Three Strategies to Help Your Child Become a Better Writer
Why Do Children Loathe Writing and How Can We Change It?
Upon entering preschool and kindergarten, children are exuberant storytellers. They enthusiastically dictate tales to their teacher, feeling tremendous pride as she jots them down on paper. They feel creative and powerful.
In a few years, however, these same youngsters think writing is tortuous. If their parents ask them to write simple thank you cards for birthday gifts, they break down in tears. Not only do they not enjoy writing, they absolutely hate it.
As a teacher who loves to write, it pains me to read student essays—not because of the poor spelling and grammar—but because the authors so obviously detest the task and do it reluctantly. Our nation's push for “academic rigor” at younger and younger ages has resulted in a generation of young people who are thoroughly turned off to writing. This is certainly a case of schools doing more harm than good.
What are we doing wrong? How do we promote writing as a pleasurable activity and not something that's agonizing? What can we do as parents to help our youngsters embrace writing as an empowering experience and not a chore? Whether you're homeschooling your children or supplementing their classroom experience, here are three ideas to encourage developing writers:
"Sticker Stickers" Are an Age-Appropriate Way to Encourage Writing With Young Children
1. For Children in Preschool and Kindergarten, Forget the Journals and Help Them Create "Sticker Stories"
Many preschool and kindergarten teachers now use an escalated curriculum, meaning they co-opt ideas from the upper grades to use with young children. They've taken the idea of writing in journals (not developmentally appropriate), and shoved it down the throats of their students. They have children write in journals for every subject under the sun -- math, science, spelling, and language arts. The students comply dutifully but develop a hatred for writing in the process. They see writing as difficult, tedious, and disconnected from their lives.
Sticker Stories let kids be kids. Young children are egocentric and need to write about their universe -- their families, their homes, their neighborhoods and their experiences. They need tactile experiences and stimulating materials, not just paper and pencil. Creating stories with stickers is not only fun for them, but it enhances their pincer grasp as the thumb and index finger work together to peel and place stickers.
Here's how parents can create Sticker Stories with their children at home:
- Collect a large variety of stickers -- animals, aliens, flowers, food, people. Buy them throughout the year, adding special holiday/seasonal ones to keep interest high (I find inexpensive packs at Target and Michael's).
- Have your children create a scene using the stickers (I usually tell them to use 8-12 or else they'll use them all)!
- Have them decorate around the scene with crayons and markers.
- Have them dictate a story about the picture they've created. They may get elaborate and narrate a tale with a beginning, middle, and end. They may just tell 1 or 2 short sentences about what's happening in the scene. They may make it a fictional story or a factual one.
Sticker Stories generate a flood of words and ideas. They let children be authors without worrying about handwriting, spelling, and punctuation. They never fail to show me how wildly imaginative kids are when given the opportunity.
A Home Writing Center Gives Your Child a Place to Write With a Purpose
2. For Children 6-10, Establish a Home Writing Center
Establishing a Writing Center in your home is key to helping your children appreciate writing as meaningful communication. You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you wish. It's important to place it somewhere your youngsters like to spend time – the play room, the tree house, the front porch.
A home Writing Center is the best way to promote writing (both creative writing and handwriting) without forcing it. It lets your children know that your family values writing. Children should be encouraged to write with a purpose in the following ways:
- creating posters and signs
- writing letters and postcards
- making cards for birthdays and holidays
- sending messages to family and friends
- making "to do" lists
- writing grocery lists
(Children at this stage of development will use invented spelling and this is perfectly fine).
A home Writing Center should include materials such as:
- greetings cards and envelopes
- stationary, postcards, and canceled stamps
- writing paper and blank paper
- dry erase boards
- chalkboard and chalk
- pre-made books to write and illustrate
- writing implements: crayons, pencils, colored pencils, and markers.
I hang a word wall in my Writing Center and change it according to the holidays and seasons. For example, in October it includes high-interest words that the children and I generate together such as: pumpkins, Halloween, costumes, trick-or-treat, candy, corn maze, scary, masks, black, orange, night, caramel apples, monsters, goblins, and ghosts.
Good Readers Make Good Writers
3. For All Ages, Celebrate the Reading-Writing Connection
Children of all ages need to hear good writing to become good writers themselves. When parents read aloud to their children, they're showing them how written words come alive as a communication between author and listener. Young children benefit from hearing books that rhyme, books with alliteration, books with repetition, and books with puns. They benefit from hearing both fiction and non-fiction books. They benefit when mom and dad help them make important associations between their lives and the lives of the characters.
Older children benefit from hearing quality literature by famous authors. They hear how gifted writers use adjectives, metaphors, and similes to paint a vivid picture in the listener's mind. They hear how experienced writers move a story along, building to a climax and then a resolution. They hear how famous writers make every word count, every character unique, and every piece of dialog real.
Tips for reading with kids:
Make it pleasurable. Read while getting warm by the fire, snuggling in bed, or cooling off under a shady tree. Reading before bedtime – when you're both tired – is probably the worst time.
Read with expression and joy. Let your children know reading makes you happy and more knowledgeable.
Talk about the author. Make it known to your child that someone wrote the book to communicate with readers. Discuss with your child why the author wrote the book. What was her purpose? What did you want to say to readers? Discuss your favorite authors and what you like about their writing.
Ask your child what she would like to say in a book. Encourage her to write down her ideas.
Final Thoughts: Parents Can Help Their Children See Writing as Empowering
For those of us who love to write, it's disheartening that our kids are turned off to it. All children deserve to experience writing as a powerful means of communication, not just a chore at school. As teachers confront tougher standards, an escalated curriculum, and increased testing, they don't always have time to deal with the affective realm -- to instill in their students a love of writing. That's why it's crucial for parents to do so. One of the saddest comments you'll ever hear from a child is:"I hate to write." Sticker Stories, a home Writing Center, and an emphasis on the Reading -Writing Connection are key to avoiding those dreaded words.
An Excellent Addition to Your Home Writing Center!
As a former kindergarten teacher, I highly recommend this for your home writing center. Your kids are more likely to write when they have a designated place and all the materials at hand. This roll of paper, designed specifically for creating stories, has a blank space on top for illustrations and lined spaces on the bottom for writing. My students loved it, cranking out story after story. I'd then read them to the class and post them on our bulletin board. Your child will feel empowered hearing her story read at your dinner table and then displayed on your refrigerator!
© 2015 McKenna Meyers