Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tricks that Encourage Young Writers

I often hear from homeschooling moms who ask me how to motivate their kids to write and to enjoy writing. What is the trick, they want to know. There are a number of things that could contribute to their dilemma and many ways they can begin to implement good habits leading toward inspiring children to enjoy writing.

Writers learn by writing.

Perhaps young students have been pressured into writing before they were ready. Maybe the required writing activities held no real interest or meaning to the child. A lack of a good read-aloud diet and good oral skills could be the cause of immature language development. Kids are not made from a cookie cutter mold but there are some tricks (if you prefer to call them that) that will help your students become more interested and engaged in writing pursuits. Let's look at these closer.

Writers are comfortable writing.

Writing is hard work. Kids need plenty of time to get comfortable with writing—even the use of a crayon or pencil. Aren't most little kids pleased as punch with their new discovery in drawing (writing): You find your child's pictorial portrait on the wall or creative signature on the side of the house, crayon marks on the curtains, and marker stains on clothes and skin, etc. But some kids haven't had enough time to develop before they are suddenly required to make these neat little lines and circles and stay between the lines—and it's simply boring. Boring to those that already have a good grasp on things and boring and frustrating for those just starting to form letters and understand the process. Don't rush the process too soon if met with defiance.

When my guys were small most of them had a great vocabulary but slowly emerging writing skills. We did a lot of oral narration. I would write down what they dictated to me. This could be in the format of a letter to Grandma, a story that we made into a book, or a funny poem to be shared or just a retelling of something they learned or experienced. Oral "writing" is a prelude to the writing process. Once they get good at oral communication, the next step is getting what's in their brain onto their paper. Copywork can be used effectively here, as they copy what you have written down for them.

Writing takes patience and lots of practice. The best writers tell us the more they write the better they write. Give your kids time to practice their wonderful new language skills with plenty of encouragement. Help them brainstorm for ideas when appropriate. Editing is also a major part of writing which they learn as they go, but be careful, too much criticism too soon will only backfire. Let them get those thoughts down without worrying about spelling and correct punctuation just yet. Find positive things to say about a funny word or interesting thought or sentence that they used. Keep the atmosphere a lighthearted one.

Writers are good readers.

I mentioned a read-aloud diet. The avid reader is most always a better writer; they go hand in hand. I found this to be true in my own family. My oldest son learned to read early at age five, was fluent by seven, and adored reading. He was also a natural writer. The two middle boys were late readers who weren't fluent until ages 10 and 11. My last son was sort of average and in between the others but he was slower in language development—it just did not come easily to him. For all the boys, reading aloud offered them the ability to hear the words and gain proper grammar and excellent language syntax in which to base their internal linguistic processes. It all certainly pays off big time in creating a love for the written word and its capabilities. Kids who are not read to often and who may be less than great readers will most certainly be far behind their peers who are.

Writers are curious minded, and good communicators with many interests.

What excites your child and what interests do they have? How can you develop these into a writing passion? You don't want to stifle your child's natural curiosity and many kids get turned off in school subjects by having to digest and spit back endless amounts of information that have no real interest or meaning to them. I don't know who makes up those elementary scope and sequence charts or who writes those snippety texts, but I refused to follow their classroom focus. Instead search out real living exciting books that grab interest. Look for colorful language and stimulating detail about the subject matter. Let them get their hands dirty. It could make a huge difference in how your children view learning and their desire to learn more and to express themselves through words and writing about those interests. Hey, if you haven't given lapbooks a try, I highly encourage you to give it a whirl.

Writers write for a reason.

My boys always wanted to know the relevancy behind what I asked them to do. It wasn't good enough if I said, "because I said so," plus I could see their point. Why not make the things I asked them to do useful? What is relevant? How can I turn this writing assignment into something useful in the real world? After all, isn't that what I was preparing them for—the real world?

Writers need an audience.

Everyone has something to say, in their own unique voice. Keeping a journal is wonderful in and of itself and I certainly encourage kids to do this, however, it makes a big difference when they are able to share their writing and impact an audience other than themselves. Getting feedback on a job well done is important and the encouragement will spur them on to continue writing and consider other projects. There are many ways to do this, from reading a paper to Dad and sending a thank-you note, to getting a poem published in a magazine, or even publishing your own E-Book.

Over the years we made homemade books, wrote book reviews ( and the local newspaper), started the Homeschool Gazette and participated in other newsletters for kids, wrote letters to family, sent anonymous Scripture notecards, made scrapbook pages, narrated, participated in homeschool classes, blogged, entered contests, wrote letters to the editor, made up written tests for friends and family, acted out stories, gave oral presentations, participated in a local theater workshop and wrote play scripts, wrote letters to companies about their products, and much more.

Writing is habit forming. 

Make it special, make it fun, and write everyday if possible. Enjoy, and remember that parents should share what they write with their children also. That's one of the best models children can have, to see Mom and Dad enthusiastically engaged in writing.

Writing is not a school activity, it's a lifestyle habit that is necessary, pleasurable, and rewarding.

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