Homeschooling FAQ: Early Writing

I love so much of Charlotte Mason’s teaching, including what she said about writing.  She emphasized short lessons.  She advocated expecting high quality work.  Think three perfect (as age appropriate) Ms instead of one hundred sloppy Ms.

My friend Heidi was over last week, and we brainstormed about how we teach writing to young ones with the goal of eventually being about to write a flawless 5 paragraph essay.  It’s overwhelming, is it not?  No wonder we’re always looking for “the perfect book to teach writing.”  I can’t tell you how many books I bought (ack!) in my early days, as J was learning to write.  Ones that promised fluency and a seamless transition into composition.  I was a butterfly, landing on one method for a month until it didn’t work, then moving onto another for 6 weeks.

Finally I discovered Charlotte Mason.  And Maria Montessori.  And Explode the Code.  Between the three of them, I have more successfully navigated the waters of early-writing with my second two.  (The jury is still out on whether my children will be able to write flawless 5 paragraph essays for their college applications.)

Here are my thoughts.

Part of the challenge of writing is that it is both a cognitive and a motor skill.  Linking the two together is hard.  Add into that that we’re trying to do this as our wiggly 5 or 6 year-olds are just learning what “school” is going to look like.  If I give them 100 S’s to copy, they will quickly learn that they don’t like school.  If I can make at least two parts of the three-part challenge easier, the transition into “school” will be easier.  For example:

In the beginning, start simple.  Here are five sample “beginning writing” lessons which you could do with a single letter per week.  Do one each day for no more than 5 minutes.  Be very positive, but do “writing” each day.  Over time, the eye-hand-cerebrum muscles  will develop, and you’ll be able to add in some copywork on paper.  But start without it.  And keep in mind that “scribbling” is a developmentally appropriate motor skill that builds the muscles we’re working on!

Day 1: fill a cookie sheet with a thin layer of cornmeal and have them “write” a single letter in the cornmeal– and shake it till it’s gone if they’re not happy for it– for 5 minutes.

Day 2: copy 3 perfect letters on a chalkboard or whiteboard.  (The chalkboard is especially good because it prevents making your letters from the bottom.)

Day 3: trace a letter onto sandpaper, cut it out, and glue it on regular paper.  Have the child trace this with their finger and say the sound.

Day 4: Make a letter mosaic.  Trace your letter onto regular paper– as large as you can– and have your child fill the outline with something starting with that letter.  (Macaroni in the letter M.  Feathers in the letter F.Buttons for B.)

Day 5: Ahead of time, cut a bunch of photos from magazines and separate them by starting sound.  Make a collage of the letter.  (A: airplanes and ants and apples.  B: boats and bears and bottles and babies.)

Start this process with the letters of your child’s name so that she can write her name as soon as possible.

Once your child can write his or her letters, you can add in copywork.  Begin with a word a day, but expect good quality work.

Separate from the manual skill of writing (above), your child is simultaneously developing his reading skills and comprehension, so I’ll give you a few ideas I have about these in the next post.

6 thoughts on “Homeschooling FAQ: Early Writing

  1. I could just hug you!

    Henry’s been writing for a while now, but, surprisingly (to me at least), his writing got significantly worse while he was in pre-school. Maybe it was their low expectations? For example, he never confused N and M before, and now every time he writes a note or draws a picture for the neighbor, it’s addressed to Nr. Nitchell. Grrrr. So I’m loving these ideas. 🙂

    I think N and M are the first letters on the list, followed by G, which for some reason seems to keep tripping Henry up (and was oddly the letter he was assigned to be an “expert” on while at that same school). I feel like that school did more harm than help – but maybe it’s just his age?

    Anyway – I love your Homeschool posts! You have fabulous ideas! You could compile them all into a book (or ebook?) and sell them!


  2. These are great, practical suggestions, Annie. Thank you! I did the rice on a cookie sheet this year and had our age-appropriate child practicing his letters that way, and we really enjoyed that practice. We’ve done the collage, too. I’m going to try the sandpaper letters someday… it’s on my list. 🙂 And I like the letter mosaic idea, too. I must remember to keep it simple. 3 perfect letters versus 10. Or 20. (Although, with Ella… even when I have told her to do only a few, she wants to “fill up the row” (or page)… because she’s just like that. What would you suggest in that case?


    • Stacy, I might try to evaluate her work after three, and then leave it up to her if she does more. Then the littler ears are hearing the praise for the three you assigned, and not comparing themselves to the 20 she did. Just a thought. I loved your copyword jar– I’m going to link to it soon! Blessings, Annie


  3. Thank you for your thoughts… good point about littler ears. 🙂 I am quite sure my boys will *not* want to do more than three. I haven’t started copywork yet with them but plan to next year.


  4. Pingback: Homeschooling FAQ: From Copywork to Composition « Learning As We Go

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