One of Mr. T’s favorite things to do is to tell me a story, and have me write it down. Actually, he’s been adding on to the same story for months now–Scritch and Scratch, about a boy and a girl turned into wolves who have many adventures in space.
Yesterday he was jumping out of his skin when he realized that he had a new story to begin, about a boy named Todding Toddington and his adventures in an alternate world, which other people can’t see. It’s part of what he’s calling The Series of Wonders. (And you know his Wonder Farm mama is lapping that up.)
Mr. T would be happy if I’d take his story dictation every day–even several times a day. But I don’t. It’s time-consuming. And it’s tedious. But I try to get to it a couple of times a week because it brings him such joy. And, I realize, he learns an awful lot about writing in the process.
As prone as I am to making teachable moments of every gosh-darned thing, I try not to lapse into teaching mode when I take down his stories. I don’t say in my Dana-Carvey-as-The-Church-Lady voice, See how I start each sentence with a capital? or Did you notice how I spelled this word? Nope, I just write down what he tells me, and ask for clarification when I’m honestly curious about something.
Still, he’s learning so very much every time we do this. Yesterday I tried to take note of what he was picking up:
- He knows that sentences end with punctuation, because whenever he continues a sentence that I thought he’d finished, he sees me erase the punctuation and add it later.
- He knows that exciting sentences end with exclamation marks.
- He knows how to use quotation marks because he sees me do this whenever one of his characters talks. He’s also learned how to add he said or she exclaimed in the most dramatic places in the dialogue. I assume he’s picked this up from being read to, and from listening to audio books.
- He knows that titles are centered on the page and capitalized. He’s even noticed that minor words like of and the don’t get capitalized.
- He knows about starting new paragraphs when the story shifts gears. Often he’ll tell me to “start down here now” when he’s ready to move on in the piece. Paragraphing is something that’s often hard for much older kids to grasp; Mr. T has intuited it by watching where I add paragraphs in his stories. Often I’ll simply ask him, “Do you think we should start a new paragraph now? Is the scene changing?”
- In his story yesterday, Todding Toddington found a piece of paper with a poem on it. As I wrote down his poem, Mr. T said, “Shouldn’t it be slantways ’cause it’s a poem?” I realized he meant that part should be written in italics; I’m not even sure where he picked that up. So I erased it and wrote it in cursive.
- In his story one character said to another, “Are you a windquist?” I asked Mr. T what a windquist was, and I pointed out that his reader might wonder. So he said, “This is the narrator talking now,” and he defined a windquist. I said, “I’ll make a new paragraph, since we’re switching to the narrator.”
- He narrated the sentence, “At that second a giant thing of wind blew into the room.” I’m all for writing down lines as he says them, but if he uses vague words like thing, I’ll often check to see if he can come up with a better one. He struggled with finding the right word, so I became his thesaurus and suggested a few: blast, gust. Yes! Gust was just what he wanted.
My hand and my attention usually peter out after two pages or so. It would be easier to type his dictation into the computer, but I don’t think it would allow him to notice what I’m writing quite as well. Watching me erase and rewrite as we go seems to be a tangible learning experience for him. And allowing him to watch me write seems like a natural bridge to his writing himself eventually.
I love the thought that my kids have never needed grammar instruction; they’ve picked up the tools of writing by loving to write. Even if it meant that, for a long time, I was the one doing the physical writing.
As I was writing this post early this morning, Mr. T woke up. His first words to me: “What are we doing today? Will you write my story?”