Yes, it is enough
I got a call from a sweet mom of three (8, 6, and toddler). She had ordered Arrow and Jot it Down, and her question was one I imagine many of you have. Here it is:
“If I do the Brave Writer Lifestyle—watch a movie once a week with my kids, go on nature hikes, read books aloud, have poetry teatimes, do copywork and dictation each week, enjoy art, play with language, jot down the cute things my kids say, do the one writing project per month pace with them, talk to my kids—is that really enough?”
My answer: “Yes. It’s enough.”
Here’s why. Growth in writing is not all that different from growth in speech. It’s doubly difficult, however (you have to coordinate two competing parts of the brain for mechanics control and idea/thought generation). So I like to say it takes five years to become fluent in speech and ten to become fluent in writing. If you start your writing life in earnest at age 8, fluency will “kick in” at age 18.
In the meantime, remind yourself how you led your children to become fluent speakers. Remember? You talked with them. You modeled speech, you celebrated their misspoken words, you put them in contact with lots of native speakers, you gently corrected them when they flipped around words or syllables, or when they picked the wrong tense or nominalized a verb with the wrong suffix. You gave them literal sentences to say when it mattered to you that they got it right (like how to answer the phone or thank Grandma for the gift). You did all of this naturally, without thinking! And your kids turned into fluent speakers.
Naturally writing has components that speech doesn’t. That’s why it takes longer. But the style of instruction can mirror what you did in speech. You can enthusiastically share writing with your kids (reading it aloud), you can teach your kids to read. You will converse with them about the stuff that matters to them and jot some of it down. You will enthusiastically share what they write with others. You will show them how valuable it is to copy the writing of professional authors to get a feel for the competent use of language, to become familiar with punctuation conventions, to gradually improve handwriting coordination and dexterity.
You can make writing a meaningful part of your life right in front of your kids—leaving notes, making lists, sending texts, writing blogs and emails and letters, journaling, signing cards… You can choose to live your writing life in front of your kids every day and help them to emulate what you do.
When you include movies, art, television, nature, and poetry in their literacy diets, they find themselves:
- thinking in story-form,
- attending to nuanced vocabulary,
- paying attention to theme and subtext (unconsciously, but nevertheless doing it).
This really is enough. Scratch that. It is more than enough. It is what works. In fact, it works so well, it continues to depress me that writing isn’t taught this way everywhere.
What isn’t enough is…
- memorizing rules and detaching mastery of mechanics from meaningful communication.
- hammering home assignment after assignment, without a child’s invested interest.
- assuming that once your children can handwrite, they should be able to write fluently with spelling correct and complete content without any help from you.
- assuming that grades and red marks teach a child to write.
- “doing” writing during “school” but not valuing it during the rest of the day.
- expecting a child to write well just because that child is 10 or 13 or 16!
Vocabulary building comes through language play, reading widely, and listening to trained actors (and other adults) use it well.
Writing skill comes from practicing the skills of writing without regard for scopes and sequence, but through repeated opportunities to explore language in writing (without pressure, with care and conversation).
So yes. This works. This Brave Writer Lifestyle is just the name I give for what ought to be a natural (mostly) process of instruction. Brave Writer exists to support you in that process (like a book on breast feeding helps you to nurse your infant more successfully even though breast feeding is a natural process).
A life richly textured with a love of words, supported by parents who model and explain how the writing process happens inside a person’s head and hands, embellished by lively experiences that foster a craving to share thoughts, memories, and insights with others leads to quality writing.
Oh, and the Internet. You can’t forget what a powerful tool it is in the development of writing fluency. The single best writing machine out there – even if sometimes you pick up a bad writing habit or two. The benefits of writing on the Internet far outweigh the disadvantages.
So there you have it!
- Play with words.
- Get some of them to the page.
- Marvel at the words of others.
- Copy some of them.
- Get out into the world of language (art, nature, film, plays, poetry).
- Celebrate writing in your daily life.
- Be fascinated by the mind life of your child (more than impressed by mastery of some format).
- Read and write online.
- Model and support the journey from thought to word to page to revised idea to polished copy.
By 18, you’ll have a fluent, competent writer.
It really is that simple!
Thank you for this. You are building my confidence. Thank you also for the poetry teatime idea…since we began a few weeks ago, my boys (age 5 and 3) have not let me skip a day.
That’s great if we have 10 years, but we don’t. We have 5 and 7 years before they are off to college. Is there a modified Brave Writer lifestyle we can adopt to make up for lost time?
I posted a high school version the next day on FB so it should show up here soon. 🙂
Actually, Erin, looks like that post I mentioned is scheduled for October 24. However, it is still on Facebook. I dug up the link for you: