Parents should be concerned if their kids are reading less, but what about writing? There's a huge emphasis on writing ability when it comes time for college ... What you can do at home matters!
Your child sits at the kitchen table, staring at a blank piece of paper. “But I don’t know what to write,” she whines. “This is boring!” She fiddles with her pencil, doodles a bit in the corner of the page. The frustration builds inside both of you. You know if she would just get started, just get that first sentence out, it would be smooth sailing. And so you sit down next to her, talking over the topic, hashing out the things she knows about it. Finally, finally that first sentence appears. Relieved, you rise and begin to walk away. “But I don’t know what to write next!” she wails.
Watching a child stare at a blank page when you both know she needs to be writing can be excruciatingly painful. Parents of reluctant writers may also notice considerable procrastination, an unwillingness to share what they’ve written or an increasingly large pile of wadded-up paper in the trash can. And there may be many different reasons why she balks at the task, such as spelling difficulties, too many or not enough ideas, fear of criticism or physical difficulties with writing.
“I think the single biggest reason students struggle getting words on the page is self-censorship,” explains Vicki Vinton, national literacy consultant and co-author of The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language (Heinemann; $28). “Writers need to leave their inner critique aside in order to get themselves going, and too often students judge their ideas or early drafts as unworthy before they’ve given them a chance.”
So what is a parent to do?
View Writing as a Process
“Writers first need to find and develop meaningful topics and ideas before they attempt to convey those ideas to readers with any semblance of correctness,’” says Vinton. Allow your child as much time as possible to form ideas before forcing words on paper. Invite her to walk away from the written piece before revising — or perhaps in the middle of the first draft — to regain her perspective on what she wants to say. Recognizing that there are as many different ways to write as there are writers will help you to take a step back and observe your child’s process – then help her in whatever way she needs.
In the case of stubbornness or procrastination, there are things that you can do to help keep your child’s pencil to the paper. Encouraging just a few of minutes of free writing every day (not to be looked at by anyone but the writer) will gradually help the words to flow. Try to stay on top of homework assignments that require more writing, and help her figure out a time table so that she doesn’t leave writing until the last minute, ensuring an agonizing dose of panic and/or frustration. Vinton suggests that if the child has a computer in her room, keep the printer in a public place so you can keep track of what is – or isn’t – coming out. Finally, when it appears that she may be stuck, or needing to organize her thoughts, sit down at the table with her and talk it out. In fact, it’s completely acceptable to jot down notes as she thinks aloud. She may not even realize the great ideas she is coming up with!
Read for the Joy of It
Reading and discussing books for pleasure helps children and teens see writing as a source of entertainment, not just one of agony. Reading aloud together is best; however, if your child shies away from this, simply sharing your own thoughts about a book or asking her about the book she is reading will reap many of the same benefits for her writing.
Attitude Adjustment – and Not Just Hers
As with most things, a child’s attitude about writing is a big factor in her success with it, and the parent’s attitude is nearly as important. While keeping your own negative feelings about specific writing assignments or the act of writing itself in check, try encouraging the ways your child does communicate with written language. “Embrace technology,” suggests Vinton. “Send e-mails and text messages to your wired-age children. Be playful and have fun. And believe that ‘r u going 2 pik me up’ texts are actually helping students to develop an appreciation of written communication that can be built on as they grow.”
What About a Writing Contest?
Alliance for Young Artists & Writers
The most prestigious award for 7th – 12th graders in the United States receives more than 140,000 national submissions.
The Betty Award
A national annual writing contest for kids ages 8 – 12.
Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors
A national writing contest that encourages kids in grades K – 8 to use their reading, writing and artistic skills to create their own books.