Writing With Ease

It’s a new semester, which means I’m re-evaluating the way we do a couple of things. I find that the kids development and our family situation change a couple of times a year, and it works well to zoom out and see what could be added or made better.

One thing we’re adding in this semester is Susan Wise Bauer’s excellentThe Complete Writer: Writing with Ease.  We already use her mother’s (you may remember that Bauer and her mother co-wrote The Well Trained Mind) First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind as a beginning grammar, and we use The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading for phonics.  So one thing I really like about Writing With Ease is that it integrates nicely with the rest of our language arts.

Bauer is a professor at William & Mary, which is a rigorous school (my little brother went there!), but she notes that increasing numbers of her students are abysmal writers.  In looking into why, Bauer unpacks the component skills required for good writing, and considers the best way to build those pieces in a way that will not frustrate the child.  She notes that prematurely asking kids to combine handwriting, sentence structure, analysis, and composition organization is not a good idea, because except in the case of the (few) naturally gifted writers out there, this approach will only create kids who hate writing, or kids who think they know how to write but who are actually terrible at it or have no sense of style.

Rather, Bauer’s study led her to conclude that the classical and Charlotte Mason approaches of emphasizing narration, dictation, and copywork in the early elementary years, then moving into deep understanding of sentence composition and connecting style and thought in compositions in upper elementary and middle school, and finally working on building style in high school work best.

The first 25 or so pages of Writing with Ease give an excellent explanation of the approach and why it works.  I particularly appreciated Bauer’s descriptions of how boys differ from girls in writing, and how to help boys to love writing (many curricula are designed for girls, who gain fine motor skills at different times and in different ways than boys do).  Following that is an outline of how to use the book for preschoolers through grade 4, then outlines for a 36 week writing curriculum for each of those grades.  If you use First Language Lessons, you’ll notice that WWE dovetails perfectly with FLL years 1-4.

In implementing this book with my kids, I’m planning on using the grade assessments to figure out where to place them.  Jack and Sarah (ages 6 and 5) will probably pick up in the middle of year 1, since that’s what they are working on in FLL year 1.  I’m not sure what Hannah needs.  Bauer describes how to handle situations where kids can move fast through material without letting them miss something.

Writing with Ease was tremendously helpful to me by showing me how narration, dictation, and copywork can progress and precisely how those tools can teach writing and grammar.  I knew the theories before, but had not been exposed to particular practice.  Now I feel much better equipped to use those methods effectively.  I also think I understand the vision of how grammar and writing work together.  Since my ultimate goal is to turn out kids who are GOOD writers (not just kids who can string together sentences, but kids who write with style and excellence), and that’s the goal of Bauer’s sequence, I think these books are a good fit for us.

As a side note, Bauer followed Writing With Ease with a middle years book, Writing With Skill, and my guess is that a high school curriculum will follow.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  If you make any purchase from Amazon through my links, Amazon gives me a little bit of Amazon credit, which I use to buy more books and curriculum to review here.  Thanks for your support!

5 thoughts on “Writing With Ease

  1. Thank you for this, this is well-timed, as I’m just beginning to have Ezra (4.5) do more formal letter writing. I think he can already write all the letters, but we’ve never done it in a homeschool setting, and this book interests me to start off in a positive way for him.

  2. Alicia, I should note that this would not be a handwriting curriculum, except in the sense that practicing copywork is good handwriting practice. I had Sarah do a basic print handwriting program (found it free online, they are everywhere) and now have moved her into doing her handwriting practice mostly in the form of copywork. Jack and Hannah both do handwriting books (New American Cursive from Memoria Press) in addition to copywork and dictation.

    That said, the ideas for PreK in the book are very handy–ways to pay more attention to how you talk, how to gently introduce narration (which is a VERY important part of eventually being able to write your own thoughts), and very gently moving in to writing practice. I had been having Sarah do copywork already this fall so she didn’t struggle to write the sentences at the beginning of the book, but if Ezra hasn’t written much before you could always shorten them. Bauer’s ideas for how to trouble shoot and tailor the program to different needs are fantastic.

  3. Have you ever had experience with Handwriting Without Tears? I’m starting kindergarten with Ezra in a couple of weeks and am looking back through many of your posts for some ideas. This year I mainly want to work on correct letter formation with increasing neatness, and he seems very keen on it especially if he gets to write words that are of interest to him (ie diesel, steam engine, etc).

    1. I have looked at HWT but never went with it because of the expense. What I’ve done is used free printables for printing letter formation, and then assigned copywork (I print very clearly, leaving space for the child to copy underneath or make dotted line letters to trace) until the child is writing well. I started Hannah and Jack on cursive in first grade with New American Cursive from Memoria Press, and found that for some reason the concentration required to write in cursive drastically improved the child’s printing as well (they print for writing other than handwriting and copywork).

      Since Ezra is keen to write words he likes, I’d go with that. There are free printable sites where you can make worksheets with dotted letters to trace or extra lines to copy beneath, or you could make your own if you print clearly yourself! Maybe it’s just my kids, but I haven’t found handwriting to require a big bells and whistles curriculum. I will say that Jack still complains about having to write things down, but I’m told that’s a typical boy thing.

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