November 10, 2008

An Unschooler at College: #3, the first paper

My son Peter is a freshman at the University of Chicago. He has been unschooled/allowed to follow his interests all his life. That meant he didn't write many papers--he was most interested in reading and verbally debating ideas, not writing them down. So how would he do on his first college paper? Well, before he even knew his grade, the teacher emailed him asking if he could use his paper as an example to other students on how to write a good paper. Way to go, Peter!

I have always believed that children learn to write well by experiencing it as they read master writers. And if they are able to create and articulate logical arguments, they should be able write them down. There are certain elements of writing that might require direct instruction, but if your child has a rich reading and thinking environment, writing will come naturally. It's the constant analyzing of the act of writing that paralyzes kids, convincing them that good writing is a magical art that few attain. And most learn to hate it.

In reality, writing is an organized thinking skill. Give your child lots of time to read and think, and then spend time talking about their ideas. Challenge their conclusions with questions, come up with some of your own, and let him decide if your arguments are valid. Now that's a great writing lesson.

An Unschooler at College series of posts


Marci Rae Johnson said...

Thanks for your words of wisdom here. Sometimes I worry I'm not having my daughter do enough writing. I'm going to worry about it less!

Anonymous said...

Love, love, LOVE this post. Off to find good writing for my writer-phobe to peruse...

So proud of your son! (you know you are writing a great blog when people who haven't even met your kiddos are having vicarious pride!)

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Peter--and bravo, Mama!

I'm so enjoying your blog, as the unschooling mama of two teens(13 and 15). I don't see many unschooling families with teens online--young families abound and are precious, but tis nice to read about teens :)

~~Thanks for sharing!

Heather said...

Jena, this is wonderful, and true. I wasn't home schooled but I spent all my spare time reading, first tripe then I got sick of the tripe and moved to reading only good books. My high school teachers loved my writing (especially compared to my other work.) I look back now and realize it wasn't great in any way, just much better than the other students because I DID read constantly and read good books instead of magazines and junk series.

Reading good books is key to becoming a good writer, even if the writer is not naturally talented as a writer.

BTW, could you share this series on Christian unschooling? I think this is important encouragement for those of us with younger children.

Anonymous said...

That is amazing! So cool!

Would you mind sharing what you DID do in terms of writing while Peter was HSing. Was there any writing or was it all discussion? Did he simply write when it was worthwhile for him to do so or did you ask him to write certain things?


Jena said...

Hi all,

Thanks so much for the kind words. I've had it in the back of my mind to do a more thorough explanation of what we did in the realm of writing, so Tracey, thanks for giving me that nudge. I'll work on that this week.

Traci said...

You must be so proud! Great post. I've been given much encouragement from this!

Letitia said...

My older girls have always been writers. The oldest writes a monthly email devotion, and is preparing to submit her first article to a magazine. I could see very early on that many of the phrases and words they used came from their reading.
We aren't doing any formal grammar with the younger two. So, I was really surprised last week when Marissa (who hates anything "school")told me she wanted to learn about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Go figure. We do madlibs sometimes, but for her humor I printed some worksheets off the internet yesterday. She was happy.

My Journey so Far... said...

I love reading these posts about how Peter is doing in college. So, encouraging. We've done hardly any real writing. My oldest son (17) started writing a fictional story about the Alamo a couple years ago, but never finished it. It was amazing! My dh thought he had copied it from book! ;)
And my youngest ds has done the same thing a couple times...started writing a story on the computer about something of interest to him.
We also like Bravewriter resources for writing.
Again thanks for sharing your homeschooling journey with us all.

sgaissert said...

I couldn't agree more with your opinions about writing. How do you learn to write? You READ. Reading good writing leads to writing well.
Thanks so much for the post.

Karen said...

The more I read about your Peter, the more hopeful I become for my Luke - a voracious reader, organized thinker, and hater of writing (left over from his 2 1/2 years of school).
Thanks for this post, it gives me hope!
Great job, Peter!

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Peter!

EverythingIveGot said...

That is so wonderful to read. Especially since I have a voracious 13 y/o reader who is still in bed at noon.. Makes me have some faith in what I feel 'works'!

Home School College Counselor said...

This is probably one of the reasons that public schooled students can't write nearly as well as their homeschooled counterparts...they don't read anymore! We've become such a media driven society that even parents don't place an emphasis on the importance of reading.

It seems like you've done a great job of preparing him, by giving him the freedom to enjoy learning through his own reading.

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