In the last couple years, I have heard parents expressing the same question, again and again. How do you teach a child to write well?
You can hardly expect to be able to hand a child a pencil, and have them produce something coherent and well written without teaching them what good writing is. Even in my house, where so much of my time is spent sitting in front of the computer putting words on paper, teaching writing doesn’t come easily. I love to write, and I am so glad to have found a program that is helping me share that joy with my children.
Classical Academic Press has a new writing program, called Writing and Rhetoric. Oftentimes, when I do a review for a homeschool company, the review is my first exposure to the product. This time, I had purchased the first books in the series, Writing and Rhetoric: Book 1: Fable on my own, and once I realized what I treasure it was, I just knew I had to share it with you guys- because this really is a one of a kind tool I think all homeschoolers should know about.
I contacted Classical Academic Press to share with them how much I loved the program, and they were kind enough to send me the second book in the series, Writing and Rhetoric: Book 2: Narrative I, to share in a review for you.
What is Classical Writing?
Writing and Rhetoric advertises itself to be a “Creative Approach to the Classical Progymnasmata”… which basically means this is a new, fresh way to teach writing; based on a time tested, well respected method that dates all the way back to Roman times.
In the good old days, kids were taught with incremental steps, first by reading and enjoying beautiful writing, then by imitating beautiful writing, then playing with writing to make it their own, and finally, standing on their own two feet with their own original writing.
The idea is that you would never expect a child to simply preform a beautiful piece of music without ever teaching them what makes the music beautiful, teaching them how to control the instrument, and how to preform the piece. It’s the same idea with writing- kids really need to know what good writing is, and be exposed to a lot of it, to be able to learn how to write themselves.
I would personally define this series as first, teaching a child how to *think* about writing. What kinds of questions do you need to ask? What makes writing good? What words are the best words to choose? Secondly, it teaches a child how to get thoughts from their *head* down onto paper. Where do you start? What is important to share? How should it be shared?
Once those two things happen- beautiful writing follows.
The main goal for book one is to help kids learn to read passages fluently, with emotion (you can read the story for your child to help them hear how it should sound, or download MP3s of the stories from CAP). They also learn to take dictation and copy passages correctly, summarize and amplify stories, and more.
First, you’ll read a short lesson, where new vocabulary is introduced, and then you’ll read the story. Next, you’ll have your child tell you the story back, and discuss the story with your child, asking important questions. You’ll talk about the meaning, answer questions about vocabulary, and play with analogies. Then, you’ll do a copy work and dictation assignment, play around with sentences (changing meaning or structure, adding details, and so on), and work with grammar concepts. Then, you’ll summarize, retell, and/or amplify the story in your own words. Finally, your child will have a speaking assignment, where they will memorize, or read their own writing to an audience (we do this at lunch, and all the kids listen and enjoy).
I break this up over about a week, and do just a couple sections at a time. This book takes us 20-40 minutes a day, 5 days a week. For example:
- Day 1: Lesson, Read the Fable, Tell it Back, Talk about it
- Go Deeper, Copywork
- Dictation, Sentence Play
- Copiousness (grammar based activities)
- Writing Day (summary, amplify), Speak It
One of the unexpected benefits to using Book 1: Fable is the wonderful moral content in the book. The stories featured are Fables, and the moral of the story is always discussed. I personally counted this book as not only our writing curriculum for the semester, but also wrote down a credit of Character Education, since my child learned so much about moral concepts from the Fables!
They have a very generous three week sample up on the website, so you can truly “try before you buy”- by the end of our first week, I had purchased the book, and was able to keep working while I waited for it to arrive.
Book 2 continues to build on the concepts in book one, only it starts to work with longer narrative passages rather than short fables, and it introduces concepts like plot, dialog, and using creative descriptions.
It is different from Book 1 in that instead of simply telling back what happened, and making the story shorter or longer, sometimes they actually change what happens by manipulating the point of view or events in the story. This is the first step to making writing their own, instead of just working with the story they have been given!
This book also goes deeper into grammar concepts, explores more vocabulary, and encourages more sentence manipulation.
Again, the reading selections are well chosen- they are stories that I would consider to be culturally significant, and give children a basis of cultural references and archetypes that will serve them well for years to come.
Try the free sample to see where the program is headed after Book 1, or tide you over while you wait for your copy to arrive.
Where is the program heading?
This program is so much more than being able to simply write a good paragraph. This is not formulaic writing, so it does take some time for your kids to understand how to write clearly. The great news is you’ll see your child being successful right away. I had never seen Bug write a story before he sat down to use this book, and now he is able to compose about a page worth of writing without drama.
In the first three books, children are learning to narrate, and to use solid, descriptive language and logical organization. In book four, kids will learn to write an expository essay, incorporating everything they learned in previous books as well. In the fifth-seventh books, persuasive essays are added, while they continue sharpening previously learned skills.
Right now, Classical Academic Press only has the first three books of this series released, with book four coming out next month. This amounts to about two years worth of material. They do, however, have a clear path of books to come, which are being released at regular intervals. At the end of production, there will be 6 years worth of writing books, at which time your child will be ready for high school level composition.
A note for Secular Homeschoolers
If you are a secular homeschooler, you may know Classical Academic Press is a Christian company, and as so, these books do include biblical stories and concepts. Book 1 focuses on Fables (mainly Aesop) and includes many teachings on morals, and briefly makes note of biblical concepts when appropriate. The second book, Narrative 1 does include Bible stories for some of the writing selections. I was comfortable using every selection from these books, and was never uncomfortable with the content. I feel that homeschoolers from most religious traditions will be able to comfortably use this curriculum because the examples and teachings given are either universal (as in the case of the fables) or stories that are culturally valuable. The book shares the stories without preaching, and is very respectful to all walks of life. I do recommend you check out the samples to see what I mean and if the books will work for your family. The story of the prodigal son is featured in the sample online for Narrative 1, so you’ll be able to easily make the call for your own home.
I personally give them my “secular homeschooler” stamp of approval.
A GIVEAWAY and Classical Academic Press SAVINGS for you!
I really appreciate Classical Academic Press for being so generous with my readers. In conjunction with this review, they have offered a coupon to save you 20% off in their online store with the code “OPC20”. This coupon is good for any of their products (Latin, anyone?), other than Singapore Math, and is valid until May 18th.
I also have a giveaway of Writing and Rhetoric: Book 1, Fable to get you started writing. Enter to win using the raffle copter form below!
*a note on material connection- I purchased Writing and Rhetoric 1 on my own dime. Book 2 was provided in exchange for this review. As always, my opinion is my own.*