“He’s not growing!”

In fourth grade, I made my annual trek to the doctor for my physical. Each year, the moment arrived when the doc would line me up against the ruler mounted on his office wall to measure me. I was short. Excruciatingly short. Marking my growth helped me cope. But in fourth grade, I discovered to my horror: I had grown only a quarter of an inch! In the years that followed, my bone growth was scanned, I was put on thyroid while both parents and doctors wrung their hands wondering when I’d finally get on with it and grow.

It took awhile. My friends had long since settled into their adult heights when my body finally kicked into gear. Partway through my junior year, I became ravenous. Five meals a day, snacks between. 18 months later, I had added six inches to my petite stature!

What’s this got to do with writing? Sometimes I hear from moms who are worried. They’ve been with Brave Writer for a year or more. They see little progress. They measure last year’s writing against this year’s and have that swooping stomach sensation: He isn’t growing. I don’t see progress. But maybe he is. Maybe this is just a year of the quarter inch growth? Maybe he’s simply storing up all that energy, accumulated during the slow years for a great big burst of dramatic, lots of writing products growth that startles you with its suddenness?

I’ve noticed that when I’ve backed off of writing with a child who shows reluctance or intimidation, have kept reading aloud, conversed and chatted with him regularly, and continued the basics: handwriting/copywork/dictation, eventually writing growth happens and often happens in a burst! Six inches of growth in a year! Writing isn’t a linear process. It’s the slow accumulation of internal confidence (things to say, ways to say them) and mechanical competence. Those sometimes grow steadily, over time, without much evidence of big spurts of development. But in many cases, the growth is imperceptible until one day: Bam! The stars align and those pesky mispellings disappear. Words flow and insight develops. When that happens, it’s a relief. But just know, it was coming all along.

6 Responses to ““He’s not growing!””

  1. Kika says:

    I don’t know why, but this post made me want to cry. Somehow it manages to crawl inside a parent and pull out the inner angst and pressures we feel, always wondering what’ll become of our precious children; if they’ll “turn out well”; if we’re doing everything we can for them… How I love this blog. There are a couple others that I greatly appreciate, but none have inspired me to the same degree that Bravewriter has. Thanks for sharing from your life and experience.

  2. I have had the wonderful opportunity of teaching junior high and high school writing classes. Often on the first day of our large co-op classes at the high school level, I would spy a familiar name of a student whom I had taught 3-4 years before and internally I groaned. Oh, no! Not this student! She had never caught onto how to fix comma splices after a whole year of intensive work on both of our parts.

    But lo and behold! The same “hopeless” kids I had torn my hair out over when they were in 7th-8th grades had somehow or other become interesting, intriguing writers. They now had opinions, stuff to say. Yes, we still had the occasional comma splice, but the overall quality of writing was practically mind-blowing.

    So give them time. Let them read, read, read. Talk about current events, books, movies, plays, video games, Facebook, and other interests with them. Listen to their opinions.

    The MLA class I just taught here on Brave Writer had some incredibly strong opinions. They wrote on topics they were passionate about: locavorism (eating locally-grown foods), gay adoptions, Beowulf as Christian literature, effect of the church when legalized in Roman Empire, water needs in third world countries, the automobile industry’s part in the Great Depression, and the advantages of solar power. I have been so impressed by these high school students’ passion, dedication, work ethic, and powers of argument. These students ranged from age 15 to 18, and they were uniformly thoughtful, perceptive, and thorough. I was and am very impressed.

    I’ve found the same with my own kids, especially my boys — all reluctant writers. I’m seeing them develop ideas and opinions and talk about politics and history, science and literature. And it’s beginning to trickle and translate into their writing, slowly but quite surely.

    It just takes time. And some maturity. That’s why I don’t push formal writing until 6th-7th grade and don’t really expect much originality of thought until grades 9-10. We have to give our kids lots to think about, chew on, consider, so that they have stuff to pull on when writing assignments come their way.

    If we provide the raw material, they will write. 🙂

  3. Marcy says:

    Again,reassurance comes through! The swooping stomach description was right on target – it still comes and goes, but I’ve learned to slow down, breathe and read your blog!!

  4. Lori D. says:

    Hi Julie, I was wondering if you could do a blog post about your Help for High School product and when people should start looking at doing that and how it fits in with the Bravewriter Lifestyle. My 14 year old son is not still a strong writer (physically) but your Bravewriter philosophy has certainly made him feel more relaxed about writing and most important for me expressing his writer’s voice. We are looking at “high school” next year and I really don’t see myself changing a lot – we are planning lots of reading, researching, discussing and some writing but again mostly with the intent that his writer’s voice shines through. I admit I do feel the preassure to succumb to a “rigourous” writing curriculum for high school but know that it would just end in disaster so hopefully an entry from you about breathing deep for high school will help. Thanks for all you do – love everything about Bravewriter!

  5. Anne T. says:

    I, too, was reassured and inspired by this post. Thanks, Julie.

    My daughter’s development comes in surprising bursts, usually about two weeks after I start asking “I wonder if something is wrong? When will she ever…(fill in the blank)?”

    When her friends starting reading before her, I just remembered that there is a lot more to literacy than reading. My husband and I read books for hours every day, we told stories, she put on plays, she drew endlessly. She was curious, articulate, and content. Right before she got the mechanics of reading print she spent all her time outside on the monkey bars, back and forth, hand over hand. I believe that she intuitively knew that she needed that right side, left side movement.
    And then one day, she could read! It wasn’t a gradual, evenly paced process. She went from barely being able to sound out a word, to reading whole paragraphs. Someone told me there is a name for kids who bypass phonics and go fluent reading. That was her.
    Brave Writer reminds us to relax and look at the bigger picture. We are taking the Kids Write Basic course now. I already appreciate the positive, gentle guidance the instructor has provided.
    Reading this blog is like taking a big, deep breath and feeling your whole body relax. So simple, but we sometimes need reminders to do that. Thanks, Julie for your wise and gentle words.

  6. We had a similar experience with our daughter about 6 years ago, but with learning to read. She was in Kindergarten, and we kept reading to her and trying to help her understand what the letters meant. We were frustrated and wondered if she’d ever learn how to read.

    Then, one day, something clicked. And our daughter became the ravenous bookworm that she is today.

    The same has been true for her in math and science.

    I wonder if this is how parenting is meant to be in general and am reminded of the Proverb that says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and in the end he will not turn from it.” Give our kids the tools they need, nurture and continue doing so, to help them find their own way. Eventually they will.