Back in January, I wrote a rambling, terribly earnest post titled How Does a Child REALLY Learn to Write? That post generated a slew of thoughtful and heartfelt comments. It also managed to capture the attention of Wendy Priesnitz, editor of the always insightful Life Learning Magazine, who asked to reprint it. Since the original post was a bit off-the-cuff and, well, bloggy, I rewrote parts of it for publication. The first half, in fact, was completely reorganized into a list of what kids don’t need to write–a nice counterpoint, I thought, to the original conclusion of what kids do need.
Since the article morphed so substantially from the blog post–and since Life Learning Magazine has moved on to its May/June edition–I though I’d share it here.
Bonus points for those who answer the questions posed at the end.
HOW DO KIDS REALLY LEARN TO WRITE?
Originally published in Life Learning Magazine, March/April 2012
I have some radical notions about how kids can become writers.
These notions didn’t come from my school experiences as a kid, or my years as an elementary school teacher. They came, instead, from fifteen years spent homeschooling with my own kids—now nineteen, sixteen and ten—and watching them become writers. They come from a dozen years of facilitating writer’s workshops for homeschoolers—a dozen years of word-tinkering with kids. They come from twenty years spent trying to make a writer of myself.
Writing is an area that seems to prickle at the doubts of homeschooling parents—even the most radical unschoolers. How can kids learn a skill as complicated as writing if it isn’t forced upon them? Here’s what my kids and my experiences have taught me.
What kids DON’T need to become writers:
Kids don’t need to master the mechanical skills of writing before developing voices as writers.
So much “writing” time in school is spent learning the mechanics of writing: penmanship, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Often, these skills are emphasized over developing written self-expression. The how of writing takes precedence over the what; words-on-paper skills matter more than what a child has to say. Schools push kids to write at six and seven because written communication helps teachers track the progress of twenty to thirty students. There’s no reason for a homeschooled child to take on these skills at such a young age. Learning to write is hard, perhaps one of the most challenging tasks a young person will undertake. When the power of a child’s motivation isn’t behind it, mastery of mechanical skills can seem like insurmountable acts of drudgery—which is why so many kids learn to dislike writing.
On the other hand, if you focus first on what the child wants to express, the mechanical skills will fall into place over time. Kids needn’t actually transcribe to get their thoughts on paper and screen: they can dictate their ideas to a willing adult. This allows them to say more, express higher-level thoughts, and use richer vocabulary than they’d be likely to if required to write on their own. Young children tend to have lively, expressive, imaginative speaking voices; transcribing their words to the page or screen allows them to develop a vivid writing voice at a very young age. Meanwhile, their mechanical skills can develop more organically than they might in a classroom, as the child makes signs for lemonade stands, labels for rock collections, dialogue bubbles for comics, keep out signs for bedroom doors. Taking dictation is also helpful for older kids who are reluctant writers, or beginning a challenging project.
Also, when kids struggle with physical writing, it can be helpful to introduce keyboarding as an alternative. Digital writing drives the world they’re growing up in, after all.
Kids don’t need daily, or even weekly writing practice.
The concept of learning through routine practice is mostly a school notion. Practicing small pieces of a larger skill day after day is a way of ensuring that a large group of children will eventually learn that same skill. The assumption is that the child will learn the multiplication table, or the rules of grammar, or the parts of the body if he or she works at them repeatedly. The teacher can’t be aware of learning that happens outside of the classroom, in daily life; all learning gets focused into a lesson format. Many of us who grew up in schools have unwittingly become convinced that a person needs this sort of routine practice in order to learn skills such as writing.
But adult-driven, routine-practice learning rarely takes a child’s interest and motivation into account. In fact, in most cases, the child isn’t terribly engaged in this sort of practice. He or she does it simply because it is required. However, when a child’s interest and motivation are there, that child can often pick up concepts and skills rather quickly. Repeated practice isn’t necessary. Your daughter figures out how to multiply mentally because she wants to win at Yahtzee; your son understands how different ancient civilizations affected one another because he enjoys reading The Cartoon History of the Universe.
