Kim Kautzer, veteran homeschooler and author, loves to help parents feel more confident about teaching writing. She believes that when you combine blank paper, reluctant child, and insecure parent, you create a recipe that’s doomed to fail. With a heart to inspire and equip apprehensive parents, Kim encourages homeschoolers that teaching writing is much more objective than they think, and that with the right tools at their fingertips they can lead and motivate their struggling writers. Award-winning WriteShop, her unique and successful writing program, has been honored as one of Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Speaking at conferences around the country, Kim presents workshops to homeschoolers who want to inspire their children to become successful writers. Her topics and speaking history are available at The Old Schoolhouse Speakers Bureau.
Kim and her husband Jim homeschooled for 15 years beginning in 1988. Two of their three children have graduated from Christian universities, and their son is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in theology. The Kautzers enjoy their six busy grandchildren and their sometimes-empty nest in Southern California. Kim blogs about writing at In Our Write Minds.
Today’s Featured Books:
WriteShop Primary Books A, B, and C
by Nancy I. Sanders
WriteShop Primary introduces K-3rd graders to the steps of the writing process using engaging activities, crafts, and picture books. Each of the three books in the series creates an environment that promotes a joy of learning in young students and helps them experience success as they develop the ability to write. Whether you have a more advanced child or one who is just beginning, this program is flexible so children can work at their own level to plan, create, and publish simple stories, articles and (in Book C) short reports with parent help.
Kim is a contributor to the WriteShop Primary series as well as the executive editor.
Q: When did you first get the idea for your fantastic line of products for teaching writing to children?
A: I’d say it was more evolution than inspiration! As you know, my friend Debbie and I homeschooled our children. Along the way, we often commiserated about our boys’ reluctance to write. So back in 1997, when they were 12, we gathered some materials and set out to teach writing to a group of homeschoolers. To our dismay, none of these programs produced desired results, so we were forced to create our own lessons.
Deb and I had never set out to do anything but teach, and we were already used to developing our own materials for other classes we’d taught, so this seemed no different. In time, though, as our class waiting list grew to four years and 50 students, parents started bugging us to publish. They were worried their children might not get a spot in our class. The two of us were adamantly against that idea, but the response from parents was beyond anything we’d ever envisioned!
When we finally did decide to publish in late 2000, we released WriteShop I and II and the accompanying Teacher’s Manual. Eventually we began introducing other products to our line—mostly writing- and grammar-related. But parents of younger children also wanted help teaching writing, so last year we began actively publishing new materials again, most recently the acclaimed WriteShop Primary series you developed for us!
Q: Can you list some of your favorite children’s books today?
A: This is a HARD question, Nancy! I’ve always loved children’s books, so it’s incredibly challenging to narrow the list. Among my favorite picture books are Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. DeSoto by William Steig, and the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.
For older kids, I love how Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy appeals to a child’s imagination. I also adore Beverly Cleary’s books (especially her laugh-out-loud Ramona series) and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. And a favorite read-aloud adventure in our home (and one my daughter is now reading to her own children) is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.
Other top picks: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books for younger children, and the endearing Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery for older girls.
In addition to picture books and novels, I’ve always been fond of children’s poetry. Our family’s dog-eared copy of Jack Prelutsky’s Random House Book of Poetry for Children has seen so much use over the past 25 years that it’s been pieced and patched a dozen times. I never tire of that delightful anthology. And I love fairy tales such as the timeless stories by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
Q: As a homeschooling mom yourself, what were some of the joys you experienced while teaching your children?
A: We loved taking family vacations when everyone else was in school. One May, after an intensive study of the Colonial experience, we capped off our year with a two-week tour of historical Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Boston, and D.C. It was great to visit so many places we’d learned about during that school year! Also among our most treasured times were annual camping trips to Yosemite National Park We’d go during September or October, after the crowds had died down. We built incredible family memories during our Yosemite vacations.
Of course, homeschooling is very much about academics. I’m not a trained educator, but so much learning took place in our home because of—and in spite of—my teaching. There was nothing quite like those “light bulb” moments when I realized something had finally clicked in one of the children’s brains—from learning to read to grasping a difficult math concept to writing a decent essay—and that it was somehow because of my investment, commitment, and perseverance.
The best part was how homeschooling afforded me the freedom to address my children’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that best suited each of them. One of the most profound joys of my life has been watching the growth of our son Ben from a needy, struggling, reluctant little boy to a confident, articulate, accomplished young man. Academics came slowly to him, and I was constantly on the hunt for new ways to help him learn. Today, he’s 24 years old and studying for a Ph.D. in theology on a full scholarship. His journey is really quite amazing.
Q: What one tip would you like to share with a writer who wants to market her books to the homeschooling market?
A: Breaking into the homeschooling market is much tougher today than it was ten years ago, so entering with eyes wide open is critical. The most important step we took before releasing WriteShop Primary was taking the time to work out the bugs by fully testing the curriculum on homeschooling families. A few tips:
• Allow plenty of time for testing. If you’re writing a one-year program, this might mean you won’t be able to publish in time for the next school year. That’s OK! You don’t want to rush into printing without this important step.
• Don’t pigeonhole your material. We assumed our Primary books would not be well received by 9-year-olds and older, but our test families proved us wrong again and again! So encourage your test group to try the materials on kids who are both younger and older than the target age range. Also, try to find some families who have children with learning issues. These samplings will help you better identify your market.
• Think about forming a private Yahoo group just for test families. We did this with WriteShop Primary Book C with great success. There was a wonderful sense of community as moms shared tips, tried out each other’s ideas, and ultimately ended up influencing the direction of the book. For example, there were several games or publishing project ideas that some families didn’t especially care for, even though they looked so cute on paper. Not only did we end up pulling them from the book, we got some fantastic ideas from the moms for replacement activities!
Minimally, this parent feedback alerted us to problems we could fix before publishing, preventing a major book overhaul later on. But ultimately, it provided us with many happy test families who have since spread the word about WriteShop Primary!