Archive for the ‘Language Arts’ Category

Having a Ball

March 10, 2005 @ 3:07 pm | Filed under: ,

Rose’s handwriting improved dramatically this week, quite suddenly and to my surprise. I commented on a particularly lovely word, and she told me matter-of-factly that Jane’s “writing idea” had helped her.

“What’s Jane’s writing idea?” I asked. This was the first I’d heard about any such thing.

Jane looked up from her Mossflower dictation to chime in. Jane is awfully fond of chiming in, no matter what the subject.

“It’s the bouncing-ball technique,” she enthused. “I invented it.”

“Yes, and it really works!” said Rose.

“See, Mom,” Jane explained, “here’s how it works. You pretend the line you’re writing on is a sidewalk. The point of your pencil is a little bouncy ball. The ball drops to the sidewalk from different heights and bounces back up. Sometimes, like for g or y, it rolls into the gutter. For little a, it bounces up and then you push it straight back down, see?”

I did see, sort of. Rose saw it clearly—this bouncing ball thing made more sense to her than any guidance I’ve attempted to give. She’s a perfectionist and tends to get frustrated about every tiny flaw in her handwriting. Not today, though. She contentedly bounced that ball off the sidewalk and into the gutter through half a page’s worth of “Cute Sayings” for the collection she is compiling.

Lots of material for that collection around here.

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Hurrah for Bravewriter

February 13, 2005 @ 9:01 pm | Filed under: , ,

I admit it: when it comes to writing curricula, I’m a snob. After all, Scott and I both write for a living; we are the kind of word geeks who sit around discussing sentence structure for fun. I’ve never felt the need to use a writing program with my kids: that’s one area I can handle on my own.

But every time I go to a conference, people ask what writing curriculum I recommend. In an effort to do justice to this frequent question, I’ve purchased several books and programs for review. None of them was anything I felt enthusiastic about passing on to other families—until I encountered Julie Bogart’s Bravewriter.

A friend tipped me off to Julie’s website, and I visited it in the same informational spirit in which I’d reviewed various other writing resources, to see if this was something I could wholeheartedly recommend to inquiring homeschoolers. Imagine my surprise when I found myself chomping at the bit to try out her ideas on my own kids—and heck, on myself! Julie’s energy and insight get me jazzed up to sit down and work. She’s a writer who loves writing about writing, and the dish she’s serving up is like mental energy bars—she makes you want to get moving, get those words down on paper! Life is rich; let’s articulate it!—that’s Julie’s message.

So I couldn’t resist. I ordered The Writer’s Jungle, joined Julie’s Bravewriter Lifestyle list, and began serving up her feast to my kids. Jane (who served as a reluctant guinea pig for trials of certain other materials whose very names now cause her to wrinkle up her nose) thinks Bravewriter is delicious. Tops on her list: doing dictations from her beloved Redwall books (full of quite challenging words to spell, I might add) and freewriting, which she loves for its license not to worry, for the moment, about spelling and proper punctuation. I’m including her latest freewrite below. Her mission was to spend ten minutes writing anything she wanted about a subject she “knows a lot about and wants to know more about.” Here it is exactly as she wrote it, spelling errors and all.

I think that Brian Jacques CONTRADIKS himself! On the Redwall “ask Brian” webpage thing they had a cople of years ago, one question said “will there ever be a good rat, fox, ect. or any bad badgers, mice, ect.” and Brian replied, NO! All the bad guys are BAD & all the good guys are GOOD. There are no crossovers, no gray areas.” But not 1ce but 2 times he contradicts himself! First in Mossflower, the wildcat Gingervere & later his wife, Sandingomm. And then again The Bellmaker! that time a searat named ______.

(“I have to look up his name, Mom,” she told me when she’d finished. “I can’t get the book now because it’s in the bedroom where Beanie is napping.”)

What I love about this piece of writing—besides its obvious passion and intensity—is that it is the beginning of legitimate critical analysis. In the weeks to come, Jane will return to this piece and flesh it out. I’m eager to hear more. In what ways do Gingervere, Sandingomm, and the unnamed searat shatter the bad-guy mold?

And what a great topic for discussion! She thinks Brian Jacques is mistaken about the nuances of his own characters. Can writers be wrong about their own work? This was a hot topic in my grad school lit classes; it’s meaty stuff. Ten minutes of scribbling at the kitchen table revealed a bubbling stew of opinion I hadn’t known my 9-year-old possessed. We’ve had great fun lunching on these ideas all week.

Looks like I finally have an enthusiastic answer for those conference inquirees.

Sneaking in Some Spelling

January 23, 2005 @ 10:36 am | Filed under: ,

Nine-year-old Jane and I have been playing iSketch together. What a hoot! It’s a kind of online Pictionary game. I log in first and create a private room (very important—the public rooms can be lewd) just for the two of us. Then she logs in on our other computer. In each round, one person draws a word and the other one guesses it. The words are randomly generated by the computer. You can choose categories like books, movies, food, or animals, or you can just choose a basic word list. The “phrases” category is especially fun—Scott’s illustration for “shattered dreams” had me in stitches the other night.

The artist has a set of drawing & painting tools to use. Drawing with a mouse is tricky at first but you quickly get the hang of it. The guesser types words into a box. If you’re on the right track, you get a little happy noise. Correct guesses earn points for both artist and guesser, but for us the thrill is in having the other person figure out what you’re supposed to be drawing.

We began playing this just for fun—I had no sneaky educational ulterior motive. But it has turned out to be quite a boost for Jane’s spelling. She has to spell her guesses correctly or they don’t count. Yesterday her correct guesses included the words “passenger,” “microscope,” “martyr,” and “manicure.” She passed a nice little spelling quiz, all unawares!

iSketch has word lists in over a dozen languages, so you can even practice your German, Spanish, or Dutch. Now if only they had a category for Latin…

Now, we won’t be tossing our beloved Pictionary game anytime soon…after all, it’s nice to actually be in the same room together sometimes. 🙂 But iSketch has an excitement all its own. And since you can invite numerous players to your private room, it’s possible to play a game with Grandpa in Colorado and your cousins in Australia. (Working out the time differences sneaks in a lesson in practical math, too.)

Note to parents: you’ll want to visit the iSketch website first and check it out, sans kids. Be sure to read the instructions for how to set up a private room. Whatever you do, DO NOT let your children scroll down the list of public room names at the bottom. The “user created” names at the end of the list are beyond nasty. A private room, however, is quite easy to set up and perfectly safe from unsavory intruders.

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