The Homeschool Minute ~ Does Teaching Writing Overwhelm You?

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Does Teaching Writing Overwhelm You?
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Hey Mama    




Gena Suarez

Hey Mama,

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with teaching writing and all the other things we have to do.

“The Great Race” has its own special meaning to us Mamas who look at the clock in wonderment; how on earth is it already time for dinner?? Or bed time?? Where did the time go? Who took away the daylight?! We are squishing all these hours in the best we can, yet the day is quickly over, and we are not done.

Day after day, we get it “mostly done.” And we fall into bed feeling, “mostly dead.” (Remember Princess Bride?)

Mama, YOU are a Princess Bride. And while you’re never going to get 100% of the day’s activities done, it doesn’t matter because you have this “thing” in you, a compass if you will, or should we call it what it really is–a gift from the Lord–which somehow gets you through each day. You end up fulfilling the highest priorities so that everyone eats, everyone feels loved, everyone is relatively clean and smells OK (well, most of them anyway–OK half of them).

The family marches on. And they are all learning. And funny. And smart. And witty. And FULL of life and personality. In fact, some of those kids are a lot like you, Mama.

Someday, some of them will be a LOT like you, as they chase their own silly monkeys around, trying to get the laundry under control. Trying to keep everyone fed. Trying to keep up with the heart talks, the field trips, the character building, the discipline, the LOVE and happiness that just makes the family go, go, GO.

So you GO, Princess. His hand is on your head. Walk with the joy and peace and confidence you have, because it’s yours.

~ gena

And if you’re still feeling frustrated with teaching writing or all you have to do, read “Overwhelmed” by Alissa Kiker from the magazine or “Fun Writing Projects for Reluctant Writers” by Tamera Christine Van Hooser.


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Relational Homeschooling    
Diana Waring

Dear Friends,

There are many definitions for overwhelm:  to overpower by thought or force, to bury under a huge mass (deluge), to defeat completely, to give too much of a thing to someone (inundate).

With that in mind, may I ask, what overwhelms you? More importantly, when are you overwhelmed? It may be when you are tired, when too many things are on your to-do list, when you feel ill-prepared or under-equipped … It may be when your kids are fighting, your bills are staggering, or your best friend just moved away. Whenever it is–and for whatever reason–it makes such a difference to give yourself permission to simply stop and think.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is happening right now? (List each thing you are dealing with.)
  • Is this normally easy for me, though it feels hard right now? 
  • Am I trying to do more than is reasonable in the time available?
  • Are my expectations of my children in keeping with their ages and development?

There is something SO liberating in stepping back from the intensity of the moment to actually look at the big picture!  It may be that you discover:

  • I have not slept enough this week due to sick kids.

  • My in-laws are coming and that has increased the stress in my head and my schedule.

  • The co-op is pressuring me to do extra volunteer work.

  • Our curriculum is too advanced for my kids, and they are struggling to keep up.

Once you have identified the pressures, the stress, and the too-many-things-on-my-plate activities, it becomes much easier to focus on solutions. Don’t ignore the feelings of being overwhelmed, because they are trying to tell you something. Believe me, you do NOT want to be buried under a huge mass of pressures, defeated completely by your homeschooling experience, or inundate your precious kids with way more than they can possibly do.

Now that we have addressed the BIG issue, let’s talk about how to teach writing. It can feel overwhelming just trying to understand the differences between one opinion and another, much less trying to sort out all of the different products now available to help you teach your kids. Knowing others here will talk specifics, I’d like to talk about a foundational principle to help your kids succeed in writing.

Being a good writer means having something to say. To string together a series of sentences in a systematic flow is important, but if the sentences have no real substance, no real power to persuade or inform or intrigue, then the writing will not accomplish much.

So, how do you do help your kids have something worthwhile or interesting to say? Two answers spring to mind: read books out loud (one benefit: it provides a model of good writing), AND talk together with your kids about whatever each of you finds interesting, whether the book you are reading or the latest news report or the unusual conversation they had with a friend.

