Recently, I had the chance to use and review a writing curriculum called Essentials in Writing with my younger children, who are chronologically almost 12 years old, but who, for varying reasons, have had some significant delays.
Essentials In Writing was founded by Matthew Stephens. He was a middle school English teacher in the public school before he created the Essentials in Writing curriculum, and has taught at nearly every grade level.
Since my twins “Mr. Loquacious” and “The Puzzler” are just at the beginning stages of being able to focus on any formal academics, I chose the grade 1 curriculum, which is intended for aged 6 – 7.
The grade 1 curriculum is $40.00, and includes the DVD lessons and a PDF file with all of the worksheets and answer keys, should you need them. There is an option to purchase a pre-printed workbook offered during the checkout process for $20.00. I chose to print the worksheets a few days at a time, rather than printing them all out at once.
From the website page about the grade one curriculum:
“In First Grade, your child will learn: how to use words to make complete sentences, basic grammar, capitalization and punctuation of sentences, compose a friendly letter and a paragraph, and other topics.”
The grade 1 curriculum covers the following basics of written communication:
•Review Letter Formation and Sounds
•Introduction to Complete Sentences
•Capitalization Rules: Beginning of sentences, names
•Punctuation Rules: period, question mark, & exclamation point
•Basic Grammar: Subject/Predicate, Nouns, Action Verbs
•Parts of a Personal Letter
•Writing a Personal Letter
•Parts of a Paragraph
•Writing a Paragraph
•Other Forms of Written Communication: Lists
•Introduction to Narrative and Descriptive Paragraphs
•Text Features of Poetry
You may view a sample lesson here by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.
“Mr. Loquacious” and “The Puzzler” were not very enthusiastic about trying this curriculum at all when we began. They said “Mr. Stephens talks to us like we’re little kids!”. The plain fact, though, is that they were learning things while watching the lessons that they had not learned when they WERE age 6 – 7! They did not come into our family until they were age 8, and were not yet at that time reading, let alone writing in sentences.
This curriculum is SUPER easy to use, especially for the home schooling mom who finds herself either too busy for, or not comfortable with planning out lessons. The student watches each lesson on the DVD, and then does the assignments related to that lesson (which you, the parent, have either printed from your PDF file, or purchased in the pre-printed workbook). Some of the lessons have just one assigned worksheet, while others have two or three, labeled by letter (lesson 8A, 8B, 8C, for example). So, depending on the particular lesson and the child/children involved, one lesson can take anywhere from one – three days. So far, the most assignments my children have had from one DVD lesson has been three. I generally let them watch the lesson and then do one worksheet on the same day, with the remaining pages done one per day until completed. Because of their developmental delays, it is definitely taking longer to do each lesson than it may take your child.
“Mr. Loquacious”, “The Puzzler” & “The Batman, watching Mr. Stephens teach lesson number 10.
. . . and now they are doing worksheet number 10 A.
“The Puzzler”, my perfectionist, gets exasperated whenever Mr. Stephens goes even slightly outside of the lines on the board when he is teaching the lessons, and even more so whenever he himself makes a mistake in spacing, or capitalization, etc . . . but he is getting more practice at doing these things than he was before we began using this curriculum.
“Mr. Loquacious” is my speed demon . . . he wants to skip ahead of the instructions and do things his own way. He is discovering, though, that when he slows down and listens, he remembers better how to form his written sentences. He also sees how much neater his printing is by slowing down and paying attention to the task at hand.
“The Batman” didn’t really need the beginning lessons, but I brought him in with the others once we got past beginning letter formation and into proper capitalization, spacing of words, and punctuation. All three boys (and I’m considering having their brother “The Artist” join us too) will benefit from everything we are getting to at this point, and continuing on with, especially when we get to the sections on writing letters and different types of paragraphs. We have good friends in Michigan where we used to live, as well as family members there and in other states. All of my boys would very much like to be able to write proper letters. Or, maybe it’s me who would like them to be able to do so, LOL!
What I really like about Essentials in Writing is how simple it is for us to use. All I have to do is print out the worksheets, put the DVD in, and we are good to go! Really, it could not be any easier. I also do think that Mr. Stephens is a good teacher, and he is good at giving the lessons in a basic, easy to understand manner. One of my boys, “The Puzzler”, functions much younger than his twin, and he is having no problem understanding the lessons while watching Mr. Stephens teach. As I said before, though, he doesn’t like it when Mr. Stephens’ writing is not perfectly lined up. 🙂 I like that the lessons are very short, and that the written work is broken up so that it can be spread over a few days before moving on to the next lesson. The lessons are apparently filmed within a classroom setting, because when Mr. Stephens asks questions, there is often a child’s voice giving an answer. My kids noticed that before I did.
I do feel the production values of the DVD lessons could be better. The video recording did not seem to have been professionally done in either my husband’s opinion, or my own. It sort of looks like it was done by a person holding a video camera, as opposed to even having the steadiness of a tripod. There is visible shakiness in spots, and we can at times see what looks like the shadow of the camera person reflected on the white board that Mr. Stephens is using as he teaches the lessons.
Over all, I can say that Essentials in Writing Grade 1 IS giving my children the basics of written grammar and communication, and we will continue to use it, at least through the end of this level, although I would like to see the company revisit the quality of the filming in future editions.
Crew members reviewed this and other grade levels of Essentials in Writing . . . click below to find out what they thought!