The same goes for writing. Occasional, child-oriented forays into writing are rich, like a piece of good, dark chocolate: a little goes a long way. The signs your daughter letters for her make-believe candy shop, the Lego haikus your son writes for a contest: these are authentic, meaningful writing experiences and your kids learn deeply from them. They don’t need to be replicated on a daily or even weekly basis. The learning, because it has value for the child, accumulates gradually over time.
In my years working with young homeschooled writers, I’ve seen this play out again and again. Kids who don’t practice writing formally or regularly still develop into unique, effective writers in their preteen and teen years—and often before. How does this happen? Read on.
Kids don’t need to practice writing in various formats.
Learning to write in a variety of formats—fiction, poetry, persuasive essays, narrative essays, and so on—matters less than allowing the child to write in formats that matter to him or her. Engagement is key. When a child finds topics and formats that appeal, the writing begins to matter to the child. He’ll be compelled to play with the words, and will learn to manipulate them for his own purposes. This is what matters. Once a child has crafted with words and learned to control them, she’ll be able to apply these skills to other styles of writing–like formal essays–when the need arises. There’s no need to rush into these formats. (In other words, don’t worry if your child wants to write nothing but poetry for two years. That’s pretty much what my daughter did at eleven and twelve, and she eventually moved into other types of writing. Meanwhile, she learned what all poets know: every word matters.)
Allowing kids to focus on topics and genres of interest will naturally help them develop unique, powerful writing voices. This, I’d argue, is the most essential writing skill of all.
Kids don’t need to write to develop as writers.
A most radical notion, I know, but I believe it! Here’s why: writing skills are based in thinking and speaking skills. If kids live in a home where people talk, discuss and debate–especially on topics important to the kids–those kids will learn to express themselves clearly and passionately. And this verbal expression will carry over into written expression when the time comes. Even kids who are not terribly verbal, but are quite logical, can naturally develop into strong writers if they understand that clear writing follows from logical thinking.
An unschooling friend shares the following story: “My 17-year-old wrote hardly at all but grew up in a household full of discussion, debate, literature and content. When, at about 15, he wanted to write, lo and behold, he really knew how to put words together. He knew how to think and speak clearly from years of doing just that. It translated perfectly well to paper. The mechanics of writing (especially the ridiculousness of English spelling) were something of a stumbling block but those are getting rapidly better with time and experience and they seem to be coming together in far less time than if he’d been studying them or practicing them for years.”
In my years of facilitating workshops, I’ve seen a similar progression with many kids.
If kids don’t need these writing experiences, why have we become so convinced that they do?
As parents, we often worry about preparing our kids. We understand that writing is an essential skill for life, so we take on the burden of assuring they’ll gain that skill. But focusing on what our kids may need tomorrow confounds our sense of what they need today. This quote, by writer, researcher and English professor Thomas Newkirk, always puts this in perspective for me:
“The good writers I see in college have often developed their skill in self-sponsored writing projects like journals or epic, book-length adventure stories they wrote on their own.”
If you hope your child will become an effective writer tomorrow, concentrate on making writing—and the broader skills of writing—a vital part of your child’s life today.
So, how can you help kids develop into writers?
Raise them in a literature-rich, word-loving home.
Visit the library often and check out armloads. Read aloud and listen to audiobooks together. Encourage independent audiobook-listening if your child can’t yet read, or doesn’t enjoy reading. Have deep discussions about books and films–not based on someone else’s “comprehension questions,” but on your own wonderings. Tell stories. Read and recite poetry. Engage in word play: rhyming games, puns and riddles, Mad Libs, verbal poetry composed on the spot, and so on.
Talk about what interests them.
Let them go on and on about ballet or Roman legionaries or Smurfs if that’s what excites them. Ask questions. Let them explain in intricate detail. Debate them, gently, on fine details if they enjoy defending their beliefs. Ask for their take on important, real-world issues. This will develop their skills of explanation and argument, which will eventually factor into their writing.
Make the distinction between getting-words-on-the-paper skills and written expression.
In other words, remember that learning to form letters and spell words are not the same skills as developing a voice as a writer—the more important skill in the long run. Help make the mechanics of writing as easy as possible for your child. Let those getting-words-on-the-paper skills develop slowly, ignoring public education’s timetable. In the meanwhile, explore dictation as a means of developing your child’s written expression. Encourage keyboarding as an alternative to writing by hand.