Remember, stay relational!


P.S. If feeling overwhelmed feels way too familiar, take a look at my recent blog, “Why Quit Homeschooling?




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The Art of Reading


Adam AndrewsOne of the most overwhelming moments in a homeschool writing teacher’s career takes place AFTER her students have acquired the basic mechanical skills of sentences and paragraphs.

Now that they can write a little, what they really need is practice. But practice on what? What should they write about?

Most of us have no idea whatsoever. Our attempts to create writing assignments leave us staring at that dreaded blank page. It’s no wonder our kids will soon repeat the gesture with blank stares of their own. How can we expect them to come up with ideas when we can barely suggest a single one?

One easy way to solve this problem is to have your students write expository essays about the stories they read. (Expository simply means “explanatory,” by the way.)  In other words, have your students explain the elements of their most recent reading assignment in writing. To get them started, simply teach some basic structural elements of literature like the ones in the following list; then ask a leading question about each one that can be answered with an expository paragraph or essay. Here are some examples:

1.Setting: Which elements of this story’s setting work most powerfully to emphasize the main idea of the story?

The setting of a story is the combination of details about time, place, people, and ideas that surround the story’s action. Authors choose their settings very carefully to emphasize their themes and to allow their characters and plots to illustrate important ideas. In short, there is no such thing as an accidental setting. Have your students explain why the setting of the story is important to the author’s main idea. Does the fact that storms and tempests unsettle the night before Julius Caesar’s murder have anything to do with Shakespeare’s views of treason and revolution? Most likely!

2.Characters: What does the protagonist want most in this story, and how is this desire a reflection of the character’s personality?

Deciding which character is the protagonist (or “main character”) is almost always a thought-provoking exercise. Whose goals are most closely identified with the story’s action? Whose career are we readers following to its conclusion? Once we have an idea of the identity of the main character, we must ask what he or she is after and why this goal is so important. Remember, an author makes these decisions carefully when he creates the protagonist, so explaining them in a paragraph or essay is tantamount to explaining the author’s own idea; and this, of course, is the whole point of good reading–and good writing, too!

3.Conflict: What obstacles prevent the protagonist from achieving his goals in this story, and what type of conflict do these obstacles present?

Every story has a problem in it. Explaining what that problem is and what type of conflict it represents will give your students plenty to write about. Remember, there are only five (5) types of conflict in literature:  Man v. Man; Man v. Nature; Man v. God; Man v. Society and Man v. Himself. Ask your students to identify the main obstacles in the story and then interpret them, first by assigning them to one of these categories, and then by deciding which category is most important to the story’s message. You’ll find that a single paragraph is often too short a form for such an exercise, and your students will soon be clamoring for more space!

4. Plot: What event forms the climactic moment of this story, and how does this event resolve the story’s main conflict?

The climax of a story occurs when the main conflict is resolved–or at least put on the road to resolution–by some event, decision, action, word or thought of the story’s characters. Identifying an event as the climax says as much about a student’s interpretation of the story as it does about the story itself, for the student is making a statement about the story’s main idea every time he identifies a climax.

5. Theme: If you could boil the story’s main idea down into a single phrase, what would it be, and how do you know that the author would agree with you?

All authors write to communicate an idea or theme; there is no such thing as a story without one!  Additionally, all of the other structural elements of fiction–characters, plot and conflict–collaborate to emphasize this underlying main idea. Identifying the theme of a story by explaining how the other elements of the story work together to emphasize it is one of the most rewarding ways to write about literature. In the end, it turns out to be one of the most rewarding ways to write, period.

Thinking carefully about the books you are already reading is a great way to get your kids started writing about ideas–and to answer forever that dreaded question, “what should we write about?”  If you’ve got a good book, you are never lost for an answer.


 You can also read Adam’s article, Writing from Literature: Tips for Teaching the Analytical Essay in the latest issue of TOS magazine.



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