For those of you with experience - which did you use>
For anyone else; is there a writing program that really helped your kids learn to write?
Okay, we have used the Excellence in Writing course -- both the Intensive (the "starter") and the SWI Level A. We also had our daughter take an online class that was offered by a live teacher, which also used the SWI Level A disks -- but all this started when they were older than third grade.
Learning to write is an ongoing process. I would start with with what they recommended. What they are trying to do is to teach YOU how to teach THEM. I will say that the process (focusing only on one thing at a time; only grading on that one thing, etc.) is a good one. I like the approach they use at the start in providing the children with a short composition and then having them rewrite it so that they can focus on sentences without having to worry about structure, and the rest of the lessons do similar things to allow a particular "focus."
HOWEVER, the quality of the writing in the course itself is not very good, IMO. (My standards are likely too high. I'm a lawyer, and essentially I write for a living.) I would supplement with lots and lots of good writing (I was using a lot of George Orwell, which is obviously inappropriate for third graders, but there is good writing, both fiction and non-fiction, out there.)
My children also found it frustrating to put in certain "dress ups" as this course calls them and other structures (only more interesting verbs; etc.), when, in a lot of cases, they didn't "work" in the essay. The thing to remember -- and to remind your kids if they get frustrated -- is that these are all exercises, not really what would be submitted as a "real" essay. The course is trying to give the child tools that they can use to make their writing better.
All in all, it's a good course, and, again, I'd go with what they suggest....
I have bought the structure and style teachers manual and the dvds (between amazon and ebay I spent a total of $60.) You could buy their Bible heroes stuff, but you could also use other writings/books that you already have as well. I went to a workshop where someone presented the structure and style in a 20 min session and I was very impressed......