Let them write about what interests them, and in genres that they enjoy.
Even if what interests them is Magic, The Gathering or the characters from Glee. This is what they know. This is what excites them. They understand every detail, which will make the writing vivid. If they want to write fantasy stories because they love Tolkien or Harry Potter, they’ll understand how the genre works. And, of course, this is the most likely way to make the act of writing engaging, which will draw kids in and make them want to continue. That will lead to those “self-sponsored writing projects” that Thomas Newkirk values. (After all, don’t you prefer writing on topics that interest you?)
Explore intriguing nonfiction.
Rather than pushing dry reports and formulaic essay-writing assignments on your kids, search for well-written nonfiction books on their favorite topics. Unlike formula-bound essays, good nonfiction employs the tools of fiction; it absorbs us because it tells a story. Find history told with time-traveling comic characters, and science explained with zombies. Look for Shakespeare explored through silly top ten lists. Nowadays the children’s nonfiction section of the library bulges with such books—books which dare to capture a kid’s attention. They delve into content, as did the old report-ready nonfiction of our childhoods, while also modeling style, tone and even humor in writing. They’ll teach your kids how to move beyond the dull five-paragraph essay approach to nonfiction, and into writing that engages.
Help them find meaningful, authentic reasons to write.
Writing because Mom or Dad thinks it’s a good idea is not a meaningful, authentic reason! Generally, we write to communicate with others. We write to connect. (Unless, of course, we find fulfillment in personal writing such as journaling. If you have a journal-loving kid, value that! See Newkirk, above.) We write, very often, because we’re seeking a response. Find real writing opportunities that engage your child and invite response: letters and e-mails; family newsletters; blogs on personal interests; signs and props for make-believe play; displays of favorite collections to share with friends and family; rules for self-designed games. Make opportunities for your kids: host a writer’s workshop; organize a science or history fair; form clubs based on their interests: oceanography, insects, rock and roll music; help them gather a group to write a baseball newsletter; form a team and create a homeschooling yearbook. (All examples of actual activities organized by my local homeschool support group!) If you don’t have enough local possibilities, use the Internet: find websites of interest to your child with writing opportunities; set up group-written blogs or wikis; let your kids explore online forums if you think they’re ready for it; look for fan sites based on their passions; allow them to post reviews on music, books, films, videogames; explore the online writing community for young people at figment.com.
This is a long list, yet it’s just a beginning. Your child’s own quirky interests will unearth other possibilities.
To become writers, kids need something to say, the means to say it, and a reason to say it. Schools tend to focus on the means—the how-tos of writing. If you concentrate instead on what kids have to say, and helping them find real reasons to express that on paper and screen, the rest will fall into place over time. It really will.
* * *
So tell, dear readers, have any points here played out in the lives of your own kids? Do any points make you curious? Doubtful? Nervous?
Bonus points to be awarded in my nonexistent grade book. All commenters get a participation grade of A (for awesome.)
So, how would you treat this idea if you were a classroom teacher of 30 students, and they were NOT raised in a literature-rich home? Some of your tips really ring true–such as letting them find what they are interested in, and exploring good literature, etc. Unfortunately, in a traditional environment, they will be asked to write in a variety of genres. Even more unfortunate is that in these days we are teaching in, anything “fun” to write seems to be frivolous. Or definitely not the manner in which they are tested. I get that this is probably a major reason that you (and your readers) are homeschoolers. However, since I respect your opinion, what would you suggest for the classroom teacher? I’m not sure if every teacher experiences this, but it is the very hardest subject to teach, with the very least helpful teacher training opportunities.
Jamie, I feel for you! I was lucky enough to do my classroom teaching in the late 80s and early 90s, before No Child Left Behind and the big swing towards testing. There was a lot more freedom in how teachers were able to approach writing. I had a daily writer’s workshop in my classroom, for example. A few years ago I spent several months exploring what has happened with writing and public education, hoping to write a magazine article about it. (I never got that story pitched.) I was so disheartened to see how things have changed.
