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Maybe it’s another lost tooth, or the first day of the school year. Or maybe it’s a new friend or a new pair of shoes. Whatever the specifics, you can count on it: for the average kid, life is packed with Big News. Sure, the drama may be hard on parents—but it’s also a great opportunity. What better time for your child to write to Grandma—or Uncle Fred, or Cousin Vanessa, or any other relative or friend—and build crucial language skills at the same time? If your second grader already loves to do this, savor your good luck! But for most seven year-olds writing is still quite a challenge. Here are some practical tools for helping your child write letters you’ll all feel good about:
- Keep a running list of ideas. Remember: kids are impulsive. The Tooth Adventure of one morning will easily give way to the Great Scooter Chase in the afternoon, and all of it may pale when it’s time for the Big Dinner Fight. So give everyone’s memory a boost: stick a list on the fridge or on a bulletin board, and have your son or daughter jot down ideas as they happen. Later, when it’s a quiet time to write, he can pull the list out and pick from it. Put your list somewhere where both you and your child can reach it. Sometimes you’ll put an idea down, and sometimes your child will. Teachers call this “shared writing,” and it’s a great way to model good communication skills.
- Talk before you write. All too often we tell kids to just “sit down and write.” But think about it: adult writers almost never do this. We think, talk and plan! Give your second grader a hand by offering to talk out and even scribble down specific ideas, once he or she has picked a topic. Talking first helps with planning, but it also helps your child write with a sincere “voice”—one of the traits all good writers should have.
- Expect to work in short chunks. It’s a rare second grader who can write for more than 15 minutes at a stretch, and 10-12 minutes is pretty standard. But this is still enough for a short letter at this age! Focus on the positive: “Wow, you were really concentrating there,”—and aim for good feelings. Remember: you want this to become a happy habit.
- Having trouble? Try sharing! Remember when your kid was smaller, and you’d take dictation? Now, as you help your child build skills, try this variation: take turns. On the day of a newly lost tooth, for example, a child may say “I wiggled it for hours,” and you might add “I was practically ready to take my pliers and yank!”
- Don’t fuss about edits. In school your child will be learning about early editing strategies. If he or she wants to practice them at home, that’s great…but don’t push it. What’s most important at this stage is to encourage kids to produce plenty of words, to take risks, and to enjoy the process. And besides, who ever heard of little kids’ writing that didn’t have a few truly adorable mistakes?
If all goes well, you’ll have a second grader who just can’t wait to write. But if you’re not at that stage yet, don’t worry. Writing takes practice, practice, practice, and when you create safe, nurturing happy adventures with it, you’re giving your kid a shot at developing a crucial life-long skill. Plus, with a stack of one-of-a-kind letters, you can expect a pretty thrilled Grandma, too.
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