to your kids, but you can also do other things to help “exercise their creative muscle.” Writing can be a tool to do that, and it can be an expression of creativity.

Number 5

ASSUMPTION: Writing is hard work. You need to edit and revise everything, make sure there are no mistakes, and let other people read it for it to be real writing.

PARADIGM SHIFT: The written word is fun.

Let’s look at each part of the assumption first.

Writing is hard work. It’s true that it can be hard—but rewarding—work. Some forms of writing will require more effort, time, and attention to detail. But I’m going to propose “hard work” should not characterize the majority of writing for your students.

There is definitely a place for revising and editing, but there is also a time and place for not doing those things. You do not need to grade and correct everything your children write. Honestly, you don’t need to do that very often at all. Writing is a skill that develops over time as we discussed in the Spring Issue.

Grading everything is an idea passed down from public education. Homeschooling is completely different. As your children’s teacher, you know their strengths and weaknesses, and you know when there is growth and improvement. You know that the writer is more important than the writing itself.

Make sure there are no mistakes. Perfection isn’t a requirement in writing, or at least it doesn’t have to be. That’s baggage we often bring from our own experiences, but we don’t need to pass it onto our children. Mistakes are simply opportunities for growth. Nothing more.

Other people must read what we write for it to be real writing. You do not need to read everything your children write. Some writing is just for the person who writes it. Journals, for example, should be a safe place for kids to process their thoughts, ideas, and feelings privately if they prefer. It’s much better to be invited into a child’s world than to barge in and take a seat.

If we want our children to grow as writers, then we need to encourage them and give them the freedom to express themselves. We need to take the pressure away and replace it with joy.

We need to bring the fun back into writing.
Creativity Muscle Builders & Fun Writing Activities

Here are some different ideas to build your children’s “creativity” muscles and to simply have fun with writing! Let your children choose what appeals to them.

Rewrite things that have already been written. Change the ending of a story or the setting. Write a familiar story from a different point of view. Children’s stories, fairy tales, and fables are perfect for this.

Play word games. The car is a great place to play word games. I’ve already shared “The Crayola Game,” but there are so many other options. One thing my sons and some of their friends enjoyed doing was to have a “pun off.” One of them would say a sentence with a pun in it, and then they would continue to try to outdo one another making up puns about the same topic.

Explore topics using venn diagrams and mind maps before writing. This is a great way for visual learners to organize their thoughts. You can even simply do the diagram or mind map instead of writing at times. Not everything has to be a complete writing assignment!

Do puzzles. Word puzzles are great, but they aren’t the only kind of puzzles that will strengthen those creative muscles. I remember loving logic puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and math-related ones. Rebus puzzles are a lot of fun too!

Enjoy poetry. Notice I didn’t say analyze poetry. I think that’s why so many people dislike it. Instead of just enjoying the imagery and cadence of the words—instead of enjoying the beauty and whimsy and wordplay—students are asked to figure out rhyme schemes and rhythm schemes and some “deep meaning.” I’ll never forget reading an article about a poet who discovered her poems were used on a standardized test—she had no idea that their answer was what she meant. Julie Bogart of Bravewriter created the idea of Poetry Teatime, and my two boys loved it. Simply make (or buy) some treats, serve them with their favorite drinks, and read poetry together. We read a variety of poems over the years, but they had a special love for Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky—that’s the poetry we began with for the sheer joy of it.

Create a writer’s notebook. Where can your children find ideas about what to write? Encourage them to keep a writer’s notebook. The notebook can be filled with whatever inspires them. Quotes they like, passages from favorite books that catch their attention, list of topics they are interested in. You get the idea!

Explore literary elements. Similes and metaphors are simply fancy words for comparisons. When we compare one thing to another, it helps us understand something better by taking the familiar and showing how it’s like something less familiar.

Have your kids find a simile (when an author uses the word like or as to compare two things), or a metaphor (where an author makes the comparison by saying something is something else). Then have them draw a picture as if people were supposed to take the comparison literally.

For example, let’s pretend they found a simile that says, “His brain was like a computer getting stuck downloading the information.” They would draw the head of a boy with a computer where his brain would be.

Coming Up Next

In the Autumn Issue, we’re going to talk about one more paradigm shift, and I hope it brings relief to moms whose kids are in middle school and high school especially.

I’ll give you a hint… there’s more to writing in the secondary years than the five-paragraph essay. (And it’s often more important!)

Until then, go and have some fun writing!
Kay signature
Kay Chance standing in front of green foliage and smiling

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.