Trivium Pursuit

Dictation and Perfect Mothers

Question: I have tried dictation with my eleven-year-old daughter and she absolutely hates it. Not knowing where the punctuation marks go frustrates her. We have compromised by giving her hints.

Answer: Dictation is less exact than copywork. You can’t always be sure that what you are writing is correct. Some children are perfectionists who want to do things just right. Do not put too much pressure on the child to have everything perfect. We often have unrealistic expectations – especially for our first child. We sometimes wonder how they ever survived. Instead of striving for first time perfection, strive for continuous improvement. I wanted Nathaniel to have perfect handwriting, read at a high school level, write with creative wit, carry on advanced conversations with the neighbors, and draw like Michelangelo – by the age of five. I think that’s why the Lord gave us five children in eight years. It mellowed me out fast.

Notice, I am not saying we should have low standards, but that we should establish realistic standards, and realistically raise those standards with time. In our travels, I have seen many perfectionistic Mothers putting unrealistic burdens on their children. Perfectionism can break the spirit of a child.

When I would dictate to my children, I sat next to them on the couch, watching everything they wrote. If there was supposed to be a comma in the sentence and they didn’t know it, then I would tell them where it went, and we would write down that particular rule in their English language notebook. If they take dictation in pencil, then their mistakes can be easily erased. Spelling can also be taught during dictation. Dictation should be a teaching session, not only a testing session to see what they know. Later, when the child is older and more skilled at dictation, you’ll be free to back off a few steps from the immediate process.

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