Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Well Trained Wednesday: Grammar Stage- Language Arts Pt.3

We have now made it to our 3rd installment on our series about Grammar Stage language arts. So today we are going to discuss what writing looks like in the Classical Education model.
At the Grammar Stage writing starts at its earliest as developing penmanship skills later on transferring to writing well written sentences and toward the end of the grammar stage introducing the composition. A major way most Classical homeschoolers build good penmanship skills in there young learners is through Copywork I already gave an explanation of copywork in Language Arts pt. 2. So you can refer back to that if need be. I must point out the fact that Classical if not anything is a holistic approach to learning. You will constantly see the overlapping of certain skills and methods through the curriculum helping to bridge the gap between subjects till it one day comes together as a whole. Copywork is a handwriting exercise as well as an exercise in grammar and spelling.

Now there are many arguments that I have heard for whether or not start with print or cursive and both arguments are valid. I personally begin with print(manuscript) and go along with TWTM recommendation to start cursive at the beginning of 2nd grade. My 2nd grader began this year with cursive this fall with some copywork of just basic lettering and then we started halfway through the year with an excellent program called Handwriting Without Tears. We are doing the 3rd grade cursive book cause in traditional education programs they begin cursive in 3rd grade. TWTM recommends the Zaner- Bloser Grade 2C student book to start out in with cursive.

Susan Wise Bauer had this to say in regards to beginning copywork:

"Look at his work, praise what he's done right, and then correct his mistakes with a red pencil so that he can clearly see the correction. Ask him to compare his work with the original. Do this two or three times per week. Put the child's paper in the notebook under copying. Does this stifle creativity? No- it builds the skills the child needs in order to be truly creative. When a first grader copies a sentence from Charlotte's Web he's learning spelling, mechanics(punctuation and so forth), basic grammar( subject- verb agreement, adjective use), and vocabulary from a master of English prose. He'll need all this information in order to write down the sentences he forms in his own head."

The next step in building and developing writing skills in the Classical method will be to introduce dictation. You want to start with short sentences dictating slowly as they write. Check for punctuation, capitalization errors and have them make corrects.  But keep in mind that at first it will take some time to do dictation. Try not to frustrate the child give them a little to go in if they need some help figuring out proper spelling till they get used to it. TWTM says:

"The child who's spent the first grade copying will already have a visual memory of common words. But during the transition from copying to dictation, you'll need to help him develop the skills of sounding out and writing down words without looking at a model."

Dictation will help the child develop the rules of good style and expression necessary for writing compositions later on.

Another suggestion is to have the child do letter writing( thank- you notes, letters to grandma, etc..) as soon as possible to being using the writing skills. TWTM does warn against requiring the child to be creative in the grammar stage cause they are still absorbing and taking things in. This is not to say to stop a child who is naturally creative but not make it a mandate. It will come eventually when the child has acquired more skills.

So I guess you are wondering when should we start a formal writing program. Well if you are like myself you would feel as though your 2nd grader was just not quite ready for formal writing so you held off another year and continued to grow with your grammar and spelling program in the meantime. But in a traditional classical model you would start formal writing in 2nd grade. I think this is adjustable though. Look at your child for clues of readiness. There is no need to rush them into something they are not prepared for cause you can cause them to grow to hate it. Once a child hates writing its a hard thing to get to point of loving it. TWTM recommends that you being a formal writing program in supplement of your grammar program. The Wises suggested Writing Strands as a good start for formal writing. I am considering it for next year for my oldest. But its a debate between Writing Strands and IEIW( Institute for Excellence in Writing). I think that IEIW combines a lot of the language arts into one program which is what makes it so appealing. The creator of the program Andrew Pudewa has a nice selection of free audio seminars that explains the IEIW approach very well.

So that is it in a nutshell. I will return next week for my last installment in the Grammar Stage language art series with Reading and the Classical Model.


  1. I was hoping maybe you could share some insight. My son is 5 years old and we are homeschoolers. My intention is to be classical homeschoolers and I am following Susan Wise Bauer's book (but like you, changing some things to reflect our history and culture). But there's a part of me that wants my son to really be enthusiastic and excited about learning and I'm finding that he really does not like sitting down to do things like copywork or the practice sheets associated with our math curriculum (Math U See). As he enters first grade, I intend to incorporate more project type work but I know there still needs to be a heavy emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic. So what are you experiences? I hate feeling like a taskmaster forcing him to do thigs but I also want to develop discipline and foster a spirit of excellence. I don't want to dull his love of learning but I also want him to learn a lot and well. I know I need to be more patient with him and give him more time and think creatively about alternate ways to achieve the same goal. How is it in your house? Are you children always willing to to do the "desk work"? Any insight you have would be very much appreciated! Thanks you!

  2. Well Sis, All Math Curriculum's are not created Equal. I switched math programs twice before we found Singapore Math. Its fun and hands on but has a great focus on mental math. Unlike Math U See which is a mastery based program Singapore ins a mixture of mastery and Spiral approach. It focuses on Strategies which is how I think my kids learn best. You should look into that. Lots of kids just cant deal with a whole year of single digit edition like the way MathUSee does it. He could be ready to move on to a new concept. Boys minds work fast and they are ready to move on prety quick. I recommend short no longer than 15 min assignments for seat work. Try to incoroporate breaks in between or mix the hands on subjects in between the seat work. Also Sis I would not have such high expectation of a 5yr old boy when it comes to handwriting. That is a fine motor skill and boys are sometimes on the later end of developing that type of coordination. Its nothing to worry over its just the way they develop. I would do things to strengthen these muscles that might be fun like forming letters on a plate of rice or making playdough letters etc. If that is not the issue and its more of attention span then make sure the copywork is short like 1 sentence to start slowly increasiong to 2 and make it meaningful to him like take lines from favorite stories. Or let him draw a picture after his copywork on the same page. Another thing to consider when reading things like The Well Trained Mind is to not think you have to do every suggestion or everything every day or every subject for that matter. Also I have a serier of videos on my youtube channel called My Philosophy on early learning at home that might help you as well. My channel is at

  3. I never thanked you for you thoughtful comments! :) We're on the Beta level of Math-U-See and I have to say, I am quite pleased with the program and it's approach. My son progressed quickly through the Alpha level and liked it well enough. My only complaint are the worksheets . . . they are dry and just not fun to look at or do. So I will give Singapore a look although I wish there were some way I could test run curriculums w/o investing.

    Anyway, just over the past few weeks, I've been breaking up academic time with 5 minute breaks where he can get up and do whatever he wants. Sometimes the break is hardly over and he's ready to sit back down and get back to work. I know I tend to over-worry sometimes but I feel like I'm getting the hang of it and able to do things more intuitively as I learn what works for us.

    I am subscribed to your (wonderful) channel on YouTube and that's how I discovered your blog and your Podcasts (the homeschooling one and the other one ;)). I look forward to more from you.


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