I am going to let you in on a secret. Writing is hard, even for people who do it for a living. The getting going is the toughest part of writing. Writer R. Crumb laments, “getting started is like getting a rocket off the ground. You need the most energy and the most push to get started.” I m going to get you started on ways to build a strong writer.
Over the years, I’ve shared rounds of coffee with moms who confess that they lack the confidence to teach or coach their kids in the habit of writing. These thoughts and feelings of inadequacy should not lead you to go out for a gallon of milk and go rogue. You aren’t going to be accused of a bad-mommy crime because you lack the skills to help your children compose an impressive essay.
Get your writing mojo
Build your writing muscle by following the “Ps” of writing: purpose, process, practice, patience, (and prayer.)
Kids need to understand that the greater purpose of their writing transcends a grade and a few comments scrawled on the corner of their essay. Help your children view their writing as a means of sharing their thoughts and ideas with the world.
When your child approaches a writing assignment, help him determine the “big picture” purpose of the assignment. Move away from the temptation to write for a grade. Teach them to use their writing as a tool that persuades others to seek truth.
Thomas Paine crafted these words with a purpose, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” The words are a part of a larger publication that not only galvanized public opinion against King George but ignited a fierce desire for colonial independence.
Author Naomi Alderman suggests, “remind yourself every day that you’re doing this to try to find something out about yourself, about the world, about words and how they fit together.”
Builders use blueprints to construct homes; travelers follow maps (well, a GPS); and writers need a process. E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, reminds writers that “planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing.” Writing an essay is akin to constructing a home.
Process and planning go hand in hand. Find a method that works for your student and make implementing the process mandatory.
The writing process serves as the framework; then sentences are the building blocks. A process includes a series of preliminary steps to complete. Explain the process to your kids in terms that they can relate. For younger children have them think about building a house out of Legos.
If budgets are tight, then don’t shell out money for expensive writing programs. Follow the method outlined in this article.
Stages of the writing process:
2: Rough draft (the ugly first draft) and more to follow if necessary. For this article, I generated 14 drafts.
3: Editing and adding stylistic techniques like adjectives, adverbs, similies/metaphors (whatever curriculum you follow or create, remember that active verbs are the pulse of a sentence; they keep the sentence alive. Be excruciatingly particular about your verbs).
4: Final proofreading (use a checklist)
5: Final paper
At our house, we use the Institute for the Excellence in Writing (IEW) as our process. This program removes the fear of writing by allowing kids to make mistakes as a part of the process. Do you remember when you wanted to play the flute in middle school? Your parents rented the instrument with the knowledge that initially you would probably not be so great at playing the flute.
With diligent practice, you managed to play a flawless rendition of “Row, Row, Your Boat.” Writing is much the same way as practicing an instrument. A critical part of writing is to allow students to make mistakes while learning the process. We welcome mistakes in the process.
Founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew Pudewa, “wants kids to wrestle with words, realizing that a bit of awkward usage will be a side effect, much the way a few out of tune notes and unsteady rhythms are side effects of learning to play the violin.”
The Summer I became a Writer
The summer I turned ten, I declared that I would be a writer. I mounted my Sears 3-speed bike and peddled to the corner market to purchase paper so that I could write my novel.
That summer day, I confiscated a TV tray ( hint: 1970s, everyone ate in front of the television) from the living room and sat at my makeshift desk only to have my crisp, new pack of paper void of words. My early private school education neglected to supply…a writing process.
Commit to a process and allow that process to help you and your child follow a plan.
There is no secret magic to becoming a competent writer other than practice. Some parents put in overtime at work so that they can hire a writing tutor. If you lack the availability of time to sharpen your rusty writing skills, then, by all means, shed the stress and hire the tutor.
Speaker and author, Ann Hadley reminds us that “writing is a habit, not an art.” Eventually, I believe, the habit of writing can become an art, but it first needs to become a habit—much like exercising or playing an instrument. The goal of an athlete is to obtain a level of proficiency in his particular sport. Likewise, writers fine tune their writing skills through the practice of arranging words and communicating ideas.
If I haven’t convinced you by now how important it is to develop a habit of writing, then, let writer Harper Lee’s words sink in, “you see, more than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer.”
Practice by Copying Great Writers
A valuable way to improve writing skills is to copy great writers in the form of simple copying exercises. The adage is “imitation is the highest form of flattery” so exercise this flattery by assigning copywork. Susan Wise Bauer, professor of English at William and Mary College, home school-mom, and co-author of The Well -Trained Mind explains that copy work “builds the skills the child needs to be truly creative.”
Select shorter sentences for younger kids and longer passages for older students to copy from a solid piece of literature. My advice is to stick with literary classics (unabridged). Copywork allows a child to inspect the way a writer paints an image with his words. As the child copies a sentence, he observes the way the writer uses punctuation and parts of speech. Copying sentences from Charlotte’s Web, for example, present spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary “from a master of English prose”.
Practice by reading great books
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” so encourage everyone in your household to read voraciously. Reflect an attitude that books are as valuable as food, imagine that a famine approaches so you must ingest all you can. I’ve created an engaging and inspiring book of printable report forms for elementary/middle school students. These book report printable will promote discussion and aid in organization.
Reading books or listening to them is a vital part of the writing process. Read to your kids and let them see you reading. Make reading a family affair.
More on reading:
- allows children to see grammar and punctuation in action
- increases vocabulary
- helps children gain a broad knowledge base
- develops empathy for others. One of my favorite lines from To Kill a Mockingbird brings this point to light, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
- views the world from a different perspective
- Read aloud so that your kids hear the rhythm and fluidity of words.
Patience is perhaps the most difficult step to master. It ranks number four in Galatians’ list of the fruits of the spirit, so we know it’s not easy to master. Keyboards and clicks condition us not to wait for anything. Weight loss programs offer a pill to shed pounds in record time. The FastPass at Disney, TSA lines at the airport, the touch pad food kiosk at the convenience store all cater to our inability and unwillingness to wait in line. You need to remind yourself and your child that developing a skill takes time. Don’t rush the process.
Why do I include prayer as a means to build writing muscle? Prayer reminds us that our ultimate goal in the pursuit of excellence in anything is to pursue God, glorify him, and make him known to others. It is because of the writers of scripture that we have a means to gain knowledge of God.
Collect your Parent’s Guide to Writing here.
Final Thoughts on Writing
It isn’t blasphemous to admit that either you or your child need help in writing. You aren’t alone in your secret confessions of writing anxiety or writing hate. The beauty behind a weakness is an opportunity to gain strength. Click To Tweet
The way in which you approach writing can make all the difference. We are teaching to the Minecraft generation where kids binge on Minecraft YouTube for inspiration on engineering complex machines. Similar to crafting good writing, Minecraft is “world of trial and error and constant discovery…Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-number generators. It invites them to tinker.”
Writing is tinkering with words to engineer thoughts and ideas into a narrative.
What ways have you equipped your children to become stronger writers?
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