Writing can be a real challenge for children. Between organizing an outline, coming up with creative ideas for content, worrying about spelling and grammar, and more, it can be overwhelming. It was rather difficult for me to help my children learn to write well, whether it be a simple summary, a 3 to 5 paragraph essay with topic sentences and supporting details, or even just a properly structured sentence correctly responding to a test question. I felt frustrated, and didn’t know if my children just didn’t understand yet, or if I was teaching the basics of writing incorrectly. The worst part was that my children felt like they were letting me down, and there were tears all around.
This was not how I wanted our homeschool to be, and I loved them too much to allow our homeschool work to transpire into some horrible childhood memory. I knew we could do better, and I started to ask other moms for help and research writing programs and homeschool curriculum online.
I heard of The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) some time ago in homeschooling circles, and borrowed the Teaching Structure and Style DVD set and original Structure and Style program from my local library. It was clearly a thorough writing program that would help children start writing from an early age through to college essay writing, but I still felt overwhelmed. Between the DVDs, the teacher’s guide, multiple binders and student’s workbooks, it still felt like too much to get through, and I felt defeated- especially with the knowledge other parents were able to do this, seemingly without any difficulty.
I blamed the boys’ lack of interest and tendency to be distracted while I tried to teach on my lack of teaching skills. I didn’t realize at the time that I was making mistakes, but not the ones I thought. I was expecting too much from them (they were only 7 and 9 when we started, and naturally easily bored and distracted when confronted by anything perceived as work), and I was over-correcting them. I was not giving them enough breaks and freedom and grace, but instead I was rushing through the material too quickly (in an effort to “catch up” to where I thought they should be). I wasn’t making sure that the work was interesting to them, and just wanted to check things off our “list”.
When IEW revealed their newest program, Structure and Style for Students (a three level program loosely based on age and grade), I felt like the answer was here. Andrew Pudewa is the teacher of these program, and has a way with children; he is patient, humorous, and able to explain things in a way that children understand. As he pointed out, it’s easier to have patience with children that are not your own, so I decided that this new writing program for children, which we could stream at home, was the best new starting-over point. We began with SSS Level A Year 1 (for children grades 3-5), as it would work with both boys. It was hands off for parents, and since I want to be a great mom who connects with her kids, not a strict mom who grades her children, I decided to hand over the reigns to Mr. Pudewa to teach my children how to write. And he did, in his clear, paced manner filled with jokes and interesting lessons. Each week, the boys watch a new video that builds on previous writing skills, and my only duty is to edit their work at the completion of the week’s program, looking simply for missing structural and stylistic dress-ups. IEW actually prefers the mother not fill this role, as we tend to over-teach (read: nag), and launch into 15 minutes explanations of why something is wrong, but since there was no one else, I am the editor, and really only correct spelling or grammar errors. As Mr. Pudewa teaches parents: Hands off content!
My eight year old son was able to write cohesive drafts about 25% of the way through the program (he takes these drafts and sort of self-edits them before passing them on to me for a final edit of just the spelling or grammar) …
… and my older son (10) was able to organize drafts that he could self-edit for spelling, grammar, missing words and dress-ups, etc on his own by about 40% through the program. He was taught to skip lines so he could add in additional ideas, phrases, or adjectives/adverbs as needed, and after practicing editing his own work, he hands it over to me for a final edit of grammar and spelling as well. His final writing drafts that were given to me in the last two weeks had only one error in each, and he is becoming as proud of his improvements in writing as I am. Here are examples of first drafts before he edits them:
I’d say that is pretty good for a ten year old!
So now we are about 75% of the way done with our 6 month program, and they’ve improved in so many ways. The boys started out fighting each lesson, begrudgingly fulfilling the homework assignments, writing scattered summaries that restated facts out of chronological order and had sentences with misspelled words and missing words (they never double checked their word). They quickly started to embrace the classes, even calling me in to hear particularly funny stories or jokes Mr. Pudewa would share, and enjoying their time streaming subsequent writing lessons each week. Their writing style, ability to summarize short pieces, and handwriting all improved drastically since Week 1, and I can even see leaps in skills from week to week.
The boys have learned to pick out key words to rewrite short summaries, and key facts to summarize larger pieces. They learned how to write a short story or essay that conveys feelings or conjures up images, how to vary sentence structure to make the reading more interesting, and how to decide on a topic sentence and conclusion. They learned a lot more, and in Structure and Style for Students Level B Year 1, they will review Level A and continue on to units 8 and 9, where they learn how to write longer essays and formal critiques- important in middle school, high school, and beyond. By the time they finish the program, they will have the tools to write essay applications for high school and college, excellent book reports, a thorough, well thought out high school thesis, persuasive essays, and more.
The Structure and Style for Students program is available in Level A (for grades 3-5), Level B (for grades 6-8), and Level C (grades 9-12), with each level offering two years worth of lessons. The videos can be streamed online via a subscription that doesn’t expire, or you can purchase DVDs. If you are teaching your children as an adjunct to public or parochial school, or homeschooling your children, you would be able to use the program for all your children over the years, and would just need to purchase additional consumable worksheets if needed, but so far we haven’t needed to since the boys complete their work in their own spiral notebooks. The Institute for Excellence in Writing also offers help in grammar, spelling, public speaking, and much more through various other workbooks and programs. Ready to try out a free class? Visit The Institute for Excellence in Writing here.