Are you familiar with the National Writing Project? http://www.nwp.org I did a summer program with them in Berkeley when I was a teacher. They have programs all over the country, promoting writing in classrooms. A fantastic organization–perhaps they offer something near you. I know they’ve modified their approach over the years, to help teachers who have to deal with testing and newer curricular expectations.
I don’t know what grade level you teach. I love the work of Barry Lane–he writes for teachers of writing, and his work is very encouraging for teachers who struggle with the current environment of writing in schools. http://discoverwriting.com I’d enthusiastically recommend his But How Do You Teach Writing?–I think it might be just the sort of encouragement you could use. And I love his book 51 Wacky We-Search Reports which gives fun (gasp!) ideas for writing nonfiction that are also solid writing opportunities. Lane’s book also recommends further reading, such as Gretchen Bernebei’s Reviving the Essay, if you teach older kids.
I’d start with those two places and see if you can find some guidance. And if you can possibly find a small window of time in your students’ week to allow them to write about whatever they want to, and maybe even workshop it together, I’d encourage you to try! My own book on writer’s workshops was written for parents who want to facilitate workshops, but it might be useful to you too. If you’re interested in a digital copy of it, let me know and I’ll give you a free one. 🙂
Hang in there, Jamie! I keep hoping that the current trends towards testing and away from writing will swing the other way soon, and that things will get better.
There are 94 other comments if you click back to the “previous comments” link above. Don’t miss them–there’s some fascinating discussion happening there! xo.
I know this discussion is old. As a reluctant homeschooler of one (age 9) and someone who has been rubbed the wrong way in co-ops, I was googling to try to find out why I’ve developed a dislike for IEW without having bought their program. We did own a workbook when we were at a co-op and I was horrified by it.
I guess I found a lot of reasons here and am grateful for this wonderful discussion. It’s all very interesting to me. Not being a teacher and not having personal contact with anyone who was schooled in IEW method, it helps me to read what experienced parents have written here.
Having only gone to school through 6th grade, I’m not confident in my writing skills nor in the ability to teach writing. Back in the 70s, homeschooling was still considered illegal, we had no curriculum and quite frankly, my parents had not time or interest in delivering formal instruction. I had loved school and the academic holes in my education left me feeling pretty deprived. Only now, 42 years later, am I starting to see a silver lining. Those rigid outlines I remember trying to figure out in 5th and 6th grade were quite ineffective at teaching anything but discipline.
It’s one thing to know what I don’t like in a curriculum. It’s quite another matter to figure and FIND what I do like.
Looking forward to exploring the above links 🙂
A belated thank you for adding to the conversation here! What a delight to hear from a parent who was homeschooled–even if you have mixed feelings about your background. I hope that you can cut yourself a little slack about your writing skills. I’m guessing–especially based on your eloquent response here–that your writing skills are stronger than you realize. What I’ve come to discover is that schools often get in the way of kids picking up writing skills naturally, as they pick up spoken language naturally. Traditional writing programs can complicate writing and make it seem harder than it is–and make students feel like they can’t do it well. I’ve come to believe that it’s easier to do more harm than good in trying to teach kids to write, and what might be better is to simply help our children love literature, and to have homes where we listen to our kids and give them a forum for sharing their thoughts. I’ve known so many unschoolers who grow up in homes like this and manage to eventually take community college classes and write well in them from the start (which often surprises their parents)–probably because no one has made them fear writing, and they know themselves and can express what they want to say. I’m so happy that you’ve read the lively conversation on this post; it’s really the discussion from all the parents here that is gold. And yes, stay away from programs that rub you the wrong way, and look for what you do like! Your intuition is telling you what to do. 🙂
Thanks for your response.
I’m happy to report that we have found a good writing class, much to my surprise and relief! My son LOVES it. It’s at the homeschool learning center. When my son was younger, he taken a few classes there and they were disappointing. He’s in classes with 9-18 year-olds and they read and comment on each other’s papers. Then they are critiqued and get to be rewritten.
