Do Your Kids Hate Writing? Do less.
In my experience, there are three types of writing to be concerned with when it comes to education: the physical act of writing, creative writing, and essay/academic writing. I assert that children don’t need to do as much physical writing as we think they do (compared to how much schools ask of kids, especially before they are physically ready or able to do so). Kids do a lot of writing in schools from a very young age, presumably in part because teachers need a lot of work product to grade so they can show administrators and parents that they’re doing their job and so they know every single one of their 25-30 students actually read the book or understood the assignment, and not necessarily because it’s useful or prudent to do so very much physical writing that early. Just look at an x-ray showing the bones and ligaments of a five or six year old's hand vs an older child or adult's hand. The fine motor skills just aren't there yet, and need to be developed first. In the meantime, you can make sure the kids don't develop a hate for writing.
You likely have one or two students in your homeschool. You know they did the reading or assignment, and you can simply discuss the book or activity naturally afterwards rather than force them to do a formal book report or write on a prompt or topic they could give a hoot about. The immense amount of reading my kids did (in addition to me reading aloud and audio books) helped them acquire a ton of relevant skills, especially in the early years. Kids pick up on an enormous amount of grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary by osmosis when they read and/or are read to a lot! So definitely do both, often.
My kids did just a little bit of daily physical writing when they were younger (ages 5-8). My boys did not love it and complained about it hurting. So, we adjusted, and after learning how to write their letters by using short (15 min) daily lessons from the Italics workbooks from Getty-Dubay, we continued doing just enough writing so that I knew they could. Each day, they wrote the date plus one sentence or a word of the day and the definition in a daily journal, and that’s it (except maybe for grocery lists, holiday or birthday wish lists, thank you notes, or notes to me - useful, real life writing). In tandem with this minimal daily writing, we focused a bunch on fine motor development by playing with Legos, clay, and play dough, and doing activities like finger painting, Lerner beads, sewing, arts and crafts, beading, and mazes.
When they got a little older, around ages 8-10, we introduced formal (they'd been making up stories and engaging in pretend play for years) creative writing with various fun and low key classes (in person and online) over the next couple of years (outschool.com is great for this: I loved Jessika O’Sullivan and Druidawn). I scribed when necessary for their stories so they could let their ideas flow, unhampered by their lagging physical writing skills, as they concurrently worked on developing their typing skills (again, low key, no software program or daily "lessons", just the natural use of the computer for all things related to school, emailing family and friends, or video gaming after showing them correct hand positioning). Classes were focused on developing creativity, use of adjectives, learning similes and such, rather than high output. I encouraged their ideas, characters, and world building instead of worrying about sentence structure, and I did not correct grammar, either. Kids full well know their writing is not up to the par of a Harry Potter or other best selling books they're reading, but they’ll get better with time, faster if they love storytelling. My kids' writing became deeper and more complex simply with time and maturity, exposure to relaxed creative writing classes, and by reading a lot. Did I mention they read a lot?
We also added a page a day of Easy Grammar workbooks, and around 5th or 6th grade I taught my boys the concept of paragraph structure with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion sentence, so they could do occasional short assignments for their online classes (onlineg3.com for history and literature and literatureatourhouse.com for literature). They continued to read voraciously, and I read “to” them daily, stopping only when they were 17 and 19 and about to begin college. It's just as important to read much higher level books than your child can read when they are very young as it is to continue reading to them even when they can outpace you reading independently. As they age, pick books they should be exposed to but would not necessarily choose on their own. My kids developed a love of Agatha Christie and learned a great deal about current events in this way.
In the early high school years I had them do a few eight week long classes via time4writing.com (which is now defunct, unfortunately), going over grammar as well as sentence and paragraph structure (it had been a few years since using Easy Grammar). They breezed through these classes, which ended up being review, and we realized they had these basic skills down pat. Because they were not taking classes that required much formal essay writing, but rather focused more on discussion and paragraph assignments, my boys ended up writing only about two or three 5-paragraph essays over their entire high school years.
Knowing this, are you worried about my boys and their college future?
They had the basics down, they had the grammar, the reading comprehension, the critical thinking, and they are intelligent humans. Their understanding and production of sentence and paragraph structure was solid, and an essay is essentially more of that, expanded, isn’t it? They'd been discussing literature and ideas all along via literatureatourhouse.com and onlineg3.com, which helped them develop critical thinking and how to express what they think…and that’s turned out to be crucial. But.
Our methods were about to be tested outside of homeschool.
My eldest graduated high school in May of 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic and immediately began an accelerated six week community college history course over the summer for his first class. Precisely because he hadn’t done much essay writing, I arranged for a tutor (wyzant.com) just in case he needed support. Note: he LOVES history. My son wrote more (two full, six page essays, plus the multiple pre essay assignments) in that six weeks than he wrote for ALL of his high school years! However, we only paid the tutor for a total of one hour. She fixed a little bit of grammar and had a couple of suggestions for him, saying she didn’t touch the content and that his ideas and structure were solid. He went on to get an A+ in the class with 106% (he did the extra credit). He was very successful, and the writing was fairly painless because he WANTED to be there. He WANTED to write and he LOVED the topic. This first successful class was crucial to his overall future success in college.
It's now March of 2022, and my formerly reluctant, "I hate writing", student has a 3.9 GPA and has completed both required English classes and several more writing heavy classes (without any tutor support). This semester he'll complete all of his transferable units and hopes to attend UC Davis in the fall (We find out late April!). Motivation is key here. He wants to do it and wants to be successful, so he is. Also, the professors are wonderful, offering help and office hours if support is needed, and if it had been needed, we could have leaned on a tutor as well. My younger son is completing his first year of community college with a 3.9 GPA after graduating high school a year early to do so and will also apply to UC Davis in the fall.
If you and I, as adults right now, had never learned how to write a formal essay, we could pick it up pretty quickly and learn how to do it with some amount of competence after a google search or basic lesson, simply due to our maturity and life experience. Forcing kids who don't enjoy writing to do more of it at a young age can backfire. We don’t have to drill our kids with sentence, paragraph, or essay writing day in and day out for years and years from the age of five for them to understand it much more quickly when they’re a bit older and more physically, mentally, and developmentally ready. New homeschoolers frequently inquire how they can get their reluctant writers to write more, and more importantly, care about writing, and I always answer, do less. As homeschoolers, we have complete flexibility and can change up the order and timing of how we focus on writing. Plus, when ready, we can have our kids write about things that are important and/or relevant to them, making it more engaging.
It may seem counter intuitive, but in my experience, if your kids are rebelling against physical writing because of discomfort, lack of enjoyment, or they are questioning the relevance, then consider DOING LESS OF IT. Separate out physical writing from the other types of writing and for now, get the information related to education and the learning you’re attempting to elicit about history, books, science, and other subjects verbally until later in their education after they've developed their fine motor skills. Have them do less physical writing, and eventually try a low key creative writing class and/or let them write whatever THEY want to write about. Don’t worry so much about recreating a school like structure where you make them write a lot now simply because "they'll have to later"… this is a great way to approach writing that doesn’t squash all the joy out of it. When we force or coerce writing, our kiddos just learn to hate it!
My boys were having a conversation over college finals week last December:
"Oh, you have to do an eight page essay for your final?"
I was flabbergasted and laughed, reminding them how they would have reacted to this news years ago. But they’d never really done essays! But they hated writing and thought it was SO HARD when they were younger! The kids are fine. More than fine. We relaxed, we did less, and they are succeeding anyway (or maybe because of it?).