I have a reluctant writer at home. My son, a fifth grader whom I homeschool, is very curious and very inquisitive in an understated way. When we take trips to the library, he immediately visits the animal books: dinosaurs, sharks, reptiles, all creatures that interest him most.
Learning to appreciate reading, however, continues to be a battle. It isn’t something that comes naturally to all students. We thought early on as parents that if we read to our children, if we exposed him to books at an earlier age, if he sees me enjoying a good novel, or sees me writing my fiction, well, it is all a matter of genetics then which will kick the proclivity for language arts into high gear. But that was wishful thinking. We are not surprised that our reluctant reader would be a reluctant writer as well. We had to ask ourselves, How then are we to help our son enjoy reading while we help him overcome his apprehension for writing?
When my husband and I began to explore language arts curricula over a year ago, we found the answer we believed would be fitting to our son’s interests while engaging him in the skill of writing. The language arts curriculum my son used last year in fourth grade had plenty of instruction on the topics of sea snakes, pill bugs, desert tarantulas, and starfish. It proceeded to teach about historical figures like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Genghis Khan. Eventually, he read fables—such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Princess and the Pea, and the Lion and the Mouse. For his final research paper, he chose to study the Komodo dragon, which gave him a sense of relief because he was finally able to elect his favorite subject to write about. We found out not only through other homeschool parents that one of the main culprits of the reluctant writer is the unfounded interest in the subject matter.
We truly favored the curriculum and are using it again this year because it continues to feed the hunger my son has for reading about these topics, and writing about them as well.
His approach to his writing holds a focus that we thought we’d never see. Even though he will slowly get drawn into a book, he won’t pick up a story and read it for pleasure. What matters in this instance is that he isn’t as apprehensive about reading as he was before. We’ll change things up a bit, knowing the tools we have help him learn, but motivating him is another feat. What has helped is the participation in the library’s summer reading program, and the Cover to Cover Club by In-N-Out Burger. Rewards, incentives, payoffs remain the crucial motivator for the reluctant reader. It’s been a long enough road to see my son, who really struggled to read prior to being homeschooled—when he was attending a private school—look forward to reading chapter books with attentiveness. It is a season, it seems, when the embers are still hot and then they cool after burnout in the homeschool.
In fact, to encourage my son further, we challenged him to write a short story. Earlier this year, a short story writing contest for homeschoolers had an open call for submissions. We thought it was a perfect exercise for my son. Being the sequential, logical mother that I am, I was relieved to have followed a systematic plan that guided me in the process. My son, on the other hand, being apprehensive about all things language arts, was stretched enough to have a chance at exploring creative writing. The fixed prompt of the contest, the deadline, and the toolbox from his curriculum were what helped him accomplish the assignment with minimal frustration.
I don’t know if my son will win the contest in his age category, but I can say that the introduction to a challenge outside of the homeschool, a panel of judges that are lined up to judge his work, is reward enough. It is already a victory to know that he set his hand to the plough through every sentence, every sequence of events, every moment of tension, and every line of dialogue that was necessary to tighten his story, and to loosen the grimace on his face.