Teaching writing does not have to be painful. Here are some ways to help teach writing, while making writing enjoyable for both student and teacher!
Baby’s first cry marks the trailhead of language expression. As parents, we instinctively shepherd our child’s growing language skills with smiles and repeating their coos and baby babble back to them with delight. We patiently wait for Baby’s first word.
Do you remember the first word your child spoke?
Did you take bets with your spouse about whether “Mama” or “Dada” would be spoken first?
As early as six months, our children rounded a bend on the Language Trail and spoke their first word. Their first recognizable spoken word was like a waterfall quenching the barrier of communication that separates child and parent.
Like crashing waters, we squealed in delight and repeated the word with the biggest, fattest smile on our face to our child in hopes he would say it again. We wrote it down phonetically, trying to capture the unique syllables and tone. Maybe you caught it on video and shared the moment all over social media with hashtag #OurLittleOffspringSaidFirstWord.
Oh, the delight!
For the next few years, more words blossomed abundantly like a meadow full of wildflowers blowing in the summer wind; each one every bit as adorable as their first word!
“hama-burger” for hamburger; “rrrrrilled sheeeeese” for grilled cheese. Every bug was “beeeeeetle,” said with a toothless smile.
Wasn’t it hard to correct? Each botched word was so stinking cute, and was a source of daily parental joy. Then, like a forest of textured green undergrowth, words linked to form sentences and communicated complex ideas, giving us a glimpse of our child’s very being and how he saw his multifaceted world.
As good parents, we fed our child rich vocabulary through timeless stories with enduring themes of noble character and strong virtues.
Snuggled in the safety of our laps we asked, “Tell me about the story! What happened first?” We listen as they relived the story we just had read out loud.
Then, there was that beautiful day when the expanse of the sky stretched beyond the horizon of our child’s small world. We can never forget the day when the jumbled symbols on the pages of books blossomed into recognizable letters and words for our little one. “You can read!” we shouted, hugging our child and looking him in the eye with tears in ours. “Your world will never be the same,” we promised.
The next language bridge crossed into the wonderful world of the written language. Scribbles and backward letters, their own personal written language, transformed into English words.
However, at this moment in the journey of language development our story takes an awful turn.
Why we leave this sunny path of learning to communicate, I’m not sure.
On our left, we glance at a weathered trailhead marker. Inscribed in whitewashed chipped paint it says, “This way to Writing Instruction.” The post was placed a long time ago. No one knows for sure who placed it there. We take a few steps, and we extend a hand to our child to follow us.
The road becomes hot and dusty, filled with the arid air of overcorrecting. We prod them through miles of cactus, copy work, sagebrush, and repeated grammar drills. The disconnect between learning the mechanics of writing and communicating the skill of writing is a hollow canyon. Our child, who was accustomed to smiles when he verbally expressed himself, now discovers a different response. Our disappointed facial expressions reveal failed expectations.
Our child, who learned to love the spoken language in green meadows of acceptance now stands in desert sands while hot winds blow shifting patterns of expectations into elusive writing goals. The frequent changes confuse and bewilder our young writer.
Surprisingly, we wonder “Why doesn’t my child like to write?”
On this trail, unobstructed sun rays cast their long shadows on the subject of writing that can last for a lifetime. Many choose to sit idly at the trailhead and wait for a distant day of marked maturity. Some trudge through and endure.
But what if we took a different trail? The same trail that our child so naturally enjoyed when he learned to speak? Rather than abandon the trail of writing instruction for a distant day or accept that the dusty trail is your only option. Let’s explore what we learned instinctively when we encouraged our children to speak, and apply that to teaching them how to express themselves with the written language.
Your child gently learned how to speak because you created a culture for learning. In the same way, when your young ones begin to form letters into words and the sea of written words starts popping like wildflowers, there is much you can do to provide a culture for writing in their early years. Your values furnish rich soil for success.
1. Value every step of the writing process.
The “how” of writing is summed up in the writing process. Each step needs to be taught, modeled, and valued.
- Brainstorm: how to generate ideas
- Make a List: how to gather information
- Webbing: organizing ideas
- First rough draft: dictating or writing a less-than-perfect paper
- First input: learn how to receive input on what you have written
- Second rough draft: learning how to revise
- Second input: correct grammar and spelling
- Final recopy: learn how to present your writing
- Publish: learn how to share your writing
2. Value the growth and development in learning to write.
Writing milestones begin early with recognizing writing in their surroundings and move to a written “scribble” language that has meaning to the child. Dictation is the next milestone and often the forgotten bridge to writing instruction. Spending time translating your child’s spoken words into writing communicates the value of the written word. Once they begin forming letters, words and sentences follow. As a writer, they will spend the remaining years learning the structure of paragraphs and multi-paragraph essays. Some will go on to write a thesis or a book, but the bottom line is that no one stops growing as a writer.
