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Monday, January 7, 2013

Nurturing Novelists = Building Strong Writers

  homeschoolschool Virtual Curriclum fair button

Welcome to the 1st week of the 2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair for homeschoolers

This week’s topic:

Playing with Words: the Language Arts

This theme can include phonics, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, speech, literature, etc., etc., etc. Latin and foreign language studies could also go here.

Language Arts is a huge topic, especially when you’ve got more than one kid (and they’re all doing different things).  I’m going to focus on one small aspect of what we are doing in this area.


Using National Novel Writing Month to Build Strong Writers

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an event that takes place each November.  The idea is to write an entire novel in one month, not a polished, perfect, ready-to-publish masterpiece, but a first draft that can later be refined.

Adult participants are required to write at least 50,000 words in order to complete the challenge, but children can choose a word goal that is appropriate to their ability level.

During the past 3 years, my two oldest children, David (age 12) and Mary (age 8), have written a novel during NaNoWriMo.  This was not something that I forced them into.  I simply offered it as a possibility, and their creativity took over.  This past year, their 7-year-old brother, Peter, also joined our writing crew.

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The folks at NaNoWriMo suggest that October be used to flex those writing muscles by developing your characters and plotting out where you plan to take your novel.  They even offer writing guides for students that are free to download.  The kids do very loosely use the elementary and high school guides to get started.

In addition to having personal pride in all their hard work, kids who succeed in achieving their NaNoWriMo goal can receive printed copies of their finished work. 

What are the benefits of NaNoWriMo?  What’s the big deal?

  1. I can take my kids through the whole writing process, from brainstorming and character development, to plotting, to actual writing, and, finally, to editing.  The free guides are definitely worthwhile.
  2. ANY composition practice improves your writing ability overall.  I speak from experience here:  I was an English and philosophy major in college.  Writing poems made me a better philosopher, and writing essays improved my poetry. 
  3. Having a month-long writing mission just before the holidays helps us to stay focused, provides some novelty, and leaves us free to pursue something completely different in the new year.
  4. I can do it with all my school-aged kids, in spite of them being at completely different levels.
  5. It helped my oldest to get over his writing avoidance.  In addition to his NaNoWriMo novels, he’s written 2 others and is currently working on yet another one.  This kid used to be allergic to pencils.
  6. It’s FUN!
  7. It’s FREE!


How do we do NaNoWriMo?

We spend about a week or so at the end of October developing characters and ideas.  The detail and time spent varies by the child’s ability.  So, David will write out a description of each of his characters and maybe even a sample of some dialog and such, whereas Peter will simply draw a picture of each of his characters and a very brief description.

Each of the children decides on their own word count goal.  The word count is usually slightly higher than the previous year’s count.

This is important:  it needs to be the child’s goal that he is working towards, not a goal imposed by me. 

When it comes time to actually write, each of my children gets their story down in a different way. 

David is able to type his own manuscript.  He is a little slow because he hasn’t yet mastered touch typing, but typing it himself means he’s also practicing correct spelling, punctuation, formatting and so on.

Mary does a combination of writing out her novel out long-hand with  me transcribing it and dictating parts for me to type.  This is the best of both worlds for her, as it gives her the opportunity to practice proper spelling and punctuation, but when she gets to the really exciting parts, she can dictate and get out her thoughts quickly without getting bogged down in minutiae.

Peter dictates his novels (yes, that’s plural) as I type.  Sometimes Daddy types.  Typing Peter’s stories is an amazing experience.  You must type like your fingers are on fire.

Peter is narrating, which  leaves him free to actually think about what he wants to say without worrying as much about things like spelling, letter formation, or finding keys on a keyboard.  I really believe that separating those skills out this early in the game is important, because it avoids unnecessary frustration.  He cannot write fast enough to say what he wants to say.  Period.  I can almost type that fast. {wink}

The proof is in the enthusiasm Peter has for writing.  He loves it.  No tears here.

We also handle editing according to each child’s abilities.

Peter doesn’t edit.  And that’s fine, this is a skill that we will work on as he matures.

Mary’s editing mainly comes when I type what she has written out long-hand.  I can show her any spelling mistakes and point out capitalization and punctuation.  I treat these as teaching moments, not as red pen corrections.  She is gradually acquiring the skills to spot her own mistakes.

