Unschooling Writing

unschooling writing

We’ve been homeschooling in very relaxed way this year. Surprisingly, I’ve probably put in more homeschooling “hours” than ever – unschooling is more parent-intensive than I’d anticipated. But both the children and I are thriving.

I’ve started dozens of blog posts about what we’ve been doing, so I thought I’d better get around to finishing one. I’ll start with sharing how C(10) and J(9) are learning how to write.

General approach to writing

I don’t require any writing as part of my children’s everyday learning. Nor do we study grammar or spelling as separate subjects. I don’t teach them how to write five paragraph essays, but they love to debate ideas and make reasoned arguments. I never ask for written narrations, but after we read about the slave trade, or how Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church, for example, there’s plenty of spirited discussion. And we read and listen to so many fiction books together that we’re always comparing and contrasting plot structures, analysing character motivations and discussing the use of different viewpoints as we chat about the novels we’ve enjoyed.

Despite – or perhaps because of –  this, both C(10) and J(9) love to write. Here are some examples of the types of writing they’ve been doing recently.


C(10)’s passion for the Divergent books and movie has inspired a ton of learning. She spent most of April reading Divergent fan fiction, and last week she uploaded the first instalment of her own story to FanFiction.net. An hour later she excitedly announced that 28 people had read it. The following day she added another instalment. Readers left reviews. More people read it. Her story is now over 3000 words long. It’s had more than 1000 views, and it’s been followed and favourited by readers.

I contrast this encouraging, peer-supported writing environment with the writing opportunities I had when I was young. I wrote stories on subjects decided by my teachers. The stories were read and judged by the teachers alone. If a piece of writing happened to appeal to the teacher it might be published in the school magazine. (Mine never were. The teacher liked long descriptive paragraphs filled with adjectives and adverbs. That wasn’t my style.)

Writing, like any skill, improves with practice. C(10) knows her words are going to be read and appreciated by real people. She gets almost real-time feedback. No wonder she spends so much time writing!

Unschooling writing


C(10) has also just started writing a fantasy novel, “Circle of Fire”. (Actually a trilogy, apparently.) The title was inspired by this brilliant name generator site recently shared in Julie’s Daily Writing Tip.

C(10) is at the faltering ownership stage of writing – she often enjoys writing alongside an adult.  Not so long ago, the idea of that adult being me was met with a derisive snort. Then for a year she was mentored in writing by an adult friend of ours, until the friend moved away. So when C(10) recently asked if I could help her write a story “in the way that Gaynor used to” I did a little jig inside.

I like this flipped way of working. Instead of me teaching C(10), C(10) is showing me how to help her. “Okay, so now we set the timer and I do a free-write about the characters”, she says. “Now I read you what I’ve written and we talk about it.” It’s fun being part of her writing process.

Blog posts

J(9) has been writing, too.  He is fiercely autodidactic, so working in the same room as me when I’m busy doing something else suits him perfectly. When he saw me working with C(10) on her story the other day, he grabbed his computer and wrote a review of his favourite DS game on his blog, Video Game Reviewer.  When my attention is elsewhere J(9) can safely shoot questions at me – “How do you spell enough?” – without me getting carried away and subjecting him to an un-asked for spelling lesson (“What other words can you think of that end in -ough“?)

Unschooling Writing
J(9) working on a blog post

Mad Libs stories

“Shall we make up Mad Libs?” J(9) asks enthusiastically, several times a week. We all enjoy Mad Libs, so C(10) and I grab our computers and join J(9). We each write a few paragraphs on any theme we choose, leaving plenty of gaps.

Then we take turns eliciting from the others words to fill our gaps: “Adjective?”, “Verb?”, “Plural noun?”. Plenty of suggestions are offered for each missing word, and the writer selects their favourite. Then they share their story, usually several times, to much hilarity.

Unschooling writing
Writing a Mad Libs story


All the writing I’ve mentioned so far is spontaneously initiated by the children. Copywork, meanwhile, is part of our routine. C(10) loves writing out her favourite poems, and paragraphs from books she loves. She does her copywork by hand, using colourful gel-pens.

Because J(9) struggles with the physical act of writing, I tend to forget that as he copies he is also learning how to spell, punctuate and use good grammar. Although he needs the practice, the laborious process of writing by hand makes it difficult for him to copy more than one short sentence at a time.

I think of his last blog post – beautifully conversational and funny, but with barely a comma or full-stop (period) in sight. “I wish there was spell-check for punctuation,” he said.

