Helping Children Become Strong Writers
Just letting kids write with no rules is a great way to help them learn to express their thoughts on paper. Julie Bogart recommends this 8-day technique.
Day 1: Set a timer for 5 minutes. Everyone (parents or teachers too) writes until the timer goes off. There are no rules other than writing. When finished, children can read what they wrote if they want to. If not, the paper goes into a manila envelope.
Day 2- 7: Repeat, adding time if desired. The only one allowed to read the child’s writing is the child.
Day 8: Get out all the papers. If the child chooses, she can edit one of the papers, or expand what she wrote. She can choose to read any of them to you. If she doesn’t like any of them, she can crumple them up and throw them away.
The idea behind this exercise is to allow kids to write without worrying about the rules of writing. Giving children the choice of whether or not to show the adults really empowers children to own their writing.
Write down your kids’ ideas
Julie suggests capturing your child’s thoughts. When kids come in the room with a great idea—write it down! Capturing their words on paper turns that child into a writer. Save and re-read what they wrote.
As a child, my mom would frequently write down stories that we wrote, or letters to other people. She would write them word for word, and they are a treasure for our family. The only way to capture those memories is if an adult writes them down. As children, we all knew we could write stories—because we already had! My mom would also let us illustrate our own words, making our very own simple books. This sets children up for success in writing at a young age.
Write as a family
How can you implement writing as a family? Are there times designated for your family to write?
With our kids, we often sit down together and get out everyone’s journal. We all write in the same room. Kids will often call out, “How do you spell…” or ask for details about an even that we attended. With our youngest children, they use our family writing time to draw pictures. When they are done, they bring their journal to me and tell me what the picture is, so I can write down the words to go with it.
My family would also play writing games when I was young. One of these required us to write the first part of story in a certain amount of time (usually a minute or two). Then we would fold over the paper so just the last few words were showing. The papers were passed to the next person, who would add on the story. We ended up with crazy and fun stories—and we were all writing!
Don’t be too quick to correct
There is a time and a place for correcting our children’s writing. However, as parents, if we are more concerned with the mechanics of our children’s writing, they will focus on the structure and the mechanics, instead of focusing on getting their thoughts out on paper.
Spelling and punctuation will come with practice, but before rushing in to correct, ask yourself if it is necessary. Is this a paper that will be graded? Is it unreadable as is? Or would we do better as parents to appreciate the intention behind the writing and focus on the mechanics another time?
Realize that children's writing mechanics will lag behind speech
Julie Bogart points out that children’s writing mechanics lags behind their speech. That means that they have wonderful thoughts and ideas inside, but may not have the necessary skills to get them out on paper. Understanding this as parents and educators, we can work first to help them express themselves, and then continue to coach children on the writing mechanics, and recognize those skills will grow.
All writing is creative
Whether writing an essay or an email, all writing is about expressing thoughts and getting those thoughts out where others can read them. When children are young, and first learning to write, we can choose to focus on letting their inner voices out. Free writing, writing down kids’ ideas, and writing as a family are some ways to allow children a safe learning environment. In addition, as we focus less on correcting, and realize that children’s writing skills will continue to grow, we can enjoy the process of our child learning to become a writer.