S6 E15 | Scribbles to Essays: How Notebooking Develops Writers (Jeannie Fulbright)
You can teach your children to be effective, skilled, thoughtful, and proficient writers using the amazing tool of notebooking. Notebooking develops writers naturally and organically through a steady, year-by-year, incremental progression of transcribing thoughts and new knowledge creatively and uniquely. This is by far the best way to train the skill of writing, thinking, memory, and the habit of attention. Through notebooking, a child essentially becomes the author of their own living book. Learn about this amazing tool in Jeannie's latest podcast.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright [00:00:04] Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. It is our hope that each session on The Charlotte Mason Show will mentor you in the Charlotte Mason model, inspire you with ideas, and offer practical ways to implement Charlotte Mason's unique and effective methodology in your homeschool. I'm your host, Jeannie Fulbright, and I am so glad you joined me today.
[00:00:34] I am so glad you've joined me today. Thank you for tuning in to The Charlotte Mason Show. I am so excited because I'm going to be sharing with you something I think is probably one of the most amazing benefits of a Charlotte Mason education, and that is that you will be developing writers naturally and organically. The Charlotte Mason education, if implemented well, can and will make even the most reluctant writer a proficient writer. And I can say that because all four of my children went to college and had strong writing skills. And in fact, all four of them told me individually that whenever the professor said, "Okay, this exam is going to be an essay exam," they were always shocked that the whole class groaned because in their minds and their hearts they were going, "Yes!" They were so excited because they knew that they could express their knowledge and their learning in writing because they had been doing it their whole lives. Even my reluctant writer was very proficient at writing in college and preferred the essay exams. And so, yes, you can develop writers through the tried and true methodology of using notebooking.
[00:01:58] So the National Center for Educational Statistics, which is the governing body which determines how American schoolchildren are faring in the world academically— they do a lot of testing and they come up with statistics based on the public and private schools, which they tested. And I don't think they're including homeschoolers, but I wouldn't doubt if they're going to start including homeschoolers in their in their database. But right now, the database really just includes the public and private schools in America. And it found that 73% of American eighth graders are below proficient in writing skills. It also found that less than 20% of 12th graders can write at a basic level. Also the NCES also found that 30% of college graduates have deficient writing skills. 30% of college graduates. This is what a lot of college professors are finding and they're complaining about. In fact, they've complained about it so much that now when a child enrolls in university, whether it's a top university or middle of the road, they're usually required to take a remedial English class and learn to write. And unfortunately, you can't teach a child to write in one year. You can learn some formulas and you can learn some skills and you can learn a few things. But the fact is that writing skills—true proficiency in writing—takes years to develop, and it is best developed incrementally through the use of the amazing tool called notebooking. And I am going to talk to you today about how to notebook with your children, how you can use notebooking in your homeschool.
[00:03:57] So what is writing? That kind of seems like a question that would have an easy answer. But really, writing is essentially thinking with your pen or pencil in hand. Someone who is able to take the thoughts in their head and put them in their own words on a piece of paper. And this actually requires a child to be thinking thoughts. This requires the child to have knowledge in their head about a subject which, of course, entails years of learning. And a child develops the skill of putting their thoughts into writing through incremental steps by starting slow, starting with the notebooking page that is simply a picture drawn of what they imagined, and then perhaps a title or a few words, a sentence. And this each year progresses and progresses as they continue to add on to their notebooking skills. And their creativity grows, their use of language grows, their ability to think more concisely begins to develop, and then their writing develops alongside their thinking.
[00:05:12] [00:05:12]Jean-Jacques Fabray, [0.6s] who is a beautiful writer of living science books, says, "Language is in some sort, the clothing of thought. We cannot clothe what does not exist. We cannot speak or write what we do not find in our minds. Thought dictates, and the pen writes. When the head is furnished with ideas, we have all that is necessary to write excellent things correctly. But again, if ideas are wanting, if there is nothing in the head, what can you write? How are these ideas to be acquired? By study, reading, and conversation with people better instructed than we." Of course, ideas are the foundation for a Charlotte Mason education. She says, "Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science. But it is the ideas we must give them clothed upon with facts as they occur. We must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food."
[00:06:14] So ideas come from what the child is reading, the rich rich living books we provide for them to learn from. And it's very important that when we are teaching our children any subject, whether it be Bible or science or history, geography, literature, that it all comes from ideas. The ideas are flowing through the books that we are using to teach our children. Ideas are the words that form pictures in our minds. Words that spark the imagination. If your imagination is not ignited when you are reading, then you are not reading a living book. Because living books spark our imagination and make us think and imagine more and deeply about the topic that we are learning about.
[00:07:10] So of course, these ideas come through books, through reading, and children begin to become writers in a natural, organic progression. They begin through oral narration by telling you what they've learned by whatever sparked their imagination when they were listening to the reading. That is what they would explain to you in their narration. If their imagination wasn't sparked, then perhaps it wasn't a living book. Or perhaps we went beyond their attention span and their mind went blank. There's a lot of reasons why a child might struggle giving narrations, but if we do short passages within their attention span that are filled with ideas and living thought, then the child will naturally begin to say, "Oh yeah I learned..." and they will explain what they've learned and they can explain it in their own words. And this oral narration begins to be written, but it starts out they can't write as much as they can say.
[00:08:17] When my children were little with their notebooks, I would have them draw a picture and then I would have them narrate to me what they learned and what their picture described or was showing. And I would type out their narrations. And so this is them beginning to express themselves, and they have so much more to express before they're able to write. And so, of course, writing skills are learned through copywork, through transcribing beautiful thoughts and scripture verses. And just the entire act of copywork actually helps the grammar, helps the writing progress, helps the development of the physical ability to write and to write grammatically well. All of this happens through transcribing in a commonplace book or in their copy book, and eventually they are starting to write— in their notebooking, they're starting to write more about what they've learned.
[00:09:18] And they begin with— with children, it graduates year after year. At first, they may just copy the title that you write on the board or copy over a title that you write above what they're drawing a picture of. And then eventually they'll be able to write the titles themselves. And as that progresses, we give them little writing activities to do with notebooking. There's so many ideas that you can implement with notebooking that make the activity fun and engaging.
[00:09:48] My boys didn't love writing. I'm just going to say that. They were a little bit allergic to writing, but they loved notebooking. And so when I gave them a notebooking activity, they didn't really think of it as a writing assignment, and they would write a lot. When we finished reading The Iliad, I said, "Okay, I want y'all to create a page about what you learned in the story. Create a comic strip." And so I said, "Let's divide the page into four and just create a comic strip about what you learned in The Iliad." Both boys ended up spending pretty much the entire day creating this epic comic strip of the things that happened in The Iliad. They couldn't stop.
[00:10:33] They were so excited in each little progression, and they were remembering everything that they had read and we'd learned about. And they, I mean, they really put a lot of work into recreating The Iliad, and there was like probably 30 pages between the two of them of the progression of what happened in The Iliad. And they didn't write a lot because it was a comic strip, but they wrote a lot for them at that age. And so there are a lot of little snippets of word bubbles, but there were sometimes full sentences, sometimes three sentences, sometimes just two words like "Help!" But they were learning to write, learning to express their thoughts in their own words, express their ideas in their own words.
[00:11:17] From creating that comic strip, they are developing a skill. They're developing the skill of writing. And there are so many different ideas that you can give your child for notebooking. For example, in my astronomy book, one of the things that I have them do after they learn about the Earth, they learn about all the different special features that make the Earth a unique planet. It's more unique than any other— obviously, than any other planet in the solar system, but in the universe. It had to be exactly how it is for us to be able to live here. And so at the end of that, I give a notebooking activity, as I do at the end of all my science books. I said, "Create an advertisement to sell the earth." And then they had to think about all the great features of the Earth to be able to sell it. And so these are the kinds of unique ways that we can have children express their learning in picture and in words.