“Would you like to type out your copywork sometimes, instead of using a pencil?” I suggested. “That way you might be able to manage longer sentences … even paragraphs. You might remember to use full stops when you’re writing if you put them into your copywork.”

Copywork will help , but I expect J(9) will learn to punctuate when he feels the need, just as he taught himself to read and spell. He knows I’m eager to help whenever he needs me, but he needs to do things his way.

Both  my children choose their own copywork. Sometimes I strew resources, like websites with quotes from their favourite books. Or I buy kindle copies of their favourite audiobooks, like Anne of Green Gables or the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series. Often I do copywork alongside them – writing out great literature is always inspiring.

What are your children’s favourite ways to write?

For more writing inspiration, see 5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love.


I’m appreciatively linking up with:

Weekly Wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

The Hip Homeschool Hop

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29 thoughts on “Unschooling Writing

  1. Lucinda,

    There are so many wonderful real ways of writing, aren’t there? Children don’t have to do workbooks or exercises to learn to write. Yes, writing improves the more a person writes. I find this with my own writing. I hadn’t heard of fan fiction. That sounds exciting. C is writing a trilogy? I love the confidence of children. They can do anything they want!

    1. Sue, I so enjoy seeing C connect with her “tribe” online – fellow tweens/teens who love the same sorts of books she likes. There just wasn’t anything like it when we were young, was there? C has paused her fan fiction writing for now to read a series of 5 thick novels back-to-back! I am so happy she has so much freedom to follow her passions.

      Yes, isn’t children’s confidence wonderful? They really can do anything they want – and they learn so much even from planning an ambitious project, don’t they? Even if not every one is followed to completion!

  2. I love the fan fiction idea. What a great way to get feedback from real readers! It’s amazing how opportunities have changed just in the few years since my kids were young. All of my five worked on novels, short stories, and blogging as their primary English curriculum (“As long as you’re writing and making progress on something, I won’t give you assignments.”), but with the youngest, we’ve actually been able to publish hers. She’s deep in the 3rd or 4th draft of the sequel now, with several more books in the planning stage, and I love that homeschooling gives her the freedom to develop a hobby she’ll probably enjoy all her life.

    1. “As long as you’re writing and making progress on something, I won’t give you assignments.” – I’m going to use that.

      Oh my goodness, I’ve just followed your link to Kitten’s book. How exciting! We’re going to buy a kindle copy to read. We love her blog too. Thank you both for the inspiration!

  3. Lucinda!
    I always enjoy receiving your posts in my inbox…they are always informative and chock full of tips, links, examples!
    I usually wait to click over here until I have lots of time to sit, peruse, pin and etc!.
    What awesome writing ideas here…I love that you linked back to your Oct writing game post bc I “lost” that one way back. You know how there are great blog posts that you never pinned and you left open on your computer to “get back to” and then somehow the window closed and that’s it? well, I’m so happy I can refer back to it now. Thanks for all of these amazing ideas!!

    I hope all is well Lucinda!
    Love visiting here always!


    1. Chris – how lovely to hear from you! You write such wonderfully encouraging comments – thank you! You have a talent for making me feel like we are in the same room, having an animated conversation together. 🙂

      All is very well, thank you. I hope things are great for you all too! xxx

  4. Oh, I love this post, Lucinda. It’s very inspiring to see how engaged C and J both are in their individual writings. Thanks for introducing us to FanFiction. It might just be what Tiger needs to be more motivated to write. I still worry about writing (or the lack of it) in our home. I’ll have to come up with a solution some how… I love that C is writing her trilogy. That’s fantastic!

    1. Thank you so much, Hwee. I think perhaps having an older sister inspires J to write more. I bet Tiger will suprise you one day by suddenly deciding one day to create his own military history website, or perhaps a book!

      We got a copy of the kids’ edition of “Eats Shoots and Leaves” this week. I left it on the table and noticed J hooting with laughter at the effect of the misplaced commas as he read it to himself. So perhaps I shall see some punctuation in his writing at some point…!

      I just remembered what a prolific reader Tiger is. You’re right – fan fiction could be just the thing. J wrote a little Harry Potter fan fiction once, about Harry Potter’s children at Hogwarts. There are so many opportunities around for our children, aren’t there?

      I hope you’ve had a lovely half term. We’ve been busy with my mum staying – hence the delayed reply to comments. 🙂

    1. The kids’ edition of “Eats Shoots and Leaves” look really good. It looks like the perfect book for J! He obviously understands the nuances of the misplaced commas and is absorbing the lesson in a fun and engaging way. I’ll get a copy for Tiger too, and an adult version for myself. What a great resource! Thanks again for always sharing the great finds you have. 🙂

      We’ve had a much-needed restful few days this week. It’s nice to be at home to catch up with all the outstanding housework for a change — totally unlike me to say that, but the house and the garden really need some attention. 🙂 How lovely that your mum is staying! I hope your half term has been good too.

