Thanks to Jocelyn for pointing me to this most excellent lecture: Nurturing Competent Communicators by Andrew Pudewa. Every parent who wants their child to write well should really give it a listen. You don’t have to be a homeschooler.
In brief: If you want to make your children into good writers, you need to create in their brains a database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns. You do this by:
1. Reading out loud to children in greater quantity.
There is no better place that you can get sophisticated, correct language and vocabulary than by reading good books to children. But we do it far too little.
Spend as much time as you possible can reading really good books with sophisticated language. (I’d add: Don’t worry if the children don’t understand all the words. They will learn from context. My kids all love to listen to books that are well above what most people would think age appropriate.)
Second best to hours spent reading to your kid (because you know we can all get really busy) is lots and lots and lots of excellent audio books. Again, pick fun stuff but also don’t be afraid of harder stuff that stretches them.
2. The other best way to create in their brains a database of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns is memorization. Memorization locks the information in the brain. Especially good is memorization of poetry for poetry uses more unusual words and more complicated sentence structure.
But we often do memorization wrong. Even when we do have children memorize, we often don’t do it in such a way as to get it into long term memory. For permanency you need: 1. frequency, 2. intensity, 3. duration
Pudewa suggests that you achieve this via the Suzuki method of memorization: Learn a piece. Keep reciting that piece while you learn the next piece. Repeat the first two while learning the third and so on. Repeat all the pieces every day. (Eventually you phase the first pieces to every other day and then every third day as you learn more and more pieces, but you never stop practicing them.)
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I have to say that I don’t think I’m going to sell Bella and Sophie on daily recitation of poems they’ve already memorized. Bella looks at me like I’ve got two heads: “But I already know it by heart. Why should I practice it?” I think I’ll aim for once a week. I did get them to recite High Flight and Hist Whist with me. In fact, I think my best strategy is to be the bumbling parent with the bad memory. I botched my own recitation and then Bella had to come to my rescue and tell me what I left out.
I do need to pick another poem for us to memorize. Hmmm. There are so many lovely ones that I already know by heart, but I don’t think I can convincingly practice them enough when I’ve already got them down. No, I need to pick something I don’t really know yet either. I’m thinking maybe it should be Shakespeare since we’re on a Shakespeare roll. I suppose I could resort to consulting How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. Or would that be too obvious?
Now that I mention it, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is a lovely follow up for this talk. It’s a very hands-on, nuts and bolts approach. A little too much so for me. I like to pick my own passages, thank you very much. But I do like many of the suggestions he makes. And it’s a fun book to just read. Oh yes.