This week I started our camp with this question: “How often are you asked to write in school?”
I like to get a feel for how much experience and practice these young writers have in probably the only setting where they get to write. The answers this summer were more encouraging than they have been in past summers-- it seems teachers are building more writing into their curriculum -- but I am still amazed at the number of kids who respond with answers like “once a week” and “once a month.”
I’m a teacher and a parent, so I understand the importance of taking everything a child says with a grain of salt. And my neighbor would add that an adult can tell teenagers are lying “when their mouths move.” Regardless, I do trust my campers when they tell me writing doesn’t happen very often. I’m especially saddened when I also hear comments from them about not having the freedom to pick their own topics, not getting help when they get stuck, and being told all the things they’re doing wrong.
I work diligently during camp every summer to help kids experience the joy of writing. We play with language, practice writing strategies, experiment with topics, build fluency and work on authentic voice. In the end, however, what we’ve built is their confidence in knowing they can write -- that writing is nothing to fear.
Even if your little ones aren’t joining us in camp this summer, I wanted to take the time to encourage you to give them this same opportunity. A little time spent this summer encouraging “play” with writing will absolutely pay off during the next school year.
Here are a few ideas to try.
Encourage your child to keep a daily journal. This enables freedom of expression and opportunities to take risks with topic choices. You can even do this electronically with a blog. I like Blogspot through Google. It's easy to setup and easy to post entries. Additionally, get extended family to follow their blog; your kids will love the feedback, and it will encourage even more writing and more posts.
Write stories as a family about your individual days or a family vacation that you then share with each other. You'll be amazed at how different your perspectives can be. And take your writing outside, as this is the one piece of feedback we get from our young writers every year ... they love the freedom of writing in the park.
Write letters to family members or friends who live far away. Write them by hand and by email, as sometimes introducing the electronic media for communication makes it more fun.
Set a timer when writing. This reminds your kids that writing is not about page length or number of sentences; it's about using whatever space is needed to tell the story. You can even do this as a family, and then share your pieces with each other.
Participate in writing contests. When they have a real audience, with the potential for a prize of any kind, you’ll be amazed at how interested in writing they can be.
Get them writing Yelp reviews for restaurants you visit. This will help your kids understand how to write for a specific purpose.
Regardless the ideas you try, please remember that writing is about discovery, fluency, voice, experimentation, and storytelling. Please, whatever you do, do not focus on the conventions. There is plenty of instruction in our schools about conventions. In fact, it is usually this instruction that causes anxiety and reluctance in kids. Imagine writing from your own heart about something personal, only to have someone tell you all the things you did wrong: misspelled words, wrong verb tense, lack of periods. These conventions are important for final pieces, but unnecessarily halt the creative process. Please let your children continue to develop as writers, build on the successes, practice without fear of evaluation, and learn to love the process. This will be more powerful than any properly spelled adjective ... I promise!
Enjoy your summer and write away!