      1. It’s lovely to have a nice relaxing week pottering around the house sometimes isn’t it? Feels so good to get all that stuff done. Especially when we’re so close to the summer holidays – filled with exciting educational opportunities! 🙂

        Our half term was wonderful, thanks. We finished off with a weekend at the beach which has left us feeling like we’ve been away on holiday. I do like English summer.

  5. I love to hear what other “unschooled” families are diving into! I so agree (from the viewpoint of a former teacher now homeschooling mom) that when the pressure is off, the real fun/progress begins.

    We ventured into something new this year for writing with my son (2nd grade) … mentor texts. The idea is to use fun children’s picture books that are strong in one of the 6 writing traits as a spring board for writing your own story. So we would read a book like Grampa’s Teeth (hilarious book!), talk about the strengths of the story like organization, use a graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas that would fit into a similar frame work and continue on the writing process until we had a published piece. We LOVED it!

    I’m working on scanning my son’s 5 stories to put on our blog soon.

    For the month of January, my son published a weekly newspaper that we sent to family members … b/c we were learning about Ben Franklin who started the Pennsylvania Gazette during the Colonial times. He also just wrote a letter to Mrs. Obama b/c we went to the White House garden tour and he didn’t see cucumbers in their garden and that is his favorite thing from our garden.

    Writing seems to happen all the time for us … in addition to “author time”
    … when we work together on the mentor text things … we write letters, nature journal, American history journal/timeline, explorer journals. Some times I focus on grammar/punctuation etc and other times, I am looking for the meat of the idea!

    My daughter (Kindergarten) and son (2nd) both feel free to write a lot on their own…often in places I don’t want writing. :o)

    Good job encouraging mommy!

    1. Wow – what a lot of wonderful fresh ideas you’ve given me, Angie – thank you so much. I love the sound of how writing happens in your house. Writing to Mrs Obama about her cucumbers … wonderful! I hope you kept a copy of the letter. 🙂

      I had never thought of using a picture book as a writing stimulus. You make it sound fun, and just the kind of partnership writing we enjoy.

      I always enjoy reading about how your family does things. You always seem to be accomplishing such a lot but in a very fun way.

  6. Another great, informative post, Lucinda. I peeked at your son’s blog yesterday and even went in to see if I could read your daughter’s writing (that would be a no – I got a bit lost!!). Unschooling seems to be suiting your family to a tee and your children seem to be thriving. I’m so pleased for you all!

    1. Thank you, Claire. I know what you mean about the Fan Fiction site – it’s rather confusing. I wonder if it’s designed to appeal to teens and tweens and keep us parents away! Thank you for looking at J’s blog. I have to be very restrained about that. I managed to persuade him to help me punctuate it but he was having none of my suggestions about using headings instead of brackets!

  7. It’s so great to read about the different ways your kids have spontaneously included writing in their days – fan fiction and blogging! It is a new era for reading and writing, isn’t it?

  8. Hi Lucinda! Always enjoy reading your posts. My 11 yr old son also has a blog where he reviews computer/video games. It’s amazing the amount of research and work he puts into his posts and, honestly, I could not ask for better writing. It is entertaining and informative and there is nothing formulaic about it. It is his authentic voice and that is what learning to write should be about. No forced writing assignments in our house either and, guess what? Everyone writes more! My sons blog is http://mariofan23nintendo.wordpress.com/ if your son is interested in looking at it. My son loves getting comments!

    1. Hi Christi – it’s lovely to hear from you again. I love your son’s blog! J(9) will too. He has been waiting all day for the postman to deliver Mario Kart 8 which he especially saved some birthday money for. His other favourite game right now is Zelda Windwaker so I can see he has a lot in common with your son!
      Your son’s writing style is so interesting. It reminds me of how top bloggers write – conversationally and, as you say, authentically. While the rest of us have to work hard to rediscover our natural voices and re-learn how to write that way. Isn’t it great that our children’s voices won’t get squashed? 🙂

    1. Thanks, Heather. Our children are always looking for opportunities to learn and to express themselves, aren’t they? I see my first job as not getting in the way of that – a kind of homeschooler’s hippocratic oath! I don’t always succeed, but it’s good to have goals. 🙂

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