My oldest daughter hated writing until she was nine years old.
She picked up Deborah Hopkinson’s picture book A Boy Called Dickens because she recognized the imaginative illustrations of John Hendrix. As she admired the pictures, she read some of the words. She learned that Dickens simply wrote down the stories that he had in his head. That must be writing, she thought, and it changed her attitude toward putting pen to paper.
It wasn’t a method of teaching or the magic of a certain curriculum that birthed a love of writing in her. Instead, it was the captivating illustrations and concise words of an imaginative, informative picture book.
Most parents want their children to grow up to be effective communicators, and we have in our minds the public school desk, the number two pencil, the lined paper, and the endless grammar exercises that were supposed to make us good writers.
The real truth, though, is that those of us who enjoy writing probably learned more from reading good books.
When we help our children with their writing homework, however, we resort back to the rote exercises. It’s boring. They hate it. It often ends in tears.
My oldest child cried because writing was tedious. My second child cried because the mechanics of writing was hard. My third child cried because she needed more parameters than just “write a paragraph.”
My fourth child is in kindergarten, and I hope I have graduated to a different philosophy of teaching writing because child 1, child 2, and child 3 all love stories. They love imagination. They love information. They love telling about what they have learned.
That’s the foundation they need for good writing.
That’s why I don’t push my kindergartener as hard as I pushed them. The mechanics of writing will come later, but I hope my children are learning to love the “stuff” worth writing about now.
“The true aim of education is to order a child’s affections- to teach him to love what he ought and hate what he ought. Our greatest task, then, is to put living ideas in front of our children like a feast,” author Sarah Mackenzie, from The Read Aloud Revival, says.
Good writing grows out of good thinking. There’s a million ways to teach good thinking.
As a child, did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books? After a few pages, you come to the bottom of a page that allows you, the reader, to make a decision about what happens next in the story.
If you want to be abducted by aliens, turn to page 18.
If you want to float down the river in a barrel, turn to page 61.
Those books gave us a taste of what it is like to sit in the author’s seat. We got to choose what came next, making the story even more satisfying because we partnered with the author to experience the story.
Because teaching writing is simply filling their minds with the good, the true, and the beautiful, you can choose your own adventure in which resources you use and how you present them. When we set this feast before our children, we invite them to participate as choosers as well.
One of the tasks for which Peter Pan invited Wendy to Neverland was to sew pockets for the lost boys. “None of us has any pockets,” Peter says.
Our job as parents is to give our children pockets for their minds, and then set worthy things before them so that they can choose what to fill their “pockets” with.
Some of the pockets we can give them are the gift of time, graphic organizers, vocabulary, and logic.
When our children have time to read, time to imagine, time to play, and time to create, then they will have time to write. They will have the time to do the repetitive task of learning to form letters, words, and sentences.
For those of our children who are spacial thinkers, graphic organizers like venn diagrams, outline forms, and brain-storming clouds help bring order to their thoughts about what they have heard, read, and seen. The blank page can be a terrifying thing, but if a list of words can come before a complete sentence, it breaks the process up into a manageable process.
Even before a child can read, the complex sentence structure and vocabulary in audiobooks or in picture books read aloud can build those pockets in their minds to enable them to understand words and ideas that they otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. They develop quite a collection of vocabulary, just as readily as they collect rocks, flowers, or lizards.
Sequencing, cause-and-effect, and order of importance can be learned by listening to adult conversation, reading good books, and even watching good movies. These essential aspects of writing can be found everywhere in everyday life, but children miss them if they aren’t pointed out.
We can give them these “pockets” to store their good, beautiful, and true treasures in. Once their mind pockets are full, they will have every resource they need to write well.
And just like the over-sized hand-me-downs from cousin so-and-so, if writing doesn’t fit now, we’ll put it away in a drawer and come back to see if it fits in a few months.
As we choose our own adventure to teach them to write and they choose the material that they believe is most worthy to write about, we are teaching them the greater reality of joining in the creative work of the Author of our faith.
He gives us the definitions for what is good, true, and beautiful, and then, He invites us to choose our own adventure within the pages of His book. He is the one who transforms writing from just an elementary grammar exercise to a creative, life-giving endeavor.
Featured image by Freepik