Helping my oldest work through his writing anxiety has not always been a smooth path. I’ve made some grievous errors as I’ve tried out various methods and curricula. And the one approach I keep coming back to, and have decided to stick with for as long as it keeps working, is the Charlotte Mason method. Here’s the thing – I love reading. I was a gifted early reader and writer as a child, it came to me intuitively and without much struggle. Reading, writing, spelling, putting my thoughts together – just came naturally to me as a kid. I would escape into amazing books, lose myself in writing crazy short stories, and just devoured any reading materials I came across. Reading and writing was like breathing to me.
So when I realized that my son was struggling with language as a preschooler, I was really unsure of how to deal with that. And now as an elementary student he is still a very resistant writer, with deep writing anxiety – and only recently has been able to read with reasonable fluency. Not only does he struggle with language, but he is intensely anxious about it. Just asking him to put his pencil to paper to write a couple of words would draw from him a full blown anxiety attack. He and I both struggle with anxiety disorder, and like all people with anxiety we each have different triggers and helpers. For me, reading and writing HELPS my panic and helps me focus – and for this kiddo of mine, language is his trigger.
It felt some days like we were speaking two different languages. I had no idea how to work with him, how to help him, how to teach him. It took me a very long time to realize that he is not the child I was, and that he is who he is and has the talents and struggles that he has.
He’s in 4th grade currently, and we have done a lot of work to get him to where he’s at right now. We have found some language arts resources that really truly helped him. For us, it was a combination of Logic Of English and Bravewriter that finally started to turn the tides in regards to his language-related anxiety. But even once he could read, and spell at an age appropriate level, asking him to write was akin to asking him to pull his own teeth out. Like many well meaning parents and educators, I thought at the beginning of this year that “if he’s struggling with this skill – then naturally we should work on it MORE and get him up to snuff”. So I armed myself with an arsenal of writing and language workbooks and curricula and prepared for battle.
Except – nurturing a writer to find his voice is not a war, or a battlefield. It’s an intensely personal journey that looks different to each and every one of us.
This realization was made crystal-clear to me when I placed my hands on a particular writing workbook on our bookshelf, and my poor little guy just fell apart. Just…tears and what looked like real fear in his eyes. My mama-heart broke in that moment, and I realized that by pushing and pushing, all I was doing was making him hate and fear anything to do with language. I was causing even MORE writing anxiety in him.
With this realization and heartache still fresh, I sat down and did some real thinking. He’s an incredibly imaginative boy – so it’s not the creative aspect that he struggles with. It’s the act of writing, itself – putting his thoughts onto paper. Putting a pencil in his hand and putting it to paper. So how was I going to help him through this? I thought back – to when we were on a better path, when he was starting to feel more comfortable writing. For us, that was when we were using some elements of the Charlotte Mason method.
I have been pretty skeptical in the past about whether using a Charlotte Mason approach to language arts would be “enough”. How could copywork, dictation, and narration really get my children where they ‘should be’? Well, in looking back at the myriad of things we’d tried and tested out, these very elements are what worked the best. So I thought to myself “Well, let’s take a closer look at this”. We dropped all formal curricula, and I decided that we would move back into a Charlotte Mason homeschool – not because I am a purist or believe it’s the only way. But because it is what WORKS for us, for a variety of reasons but the most palpable change has been in my son’s writing anxiety.
For my language-anxious child, this is how it works out for us:
Copywork: This works on two fronts in our home – for his spelling/grammar and also for his penmanship practice. When he’s copying beautiful phrases and thoughts from others, he only has to think about copying and looking at the words, He doesn’t have to create AND write AND think about the mechanics. He just has to write it out. I tell him that for these few lines I expect HIS best work and careful attention to the grammar in the passage. It doesn’t have to be flawless, it has to be HIS best work. He doesn’t love this, but since we’ve been focusing on copywork – his penmanship is improving and he’s writing with more ease.
Dictation: This has been a recent addition to our schoolday, but it has really proven to be a valuable one already. We use Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason (note – this is not a secular resource but we just skip the passages that don’t line up with our personal beliefs, and like all of SCM’s products I find this one really easy to adapt to our secular homeschool) and are really enjoying it so far. I don’t use it precisely as it is written, but adapt it to the needs of my son. He has really responded well to it so far, and said to me that it is much easier for him to remember how to spell a word when it’s part of a full sentence.
Narration – this is an area I do not have perfected yet, but when we get it – it’s very effective. Reading in small amounts from well-written living books, my children narrate back to me what they’ve just heard in their own words. This is another area of language where my son has some struggles – recalling information and outputting it in his own words. So I never stressed this before, but am finding that now that we do use it regularly, not only does narration strengthen his ability to give focused attention, but it’s helping him process what he’s hearing and make it concrete in his own mind. He remembers what he’s learning because he’s making it his own. We are working towards getting him to a place where he feels comfortable doing written narrations but for now I only require oral narrations.
If you have a student who has language struggles, here are some of our favourite resources that have helped in our home:
Bravewriter – by far, this has been the biggest bringer of joy on this journey for my kiddo with writing anxiety. Using really great read alouds as the basis for our copywork/dictation exercises was a great way for my son to feel engaged with what he was copying and writing. Not only have we loved our Quiver of Arrows work, but the Bravewriter Lifestyle elements we’ve put into play in our homeschool have all been amazing. Julie Bogart is a wealth of information and support and encouragement and because of her Periscopes, blog posts and The Writer’s Jungle, I am feeling a little more capable of implementing this philosophy on my own. Bravewriter’s approach to writing has eased MUCH of my son’s anxiety. And has made me a lot more creative (and laid back) about the writing process.
Logic of English – making sense of phonics was a big helper to my very logically-minded son. Once he saw the rules, he could decode words very quickly and feeling capable of that helped boost his confidence. He went from NOT reading at all when we pulled him out of 2nd Grade to reading confidently and fluently now.
Simply Charlotte Mason’s Spelling Wisdom – as mentioned above, this has been a great resource for us. Easy to adapt to our own needs and our own style, it’s been a nice hand-hold for me as a new Charlotte Mason educator.
Comment below and let me know if YOU have a child who struggles with language, and share your favourite resources!