For David, I read through his manuscript and mark it up as I would a peer’s in a writing workshop, asking questions about plot points, pointing out inconsistencies, indicating when a description is unclear, etc., etc.  And then we talk about it, a little bit at a time.  I make no changes, it’s up to him to decide what he’d like to change (or not!).  This is his novel.

They are all definitely developing writing skills, but do you know what the best part is?

My kids are not afraid of writing.

And that means that NaNoWriMo is a keeper!

Next week’s topic:

January 14th---Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science. 

I invite you to visit the other bloggers participating in this week’s edition of the Virtual Curriculum Fair:

(this page will be updated as posts go live)

Building Blocks of Education--Learning to Read  by Kristi Kerr @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Finding Our Way Through Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

How Does a Unit Study Teach Language Arts? by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun 

Our Language Arts Adventure by Linda @ Homeschooling6

2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words:  The Language Arts by Leah Courtney @ As We Walk Along the Road

Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me

Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Language Arts by Dawn @ Guiding Light Homeschool

Writing Help in a Critical Thinking book? by Missouri Mama @ Ozark Ramblings

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Foreign Language Immersion in the Homeschool by Tonia @ The Sunny Patch

Formula for Reading by Erin @ Delighting in His Richness

Words and Learning by Annette @ A Net In Time

A Custom Designed High School English Credit by Tech Wife @ A Playground of Words

Virtual Curriculum Fair 2013: Still Loving Language Arts by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Word Play by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Loving Language Arts by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

Learning Language Arts ~ 2012-2013 School Year by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World

Virtual Curriculum Fair - The Language Arts Department by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Playing with Words:  The Language Arts by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy: The Story of Our Life

Playing with Words:  Language Arts by April @ Coffee, Cobwebs and Curriculum

What Language Arts looks like in our house - Are we doing it right? by Hillary M @ Our Homeschool Studio

Getting lost and finding our way in Language Arts by Piwi Mum @ Learning and growing the Piwi Way

Final Analysis Friday:  Apples and Pears Spelling by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Let’s connect:


  1. I am hoping to try NaNoWriMo next year. I toyed with it this year, but looked at it seriously on Nov 1 and realized I would stress myself out jumping in at that point. Thanks so much for sharing how you made it work for you. Love it!

  2. Hi Susan, I post this on ADRE fb page. I'm going to spread the word about this virtual curriculum fair. Great idea. Wish I had known sooner. (Greeting from the Crew)

  3. Wow, you make this sound like so much fun! We look at NaNoWriMo every year, but I keep thinking it would be overwhelming for my kids. Maybe not! Thanks for the great post!

  4. Kristi,
    I think the key is for the kids to have ownership---the first year I wanted to do NaNoWriMo, my oldest was definitely not interested, but the seed of an idea had been planted in his mind. When the next November rolled around, it was something he really wanted to do. And this year my 7-year-old was begging to do it. Allowing them to set their own goals is also important, and making sure that they are realistic goals (I want them to be challenged, but also to succeed---I don't want to set them up to fail).


  5. Rhonda,
    Thank you so much for spreading the word! And if you decide to jump in mid-stream, there are still 3 more weeks left, I'd love to have you join us. ;0)


  6. Erin,
    Yes, I think that preparing helps, jumping into NaNoWriMo at the last minute would probably be too stressful for my kids---by the time November starts, they've got their story ideas fixed in their minds.


  7. I LOVE how you adapted NaNoWriMo. I introduced it to my 13yo this year and she enjoyed getting a good start on a novel. But the huge word count threw us. I hadn't thought of doing it with a different goal. And I didn't know they offered the student guides. I love the idea of adapting it and including everyone.
    Wow! Some good ideas for next year!

  8. Thank you, Leah,

    Yes, 50,000 words would be too much for my 12-year-old to handle. The young writer's side is really great for kids. Now, if I could just motivate myself to write a novel next time...

  9. That's such a great idea! It's awesome your kids jump into an assignment like that. I have two reluctant writers. Still trying to figure out how to get them excited about it.

  10. Adrienne,
    I think a lot of it depends upon the kids and where they are developmentally. When my oldest was younger, he was a very reluctant writer. It helped if I scribed for him, freeing him to concentrate on what he wanted to say, rather than worrying about the physical act of writing (he still struggles some with handwriting issues).



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