Sarah’s very first writing assignment

I’ve told people for many years that we teach a little differently than most. I tend to have a more traditional way of teaching and when I say traditional, I mean TRADITIONAL – as in following the practices common in the 1700 and 1800s before government schooling was common in the United States.

What does this mean? Basically we spend the first five or six years simply focusing on discipline, character development and spending time together. This is what parents did before the advent of public schooling. They spent TIME with their children, taught them right from wrong, and read aloud – a lot. Without constant interruptions of televisions, computers, i-pods, etc., children worked, studied, and tried to better themselves. Rather than zoning out and killing brain cells in their free time, they learned languages, practiced musical instruments and read great books.

Then, when they were old enough to take on adult responsibilities (around age 12), they were allowed to pursue academic interests of their own. They found ways to borrow the books they needed and they begged for apprenticeships that would help them pursue their dreams.

Children didn’t start school when they were two or three years old, reciting poems, multiplication tables and state capitals until they’re blue in the face – and bored to death! They didn’t begin writing essays until they had a sufficient knowledge of GREAT writing rather than simply writing a few lines about their summer vacation in third grade.

Anyway, I’ve had so many people tell me over the years that they would be interested to see if my theories about teaching would really work. I was really trying something that hasn’t been commonly done for a couple hundred years. In the early years, we focus more on giving a child the skills he or she needs to succeed. And we read aloud a LOT. Gradually we introduce age appropriate academic material. And read aloud – a LOT. Throughout this time, we encourage the child to find ways to study the subject matter that interests him or her the most. (If a child wants to be a doctor, let him study the Merck manual or ask questions about the latest ways to cure disease. If a child wants to be an engineer, let him build bridges on the kitchen table and see which designs work best.) Then, when the child is around age 13 or 14, it’s time to start focusing on academics. The benefit to this is that the child isn’t bored to death from nine years of school. (And I’m not saying that all school is bad or that all kids will be bored, but it has been my experience that way too many are!) With this method, the kids actually BEG to do schoolwork!

So we really started doing academics with Sarah about two years ago, when she entered ninth grade. (This really translates to when people in the 1800s would have entered “university.”) We worked with her at home for the first year (ninth grade) and then last year (tenth grade), she began taking a class at Milligan College through dual enrollment. She missed having the highest average in the class for the year by hundredths of a point. This year she is working hard to achieve that coveted honor!

I told Sarah that this year we would begin working on her essay writing skills. Yesterday I gave her first assignment. She was instructed to write an essay on one topic, with only three points to support the topic and it could only be one page long. I wanted to see how she did with this before going to the next assignments. I’m going to have her write a persuasive essay, argumentative essay, descriptive essay, compare and contrast essay, and critical essay. I want her to have the basic ideas of each TYPE of essay in a short format (about one page). This is November. We’ll have all the essays covered before the end of November, then we’ll move on to longer essays and then a research paper.

I have no doubt that by next summer, Sarah will be able to write EXCELLENT research papers because we have gradually given her the skills necessary to do so. She developed her vocabulary skills by listening to great books being read aloud to her and then reading those books herself. As she grew older, she began to pay more attention to the form and content of writing. She noticed it and absorbed GOOD writing without even knowing she was doing so. But we haven’t asked her to do this herself until now. This is literally the FIRST writing assignment I have EVER given her – EVER. Seriously. No kidding.

So let’s see what you think. And please remember – this is not only the first assignment, but it’s the first draft as well. I didn’t think she really had anything that needed to be changed so I didn’t have her rewrite it. Plus, keep in mind that I did tell her to keep it to only one page so that’s why it’s so short. She really wanted to make it longer, but I think it’s important for a person to write well with fewer words before moving on to longer assignments.

A few things I should let you know… First off, I did not help Sarah with this at all. I gave her the assignment last night and she just sent it to me a little while ago. I was so impressed that I wanted to share the results of her first assignment with the WORLD! 🙂 Second, she was supposed to write about something that interested her and then support her ideas. I did tell her that she would need to have an introductory paragraph, supporting ideas and a conclusion. The third thing she had to do was put her thesis in bold.

Feel free to share your thoughts. I realize many people are going to completely disagree with our philosophy of education and that’s ok. It works for us and the children are all very bright so that’s all that matters. I respect other people’s right to educate their children in their chosen manner and only ask the same. But I do enjoy hearing your thoughts anyway.


(Below is the essay)

One of the most important decisions most students make during high school is which language to study. Not only for personal benefit (knowing another language can be very helpful and rewarding in today’s society), but also because most colleges consider foreign language experience during the admissions process. Most (more than 50%) of students choose Spanish, 13% choose French and 6% choose German. I chose German for many reasons, including grammar, popularity of the language, and historical importance.

Modern English has its roots in German and thus, many words and also the grammatical rules and sentence structures of both languages have remained mostly the same. Because of this, German (especially written German) is very easy for the English-speaker to understand.

German is one of the ten most spoken languages around the globe with over 100 million speakers; that is the equivalent of about one- third of the current population of the United States. Germany also has the largest economy in the European Union and the third largest in the world, making its language an important tool in the hands (or rather mouths) of endeavoring businessmen and women.

German is the native language of many of the greatest scholars and intellectuals this world has seen. Learning German can give you a great insight into their minds and lives and a unique opportunity to explore the world through their eyes. To read great works of literature and poetry in their original form is a very rewarding experience. Although many people say that German is a “harsh” language, only those who can read and speak it know its true beauty and flow.

Although I can understand why most people choose Spanish or French as a second language, I am infinitely pleased with my choice to learn German instead of following in the footsteps of so many others. I am lucky enough to have a teacher who is passionate about his subject and encourages his students to get the most out of their learning experience, but I know that that is not always the case.

The importance of choosing a foreign language is emphasized in one of my favorite quotes by Frank Smith: “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” I think that is a very accurate representation of the opportunities in life that come from study and determination of a language. Any person can study a second language, but it takes that rare individual to really learn it.


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