I’ve spent the last four days in this series of 5 Easy and Surprising Ways of Raising Writers sharing reasons why your child may not want to write. Now I want to share with you what I consider the secret sauce for motivating young writers.
I’ve taught my own children to write, some of whom come by their writing skills naturally. But I’ve also taught dyslexic students, students with other learning challenges, and students who hated the very idea of writing. As a psychologist (and not just a writing teacher) I’ve observed something interesting.
Most children who don’t want to write think they aren’t good at it.
The Problem With Reluctant Writers
It’s as though they believe writers are born, not made. Where would they get that idea? I think some of it comes from our failure to communicate that making changes to written work is not the same as marking a math answer or a test question incorrect. Red lines equal wrong. And no matter how hard they try, they can’t avoid those dreaded red lines.
Even if you don’t think your child believes that edited work means they aren’t good writers, you may have a child who could benefit from the secret sauce.
Many moms (as I mentioned in the post on what you’re not doing that may be keeping your child from writing) don’t think they can write well. As a result, they’re reluctant to praise their children’s writing. They’ve told me, “I don’t know if it’s good or not.” My friends have asked me to grade their children’s papers. If, as a result of mom’s writing insecurity, a child is getting no praise and only editing marks, it’s no wonder a child would believe she isn’t good at writing. No one wants to devote a lot of time to doing something they’re not good at.
How to Use the Secret Sauce to Overcome Your Child’s Writing Insecurity
Now that we know the problem, it’s time for me to share the ingredients for the secret sauce that will help your child overcome the belief that they aren’t good at writing.
First, explain editing to your child. Every writer, even the most successful, has an editor. Why? Because writers make mistakes. Being a good writer does not mean that they will not have their work edited. Sometimes the person doing the editing is making a mistake. Editors are human, too! But editing allows us to become better writers.
Second, praise your child’s writing. Even if you aren’t really familiar with writing mechanics like spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you can find something to praise about your child’s writing. It does not have to be perfect to warrant encouragement. Writing is a very vulnerable expression, very unlike math problems and tests your child completes. Our children share their opinions, their emotions, and their personality when they write. There is always something praiseworthy in their efforts.
You will not do a child a disservice by acknowledging positives in writing. Even more beneficial to your child’s confidence is expressing surprise. I often appear blown away by something a child writes and I am not acting. I did not know the young writer was capable of such deep thought, such hilarious description, or explaining something complex in such an understandable way. I have had many children, including my own, giggle nervously as I tell them that I see the gift in them. The gift doesn’t have to be for writing, but for observation, for compassion, for wisdom. Once you acknowledge the gift, you can explain that the areas where they struggle can easily be mastered with practice. But the gift? That can’t be taught. That’s theirs forever.
It has been one of my greatest joys in homeschooling to see a child begin to believe that he does, in fact, have something worth sharing with the world.
Third, document progress. As moms, it’s easy to get frustrated with a child who did not capitalize the first letter of a sentence or left off an end mark for the umpteenth time. But if we focus on what isn’t right, our children become convinced that they aren’t getting it. If they aren’t getting it, they won’t want to write any more. Be even more vigilant about finding evidence of progress than you are of mistakes. A scoring rubric for your child’s papers can be very helpful in this regard. I don’t think they’re necessary for young writers, who should be learning to write for the joy of it. But older students will appreciate a list of things to look for in their papers before handing them in. If your curriculum doesn’t include one, you may like this one for elementary students or this editing game.
If you don’t feel comfortable grading your children’s papers, you can ask a writing friend to help. Even if you enroll your child in an outside course, make sure you continue to express your approval and enjoyment of your child’s writing.
When I applied these three ingredients to reluctant writers I taught, I ended up being amazed by what they coud do. When a student believes he is capable of becoming a competent writer, little miracles happen. It all begins with the secret sauce.
If you have a beginning reader or writer, check out Grammar Galaxy. It’s a fast, fun, and easy way for kids to learn.
Parents’ reading habits are a primary determinant of children’s reading habits. Our kids emulate us. That’s why it’s so important that we not only read to our kids but read for our own enjoyment. Did you know that reading a great book could increase your child’s chances of school and life success?
But before you leave to read a book guilt-free, can we talk about your kids’ writing habits? Writing skills are vitally important for your child’s future, too, as I mentioned in the first post in this series. If your child is a reluctant writer, it should concern you. Not every child is going to be an avid writer, but it’s important that we impart adequate writing skills to them.
What You’re Not Doing That May Contribute to Your Child’s Writing Reluctance
Have you already guessed what I’m going to say? I thought so. If your reading habits have a major influence on your child’s, it stands to reason that your writing habits do too.
“Oh no worries here!” you’re saying. “I email and text all the time. My child sees me writing.”