The social aspect of this is delighting my extroverted child. He does particularly well in a class where the work is pitched slightly higher than his actual academic level and he and I work on it together. (Learn by imitating). Thank you so much for suggesting to take dictation from a younger child. We did that first and now he uses the dictaphone and then edits pretty much on his own. No wonder when I was younger, we didn’t do a lot of writing in grammar school! Trying to do endless corrections by hand is nearly impossible at a young age, especially when there is not much interest in the subject to begin with.
It dawned on me that my mother went to rigorous Catholic school in the 40s and 50s, graduated valedictorian and received a full college scholarship. Yet when she got to college, her writing instructor wrote on her paper: “You write like a baby.” Looking back, I remember reading the paper that was graded with that comment. My thought is that it was very immature and undeveloped. I used to think that rigorous education was the gold standard. I still think there has to be some structure but some things are just learned best in an immersive environment. Sinichi Suzuki and Maria Montessori come to mind. Experience has convinced me that their similar philosophical approaches can be applied pretty much across the board with good success and to all learning styles. If it fails, I believe it has more to do with the instructor than the approach.
It also occurred to me that up until well into the 20th Century even in the civilized world, many people still did not read well and they often could not afford books. It was this way with my grandparents. My 4th grader has read more books than his great-grandparents read in their entire long lives. Even when they could afford books, they didn’t buy them or even frequent the library. So the whole way they learned in school was to compensate by doing boatloads of memorization. If writing came naturally, then that was something different.
At least, it would make sense that memorizing and keeping things terse, was much more important back then to the average person. I’m scared that if we focus too much on that, we will be so behind, we’ll never catch up. The pace is infinitely slower and expectations are different. The idea being that if you have this rigid structure, you’ll be able to tackle anything. Reverting back to this old-fashioned method might not now be terribly wise.
Your insight has been a blessing. I’m sure I’ll be back here quite a lot in the next stage of our education journey.
A belated thank you for this lovely response! You have so many wise, insightful thoughts here. Reading that college instructor’s comment to your mother hit me all these years later like a punch to the gut. How awful! But it does make a very good point for the limitations of an education that focuses on “rigor” and “standards.” Sometimes it slays me that education these days is so locked in the past, with the focus on testing and standardization–right at the time when the world has changed in ways so at odds with this approach. (Have you ever read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind? It’s all about what kids/adults really need in the world we live in now. I wrote a post about it several years ago: http://patriciazaballos.com/2010/03/18/why-you-need-a-whole-new-mind/ )
I’m so happy to hear that your son found a writing class that is working for him! Kudos to you for recognizing what types of learning work for him, and for introducing dictation into his writing. It all sounds so child-centered and full of high-level thinking. Hooray!
Thank you so much for reading here, and for taking the time to share your story. Comments like this mean the world to me. Carry on!
I enjoyed your book! It was easy and fun to read, and inspiring.
I have been talking with other parents in our homeschooling group; there was interest in my exploring the possibility of hiring you for an hour or two to answer some questions. One parent asked, “How do you keep kids from making snide remarks during the workshop?” and “What about after the workshop – do they tease each other when they are playing together at a different time?” Another wanted to learn more about the Exploratory Activity you would have the kids do during the workshop – she asked for more ideas. You might be able to answer those questions in writing, but if there was interest in talking with you directly, would you let me know what the fee would be?
There is talk of our holding our writing workshops at various parks, right before Park Day, as the kids and parents are already there. (This is what we do for our Book Club.). Parks were not the venue option you chose; I wonder why?
I am at 236-9558, if you would rather call than write.
Hi Kathy! I apologize once again for not getting back to you promptly. I’m going to respond to you privately via email.
Hi Patricia, My friend recommended me to you when I told her I was struggling with finding a good writing curriculum that fit with kids. For the past two years all the programs I tried required so much writing and my son hated it. It was never what he wanted to write and it was a lot of busy work to get them to learn a certain concept. I got a degree in Humanities with an emphasis in English Literature, so I had to do a lot of writing. Yet ironically, I’ve always considered writing to be a weak point for me and I haven’t felt confident in teaching my kids. But, after reading this post, I finally feel like I have found someone express what I feel but didn’t feel confident enough to say that it was a good way to do things. I feel education should be as much child led with me as their mentor. Anyway, thank you so much for this post!!
