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Homeschool and Writing: Fear of Failure

Full disclosure first: I agreed some time ago to keep the HomeschoolBlogger logo and link on my sidebar, and to write reviews of articles from The Old Schoolhouse (TOS, a homeschooling magazine) in exchange for a free year’s subscription to TOS.

I failed to incorporate the logo into the sidebars of my new themes until now; I’ve fixed that for all themes. As for reviews of articles, this is the first. Decide for yourself whether they qualify as paid advertisements (I think an annual subscription is around $20, so if I write about four articles per quarterly issue, well, you do the math).

But this post isn’t about my writing, it’s about how we’re teaching writing to our daughter. Or at least how we’re trying to teach writing. She is definitely a reluctant writer.

There are two problems, really. First, she is still struggling in her penmanship. Part of the problem is that (apparently) she holds her pencil wrong (it’s hard to explain in words). We discovered this only last year and have been taking steps to correct it (little rubber grips that slide onto a pencil), but she has fought it pretty steadily. We’ve been working on penmanship using Handwriting Without Tears.

The second problem, no doubt related to the first, is that she simply doesn’t like to write. We have around ten spelling words a week, and she writes sentences for each one. And she is to write sentences in her journal each day. She also does some writing in response to history lessons. And again, she fights us tooth and nail.

Imagine my interest, then, in the Winter 2006 issue of TOS, with a whole section of articles on writing, including Enticing the Reluctant Writer, by Vicki Caruana. Ms. Caruana provides a lot of commonsense advice to help us get our children past the “obstacles that can stand in the way of confident, enthusiastic writing.”

The first obstacle she mentions is “Fear of Failure.”

Children are afraid that their words won’t be good enough. They may love to read [ok - we’re still working on that, too] … but they don’t believe their own attempt will gain praise.

That actually hits home. I struggle to write myself, both on this blog and in my professional life, because I think my writing will stink. It may also be a problem for some of my college students (although laziness and procrastination play a part for many of them; for me, too).
Caruana’s advice:

Share with students that authors revise their stories many times before they are published.

I’m sure she’s not the first to note this, but I think it’s good to remind ourselves of this. We need to give our daughter (and I need to give my students) room to revise (I’m actually implementing this to some extent in my Math 101 class). But of course, revising means more writing, so there will be that hurdle.

I need to do this myself as well. I think back to my ROTC days. In our Junior year, we had to learn about military writing using a resource known to most Air Force officers: Tongue and Quill. It reappeared during Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and maybe even Air War College. Anyway, Revise and Edit was the catchphrase. Don’t expect to write the perfect letter, trip report, point paper, whatever, the first time around. Expect editing.
But I digress. I’m looking for ways to gently introduce the idea of writing and re-writing, without generating more resistance. More ideas follow in the article, but I’ll save that for another post.

6 Responses to “Homeschool and Writing: Fear of Failure”

  1. Suzi Says:

    My sons like to write (type), but they don’t like to write write. One of them also holds his pencil wrong. (Ouch.) So I’m not saying I have all the answers.

    But someone suggested to me, and I have used this once or twice, that you offer to let your child stay up later as long as they are writing. That gives them an incentive to write and associates it with a positive experience.

    Just a thought.

  2. Joe Talerico Says:

    DRL -
    I do not think your handwriting is bad, I just think you get excited and sometimes being to write too fast. As far as your daughter, I would (if she does not already) give her a diary that she could log her daily/weekly events of her life. Something that is not really pressured writing (assignments and what not) but leisure writing, something she will do on her own.

    A weird trend that I saw when I was a youngster (and boy was that such a long time ago) is that girls seem to have the better handwriting. Not sure if this is the case still today but when I was in school I always noticed that a girl’s handwriting seemed to be a lot better than mine!

  3. carol Says:

    Knowing your daughter I can only praise you folks! However, I have learned a lot of little tricks from occupational therapists over the years. One trick is to use stubs of pencils! Yup! Cut a little golf scoring pencil in half or less so that the physics of it results in the only way a child can hold it is with the proper tripod grasp.

    By 7, however, poor writing habits have been in use for a third of the child’s life so it’s a difficult thing to fix.

    As for wanting to write. I stumbled onto this one day when I needed the children to be more independent while I did some one-on-one testing. (another arguement for home schooling!) I said, “All requests must be submitted in writing! And all requests must be accompanied by at least 2 items of support!” And I mean everything.
    “May I go to the bathroom. I really need to and something nasty will happen if I don’t.” (spelling mine) was the best and most writing I had gotten up to that date with a special needs child. He was delighted and I was too.
    I started to use it as a more regular practice and it led to dialog journals. Kids love them. They lead right into the other 3r’s — relationships, relevance, rigor, yes?

  4. David Says:


    Great ideas, all, and we’ll certainly give them serious consideration. She should be thankful she has an Auntie like you!

    To the rest of you, I appreciate your ideas as well. Suzi - I like the idea of extra stay-up-time. That might be a great incentive.

    To Joe I say - be thankful for your internship; you missed out on having to take Theory with me. My handwriting goes all to heck because of how excited I get when I discuss finite state machines or the pumping lemma.

  5. Ticklish Ears » Homeschooling and Writing: Other Problems Says:

    […] I wrote the other day about a very welcome article I found in the latest edition of TOS. Vicki Caruana addresses reaching the Reluctant Writer, and this is something we have been struggling with in our home. The ideas that folks came up with in the comments are terrific! My sister-in-law suggested that we turn every request of our daughter’s into a writing assignment, and that has possibilities. Want to invite a friend over? Put it in writing! Want to have a movie night? Put it in writing! […]

  6. Ticklish Ears » A new solution for the reluctant writer Says:

    […] You may recall that we were looking for ways to encourage our daughter to write. I may have stumbled onto a new approach that combines creative writing with the spelling theme of the week. […]

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