Many children, like my son, don't have a natural enthusiasm for writing. For years it was a chore to get my son to write anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Now, at almost 13 years old, my son writes every day. What changed? Do I force him to sit and write daily? No. Does some other teacher or tutor make him write every day? No. Instead, I changed a few of our family habits, and my approach to teaching my son to write. While we have used some specific writing, grammar, and general Language Arts curriculum (he is homeschooled), the most effective things have been the least academic. And, I am not talking about updating a status feed on Facebook, or text messaging... I am talking about creative writing, writing that communicates more than how one is feeling in 160 spaces or less. I'm talking about engaged, innovative, creative writing.
Here are my tips and thoughts on helping children to become writers...
First, make sure they have the tools to write! As obvious as this may seem, I am amazed when I arrive a student's house, and there are no pens or pencils to be seen. No paper. No notebooks. Nothing...how is one to write without the tools? I recommend putting out a pencil or pen jar, a tub of fun erasers, a pile of notebooks or paper. Make it easily accessible. And, those pages that you print off, then toss away? If the other side is blank, put it in a box for scratch paper - my son often uses scratch paper for sketching out new ideas or making notes.
Writing and art supplies on top of a low bookcase in our kitchen.
I also try to provide a variety of notebooks from basic lined notebooks to fun, colorful journals, and even sketchpad style notebooks. July and August are a great time to stock up on notebooks, journals, and writing supplies - just check your local office supply or drug store for their great back-to-school sales! You should be able to find a wide selection of notebooks, pens and pencils for next to nothing! Notebooks are great for journaling, writing stories, keeping lists, and more.
As an avid writer of letters, and with several pen-pals throughout the world, I am often asked about finding pen-pals for children. Honestly, I think it is a great idea, but children don't make very good pen-pals without extensive parental involvement and encouragement. Most of the time it is the parent who wants their child to have a pen-pal, and the child has little interest. Wait until your child is asking on their own about pen-pals, then investigate options. That said, I do have a few tips on encouraging children to write snail-mail letters...
Get a fun, colorful box and fill it with cute stationery! The local dollar store usually has a good selection at a low price. Even better, take your child to pick out their own stationery! Your computer also probably has some cute fonts, backgrounds, and clip art to create your own. And, every time you see a rack of postcards, buy some! I was in New York City and found a deal where I got 20 postcards for $1! That is great, but if you can get even 5 postcards for a $1, that's a decent price. Anytime you travel, be sure to pick up postcards too. Have your kids use the stationery and postcards to write to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even to you! Have them write silly notes to their best friend, even if the child lives next door! They are more likely to keep writing to these people than they to a stranger that they find through a pen-pal exchange. Some of them, you don't even have to put in the post - just walk next door with the letter or postcard for the neighbor child! Your kids will love seeing the faces of their friends and family light up with joy...and, they will be encouraged to write another letter or postcard!
To go along with the stationery and postcards, set up a family mailbox. This can be just an empty shoe box, or you can go all out and buy an actual mailbox at the local hardware store! Set it somewhere easily accessible to everyone in the family, and let the kids decorate it. Whenever they have something to tell you, but for some reason they don't want to just say it, they can write a note and put it in the mailbox. This is fun for sharing jokes, silly secrets, or a simple "I love you."
These are all fun ways to engage your child in writing, without the stress of school-based assignments. The key to having your child continue to write is to be non-critical of the "fun" writing your child decides to engage in. Your child's spelling, grammar, and content will all be addressed by their teacher or when you go over their homework. Your child's journal, letters, postcards, and notes are informal expressions that they put their heart into. Expect them to make mistakes, but also expect the lessons from school to eventually work their way into the fun writing. Be supportive and encouraging about this fun and free writing! You want them to keep it up for a lifetime!