They have a story to tell. In the car, in the grocery store, while you are trying to cook dinner. Your child is narrating a story – sometimes real, sometimes pretend. And she wants you to listen. But when it comes time to actually put these stories down on paper and do some “writing”, she balks.
“When our students resist writing,” explains Lucy Calkins in her book The Art of Teaching Writing, “it’s usually because writing has been treated as little more than a place to display – to expose – their command of spelling, penmanship, and grammar.” Calkins encourages teachers and parents to help students move beyond those notions and begin to get their ideas and thoughts down on paper.
So how can you encourage your child at home to blossom into the young author that you know he is?
- Encourage reading. Every author is a reader first. Help your child find books in different genres about a variety of topics.
- Give him the supplies he needs. Many children are drawn to a writing corner: a shelf or desk filled with staplers, various sized notepads, and a variety of pens and pencils. Add post-it notes for making lists, scissors and tape, construction paper, and hardback journals or composition books.
- Model writing for your child by letting him see you write thank-you letters, make to-do lists, and outline projects at home.
- Don’t rule out art! Many kids like to draw pictures of their stories and later add words. Illustrations are a great way to tell a story and can be a great beginning to writing practice. Don’t assume your child is just wasting time drawing. Instead, help him turn those pictures into a story. Show him some graphic novels or simple picture books and let him feel inspired.
- Journal, journal, journal. Let your child see you writing in a journal and encourage her to do the same. Emphasize that a journal can be a place for anything – the lyrics of his favorite song, a joke she thought was funny, or a way to express her feelings about something going on in her life.
- Forget about the mechanics. It’s tempting to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But that’s exactly why kids turn away from writing. Let your child express what she has to say without worrying about writing rules. Those things can be polished up later in an editing stage, if the piece comes to that.
- Keep a family story book. Write down those bedtime yarns you create for your kids each night (that's how The Hobbit came into being!). And encourage them to make up stories they can dictate to you. This helps them to form stories without the pressure of actually writing them down.
- Take an interest. When he brings you the story he has written, forget about the general “Great job, son!” reply. Instead, ask questions about what you are reading. Your interested dialogue can help him to develop and stretch his story even more.
“The thing that makes us human is our ability to tell stories,” says Jane Yolen, author of many wonderful books including Owl Moon and How Does a Dinosaur Say Good Night. “When children learn to yoke that ability with writing, they become more perceptive, more intuitive, more logical thinkers.”
Helping your child get her ideas down on paper will not only help her succeed in school, but it will be something you will both have to look back on and enjoy for years to come.