Among my favorite moments as a parent is when I see my children become completely absorbed in activities they love. I often notice my 15-year-old daughter engrossed in writing. At times, I can stand in her doorway for several minutes watching as she is caught up in the flow of her thoughts, entirely unaware of my presence.
Recently, as she selected her classes for the following school year, I suggested that she enroll in an English course with an emphasis on writing, naively assuming that her interests carry over to school.
“Ugh…” she groaned. “I HATE writing, and I’m terrible at it!”
“What are you talking about?” I probed. “I see you writing in your notebook all the time. And what about the songs you write, sing, and record?”
“That’s not writing,” she retorted. “No one sees or grades that, so it doesn’t count. And it’s not like I’m writing stories or essays. I’m just writing down what I’m thinking…”
According to my daughter, writing in school feels as though someone is requiring her to open up her mind and lay her thoughts and feelings out for the teacher to critique. Academic writing feels dry and devoid of purpose, or as she would say, “BORING.”
The ability to write well is an important life skill that most people use throughout their careers, whether they become authors or accountants. Writing is a critical tool for communication, processing emotions, and exchanging ideas. At times, writing is highly personal: a process by which we think and analyze in an attempt to sort out jumbled and complicated thoughts. Writing can take an enormous amount of effort and practice in order to convey intended meaning in a concise manner.
How can we encourage children to write, and is it possible to make writing spontaneous and fun? Fortunately, there are several ways to achieve this goal. Parents can play a central role in helping their children enjoy writing, while encouraging them to write more without adding pressure and stress to their overcrowded schedules.
Parents can talk to children about authors and their craft when reading books aloud. They may discuss what the author might have been thinking or what messages the author is trying to convey. They can intentionally notice and call attention to interesting language and may wonder out loud why an author used a particular word or phrase to describe a character or event.
The more exposure children have to well written material containing diverse vocabulary, complex sentence structures, and interesting subject matter, the more inclined they will be to eventually incorporate similar language and structure into their own writing.
The very best way to spur children on to particular behaviors is to model that desired behavior. When children see adults writing, they recognize it as a regular part of people’s days, and they’ll begin to incorporate it into their play in a natural way. As they grow older, children tend to continue the habits they see demonstrated on a regular basis.
Writing is more likely to occur when children have something to write on and write with. Notepads, pens, pencils, and crayons immediately come to mind, but other forms of writing may provide additional amusement.
A chalkboard or dry-erase easel can be a fun way to leave messages between siblings. Children may add colorful artwork to give it the look of a coffee shop display board. Pens of different colors and textures and paper of various sizes and colors add to the fun. Magnetic letters and words might elicit interaction, incorporating creativity and humor in common areas.
Children love to see their words in print and derive much pleasure from hearing their own words read back to them. When your children tell stories, whether retelling a memory or making something up, try writing down what they say word for word.
When their words are typed and printed out, children feel especially empowered. They can add illustrations to enhance their stories and create their own books to be read over and over again. Children can also dictate catchy captions when parents post photos on social media for friends and family to see.
Keep a running grocery list on the fridge, with the expectation that all family members will add items to the list. Place notes in lunches and leave messages in unexpected places with helpful reminders or simply a funny joke, riddle, or rhyme. Write letters to each other or to friends and family far away.
Whatever the case may be, use writing as a daily form of interaction between people who care for each other and wish to communicate.
Children need time alone to be able to think and process, with the option to write if they choose to. When children’s privacy is respected within appropriate boundaries, they learn that they have ownership of their thoughts and emotions processed through writing. They also learn that writing does not have to be evaluated to be meaningful. One of the primary benefits of writing lies in the process itself.
When we make writing an integral part of children’s lives at home as well as at school, we help them develop competence and confidence in their writing ability. As we intentionally incorporate writing into daily family routines, we give our kids the opportunity to play with the medium, thus increasing the potential for developing passion for the art of writing.
As for my daughter, I’m confident that as she matures, she will eventually combine the love for writing she develops at home with the skills she learns at school to successfully incorporate writing into her daily life and chosen career.