One of my son’s favorite — and unanswerable — questions through the years had to do with Algebra and higher math.
“When will I ever use this?” he asked. “And if I never use it, why do I have to learn it?”
I never did come up with a good answer for that one, having successfully made it to seasoned adulthood without dredging up my high school trigonometry.
But I did understand his frustration of devoting time and mental energy to a task for which he saw no purpose. Algebra isn’t the only subject our children wonder what they’re going to do with some day.
Too frequently, we expect our children to write to no purpose — the 2-page, 5-page, 10-page research paper being the primary example, and really, the main reason we insist upon their completing these projects in high school is because they will be expected to do so in college. How many of us, since our college days, have completed a research paper?
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its purposes — organization, understanding of subject matter, citation, the ability to understand and avoid plagiarism — but our children’s writing time can also include more pertinent activities that they will actually use in their later, adult lives:
- Writing letters — personal or business
- Crafting e-mails (this is more difficult than it sounds)
- Telling, in written form, a story
- Providing clear, easy to follow instructions (how many of us who have purchased a “some assembly required” item have longed, achingly, for comprehensive, and comprehensible, directions?)
- Poetry and creative writing — not every child is interested in these areas, but those who are should have the opportunity to explore them. Your child may never play the piano well, but the music in his soul could come out through his writing.
- Describing the results of a science experiment
- Expressing an opinion on a political, historical, or societal subject (the Letters to the Editor section of the paper remains many people’s favorite)
When you think of all the real functions that writing can fulfill in everyday life, all of a sudden you can see how a child can spend 15 minutes to an hour, daily (depending upon the child’s age), doing them. And the more a child writes — and writes for a purpose — the better he becomes at it. And the better he becomes at it, the more willing he is to do it (one hopes).
It’s almost my mantra, but the primary purpose of writing is to express ourselves, and everybody — regardless of age — has something to say. When our children believe that what they spend their time putting to paper or screen is actually being read and absorbed, they gain in confidence and ability, and when enough time goes by — 1st grade segues into middle school, then middle school into their junior year of high school — all that practice and hard work results in a person who can write.
This is the third and last of three articles on teaching your child how to write. Article number one is Homeschooling? Yes, You Can Teach Your Child to Write, and article number two is Writing: The More You Practice the Better You Get.
I have successfully homeschooled four children in a 20-year period. As a professional writer, I observed the common mistakes and issues many people face, and addressed them in my book, Grammar Despair: Quick, simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” available at Amazon.com as a paperback and digital book.
I have also successfully raised a family of six
on an extremely modest income, which is what most homeschoolers — and families of all sorts — deal with. Live Happily on Less: 52 Ideas to Renovate Your Life and Lifestyle, addresses how to make realistic, sustainable changes in the way you think and spend money, so that you can get the most out of the resources you have. Many money saving books hammer you over the head with frugality tips — extreme couponing, and making odd craft projects out of old t-shirts or blue jeans — but I don’t. Unless you find what works for you, and works well, you won’t do it — and my book walks you through finding what works for you.
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Carolyn, I was privileged when in high school, and elementary as well, to have teachers who followed your philosophy. We were encouraged to learn such forms as public speaking, which demanded we write well-ordered speeches to persuade, defend, etc. We were given as much application in the arts as possible for a public school system could afford. Unfortunately, today’s systems don’t allow for anything that smacks of the arts that might help round out a child’s character and vision of the world.
Keep up the fight. There are plenty of us standing with you.
Claudsy — Thank you. It is good to know that I stand in the midst of people like you, committed to keeping attention on intellectual purity and pursuits.
Arts education in the public schools is a dicey thing. On the one hand, when they’re not there, we have a whole generation raised without exposure to artwork or writing at all, and they are slaves to their phones. On the other, what was there before it was removed wasn’t always good. Like you, I had one great writing teacher — out of 12 years of public school education — so I was lucky.
Within the arts, when I went to school — and that was a bit ago — the art teachers back then did not teach drawing or draftsmanship because they didn’t know it. Those in that generation who had the degree credentials to teach university classes, preparing the next generation of teachers (this one, and beyond) didn’t know drawing or draftsmanship either, so it is a skill that continues to not be taught.
And yet, people of all ages long to paint and draw. It has gotten to the point that my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson, is putting together a Sequential Video Series on painting and drawing (it’ll be posted on our website we’re hoping within a couple weeks, maybe this one!), because he has so many requests from outside our area to come and give workshops. We’d love to, but driving to Florida from Washington just isn’t happening, so we’re doing this digitally.
People aren’t getting the art education, or writing education, in their educational lifetime — and sadly, that includes private and homeschoolers, which generally enjoy a higher, more customized quality of care — because fewer and fewer people actually know the subjects, in order to teach them.
We will keep fighting, my friend. Thank you for writing me. — Carolyn
You’re more than welcome, Carolyn. I can certainly agree with your assessment. Unfortunately, all of our voices calling in the night seem to be falling on more than deaf ears. The ears that are out there to hear simply don’t care or worse, are deliberately ignoring the plea.
I have no answer to the problem, other than outside workshops for kids that really want to learn.