[00:12:13] And so this is what we want to be doing is instead of— obviously we don't want to be using worksheets and that sort of thing with our children, but when they've learned something, have them produce it, produce something from what they're learning. Charlotte Mason always says that children must produce something in order to retain, to remember, to assimilate what it was that they had learned. It just moves it from that short term memory to the long term memory when they create something from their learning. And this is really what notebooking is all about.
[00:12:49] So I have many ideas that I implement in my notebooking journals that come with my science books, but I also— on my website, JeannieFulbright.com which you can click, I think, in the show notes or somewhere on the the podcast. You can go to my website and on my blog, there is a blog post that says "Notebooking Ideas". And I have more than 50 ideas for you to utilize after your child has read something, learned something. Make a commemorative stamp, or create a T-shirt design based on what they've learned. There's lots of different ideas in there for them to use a creative assignment to express their learning in their own words. And eventually, when a child has been doing this over and over again throughout many years, they will develop the skill of writing.
[00:13:47] So notebooking does progressively develop writers. And this is pretty much the most amazing thing that I knew about but didn't realize how true it was until even my reluctant writers went into college and did super well on their writing assignments because they knew how to express themselves in their own words in writing.
[00:14:13] In Charlotte Mason circles, the terminology "notebooking" is often called "written narration" or "visual narration", and essentially the child is creating their own work based on their knowledge. And in the end, when a child has been notebooking through a subject— for example, say they're learning about American history, and they're notebooking each time they're learning something about American history. And what happens at the end of the year, the child will have a handful of notebooking pages of what they learned about American history. They are essentially writing their own book. They're creating their own living book. It's a living book filled with their ideas and their knowledge in their original expression of their ideas. They're using their imagination to create something beautiful.
[00:15:14] Charlotte Mason talks about notebooking in— I believe it's her first volume. She says, "Children who had been reading Julius Caesar and also Plutarch's Life were asked to make a picture of their favorite scene. And the result showed the extraordinary power of visualizing which the little people possess. Of course, that which they visualize or imagine clearly, they know it is a life's possession." I love that phrase. They know it. It becomes a life possession. Because when a child creates something like their own living book from what they've learned, they actually begin to really care about the subject. It becomes part of who they are. They now are writing a book about the subject they've learned, which makes them fall in love with learning, fall in love with a subject.
[00:16:10] And notebooking— it really develops some of the important habits we want our children to have. It trains their memory because they begin to think more clearly and more concisely about what they've learned in order to create a work, whether it's a stamp or write an essay about what they've learned. Their memory is being ignited. They're training their memory. What is really wonderful is also it's training them in the habit of recording their knowledge, recording what they know. This is a skill which will benefit them through their whole lives and especially if they decide to go to college. It's a great skill to learn to record what you know. And this does train the habit. This memory. It trains the memory, but it also does train the habit of thinking clearly. It trains the habit of using creativity in their imagination.
[00:17:02] Albert Einstein said, "The imagination is more important than knowledge." And creativity— he says, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy and creative expression and knowledge." And so when children are creating a notebook page, we are awakening joy in creative expression. One of the most important things that I would say it's training is it's training the child in the habit of attention. Everybody talks about, "How do I train the habit of attention?" By giving your child something which they are attending to, which is when they are creating a notebook page, their mind, the whole mental force is applied to the subject at hand. They are paying attention. And so by regularly adding notebooking to our children's day and their daily lives, we are training the habit of attention.
[00:17:55] And I wouldn't say that you should notebook every subject every day. In fact, we probably notebooked each subject once a week. But you still are creating a beautiful work by notebooking once a week. And people worry, "Well, wait, what about all those other times we read and the things we've learned that we didn't notebook? How are they going to remember it?" Actually, when creating a notebook page once a week, the child is drawing upon the things they learned throughout the week. Their memory is being ignited. Their thoughts, the connections they're making from the stuff they learned this day, they're making connections from what they've learned earlier in the week and even last week.
