Young students are often bursting with ideas. Most likely they can talk your ear off, but getting them to write those ideas down is another story altogether.
Where Did It Go?
The act of capturing a fleeting thought and pinning it to the paper is a challenge. We think it sounds so easy to “just write what’s in your head,” but the reality is that many children simply aren’t mature enough to put all the pieces together.
First, a thought must formulate in a child’s mind. Then, it has to travel all the way down his arm to the pencil. But by the time he starts wondering how to spell this word or punctuate that sentence, the once-delightful idea has at best been reduced to three dull words, or at worst, vanished completely.
Children 10 and under often need more help with writing than we think they should. We expect them to be able to think of an idea all on their own and then write about it. But in truth, many kids
- Struggle to come up with writing topics.
- Forget what they want to say.
- Get overwhelmed by perfectionism.
- Complain that their hand hurts.
- Fear making mistakes.
Even if they don’t learn with difficulty, writing can throw them into a tailspin.
Start Them Young
Too many students approach junior high strongly biased against writing—either because they were never taught how to write and now fear it, or because of negative experiences with writing as younger children.
But by starting them while they’re young, your children can actually look forward to writing and learn to approach it with joy. This happens when you create a safe, warm, nurturing atmosphere and offer writing activities that teach—yes—but that are also infused with fun.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about WriteShop Primary (and the upcoming WriteShop Junior) is the focus on letting your children ease into writing. As the parent, you gently guide, rather than push or force. Definitely not the sort of program where you give an assignment and leave them to their own devices. Instead, you’re encouraged to share in the entire process—including the actual writing.
How Much Help Should You Give?
If you wonder how much of the writing you should take on, the answer is: As much as it takes for your children to feel successful. And if you ask how much of the writing your children should be doing? Only as much as they are able. It’s very simple, really. If you sense their frustration at ANY point along the way, recognize that this is their cry for help—and your signal to take over a bit more.
Depending on your children, you might:
- Provide them with writing ideas and prompts.
- Encourage them to write about topics they love or that tickle their fancy—horses, sports, chess, Legos, gardening, etc.
- Use a personal experience or familiar story as the basis for a new story. They don’t always have to come up with something unique—it’s totally fine for them to retell a familiar story in their own words.
- Do some or all of the writing while they dictate to you.
- Let them write the words they know while you write the words they can’t spell yet.
Instead of worrying that you’re failing your child, enjoy the realization that you’re modeling and teaching. Meanwhile, your little sponge is absorbing, processing, and sorting everything into his mental filing system.
The good news is this: You won’t handicap your child by supplying him with writing topics; he won’t become a writing failure if he lifts a story idea from a sibling; and prompting him with questions and dialog won’t create overdependence on you. It may take awhile for him to really get it. Just know that your participation with him is an important key.
Shoot the Writing Rapids—Together
As the mom of a once-reluctant, writing-phobic son, I speak from experience. My daughters were more “natural” writers who fairly sailed down the rapids of writing.
From the time we began homeschooling in kindergarten until Ben was 14 or 15, I stayed very involved with his writing, whether it meant helping him with ideas, prompting his writing with questions and dialog, or letting him dictate to me while I wrote his words down. Sometime around 10th grade, the pieces FINALLY fell into place for him, and by the time he graduated from high school, he had become a strong, independent writer.
So hang in there! Don’t be afraid to hop into the writing boat with your son or daughter. Help now, as much as your child needs you, and believe that independence will come one day.
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.