Teaching writing to children is a very difficult task. I remember my frustration as a seven-year-old trying to correctly write down and spell a few sentences that Mom was dictating to me. It was hard enough to try to write down someone else’s words properly. But it was even harder to write down my own words—trying to be both creative and write at the same time.
Many times, when we think of teaching writing, we think of the motor skills involved—holding the pencil correctly, having the paper at the right angle, keeping within the lines, and using proper spelling.
I believe that that is not real writing—yes, that is part of the process of being a writer, but that is not who a writer is.
A writer is creative, is imaginative.
I have a three-year-old brother, and he loves telling stories. Ever since he first learned to talk, he’s been telling stories—stories of baby lions, tigers, cows, and kittens. And, occasionally, what he’s done with his imaginary animals. He’s already a writer, even though he’s just three.
Three-year-olds are often both very creative and very imaginative–perhaps, sometimes, even better at it than we adults are! There is no reason in the world why a three-year-old can’t think creatively. Yes, he may at times struggle with coming up with the right words to use. But, all the same, he’s a writer.
Today, I’m talking about the creative side of writing. We can’t write without creativity. I believe it isn’t the motor skills that matter at all—instead, it’s the thinking and putting the thinking into words that really counts.
No matter where we go in life, we have to be able to write something. Whether it is reports, letters, essays, or even a status update on Facebook, we have to know how to get our thoughts onto paper. No matter what curriculum you use to teach your child, they will one day have to write something. When you can tell they’re ready to begin writing stories–even if they’re very short–encourage them. Practice makes perfect. 🙂
One major benefit of writing for them when they’re still young is that they can learn to use the imagination they already have. By the time children reach seven or so, and especially when they try to learn the mechanics of writing, they’ve often lost some of that early imagination that often accompanies two and three year olds. If children can learn from two or three up how to formulate their ideas into a story, and put those ideas into words, they may have a much easier time of it later when they have more formal work to do.
Here are five ways to encourage creative writing:
- Write for them. Take a dictation; write down your child’s exact words. By being able to dictate, and not have to do the mechanics of writing, children can focus on the creative side of things and not lose their flow of thought. Also, don’t edit.
- Read lots of good books. Give your children examples of what good books are like. Reading never hurt anyone—and the more you read to them, the wider their horizons grow. When they have good examples to follow, they will find it easier to write well themselves.
- Give simple assignments. Many times, it is hard for a child to know what to write about when they’re told they need to write. Often, they need a place to start off. Here are a few examples of topics you could give to your youngster:
- Write about your favorite animal
- Write down three things you like about someone you love
- Discuss a place you’d like to visit, and what you’d like to do there
- Tell about a recent happening
- Write to Grandma
- Write a book report
If you’re stuck for ideas, try Googling “writing prompts” or searching Pinterest—there are lots of fun picture prompt boards on there.
- It doesn’t have to be long. One or even two sentences are fine, especially for younger children.
- Give hints. If they seem at a loss for what to say next, or how to word it, it’s okay to give them hints or ask leading questions to get going again. It’s all part of the learning curve.
- Edit. For young children, saytwo- to five-year-olds, you probably don’t want to edit their work. Above five or six, though, you will want to start building foundations for proper grammar and sentence structure. Below are two examples of how Mom does this:
- “Me and John walked . . . ” Mom suggests, “John and I walked?”
- “We was . . . ” Mom suggests, “We were?”
Most of the time, whoever it is that is writing will approve of the change, and they move on. The hope is that someday some of these changes will sink in and become second nature—and the earlier you start with this, the better.
Update: One mother who I talked to recently on this subject said she usually edited everything as she went, and just mentioned one or two changes through the course of the dictation. So find what works for you–and feel free to experiment!
Any child can write. All of my brothers are writers, and several of them struggle with dyslexia. They all do an excellent job of coming up with stories, even if they normally aren’t all that interested in books.
One thing that has greatly helped our family is attending a homeschool writing group—where each child brings something to share, and receives suggestions and encouragement to help them write even better. Through that, my brothers have had to write something before each meeting in order to be allowed to go. That has greatly helped in giving them regular practice.
For years, I hated writing of any kind—everything about it bored me. It wasn’t until I realized the magic of spinning your own tales that I began to love the art.
With that in mind, it might take a while for your youngster to begin to really enjoy writing. And, perhaps, they aren’t cut out to be a writer in the end. It never hurts to get experience, though, and if they are willing, give it a try.
For a few more tips, and some examples of writings my brother did at two years old, come back for part two on Friday.
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