I’m so happy that the post resonated with you, Havalah! I think one of the hardest and most important parts of homeschooling is hearing our intuition as parents, and trusting it. It sounds like your intuition is telling you what to do–keep going! 🙂
How did you turn things around with the child who hated writing in the beginning? By the time I pulled my just turned 9yo to homeschool in January, public (K-1st) and private (2nd-3rd) school had turned my reluctant writer into a boy who completely refuses to write ANYthing down —- not even scribble a few numbers down to do a math problem. He insists on doing all math in his head now because he has absolutely refused to pick up a pen or pencil since I withdrew him from school. I am at a loss as to help him get out of complete writing refusal. He seems to have strong negative emotional
memories associated with writing and/or holding pen/pencil. He will use chalk in the driveway and occasionally a little bit of dry erase marker on a whiteboard on the wall, but that’s it.
Angela, I’m so sorry! I didn’t get notification for your comment via email like I usually do, so I missed this until now!
Your poor kiddo! How heartbreaking that school did such a number on him with writing. I wonder if things have gotten any better in the months since you first wrote to me.
A lot of experienced homeschoolers talk about “deschooling” after kids leave formal school. It can take months for them to get school conditioning out of their systems. (And it probably never fully goes away.) The good news with homeschooling is that, unlike in most schools, your son doesn’t have to write to learn, at least not while he’s working through this. If he wants to do math in his head, you can let him. Or you can explore providing other materials for having him keep track of numbers if needed, like dried beans or even an abacus. Honestly, my oldest hated writing down his thinking in math, and for a while I pushed him to do so because I’d been taught as a teacher that students should record their mathematical thinking. He put up such a fuss that eventually I stopped bugging him about it, and came to be really impressed with what he could do in his head! That’s more practical anyway. (And he did write down his work in math as he got older, when he really felt a need to.)
Have you seen my posts on taking dictation from kids? There’s a whole series on the topic. http://patriciazaballos.com/the-dictation-project/ I’m a huge fan of writing for kids while they’re working out their ideas, for so many reasons that I lay out in that series. This would be a way of helping your son develop his writing voice without being overly concerned about his doing the actual writing.
If he’s still resisting writing, it’s probably best not to push it–it will just become a power struggle. Keep finding ways to work around it for now. Will he type on a computer? You could just transition him straight to that–it’s what he’s likely to use most of the time as he gets older anyway. And then keep looking for fun ways to (maybe a little sneakily) help him keep doing things with his hands. Like the chalk in the driveway you mention. Or maybe other fun art supplies? Could you take him to the art store and let him choose some materials that look fun–without mentioning “writing”?
I hope some of this is helpful. I’d love an update about how you and he are doing.
What a great and detailed post that parents can refer through for their kids learning needs.
I just LOVE this so much. I just want to print myself a copy and start highlighting away. I agree with so much of the things you say and I still have so much room to learn. I appreciate what you have been sharing with us. I have been slowly reading your work as I get a chance with my hectic schedule. I was quickly a fan of yours from Tik Tok and now I am here to stay.
Part of the reason I have such a hectic schedule, on top of homeschooling, being a wife, mother, and running a home is because I have my 2nd oldest daughter in sewing classes now. She has been so interested in it for a year now that I got her some lessons. She is 9 now but got her sewing machine when she was 8. My youngest daughter has been very interested in Chess for the past 6 months, so I started a chess club for her that is quickly growing. My 2nd oldest has even gotten involved, and my four year old son has even picked it up. My oldest is getting better and better at crocheting and she is the writer of the family. Reading this blog gave me hope that I am doing something right.
If your kids are happily engaged with activities that they want to do, you know you’re doing lots right! Good for you for making all that effort on their behalf! I promise you this: someday you will look back and see how much these passions factored into who they become. It’s not so much a matter of *what* they do, it’s that they choose their pursuits and keep chasing them. There’s magic in that.
Hi Stephanie! See, I told you that even if you left a comment on an older post, I’d see it! I love chatting here because there’s more space, and the shared conversations are so interesting. You’ve been slowly reading your way through my work! [insert smiling emoji surrounded by hearts] There have been a handful of people over the years who have told me they’ve done that. I have a special place in my heart for those people, for you. xo.
