The upcoming academic year is up-in-the-air. Even if your school has yet to declare 100% distance learning, it will likely end up as a combination of a little time at school and lots of time at home.
Despite the obvious and understandable overwhelm that parents are feeling, this uncertain school year can become an incredible opportunity for your family. It’s time to make lemonade out of these lemons, especially for reluctant writers.
Excellent teachers know that creative writing is a pathway into the hearts of students of all ages. Yet, core curriculum has squeezed out most of the little creative writing that was ever done at school. Take the opportunity that you have with your children at home to help them find ways to enjoy writing.
The essence of the three-step approach that I suggest is to separate the goal of helping your child to enjoy writing from the need to practice writing mechanics from the need to practice grammar/spelling/punctuation. Here’s how.
Step 1: Help Your Child Fall in Love
What are all of the topics your child enjoys? Let’s say the answer is not writing. Perhaps it’s science or geography or nature or reading or theater or rare crustaceans. Start there. Identify a clear interest and build some writing opportunities around that interest.
For example, if nature is one of your child’s primary interests, get the Charlotte Mason Journaling a Year in Nature notebook. Buy one for yourself (and/or a sibling) as well, or make your own with a simple blank notebook.
Share time together out in nature observing and writing in your books.
But here’s the key: DO NOT harp on, judge, or otherwise criticize grammar, handwriting, spelling, or any writing mechanics. Allow incomplete sentences, single words, and even welcome your child to break the writing rules.
The sole purpose of this activity is to tie writing to an interest and support your child to get ideas to flow and learn to enjoy the thought process of writing. We will tackle other goals in Steps 2 and 3.
As another example, if your child loves chemistry, you could get a book of experiments or print them off the internet. Make observation and writing a component of each activity. Your child can write observations, or create a Yelp-type review book about the experiments to share with other kids. What happened in the experiment? What was surprising? Did the experiment work? Did you have to make tweaks? What’s the science? Is it worth doing the experiment?
If you have a child who loves stories, Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic is an excellent guide. Read a chapter together and complete a writing prompt at the end of the chapter. I’ve found it effective to respond to the prompt on my own piece of paper alongside my student to develop a sense of partnership and camaraderie. If you have multiple kids working on the prompts, this may not be necessary.
To recap how to help your child fall in love with writing (or at least get more comfortable):
- pinpoint an interest;
- build authentic, low-pressure writing opportunities around that interest;
- focus on your goal to get ideas flowing and build writing enjoyment;
- do not criticize grammar, spelling, punctuation, or handwriting.
Step 2: Practice Writing Mechanics
Often kids who don’t like to write don’t enjoy the act of putting pencil to paper. Their handwriting might be messy, stemming from the lack of desire to practice. It’s important to practice handwriting–as a separate matter from learning to formulate ideas around interesting topics.
Choose whether your child needs to practice cursive or print and once again, tap into his or her interests. Do you have a jokester on your hands? Try jokes and riddles cursive practice. Do you have a kid who loves the Bible? Try this one. Wacky facts? Jobs and occupations? Unicorns?
You get the idea. Just type your child’s interest + handwriting/cursive practice into an online bookseller’s site and you’ll be amazed at what comes up. Double check that it’s age-appropriate, and purchase.
Step 3: Ease Into Editing
Once you have found a way to engage your child in writing as related to an interest, he or she may be ready to tackle editing/grammar/spelling. Don’t rush the timeframe on this. You might need to spend several semesters or years solely focused on helping your child find a topic and mode of writing that is enjoyable. Therefore, it may make more sense to hold off on this step.
That’s okay! Inevitably, school work will include grammar and spelling.
You do, however, have the opportunity to introduce a totally separate writing ethos to develop your children’s confidence that they can get their thoughts down on paper. Ultimately, this is the most important foundation for lifelong writing. It is difficult to achieve in school when the pressure is on mechanics and grammar, which is why the uncertain school year ahead could provide a golden opportunity to do so.