Boys and Writing

When I took my boys out of school, one of our dilemmas was writing. My eldest son's teacher wanted more neat writing at the end of a lesson than he could manage. Then aged just 8 he told me, "Mum, either it is neat but there's not enough of it, or there is enough but it isn't neat." Knowing how much small boys need to run around outside, I was cross that he would then miss his playtimes trying to get his writing up to standard.

At parents' evening his handwriting was a concern because it wasn't cursive - which counted for two marks on the all-important SATs test. I wasn't remotely interested in the SATs test, but this test-focus and obsession with neat handwriting seemed to me to be all wrong.

I am not saying that learning to write is not important, but I think we should keep handwriting in its place. By the time our children leave school, they will not be writing but talking to voice recognition computers which will record their words. The technology already exists, and I seldom write by hand these days - perhaps scribbling down the odd note or shopping list. Most of my writing is done at a keyboard.

From numerous conversations with other parents of boys, I realise my son is not alone in his struggle with handwriting. Generally small boys do not like to write. They have better things to do with their time!

When we started home educating, I decided to conduct something of an experiment and to back-off on the writing. I decided instead to focus on reading to the boys, and encouraging them to narrate stories they had heard. Also to do lots of oral work, creative play and discussion. Conversation is a natural part of home educating anyway, because as you live life together, you naturally talk about all you encounter. In these ways, I figured the boys would build vocabulary. And my hypothesis was that, as their fine motor skills developed with age, what was going on in their minds and coming out of their mouths would eventually flow out on to paper. I was prepared for this to take a while. Friends had told me that by the time boys reach years 5 and 6 in primary school (aged 10 - 11), something seems to click and writing begins to come that little bit easier. Why then, I wondered, spend years 1, 2, 3 and 4 making small boys write so unwillingly? Maybe we could use that time more beneficially.

With any experiment, there is an element of wonder ... Will it work? Will my hypothesis prove reliable? Well, as I mention in an earlier post, Robinson Crusoe has recently grabbed my sons' imagination. Building on this, we are reading "Swiss Family Robinson" together as a read-aloud. This story features a family of four boys, like ours, so I suggested that the boys each take on one of the character roles and write a log-book of their adventures as we read. Sons 2 and 3 were quite enthusiastic about this, and have started to make lovely little illustrated log books.

My eldest son, always full of his own ideas, protested - but asked if he could, instead, write a log as Robinson Crusoe. 'Why not?' I thought. So he began ....

He is such a perfectionist, we often get all sorts of fussing before we get to any work. So the paper won't be the right size, or he can't get the title neat enough or whatever. Rather than letting this hinder his progress and stifle his enthusiasm, my husband suggested he write it on the computer, a suggestion to which he responded enthusiastically. He got his page organised into columns so that he could fold it into the logbook he envisaged, and then he began to write ....

Well, joy of joys, the writing was good, and quite expressive. He is using description and including emotion. His sentences are complex, and the vocabulary is rich. His spelling is pretty good, considering I have never "taught" him spelling. His punctuation and paragraphing need a little work but, all in all, I am impressed and I look forward to seeing the finished piece of work.