Discovering the Skills of Writing with Memoria Press {Review}

There are a lot of different companies out there; there are so many methods to consider. it can be difficult to figure out which way to go. One of our favorites is, Memoria Press, which provides amazing classical Christian materials, “for cultivation of wisdom and virtue through meditation on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.” While I have always loved those great writers of the world, while writing and reading have always been a great passion for me, with my older son this is not quite the case. Therefore we were so very excited to have the opportunity to review Classical Composition I: Fable Set to explore vocabulary and traditional writing methods, improve some pretty messy handwriting and further build our communication skills. This set included an Instructional DVD as well as a teacher guide and student book. This course contains 20 lessons, each one based upon a different fable and is recommended for grades 4-12. There is included, an advanced rubric to guide your way, for grades 4-6.

Have you ever heard of progymnasmata? Me either. It is written that, “If you do not think well and think rhetorically – not just logically – good writing is more difficult and frustrating. If you use the progymnasmata, each of the fourteen stages trains the mind to think more clearly but also rhetorically, allowing a constant practice of the effective use of words and sentences, as they learn from master communicators through imitation.”

As my son is getting older (He turns thirteen in September) it is important for him to really begin writing on a deeper level. I love how creative he can be, but he really doesn’t like to write (or read) at all. Since this is all based upon Fables, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to encourage reading, shorter pieces, with great lessons within, and also to begin encouraging and guiding him into a better way when it comes to writing.

The first thing we did was to pop in the DVD for instruction with Brett Vaden. After that we read aloud the fable and then went over any difficult words (these are listed in the teacher’s guide, along with definitions). Then comes, recognition, reversal and suffering. This is where our students exercise their abilities to recognize these examples and then write a few of their own. The student also identifies the reversal (characters brought low or elevated, high and mighty or humble) along with the suffering experienced within the fable. My son was definitely able to pinpoint these things; exploring and recognizing suffering in the characters in the story I think was a good lesson for him in character building as well. What better opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they feel and explore ways to minister to others in need?

Sometimes I think we forget about the value that comes from being able to recognize another’s pain and then respond in kindness to that. Following these exercises, the student then narrates the fable in their own words. How fun that can be! My oldest son is actually wanting to begin videos of himself retelling the story; perhaps we can encourage his brother and sisters to take part in this as well!

After all of this, we begin the writing portion. Initially the student writes a few sentences about the fable, using synonyms of words used in the fable. Once this is completed it is time to make an outline. By varying the words, new sentences can be created , more complex. This was a great exercise for my oldest son, who I think often gets stuck, in writing and then, in frustration, quits. Instead of having to come up with complete sentences, this is one simple step that allows from creative writing and expands and exercises your vocabulary too. This is a much less threatening way of growing your writing skills. There are about eight assignments in all, that go along with the videos; this is a pretty serious writing program. But do not fear because the video lessons really are all you need! I know we quickly went from being overwhelmed with all these new terms and methods, to being enthusiastic and feeling challenged (but not too much) as we watched lessons. 🙂

That was all part one; now we move on to the second part. From the fine art of paraphrasing, to writing corresponding sentences, this is another way to encourage and inspire creativity while also working on handwriting and grammar and expanding their vocabulary. I am always telling my son, that we need to know what words we are using, what they mean; our words really do matter. As the writing proceeds there will be opportunities to practice inverting sequence, reducing information to make it more concise. These are all great ways to learn and grow in our writing skills. I think there are quite a few things I learned from this program too – We are not even done yet!

We worked very slowly through this; since my oldest is pretty reluctant already, I didn’t want to push him any more than necessary. He is very much a visual learner so he really took to the video lessons; workbook pages were a bit harder. Some days, we did less and some days we would do more. As students are gaining a better understanding of the pieces involved in these fables, they are then expected to complete their own written narration, in a number of simple steps. Even though this does go pretty deep, the instructor on the DVD’s does a fabulous job of making all of these seemingly big things, seem much more doable to our children. There are lots of great visuals throughout the books as well, to help our students see what an outline should look like. Or perhaps if they struggle with variations or paraphrasing exercises – there is always a resource there so we can look and see. We actually kept the teacher’s guide near as my son worked on the student book so he could reference each step as he progressed. He is very visual; seeing really is such an important part of the learning process for him. And so again, between the videos and the many examples within the guide, he really was able to move forward without feeling too overwhelmed or stressed out.

I love when we are writing, reading, watching one of the videos and a lightbulb goes on. Something makes him say “aha.” Or those moments when I recognize fables that were favorites of mine from long ago. I know I have said it before but I have to say it again. Reading and writing are both such powerful and priceless tools for our children to have in their toolbox. The depth and the ease of these programs is truly amazing. It is a blessing in many ways and we are certainly going to continue forward with this program; hopefully we will move on to the Narrative set which is the next level in this writing program.

I really enjoy materials that I can work on, alongside, my son. there are many opportunities, I believe, as we work through this (and so many of the other amazing programs this company has) to grow not just ourselves, but our relationship with one another. As we come together to learn and write, we share our strengths and our weaknesses. It is an opportunity to do a new thing, together. Perhaps too, since my son and I are different as night and day, we can grow together in this thing that we are both enjoying, in our own way, while at the same time doing it together. It is fun to have materials like this, that encourage communication; conversations that are sometimes silly and other times go deep. What better way to learn than this?

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