Each passing year, your children will grow in their ability to write. Keep a writing portfolio that spans every grade. Celebrate their growth by reading previous years’ writing projects. You will enjoy the smiles and share the laughs, but more importantly you will demonstrate that their written words have value.
3. Value diversity in writing.
Your child is God’s beautiful expression of his individuality. Your child has a writing “voice” or a way of writing that will not be like another. Allow his writing voice to develop. Ask your child to express the same idea in different ways. This will help your child learn to express ideas differently.
4. Value the freedom to fail as a road to success.
A faulty sentence may communicate an idea that your young author didn’t intend. And to be honest, it can be funny! Enjoy the mistakes! You did when they were learning to speak! Some writing projects will be better than others. That’s okay. Give your children space to flounder a bit as they practice their skill of writing.
5. Value the joy of writing.
Please smile, laugh, and enjoy the process rather than just the final paper. Load your young writer up with encouragement and affirmation. You did this when they learned to talk. Repeat it when your child is learning to write.
You can also value the joy of writing by making opportunities to publish or share their writing with others instead of allowing their writing to collect dust in the back of their notebook.
6. Value humility in giving and receiving instruction.
Your child will not write perfect papers. No one does. Best-selling authors have a team of professional editors. Your child has you. Be humble in your position as editor. Model for your child how to give input. Compliment your child when they have taken instruction or input well.
7. Value purpose in writing.
Whether it’s making a grocery list, writing a thank you, writing the rules for the new fort in the backyard that will house the BOYS ONLY CLUB, or writing a story about their first pet, the ability to write is valuable. You have the opportunity to affirm this value. Did you know a civilization does not get to be called a civilization unless it has a written language? Yes, it’s that important!
What would the world be without writing skill? How would we know God without the richness of His written Word? Infuse this value often into all your writing instruction.
8. Value your child’s heart.
Think of your child’s writing as his heart on paper because that’s what it is! Every author trembles a little when they put their writing into a public space. It doesn’t matter if it’s a creative writing piece or a legal deposition. You can value your child’s heart by simply thanking him for taking time to write and to appreciate what he is communicating with the written word.
9. Value creativity.
There are hundreds of ways to communicate similar ideas. Do you know how many homeschool bloggers will write a post about why you should homeschool? A lot! I love them all because they each use their creativity in a different way to communicate the same ideas, and that blesses me. Be careful when you correct your child’s writing. Preserve their creativity by asking questions about their writing for clarification instead of feeding them your words.
10. Value writing as a way to bring glory to God.
Authors have drawn the hearts of men closer to God through writing. Unfortunately, it has pushed people away from God too. Teach your child that all writers lead, and every writer—big or little—has a responsibility to lead well. Just like you taught your child how to speak words of kindness, teach your child to write uplifting God-honoring words.
Your values toward writing establish a foundation for homeschool writing success.
What if you started your writing instruction like this?
My Dear Child,
I love it when you speak to me and tell me about your day. I love when you tell me about the things you like, and the things you don’t like. I love hearing you tell others about our family vacation, or the soccer goal you scored last Saturday. I never want to forget any of it.
But I have to be honest with you. Sadly, I will forget much of what you tell me. But God has given us a marvelous way of remembering, it’s called writing. If you write down the words you speak, they will be remembered. I am here to help you!
Your mom and teacher
In this simple sentiment, your child will understand two things, you value his growth and development as a young writer, and you value him.
Writing and writing instruction should never be an afterthought. A present day reasoning in homeschool circles is, “I’ll add writing to our homeschool schedule later in the year when we get the core subjects under our belts.”
Oh my! Old school thought would not agree!
Remember this old song? My grandfather use to sing it to me.
School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.
(Okay, ditch the hickory stick…it’s not an effective teaching tool!)
Your child will do more writing in their adult life than any other subject, hands down! Whether your child is dictating their words or writing, it should be a daily habit. It can easily be incorporated into most subjects. Pace with your child’s emerging writing ability just as you paced with their growing verbal communication. Offer consistent instruction and watch your young writer blossom!
A child gains in writing confidence and learns to write well when they do the following:
- Travel often through the predictable rhythms of the writing process.
- Learn the mechanics of writing (penmanship/copy work, spelling, and grammar) in small doses.
- Have ample opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas with the written word.
As home educators, we invite our children to follow the educational path we set before them. Teaching a young child to write can be as gentle as when your student learned to speak. The trail you choose need not be hot and laborious but can be as refreshing as a gentle nature walk through the most beautiful terrain you have ever seen!