Raising a Writer
Strategies to Grow the Writer Within Your Child
Helping your child learn to write is a process of little things a parent can initiate, and repeat often, to help set a lifelong wheel in motion.
Suggestions for the very young:
- Learning to read and write are intimately entwined. Read with your children every chance you get. Take books along on errands, on picnics, day outings and camping trips. Pick up a book at the grocery store that your child can browse through while you shop. Look for letters that he can recognize in the newspaper, and highlight them. Then, lavish praise. Even if your child is just pretending to read.
- Model reading and writing. Write your child notes to stick in her daycare snack. Hide them for her to find, fly them on paper airplanes, print them in a sandbox, etch them in clay, make alphabet cookies to shape into words that your child can eat, or better yet, have her make you eat your words! Beyond the joy of receiving her very own message, this will motivate your child to want to read and write.
- Joanne Raveney, a home-schooling mother says: “Help your child write his own messages. “Thank-you,” “Happy Birthday” and “I love you” are a start. Let your three- or four-year old trace over your letters, or hold his hand as he follows a sample. Then watch his delight as you re-read what he wrote!
- The Montessori Method advocates teaching writing early on. Dr. Maria Montessori observed kids in the slums of early twentieth century Rome writing anywhere they could: on floors, chairs, walls, etc. Rather than interpreting this as misbehavior, she recognized the strong interest that even very young children have in writing. She then countered the
prevailing practice of teaching reading before writing by providing opportunities for children to write, even to those who hadn’t yet mastered reading, and designed metal insets to provide appealing opportunities for practice.
Print or Cursive?
The Montessori method teaches cursive scripting, almost skipping the standard printing stage, for the following reasons:
- The fine motor skill ability for printing and cursive writing is the same, and since cursive writing is the ultimate goal it makes sense to use classroom time in preschool through second grade to teach writing. This allows children to acquire the practice needed for writing skills to become automatic before other curricular areas crowd their learning time and writing demands grow.
- The spacing of cursive writing is easier for the young child. Words are connected, and spaces are in between each word.
- Scripting is more natural because it uses one continuous motion, instead of the stop and go motions of printing, therefore it encourages the real purpose behind writing: focusing on the creative flow of thoughts as opposed to focusing the child’s energy on forming the written letters.
- Ask your child to dictate a letter or email to a distant relative. Read her words back to her, then read the answer when it comes.
- Have him write about the stories he reads.
- Allow “creative spelling,” if it helps get the flow going.
- Use magnetic letters on your appliances.
- Use pictures to make up a story with your child, asking questions about the pictures.
- Nadine Shannon, a TEFL (Teacher of Foreign Language) specialist, applies the “pass the parcel” game concept to story writing. For several children, use a long sheet of paper and give one to each child. Have them write the name of, say, a girl, then fold that section of the paper and pass to the next child. Then have them write the name of a person that girl met, then fold and pass. One step at a time, you can have the children add descriptions and actions for the protagonists, until the kids have had enough prompts to get a story going. Let them fly with it for a set time, then each child can unfold their paper and read the story on their sheet.
- Shannon says that though each story has to have a beginning, a middle and an ending, it doesn’t necessarily have to be written in that order. The “pass the paper” game can be played to think up a fun end, then a middle, then the beginning.
- Raveney uses treasure hunts, diaries and writing groups to help motivate her older kids.
Tips for kindergartners through first graders:
Ideas for older children:
Finally, Dorothy Ann Walker, writer and literary agent, speaks of the time when she taught elementary grades: “I encourage kids to learn which markets take kids’ work, so they learn the ‘send it off with a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) routine, and acceptance does make kids feel wonderful. Two of my fourth grade students had poetry accepted one year, and it was an inspiration to all my students. For older students, I always say, ‘Writing is five percent inspiration and 95 percent perspiration.’ In other words, it takes work. Good work isn’t just written, it’s re-written. And I re-phrase the old saying, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN