This year to inspire and encourage writing in Maria, our 5th grader, we decided to try a NaNoWriMo style project. In January of this year I gave her a writing assignment. These were the requirements:
1. It has to be a fiction story you make up
2. You have to write 300 words a day
3. You can not use the backspace key or edit in any way.
4. Spelling and punctuation don't matter.
5. Your goal is 5000 words at the end of the month.
At first there was a lot of resistance to the idea of the project and to the project itself. It was very hard for her to start and the hardest rule of all to follow was number #3 You can not use the backspace key or edit in any way. Every time she wrote something she wanted to erase it and start over or felt that particular word was not good enough, etc. I knew ahead of time this would happen both being a writer myself and knowing my daughters personality and tendency toward perfection or nothing. This was the most important rule I think in the end. She had to just write whether or not she liked it. For the entire month of January and into the first week of February she wrote 300 words a day on a story she had no idea where it was going.
A funny thing happened along the way, she decided she actually liked both writing and her own story. She decided this project was worthwhile and she wanted to not only continue it but improve her story. We took off the end of February and beginning of March and then decided she would write another 5,000 words with a goal of a finished project somewhere around a 10,000-15,000 word project that I would bind into a book for her.
Now at the end of 5th grade she will have a book written and bound. She is even beginning to work on some illustrations that might make it into the final draft. Through the process we are able to teach her quite a bit about editing, punctuation, word selection, sentence and paragraph structure and other grammar concepts. In addition we spend quite a bit of time talking about topics like story arc, character development, rising action, climax, protagonist, antagonist, and other literary concepts. We are also discussing other works of literature and good stories from film as we discuss what changes her story needs.
Today while we were working together on her story arc outline she began discussing a possible sequel. She said "maybe I can write another book as my summer project". These words made my heart leap. Not only has this process forced her to get over her fear and lack of confidence in her writing ability but it has helped her find a personal love of writing and a commitment to this story and the characters she is writing.
So often in homeschooling an assignment or strategy we take ends up in a very different place then we planned when we began. This is one of those times, I can not imagine the reaction I would have gotten from her if I said "Your fifth grade project will be to write and publish a book." This will in fact be the end result, one of the fun things about the homeschooling journey, sometimes you just never know where you will end up.