[00:18:37] And this is how notebooking develops the mind. It develops thinking skills in addition to developing writing skills. And so this is truly one of the greatest academic benefits of notebooking. It develops the ability to express one's thoughts and knowledge and words, and this creates excellent and thoughtful writers naturally. Instead of using the unnatural approach— which writing curricula has its place and I am not dogging any writing curricula. There's some great stuff out there, but really the long term, in order to develop a long term, thoughtful writer, it really does take years. And that is best done through the natural progression of notebooking.
[00:19:30] And so that is really the notebooking talk, and again, there are so many different ways you can implement this. I recommend starting doing a notebook page after reading a segment of a book or after finishing a chapter. After finishing a novel. One thing I had my children do is my husband read them beautiful literature, novels, classic literature at night. He was the major reader of literature. He loved to read to them at night. So I took advantage of that and gave him all the classic novels to read. And so, for example, when my children finished The Hobbit, and I knew they had finished the night before and they came down for school, and I would say, "Okay, we've just finished another novel. Everybody draw a picture of your favorite scene from the novel. From the book. What was your favorite scene?" And it was so fun for me to see everybody's favorite scene and how different they were and how it really kind of expressed their personality.
[00:20:30] But what this also does, it gives you a literature notebook, a notebook of all the literature that they have read. So it wasn't until we finished the novel that they did it, but everybody remembered scenes from different parts of the novel. And so, yes, you call upon the things you've learned before when you're creating a notebook page today. And so I recommend you can create a notebook page after watching a video or hearing an audiobook or an audio segment or listening in the car to something. We also created field trip notebooks after they came home from a— when we were on our way home from a field trip, I would have them create a drawing of their favorite thing they saw or learned on the field trip. Because a lot of times we'd go on these wonderful field trips and then we would forget. I would forget all the field trips we went on. And we were a big field trip family, so it was frustrating to me when I would remember a field trip we had gone on and it had been years since I'd thought of it. So that's why we started keeping a field trip notebooking notebook for everybody.
[00:21:28] So yeah. And so, you know, when they do a project, take a picture of it and put it in their notebooks and essentially what you're doing is you are creating beautiful books that you will treasure. You will treasure for the rest of your homeschooling journey. And when they are grown and gone, as my children are, and you look back at these beautiful notebooks, it's like a treasury of all our education, years of learning and all the things we did and all the things we learned, and the notebooks become almost a scrapbook of your whole journey, your homeschool journey.
[00:22:05] So this is what we want to do. Just make sure that as a homeschool mom that you're not overdoing it. We want it to be a joy. And so don't make it a drudgery by overdoing it, requiring more than they're capable of putting effort towards. And just make it fun. Retention doesn't require excessive effort on their part. It simply requires them to just place something in writing from what they've learned, and their brain is being activated, the material is moving from the short term to the long term memory, and they are developing into writers. So that is how you develop writers through notebooking. And I enjoyed speaking to you today. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to talk to you, and have a great rest of your day.
Jeannie Fulbright [00:23:03] Thank you for tuning into The Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason, go to my website at JeannieFulbright.com. There you can find my blog where I discuss so many of Charlotte Mason's principles and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. You can also take a peek at my Charlotte Mason heirloom planner, which is much more than a planner. It's a Charlotte Mason mentor that not only teaches you Charlotte Mason principles, but it keeps you focused on the things that are important each week, such as habit training, nature study, scripture, read-alouds, prayer, and self-care, which often gets neglected. And I would love to meet you in person at a Great Homeschool Convention where I'll be sharing a lot of different Charlotte Mason topics. To sign up, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Thanks again and have a blessed and bountiful week as you fulfill your call to educate your children at home.