Psycrow and the Stingray
The blue ocean has a fish that lives there. Psycrow was just swimming and found new fish to eat. He ran into 2 stingrays, one was nice, and one was mean. He ran to his Momma to tell her about the two stingrays that are chasing him. But there was only one chasing him. The he told his Momma that only one sting ray is chasing him. He told his Momma that one is mean and one is nice. The one in our house is nice, and the one outside is mean, and we have laser doors. Psycrow grabbed a sword and put it in the laser and it shined at the mean stingray the the mean stingray got killed.
Written by Arian (4yrs.)
Dictated to Momma
My question is, if he repeats himself 2 words that are the same back to back or two sentences back to back. Do I just got back and erase it and explain to him what I am doing? Or would I just leave it as it is?
Also. With my oldest (who is the writer) I try to have her dictate to me but at times she just wants to write it out or type it out herself. I try to encourage her to get all of her ideas down before she starts writing or typing; and to read and re-read what she has already written to ensure she likes what she has written or to refresh her memory. I will also ask questions. I don’t know if I am being helpful or pushy. After she wrote a story she was proud of we decided to revisit it. She discovered that she needed to do a lot of work on it. So I volunteered to have her dictate it to me with corrections and changes she made. It got better, more descriptive, not so repetitive, and so on. If I notice things not making sense or not in sequence, do I then step in and tell her what I have observed, or do I let her discover it on her own?
Sometimes we do group writing exercises where we write a plain story then we write the same story but jazz it up. Its interesting to see their reactions when they hear the final product. Other times we will write a story as a group and I will ask questions to prompt descriptions from them or scenarios. They get so excited and have such a ball doing it. They want to then turn it into a play, so we get to set up the setting and act it out. I love homeschooling, the possibilities are endless.
Hi Stephanie! I’m so sorry it’s taken me such a long time to respond. I had two back-to-back trips and I got a bit behind.
I love your 4-year-old’s story. It reminds me so much of my youngest’s stories at that age.
If my own kiddo had repeated himself, I might point out that I had already written that part down, and I would show him. Or do you mean he repeated a word, and it simply didn’t sound great–it sounded repetitive? I would always read aloud what my kid had dictated to me and often, in cases like that, he would ask me to fix something if he didn’t like the repetitive sound of it. Otherwise, I’d leave it be.
Not knowing whether we’re being helpful or pushy with older kids is hard, isn’t it? I think mostly you simply pay attention and use your judgment–or ask your daughter directly if she wants the help. Erring on the side of not pushing always seems best–but hard! I love that you had your daughter dictate her draft to you–yes! That was a little trick I discovered with my own kids. If they’d written something by hand, I’d offer to type it for them while they dictated and lo and behold: they often revised as they went. I wasn’t asking them to do that, but since I was doing the work of typing, they seemed to feel free and compelled to improve the work. When they were doing that, I often asked honest questions about things I was confused about or wondered about. I didn’t tell them they needed to change it–that’s key!–but often they did. (And often they didn’t.)
One thing I’ve learned about kids and revision: even if they don’t make the changes someone has suggested to them, they often internalize the feedback and apply it to subsequent pieces of writing.
And one more tip I stumbled on with older kids: I began offering written feedback on a printed draft, if my kid wanted it. This is what I do with my own adult writing groups, and at some point it seemed worth trying with my oldest and he loved it! I think not having me there as he read the feedback was helpful. He felt more free to take or leave the feedback. I always made sure to give much more positive feedback than constructive. Even a + or happy face in places I appreciated. And I’d keep the constructive feedback to the most important things I thought he should know. I wouldn’t fix grammar and spelling and such in a draft.I’d only respond to those things in a final draft that just needed polishing for publication of some sort–otherwise it distracted from the more important ideas. And then again, my feedback was always a suggestion. The kid could take it or leave it, which is how it is with my fellow adult writers.
It sounds like you’re having so much fun with your kids and writing! That is the most important thing you can do, to help them become writers. xo.