Once they catch on, look out!
A theme that is coming through Facebook, email, and phone calls is this:
“My kids are getting it!”
What are they getting? That what is going on inside (their mind life) deserves a home on paper. As parents hear their children’s thoughts expressed in oral language and help those thoughts get to paper, more and more kids take the risk to cut out the parent-step and try it for themselves.
It’s crazy, really. We spend all this time explaining how important writing is, we tell them to follow X model or imitate Aesop or just write three lines, and they show us their sad, uncooperative faces instead. The brilliance of their quirky personalities is hidden behind attempts to sound like someone else, and they look to us to tell us what is still wrong with that effort. Everyone is demoralized.
Yet if we flip the script—start hearing what our kids are saying in that spontaneous not-school moment, jot down what they say out of our own enthusiasm to preserve the insight, thought, joke, or snatch of story—they perk up.
This is what you wanted me to write? is the thought.
You think what I have to say is important enough to write on paper? is the next thought.
Young children, especially, will respond with, “Well in that case” behaviors. They will scratch images and misspelled words onto sheets of paper laying around the house, trying to impress you again! You will be impressed. This child who “didn’t know what to write” suddenly has things to say… on paper!
The spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of the words will seem so much less important (and rightly so) when you see the child taking such initiative. Your only task is to fan the flame! Enthuse, supply cool writing utensils, create little booklets (paper folded in half, stapled between a sheet of construction paper), and READ the results aloud to the child and anyone else in the family who will listen.
The momentum this process creates is entirely different than required writing at a desk every day.
A couple necessary caveats:
1. For reluctant writers who don’t trust you (because they feel the weight of pressure coming from you), adopt a bored gaze (this is for parents whose kids get suspicious when they effuse too much). When you hear them expressing, show enthusiasm and jot it down. But when they write on their own, simply acknowledge it matter-of-factly and then ask hours later if you can read it. Ask plainly without over stating how proud you are so there is room for this child to enthuse or even dislike his own work. Then, when you do read it, praise the content by engaging it—”I love how the princess gets out of trouble” or “I didn’t know that about amphibians.”
2. Writing programs that teach kids to copy (imitate) other writers, if used too much, sometimes stunt the writing voice. Initially your young writer may look like he or she is imitating a style more than showing his or her natural writing voice. Time will heal this, the more you support and encourage the natural speaking voice to show up on paper by capturing and recording it.
3. Pictures are writing too! Any attempt to symbolize language is writing. So if a child is writing “picture books,” without words, affirm the child as writer! As we know, there are loads of wordless books on the market (we find them in libraries). Ask your child to “read” the book back to you. You’ll discover so much thought life and language happening in those pictures. As the child gains skill, words will begin to emerge too.
4. Passion for writing comes in bursts. It’s a creative activity. A child may write 16 little books in a month and then nothing for 6 months. Do not treat writing like an onerous task. Treat it like the creative outlet that it is! You can always gin up more enthusiasm for writing by changing the setting (write somewhere else, use new utensils, add brownies, change the time of day to write).
5. Read what they write during the read aloud time. Put the finished products in the library basket and read them each day. Most kids love this! Those who don’t, honor their choice to not be read aloud.
Above all: value what your kids express and get some of it into writing.