Problem: Your homeschooled child lacks confidence as a writer because of poor writing guidelines and vague instructions or expectations.
Solution: For each writing assignment, define the boundaries and give clear directions.
In his book Dare to Discipline, Dr. James Dobson reports the findings of an interesting study done on school children during the early days of the progressive-education movement. Apparently, an enthusiastic theorist decided to take down the chain-link fence that bordered the school grounds. He thought the children, who clearly loved exploring the enclosed yard, would feel even more freedom without that visible barrier surrounding them.
But here’s the curious thing: When the fence was removed, the boys and girls huddled together near the center of the play yard. Not only did they not wander away, they didn’t even venture to the edge of the grounds.
This little experiment served to reinforce a simple truth: Children feel secure in defined boundaries.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, lack of confidence is one of many stumbling blocks that stand in the way of writing growth. Giving students a blank page and saying, “Write about whatever you want!” is no different from plunking kids down in the middle of an unfenced playground.
Instead, position your children for success by setting boundaries for the composition. One idea is to limit its length. This helps your struggling 12-year-old son relax a bit. (“Hey, Buddy, you only have to write five to seven sentences.”) He will be less likely to freeze up if he knows the lesson parameters.
But it also helps your wordy, rabbit-trailing 15-year-old daughter write more concisely. By limiting her to one paragraph of five to seven sentences, you’re training her to choose her words more wisely, thus avoiding tangents.
This is good news! The same parameters work to the advantage of both kinds of writers. You’re offering the writing-phobic child safe boundaries, yet you’re also establishing clear limits for your rambler.
Provide Topic Options
Don’t assume that if kids have freedom to write about anything they want, their little pen will skip across the paper like an eager lamb! As I said earlier, this tactic usually backfires. That kind of freedom frustrates some struggling writers while sending others into a nosedive of absolute terror!
Giving specific yet flexible writing topics helps them feel a lot more secure about facing the writing assignment. Instead of telling them to “write about a food,” suggest they use their five senses to describe a taco, cinnamon roll, pizza, or ice cream sundae. You’re still giving choices but within the confines of a safe perimeter.
Give Clear Directions
It’s not enough to tell kids to write; they need to learn how to write. So provide step-by-step instructions to build their confidence even more.
Open-ended or fuzzily worded assignments contribute to lack of confidence and frustration. Instead, whether you create your own writing assignments or use a prepared curriculum like WriteShop, make sure your children know exactly what’s expected of them.
Example A: Poor instructions
Describe an object. (Or: Pick an object and write about it.)
Example B: Clear instructions
- Choose an object you can hold in your hand. Do not pick a food, an animal, or a person.
- Carefully observe your object. Brainstorm about it, listing everything you can about its features. Consider appearance, color, size, shape, texture, smell, and sound.
- Look closely for details, including imperfections and flaws.
- Write a 5- to 7-sentence paragraph describing your object. (Do not explain what the object is used for, and do not tell a story about it.)
Derek was an 8th grader whose first composition for our writing class consisted of two pitiful sentences. But within weeks, with clear limits and guidelines such as these, his confidence blossomed and he became one of the strongest writers in the class. For your child as well, clarifying your instructions may be all that’s needed!
Bottom line? With a few easy-to-implement solutions, you will help your students feel more sure of themselves. The result? They’ll perform better when they know just what you—and the writing assignment—are asking of them.
Are you frustrated with your writing curriculum because it doesn’t provide enough boundaries for the composition or offer detailed student instructions? Then consider award-winning WriteShop I for your 6th-10th grader or WriteShop Junior or Primary for elementary ages.
You’ll love the step-by-step instructions, topic suggestions, and structure that inspire successful writers!