If that is the extent of your writing, that will likely be the extent of your child’s writing. Your child needs to see you doing other forms of writing.
“But I’m not a good writer!” I can hear you saying.
If that excuse works, your child now has a free pass. He can argue that he isn’t a good writer, so he won’t write either. Now I’ve got you, haven’t I?
“I love to write. I write all the time. So that can’t be the problem,” you might be saying.
If you write for work or blog, you child either may not see you writing or may see a disconnect between the writing you do and the writing you want her to do.
The Solution to This Kind of Writing Reluctance
No matter what your reason for not being a writing example to your child, I have a solution. It’s easy and fun! I promise.
Do the writing assignments you give your child.
If you’re repulsed by the idea, you may want to change your writing curriculum. Writing, like reading, should be enjoyable. More challenging writing assignments are appropriate for older children who have the skills they need to persevere. Young writers should have assignments that inspire them. In other words, I’m not saying that you need to write a 15-page research paper when your child does.
I like funny writing prompts for the purpose of writing with your child. The assignments are generally short, except when a child is enjoying himself immensely and writes pages of funny material. This is the kind of assignment you as a parent can enjoy. This kind of writing should not be focused on mechanics.
I have had the privilege of teaching writing to one of my friend’s sons. He did not have punctuation, spelling, or grammar mastered. But he loved to write. I have helped him with his skills, but he possesses a passion for writing that has to come first. That’s what we want our children to have. We can impart that by modeling it for our kids.
Have fun writing with your kids. Read them what you wrote and see if you can make them laugh. Writing with your children can be one of your best homeschooling memories. It is mine.
I have created a curriculum that teaches beginning writers the why behind writing and makes it fun. I’d love for you to preview a sample at GrammarGalaxyBooks.com.
Read the other posts in this 5-day series on teaching writing here.
Groans. That is what I heard from my sons when it was time to write anything.
At first I thought I just wasn’t using the best approach to writing for them. Every year when I attended a homeschool convention, I would look for something I thought would get them excited about writing. But the results were the same: whining and procrastination.
Then I decided that my sons’ writing reluctance was a result of immaturity. Writing is an advanced skill. Maybe they just weren’t ready for it?
The Surprising Reason My Kids Hated to Write
I found that I was right on both counts. My kids love funny writing prompts, especially when we read our writing out loud for one another. I was also right that they just weren’t ready for it. Once my sons were in high school, their writing improved dramatically and the complaints stopped.
But as I continued homeschooling the rest of my children, I noticed something else. I am surprised I didn’t see it as the root of my children’s writing reluctance a long time ago.
When a child has slow handwriting speed, he will be a reluctant writer.
My children were able to finish their handwriting pages without much fuss. Both Handwriting Without Tears and Happy Handwriting didn’t require a lot of writing per lesson. The kids were able to form their letters correctly. But they couldn’t write quickly. Their slow handwriting speed made any writing, creative or practical, an agonizing process for them.
My daughter, not surprisingly, did not have the same issue. Her better fine motor skills lent themselves to faster handwriting and an early love of writing. I shared more about the real differences in homeschooling boys on The Homeschool Sanity Show podcast.
How to Increase Your Child’s Handwriting Speed
Get your child’s buy-in. If your child thinks their only goal is to learn to form letters correctly, they will likely experience dislike for writing. Explain that if they learn to write faster, they will be able to finish all of their work faster, including math. If you or your child thinks that handwriting speed is unimportant in this digital age, consider how often you have to complete forms on paper. We have not yet made the transition to keyboarding for every task. Some college professors do not allow their students to take notes on a laptop, for example. Adequate handwriting speed will allow your child to feel confident in any learning setting.
Make sure your child knows how to form the letters. It’s no use trying to increase your child’s handwriting speed if he doesn’t remember how to make the letter K. Don’t allow your child to mindlessly complete handwriting pages. Instead, help your child memorize the way to make each letter. A great way to do this is to use a dry erase board with your child. Use verbal cues for making the letter you’re working on. Have your child repeat them after you as she forms the letter with you. This PDF gives you verbal cues to use if your curriculum doesn’t use them. Keep practicing until your child can form each letter from memory.
Work to increase speed. Handwriting workbooks are focused on the quality of letter formation. To increase speed, your child needs to be encouraged to write quickly and legibly. As long as you can determine the letters he’s written, your child is doing the right thing by increasing speed. First, you’ll need to get a baseline of your child’s handwriting speed. Having your child write as many letters as possible in a minute is a great way to check speed. That baseline will help your child determine his improvement in speed.
Handwriting speed is a lesson in Grammar Galaxy, a language arts curriculum for beginning readers that I created especially for reluctant readers and writers. To get a free copy of the handwriting speed forms, click the button below.
I’d like the free forms!
To learn more of the surprising and easy ways to teach kids to write, check out the landing page for this series.