The fear of writing may never replace spiders as the number-one phobia. Yet as a teacher, I’ve met many parents who feel uncomfortable – and yes, a little afraid – when it comes to writing. Some confess their dread of sending me an email, half expecting me to return it marked in red.
The problem intensifies when their children struggle with writing. How can parents help?
Sure, you can hire a tutor. But here are 8 ways you can improve your child’s writing. And relax, you don’t have to write a word!
1. Read like a writer. Reading aloud to children helps them develop a strong sense of story. They pick up advanced sentence structures and expand their vocabulary.
Reading like a writer simply makes this teaching explicit.
In education, it’s part of an “interactive read-aloud.” But don’t let the official-sounding name fool you. Anyone can do it! As you read, stop and discuss the writing. Notice how stories begin – dialogue, action, hint. Notice powerful word choices. Notice how the author builds suspense. Notice when the author shows instead of tells.
Here are a few examples to illustrate:
This becomes more natural with practice. Even better, your child will begin noticing the writing. For starters, just stop and reread to admire a word or a paragraph.
2. Marvel at words. Enjoy their rhythm, their rhyme, their sound. Scab, with its harsh beginning and ending consonants, sounds as gross as it is. Kiwi, on the other hand, sounds cute with its rhyming syllables.
When my class read Ashley Bryan’s poem “Full Moon,” we paused to marvel at his word choice in the first line: “Night on the veranda.” We repeated the word veranda, saying it slowly, stretching it out to hear its music and soft sounds. What if the poet had said, “Night on the porch”? Poof! The magic evaporates.
Every discussion you have around a word helps build vocabulary skills for writing…and boosts future SAT scores.
3. Find the heartbeat in a story. A good story has a pulse, a heartbeat that rises with suspense and falls to the end. But children tend to tell what literacy guru Lucy Calkins describes as “bed-to-bed stories”: they begin with getting up in the morning and end with going to bed at night. Each event, whether it’s eating breakfast or white water rafting, receives equal coverage. The story flatlines.
Help your child find the heartbeat by narrowing the focus. Ask her about the best moment of her day or the most fun thing she did at the sleepover. Ask for specific details about that event. Help her expand the moment by telling it step by step. Encourage her to include her feelings and thoughts.
4. Notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. Few of us live big-screen lives. But every life is filled with ordinary moments that are extraordinarily beautiful and meaningful. Express awe at God’s creation -the fist-shaped buds that signal spring or a spider web outlined by morning dew. Pause during a moment of joy to capture it in words. Tell your child, for example, how much you treasure her hug.
A child who has been taught to value the ordinary things in life doesn’t struggle with finding a topic to fill a blank page.
5. Encourage voice and creativity. A student’s writing should sound like the student. Steer her away from clichés and toward originality. Instead of as hard as a rock, one of my third graders wrote “as hard as sadness” (Patton T.). Another replaced as loud as thunder with “as loud as God when he speaks to the stars” (Scarlett H.).
Admire your child’s unique ideas and words… even if they’re not real words. A student once wrote that a spider was “Tarzanning” through the air. What a brilliant use of a made-up word! It forms an image–complete with sound effects – for the reader.
When a child finds her voice, she opens herself to herself.
6. Cultivate a growth mindset. Writing isn’t a talent a child either has or doesn’t. Some students may have a knack for it. But with a growth mindset, all children can become better writers.
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.”
Children with a growth mindset are more comfortable putting words on the page because they understand the concept of “yet”: a first draft isn’t as good as it can be…yet. It’ll improve with feedback and revision.
7. Speak positively about writing. You’d be surprised what I’ve heard parents say about writing… in front of their children! “We’re a math family.” “Nobody in our family is good at writing.” If writing causes you to have heart palpitations, avoid sharing that discomfort… unless you also offer a solution.
Otherwise, you risk negatively shaping your child’s opinion of writing and herself. Even worse, you provide an excuse for lack of achievement.
8. Teach the power of words. This is the “why” behind writing: why does it matter if I learn to write well? Teach your child that words have power to heal or hurt. They make or break relationships. They’re the vehicle for expressing ideas and emotions and faith.
Whatever children are meant to do in the world, their effectiveness and reach grow through the spoken and written word.
These steps won’t help your child complete the literary essay that’s due this Friday. You can still call a tutor for that. But they do encourage conversation and instill a mentality that builds stronger writers.
The world needs them. Writers who clearly communicate and paint pictures with their words are difference makers. Because of them, we care more and understand more.They touch our hearts, inform us of Truth, and guide us to the Father.
Cindy Peavy is a former advertising copywriter who teaches writing to third graders in Birmingham. She has taught for more than 20 years and holds a master’s degree in English and Education.
Cindy has won many accolades, including Mountain Brook Elementary Teacher of the Year, a district Performance Award, and 1st place awards from the Alabama Writers’ Conclave. She is most proud, however, of the awards that her current and former students win. They’ve won the Scholastic Art & Writing Award, the Young Playwright contest, and top honors in poetry contests. They’ve also been accepted into high school and college creative writing programs. One is the songwriter for an up-and-coming band.
When she’s not teaching or writing, Cindy enjoys spending time outdoors, contemplating God’s wonders, taking long walks, and camping with her family on one of their extended road trips. Their record so far is 48 nights in a tent.
Posted by Kari on March 2, 2020