Sunday, 2 July 2017

"How do I make my child write?"

"How do I make my child write?"

"I can't get them to write anything down!"

There are a couple of things going on with this post. Writing, pen on paper is something of a dying art. While I am all for handwriting it is hardly going to be the way most people communicate in the 21st century. 
Cursive is something I taught my daughter but here's the thing, if their brain development isn't in a place where this makes sense, or they don't have the motor skills forcing them is going to make them resistant. If they are coming from school the utter fear of the shame and blame of making a mistake might be the reason. 
Writing, is amazing, it is used as the primary way we communicate these days. That is the key. If they don't have the ideas, opinions or good rhetoric writing doesn't have a meaning. Encouraging their ideas and focus on that rather than anything else. Not on spelling or structure. Certain shapes and forms are unless you are actually working with cursive and ink.Why do we make this shape at the end of a letter, well that is how an ink pen moves across a page. Writing used to be hand-made inks on velum and parchment, with first feather quills, and then metal ones and even them they made plenty of mistakes. Context is important. Why does it look like this, why does it have this shape?
A t is smaller when written than an l because they didn't cross the t's until after they had finished writing the line or even page. It was so they could tell it was a t not an l. This makes a weird arbitrary rule make sense. Vowels have curls because they are usually in the middle of words and need to link up with each other. Really writing doesn't make sense until you understand by use, ink on a page.
Because people tend to be worried about the mess (this is just what happens with ink pens) we give children pens later and later, or not at all.
 One of the main reasons a child can struggle with forming the shapes is a lack of drawing and painting.
Painting and how you hold a brush is very similar to how you hold a pen. 
From making your own paper and ink, to trying to make your own quills, this contextualises writing. It also happens to be education and fun!
If it is about "regurgitating facts" you are missing the point. That is a different skill to writing. Writing is and was an art form. Those are struggle with pens and paper can find typing an absolute boon. As long as the ideas are communicated, as long as their voice is recognised and valued they will want to do so. If you de-value what they write or say why will not want to write.
Reading a lot is one of the best ways for children to understand writing. I would just let my daughter write out her story (as weird and wonderful as they were). I wouldn't correct her spell or structure (save for some punctuation). I just let her read and write freely.
"How did she learn anything!"
Well by the time she was about 12, I was having her proof read some of my blogs and written work, because I'm dyslexic and she isn't. I hadn't "taught" her. No she learned by copying the structures of other writers, sub-consciously. From Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dhal, Michelle Paver, and hundreds of amazing writers. This innate understanding of language from watching it being used is how we all learn a lot of things, from walking and talking to making music. 
If you want your child to "write more" you need to understand what it is you actually want. Is it nice neat letters, is it a clear understanding of what they are talking about, is it a comfortable and confident voice, or something else?
If it is ideas or knowing, typing stuff is just fine. If it is pretty handwriting, encourage them to paint and write with ink. If it is to understand the structure of writing, it is reading really good books. If reading is a struggle I try my blog on reading here.    

There is a shameful truth that in our current educational model and world view that it doesn't matter how clever someone is, unless they can express that on paper. This was not the case for most of human history and some of the world's most amazing ancient "writer's" had someone else to put the idea onto paper, clay and stone. Their ideas and voice are no less valid because of this. Writing was a job, a very specific one. Writing for the masses is a relatively new idea, and while I applaud the ability to use personal agency and voice, some human's really struggle with the written word. It can not be the only measuring stick we use to value someone. It is not the true measure of a talent, or knowing, or thought. For them non-dyslexic out there I want you to imagine reading on a bus or train, something very wobbly. This can make you feel dizzy and sick, the words moving about as your eye can not track the word on the page. Dependant on the level of dyslexia that is the amount of turbulence. I never got motion sick while reading on a bus or train and I found out at 26 years old that it was because the words always move around on the page to me. The first time someone put an overlay onto a page and the words stopped moving was a revelation. If you are not dyslexic but you think your child might be I suggest looking at this. 
Once you understand that they are being "difficult" or "lazy" or not "trying hard enough" is because dyslexia effect your memory. It is actually quite difficult to learn in general, and it can be extremely mentally taxing. 10 minutes reading or writing or maths can make you need to take a nap!

Writing can be beautiful, artful and fun!

Home education is too important to take seriously.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

"How do I get my child"

"How do I get my child "

"Help! My child is (under 7) and won't spell out/sit and read/write things down!"

Well there's your problem! You are not teaching reading! Not that that is something you need to sit and force a child to do (all your going to do is get a fight). If you want to encourage your child to read you need two things. Books and time. I don't remember teaching my daughter to "read" we just always had books, everywhere. She would copy me and her Dad looking at books. It wasn't something we worried about.
Stories and reading were a huge part of our bedtime routine (I kind of really miss it now she 15!) and I would tend to stop on a cliff-hanger! I found this would make her excited to go to bed (and hear the story) and it would also mean I caught her under the covers with a torch reading, because she wanted to know what would happen.
You do need GOOD books (I can only think of two books that had anything to do with Princess we ever owned) well written and crafted, slightly gross or scary stories, stories with lots of adventures.
Our favourite was The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Blue Bear. This actually an adult book, written in the style of a children's book. In terms of reading aloud it's NOT easy and you look silly (which is always a bonus) but if you have fun with it they do.
We also loved Terry Pratchett, Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman (his Graveyard books hit the mark with my spooky loving daughter). 

What is reading? 

Reading at it's heart is pattern recognition. It doesn't matter HOW they learn (phonics just never worked for us because English is NOT a phonetic language.) We learn to recognise patterns naturally. What is safe, what isn't, what is edible, what isn't. As such if you add a word to a thing, and they see what it is, they will learn pretty quickly that the cookie jar, has the word cookies on it!
The basic understanding that this set of shapes means X will happen but some folks brains are wired to do it later than others. It's worth bearing in mind that in the most successful academic countries do not even begin to teach children until they hit 7 years old.
This is because of brain development. Before that they are learning a HUGE amount about the world in this primary expression: play. 
Now my daughter was reading very young, but not because we "made" her. It was something she wanted to do. I wasn't happy with how they were teaching her words at school so we would play word games at home (a home-made version of snap with words). We kept it light and fun, while her tea was cooking. 
There is another kind of reading. Reading where you are creating a story, a movie in your mind populated with the people written on a page. It is satisfying and emotional, it is uplifting and allows you to see and in worlds you have never experienced. It fosters empathy, heroism (if you have never been seen some be really brave, or strong, or overcoming how do you know you can?) and kindness.
It is deeply important because it the imagination is a muscle that requires practice to use.
Some never experience this. They simply are not wired to.
Some people never had really good stories (women and girls in particular have a real lack of decent books) or were told it was "boring" or pointless to read like this. I get told I am "strong" a lot by people, and I genuinely believe that is because I read a lot. Most of my protagonists I read growing up were strong men, and I put myself in the stories with them. I wasn't a damsel, I was a battle-gruff knight on a horse, not complaining about the rain.  Reading changed how I viewed the world, and myself.
If you foster a love of this kind of reading, the other kind just sort of follows along. Grammar, spelling and writing structure also come with it. 

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously.