We were three months into the school year as I sat across the table from Anthony’s mom. Anthony was a strong student, particularly when it came to math and science. He devoured nonfiction books and could recall unusual facts with precise detail. He enjoyed school, participated in class discussions, and got along well with his classmates. I had only positive things to say about Anthony, but his mom was concerned. Anthony didn’t like to write. Furthermore, she wasn’t sure how to help him. As I discussed Anthony’s reluctance toward writing, his mom said something that has stuck with me for years.
“Oh well. I guess he won’t be an author when he grows up.”
I tilted my head and gave way to a weak smile, unsure how to respond. Years later, I know what I should have said.
I would tell her she was right. Anthony probably wouldn’t grow up to be an author, but he could still be a writer.
Good writing skills are essential for educational success and a competitive edge on the job market. Quality writing that is both organized and creative will set students apart no matter what profession they pursue.
It is also important to remember that writing, like all art forms, is a means of expression, giving children a safe outlet for their thoughts, feelings, and questions. Even students who struggle with academic writing can find success in personal story telling, journaling, poetry, and other avenues of creative writing.
The following suggestions are ways you can help your child become a better writer at school and at home.
- Keeping talking – Good writing begins with a rich sense of words and oral language. Whenever you go somewhere or do something with your child, talk about it. When you’re driving in the car, talk about what you see. When you’re cooking dinner, talk about each step and each ingredient. When you visit a new town, talk about the unique landmarks or scenery. Children will grow to have a stronger control of language when they share and talk about experiences with adults.
- Read together – When I work with students on their writing, I always ask about their favorite books and authors. I explain that if you want to be a great football player, watch Peyton Manning and do what he does. If you want to be a great chef, watch Rachael Ray and do what she does. The same goes for writing. To be a strong writer, find great authors and do what they do.
Reading exposes children to rich vocabulary and a variety of writing strategies. Young readers learn that good stories have a problem to resolve by the end. Older readers learn how foreshadowing gives clues to what’s ahead. These can be strategies for children to try in their own writing. When you read with your child, point out how the author holds your interest. For example, “Look how the author used a thinking bubble to tell what’s going on in this character’s mind. You could do that when you write stories,” or “I’ve noticed this author leaves us hanging at the end of most chapters! That’s a great way to get us to keep reading! You should try that.” You can also point out the genre or organization of books they love. “You seem to be hooked on mystery books. You should try writing your own mystery!” “You should try writing an informative ABC book about a topic you enjoy. Maybe the ABCs of space or the ocean?”
- Create a place for writing – Just like any artist, writers need space and tools to create. A writing mentor once told me coffee, candles, and a quiet room are as necessary for writing as pen and paper. She called it “romancing her brain.” Sure, we can get great ideas in the shower or grab a few minutes here and there to write, but if we want to be serious about writing, we need a space that compels us to create. Your child’s space probably won’t include coffee, but work with your child to create a special writing place that is comfortable, well lit, and filled with their own personal style of creative motivation. Stock this place with notebooks, stationary, journals, pens, and markers – anything to encourage writing time.
- Provide authentic opportunities for writing – Children need to see that writing happens in everyday life to communicate a message and document a memory. Recruit your child’s help in doing both. Have them write grocery lists, holiday cards, birthday e-mails, thank you notes, travel logs, text message reminders, Facebook posts, and Instagram captions. Social media opens a wide door for quick writing opportunities, and even young children will love helping you generate a tweet for your Twitter account. Writing does not always come in five paragraph essays. Witty captions and thoughtful text messages are quick, meaningful ways for children to explore writing.
New writing standards have placed a greater emphasis on opinion and persuasive writing. Kids love convincing adults to agree with them! Take advantage of this, but up the ante by asking your child to persuade you through writing. What movie should we watch? Where should we go on vacation? What should we do this weekend? Again, this doesn’t need to come in the form of a five paragraph essay with multiple drafts. Short, real life, writing situations can be the motivation and inspiration your children needs.
Above all, praise your child’s efforts when it comes to writing. Allowing someone to read your writing can be scary for children, and criticism will crush timid writers. Compliment the content rather than just looking for mechanical errors like spelling or punctuation. Show your child how proud you are by displaying their writing in your home or sending a copy to a relative. Check out magazines like Stone Soup for opportunities to publish your child’s writing.
Written by Joy Becker, Blog Contributor