So you clicked on this post for a reason. Either yes, you agree, you have a child that hates to write, or you thought to yourself, “wait a minute, my kid loves to write. She’s completely wrong here!” Either way, by the end of this post, I hope you’ll have learned something new or I hope I’ve offered something you can take away.
I love to write. I’m a writer. And I say that as confidently as I say I’m a triathlete. Meaning, I haven’t really won any awards for it or haven’t really received any accolades with some special meaning, but I do it, and I love doing it. I don’t know when this love started. I remember taking an undergraduate course, I believe it was called Creative Writing. Anyway, in this course we just wrote. We weren’t asked to write about a certain topic. We were told to simply write. We wrote about things that were important to us, things that changed us or things that meant something to us; I loved this. Now that I think about it, I think I just pinpointed the exact place where I learned the love of writing.
Children learn to write very early. In preschool, they are taught to simply write letters. This is no easy feat. In fact, the art of forming a letter is quite difficult, but in the task children learn to love the act of using a pencil on a piece of paper. They’re creating something that wasn’t there before. It starts as lines smashed across a blank space and slowly turns to circular shapes that resemble the alphabet. They start writing their name, they love this. With exuberant chants they scream, “Mom, Dad look what I can write!”
Then slowly they learn how to write more words, and they write them. They write them all the time. This is fascinating to them because this is something they’ve accomplished, and they love it. But at some point writing becomes a chore. It becomes exhausting. It becomes something a child dreads doing. It could be because in school we expect a lot more of them. The more they learn to write, the more we asked them to do it. And, in this task, kids become disillusioned. They become frustrated. They become the opposite of writers.
Why does this happen? I mean, think about your child They love to talk, right? I can think about a million times I asked my own daughter to stop talking. I mean, I think I even offered her money to stop talking. I’m laughing as I type this. But the point here is, she loves talking. She loves talking about herself. She loves talking about her interests. She loves talking about what she’s going to do this weekend. She loves her friends and she loves going to Great Adventure. She loves Disney World. But, if I were to ask her to write about these things, there would be an audible groan. Her eyes would roll back in her head and soon enough, she would actually stop talking about these things in fear that I would say “why don’t you write about that?”
So this is what sparked my interest in this post. How can we teach our children the joy of writing? How can we get them as excited about creating something on paper as the day they finally wrote their name? I believe the answer is simple. Just let them write. Who cares what it says or what it’s about, the point is we have to start the exercise of physically writing and get them over that hurdle, or fear of the task itself. Their writing doesn’t have to look traditional either. If your child loves Disney World, have them simply write those two words in the center of a piece of paper and write down every other word they associate with Disney around it. It can say things like Dole Whip, happy, Main Street, Minnie shaped apples…ok I should stop here, my mouth is watering and these are all my Disney happy words. Anyway, the point is that writing doesn’t have to look like words that form sentences that form paragraphs, it just needs to be something authentic. Something born in your child’s mind that makes its way onto something you can see. If your child loves to draw, have them create a comic strip. If they love to read, have them take their favorite book character and write a new ending to a book they loved or, even better, have them write a story about hanging out with their favorite character.
The summer is coming and, as an educator, I always say to my parents, just make sure your kid reads; but, I’m going to suggest the same thing about writing. But don’t have rules about either. Let them read what ever they want and let them write whatever they want. Freedom is key. They have been tasked all year to write about things their teachers told them to. Let the summer be about what they want. You may find that this freedom is just the motivation they need. But just in case the ol’ “hey write about anything” doesn’t work for your little munchkin, here are a few ideas that may just help.
1.) Buy your child a journal. Some have lines, some don’t. For the really resistant writer, buy the ones with no lines. Lines can freak kids out, they look at them and think they need to fill them up. Encourage them to draw, create word art, illustrate characters or sketch squares for comic strips. Tell them to take their journal to the beach or keep it in the car and have them “journal” as you drive. Encourage writing more about how they feel and less about what they did. I always say to my students, I don’t care about what you did at Great Adventure, I care about how you felt. This sounds harsh but I’m simply saying, kids think the point of writing is to tell people about the time they went on El Toro or the time they lost their first tooth. I try to explain that the story lies in how they felt while they did those things. Feelings are beautiful. They make for a far better story.
One of my little meatballs writing about Disney.
2.) Start a blog for your child. Blogs are totally free and I think kids would get a big kick out of writing them. Show them a few so they get the point. Hey, you can even show them mine (insert wink emoji here). Kids can write about their favorite tv shows, food they love, restaurants they’ve eaten at. They can write a movie review or anything their little heart desires. What I love most about this idea is that you will love reading their posts and sharing them with your family. Blogs are totally safe too. You can set the privacy setting so that only people with a password can access it. Just google kids blogs or how to write a blog for kids and you’ll find a million different options.
My other, older meatball, is a typer.
3.) Apple products are a beautiful thing. If your child has an iPad or iPhone or iPod, let them open up the Notes app and just type. I have to admit that I am actually typing in my Notes app now. I don’t know if it’s because we are in the age of texting or what the reason, but I find typing on my phone easier than typing on a computer. We need to stop resisting how kids are developing too. I know there are people who hate the abbreviations kids use when they text or the slang that has become the new vernacular for most kids, but the bottom line is, kids are not the same as we were and we need to adapt. Resisting how kids develop or trying to teach them the way we were taught thirty years ago is not going to work. We need to reinvent to keep up with them not the other way around. So if your kid loves texting and is an ace at the two thumb typing, let them keep their journal on their Phone.
4.) Let them speak it, instead of writing it. Most phones come with a microphone that when spoken into will dictate and translate what they’ve said. I love this option. I love to physically write but I will admit that the top two paragraphs of this post were orally dictated into my iPhone. It works pretty well and I would say that 90% of what I said was translated correctly but, that which wasn’t, was manually edited by me and I think that’s such an awesome experience for kids too. With some of my most reluctant writers, oral dictation worked for them. Anything we can do to get their brains working and thinking about formulating stories works for me.
Well, that about does it for me. I’m sure there are a million other vehicles you can use to spark a love of writing in your child, but please take the rules away. Kids love themselves. They love the world around them and the people in it. Kids have a story to tell. Let them be the ones to decide what that story is.