My fourth grade assignment was simple: "Write a composition about an adventure you've had or would like to have."
What wasn't so simple was my teacher's response when I turned in a thirty-some page essay on "My Trip to the Moon," beginning with Chapter One. Even my inexperienced eyes could tell that Ms. Foster was fighting laughter when she said that teachers who receive looooong (not just long) assignments to correct can't possibly go on dates to the movies. I didn't get the dating part, but the rest stung enough to stay etched in my memory...
So much for a valiant first effort! Yet here I am, still writing and trying to instill that passion in my own family, four children and dozens of rejection slips later. Joining the marching armies that have graduated from engraving on stone, to drawing on papyrus, to dipping their feathers in ink, to splaying their fingers on a keyboard. And hoping that my kids, too, will one day have an outlet that allows them to sift through jumbled thoughts, finding the words that'll give their thoughts form, shape, and body, until a connection is made between what grows inside and the outer world. Even if they don't develop that passion, I still want them to learn how to coherently express their thoughts on paper.
Why Is Writing Important?
Most kids lose interest in an activity if they can't figure out an immediate application for it. Trying to imagine a world where nobody ever wrote anything, where the passing of knowledge and spiritual beliefs was limited to the boundaries of human memory, where each inventor would have had to start from scratch during their lifetime raises an interesting specter of possibilities. Or limitations!
The first thing kids need to know is that communication of expression and knowledge starts with writing. It is the place where written history began being recorded, where contracts and business deals continue to be made and broken, where news anchors prepare their broadcasts, where essays determine which graduate school kids will attend...They'll get the "context applications" picture well before I reach page thirty on my trip to the moon assignment!
What Does This Mean to Parents?
Primarily, we need to be aware that it doesn't matter which career our children eventually choose, they need to learn to write. Writing isn't a skill that's acquired spontaneously, it's one that is taught and developed with practice, vocabulary-building exercises, and an ongoing association with books and words.
This raises two immediate questions:
- How to raise a writer? Particularly when trying to teach a kid to write can make a parent feel like the salmon struggling to go upstream while fighting torrential currents of downstream television, computer games, sports, social activities, video games and arcades. And again, how can parents fit what may seem like a monumental task into days that are already overflowing with activities and chores?
- When? What's a "good," appropriate age to start?