I was this kid, and I still am. I love to write. I write all the time for a variety of audiences and purposes. I love the process, the discovery that comes from it, the quiet introspection, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from reading my finished pieces. This doesn’t mean I think writing is easy; I grapple with ideas, phrasing, organization, focus and revision with everything I write, including this weekly column.
And I love working with kids who enjoy writing. These kids embrace the process, get excited to try new strategies, and even write at home on their own for fun: short stories, fan fiction, blogs, poetry.
But if you're the parent of children who avoid writing, complain about any writing task, and struggle to get words on a page, then join the ranks of those of us who feel your pain.
As much as I like the prolific young writers, I also love working with kids who struggle. I believe these kids who struggle do so because they've lost their way. They’re stuck and disgruntled. They've had no freedom in the only environment where writing is expected while growing up -- the classroom. In this environment, they are expected to write what they're told, when they're told, and how they're told. Then when they turn in the piece into which they've poured time and energy and heart, a teacher tells them all the things they've done wrong, bleeding red ink all over their papers. I don’t blame these kids for hating the process. Who would want to continue to write after that?
As parents, we need to be proponents for asking teachers to give choice back to our young writers. We need to fight to have them give back to our kids the freedom to explore ideas and find topics that interest them, in order to help them discover that writing can be fun again. We need to demand that more time be spent developing this lifelong skill.
I know it’s a crazy idea, but what if a classroom teacher actually pulled kids out from behind their sterile desks -- and let them write on the playground, sitting on a bench, or lying on the shady cool grass. Would it end in chaos? Pandemonium? Nope. What we’d ultimately end up with is a generation full of kids who've learned to love to write again.
This transition, from hating to loving to write, can’t happen overnight. And it also can’t happen if the only writing that’s ever done is limited to one, 1-hour block every couple weeks. Writing is just like any sport or activity or hobby or dog training -- it takes practice to master.
The problem with writing, however, is that the practice happens alone. Writing isn’t like basketball where you can see the players sweat, get hurt, get back up, and finally collapse from exhaustion at the end of a game. With writing, the agony and struggle is just as real, but it’s much less overt. So when we see thousands of novels at Barnes & Noble or at the library, kids simply believe the authors were all just born with talent -- that they were all each able to just sit down and write their masterpieces in one sitting. No sweat. No struggle. Oh, how I wish our kids could watch me craft this column every week -- to see just how wrong they are.
We need to continually remind our struggling young authors that writers have to practice, too.
The next immediate swing in education and our local school district needs to be to make writing ubiquitous. It needs to be happening in every classroom, every day, across every subject. The writing tasks can be long, short, high-stakes, low-stakes, individual or with a partner. It just needs to be done.
And the more engaging and purposeful the writing, the less resistance we’ll get from kids -- and the more they’ll all learn to love it, too.