Sunday, June 14, 2015

Question: How do I inspire my child to write?

It starts with a simple sentence.

Some of my most enjoyable moments were teaching a five-session writing class to elementary students. This is an age where their imaginations are getting broader and more inventive. This is the best time to get them to write those wonderful thoughts down on paper. But not every child I had was very excited to write.

My very first class had nine students, one of whom did not want to be there. On his first day he was adamant that his parents signed him up for the wrong class. I assured him that he was right where he should be and that he would have a great time writing. I could tell he didn’t believe me. The first and second classes were unproductive with respect to this student. While every other student was in their second drafts, he still hadn’t created a single sentence.

And then during the third class meeting, something amazing happened. There was a break in the lesson plan and all the kids were having conversations about their stories. One child made a joke about something, and another child elaborated on it. I let the conversation continue into lesson time, because the joke had somehow morphed into a communal story, with every child adding to the plot – including my writing-resistant student. In fact, he was the most ardent adder to the story, and his fellow classmates would encourage his input by complementing his version with their own.

I finally called the class to order and had them continue working on their current drafts. I then knelt beside my reluctant student’s chair and said, “You added incredible elements to the story you were all sharing. I would love to hear the end of it.” His eyes lit up and he started to talk about his ideas, but I interrupted him. “Wait, wait, I’m going to forget this great story. I need you to write it down so that I can remember it.” And with that, he wrote his story, first draft to finished product.  And it truly was a wonderfully imaginative story with much humor and adventure.

If you have a child who absolutely hates to write, it’s because they haven’t yet found the story that demands to be remembered. And the more you push them to write, the more they may not want to do it.  So what can you do?

Let’s take this from a reluctant writer’s point of view. Writing is boring. There are so many other things he or she could be doing than sitting at a desk with a paper and a pencil. The reluctant writer has not yet discovered the meaning of writing, which is to have fun with your imagination, to go places you haven’t been. But it all starts with a simple sentence.

Be a role model. If you are a reader and a writer, then your child will be, too. Start with a sentence. Sit with him or her and write a letter to a far-off family member, write a journal entry about what you did today. Write a grocery list. Find as many excuses as you can to model writing behavior.

Encourage writing. Encourage your child to write down his thoughts whenever he has something exciting to talk about. Tell him that something so exciting should be written down so it isn’t forgotten. Start with a sentence. And then have him read what he wrote to you, even if it is only one sentence. Never mind if the grammar or spelling is not perfect. It doesn’t have to be, until he is ready to share it with a critical group (such as his class or for a writing contest). My mantra is “as long as I can read it.”  Let your child know that it’s okay to have imperfect writing. He will have time to improve on his writing as he learns to revise and edit his work. And if only he will see his work, what does it matter if he didn’t spell “especially” right.

Embrace technology. Lastly, teach your child to use a computer. When a child has lots to write about, it can be discouraging when her hand starts to hurt. Teach her to type so she can write her story using a word processing program. Teach her how to save her work, and teach her to create new drafts to edit, instead of editing her original work.

Start with a simple sentence. Your child may only want to write a sentence or two without grumbling. But as writing becomes a daily adventure rather than a chore, those sentences will come together into a story of his or her own. Be a writing role model and give encouragement any chance you get. Your child will eventually have that “aha” moment and will want to write about it.

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